Technology’s March

I was away for the long holiday weekend so I am playing catch-up. We went to Virginia for Thanksgiving and snuck in a trip to Washington D.C. What trip to D.C. would not be complete without a visit to the National Air and Space Museum? My two kids (9 and 7) had never been before so it was a real treat. The orginal Wright flyer is there. So is this beauty:

One giant step for mankind

The picture doesn’t do justice to the feeling you get when looking at it that it was assembled in somebody’s garage. This is an actual lunar module that wasn’t used because testing was completed before it was needed. You can see screws on the outsides of the metal panels. But besides the appearence of being rather crudely manufactured what’s probably most amazing is that the electronics and computing power onboard are miniscule compared to my 3 year old desktop that won’t run anything without the graphics settings turned way down. The best circuits of the day went into making the lander. When I was studying electrical engineering in the mid-eighties the frontier was VLSI. Twenty plus years earlier when they were designing the lunar modules the technology was described here

“Informally, the programs were called “ropes” because of the durable form of read-only memory into which they were transformed for flight, which resembled a rope of woven copper wire. For the lunar missions, 36K words of “fixed” (read-only) memory, each word consisting of 15 bits plus a parity bit, were available for the program. In addition there were 2K words of artfully timeshared “erasable” or RAM memory. Allowing for the identical Apollo guidance computer (AGC) in the Command Module (CM), containing a program called COLOSSUS, it is correct to say that we landed on the moon with 152 Kbytes of computer memory.”

So what does this have to do with strategy games? Well, on the drive home I started designing the ultimate space opera game in my mind. While winding through the mountains of West Virginia in the middle of a torrential rain storm I started thinking about the difference between the Lunar Module and the planed Orion spaceship…..and the difference between the Wright Flyer and the Lunar Module. I was contemplating this because any epic space opera game like MOO usually has to have a research system that drives technological change and “refit” system where old designs and gizmos are replaced with the latest and greatest. The scope and pace of the technology change in the research system drive this.

In a game like MOO or Gal Civ Moore’s Law style technological change is let loose for what would be decades or centuries over the course of the game play. The difference between the laser and the stellar convertor was vast orders of magnitude. A early game ship is vaporized almost instantly when confronting a mid game ship. The scope of the game play goes from fledging space travel to interstellar imperiums.

A contrasting approach is the Honor Harrington universe where R&D proceeds at a slower pace. There are still discontinuities where sudden jumps in technological innovation change the strategic calculus. The introduction of missile pods is one such occurence. This type of breakthrough opened up windows of opportunity that suddenly closed when the opponent countered with a technological or tactical response.

Here are some general thoughts on how I would approach this:

1. Slow down the pace of technological change by decreasing the time frame.

2. Limit the array of weapons to Energy, Missile and Kinetic. This is pretty standard.

3. Each weapon category can have a limited number of designs which must be prototyped and then are available for inclusion in ship “class” designs.

4. Each weapon prototype which is put in to production can have generation versions. The system that governs the interaction/resolution of weapon parameters vs. ship defense/survivability should be discrete and normalized to comprehensible numbers i.e. gains are never measured/displayed in percentages.

5. Each hull size can have a fixed number of class designs. Some amount of resources/time must be spent blue printing, prototyping and deploying them.

6. Ships are laid down in orbital construction yards and are assigned to the yard as an asset. So many turns must pass before they are launched. If the yard is destroyed so is the ship.

7. Grant access to all hull sizes immediately.

8. Come up with some system to reward multi hull size use.

9. Allow each hull refits where old components are upgraded to newer versions.

10. Allow planetary invasion on a seperate hex map like Emperor of the Fading Suns. Wait, that doesn’t belong here….but do not forget.

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