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Gameable Science Fiction

March 14, 2007

Now that we’ve announced Thousand Suns™, I thought I’d make a post talking about this product, what it’s about, and why we’re doing it. First things first: this game has no impact on my work on Fourth Millennium™ whatsoever. Both are science fiction games, it’s true, but they are vastly different in almost every respect. Indeed, it’s because of the breadth of science fiction as a genre that I don’t feel there’s any overlap between the two games. Fourth Millennium™ is still on schedule for a 2008 release and will be its own game, with its own unique approach and style, so never fear!

Thousand Suns™ is a space opera game. Space opera is sometimes used a pejorative term, referring to ridiculous space stories without any regard for science, characterization, or plotting. It’s used this way by people who think science fiction should be “serious,” which is to say purely speculative fiction about timeless ideas and concepts. Obviously, I disagree and feel that science fiction, like any genre of literature, has a place for escapism. Space opera is escapist and is heir to a venerable tradition going all the way back to the earliest science fiction stories appearing in the pulp magazines in the 1930s and 1940s.

Space opera is the most accessible and, therefore, gameable form of science fiction in my opinion. That’s because most people instinctively understand what it’s about. Space opera is grand science fiction, with vast galactic empires, strange, new worlds, and lots of alien species, both malevolent and benign. In many ways, it’s the purest form of modern fantasy. The future, whatever it really holds, will almost certainly bear no resemblance to the content of space opera, but that’s not the point. Space opera is not about accurately predicting the future or giving dire warnings about contemporary trends. Instead, it’s about adventure. The infinite reaches of the galaxy are a broad canvas on which to paint an infinity of adventure stories. That’s what space opera is about and that’s why it holds such an appeal.

Thousand Suns™ takes this to heart and presents, both in its rules and its setting, the innumerable possibilities that interstellar travel makes possible. This is a game where space marines take on pirates, starfighters do battle for the glory of the galactic emperor, and explorers uncover ancient alien ruins and their amazing lost technologies. In short, it’s about having fun, not worrying about the effects nanotechnology will have on human society or realistically extrapolating what an interstellar polity would look like. That’s not to say that Thousand Suns is some sort of parody or satire; it’s not. Instead, it accepts the conventions of space opera and embraces them, moving forward to create a gaming environment that models the works of the greatest writers of science fiction past and present.

Ove the next few weeks, I’ll talk more about the specific details of Thousand Suns™ (along with Fourth Millennium™) and its rules and setting. Until then, grab an old copy of Asimov or Piper or Anderson or maybe visit a bookstore and buy a book by Weber or Hamilton or Bujold. These will prepare you well for the fun we have in store for you.

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