The Sea Beyond the Stars [WIP]

science-fiction
gender-locked-male

#1

The year is 3609. Mankind died with the Solar System over twelve hundred years ago.

You are one of the few survivors. As the Chief Propulsion Engineer aboard the CSS Francis Drake, you have existed in cryostasis since you departed Earth during those final days. You and the Drake’s thirty-eight thousand colonists are destined for a distant star system.

Things are not going to plan. With still seven hundred more years left, you and a small selection of forty crewmembers have been woken prematurely. A micro-meteoroid strike has caused the ship to vent some of its vital propellant, making the deceleration burn necessary to arrive at your final destination presently impossible. With no other options available your Captain has diverted the Drake to a planet where it can gather the resources to resume its journey.

That planet is Tiamat. And despite all the odds, humans live there; seeded via robotic mother ships sent at the dawn of the 22nd century. Inhabiting the one small island chain amidst the planetary ocean, the people of Tiamat were engineered and conditioned to lack competition, division, and archaic mores. Their placid existence is interrupted by your arrival.

Appointed as Acting First Officer, you are tasked with securing the Drake’s resources. The mission depends upon you.

• Discover the truth about Tiamat, your ship, and the final days of the Solar System.
• Respond to environmental disasters, mutinies, and the competing demands of your people and the natives of Tiamat.
• Define your history and live with the personal consequences of abandoning Earth.
• Enter a relationship with one of two women: your colleague Caroline, or the native Therasia.
• Decide the fate of the CSS Francis Drake, the inhabitants of Tiamat, and yourself.

Summary

Thanks for reading so far. The Sea Beyond the Stars is something that I have been thinking of and intermittently working on for the past several months. The biggest inspiration for this work is Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Songs of Distant Earth” - those who have read it probably can easily see the blatant similarities (the art above is taken from an illustration for that book). I also owe a great debt to dozens of other science fiction authors I have read throughout the years for planting many of the seeds that germinate in this work.

First and foremost I want the The Sea Beyond the Stars to be enjoyable to the player. Whilst doing this, I have three conditions that I’d like the story to meet. I want it to be a) melancholic, b) literary, and c) hard science fiction. By each, I mean the following:

Melancholic
You are playing a character who has lost virtually everything, and that colours much of what you’ll experience. A notable chunk of this story (approximately 20% of it) will be devoted towards exploring the past of your character and the nature of their loss and the final days of Earth. While in the ‘present day’, you will be spending much of the story also resolving problems that just do not have an optimal solution or a right answer.

Literary
In this story I want to explore some ideas. I have always seen science fiction as one of the best mediums to generate examples and thought experiments to help the reader build up their own ethical and philosophical compass; The Sea Beyond the Stars is written with the hope that it will do just that.

Some of the main ideas that have emerged at the forefront in the work so far are: the relationship between an individual and their culture, the psychology behind colonisation and reproduction, the moral basis of authority, and the whether creating a blank slate for civilisation is desirable.

Hard Science-Fiction
I would like this story to have as much verisimilitude as is possible. For me, this has always meant sticking with the boundaries of what is permitted by science as we know it. All the technology, phenomena, and science featured in The Sea Beyond the Stars attempts to conform with real concepts in astronomy, physics, and engineering. While I won’t divert sections of the book to giving technobabble, I hope that even the most scientifically literate person can read this work and find that they can maintain their suspension of disbelief. I also may assemble a codex or a compendium of technical and scientific details (which basically exists in very rough form at the moment as my notes).

On the spectrum of CYOA games from ‘RPG-like’ through to ‘interactive novels’, I am going firmly on the side of ‘interactive novel’. There are no numeric stats, there is no inventory, and there are no skill checks. The player will change the plot through discrete events – making every playthrough hopefully seeming like a self-contained narrative experience. So far, I have around 6 endings planned; some endings being attainable only if you enter a specific relationship.

