Virtual and augmented reality services in #Starfinder

This post is a creative piece offering some ideas for the Starfinder roleplaying game. Any resemblance to real life entities are purely coincidental. Please feel free to use this content in your own campaign or discuss or expand on these ideas in the comments.

I present in this post a few ideas for ways in which citizens of the Pact Worlds make use of and benefit from virtual reality or augmented reality services. The Starfinder setting offers futuristic technology to those dwelling in the relatively civilised Pact Worlds system. Where Infosphere bandwidth is sufficient, citizens can make use of holographic and immersive virtual reality technologies to go beyond the limitations of their senses or local environment:

Masquerade, The Ring district of Absalom Station
This sprawling multi-levelled dance club offers state of the art computer services to its patrons, for a stiff entry fee. Visitors can enjoy a wide range of music on its five different themed dancefloors, and the excellent array of drinks and substances sold at the many bars. The main attraction for most patrons is the club-wide support for virtual and augmented reality ‘overlays’. Customers use cybernetic or headset-mounted systems to project a fantastical, stylised or subtle disguise over their body. Regulars call these ‘masks’. Different nights will have themed or strict codes for the types or forms of mask to wear; some nights masks are optional, on others mandatory for all. Socialites judge others by the ingenuity and originality of a given mask, and informally competition is high to be the sensation of the event.

The Shadow Auction, The Eye district of Absalom Station
Not quite such the big secret the name might suggest, this large auction hall is to be found in the central Eye district of the station. Auctions here are strictly ticket-only affairs and tickets are very, very expensive. Wealthy political heavy-weights and business folk meet here under the strictest conditions of anonymity to bid on things of particular rarity and wealth. Participants usually arrive under very stringent security measures, even using magic to obscure their appearance or arrival route.

Each participant of an auction has a private booth with every comfort provided in strict isolation. Their participation in the auction is entirely virtual  – their uniform, androgynous android avatars meet in an “air-gapped” (i.e. offline) Infosphere virtual auction hall. All avatars are uniform in every way and only identified by a randomised number for that particular auction. The system keeps track of bids and informs all participants on the results for the whole auction when it is completed.

CIM movie theatres, various throughout system
The CIM (Cinema sIMulation) franchised technology provides interactive/immersive movie experiences for Pact World citizens throughout the system. Installations vary in size and configuration from the smallest private holo-entertainment suite to large multiplexes for public consumption. Participants immerse themselves in these experiences either individually or in small groups (like private karaoke rooms) using direct Infosphere virtual reality links (cyberware) or an immersive VR ‘tank’ that they sit in. The technology advertises a full sensory experience guaranteed! Individuals or groups can experience multiple different story-paths and variant endings for a given movie or interactive story based on choices or actions while in the CIM.

One very popular CIM series is “Other Worldly”, a series of virtual reality flight simulation movie with immersion turned up to the max. Cambots are used for flights through cometary tails, planetary rings and giant atmospheric storms. Users get to experience ‘flying through’ an alien environment with reconstructed smells and sounds (carefully tuned to acceptable and non-toxic levels).

WorldsMeet, various throughout the Pact Worlds
This platform is a system-wide virtual reality high resolution holographic real-time comms service only available on major Pact Worlds settlements. It is restricted to for calls within a given planet’s Infosphere as transmission delays across the system would interfere with its primary use. Calls are fully immersive holographic projections in one of several configuration.

The most common option is the 1-way (‘go to them’) call where an individual projects their virtual avatar to another location, usually a well-equipped office or performance venue. A second option is a 2-way (‘meet in the middle’) call where two parties or groups both project their avatar or environment to a virtual meeting space. Full 360 visual and aural feed integration is provided to allow for discussion or performances to be shared, but no tactile interaction is possible. Fees vary by world and available connection: standard rates vary between 6-30 credits per minute given sufficient bandwidth capacity.

A related but more limited-purpose service is WorldsWatch for the larger scale holographic participation of an entire audience for a lecture or performance (usually flat fee per event – 100-300 credits per participant not including any fee from the event organisers). This variant is popular for high end music concerts and academic conferences where virtual participation is prefered over the potentially costly and time-consuming travel that would be required to attend an event in person.

This post is based on entries in the Starfinder Core and the Pact Worlds rulebooks, please see these source for more details on specific locations or aspects of the Starfinder setting.

