Saturday, 25 June 2011

Money in old tropes - Cyborgs

Second in the series in which I give YOU a new take on an old trope and tell you to go earn big!

Last time was marines; this time it's cyborgs.

We know the concept very well. A cyborg is a cybernetic organism. But that's been done. To death. Check out just this list. We've had all of endoskeletons, exoskeletons and implants.

What's left? Well, our imaginations are the limit.

For example, you've probably heard of utility fog. It's been mentioned at the Expanse here re gaming and here re philosophy. The idea is that a huge number of tiny links in a 3D matrix regulate their relative positions to change shape, colour and property. The T1000 starts to look less fantastical. The real world starts to look less solid.

But how does this tie in with cyborgs? Surely utility fog is beyond biology? Not so fast. There might be plenty a nanocloud couldn't do, or do easily. Believable mimicking might be tricky, and replication of the large array of integrated systems in a complex organic lifeform - and that integration itself - might prove harder than creating the cloud.

There's more on that kind of thing up now at the superb Astrogator's Logs, here.

So how about a biological base on which nanotech has gone to work, producing a transbiological form of tougher, more flexible bone, more efficient muscle, improved nervous and circulatory systems, and through all this a utility cloud has been run?

Within the body the cloud could beat the heart faster, reinforce blood vessels, hold wounds closed while they are repaired. It could project out beyond the skin to provide an invisible cushion, reacting to incoming projectiles and maybe deflecting them with concentrated electromagnetic pulses. It could provide support for the limbs or additional limbs, and allow chameleonic changes in appearance as well as a limited shapeshifting.

Impressive. How you feel about it as a possible reality likely depends on how you feel about transhumanism in general. It's a big subject. Fiction can help us explore it, assuming it's not selling it to us, whether for enthusiasm, profit or something more sinister. And there is of course a danger that fiction can make development more likely.

Am I being irresponsible? Maybe. Ideas are very powerful things.

Let me trivialise it now then, by statting it up for gaming. I'm going to use the great free skirmish game FireZone by Gotthammer, which would work just as well for a more classical punk approach to cybernetics, something like Lantz's AdMech FanDex, also great and free. I put together a blunderbuss last week, but this time it's a protagonist.

Or rather two, one playing up the slow inexorable zombie tradition, one faster.

Nanorg (slow)

S  P  I  D  E  R
 3  4  3  6  8  3   Abilities: Dauntless, Shielded 4/1

Nanorg (fast)

S  P  I  D  E  R
 5  4  5  8  8  5   Abilities: Stealth, Free Running, Sure Footed, Dauntless, Shielded 4/1

No equipment here, but for weapons - if you need them - Gotthammer's flamethrower, thermal cutter and plasma welder would reflect the idea that lifeforms like this might get burdened with heavy, difficult work. He statted those for Studio McVey's Sedition Wars.

Read FireZone to see what the notation means; to whet the appetite, those shields recharge. Again, the rules pdf is free and could become that new wargaming system.


Gotthammer said...

How about a cloud made up of billions of intelligent hive-minde style linked machines? Together they form a gestalt consiousness and can form any shape they desire (in essence each nanobot is independant).
Similar to the T-1000, but it can split up, merge with other versions of itself and more...

I have seen sci-fi with nano-suits similar to what you've described, though the names escape me right now.

Thanks again for the plug. One thing I'm going to add is when I write up some more lists (after I fisish vehicles, though I've done artillery, airstrikes and orbital attacks) is include a rough 'how to'.
If you're writing up multiple profiles with the same common rules to make a special catch all ability. For these guys it'd be "Nanog - any model with this ability is Dauntless and has Shields 4/1".
It also means that you can make 'races' that way, and have certain weapons be more deadly against them (for example adding to the Nanord ability "EMP weapons do double damage to a model with this ability").

Porky said...

I like the gestalt cloud idea. It seems the next logical development and is one of those concepts that is compelling at the same time as being a potential concern to big, lumbering, separate beings like us..!