Central Characters

The Player
The player assumes the role of a 29-year-old man serving as Chief Propulsion Engineer aboard the Colonial Star Ship Francis Drake – better known to its crew as the Drake. After being woken from cryostasis, the player finds themselves appointed as acting First Officer of the Drake and tasked with leading a small skeleton crew to the surface of Tiamat to build and operate a temporary surface base and refinery. There they must to acquire the raw materials needed to repair and refuel the Drake for its journey onwards. On their way, they must contend with the memories of the destruction of Earth, their newly developing relationships with the crew and the natives, and their own personal beliefs as to what they and the crew of the Drake should do.

Caroline Jensen, Chief Fusion Engineer
The 25-year-old responsible for keeping the Drake’s main power source up, Caroline is your extremely capable and no-nonsense subordinate. Her blunt brilliance disguises the fact that she is suffering greatly from the destruction of Earth. She must struggle with her demons, and also balance the needs of herself and the crew against those of the people of Tiamat - potentially coming at odds with your own judgment. All this culminates in a choice to continue with the Drake or to stay on Tiamat.

Therasia, Woman of Tiamat
Born to a people who know little of competition, want, or division, Therasia has lived a long and tranquil life - despite this, the slow aging of the Tiamatians means that she still only has the body of a thirty-ish year old woman. A serene, motherly, and curious spirit, her grace and sincere interest in your people quickly makes her the liaison between the crew of the Drake and the natives of Tiamat. Her desire to know more, however, also sews the seeds for a conflict which may turn this encounter into a tragedy.

Captain John Steele
The authoritarian commanding officer of the Drake, Captain John Steele takes his duties to his crew and to mankind very seriously. Dismissive and wary of the natives of Tiamat, Steele believes in doing whatever is necessary to ensure the starship can continue its journey. As far as he sees it, on his and the ship’s shoulders lies the destiny of mankind. Nothing must stand in his way.

Status

28/01/18 I’m presently at at 110k words, with each playthrough ranging from 35-42k. Act 1 is close, but I’m eager to make sure that I release the best first impression that I can. I tend to do lots of rewrites and edits (and also revise earlier content as I make inroads into the larger story); for that reason I’ve decided to push back the demo release. I’m hoping that I’ll be comfortable releasing it within the next couple of months, but I won’t make promises.

13/12/17 I’ve hit 60k words, with each playthrough ranging from 15-20k words. Alongside that the final bits of flowcharting have been completed.

27/11/17 Presently I’m around 40k words in; the final product looks set to be approximately 400k words with each playthrough taking up around 100-150k apiece. This is my first dabbling at interactive fiction, so this is a very fun learning experience for me and I hope that this enjoyment translates well to the final piece of work. My hope is that I can release a demo (or, if I feel like showing my prose at its worst, a playtest) by the end of January 2018. This would consist of ‘Act 1’ – covering the arrival at Tiamat, first contact between the Terrans and the Tiamatians, and the establishment of operations on the surface of the planet.

I’d love to hear any questions you guys may have about the project or any suggestions you may have for things you are particularly looking for. Thanks for reading.


#2

If the fuel is depleted too much to decelerate to the target planet how is it the ship has enough fuel to decelerate to Tiamat?


#3

Maybe it doesn’t have enough for the constant burn and minor course corrections for another 700 years but just enough for this deceleration?
Another issue for me of course is why can’t we enter into a relationship with a guy. Even if you want the cast of major or even named characters to remain small you do have the captain himself. Currently gay male players, like myself, and straight girls seem to get no romance options whatsoever.


#4

I thought the game was gender locked to male? It’s in the tags, but not in the description, as far as I can tell. Maybe I missed something, though…


#5

Indeed, my bad, I should learn to watch the tags more closely now that they’re here. :sweat_smile:
This does make it even more limited as now the only romances catered to while be strictly for heterosexual guys only, like pretty much everything else out there already is. :disappointed:


#6

Wow. This sounds amazing. My interest was piqued by your basic premise, but the more I read, the more excited I got for this. Sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into a complex, though-provoking epic.

I, personally, find playing preset characters really interesting, and it definitely fits the novel-like approach. But you’re going to have people disagree with that decision here, especially the decisions to lock it to male and limiting romance options. Balancing artistic vision and reader input is a tricky thing to get advice on. :persevere:

I’d love to read this game. Make your decisions thoughtfully, and hold on to that original inspiration. :+1::blush:


#7

I Do understand you’re frustrated but damn premise sounds good.


