I have had the great luck to work with an awesome game developer, Mirko Siethe, on his breakout project, the PC game BossConstructor. You can check it out in Early Access, if that's your thing, over on Steam. I was originally attracted to this title because it used to be focused on a technology that's very near and dear to my heart - Genetic Algorithms - but even after that focus drifted away into the ether of possibility, I kept talking with Mirko about the game, and he eventually asked me to write some fiction to accompany his game and turn it into something more a universe to explore. I'm more or less responsible for the backstory, faction descriptions, and a few other tidbits, like mission descriptions - all of which was great fun to write; you'll probably find that I went a bit more "popcorn SF" than the harder stuff I usually aspire to/admire, but it seems appropriate to its medium, in my opinion. Fundamentally, I think you could one-line my story as "50's Cybernetics meets Cyberpunk in Space." Like I said, the whole experience has been great, great fun. But it gets better for me!
Recently Mirko had an artist bend their wacom tablet to depictions of the faction concepts I created for the game - eight in all - and he shared those pictures with me. I have to admit that it's always been a fantasy of mine, as a wannabe SF writer, to have my work depicted in the same heady, broad brushstrokes which grace the SF paperbacks in the bookstores, hot off the press and the imagination - and, too, I've always been tempted to read books by their covers, trying to determine which of an endless assortment of novels arrayed before me on the racks would most satisfy my burning need for Action and Wonderment. To have my own little ideas portrayed by the mind of an interpreting artist, then, for eventual use in a published product, is just too cool. How weird and great, in a way no book, movie, or game could provide, to see someone else's idea of your idea put to paper in a picture.
Here are the pictures, along with the faction descriptions that were their inspiration. Sometimes I can see little bits of my story in there, most times stuff seems wholly imagined, or I'm just not getting the connections... it's a lesson in imaginative power for me, to be sure:
Name: Space Miner’s United
Homeworld: The Hellespont CloudDescription: The men and women of Space Miner’s United (SMU) are the former members of a trade union whose personnel were abandoned en masse by their corporate employers when the Von Neumann came. Through the structure of their old union, these resourceful people have come together to survive - even thrive - without support from Sol, but the sting of this betrayal is buried deep in their collective psyche. They are generally uninterested in helping outsiders except when the bargain is right, but they are fiercely protective of their own. Leadership in SMU is comprised of a single party system dominated by figureheads from the old union, which has led to accusations of totalitarian socialism from outsiders, but the miners of SMU generally believe they are better off without the influence of anyone else. Because of this, they quixotically view the Van Neumann as a useful buffer between them and the rest of humanity, and are usually willing to abandon a base to the advance of the Von Neumann rather than fight them, since their highly efficient use of resources and long experience with deep space travel makes the process of setting up on a new asteroid somewhere a trivial exercise for the SMU. When the replicator threat moves on in search of new resources, they return to pick up the pieces, as they have done so many times before.
Name: AEGIS (Autonomous Elective Governing Internetwork System)
Homeworld: Nieuw Kongo
Description: AEGIS is a mysterious paranational organization that had its beginnings in a cyborg collective on Earth. Persecuted for their beliefs and extreme body modifications, these networked cyborgs were forced to seek shelter first in central Africa, then in space. Since those early days, the AEGIS superorganism, as it refers to itself, has sought peace in the far reaches of the galaxy, free to pursue its vision of utopia away from the judging eyes of baseline humanity. Their shock upon encountering the Von Neumann quickly faded to fascination - there is a great deal of speculation within the superorganism as to whether the Von Neumann represent the teleological apex of their own ongoing evolution, or a perverse offshoot. In any case, the neural systems of AEGIS are completely incompatible with the Von Neumann, and as such they have no choice but to fight the replicating machines when they must (AEGIS characterizes these encounters as “cooperative studies in machine fitness,” although they usually prefer to “negotiate settlements” with the Von Neumann - for example, recently an AEGIS cruiser was spotted being chased by a horde of Neumanns, which it then got rid of by leading them to the location of a baseline human colony ship. AEGIS proudly notes this in its externally-accessible logs as a shining example of interspecies diplomacy.
