So. I’ve spent the past few months noodling around with this particular idea, diagramming most of the narrative and doing behind-the-scenes things to get to the point I could openly talk about it. It’s more world-building exercise gone crazy than anything else, but it should hopefully produce some interesting discussion, if nothing else. (And give everyone a taste of my rather…odd sense of humor.)
What’s All This, Then?
There’s an old saw about writing what you know. Well, I am a history major who was foolish enough to go to law school, all the while nursing a love of science fiction and space in general. So let’s throw them all into a blender and see what happens!
So A Game About Time-Traveling Phoenix Wright, OBJECTING! to Historical Cariactures Doing Cartoonish Things? AWESOME.
…no, but that does indeed sound awesome. Like Where In Time Is Carmen Santiago?, but with even more lavish ludicrousness. I really wish I’d thought of that sooner. Might’ve saved me months of storyboarding that now seems hopelessly quaint by comparison.
Phooey. Where’re You Going With This, Then?
Allow me to introduce everyone to Ordered Space, a science fiction setting that is heavily influenced by Harry Turtledove’s short stories “Hebrig-Haro” and “The Road Not Taken”. (As well as others which have tackled the same theme, I’m sure: “The Road Not Taken” is simply what planted the seed for me.) The conceit of the universe is simple: What if humanity’s conception of spaceflight is skewed by our the particular stellar composition of Sol, and that the distances between stars can in fact be traversed on a high Renaissance technical base? And, indeed, that the stars are filled with great empires that have, to our modern eyes, no more than a Georgian understanding of physics?
So Literally The Napoleonic Wars In SPAAAAAACE!, Complete With Humans and Aliens Running Around In Snazzy Uniforms and Outlandish Hats?
That’d be just plain silly. No, it’s only the aliens that have the outlandish fashions. Humanity’s a refugee from a hard sci-fi Plausible Midfuture, where the tyranny of the mass penalty is in full effect. And where the children of Earth are confined to Sol, for it’s impossible to go faster than the speed of light without making Einstein’s ghost cry tears of blood. (And/or breaking causality in the process.) Until the naturally-occurring phlebtonium which allows for it is synthesized, at least, and humanity’s dumbstruck by finding that in a galaxy full of men, it is the angels, as it were.
So Humanity Proceeds to Conquer the Galaxy Due to Technological Superiority? BO-RING.
Pfft. A little credit. (Almost) all known alien civilizations originate from and reside in a region known as Ordered Space. (Ladies and gentlemen, we have one-half of a title!) Ordered Space is bubble roughly a hundred parsecs (~320 LY) in diameter, in which obvious relics of astroengineering by a Conspicuously Absent Kardashev Type III Entity/Civilization are everywhere. Like, say, the fact that the majority of main-line stars are packed with dozens of garden worlds that could only be the result of purposeful optimization of orbits and stellar composition. (Or the more extreme examples, like the literal geocentric system that is held together by an immensely complicated web of singularities.) So a light hand is exercised when it comes to Ordered Space, lest Cthulhu merely be hibernating instead of Really Gone™ and be enraged by humanity’s defecating in his garden when he wakes up.
Besides, like any good human society from the Plausible Midfuture, humanity was – and remains – just a wee-bit decadent. The idea of conquering planets full of the unwashed masses whom taxpayers would be obligated to support is untenable on fiscal grounds, while simply glassing their worlds from orbit to depopulate them runs afoul of avoiding Cthulhu’s wrath and is more than a bit offensive to the sensibilities of a still essentially liberal world.
So What’s Going On Then, If Humanity Isn’t Curbstomping Every Refugee From Star Trek It Meets?
Oh, there was a bit of curbstomping! Humanity discovered juumarium, the phlebtonium which enables FTL travel, roughly a century ago. (An inventive name, I know.) First contact with the Empire of a Thousand Stars occurred within a decade: As the greatest polity and uncontested hegemon of Ordered Space, the Empire offered humanity vassalhood and the protection afforded by the power of such an illustrious and powerful patron. (After nearly a year of figuring out how to communicate, of course.) The human delegation had the temerity to not only turn away the Emperor’s beneficence, but act as though they were the Empire’s equals! Such was an insult to the Imperial dignity which could not be tolerated, and so a nice little “war” was had. Which ended in a maelstrom of atomic hellfire and XASER barrages. At which point the Empire concluded that while humanity were emphatically not equals, they were to be accorded the utmost respect and courtesy. As a show of the Emperor’s magnanimity and the Empire’s commitment to comity and brotherhood between two great peoples, of course.
In the intervening 80 or so years, the peace has held. Humanity and Ordered Space have maintained contact, occasionally trading and cultural exchanges, all the while humanity has continued to expand out into the wider galaxy. Technological exports are thoroughly regulated to the point of being embargoed, with arguably the most active point of contact are through jointly manned customs forces to maintain the embargo. Human adventurers and dreamers go to Ordered Space: Academics, evangelists, and soldiers of fortune are all equally likely to make the journey. There is almost no reverse flow to human territories: The reasons for that go far beyond the scope of this pitch/concept document.
Incidentally, most of the focus is on the Empire of a Thousand Stars because its aliens – the vallrn – are the most human-like in Ordered Space. For a very crude mental image, think batarians. Ordered Space has other species which are rather more Really Alien than Forehead-Bump Alien, with correspondingly greater difficulty meaningfully interacting with them.