#8

Looks interesting! I like the looks of this!


#9

Two reasons:

  1. The Tiamat system’s velocity relative to Earth is somewhat lower than that of the target system.
  2. The Drake will aerobrake at Tiamat. It doesn’t have that luxury for the target, since it doesn’t have handy seeder ship data which completely eliminated uncertainties regarding the planet’s mass, orbital period, and atmospheric composition.

This is a good question, though. It’s something that the player character will ask themselves.

I’ll make it clearer in the OP that the player is locked to being male; sorry for the confusion.

As for making the Captain an option for relationship, that wouldn’t be viable given his personality. The two romantic interests are pretty deliberately chosen (and limited to just two) for thematic reasons… alongside that of being able to keep the scope of this piece manageable.

Thanks. I’ll do my best!


#10

Looks interesting, we need more science fiction :slight_smile:
Just a couple of thoughts.
I think you’ve said the illustration is from one of Clarke’s book? If so you’ll need to find another one due to copyright issues. (Haven’t read Songs of distant earth, but love 2001).
25 seems very young for a chief engineer. Might need some explanation as to why she’s so high in the rankings at that age?
Will you go into why the entire solar system went kaput? It’s not enough time for the sun to have reached the end of it’s life (unless something catastrophic happened).


#11

Will there be some in-depth analysis into how interstellar travel was made possible? or will the story just hash up some gimmick like mass effect? then again, “human seeds” really say something about the premise.

Regardless, I hope the final product is enjoyable. I just wanted to highlight some potential “cringe” for die-hard science fans


#12

It sounds like it’s going to be heavily influenced by classic writers like Arthur C Clarke and they’ve obviously put thought into the introduction posted, so unlikely to be “gimmicky”.


#13
  1. I’m not planning on using it for the final work. While the project is noncommercial and confined to solely being a concept on a forum by some rando, I’ll be using it. As things go farther I’ll take it down.

  2. There will be. The fact that both you and Caroline have such senior positions despite your relative youth is something that will come into play during the story.

  3. I will.

Both the Drake and the seeder ship that colonised Tiamat are powered by very similar propulsion systems; magneto-intertial fusion drives. Here’s a link to the design if you’re interested.. The embryonic seeder was the result of a more speculative and less urgent project a couple of centuries before the end of Earth. Hence it had a couple of centuries head start on the the Drake, had Tiamat as its set destination, and also was sent at a higher velocity than the Drake.

The reason for the last is because the designers of the seeder didn’t have such high safety concerns for several thousand embryos as the designers of the Drake did for what could be the last hope of mankind: the Drake is slower to reduce the kinetic energy from impacts by micrometeoroids and cosmic dust on its front shield.


#14

Hmm… 29 year old is pretty much the only definition given for the character, would it really throw off the entire premise of the game, particularly since you’re really limiting your potential fanbase with this move?

What about making their genders flippable or one of them male? The current set-up is really limiting plus 98% of works out there are already limited to straight (white) male protagonists.


#15

Hard sci-fi is, of course, always welcome in my book. The premise and setting sound pretty good to me as well. Having a game where my inner min-maxer lies dormant is gonna be a different experience for me, but one I hope to enjoy. :smile:

Questions:

  1. Have the Tiamatans experienced any mutation or genetic drift in their population since they arrived in Tiamat? Physical ones I mean, the 1st post already mentioned the behavioral changes. (Maybe due to Tiamat’s environment or some artificial doohickey that came along with the seed ship)
  2. If no, is this due to their modifications?
  3. Can we expect snorkling and deep sea diving as side activities?
  4. Anything you can share about the flora and fauna?

#16

Seems interesting is there romance or no


#17

This sounds REALLY interesting!! I cannot wait for a demo! :slight_smile:


#18

Likely only for straight guys, since the mc can presumably only be a straight guy. :unamused:
If so I hope the romance and indeed the sexual attraction itself is completely optional.


