AI Video!

Hey Folks!

I decided to switch things up today and post a video. Some things are just more fun to watch than to read :)

More info in the YouTube description, for those who want details. Let me know what you think, and if I should try to do this more often!


Fins's picture

Yep, it's excellent thing to post a video like this once in a while.

Instantly gave me one idea. If you're going with the same background at the time, all the time, that is.

It seems much eye-candy can be done with backgrounds there. It seems that backgrounds will occupy major part of the screen. I think that normal approach of "backgrounds will be made when it's time to make backgrounds" - can be much improved with little effort.

See, it takes time to estimate how this or that background "feels". So if you start changing your backgrounds now, that time could be the time you're doing "something else". In parralel. Which will give MUCH more time for you to estimate how this and that background "feels", what's good and what's bad.

More, for your own needs, you can take various backgrounds which for some reasons can't be actually used in finished game, put them in for a while, and then note if there are any good features in them for future use. Like, if you see some pretty pic or animation of "deep space" somewhere, grab it and throw into the current build for a few days; and then you say note some specific feature which you like about that specific background, - so you make a note for "when i'll be doing backgrounds proper" and move on.

I think that more athmospheric, beautiful and original backgrounds can be the result of such a process by the time you'll be doing backgrounds "properly". Creating special athmosphere and unique look for the game.

... our lifestyles, mores, institutions, patterns of interaction, values, and expectations are shaped by a cultural heritage that was formed in a time when carrying capacity exceeded the human load. (c) William R. Catton, Jr

dcfedor's picture

Part of me wants to keep things fairly realistic, so fancy artistic backgrounds might run counter to the plan. But then again, there are some really spectacular backdrops in real space (see Alien Isolation's title screen gas giant and vistas from Stevastopol, for example).

But you're absolutely right that the game should try to leverage eye-catching visuals where they make sense, and anywhere it can. You never know when someone will be looking over another's shoulder, or browsing through screenshots, and think, "whoa, what's that?"

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games

Fins's picture

Yes, all true. One of great examples how much good can be done with quite little, in terms of backgrounds, comes with Star Control 2. In spirit of this thread, i give you a video instead of describing it verbally. Comes with quite a... commentary, majority of which is not in-game sound, - which i find greatly amusing. %)

... our lifestyles, mores, institutions, patterns of interaction, values, and expectations are shaped by a cultural heritage that was formed in a time when carrying capacity exceeded the human load. (c) William R. Catton, Jr

Azur's picture

Hello, its interesting to see you develop the game and how you do it.
My first impression is the atmosphere feels very heavy, suffocating!
I suggest (for the future of course) to find a solution to put some breathing(air filters), sunlight (an innovative day/night cycle) I think that's what you are trying to do with the inside lightning but I think it deserves more brainstorming, for example do you remember in the movie Interstellar, the ship they had was rotating on its axis to allow for day/night cycle and the growth of crops with natural sunlight.
Neo Scavenger despite its fairly basic visual design still feels alive!

dcfedor's picture

Thanks for the feedback, Azur! I do intend to have more atmosphere in the game, both literally (air filtration, oxygen supply) and figuratively (nicer colors, lighting, sprites).

One thing in particular that I've always wanted was to have scenes where the outside world can be heard and "felt" while inside the ship. Rain and wind while on a planet's surface, for example.

I'll have to see how possible this is, and if it violates any science :)

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games

Fins's picture

Yeah well, it does. Can't hear rain and wind while inside a spaceship, and definitely can't _have_ either while inside the spaceship. Directly, that is.

Virtual reproductors can do, though. Sound of conditions outside reproduced in _corresponding_ sections of the ship. And not reproduced in other sections. Like, player would find it intuitively proper that control room of the ship has reproductors which play all the sounds from the outside, real-time, - "there", it's expected. Possibly also in some large halls of the ship. Could be. But definitely not in bed rooms of the crew, and hardly in the engine room, etc.

So to implement this one would need "focus" of the player's current "line of sight" - and some way to move it from one place to another.

It well could be made without requiring input from the player, i think - possibly "transfer" such a focus "passively" based on "active" or "selected" AI. How exactly game decides which AI is "active" - may vary. Be it "the last AI player interacted with", or "the most active AI at the time", or something yet different - don't know for sure.