Homeworld: Deep Castle
Description: The Joiners are one of the stranger tales to come out of the Von Neumann wars. Early in the history of human spacefaring, many colony ships were sent out into the void on sub-FTL drives; long-term projects that were not heard from for centuries. When the Von Neumann were discovered, it was assumed that most of these fledgling colonies had met their demise as food for the machines, until the Joiners were spotted by scouts well within Von Neumann Territory. Whether they are still human is up for debate; at some point in the past, the colonists of Deep Castle managed to bend a mutated branch of the Von Neumann to their will - but only by “agreeing” to let the Von Neumann’s breeding protocols regulate their own procreation. Since that time, the Joiners have been embarked on a crash course in selective breeding, a eugenics program that has left them powerfully equipped with bioelectrical skin meshes, a “third lobe” of the brain dedicated to three-dimensional thinking more suited to the rigors of deep space navigation, and a variety of other adaptations that as yet are poorly understood. This coevolution has led some on Earth to falsely believe that some kind of peace might be attained with the Von Neumann, but even the Joiners are constantly engaged in a struggle for survival with the rest of the Von Neumann; the mutation that allowed for such a twisting of the old machine code seemingly arose only once. One thing is certain - their ship designs are truly creative, bringing together a fascinating repurposing of old Earth technology with novel Von Neumann systems. They have used this technology to fortify Deep Castle system intensively; vast minefields and powerful frigate fleets patrol all space within the system’s heliopause, and few visitors, human or machine, are allowed to enter, unless they bring new technologies or volunteers for the breeding program.
Description: Many of the people eking out an existence on the edge of civilized space lead nomadic, relatively unsettled lives, plying the deeps of the galaxy in robust, long-enduring craft that ferry them from one opportunity to the next. Unique cultures and ways of life tend to spring up in each community, but whether strip-mining, research-hunting, or even raiding, these peoples have one thing in common - they share a need for renewable, diverse, portable energy sources. Indeed, some of their technologies in this area of ship building are so unique that they have been spotted incorporated, with relatively few modifications, in the hulls of Von-Neumann lucky enough to successfully prey upon tribal vessels. Another unifying feature of this diverse set of humans includes a universal hatred of the Von-Neumann: these robots are seen as a potentially existential threat to tribal ways of life - small bands are usually unable to defend themselves from the voracious replicators, and as time goes on increasing numbers of tribal communities are banding together for collective safety, though their settlements are still quite fractious and impermanent compared to most other spacefaring civilizations. The remaining diehard tribes that refuse to seek the protection of larger, more sedentary ways of life have for the most part fled the area; sightings of these groups are most common in the furthest, most energy-poor reaches of the galaxy, where their natural aptitude at wringing sustenance from the scan materials available to them makes such peoples safe via indigence - few enemies can survive where they live.
Name: New Pilgrims
Homeworld: New Plymouth
Description: As religion on old Earth continued to fade from the modern public’s consciousness, remaining religious believers of many different faiths experienced increased litigation and perceived injustices at the hands of their secular host governments and societies. As space travel became more and more viable, such groups were not long in recognizing the potential of emulating their ancient forbears who had experienced similarly hostile homelands. Many religious organizations, finding common ground in the wish to celebrate their beliefs as they saw fit, under the rule of laws they found morally acceptable, managed to band together in order to pool the resources of their dwindling laity toward founding a colony on a different planet. Once a suitably large and hospitable example had been found, religious colonists eagerly constructed hundreds of large, fast spacecraft to carry them there. This planet came to be called New Plymouth, in honor of one of the more famous pilgrimages in Earth’s history. A complicated system of laws governing the interrelationships of the different religious groups on New Plymouth, while at times seemingly tenuous, has (some say miraculously) held the colony together thus far, and today the nominally theocratic government of the New Pilgrims maintains a strong trade relationship with Earth and other human colonies, only infrequently entering into disputes. The arrival of the Von Neumann seems only to have increased the trend of moderation on this colony, as the new threat requires a unified effort among the many different sects of New Plymouth, and at present a strongly moderate, ecumenical ruling council helms New Plymouth through the robotic invasions. A several hundred years after their first voyages, the New Pilgrims still hold an edge over most other civilizations when it comes to propulsion systems - they see research into newer and faster motors to be nothing less than a speeding of the messengers of the divine. Their many small missionary vessels zip back and forth across colonized space, always on the lookout for peoples who may yet need to hear of the messages they so strongly believe in.
