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I had a hard time figuring out exactly how to word this question so I'm going to explain a bit.

I'm thinking of an idea for a videogame where the game mechanics are heavily focused on the logistics and interconnections of technology, so it would be fairly "hard" sci-fi, and near future tech at that. However, I want to set it in a rather fantastical world with big monsters and other unrealistic elements. So it leaves me torn on where to use the fantasy brush when designing things. I'd like to let the game mechanics lead the story as much as possible, while allowing for concessions to fantasy to merge them.

The details of my game world aren't important, but to demonstrate the logic behind this question, I'm basically thinking like this:

I want to focus on the logistics of moving supplies, so I can't have teleportation tech. I want to have lasers and force fields, so I need some kind of fantastical power source. But if I have a fantastical power source, that will make it seem ridiculous if there are any combustion engines...

So to take a different approach to deciding what technology to include in a world like this I'm trying to think of the typical sci-fi technologies and the implications of each, to see what gives me the most room to play around and build on while still having the world "feel" realistic and raise minimal questions requiring technobabble answers.

The best comparison I can think of is Battlestar Galactica. In the reboot, the ships have countless nuclear missiles, hyperdrive capability, and other magic space stuff. But the story revolves entirely around how the ship has no networked computers, how the chain of command works, how the engines break down and need replacement parts they can't manufacture, and so on. While for comparison, every time I watch any Star Trek, I'm constantly thinking "you can literally make food out of thin air, this should not be a problem".

Obviously there are a hundred ways to retroactively explain why teleporters or replicators can't solve the problem of a particular episode, but my goal is to avoid raising those questions in the first place, so those two technologies don't work. Technology that reduces to "A power source, but bigger" raises fewer questions. A hyperdrive can be reduced to "we discovered a way to make engines, but better" without raising a ton of questions about how you feed the population.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is basically a "list-type" question and they're typically off-topic because there is no way for people to make a reasonable objective judgement as to what answers are best. $\endgroup$ – StephenG May 26 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ "While for comparison, every time I watch any Star Trek, I'm constantly thinking 'you can literally make food out of thin air, this should not be a problem'." FWIW, this isn't true. What they can do is rearrange stores of chemicals into desired configurations. Replicators aren't magic, they're just really advanced 3D printers. Replicating something that seems like broccoli when you eat it is possible. Replicating actual living things, or anything that needs "exotic" materials that aren't on hand, is difficult or impossible. $\endgroup$ – Matthew May 26 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Matthew Star Trek replicators are a good example of bad planning making plot holes because the original explanation was that they were matter/energy converters which could make anything you wanted. Then they started stacking tons of ad hoc "can't replicate that" rules on them that often contradicted previous abilities, then they would turn around and make REALLY exotic tech like cloaking self replicating mines or reality probability manipulators. If they kept one set of rules and stuck with it, I'd agree, but that's not what Star Trek did. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki May 26 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ How about you use your own answer: It's a phone, do I really need to explain it? Your characters might have some idea of all that goes on behind that phone, the energy requirements, the data that needs to be crunched, the infrastucture, the mechanics inside the phone to make it work. But they don't have a reason to tell anyone about that in a normal conversation now do they? And they can't know EVERYTHING, just like only an expert on phone technology would know a fair chunk about it. So why bother telling people about the directional gravity plates beneath their feet? It's just like your phone $\endgroup$ – Demigan May 26 at 18:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Matthew that is just one of the many explanations of replicators. For example replicators are also a variant of transporter technology. The same technology that has teleported people into another dimension, reversed aging, made people age, made people invisible, Split Kirk into a good and evil variant, combined two people into one (Tuvix, which wasn't heavier or anything), Temporarily made people holograms, duplicated someone (Riker), a bunch of people are discovered to "hang" between transports (Barclay). All of that can't be explained by how transporters are supposed to work. $\endgroup$ – Demigan May 26 at 18:37
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Arbitrary handwaved restrictions

To me, the best way to have crazy sci-fi godtech without worrying about unwanted implications is to go in restrictions-first.


Say you want to have both easy travel between different solar systems and the concept of a deep frontier where the heroes are a long way from reinforcements.