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Posted in Starfinder, TTRPG

Choosing favourites among dailies #swtor

I’m back in Star Wars the Old Republic at the moment and back into running some dailies on my Jedi Shadow tank. I did pop to see Dantooine for the first time, though there’s no pirate event running to take me there and flying there myself uninvited left me with only a couple of daily quests to complete.

They’re cute enough, as Shintar noted a while back it’s unusual to have a mostly peaceful zone like this. Back on Ossus where there’s more to do, I settled back into doing dailies. I’m not playing long enough at a time to do all ten dailies needed for the daily bonus meta-mission, but I can do the five daily meta-mission easily. So over a couple of sessions I get the ten as well.

Not all the dailies are created equal in terms of time investment. I seem to have a lot of poor luck with the “use serum on Genosians” mission. I can try several groups and get none of the eight ‘successes’ needed. The effect of the serum is random, of course, so I might be just being unlucky – not a mission style I’m enamored with. Likewise I find the “freeing Jedi from cages” an annoying mission to complete as you have to break stealth to open the cage and, invariably, a large group of guards will pull. I could sleaze it with my emergency stealth button but, waiting to do that four times just isn’t satisfying or time-efficient when I have limited time to play.

Other missions that I do mostly do are the various missions in the Canyon: killing two named Genosians, planting beacons and blasting nests closed. That’s a particularly neatly packed set of missions in a smallish area. I often end up doing the macronbinocular mission even though it requires a bit of flying around; I just like it as a non-combat objective.

Don’t mind me, I’m just a passing tourist…

Do you have favourite Ossus dailies?

Posted in MMORPG, SWTOR | 1 Comment

Blaugust ho!

So it’s approaching Blaugust time again, a slightly terrifying revelation as that means the summer is sliding rapidly past. It also means I’m half way through the RPG Writer online course that I’ve been avidly following this month. Blaugust is another annual “encourage lots of writing” event, focused on bloggers and other content creators.

Blaugust 2019 logo

Courtesy of aggronaut.com

In theory I should have the RPG Writer event tied up shortly after Blaugust starts, so in time to commit at least somewhat to an increase in blogging activity for this blogging community event. I took part with gusto last year. I’d highly recommend taking part as there is always a veritable flood of posts to spark conversations and reply-post ideas. There’s also the Discord chat platform if desired. See Belghast’s intro post for all the details.

I’ll sign-up as I plan to be blogging anyway; and very helpfully there’s expectation of particularly high post-counts. Certainly any attempt at daily posting is not going to be possible this year. After, in theory, writing a 3500+ word D&D adventure for the above mentioned course, I’ll want a slightly calmer August…

 

 

Posted in MMORPG | 1 Comment

A fresh perspective #swtor #worldofwarcraft

I’ve found myself playing Star Wars the Old Republic again for the first time in a while. The levelling trio Imperial-side were brought back out of mothball. I’m taking a break from World of Warcraft because I’m not likely to play enough to justify using a WoW token for the next month or so, so it was time to hit up some other mmorpgs for group fun.

The group was left at the end of their original launch-game content, so it was time to take them on to Rise of the Hutt Cartel’s Makeb!

I’ve only played through the planet twice before: on my original Jedi Sage and my Trooper characters, both Republic-side characters. I do remember the Republic faction-story pretty well so it was a very pleasant surprise how very different the Imperial faction-story starts and develops (no spoilers in comments please for either!).

A faction-story split like this, if done well, can offer a measure of replayability to zones without going to the extreme of per class story arcs that SWTOR offered up to this point, and World of Warcraft offered in the Legion expansion. When such varied content is available I’ll certainly take it, but I realise it’s not that viable for mmorpg developers to invest that many resources into parallel story production. At least if there are two distinct perspectives on the story or zone it offers something extra.

Since the 8.2 patch cinematics there have been discussions online about whether World of Warcraft’s story is heading towards an abandonment of the current factions. From one perspective I’d be happy to say goodbye to what I see as a tired, over-worked storyline. Perhaps new factions based on for or against the Void/Old Gods could shake things up without taking away mechanically from the PVP aspects of the game? If the factions were to be merged for all intents, as Rift did some time ago, the one thing I would miss would be the potential loss of faction-specific storylines.

Although I’m not a big fan of the traditional two faction model in many mmorpgs, they can at least offer a fresh perspective on familiar content if handled well.

