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Aurora Isn't Sci-fi.

Guest Marlon Phoenix

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Guest Marlon Phoenix

Clickbait title!

I have a theory for design philosophy for sci-fi settings. Lore/development teams have, in general, three choices of development philosophy. This is true for any HRP server on SS13, and even MRP/LRP servers sometimes.


  • Hard science for Realism. This is what Hypatia and Aphelion(?) attempted, as well as what Aurora tried to do in the lore before I was Loremaster. I view it as time-consuming and not player friendly, but we have scientific justifications for aspects of our setting with a focus on consistency of IRL science. This is the "hard sci-fi" route.
  • Cherry-Picked Realism. Pick and choose what to hand-wave and what to hard-science. This is even more irritating than the above, because realism becomes arbitrary and a weapon to utilize against game mechanics we don't happen to like, rather than as an outlet for players to make their own stories. This was also a theme, even for a bit into my tenure before I brought a full-stop to it, most notably by canonizing all antags and pretty much all aspects of the code as things that exist in our setting. Space carp, wizards, changelings, the cult...
  • Internal Consistency. The focus here is on internal consistency with the rules of the setting, not the rules of our IRL universe, with a focus on relatable content. This is the shift that I started once I became loremaster, and one that I still feel is the best out of these three choices.

The third choice is also a staple of science-fantasy, which Aurora is.

Hard sci-fi is more difficult to write, because it's more constraining. That said, the payoff can be better consistency or drawing audience interest from the internal rules of our universe. Science fantasy is easier to write, and that in itself has people up in arms. But what is hard to understand is that people don't do science-fantasy because they're dumb. They do sci-fantasy because it's easier to produce interesting and quickly relateable content. The lore team could do hard sci-fi if they produced this content at a reasonable pace and quality, but this has never been the case.

There were literally almost a hundred pages of science lore, and all star systems in our setting were meticulously researched to ensure that they could feasibly, realistically exist in our actual IRL universe. In the meantime, Mendell City, the most important and popular city in our setting, has barely anything written about it. Hard sci-fi hampers actual productivity in the forms of relatable content.

So, in the past few months, I have been doing a drive to shy our server away from the sci-fi brand. The most important consideration for lore developments is "Is it consistent for our universe?" rather than "Can it exist in reality?" (This isn't a shaming or belittling of the work put into the lore previously - it's a case of "know your genre" and a change in development philosophy for our particular game.)

That doesn't mean we handwave everything. Once again, science-fantasy isn't an excuse to be lazy. The shift goes from justification to engagement. To make it extremely short, it's the difference between the force being a midichlorian count or a mystical force to the universe. It's the difference between having a full page dedicated to every single aspect of every machine and weapon, or just accepting what we can at face value and adding accessible descriptions to what needs justification. "It's like saying that instant noodles need to be eaten a certain way because of "noodle traditions" or "Japanese table etiquette", or just eating the noodles." (Frances)

This shift, which I've been working on since I became loremaster, has created a much more positive environment and engaging lore for our playerbase. Of course, this isn't a hard stance - I encourage my lore developers to speak their mind and have discussions on things about this that they disagree with. A lot of problems boil down to a failure in communication.

I want to bring this to the public now. Do you think Aurora is better served as a science-fantasy setting rather than a sci-fi setting? Do you think scientific justification is more important or equally important to player engagement? Or, to boil it all down to the base element: why do you play Aurora?

Edited by Marlon Phoenix
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In my opinion, i feel relying on hard science for realism is only truly necessary when you begin to create your universe (there are exceptions, but its very difficult). We do not arbitrarily change the rules of how electricity works, or how atmospheric pressure is applied and indeed the mechanics reflect this. We can easily rely on hard-science to explain this foundation of mechanics because they exist in OUR world and are easily understandable. This relateability or "realism" remains when you rely on common themes. we have reasonable expectations of how laser rifles are going to work, how cloning, telescience and even genetic mutations work from other pop-culture things or other fantasy settings.

Essentially, we dont NEED hard science to explain them because we are relying on an already strong basis for them (a laser rifle is a laser rifle). I think the shift away from science-fiction is a very very good idea because our foundation for mechanics and established themes is quite strong. Theres an extreme amount of potential for developing some pretty crazy and interesting things and i feel trying to explain it with science or curtailing it for "realism" would be doing our universe a disservice.