The nano-suit idea I've never seen done, but it doesn't surprise me at all that it has been. It's a concept I'm using for Hogintu as a pre-collapse tech, potentially available from the outset to at least one group, but also stored or lost awaiting rediscovery.

We're really on the same wavelength in rules terms too. What you've described here is how I'm going about things in the game I'm working on. The basics will be quite different, but that catch-all approach can be central to the way profiles are presented, a short-cut for more experienced players or those who want to play more intuitively, and the importance of physical construction types and even optional modularity are in there too.

From what I've seen over the years, this simultaneous similarity in approach is just more evidence of how broad trends come and go, and the ideas we have we might think are unusual or even unique are actually shared by many others at the same time, in whatever exact form. This is on the surface at the moment with the discussion of things like Mantic's Warpath and maybe even Goodman Games' DCC.

It shows perhaps we're all more attuned to the same sources than we think, or reacting to the same suggestions. It's frustrating in a sense, but consoling we're still collectively at a cutting edge, that great minds think alike of course, and that minor variations may mean there is still a challenging originality in each interpretation.

Bartender said...

How about robots designed as kitchen appliances? They would be able to infiltrate any barrack kitchen.

Gotthammer said...

I hear you on the similarity of designs popping up. One of teh publishing blogs I follow had post on the same thing a couple of days ago (irony!).

It's certainly a double edged sword with any creative endevour to see someone doing something similar. One one hand it's good to see that someone else thinks that your idea is a good one, but on the other hand you don't want to be seen as a rip-off!
The rumours of GW going to a system of "ability (#)" is both cool but worrying for FireZone. Mind you it's encouragement to get the system out before them to avoid being seen as derivative!

With the relatively close knit wargaming community it's not a huge surprise though that it happens - just witness the sudden explosion of Weird WW2 and horror skirmish games.
Even in RPGs there was a big surge in 'storytelling' around when Vampire appeared, and a more recent surge in 'gritty' fantasy (same in writing).

Must be something in the water ;p

Porky said...

@ Bartender - I've been looking for a post I saw a while back on the design of household appliances, but I can't find it. I can imagine a very fun game or supplement being built around your idea.

@ Gotthammer - Yep, there's plenty of concern these days about ideas being overrepresented, common tropes or features of a genre say. I guess unless we all coordinate ourselves better, it'll keep happening..!

I wouldn't worry too much about the notation. The use of 'ability #' or 'ability =/-#' certainly wouldn't be unique to 40K. It's also something I'm doing with many of the features in my game and it's used to mark repeat skills in the RPG Humanspace Empires, to give just one more example.

It's a very natural presentation of information, and it seems to me unlikely a company could claim ownership of it; I imagine there'd be outrage if any tried. Ideas in general are not regarded as copyright protected, so only a very great overlap in naming might be reasonably regarded as problematic.

Assuming sixth edition does go with that format, who's to say you didn't inspire GW?

Needles said...

Quietly starts taking notes for blog & game, hmm wonder what angle I could use with this!

Gotthammer said...

Assuming sixth edition does go with that format, who's to say you didn't inspire GW?

My first thoguht upon seeing those rumours: "GW are ripping me off again!"
Lego did the same thing to me when I was young - I sent a letter to head office asking why all the heads were generic smileys, no expressions or beards or the like as it was odd that all my knights looked the same.
Next year, Pirates come out with their beards and eyepatches and whatnot.

Coincidence..? I think not!

Anyways, my comment about accusations of derivativeness was more to do with players than corporates.

Porky said...

@ Needles - It would make me very happy if you got something out of this, made a fortune on the back of it even. That's part of what this particular series is aiming at. To be honest though, you don't need the help - your output is incredible and stands alone.

@ Gotthammer - Well, that's some evidence you've got in your favour..! Have you ever thought about striking out seriously? With a record like yours it seems you could make a strong go of it. The Hopeful Monster approach is another option, collaboration with other creators. I'd consider that route, and a lot of the other guys too I'd bet.