P.S. May i add, "for athmosphere", a fragment of Stanislav Lem's "Invincible" novel. I think it suits here very well. And the book itself is one of absolutely best Sci-Fi books i have ever read. In many regards, _the_ best one. And i've read hundreds. Note, the following fragment is my own translation from russian, as i don't know Polish language, in which "Invincible" was written originally. However, russian and polish are much related languages, especially in structure and many emotional flavours, so i dare hope this little translative work of mine is better than some awful polish -> german -> english translations of the book. I tried to maintain all the sentence structure, words as best i can, and paragraphs are all Lem's own exactly. Some terms and phrazes, i was unable to translate precisely, and sorry for typos, too - this is fair translating work here, never before made, and i was in kinda hurry 'cause the piece is rather large... Still i hope it will be interesting. I'll drop it down as two extra comments.

... our lifestyles, mores, institutions, patterns of interaction, values, and expectations are shaped by a cultural heritage that was formed in a time when carrying capacity exceeded the human load. (c) William R. Catton, Jr

Fins's picture


Spoiler: Highlight to view
Horpakh agreed about that. However he was sure that risking lives of more people is unacceptable. He decided to send the machine which was not used in any prior operation. That was 80-ton all-terrain robot for special operations, designed for high radiation, huge pressure and temperature environments. That machine, nicknamed "Cyclopus", was at the very bottom of the cruiser, tightly fixed within cargo lift's servoes. Usually such machines were never used on planets, and the Invincible never moved its own Cyclopus at all; situations which required such a measure one could count - for the whole fleet of the Base, - on one's hand's fingers. "Send a Cyclopus for something" in cosmic jargon meant nearly the same as to ask the Satan to help with something; defeat of a Cyclopus was an event nobody ever heard of.

The machine, pulled out by two servoes, was set up on the apparel, where technicians and programmers started to prepare it. In addition to the usual emitters' system which creates protective field, Cyclopus also had spherical anti-matter emitter; it could throw anti-protons either towards any given direction, or in all directions simultaniously. Built-in into the bottom of the Cyclopus was the system producing several force fields, interference of which allowed Cyclopus to hover several meters above ground, so it was not hindered by terrain, trucks or wheels. In the front part there was a device, through which ingauster could move out - something like telescopic "hand", which was able to drill into the ground, take mineral samples and do other tasks. Cyclopus had powerful radio-station and TV sender, and electronic brain which allowed it to function autonomously. Technocians from the engineer Peterson's group loaded corresponding program into the brain: the Astrogator (= Horpakh, F.) was considering the possibility that when the machine will come into the canyon, communication with it may be disrupted. The machine recieved two objectives: find lost men (the Cyclopus had to put second, additional force field around them, then open the passage in the first and take men inside), and collect larger amount of crystallic entities.

Anti-matter emittor was allowed to be used only in case of desperate situation, which is if Cyclopus' own force field was at the brink of collapse: annihilation reaction was a danger to lives of lost men, as they could happen to be not far from potential fight's location.

The Cyclopus was eight meters long and was correspondedly wide - more than four meters. If some narrow passage would end up too small for it, it could either make way using its "steel hand", or pushing and breaking through with its force field. Even disabling the force field could not damage it, though, since its ceramic-vanadium armor was as hard as diamond.

Inside of Cyclopus, automatic system to care for found men was added, and beds for them were also added. Finally, after checking all devices and systems, armored giant surprisingly fluently went off the apparel and, like if invisible force was carrying it, - not a piece of sand was raised into the air, despite fast movement speed, - it passed blue lights of the passage through the force field of the Invincible and quickly disappeared from view.

Nearly for an hour radio-TV connection between Cyclopus and control center was perfect. Rokhan recognised canyon's entrance, where the attack happened, by the high, similar to a ruined tower rock, partially obscuring the opening in the rocky wall. Speed dropped a bit passing large area filled by fallen stones; ones who stood near screens even heard sound of the small water flow, hidden under the stones, - Cyclopus' atomic engine was working that silently.

Operators were recieving the picture till 14:20, when Cyclopus, having passed level and simply accessible part of the canyon, entered in a labyrinth of rusted metallic growth. Thanks for efforts of radio technicians four more messages were send back and forth, but fifth returned with such a distortion that one could only guess its meaning: electronic brain of the Cyclopus was reporting about successful movement forward.


