Dec 20 2013

Elysium Flare


I’m working on a new project. It started as a bit of a lark, a dare even — I was thinking about the kinds of games I didn’t feel strongly about writing, or more correctly the kinds of settings I wasn’t keen on. And I though, well, it would be something of a challenge to write something really effective on a topic I wasn’t very enthusiastic about. Maybe it’s a test of professionalism (can I write to spec) or maybe it’s just me admitting to myself that actually I kind of do love some genres that I don’t want to love.

So I dredged around for something that I thought hadn’t been done well and was also something I wasn’t keen on and I decided that the world needs a strong space opera game. Something that you could run a Star Wars story in without feeling like you were strapped to the Lucas canon. And so I started writing Elysium Flare, a completely novel space fantasy setting for Fate Core. Right now there’s around 20k words done and it looks like that will at least double before we’re through.

Helping me in the creative process is the brilliant Colombian artist, Juan Ochoa, who has been doing conceptual sketches of aliens and space craft and generally firing my imagination. The end product will feature plenty of his work and if I’m really ambitious, it will be available in full colour.

Now of course I can’t leave a game alone. I can’t just write a game that has aliens and call it space opera. I need it to do something special, something novel, something derived from but outside of the setting. Okay, I admit it, I generally need a game to say something important to me. So the salient feature of this space opera setting is alien species. There are lots of them — the cantina scene in Star Wars was a formative image for me — and so I have to wonder what kinds of things that implies and so of course what kinds of mechanisms will support those implications. There is a sense, then, in which Elysium Flare will be about (mechanically) diversity. Not in any deep sense, I fear, since I am not a social scientist, but in some sense.

But there’s another thing that’s crept in that I hadn’t really intended. I watched the Star Wars films a few times to get my head into this place, and I also read a lot of classic science fiction from the fifties and sixties and decided that there is another axis of exploration for this genre — it it divides it starkly from our objectives in Diaspora: the game needs mystical and psychic elements. That is, it needs physics to be more than just our natural physics. This will not be a game that celebrates skepticism and gritty science.

I’m not prepared, though, to just way my hands and shout “it’s magic”. It’s a cheap gag and at once too easy and too hard. It’s easy to do, to simply avoid explanation, but it’s hard because just waving your hands opens up the possibilities to, well, anything. Worlds need boundaries and structure even if we are going to admit to forces other than the natural. And I am certainly not pleased with the kind of sleight-of-hand behind “magic is science we don’t understand” because, well, I just call bullshit on that. All respect to Clarke, but if you have a scientific method then unexplained phenomena are never magical. Just avenues to explore.

So in addition to aliens, I am keeping to a consistent “three worlds” model of science. There are natural physics, the sciences that affect our real world. We may have to admit to some modifications to allow faster-than-light travel and cool looking spacecraft, but we can still call them natural though different. But then there are also mystical physics — laws and models that describe the impact of forces external to the universe on the universe. You could slot The Force in here if you are a Machete-order fan or just plain don’t buy the organic explanation for it. Or if, like me, you simply prefer your Force mystical. And finally in order to encompass real space opera, I’ll stir in psychic physics — the power of the mind as something not strictly explicable by natural physics. A kind of internal rather than external mysticism.

So now that I have a bunch of aliens and a bunch of different physics, of course the work demands that I start drawing lines between these things — some species use some physics more than others. Some cannot use one or another. Some are preternaturally skilled at one or another. We start to buy a little diversity from the otherwise unrelated idea. That’s always satisfying to see emerge from your writing.

Anyway, no date yet, but it is moving pretty fast.