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Space Opera Gaming

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jeff37923:

--- Quote from: tenbones on November 23, 2021, 11:01:59 PM ---This is not about systems, per se. This is about genre conceits and "what is cool". AND more importantly, do established Space Opera settings get in the way of your ability to enjoy other settings in the genre?

What elements do you like in a Space Opera?

 - Human space federation?
 - FTL?
 - Pseudo-Science?
 - Lots of humanoid aliens?
 - Capital ship customization and combat?
 - Fighter-scale combat?
 - Psionics? How powerful?
 - Politics/Exploration?

What KILLS Space Opera for you when it raises its head?

--- End quote ---

It all depends on how it is handled.

I think psionics are bullshit "space magic" from a crystal worshiping bygone era of science fiction literature. Don't like them one bit. However, the way that they are handled in the Babylon 5 setting and the Official Traveller Universe as the Zhodani Consulate are really done well and thus are tolerable. I'd like to see more adventures showing how these settings got to that point because I can easily see Akira level and Stranger Things level of disasters previously in the setting history as people experimented with psionics.

If the setting only gives lip service to science and engineering, then it is science fantasy like Star Trek and Star Wars. Yet they work when they are internally consistent. This is one of the reasons why the Star Wars sequels and Star Trek Voyager failed - the characters that had been established went against their own moral and ethical convictions to behave in manners particularly unlike their characters as had been established.

If you go for hard science space opera, you have to deal with the probability that Faster Then Light travel is impossible, that life on other worlds may be just simple unicellular forms (mainly because mitochondria may have been just a happy accident on Earth), and that magical nanotech can't happen because of engineering thermodynamic problems (a lot of heat will get generated during assembly/disassembly). These factors would make for an interesting setting, but would not capture the interest of most players (as evidenced by the responses to this thread).

Lets look at direct neural interface between humans and machines. This looks highly improbable the more you look at the difficulties involved, yet it gets kept around and used because it is a cool idea to have in a game. So it stays because of Rule of Cool.

Where ideas in space opera, and science fiction in general, gaming fail is when they break the suspension of disbelief in the players. Star Wars as a setting works with all its violations of known science because it established a suspension of disbelief in the audience thanks mainly to its cinematic roots. It doesn't matter that AT-ATs and AT-STs are some of the most impractical war machines ever seen, they look cool and provide a credible threat to the heroes since they first appeared in The Empire Strikes Back - so they are accepted in the setting. Staying within the Star Wars setting, Mary Sue Palpatine (Rey) fails the suspension of disbelief in the sequel trilogy because there is nothing that she cannot do with the Force while Din Djarin succeeds in The Mandalorian because while he is heroic he has limitations that he cannot exceed which helps to maintain the suspension of disbelief.

I'm starting to ramble, but whether or not a particular space opera setting works for me (and I like it) depends more on how it is implemented than what exact aspects it has in it.

Fighterboy:

--- Quote from: Spinachcat on November 24, 2021, 01:35:23 AM --->What KILLS Space Opera for you when it raises its head?

Realism.


--- End quote ---

What he said.

Vidgrip:

--- Quote from: S'mon on November 24, 2021, 01:52:56 AM ---I like all those things OP.

My big problem with Space Opera - a genre I love - is that for easy long term RPG play you need a default game activity, and space opera gaming does not have the equivalent of D&D's 'go in the dungeon & loot'. Traveller has 'buy & sell', and Star Wars has 'go shoot some Stormtroopers'. The former is a bit dull. The latter is ok for linear mission based play, but does not lend it to the kind of sandboxing I like.

--- End quote ---

This is a brilliant summary of my experiences. I have never had a satisfying space opera sandbox experience because of this.

The other KILL switch is having alien species that are so psychologically similar to humans that they feel like humans in rubber suits. I prefer a human-centric setting with aliens being so alien that they are not playable as PC's.

jeff37923:

--- Quote from: S'mon on November 24, 2021, 01:52:56 AM ---My big problem with Space Opera - a genre I love - is that for easy long term RPG play you need a default game activity, and space opera gaming does not have the equivalent of D&D's 'go in the dungeon & loot'. Traveller has 'buy & sell', and Star Wars has 'go shoot some Stormtroopers'. The former is a bit dull. The latter is ok for linear mission based play, but does not lend it to the kind of sandboxing I like.

--- End quote ---

I don't mean to be insulting, but this sounds more like a failure of your own imagination than it does a failure of the game systems or official settings. For both Traveller and Star Wars in the official settings you can do campaigns of exploration, colonization, political intrigue, free trade, mining/prospecting, and many others. Hell, some of the weird ones that worked was a wandering rock band,  a new market group of a fast food restaurant chain, and a wildcat graffiti artist collective out to tag every world in known space.

tenbones:
Ship combat is kind of a must for me. Whether it's technical, or abstract, it has to feel right. And it needs to be scalable from ground-craft to capital scale.

I like lots of weaponry - even redundant kinds. Cyberpunk spoiled me on that. Give me brands. AND GIVE ME MODIFICATION RULES. This goes for Armor too.

Blue-Collar Sci-Fi. I like scrabbly folk trying to earn some credit. Firefly, Rim-worlders from Star Wars, the Non-Trek cultures that "doing their thing". Then you have the "authorities" trying to keep the Man down. Be they Stormtroopers, The Alliance, Republic, Federation blah blah

Aliens - I'm fine with rubber-suit humans as long as their cultures are cool. I fully submit that Trek's sillier species like the Andorians, had their stock raised through the roof by ONE MAN - Commander Shran played by the awesome Jeffery Combs. But I like Alien-aliens too.

I always thought Star Control 2 would have made a helluva setting for a Space Opera game. It has rubber-suit aliens and alien-aliens, genocidal serious themes and lots of humor - sometimes both at the same time.

I agree with S'mon about the concerns of Space Opera as a genre, but that is a setting design issue. A good space opera is no different than how I'd approach any fantasy game in this regard, it's just on a much larger physical scale.

Exploration - there always needs to be more exploration. How else to toss in macguffins - or "dungeons" in the form of lost dead civiliations/ghost-fleets/etc. for intrepid adventurers err... starship crew members?

Ancient Races - I can take or leave it. To me it's always tantalizing in the sense that you can introduce irreplaceable and irreproducible tech into the game as "magic items". Plus you can slowly expand the conceits of your setting by implication.

Galactic Scale, not Intergalactic. But interdimensional can be fun too.

Human Federation - I can take it or leave it. Depends on the setup. At the point of having interstellar contact there is little hope humankind would last long without having a unified front (I'm sure I could argue the opposite if I put any thought into it). It just seems unfun to do it that way, reflexively. I don't need humans to be top-dog. Or bottom-dog (ala David Brin's insanely good Uplift saga) with Feisty Adaptive Points! It's all in sticking the landing relative to whatever else is in play.

 

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