Name: PolyParticle Incorporated
Homeworld: Alpha Centauri Station
Description: PolyParticle Incorporated,commonly referred to as PPC or Big Polly, is an interstellar corporation which operates and administrates dozens of corporate colonies across known space from its nominal headquarters on the tax haven of Alpha Centauri Station. While PPC has many subsidiaries involved in a gamut of enterprises, from spaceship construction and colony development to exoagriculture and tourism, the primary business of PPC has always been applied particle physics. Early in the company’s history, it was compelled to move off-earth in order to free its resources from the red tape surrounding some of its more lucrative (and dangerous) experiments; ever since that time, PPC has been effectively pioneered human exploration of space in the process of expanding its business ventures. One of the first companies to study black holes up close, PPC maintains a fantastically advanced catalog of esoteric particle physics technologies, and it makes most of its profits licensing these technologies to weapons manufacturers. Thus, while PPC is not itself a weapons company, those in the know understand that Big Polly has a vested interest in stoking the flames of conflict in order to drive profits up. While historically this has been popularly perceived negatively by most of the public, Big Polly’s public relations improved markedly once the threat of the Von Neumann menace became clear. PPC munitions and weapons systems are to be found installed in the ships of most human fleets - and, if truth be told, some of this technology has likely made it into the arsenals of the Von Neumann. Conversely, Von Neumann weapons technologies themselves are an area of heavy research at PolyParticle, to the point that the massive company has recently created its own paramilitary security branch - SpaceGuard Salvage and Operations (SGSO) to help it acquire research materials and defend “frontline” corporate assets.
Name: Interstellar Guard
Homeworld: Delta Pavonis II
Description: An odd hybrid of government military and nationalized corporation, the Interstellar Guard is a non-profit government-funded paramilitary organization that operates a network of fueling stations and listening posts across human-occupied space. While the Iggies, as they are colloquially referred to, usually fulfill a role akin to that of an interstellar coast guard, enforcing law and order and providing search and rescue operations for Earth’s disparate colonies, the arrival of the Von Neumann has meant new, more militaristic duties have been forced upon this organization. Most attempts at culling or otherwise pushing back the Von Neumann have met with limited success at best due to limited funds and resupply from Earth’s governments, so present doctrine dictates a defensive, reactionary stance. As a result, most Iggie vessels focus on bringing “locally decisive” firepower to fights - it is not unusual for Guard vessels to be smaller, older models, outfitted with an unusually impressive array of military hardware. As the “war” progresses, the services of the Interstellar Guard have been increasingly called upon, and its resources are presently stretched very thin. It is not uncommon to see the IG fielding locally-raised volunteer regiments, outfitting mercenaries and groups of vigilante “deputies,” or even engaging in officially-unsanctioned trade with the colonies in order to raise funds. While these activities have made the IG the subject of much negative speculation on Earth, with some governments even threatening to disband the organization, it enjoys quite a bit of popularity among the colonist populations it defends. Some whisper that should it’s official disbandment ever come down the chain of command, the organization might split ties with Earth.
Name: The Ageless
Homeworld: Hiboshi’s World
Description: As human medicine and genomics advanced, it eventually became possible for some of the super-wealthy to engineer away their own mortality, inhabiting carefully reconstructed series of clones in order to shed the weight of the mortal coil. Seeking to maximise the time they can spend alive before random accidents claim them all the same, many of these people sought refuge on the distant planet Hiboshi’s World, a small, rocky planet alone in its solar system, with a large molten iron core and an atmosphere composed primarily of inert Xenon. Most of their trade with the rest of humanity derives from intellectual property; the Ageless exhibit a boundless interest in defensive technologies - they were even the inventors of the cheap, effective Titan laminate armor system, now used everywhere space travel is prevalent. Long lives and a generally higher than average accumulation of bright minds means that even the relatively low population of this colony is responsible for a good portion of leading defensive technology research, which they share much more freely now that the Von Neumann have become humanity’s arch nemesis. Dark rumors circulate that the Ageless mean to give away only enough knowledge that mortals and machines might annihilate one another, leaving them in peace to ponder eternity. The Ageless, for their part, do not say much, eager to remain out of the fight for as long as possible.