#19

Good questions.

  1. The Tiamatians haven’t experienced any notable mutations or been through much genetic drift. They’re quite a bit longer lived than conventional humans and also don’t have a strong procreative drive; thus there haven’t been that many generations so as to cause serious change over the 300ish years they’ve been on Tiamat. The source of their differences from humans in general comes from the scientists who selected and altered the genetic stock of the first generation, and the way in which said first generation was reared upon arrival at Tiamat.

  2. No. They are far less likely to experience cancers and autoimmune disorders, and have most hereditary diseases screened out, but their lack of mutation stems from the fact that there hasn’t been that long a time for divergence.

  3. Yes. I have some scenes planned for these things in both a recreational and professional capacity for the player. I’m looking forward to writing these; there’s always something enticing and a bit ominous about the idea of an alien sea.

  4. The seeder ship brought with it some samples of Earth flora which are planted at the main Tiamatian settlements. There are orchards where a variety of fruits are gown and many households have small subsistence farms where they grow cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, beans, potatoes, and lettuce. The indigenous flora and fauna is carbon based and uses DNA as its nucleic base.

This isn’t an exhaustive description. It’s meant to be more evocative than anything else; and forgive how long-winded it is. I ripped some of this straight from my notes unformatted for grammar.

Flora of the Land: Much of the flora on the land area of Tiamat (ie, the island chain) consists of flora from the oceans which has enroached upon the land. Near the coasts, you often see what are effectively landbound forms of brown algae (kelp, seaweed) in great masses on the ground just beyond the coast. Poking out from these kelp mounds are a great deal of grasses (which likely evolved from sea equivalents, rather than vice-versa on Earth). Larger and more complex plants do not poke out from the kelp mounds, since the algae is thick and suffocating.

The slightly higher gravity of the surface of Tiamat (g ~ 11m/s^2) means that plants that do more than just lie on the ground have somewhat more support than that of Earth plants. This gives rise to what comes to be a typical feature of Tiamatian plants: a thick ‘bulb’ at the base of the plant which gives it additional mass and support and pumps out nutrients from the ground. The first such plant you’d likely see moving inland are bushes which distinctly resemble kelp (with long, floppy, and trailing leaves) which have developed some more robust stalks and unity to their structure, emerging from the bulbous base.

As you go inland, bushes with leaf systems more amenable to surface life emerge; ie, more numerous and smaller leaves which don’t block each other out, rather than long and trailing ones. Mosses and lichens, which grow in abundance underneath the kelp fields, stretch further inland from here and mix with the grasses and more complex plants. ‘Trees’ begin to emerge, although they are actually more tangles of stalks emerging from their resin bulbs of various thickness, some of these stalks branch into one another. They can reach various heights, although five metres is usually the maximum and ten is the largest the natives have ever encountered; they are thickest towards the centre of the islands. Some of the trees and bushes bear fruits and berries for the native land life to eat.

The leaves of the plants vary in colour from greens to dark purples. Purples are more colour among the most inland land plants, but even from orbit you can see some purple blooms of certain algaes in the shallow seas. Plants tend to have darker leaves than their Earth counterparts since the Tiamatian sun is an ‘orange dwarf’ K-class star, with an emission spectrum is tilted more towards the red/infrared part of the spectrum than the Sun.

Fauna of the Land: On the beaches of Tiamat you often encounter amphibious echinoderm-like creatures which scurry between the sea and and the beaches - the land presents less competition for food, and so they seem to enjoy heading to feast upon the land kelp. They are spiny and rugged creatures, often moving around with the aid of five or six legs on land. They appear to be blind and they perceive mostly through some means of detecting sound and an acute sense of touch. Their hardened exterior - likely a defence against being smashed around by the sea and oceanic predators - means that hurts a tonne to step on them. The locals often call them “Spikers”, given how common it is for someone walking through a kelp field to get spiked through their feet or footwear by them.

