Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Discuss the Traveller RPG and its many settings
paltrysum
Mongoose
Posts: 158
Joined: Mon Mar 20, 2017 11:16 pm

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby paltrysum » Wed Jun 07, 2017 3:59 pm

I noticed that "Alien: Convenant" made use of the term "jump." The astrogator on the ship (not that they defined him as such, but he was the one talking about the required transit to get to a star system) referred to making several jumps to get to their destination world. I wonder if they thought it out much beyond that or if it was just hand-waving spaceship talk that they threw in for good measure.

The Alien series strikes me as a potential haven for a hard-science friendly narrative. Slug weapons prevail; flame throwers used on ships because they're afraid of penetrating reactor shielding; biological sciences creating interesting creatures; AI robotics having limitations; space suits; hostile environment suits; cryogenics. Sure there's plenty of breakage, but the series' designer seems to at least pay some obeisance to the hard science feel.
"Spacers lead a sedentary life. They live at home, and their home is always with them—their starship, and so is their country—the depths of space."
Reynard
Cosmic Mongoose
Posts: 2873
Joined: Sat Jun 18, 2011 10:03 pm

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Reynard » Wed Jun 07, 2017 5:12 pm

It bothers me that the Nostromo, a tug, has the power to tow that enormous factory around in real space. The FTL is described as a hyperspace drive able to accelerate up to 153c in acceleration steps rather than going into a Jump universe. Both kind of break the hard science aspect. Also amazing how sophisticated the android is compared to most other noticeable technology.
dragoner
Duck-Billed Mongoose
Posts: 1680
Joined: Sat Sep 29, 2012 8:37 pm
Location: Indiana, US

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby dragoner » Wed Jun 07, 2017 5:36 pm

paltrysum wrote:
Wed Jun 07, 2017 3:59 pm
I noticed that "Alien: Convenant" made use of the term "jump." The astrogator on the ship (not that they defined him as such, but he was the one talking about the required transit to get to a star system) referred to making several jumps to get to their destination world. I wonder if they thought it out much beyond that or if it was just hand-waving spaceship talk that they threw in for good measure.

The Alien series strikes me as a potential haven for a hard-science friendly narrative. Slug weapons prevail; flame throwers used on ships because they're afraid of penetrating reactor shielding; biological sciences creating interesting creatures; AI robotics having limitations; space suits; hostile environment suits; cryogenics. Sure there's plenty of breakage, but the series' designer seems to at least pay some obeisance to the hard science feel.
Alien and Outland are my go to films for hard-ish feel. Covenant was good, beautifully filmed, though if any of the series was a adventure log for Traveller, it was Resurrection.

As far as tech, jump is good to define a non-local causality breaking travel, versus warp, where the ship in question would be travelling back in time. Tech is really case by case, science doesn't recognize authority as it does data.
locarno24
Cosmic Mongoose
Posts: 2927
Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2005 7:46 pm
Location: Wildly Variable

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby locarno24 » Thu Jun 08, 2017 2:48 pm

Sigtrygg wrote:
Tue Jun 06, 2017 5:03 pm
You can not see out if you have a black globe switched on. To gain data on the outside universe you have to flicker (switch it on an off randomly).
Indeed. Sorry, meant that the other way around - Traveller is one of the only settings with 'visually opaque' shields (which logically are a requirement to stop vislight lasers)
Understand that I'm not advocating violence.
I'm just saying that it's highly effective and I strongly recommend using it.
steve98052
Lesser Spotted Mongoose
Posts: 423
Joined: Tue Oct 01, 2013 6:13 am
Location: near Seattle

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby steve98052 » Fri Jun 09, 2017 7:46 pm

I see hard science fiction and soft science fiction not as a question of one or the other, but rather a scale. The Martian is cryogenic ice, Star Trek is really wet slush, and Star Wars is steam. Traveller is packed snow. A numeric scale would work too.

If we want draw clear lines, I think it would make more sense to break it into three categories. Hard science fiction sticks strictly to real basic science, and steps into fiction only in projecting applied science to technologies that are beyond what we have, but still consistent with our understanding of basic science. Intermediate science fiction sticks to real basic science to the greatest extent possible, invents new basic science only to the extent necessary to the story, follows real science strictly, and follows invented science with strict self-consistent rules. Soft science fiction doesn't bother with rules; science bends freely with the needs of the story and cinematic spectacle.

On the three level scale, Traveller is a clear intermediate science fiction.

