Monday, October 29, 2007

Technology Levels in a Star Trek MMORPG +

While doing some research on technology scales, I ran across a really interesting site over on Wikipedia. It's the idea, expressed by the Russian cosmologist Nikolai Kardashev, of a scale by which the technology level of a civilization can be classified.

This Kardashev scale, while probably not based directly on the ideas of anthropologist Leslie White, does expand on White's notion that a culture's technological capability is directly proportional to the amount of energy it consumes.

Kardashev proposed three tiers of civilizations -- Types I, II, and III -- each of which uses about 1010 more power than the previous tier. Others who followed Kardashev added Type 0 and Type IV classifications, leading to a system as follows:

Type 0can harness only some of the power available on a planet
Type Ican harness all the power available on a planet (about 1016 watts)
Type IIcan harness all the power available from a star (about 1026 W)
Type IIIcan harness all the power available from a galaxy (about 1036 W)
Type IVcan harness all the power available throughout a universe (roughly 1046 W)

Following this usage, Carl Sagan calculated that the most advanced portions of humanity (as of about 1980) were at the Type 0 level, about seven-tenths of the way to becoming a Type I civilization.

Such a Type I civilization, having reached the point of being able to consume all available power on its home planet, would (if it survived the likely crisis of achieving this level) almost certainly become a spacefaring society, at least within its own solar system.

Similarly, a Type II civilization, after having created ringworlds or Dyson spheres, would probably either perish or become capable of interstellar travel, establishing human life in multiple star systems. The major races of the Star Trek universe might be said to be at an early Type II level of technology.

Type III civilizations, Type IV, and beyond are essentially beyond our speculative comprehension. It's impossible to guess what a human could do -- or become -- with so much power. (The Wikipedia article notes that the Q continuum might be considered beyond Type IV.)

This technology classification system catches my eye for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it reminds me of the planetary classification system from the original Star Trek series onward. A way to classify the technological level of a planet's inhabitants would seem to be a natural companion to the canonical geological/biological classification system.

Secondly, a Star Trek MMORPG, it seems to me, would be missing something important if it didn't include opportunities to test a character's faithfulness to the Prime Directive. That implies the existence in the game of both post-warp and pre-warp civilizations on various planets. To distinguish between such civilizations, we could use a simple pre-warp/post-warp classification system. But while that might work for Star Trek Online as a pure game, it's not very appealing for a persistent world based on the Star Trek universe. The Kardashev scale is a ready-made solution to that problem.

So how about this? Anyone think something like this might have value in Star Trek Online? Or is this mostly just interesting to think about but not really useful even in a game?

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