Friday, February 13, 2009

Game Mechanics for Faster-Than-Light Travel

Some time back while working on a game design, I toyed with some ideas for an interstellar travel mechanism that didn't copy the hyperspace/warp or "folding" metaphors of well-known science fiction.

One approach, though perhaps a little too close to Douglas Adams's "infinite improbability drive," was based on the quantum-mechanical notion of particles existing as packets of probability: locations where something has merely a high probability of existing, but bumped up to the macro level similar to the box where Schrödinger's cat lives (or doesn't live).

In this model, "moving" is a matter of minimizing the probability that a macro-level-sized object (and everything on or inside that object) exists in one location and maximizing the probability that it exists in another, desired location. If the universe can be made to believe that rather than being where I seem to be right now, I'm much more likely to be in Paris, or on Mars, or somewhere deep within the Messier 13 globular cluster, who's going to argue with what the universe says is true?

This was sort of cute, and could work as written fiction, but I didn't feel it was quite right for a game in which the theory behind superluminal travel should be a bit more mechanistic, allowing it to be translatable into functional gameplay effects.

So another idea I liked better was something I called "temporal space," or "t-space," wherein the dimension of time essentially doesn't exist. To put it another way, anything that exists anywhere in t-space can exist everywhere in t-space simultaneously. Since t-space maps onto our normal space (albeit in an extremely complex way), if you could move an object from our space into t-space, then determine the point in normal space at which this object could be made to exit t-space, you should be able to travel between any two points in real space in only the time it would take you to perform the entry and exit transitions.

The limits to this were three: interface junctions between normal space and temporal space are rare and hard to find; calculating the precise flow of energies necessary to exit t-space at the desired location is extremely difficult at best; and normal space momentum is preserved within t-space, meaning that the further away you exit t-space from your entry point, the greater the delta between your velocity and that of objects at your target position.

Obviously all this stuff is what the wonderful rulebook for Paranoia would likely have called examples of "pseudoscientific gibberish." It's utter rubbish, but there are enough scientific-sounding phrases to create an illusion of plausibility sufficient for literary or gaming purposes.

Fun to invent and play around with, though. :)

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