Prime_Evil wrote:
Wed Apr 23, 2014 1:08 am
Hmmmm....What do sandcasters sound like? :lol:
I imagine them as a huge thump sound that rumbles through the launching ship. If a ship flies through the sand, it sounds like popcorn popping.


paltrysum wrote:
Mon Jun 05, 2017 6:58 pm
Here's a little hard sci-fi concern I have about Traveller: the presence of quantum computing and advances in AI. Was there a big event in Traveller history that prevented sentient beings from taking advantage of advancements in computing that I've overlooked? It feels grossly underrepresented in the OTU.
. . .
Quantum computing can do amazing things, but only if it possible to build a quantum computer with a significant number of quantum computing bits. There's no evidence that it is possible to scale quantum computing beyond a lab curiosity. If it's possible, all widely used cryptography breaks, and the cryptography that is believed to be quantum-safe needs to be proven. Maybe quantum computing will lead to a breakthrough in computing in general -- or maybe it will always be too difficult to maintain the cryogenic conditions it requires to be useful for anything besides cryptographic applications.

Artificial intelligence exists in Traveller, but like in Dune it is restricted by society. It's not clear that artificial intelligence will be immune to electronic mental illness. Some brain science researchers hypothesize that susceptibility to some types of mental illness is an unavoidable consequence of having a brain that is complex enough to allow for human communication and creativity. If that hypothesis is correct, it's plausible that self-aware machines will also be unavoidably susceptible to some types of mental illness -- not the types that result from neurotransmitter imbalances, of course, but some that result from cognitive dissonance and other problems that are solely within the data domain.

My point is that both superhuman artificial intelligence and never-quite-sentient artificial intelligence are both possible based on current knowledge.


locarno24 wrote:
Tue Jun 06, 2017 1:12 pm
. . .
The big no-no in science fiction (and one Star Trek and other episodic settings are often guilty of) is that if something is defined as possible it should remain so. If doing XYZ ("re-configure the deflector dish" or similar) solves problem ABC, then it should continue to be a valid solution - such that even if it doesn't work the next time the crew encounter a similar situation, it should definitely be amongst the things they try.
Star Trek is an interesting case in this debate. Its creators and many of its writers seemed to care about self-consistency, and within a lot of episodes it fell well within my intermediate category. But inconsistencies developed between writers, and some writers didn't care about consistency, so Trek is far from self-consistent as anentire body of fiction.

Still, that's a lot closer to the intermediate category that Star Wars, where even individual movies didn't bother to be self-consistent.
Again, you don't have to explain everything. But you should make sure that when you do explain something, there are no inconsistencies obvious in the explanation. Traveller (with its black globe generators) is one of the only science fiction settings I can think of which includes 'shields' and has lasers as a primary ship-to-ship weapon but doesn't explain how the hell a shield stops a laser (a pulse of visible or near-visible light) if someone inside the shield can still see out..
I was going to jump all over this as a misstatement of how a black globe works, but I see someone else already did, and you acknowledged that you knew but wrote it wrong.

Anyway, that's a good example of Traveller trying to stick to the harder side of science fiction. One could argue for a force field that is selective -- maybe it blocks electromagnetic radiation to a degree that is proportional to its coherence, so lasers and phased array radar are absorbed, specular reflected light is dimmed, and diffuse reflected light passes. One could argue for a one-way shield, so that a ship could flicker just enough to give sensors something to see, but still fire outward unhindered. One could even say that the one-way version is a progressive development of the same thing that allows huge fusion drives to dispose of their waste heat in space.

But to the point, the black globe is a good example of Traveller creators aiming for the harder end.
If it's a 'blaster', fine - because I don't know what the physics of blaster fire is.
. . .
That is a good example of a strict rule in the writers' guidelines at SJ Games. If you write about any real technology, get it right. Lasers work like lasers, and if you need something to do something lasers don't do, don't call it a laser.
Agreed. Battletech doesn't use too much science that you can't follow today - no teleporters, energy shields, etc, and most weapons are either firing bullets and missiles or are broadly similar to stuff discussed in the Reagan-era strategic defence programmes (railguns, particle beams).

The idea of mass heavy walkers may be tactically pretty stupid compared to tanks or GEVs, but if you can manage the articulation, balance and power, there's no real scientific problem, and that challenge is 'merely' engineering rather than science.
One problem with giant anthropomorphic fighting machines is ground pressure. Some of those would crack streets, sink into the soil, and crush the subway tunnels below.
Condottiere
Chief Mongoose
Posts: 5182
Joined: Mon Sep 23, 2013 8:23 pm

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Condottiere » Fri Jun 09, 2017 10:35 pm

They say Ryzen scales well, that's how they could suddenly come out with relatively cheap double threaded sixteen core processors.

