What I Love in Sci-Fi Games

I run a Traveller game every fortnight and have played in a fair few sci-fi games such as Star Wars, MegaTraveller and Mechwarrior. I thought I might lay down here on the blog a few of the things that I really love to see in my sci-fi games, be it running or playing in them.

Some shots from X3

First thing I will mention is a name.  Ridley Scott.  Alien, Blade Runner, Prometheus.  I love these movies.  There have been some bad sci-fi movies but in my humble opinion these three are great.  The reason why may be a little surprising too.  I like them because they each tell intimate personal stories that have wide effect on the environment or setting.  Sure, Prometheus has a few holes here and there and many people love Alien for the alien, but for me it is the story of Ripley, Ash and the whole crew that makes it such a classic.  Rutger Hauer’s portrayal of the replicant that just wanted to live that little bit longer is so touching as is Harrison’s portrayal of the Blade Runner that fell in love with the very thing he had been trained to hunt.  These personal stories are what I love to see in a science fiction game.  The personal set against the massive backdrop of space.

On the flip side of the personal stories presented here are some of the details of those movies.  Replicants, androids and robots.  High tech replicants that need a specialised test to be able to be differentiated from actual humans.  Androids like Ash who are very similar, and feeding in to that Aasimov and his laws of robotics and how they could interplay with the androids.  If you haven’t read I Robot by Aasimov, do yourself a favour and get the book.  It is brilliant.  I do like alien forms too, but the more intelligent form of alien.  While a good bug hunt is a great way to inject your game with some action but I prefer my aliens with intelligence and ambitions a little beyond eat and impregnate.

Flying in close for a look!

Books also play a large part of my interest in sci-fi games.  From an early age I started reading sci-fi at a very early age.  My favourite books were the Galactic Warlord series written by Douglas Hill.  They were an awesome series of books following the main character who was the last legionnaire.  The last of his race.  From there I moved into other styles of futuristic books, more like William Gibson and adopted things like cyberware and human enhancement from these books.  Both of them are books that are all about personal interactions again.  Recently I found Peter F. Hamilton as well and have devoured a load of his books.  It is these books that make me want to drag my games into a more modern sci-fi setting.  He masters brilliant ideas of futuristic possibility in stories that build out of complex character interaction.  If you want to see what style of game I want to run read the Nights Dawn or Void trilogy series from him.  They are big, complicated books but brilliant stories about interacting networks of characters, each with their own ambitions that tell a greater story.

Some fantastic structures in space!

Space offers a unique perspective to play a game.  Star Wars treats planets as different set backings and run a sweeping space opera of kings and thrones or Emperors and Senates if you will.  That style of game is OK, and I get why it is so popular but I prefer a much more realistic story that Traveller can offer.  It is based in realism, solid science in a lot of the rules and sound economic markets.  I love the idea that you are playing the ordinary person just trying to make their way in a Universe full of possibilities.

The realness of the ships is important to me.  I want the players to come to think of their boat as their home much more than they ever give credit to their home worlds!  I want them to treat each other as family and support one another in their own interests and troubles.  I don’t want the players to treat the planets they visit like bus stops.  I want them to build up networks amongst the planets that they travel, regardless of if they ever travel back or not.  That way they can still ask for favours from those in the best place to provide them.  Networks are the way to build up intriguing plots and also a layered game and I would like the players to develop their interests and their own networks.  Deal with their own drive and develop ambitions and goals for each character.

And on to Eve online 🙂

The next question I face is do I like a long story or episodic games.  I do like developing deep stories that last over time and build in intensity as well as complexity.  There is beauty in a short episodic game  and I do like to do a game like this every now and again but short episodic games tend to become too formulaic and I find that if you run just on that formula that it will get old quickly and the players lose interest in the game.  Do it as a side trek every now and again and it can reenergise a game.

I think that is largely the things I love about sci-fi games and stories.  They have such wide scope and grandiose backdrops.  But for me to feel the story is effective means that it has to be a personal story.  Stories about real characters in unreal settings are what I love to see in this style game.  Characters that are tested by their surroundings and their relationships.  But stories that build out of the players choices and ambitions for their characters.  Space is the giant sandbox and to railroad a group into a set plot can be a real crime (it is of course dependent on the story though).  Until next time, keep rolling!

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