The various species of spikers seem to have a relation in a land-based creature which feasts upon the grasses and bushes. Residing in burrows at the root systems of bushes, it has adapted to stand a few centremetres off the ground and has lost its hard outer shell in favour of a more maneuverable form that’s able to climb up stalks and leaves to claim its feast - small berries or seedpods and the juiciest leaves on the plant. Some species of these ‘climbers’ have developed a coat of hairs to allow for a more acute sense of touch to aid in the detection of their food supply. They seem to also form communities - as they lay eggs on land rather than in the sea, multiple climbers seem to share a burrow to allow for the protection of their eggs from opportunists or scavengers.

Such opportunists come in the form of amphibious frog-like creatures which reside both inland or emerge from the sea. I’ll talk about these below.

There is only one predatory species that has been observed so far amongst the islands - a four-legged creature which seems to be a distant descendant of the planet’s equivalent of amphibians, often called a ‘grabber’ owing to its heavy use of digits at the end of its limbs. It feasts upon the frogs and the climbers, and appears intelligent enough to pry open the shells of some spikers with its dexterous ‘hands’. Standing at around 50cm tall and up to a metre long and wide, they are the largest land animal the natives have encountered. It appears to be omnivorous, but has a preference for animal prey. With a small head and face and with a perpetually alert expression on its face, many of the natives find themselves taking a liking to the grabbers - and it seems to enjoy human attention and petting. Given how useful it is at warding off climbers from crops and at clearing spikers from paths, the natives have taken pains to try to ‘adopt’ and encourage the grabbers to come near their settlements.

Flora of the Sea: The waters of Tiamat are a great deal shallower given the planet’s greater gravity, and the quantity of plate tectonics being undertaken gives a great variety of environments for unique ecosystems throughout the planet. The great algae and kelp blooms cover much of the ocean: the seas of much of Tiamat are brilliant green and sometimes purple throughout much of the year, visible even from space.

One of the great recreations of the Tiamatians is taking boat rides out for dives to chart out new sections of the hundred-mile long reefs, grasslands, and kelp forests. Alongside species that are analogous to coral, there are also massive reefs built by species that seem to be similar to the ‘rudists’ of Earth history; conical organic structures that reach up to fifty metres in height (and often poking above the sea floor and serving as a haven for strange quasi-aquatic species), with vast numbers of supplementary support columns - a massive stone-like root system flowering with life. Vast crater-like rudist life forms form at the floor; particularly ancient ones may be up to half a kilometre wide, with life galore populating their rims and their surfaces.

Numerous volcanic vents and stacks poke out throughout the sea floor, giving rise to numerous environments rich in nutrients and covered with extremophile microorganisms, tubeworms, and ecosystems supported by them.

Fauna of the Sea: Near the islands, the sea is dominated by echinoderms and frog-like creatures who feast upon the bounties of the bottom; the kelp, the algae, and the small fish and shrimp-like creatures that often linger around those parts. The frogs often dig down into the dirt to lay their eggs and to also feast upon the small creatures that apparently feast upon the worms which inhabit the sediment of the seabed.

Unlike the land, predation is very common here - twelve-legged ‘crabs’ often scale the kelp as ladders before proceeding to drift down upon a scurrying frog and take a bite out, or impale a spiker and tear it up. The crabs themselves are preyed upon capable and large cuttlefish and by the graceful rays who swim around at the least dense parts of the passages. The apex predator of the shores is what is often called the ‘missile fish’ - a long and cigar-shaped that may be up to thirty metres in length (but only three metres in width) which is capable of bending itself to an extraordinary degree to catch its prey. It doesn’t seem interested in humans, thankfully - it’s skin is thick and tough like a crocodile’s, making any violent encounter sans weapons very dangerous.


#20

I don’t mind limiting my fanbase so long as I get to make the story I want to make. While I’ve only given a short definition for the character in the OP, the story of the game has been outlined and prepared and the characters defined. Everything is such that being a man seems to be thematically necessary for me.

The characters were written as females. I don’t believe I can just ‘swap them out’, and some of what happens in the story just wouldn’t make sense if one of them were retconned as males.

I can confirm that you can do a non-romantic route, however. And I don’t plan on writing it such that the player is forced to be strongly sexually attracted to either of the two options before embarking down the relevant route.