The action went smooth. Through the TV-probe flying high above the canyon, communication with the Cyclopus' brain was re-established, and he repoted that "sample" hiving black "insects" - was safely locked in a conteiner.

It was not more than a hundred meters between Cyclopus and the spot at which catastrophe happened (related to earlier events of the book - F.). One of Rokhan's energy bots was there, pushing its armored rear part into a large rock, at the most narrow part of the passage coupled all-terrain vehicles were stuck, and further behind them second energy bot was standing; slight fluctuation of the air was indicating that that bot was still maintaining protective field. Cyclopus turned off the bots' emitters remotely, and then, increasing the power of its hover system, flew high into the air, quickly passed above immobile vehicles, and went down to rocks beyond the passage. And at this moment someone in the control center screamed a loud warming. Black "fur" of canyon's walls smoked out and fell down onto Earth-made machine in waves, going so fast that for a brief while the machine completely disappeared, as if covered by a cloak of smoke. And right after whole thickness of attacking cloud was penetrated by branchy lightning bolt. Cyclopus did not use its terrifying weapon, - that was energy fields created by the cloud coming with contact with Cyclopus' force field. It was as if its force field suddenly matherialized, covered by thick layer of swarming darkness, it was changing its size, going bigger, like huge pulsing ball of lava, then going smaller, and this strange "play" went on for quite a while. Those who were observing it had a feeling that hidden from their view machine was trying to push through billions of attackers, their numbers growing continuously as more and more clouds were falling to the bottom of the canyon like avalanches. The bright light of the protective sphere disappeared already, and in dull silence, chilling wrestling of two dead, but powerful forces was continuing. Suddenly, the shape of the cloud changed, now it was something like huge tornado, which went higher than highest rocks. Fixing its bottom part to non-observable enemy, the tornado was rotating like a kilometer-high maelstroem, with a light-blue tints of its insane rotation.

Nobody was saying a word; everyone understood, that this is how the cloud is trying to crush forcefield bubble, in which, like a seed in hard outer layer, the machine was hiding.

Rokhan noticed with a side vision that the astrogator already opened his mouth, to ask nearby-standing Chief Engineer about whether forcefield would hold on, but he didn't. He didn't have time to.

Black tornado, walls of the canyon - all that disappeared in a fraction of a second. It looked like a volcano erupted from the bottom of the canyon. Column of smoke, boiling lava, pieces of stone, even - enourmous mass surrounded by steam was flying upwards, higher and higher. Steam, which that water flow at the bottom was turned into, reached 1.5 kilometers altitude, where TV probe was hovering. The Cyclopus used anti-matter emitter. Noone among people standing in the Invincible's control center moved, noone said a word, but everyone felt some revenge-like satisfaction; it wasn't rational, but it didn't reduce its strength. It seemed that finnaly the cloud found worthy enemy. Any communication with the Cyclopus ceased after the start of the attack, and now people were observing only what ultra-short waves of the TV probe were transmitting through 70 kilometers of vibrating athmosphere.

Those who were not present in the control center of the cruiser - also realized that the battle is happening. Part of the crew who were disassembling alluminium crew quaters outside - stopped their work. North-eastern part of the horizon brightened, as if second sun was about to rise there, more bright sun than one up in the sky; then that light was shut of by a column of smoke, slowly turning into a heavy mushroom shape.

Technicians who were controlling the TV probe were forced to move it away from the battle's fire and raise it to 4 kilometers altitude - only then it was out of strong air currents caused by the explosion. Rocks around the canyon, walls of the canyon, even black cloud which came out of those walls - neither of those was in view. Screens were full of boiling stripes of fire and smoke, crossed by parabols made by glowing rock pieces; acoustic sensors of the probe were transmitting continuous thunder, as if much of the continent was in an earthquake.

The fact that monstrous battle did not yet end - was amazing. In a few dozens seconds, the canyon's floor, everything around the Cyclopus - was to get to melting temperature, rocks were shifting down, falling, turning to lava. Its dark-red glowing stream was already going to the exit from the canyon, which was several kilometers away from the battle's location. For a moment, Horpakh was in doubt whether electronic breakers of the emitter are functioning; it seemed impossible for the cloud to continue its attack on such a powerful foe, but the image which appeared on the screen, when TV probe went even higher to the border of the troposphere - has proven him wrong. Now the probe's field of view was nearly 40 square kilometers. In all that territory with lots of canyons strange movement was going on. With a speed which was seemingly small due to the distance between the probe and planet's surface, from covered with dark stripes slopes of rocks, from openins and caves more and more black swarms were going out, flying high up, joining together, concentrating in flight, and flying to the battle's location. For some time one could guess that black avalanches falling to the epicenter of the battle - will push atomic fire down, strangle it, extinquish it with their mass, but Horpakh knew very well about energy reserves of the human-made monster.