Posted in MMORPG, SWTOR | 1 Comment

The trust mechanic in FFXIV

I read with some interest of the new ‘trust’ mechanic in Final Fantasy 14 via my blogroll. I agree with Bhagpuss that it sounds like a step in the right direction if not the perfect solution already. The game’s insistence on grouping while levelling through the Main Scenario Quest (the core story) has been a real bone of contention since the A Realm Reborn relaunch of the game. Runs when we have sporadically played are usually not too fraught for what are essentially pick-up groups (PUGs), but equally they are often silent and always at breakneck speed.

Here again!

Repeating a dungeon or trial in this way isn’t that big a deal, indeed most of the more veteran players are doing just that for alt jobs or some kind of repeatable content reward. Experiencing either for the first time in such a group however, is painful in my view – you rarely absorb what is going on in fights, and are often the one lagging behind or missing boss mechanics.

So the trust mechanic as a NPCs fill the party up concept is really nice, it will mean players can experience (entirely optionally) MSQ dungeons with slightly less zergy companions for that all important story-mode run through – I hope the NPCs won’t moan at you to ‘skip video’ in chat?

I’m not playing or following FFXIV at the moment as there are too many MMORPGs and too little gaming hours, but we did return to the game not so long ago for another free playtime period and it remains an utterly beautiful and charming game. The forced grouping is one of the points most putting husband and I off from playing it more regularly.

Were the ‘trust’ mechanism to be extended to all the MSQ dungeons, trials and raids for earlier expansions (we’ve barely just entered into Heavensward) – then I daresay we might be back there soon. However, this isn’t just about standardising the system across the whole game. Much more importantly I’d want the system to support duo players, not just soloers, also – have it fill up the party with appropriate-role NPCs for existing premade groups: so our healer+DPS duo would receive a tank and another DPS NPC to accompany us. That version of the ‘trust’ system could well tip the balance for me.

Posted in FFXIV, MMORPG | 5 Comments

The MMORPGs I have been playing

Although I took a break from posting about MMORPGs for a couple of months, I have been playing them nonetheless. I continue to play a couple of different games to fill different needs and play schedules.

World of Warcraft
Friends and family keep me tied to Azeroth pretty firmly this year so far, I’ve taken the odd break, but with 8.2 now here there’s new stuff to do again. I play a good three or four sessions of WoW a week on average, with half the time being group dungeon runs and the remainder duo’ing new content with my husband. The two new zones seem mostly duo friendly, so I look forward to pushing on through them with him.

Nazjatar can be tough

Recently we were running low on things to do with our small circle of friends, and 8.2 hasn’t fixed that yet because the new ‘mega-dungeon’ doesn’t unlock for a while after the patch date. Back in May we started a new leveling group, to level a set of allied race characters via dungeon runs.

A familiar scene

The characters are a bit spread out in level, though thankfully that doesn’t matter much with the large level-sync banding now in the game. I  have a Dark Iron Dwarf Warlock I’m playing at the moment, now at level 29; I also have  a Pandaran Monk who was being leveling as a duo in different zones so he’s higher at level 55.

Everquest 2
Despite a lot of World of Warcraft, I did manage to get some longer sessions in Everquest 2 this Spring. I finished the main Planes of Prophecy timeline on my Shadowknight, who had no trouble with power spikes causing random fatalities in solo dungeons. I then played through the entire crafting timeline on my Inquisitor/Woodworker character. I want to reiterate how much fun these crafting timeline is, it’s a charming story that involves *zero* combat. How often can we say in the MMORPG genre that we have substantial and engaging content to play through that isn’t heavily or totally focused on fighting?

Forget leap, this is a walk of faith…

Since completing those two arcs I’ve been less decisive about what to do next; it seems my Shadowknight is woefully undergeared for the follow up Chaos Descending timeline. Grinding gear to unlock that didn’t appeal, and my sessions have become rather shorter if not any less frequent, so I’ve instead been pottering around on a couple of low level alts and starting a second character on the crafting timeline as well. It’s about time I had an alchemist in EQ2 to make some potions for all my alts – it is my favourite tradeskill/profession afterall!

In EQ2 I have the opposite problem that I have in other MMORPGs that I play, just so much content I could be doing that I come close to feeling paralysed by the weight of choices available.

Beyond these two games: I’m also playing some Terraria with a friend on the odd occasion that my husband is busy but the friend is free. It’s a charming, if grindy, little game. Otherwise my free time is being channeled into writing projects and roleplay sessions. I’m currently managing to run 2-3 sessions of D&D and Starfinder a month, via Fantasy Grounds, not bad compared to previous years!