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I'd prefer to read about or play in a hard science universe, provided my choice was between two fully fleshed out and "finished" universes, one scifi one science fantasy, but you are right when you say that the difficulty of producing it to an enjoyable degree is prohibitive for a volunteer lore team to explain a whole universe that has retcons and updates. I did not consider this point until reading your post, but if it is true (and it makes sense that it would be) that you can cover more content with less effort by going science fantasy, then that is what you should do. You are also correct in your condemnation of selective application of realism. You're doing a great job as lore master imo.

I'd like to add that I think the definition of a hard sci-fi universe (and what Aurora could never be, under your science fantasy design philosophy) is a universe that can be described in a manner such as "Assume axioms a,b,c,d, and e. Assume current understanding of real world rules unless it contradicts the axioms. The universe, or at least its plausibility, proceeds logically from here."

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SS13 is a vidjya game created with non-Hard science factors. (because lol containing a singularity, okay.) If the game was designed with that in mind, the lore should also be designed with that in mind. Now obviously I don't mean everything has to be non-hard science. Hard science has some cool stuff too.

I also think adding new and quirky things is a good idea too. It changes things up and would probably make the game that much more fun (implying anybody reads lore, jk, but really) because well... we don't have that stuff in real life, I guess? Obviously it would probably have to be in "semi-realistic" borders?

inb4 giant laser shooting sea-horses in space.

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Science fantasy is, in a single word, fucking lame. Okay, two words, but who cares

I don't really have too strong feelings about the opinion other than that, though. I'll put it this way..

Star Wars is science fantasy. Nothing is ever explained, not even using technobabble. You're just supposed to (and you do!) accept that blasters are blasters, lightsabers are lightsabers and that there are goblin wizards and samurai robot dads.

Star Trek is science fiction. I'll leave it at that. 99% of all chem names in SS13 (at least if you're not playing on Goonstation or Hippie) are directly copied from Star Trek. Floppy disks are used for data storage and you're meant to accept it because they're called 'datadisks' (I bet some gormless shack builder will try and change this, though, like how computer consoles and PDAs were needlessly changed).

Basically, SS13 is/was a stealthy parody of 70s-80s sci-fi where one gigabyte of data was cutting edge. No amount of gross cat monsters from outer space or cantina bands can change that.

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I had this novella written up about sci-fi and fantasy and why Aurora has elements of both, and then I actually re-read the post more closely. THANKS CLICKBAIT TITLE.


The shift goes from justification to engagement.


This is definitely my favorite part of the OP.

I'm sort of looking at this from the perspective of a video game's design before the lore we're writing around it. I am a fan of hard sci-fi, typically, and I think SS13 as a base game is lousy with elements that could and should be present in a typical hard sci-fi setting. However, SS13 is also a game at the end of the day, and games by their nature handwave realism and justification in favor of engagement all the time. Games that overshoot the mark of fun in an effort to achieve full realism almost always fall flat for everyone except the most hardcore simulation buffs. Fun gets sacrificed in a design that is faithful to a real world model, and then people playing it rediscover that the real world isn't always as fun as the game they wanted to use to escape it for a bit.

Because SS13 is a goofy game of 'Assassin' wrapped up in what was originally supposed to be a fairly serious atmosphere simulator, it has become this strange hybrid of a game that is absurd while trying to look as though it's serious. The station's air obeys the Ideal Gas Law, and yet we're growing monkeys out of cubes with a water dropper, then sacrificing them to Nar'Sie. I don't think that the people curating the lore of the server should fall into the trap of trying to take a setting that has taken so many steps to remove itself from believability and drag it kicking and screaming back to hard sci-fi realism. There are literal wizards, casting literal magic. There is a cult that exists because it touches something our characters cannot understand. I don't want to know why or how, because the lack of understanding is part of what makes these elements impactful.


The most important consideration for lore developments is "Is it consistent for our universe?" rather than "Can it exist in reality?"


This represents a common-sense approach to creating a world consistent with the game it exists around. Consistency becomes so much easier to achieve when we can determine what things we're okay with taking at face value. Once the tone is established and we're done trying to justify element X and Y, we can build outward and write something richer. I think that creating that tone will also encourage players to be a little more creative with their own writing, as they aren't necessarily fact-checking everything - particularly the things that cannot be confirmed with hard science - with hard science. And if they still do, justifications for the most difficult things to explain are (I am guessing) easier to curate by staff than they are to create from scratch.

In short, I kinda like this. And I wasn't expecting to, as thinking up some of those aforementioned justifications is part of what I like to do best. I'll continue to do that as a player, because this sort of approach to lore doesn't necessarily restrict me from doing so. We can still create serious, justified, and realistic characters/plots/concepts within a world less-grounded in reality.

Edited by Guest
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