All Right, You’ve Got A Setting Where Stuff Can Happen. But Where’s the Game?
I’m getting to that! Jeez. People today. You do a game pitch and all they want to do is talk about the game. The nerve.
The game is the story of a lawyer who receives a commission as a magistrate judge for the Moiya system, a world situated on the frontier between the Commonwealth of Sovereign Systems and Ordered Space. Originally charted sixty years ago by Sanjiro Moiya, it’s become home to a dozen settlements across the breadth of the system – being equal measures Caribbean tourist destination, frontier mining camp, and Amish village – all of which have judicial needs great and small. A major component of the game is the player’s “riding circuit” to distant courthouses. (And we have a second-half of a title, everybody!)
A Judge, You Say? I’ve Never Seen That Before! Does That Mean That I AM. THE LAW.?
But no, as much fun as the cheesy Sly Stallone Judge Dredd was, you are not the law. Though you can mete out decisions which have no basis in the facts of the case or the actual law, which can only be overturned on appeal. Appeals to the Inner Colonies, which are a week away by courier in a setting with no FTL ansible. To appellate courts that’re are just as overworked as those today.
Either way, it’s just like being on the real trial bench, so mission 100% accomplished. (I kid, I kid! …but only a little.)
So What Kind Of Story Will Be Happening While I’m Being Spacin’ Judge Rip Studwell?
Spacing is likely a cruel and unusual punishment which is prohibited by the Commonwealth’s equivalent of the 8th Amendment. Of course, if they don’t ever find out about it, they can’t object, can they?
To return to the heart of the matter: Ordered Space: Riding Circuit is ultimately intended to be an introduction to the Ordered Space universe. As a result, it’s scope is small and its problems mundane: I loathe to use the term “slice-of-life” when dealing with an alien-filled World of Tomorrow, but the drivers of the plot are the various cases which the player is asked to adjudicate and the various relationships cultivated with the community. It is, I think, best summarized as a life story, about the protagonist’s five-year tour of duty as a stranger in a strange land and what life, if any, that might be made. It’s about an individual’s journey as they shape – and become part of – a new community. (Or not: Being a jerk, alienating everyone, and hopping the first transport back for civilization where you can enjoy five-years worth of hazard pay on a beach somewhere is an equally acceptable play-choice.)
All Of That Sounds Cool! …And There’s A “But” Coming, Isn’t There?
From a certain point of view, I suppose so.
A major underlying theme at work with this project is writing what you know. I am, for better or worse, a straight male who is a proud member of the manocartic manocracy. So the current storyboards not only have the game gender-locked to male, but also make no provision for any non-heterosexual romance interests. (You can’t very well conceive of a game about building a life without a substantial romance component.) This isn’t to say that you are required to be straight: Current storyboarding currently allows for user-definition of their orientation, be it hetero-, a-, or homosexual. But at present, orientation plays a minimal roll in content-gating, as does romancing: Substantial interactions are slated with the NPCs who are romanceable, regardless of which path an MC takes. (Though romance, of course, opens up a few more.)
BUT I WON’T PLAY A GAME WHICH DOESN’T LET ME IDENTIFY MY CHARACTER’S SEX AND/OR GENDER ON SIX AXES!
I exaggerate, but only for effect. Any sharp-elbowedness is simply to support such.
I have never been a fan of gender-swapping and other such design kludges used to facilitate choice of player sex, gender, and orientation. I use “kludge” in the kindest possible way: While I find it unartful, it’s a legitimate choice that is, for many, better than the alternative. But I am a BiowWare Kid who grew-up on the notion of defined NPCs whose dialogue changed upon the status of the MC. So the alternative – unique branches and dialogue for each potential sex/orientation option, with a third layer of gender adding to the madness – is what I am drawn towards. And as I would like to get this project finished sometime before I start celebrating law school reunions, certain concessions must be made to reality, hence gender-locking and restriction to certain-orientation-only love interests. (And that writing gay, let alone female-centric, romance scenes so far outside of my comfort zone I’d never be able to do them the justice they deserve.)
All of that said, it is my hope that the strength of the writing and interactions will be sufficient to keep readers interested. And, of course, the legal problem-solving that is really at the heart of things. And which mercifully have nothing to do with sex, gender, and orientation. (Though they do on occasion involve color! …in the Draazi green sash/purple sash sense.) If not, then prove what a fool I am by starting your own game. With all the transqueer options you want! And hookers! And blackjack! …in fact, forget the game!
Any Other Bombshells You Want To Lay On Us?
ROSEBUD WAS HIS SLED!
…seriously, though, no. That’s more or less it, warts and all.
What Kind of Timeframe Are You Looking At For…Anything, Really?
My tentative hope is that, by the end of summer, I can have the introduction and first chapter or two as a self-contained story ready to put up. The goal is to have a logical narrative stopping point (if I don’t think I can keep going) or enough to give everyone a taste of what I’m going on about.
So! There it is. Thoughts, opinions, demands I be sent to the nearest sanitarium? Or, you know, requests for more information about particular aspects of the project? That certainly won’t end in me text-walling these forums into submission, nope…