... our lifestyles, mores, institutions, patterns of interaction, values, and expectations are shaped by a cultural heritage that was formed in a time when carrying capacity exceeded the human load. (c) William R. Catton, Jr

Fins's picture
Spoiler: Highlight to view
Continuous, deafening, not stopping even for a second thunder, tearing outwards from reproductors, filled the control center. Simultaneously three tongues of fire, each kilometer-high, penetrated the mass of the attacking cloud and started to slowly rotate it, forming something like fire-made mill. The Cyclopus, for reasons unknown, started to back off and, not stopping fighting even for a moment, was slowly going to the exit from the canyon. Perhaps its electronic brain was considering possible collapse of canyon's walls, which could fall down onto the Cyclopus. It would make its way out even in such a case, of course, but there was a risk of losing freedom of movement. That or something else, the Cyclopus was trying to go out to the open, and it was already too hard to tell where it was its emitter's fire, where it was firestorm's smoke, where parts of the cloud, and where pieces of rocks falling apart.

It seemed the battle is close to its culmination. The next moment, something impossible happened. The screen flashed up, glowing with terrifying white of billions of explosions, and in this new tide of anti-matter everything around the Cyclopus was destroyed. Air, rubble, steam, gases, smoke - all that was turned to hard radiation and, breaking the canyon in half, enveloped the cloud and flew outwards, as if thrown away by the planet itself.

The Invincible, standing 70 kilometers away from the epicenter of this incredible strike, shaken through, transports and energy bots of the expedition, standing under the apparel, were dragged to the side, and after few minutes roaring front of air came through, hitting faces of people with instant heat while they were trying to hide behind machines, and, raising up a wall of flying sand, pushed it further into the huge desert.

A piece of rock, obviously, made a hit to the TV probe, despite the probe being 30 kilometers away from the center of the cataclysm. The connection did not break, but picture quality worsened much, the screen was covered by picture artifacts. A minute have passed, and, when smoke went down a little, Rokhan was able to see the next stage of the battle.

The battle did not end, like he thought a minute ago. If attackers would be living creatures, then the harsh beating which they took, quite possibly, would force following lines to back off or at least to stop before the gates of that fire-filled hell. But dead was fighting dead, and atomic fire did not cease. And then Rokhan for the first time realized what battles of the past looked like, battles on desert surface of this Regis III, in which robots were crushing and destroying other robots, he realized what were the methods of selection used by evolution of dead matter, and he realized what Lauda was talking about when he was saying that pseudo-insects won it because they are the fittest. In the same time, he had a thought that something similar had already happened here, that that dead, undestructible, crystallic, fixed by sunlight memory of billion-fold cloud - must have information about such battles, that it is exactly such lone armored giants, such atomic mammoths of robotic kind which were defeated by those dead drops, which seemingly are nothing in compare to flames of total-destruction discharges able to penetrate through large cliffs and rocks. The thing which made possible for those pseudo-insects to exist - is the thing which doomed huge monsters, plates of which were torn apart, as if they were rusty rugs, their pieces scattered around huge desert together with covered by sand skeletons of electronic, some day extremely precise mechanisms - this thing being some unreal, having no definition bravery, if such a word could be said about crystals of the gigantic cloud. But what other word could he use here? And against his wish, he could not be not amazed by the cloud's further actions, remembering the cataclysm he just have seen.

The cloud continued to attack. Now it had little peaks, slightly raised over its whole surface visible from above. Everything else, whole land of canyons - disappeared under the flow of black waves, rapidly flying by concentric rings from all parts of the horizon to fall down into the depth of bottom fire, center of which was the Cyclopus, invisible beyond fiery trembling shield. This push, paid for seemingly meaningless victims, was not, however, without chances for success.