Happy gaming everyone.

Posted in EQ2, MMORPG, World of Warcraft | 3 Comments

Looking for work in the Pact Worlds #StarfinderRPG

This post is a creative piece offering some ideas for the Starfinder roleplaying game. Any resemblance to real life entities are purely coincidental. Please feel free to use this content in your own campaign or discuss or expand on these ideas in the comments.

Adventurers in the Pact Worlds setting have more options open to them than wandering into a bar or always calling their Starfinder Venture Captain for the next job. Technology and the Infosphere have an impact on this aspect of life just as they do on so many others.

Pact-Works!
Endorsed and funded by the Pact Worlds administration via the headquarters on Absalom Station, Pact-Works! is a a sprawling Infosphere site and service that offers flexible and varied means for citizens on any world in the system to advertise work to others. Companies also use the site for their recruitment needs. Most jobs are in the form of a video presentation, research has shown that your average potential applicant responds better if they can see and hear their future employer. Company video adverts are often interactive presentations with a slick introduction and AI-guided short clips of a human resources representative offering to guide them through the application requirements and frequently asked questions.

Adverts are organised and search for via keywords that specify the role in general terms, the location and planet of work, salary and other particulars. These are colour coded to groupings like ‘benefits offered’ and ‘required skills’, this also allows a video-to-text and video-to-audio converter services to arrange and introduce details accordingly for those who are unwilling or unable to access the video version. The system is strict about minimum details required, and is watched over by an advanced and rather meticulous AI called AG3NT. This very helpful, if rather strict, virtual manager watches all adverts for signs of incomplete data, poor expressed information or less-than-serious material. It is empowered by the system administrators to take adverts offline if they do not meet minimum standards.

Job seekers can connect in VR to the Infosphere site for a meeting with AG3NT in a virtual office setting. This AI will help with identifying suitable work, composing an application response and even broader career advice. All of this, of course, only applies to citizens who take using the service seriously and honestly. Others prefer the less intense alternative of searching or browsing the various job advert videos on the site. It is also possible to run text-only searches, or have automated searches run periodically, to send lists of potential work to a DriftNet address or for digest-mode mailings with video links for later perusal.

Bar job-board
At the opposite end of the scale almost from Pact-Works! is the common system of many bars in the seedier or more remote settlements across the Pact Worlds, the job-board. In such settlements where Infosphere bandwidth is limited and expensive to tap into, a very local solution to finding workers is preferred. Technology still has a role to play, but a much simpler one. In places where workers congregate, e.g. the local bar in a mining settlement on Verces, there will be a corner interactive screen that displays any wanted ads for the community – including a ‘job-board’ section where vacant positions can be advertised.

Such ads are usually plain text descriptions with a salary offer and a comm-unit number to contact the employer. The patrons of the bar can browse through them on screen or, if they have the tech, can link to the system from their device to browse and even apply from the comfort of their nearby seat Such interactive displays are mostly very standard in features regardless of make or model. It is not unheard of for an inebriated tech-head patron to hack such a board to place joke adverts or to mess with the details of those already there…

News Corp Jobs
The sprawling news service run by AbadarCorp has a large and well used job service based on an Infosphere site. It’s a slick service with plenty of options for advertisers and job-seekers. It is particularly liked by larger companies as it lacks the strict format rules of the Pact-Works! service. This service charges for jobs to be advertised, but these job listings will then feature in multimedia adverts across the News Corp network on any selected platforms (costs vary according to the number and prominence of platform). Applicants can use the service for free once they have registered or if they access the service via their existing HoloSphere account.

Spikecast “At Work
An optional feed for this DriftNet only news service is the Spikecast “At Work” job listing service. Users have to opt-in to receive these listings and they have to specify a set of keywords for jobs to include. The service is limited in functionality because of the medium used: text only with character limits. It is used a lot by folks in the Diaspora where travels distances and Infosphere bandwidth limit the chances for job-seekers and employers to meet. The service finds some users even on Absalom Station – it is the only major job service that has no filters or oversight. So, for criminal elements it is the only far-reaching means to find new talent.

This post is based on entries in the Starfinder Core and the Pact Worlds rulebooks, please see these source for more details on specific locations or aspects of the Starfinder setting.

Posted in Starfinder, TTRPG