Franchises will have to draw their own lines in the sand as to how stuff works, which they won't cross.

One of my favourite games is Mage, where you practically have to come up with spells on the spot, that don't disrupt reality too much.
TrippyHippy
Greater Spotted Mongoose
Posts: 1065
Joined: Mon May 29, 2006 9:33 am
Location: NZ

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby TrippyHippy » Sat Jun 10, 2017 11:41 pm

Traveller, from the very origins of the game, sort to apply scientific ideas towards it's game design. When you have space travel considering the notion of displacement tonnage and calculated formula it's a pretty good way to get people thinking scientifically. The aliens are described by ecological niche, the characteristics sort to provide measurables like Education and Social Standing (rather than Wisdom and Charisma), the dice mechanics encourage players to think in terms of probabilities, etc.

Now, Traveller isn't the last RPG to do things like these in a game, they were the first (go make a comparison to Metamorphosis Alpha as the only other sci-fi game of the time), and later games have been influenced by Traveller's seminal template.

In terms of where we stand now, with the modern game, I think it's hard to claim that the Third Imperium setting is more scientific than that of Star Trek's Federated worlds, although I do think Star Wars is more a type of mythical fantasy than attempting to be hard scifi in any way. Both the Third Imperium and Star Trek are more generic sci-fi, with settings designed to be flexible enough to incorporate all sorts of scifi ideas as the protagonists move from one place to another. The extent you want it to be scientific is really dependent on the storyteller's intent.

I think things like The Martian and Gravity are so close to scientific reality, they are almost purely thrillers in effect, but this type of thing is a lot closer to 2300AD or Orbital in what they are trying to do.
Outtasight!
Reynard
Cosmic Mongoose
Posts: 2873
Joined: Sat Jun 18, 2011 10:03 pm

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Reynard » Sun Jun 11, 2017 12:28 am

They never did explain if he (The Martian) actually cleaned all that soil of toxic perchlorates before trying to grow crops. A bit of too obvious handwaving for a science fact? My brain's a bit too fried from over work but I thought I remember detecting a couple/few other softening of the hard scifi edges too.
Condottiere
Chief Mongoose
Posts: 5182
Joined: Mon Sep 23, 2013 8:23 pm

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Condottiere » Sun Jun 11, 2017 1:39 am

Martians toxics versus Terran gut flora.

We've been through this before and have always emerged victorious, so to speak.
dragoner
Duck-Billed Mongoose
Posts: 1680
Joined: Sat Sep 29, 2012 8:37 pm
Location: Indiana, US

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby dragoner » Sun Jun 11, 2017 5:32 pm

Science has continuity, that is it's strength. It gets maligned for it, though it is unfair. I read a blog where the writer hated sci-fi because his players used gravity to spoil some big finale he had planned. One, I don't consider gravity to be sci-fi, and two, his fantasy world doesn't have gravity? That's the thing, science wasn't the problem there, he didn't need a primer on science, just use common sense when doing scenarios. If the players win, let it happen, there will be other opportunities to challenge them later.
Nobby-W
Mongoose
Posts: 110
Joined: Sun Mar 15, 2015 8:10 pm

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Nobby-W » Sun Jun 11, 2017 6:49 pm

Marc Miller would characterise Traveller as Space Opera, I believe. I think it sits somewhere between space opera and hard science fiction.

Hard sci-fi is really about staying within a view of reality-as-we-know-it and trying to tell a story that could actually happen, in particular attempting to keep to known laws of physics. A recent example of this would be The Martian. Planetes is an anime series that also attempts to be hard sci-fi. Space Opera relaxes these constraints in favour or a rollicking good yarn, normally with plenty of action. Star Wars is a good example of space opera, as is, in fact, Star Trek.

Much of the literature credited with being influences on Traveller is generally regarded as Space Opera - Dumarest Saga, Dominic Flandry, Space Viking, Demon Princes. More recent examples of space opera would include the Vorkosigan Saga, Honor Harrington or Ian Banks's culture stories but there is also loads of golden age space opera written in the middle of the 20th century.

Some items could be regarded either way. Much of 2001: A Space Odyssey attempts to portray a realistic view of space travel, although the ending is less obviously hard science fiction. Another example of a hybrid would be Niven and Pournelle's Footfall, which describes an alien invasion while attempting to constrain it to laws of physics and giving the aliens a world view that is intended to be both alien and plausibly consistent.
Reynard
Cosmic Mongoose
Posts: 2873
Joined: Sat Jun 18, 2011 10:03 pm

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Reynard » Sun Jun 11, 2017 8:39 pm

I think it was Classic Traveller that Marc said they would stay close to real science with no 'zapatron' ray guns and such. He wanted to keep it real as much as possible and make speculation at least believable.
Condottiere
Chief Mongoose
Posts: 5182
Joined: Mon Sep 23, 2013 8:23 pm

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Condottiere » Sun Jun 11, 2017 9:14 pm

The chances are we won't be able to bypass Einstein by ripping a hole through reality, so anything dealing with faster than light travel is the same as magic.