Rokhan and all other people, now already passively watching what was unfloding on the screen, knew that. Energy reserves of the Cyclopus are practically endless, but, as annihilation was going on, despite powerful defensive measures, despite anti-radiation coating, tiny part of stellar temperatures was still transfered to the emitter, returning to its source, and it had to be hotter and hotter inside the machine. No man could stay alive within the Cyclopus for a long time already. Quite likely, its ceramic-vanadium armor was already glowing red, but all they were able to see was blue ball of pulsing fire, slowly moving to the exit from the canyon, so that location of the first cloud's attack was three kilometers to the north, revealing its terrifying, glazed, covered by layers of lava surface.

Horpakh ordered to turn reproductors down, as they so far filled the control center with deafening thunder, and asked Yazon what will happen when temperature inside the Cyclopus will exceed the limit of stability of the electronic brain.

The scientist did not doubt even for a moment:

- The emitter will be turned off.

- And the force field?

- The field - will not be.

Fiery battle already moved to the plains, near the canyon's exit. Pitch-black ocean of the cloud was swirling, pulsating, rotating and dropping in huge chunks into the fire-filled epicenter.

- Perhaps, now... - said Kronotos, taking intense look to the swarming picture in the screen.

One more minute passed. Suddenly, bright light in the center became much dimmer. The cloud covered it.

- Sixty kilometers from us, - a technician answered to Horpakh's question.

The astrogator sounded the alarm. The crew ran to stations. The Invincible took the apparel and passenger lift inside, and closed hatches.

The screen grew bright again. Fire cone appeared once again. But this time the cloud was not attacking. Right after its remains disapepared in fire, the remaining part started to go back to canyons, slowly filling those shadowed labyrinths, and before the eyes of humans appeared the Cyclopus, externally completely intact. It was still going back, very slowly, and continued to annihilate everything around it - rocks, sand, dunes.

Why it does not turn off the emitter? - someone asked.

As if hearing those words, the machine stopped its all-destroying fire, turned around, and, picking up speed, went into the desert. TV-probe was following it, staying at its altitude. Suddenly, people saw a threaed of fire, going to their faces with great speed, and, not yet realizing that the Cyclopus shot the TV probe and that they see the stripe of annihilated air particles, went back instinctively, as if scared that the shot will fly out of the screen and explode inside the control center. Right after that, the image disappeared and the screen went empty.

- It shot down the probe! - screamed the technician. - Commander...

Horpakh ordered to launch another probe. The Cyclopus was so close to the Invincible that they saw it right after the probe went to its planned altitude. New thread of fire, and probe is destroyed. Before the image disappeared, they noticed their own ship; the Cyclopus was no more than in 10 kilometers away.

- Did it go nuts, is that it?.. - said another technician, agitated.

Those words broke some sort of obstacle in Rokhan's mind. He took a look at Horpakh and realized: the astrogator got the same idea he just had. Rokhan was feeling as if his whole body, his head was filling up by the lead of meaningless thick sleeping state. But orders were given: the astrogator ordered to launch, one after another, two more probes. The Cyclopus destroyed those, one by one, like a sniper who is entertained by shooting flying plates.

- I need full power, - said Horpakh, not turning his head from the screen.

Chief Engineer, like a piano player taking a chord, rammed both hands to the panel's buttons.

- Starting power in six minutes, - he reported.

- I need full power, - repeated Horpakh with the same tone; it became so silent in the control center, that relay ticks within devices were clearly audible.

- The reactor's shell is too cooled down, - Chief Engineer began, and only then Horpakh turned his face to him and for the third time, with the same intonation, not raising his voice, said:

- I need FULL power.


... our lifestyles, mores, institutions, patterns of interaction, values, and expectations are shaped by a cultural heritage that was formed in a time when carrying capacity exceeded the human load. (c) William R. Catton, Jr

Fins's picture

And while i'm at it, there is one short story also by Stanislav Lem, which i deem as the first and foremost "must read" matherial for anyone who wants to create space drama game, story, movie or anything like.

Fortunately, there is online english text of it. Unfortunately, only on very one single website - here. So if this link does not work for any reason, i made a copy of the text in the forum - here.

If there is a single short story worthy of occupying few dozens kilobytes of this website space, then i'm sure this is the one.