Then the FTL needs to be restricted in a handwavy way: Let's say that FTL exists, but is bound by infrastructure so that you need a giant city-sized "tractor beam" emitter on both ends of the trip. Suddenly FTL isn't your space cowboy's horse, but the train he took to the last outpost of civilization, before striking out into the unknown in a charming sublight jalopy with a ragtag crew of misfits.


Same thing for instant communications: choose some arbitrary restrictions. Say subspace messages can only be sent or received inside a hyper-strong magnetic field, or it takes an enormous amount of energy to fold space enough to shove a laser beam through to send data.

Or, instant comms might rarely cause some causality errors that self-correct with spontanous matter-antimatter annihilation, make encryption wholly impossible, or scramble message plaintexts sporadically and seemingly maliciously.


As for handheld directed energy weapons and force fields, give them similar arbitrary non-obvious restrictions and drawbacks. Maybe force fields work great for stationary protected objects, but jitter with minimal inertia change and are prone to slicing moving carriers of the shield generator into tiny slivers.

Should you want to go all-in, perhaps have all DEW's produce the fabled infrasonic brown note at an immense sound pressure, so using them in atmospheres has some, ahem, implications for the user as well.


This usually works great because unless your character is a domain expert in the specific tech being used, they can't really be expected to understand the science behind it, they just have a user-space understanding.

In essence, the everymen in your scifi world know that cargo teleportation exists, is uncompetitively power-hungry, works 90% of the time, but 10% of the time the output is DEMONS AIEE GET THE TELEPORTER GOBLIN HARPOON.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a great way to think about it, thanks. I guess my original question was trying to get ahead of audience's reactions too much when they're almost entirely based on presentation. $\endgroup$ – Appleguysnake May 26 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ I like "seemingly maliciously". That would get explored more in the second season. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 27 at 0:08
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Answer to revised question: Use tech agnostic terminology

For a setting where you just want people to accept your science, don't explain the science of your systems at all. When you say your ship has a Fusion Reactor, Tetrion Particle Cannons, and a Subspace Void Shield you open yourself up too tons of questions about what those are, how much power they use and how realistic they are. In contrast a ship with a Lvl.3 Power Reactor, Lvl.4 Pulse Cannons, and a Lvl.6 Shield you answer so little about the underlying technology that there is no contesting how realistic it is for those 3 things to be working together on the same ship; so, you are guaranteed no plot holes.

The only time you even scratch the surface of underlying tech is when you are pairing tropes that are so well accepted with certain effects as to already be understood; so, you might have Ion cannons that for whatever reason always do extra shield damage in every sci fi game made in the last 2 decades or EMP cannons to drain power or acid cannons to cause DoT. Even though these may imply some underlying scientific mechanics you can leverage that fact that thousands of games before yours have already hand-waved thier effects to be so predictable that no explanation is necessary. Why does an EMP effect a Power Reactor? Who knows. We don't even know how power reactors makes power so we just accept the way they interact and move on.

Added this question: How to introduce fictional technology without creating plot holes for anyone interested in delving further into the OP's question more as originally asked, and moved my original answer there.

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    $\begingroup$ That is a heck of an answer and very generally applicable! It should be on the WB required reading list. Also last paragraph tip for writing is excellent and even more widely applicable. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 26 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ This is a really great and detailed reply and I wanted to thank you for writing it! The only reason I didn't accept it as the answer (and this is on me for not writing the question clearly) is that it's a great process for writing a very technology-centric story and what I'm trying to do is find technology that can fit into a story without needing even to be acknowledged. I appreciate the specificity rules on questions a bit more now seeing how differently everyone interpreted this question. $\endgroup$ – Appleguysnake May 26 at 19:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Appleguysnake In that case, the best way to add tech with minimal explanation is to not try to explain it at all. See revised answer. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki May 26 at 20:36
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Ancient Relic / Fell From Sky / Alien Tech

In fantasy, there's a common trope of 'ancient civilization with powers far beyond the modern one', which more or less explains why there are incredibly powerful artifacts that can't be made. Take the sa'angreal from Wheel of Time for instance - they artificially boost the Channeling capacity of whoever holds them, but the knowledge of how to make them was lost in the Age of Legends, over a thousand years before the book starts. This means that they're rare and that they can't be made.