And without faster than light travel, you lose most of your audience whose expectations include that.

The Forever War is well worth a read, but humanity evolves far further than I'm willing to sustain my interest.
dragoner
Duck-Billed Mongoose
Posts: 1680
Joined: Sat Sep 29, 2012 8:37 pm
Location: Indiana, US

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby dragoner » Sun Jun 11, 2017 10:29 pm

Einstein was fine with wormholes, they don't violate causality because the speed of light is not exceeded locally.

The Martian takes liberties with science, I'm friends with Andy Weir on fb and he described it as "competence porn"; I don't want to ruin it though, it's a good book and movie. The hard science movie that had the physics people talking about at Purdue was Interstellar, except for the average person it was too weird. Reality is weird, and we don't experience that weirdness because our brain filters it out, same way it edits your nose out of your vision.

Traveller is often called hard sci-fi because it is gritty, of which a synonym is realistic, also it represents average people using their own courage and resolve, more grittiness, to accomplish things. This is in contrast to where in soft stories the character can accomplish herculean feats because they are Hercules! Another way to say it is that it is simulationist, which is unsurprising in that GDW was a war game company primarily creating detailed war simulations such as their Europa series.
ShawnDriscoll
Duck-Billed Mongoose
Posts: 2497
Joined: Sun Dec 13, 2009 6:13 pm

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby ShawnDriscoll » Mon Jun 12, 2017 12:25 am

This guy tries to explain hard sci-fi, and fails. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFCvJBS-R58

This guy explains what sci-fi is when science is added. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3pRhh0YqDc
locarno24
Cosmic Mongoose
Posts: 2927
Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2005 7:46 pm
Location: Wildly Variable

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby locarno24 » Mon Jun 12, 2017 8:47 am

I see hard science fiction and soft science fiction not as a question of one or the other, but rather a scale. The Martian is cryogenic ice, Star Trek is really wet slush, and Star Wars is steam. Traveller is packed snow. A numeric scale would work too.
Very much so. You can have logical scientific discussion as part of relatively fantastical settings (like Science of Discworld) and you can have relatively sane and comprehensible settings which suddenly throw you a curve ball which makes no sense whatsoever (generally any harder sci-fi setting throwing in Ancients, Gods, or whatever you want to call them). Things are only ever shades of grey.
Some brain science researchers hypothesize that susceptibility to some types of mental illness is an unavoidable consequence of having a brain that is complex enough to allow for human communication and creativity. If that hypothesis is correct, it's plausible that self-aware machines will also be unavoidably susceptible to some types of mental illness -- not the types that result from neurotransmitter imbalances, of course, but some that result from cognitive dissonance and other problems that are solely within the data domain.
There's a quote from Civ: Alpha Centuri which popped into my head - one of the "technology unlock" voice-overs:
We are no longer particularly in the business of writing software to perform specific tasks. We now teach the software how to learn, and in the primary bonding process it molds itself around the task to be performed. The feedback loop never really ends, so a tenth year polysentience can be a priceless jewel or a psychotic wreck, but it is the primary bonding process--the childhood, if you will--that has the most far-reaching repercussions.
The logic makes sense - any system too complex to be really completely understood - and a "intelligence", organic, corporate, software or otherwise, certainly is, tends towards increasing complexity-driven breakdown over time as behaviour-shaping experiences (some complementary, some conflicting) are layered over one another again and again.
the characteristics sort to provide measurables like Education and Social Standing (rather than Wisdom and Charisma),
Plus, they are, importantly, not characteristics which can substitute for role-playing.
"Well I have Charisma 20 so obviously I talk my way out of the situation and convince the bandits to give me all their weapons, money and prettier daughters" is a D&D trope that I'm glad Traveller avoids; the Traveller equivalents requiring rather more creativity and inspiration from the players themselves.