... our lifestyles, mores, institutions, patterns of interaction, values, and expectations are shaped by a cultural heritage that was formed in a time when carrying capacity exceeded the human load. (c) William R. Catton, Jr

dcfedor's picture

I had a chance to read the "Invincible" excerpt you provided. Thanks!

Now that I've read it, what about the atmosphere did you like best? I definitely thought it was full of interesting ideas (e.g. "grey goo," antimatter fields, etc.), but I felt it was a bit too far future for my tastes. At least in the NEO Scavenger space prototype sense.

I only started the short story before I had to get to some other things, but that may actually be a closer fit. The sort of "admiring one's dirty old ship while in dock" feeling is one I sympathize with :)

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games

Fins's picture

About Invincible: yep, it's way too far future in compare to your games. Initially i just posted part of it which describes how external, and even very remote sounds, - can be reproduced within certain area(s) of the ship (retranslator probes are easy thing to imagine / describe).

If you mean the book in general, though, - the most precious bit of the athmosphere there is that feeling that people are way helpless against ancient and extremely powerful force that that planet thrown at their faces - that "cloud". Perhaps some "ancient, extremely powerful" artifacts / events could be made into your game, too - perhaps as end-game content? Few details about the nature of this cloud, if you'd like:

Spoiler: Highlight to view
It consists of unimaginable number of tiny flying robots, each containing two small software systems: one which codes most basic "instincts" of most basic aerodynamic functions and "swarming" behaviour, which connects those tiny robots into 3D flying swarms, and the other being a tiny part of a huge "collective brain". So the bigger the cloud gets, the smarter and more able it becomes. Each particular "tiny part of the collective brain" being copied into very large number of individual robots, so that even destruction of vast majority of them at any single moment - does not reduce their collective memory structure.

Those "pseudo-insects", those tiny robots are described by Lem as the "end point" of lengthy non-organic evolution of robots. The start to that "dead evolution" was given by another (non-human) civilization's ship, crashing onto this Regis III planet millions years ago, whole crew killed or perished shortly after, - only highly advanced self-replicating robots remaining behind. Initially bound by their programming, they were just following it, including self-maintaining and replicating as "usual", but bit by bit their parameters were adjusted by circumstances those robots were put into, and this "dead evolution" has started.

Part of initial robots' functionality was to ensure continuous functioning of remaining ships' systems. Native fauna ofthe planet - some predators, - occasionally attacked those robots, following their instincts ("if it moves, it can be prey"). Out of such incidents, robots developed aggressive behaviour and eventually destroyed all land-based fauna of the planet, as well as all aquatic fauna within surface layer of the planet's oceans. Only deep-water fish remained by the time Invincible landed on the planet. Planet's flora was also destroyed by robots, - as they multiplicated, they needed more energy to go on, and energy is provided to those pseudo-insects by their dead symbiont counter-part - robotic yet immobile "plant-like" photosynthetic systems, harnessing energy of Regis III's dimming star. That "metallic growth" competed for space with native flora, and predictably, won the struggle.

The primary "weapon" of the cloud evolved to be intermittent, short-term, yet extremely strong magnetic fields, which the cloud uses to erase information from both organic and eletronic brains. The latter part was used by the cloud when there were other kinds of robots still present. Eventually pseudo-insects completely destroyed all other kinds of robots on the planet, except their own immobile "recharge stations" symbionts. Lem argues that this sort of weapon was using way less energy than any other possible weapon, which is why it ended up being the end product of this "dead evolution" of robots.

The "Invincible" was sent to that Regis III planet to find out what happened with another cruiser - named Condor, - which disappeared on the planet several years ago. Earlier in the book, the Invincible's crew finds Condor - it standed mostly intact, but completely dead a ship, with most of its crew nearby or within Condor, all died shortly after Condor landed. Most of them starved to death, despite ship's food reserves barely touched. One was frozen to death in the ship's hybernation section, too cold temperature set in it. After few "closer encounters" of Invincible's groups with bits of the cloud, they realized what happened: whole crew of the Condor lost their memory after attack by the cloud, became much like new-borns mentally, and perished, unable to use systems of the ship (even to get food out of cans - one of insane findings aboard the Condor was a can with clear marks of teeth on it, along with other items with teeth marks - non-edible ones, soap bricks, etc).