In science fiction, if you want to use this kind of trope, you explain that the objects in question aren't human in origin, and rather alien technology that humans don't really understand, or they came from a long-gone human civilization that reached technology the current humans could only dream of. Stargate is an excellent example of both of these, though far more of the former than the latter. (The ZPM in particular.)

Obviously, adjustments need to be made to the formula. Incorporation or limited-reverse engineering might give the humans the ability to duplicate some, but not all, of the technologies. This enables you to have powerful sci-fi technologies, but at the cost of massive unexplained plotholes.

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The best technologies that require no explanation are those that use existing science but simply require further engineering or technology development to turn into practical products.

There are lots of items which are in the drawing board but need 'just' a few billion dollars of investment (plus a lot of testing, marketing, regulation etc) to make them into everyday life, eg EVTOL flying taxi drones.

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All the action on one planet, using 1970s tech with bows and ribbons.

In a hard SF the trouble comes because space is so big and light is so slow. Hyperdrives and instant communications are only needed if you are operating on galactic scales.

Put your action on a planet. It is hard enough moving stuff around on our planet. You can make it a super-earth: bigger, wilder; with varying surface terrain, subsurface terrain, aerial terrain ("terrain"?). If you want to get off world, use the moons and other planets in the system.

There are loads of threats on a planet surface that make sense to the way we think: they are threats on our scale. Things like black holes and relativistic shrapnel are hard to think about. Volcanoes, duststorms, lightning, monsters, tidal waves, whirlpools, robbers, panicked citizens, mudslides, tar pits - oh my! Those are human type threats and all to be found planetside.

You can take them on with 1970s technology in 2100s bottles, which is also well trod territory for a video game. Jeeps with a dude firing a laser gun out the back. Force fields and machetes for the biting worm fields. Good stuff all.

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You're putting the Cart before the Horse — You should expect the horse to complain

I've been a programmer for a long time — and you're making a mistake. The game mechanics (including the balancing act for weapon/class strengths/weaknesses compared to other combinations) must drive both the story and the "tech" or you end up making bigger holes when you run into tech explanations that exceed or break your mechanics.

  • Monster #1 has an armor rating of 52/100.
  • Weapon #5 has an attack rating of 27/100.

In-world description: The monster has thick skin and the weapon is a baseball bat. Why do those descriptions map to those ratings? They don't. It's irrelevant. It's window dressing.

On the other hand...

  • Monster #2 has a cobalt-infused hide due to evolving on the Plains of E'reth where the soil is rich in cobalt and the plants have evolved to absorb dense quantities of it.

  • Weapon #2 is a Traveller-standard FGMP-15. 2Kg power pack inflicting massive damage due to casting "fusion-enacted plasma."

Wait... Dang! "fusion-enacted plasma" doesn't make sense. OK! It's gotta be real fusion... except the weapon description says it's gravitically controlled and fusion must be magnetically controlled... Dang! We'll change it to magnetically controlled... with... a... 2Kg... Power... Pack... Yeah. Let's add a caisson to haul a realistic power pack around... WAIT! Dang nabit! Nuclear fusion and cobalt don't mix well unless you really hate that monster! I gotta save the town. How much damage was this honker supposed to deliver anyway? Just 2D6? Whaaat?

What you're going to discover is that having the tech drive the game mechanics will force you to make all your monsters like Elk and all your weapons like 30-06 hunting rifles — boring.

Conclusion

Don't worry about plot holes. There are so many technology-related plot holes in the modern Battlestar Galactica that your comparison to Star Trek doesn't actually make sense. In the end, you have a story to tell — and the technological mumbo jumbo is simply window dressing to make the story interesting.

And if you learn anything from 100 years of sci-fi... if you tell a good story, even the people who know better won't care.

Your mechanics need to be smooth. The relative weights-and-measures between weapons, armor, etc. must be well balanced. Your story must be engaging. If you do these things, the technobabble will fall into place. If you try to develop the technobabble first, you will compromise your game mechanics and your story.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a fantastic reply, I didn't expect any games people to reply so I glossed over that part. You're absolutely right about the process, I didn't include information about the first bit because as you said, this is just window dressing. But I want nice windows! That's why I asked such an open-ended question, to try and find some different ideas on what window dressing felt the best. $\endgroup$ – Appleguysnake May 26 at 19:04
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Hyperdrive and Instant Communication are the most "magical" things you've described. If you can make the world work without them, you should.

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