Social Standing, by comparison, can substitute for 'Charisma' in specific circumstances, but it never gets you off the hook with having to figure out what you're saying. It's useful for "Don't You Know Who I Am?" situations, but if the answer is "The Guy Who Isn't The One Of Us With An Assault Rifle" it has only so much immediate value...
Star Trek is an interesting case in this debate. Its creators and many of its writers seemed to care about self-consistency, and within a lot of episodes it fell well within my intermediate category. But inconsistencies developed between writers, and some writers didn't care about consistency, so Trek is far from self-consistent as anentire body of fiction.
I'd agree with that. One thing that bugged me in newer series and books is that the original series' three main equiv-tech ships (Romulan Bird-Of-Prey, Klingon Cruiser, Federation Starship) all had designs which clearly followed the same broad tenets of physics - disc/sphere main hull, unobstructed pair of nacelles on pylons/wings - which, whilst they underlying physics were never discussed explicitely, 'feels' better, because the observer can assume the off-camera engineers were working to a set of rules that are part of the narrative of the universe. Then, however, rather too many also-supposedly-equiv-tech ships in Next Generation and similar subsequent shows were shown to be able to ignore part or all of that set of rules to "look cool".
I was going to jump all over this as a misstatement of how a black globe works, but I see someone else already did, and you acknowledged that you knew but wrote it wrong.
Indeed. I was actually trying to hold up the Black Globe as one of the few examples of a shield which makes sense. I think the Starfire shields - which are magnetic-based, and can help against a lot of weapons but pointedly not lasers are one of the others, and the honorverse 'wedge' which also can't be seen through, is probably the other (although the 'sidewalls' bit seemed a bit of an unnecessary literary bolt-on.
That is a good example of a strict rule in the writers' guidelines at SJ Games. If you write about any real technology, get it right. Lasers work like lasers, and if you need something to do something lasers don't do, don't call it a laser.
Exactly so. Feel free to invent things to fill a narrative need (Dune shields to make swordfights a logical element of the universe's battles), but don't use real physics unless you get it as right as you understand it.
One problem with giant anthropomorphic fighting machines is ground pressure. Some of those would crack streets, sink into the soil, and crush the subway tunnels below.
Oh, god yes. Titans, Battlemechs, and AT-ATs are cool and all, but lousy for a number of reasons in the real world (they also have a massive silouhette compared to a tank of the same mass, and suffer the risk of being knocked over by an otherwise survivable impact).

But the point is nothing stops you building one aside from common sense - and in a cityscape, at least, one can assume that the roads are strong enough to cope - not because we know anything about inner sphere building technology, but because if you have for some reason decided that giant walking tanks are the core of your nation's armed forces, you'd build the main streets in and around your major cities strong enough to tolerate the damn things walking along them.
Understand that I'm not advocating violence.
I'm just saying that it's highly effective and I strongly recommend using it.
vargr1
Stoat
Posts: 86
Joined: Thu Nov 08, 2007 9:07 pm

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby vargr1 » Tue Jun 13, 2017 12:08 am

Reynard wrote:
Sun Jun 11, 2017 8:39 pm
I think it was Classic Traveller that Marc said they would stay close to real science with no 'zapatron' ray guns
<cough>meson guns</cough>
Reynard
Cosmic Mongoose
Posts: 2873
Joined: Sat Jun 18, 2011 10:03 pm

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Reynard » Tue Jun 13, 2017 2:24 am

They took the information about the physics of mesons and extrapolated. They don't have zapatron rays that freeze or hypnotize or disintegrate without an expanding radiation burst from the target breaking down instantly. Even their high tech laser weapons can be bulky and have power packs rather than AA batteries. That was what Marc was shooting for, keep it real without being dry and dull or Star Wars silly.
paltrysum
Mongoose
Posts: 158
Joined: Mon Mar 20, 2017 11:16 pm

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby paltrysum » Tue Jun 13, 2017 3:35 am

Reynard wrote:
Tue Jun 13, 2017 2:24 am
That was what Marc was shooting for, keep it real without being dry and dull or Star Wars silly.
Agreed. Fans wanted their laser guns and he provided them. But he also reminded us that the ballistic force of a slug weapon would not be replaced any time soon.
"Spacers lead a sedentary life. They live at home, and their home is always with them—their starship, and so is their country—the depths of space."
locarno24
Cosmic Mongoose
Posts: 2927
Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2005 7:46 pm
Location: Wildly Variable

Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby locarno24 » Tue Jun 13, 2017 9:15 am

Exactly. Even the most fantasy-esque element, psionics, has some common sense hard limits - teleporting having to deal with potential energy thermal shock, for example, or the fact that yes, a telepath can 'assail'someone, but trying to give someone a headache by grimacing at them for ten minutes comes a poor substitute to just emptying five rounds rapid into their head.
Understand that I'm not advocating violence.
I'm just saying that it's highly effective and I strongly recommend using it.

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: paltrysum and 14 guests