Perhaps the only thing which saved the Invincible from sharing Condor's fate - was Horpakh decision which he took right after landing - to proceed with so-called "planetary procedure grade 3", which included maintaining powerful force field far around the Invincible. He did it only because he knew that very similar ship, the Condor, was lost on the planet without a trace nor SOS sent.

Once, soon after Invincible landed, the cloud tried to attack the cruiser, but was not able to get close enough to it, repelled by its huge force field "dome"; by then, the Invincible's crew had yet no idea about robots of the planet whatsoever, and they thought it was some strange phenomena of the planet's geology or something. The Condor was not maintaining such a force field over itself, following "planetary procedure grade 2", and so its whole crew fell victim to the cloud...

And so the novel is about those mighty human-made space ships, with 83 (initially) crew, "cruiser" class, which were unable to do any significant harm to the planet's "cloud" of pseudo-insect robots, one of the two completely destroyed by it. While the other - the Invincible, - lost much of its equipment, including its ultimate unit - the Cyclopus, - as well as significant portion of the crew, those lost being people of several groups which were sent far from the ship to perform needed tasks at hand - and those groups' force fields were either too small, or at times impossible to maintain continuously, allowing smaller bits of the cloud to attack people. Some survived, but were made "like new-borns" by the amnesia the cloud caused upon close contact, and later rescued by Rokhan (the XO of the Invincible - second in command); others were killed by few of those "adult new-borns" "playing" with their weapons, yet others were lost in that canyon and later found dead by various circumstances, killed even before the culminating battle (between Cyclopus and the cloud).

In the end, the Invincible, mightiest military space ship class ever made by humans (in this imagined far-future world Lem created for this novel), - simply retreated back into space, leaving remains of its Cyclopus and its dead crew members behind, on the planet (way later in the book, Cyclopus tried to attack the Invincible itself, reasons unknown - and was destroyed by the cruiser's main caliber before being able to do harm to its mother ship). The Invincible's commander, Horpakh, deemed it pointless to attempt further fight, or further rescue operations, or planetary-scale annihilation (the Invincible itself is said to have energy reserves sufficient to boil a small sea in one shot of its main caliber). They just retreated, formally having their mission completed (which was to find out what happened to the Condor).

The Invincible's remaining scientists concluded, by observed actions of the cloud and its parts, that those robots are not having any hostile intent; the whole system is not sapient, but merely extremely complex algorhythmic system which performs actions it evolved to perform in order to maintain its mere existance. It attacks not because it's trying to achieve some goal with it, but in a same way a mosquito takes a bite, - instinctively, so to say. Except cloud's instincts are tremendously more complex, as allowed by the amount of time (and number of "accidents" the cloud managed to survive through) and capacity of the cloud's collective memory. They also concluded that if the cloud would be a sapient entity capable of analysis and hostility, then they would never make it out of Regis III alive - the cloud had numerous opportunities and methods available to it, should it be sapient, to destroy the Invincible, for example by going "under" the ship's mighty force field by pushing through the sand (the field was existing only above solid surface, and most of the planet is desert, including all of Invincible's landing locations).

It is this athmosphere of "humans can do amazing things, but Universe will always have something much more powerful to throw at humans, no matter how powerful humans would ever become" which is special about this and some other Lem's books - one most famous is the Solaris, of course, and this same theme and athmosphere is there just as well. By the way, Solaris movies (all of them) are VERY far from the original (the book).

As for the Terminus - yep, this is exactly the kind of future and the kind of ship which your new game seems to be about; some of Neo Scavenger newspapers describe some quite similar (to Terminus' "setting") things.

And one more thing about Terminus - it starts rather slow, but keep at it. All those details and initially slow-going "storyline" are much needed to "set up" proper feeling for the later parts, where main events of the short story will happen. Without going through all the small details of the beginning, one can't grasp full meaning and emotion of the ending. It's best to remember as many details as possible when you read it, which is why it's best to find some time and read whole thing - it's not that large, - in one go.

P.S. There are whole two books of short stories about navigator Pirx which Lem wrote; the Terminus is very last one short story in terms of internal chronology of events in this "Pirx universe", i.e. it concludes all the "Pirx' adventures" in space.

... our lifestyles, mores, institutions, patterns of interaction, values, and expectations are shaped by a cultural heritage that was formed in a time when carrying capacity exceeded the human load. (c) William R. Catton, Jr

dcfedor's picture

Just finished Terminus. Very cool :)

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games