Steampunk Universes…

Went to the steampunk festival that my friend Sam is involved with last weekend. Nice event, I couldn’t stay as long as I’d have preferred but had a though provoking conversation while I was there.

Atoms as a problem

If you’re going to scale physical objects down to very small sizes (and to make high tech steampunk happen you kind-of do) then atoms (and quantum effects if you want to go there) become a significant problem.

We have it easy

Given that we’re running into those limitations with our information processing technology and our switching mechanisms need to do no more than gate electrons from passing through, a steampunk analytical system would run into more serious problems.

Scaling for analytical engines

I would imagine a high tech steampunk analytical engine as incorporating tinier and tinier mechanical switching elements in its implementation. Ignoring for the moment square/cube issues (which may actually work in our favor) and gas related effects (vacuum is your friend) the scaling limits would start to pinch rather earlier I’d expect.

You want micron scale switches and gearing as part of your technology. You don’t want to deal with the hassle of building gears with single atom wide teeth or switches with atomic scale switching elements.

Construct a new set of physical laws to suit

I’d suggest an alternate set of physical laws where matter is indeed continuous as the ancients would have expected. You can subdivide a piece of brass into arbitrary smaller fragments and still have the properties of bulk brass.

Build a machine that allows you to manipulate smaller items and then just cascade down to arbitrarily small feature sizes. Add in jacquard loom or player piano style automation and you’re set to start producing fully mechanical analytical engines. In this sort of a universe, nano-tech might actually prove to be more practical than in the one we’ve got. No strange domain transitions as you get smaller and lots of incentive to develop micro-machining technologies.

It would be rather interesting to extrapolate this universe a bit more and think about the other implications. Certainly wouldn’t have radioactivity in the form we currently do as there would be no atoms to fragment. Chemistry would be completely different perhaps involving behaviors more akin to alloying than to chemical bonds.

Interesting set of thought experiments to play with here I’d think.

Oculus Claims to be Moving to Hand Tracking

Saw this here (Lorna shared the link).

This does sound like interesting tech (though tracking larger joints and body position seems even more interesting). I do not see how it can handle some of the core use-cases though.

Pretty much anything that requires fine manipulation (triggers, buttons, throttles and HOTAS rigs) would seem to be out of the picture. Being able to track gross hand motion seems possibly within reach. Being able to pick up a glass in VR with hand tracking and then spin it around to look at the far side seems extremely challenging.

I can see this working in the near term for things like fighting games where you punch an opponent. I can’t see it replacing controllers or similar items for fine motor interactions…hoping they’ll prove me wrong though.

Ok, interesting…vive also seems to have some early access hand tracking with the vive and vive pro mentioned here.

New Job and All of the Busy That Goes with That

I’ve just moved from KMC Systems to Draeger and the last couple of weeks have been very busy. That has resulted in very little outside activity worth posting about. At this point I’ve been in my new position for a week or so and feel a little bit more like I’ve got my feet on the ground so I’m expecting to get back to some interesting work.

I’m also no longer working with Malcolm and Sam so no more lunch-time discussions of semi-random technical issues and unity programming stuff. Hoping to set up some regular get-togethers as we move into the fall. Got to get the interesting stuff kick-started again and three brains are definitely better than one.

More VR Ideas – Simulation

Game of life

Thinking that a VR game of life implementation might be fun and relatively straightforward. Perhaps on a sphere would be even more interesting…closed universe.

Also wondering whether a three dimensional version could be jugged together.

More of a fun toy than a real game, but perhaps fun to play with.

Need to think about how to map the quantized grid from a flat version into spherical layouts. Might make sense to do something with continuous placement with volumetric cells that bump aside any too close and attract cells that are near enough to aggregate. Would be similar but a bit different.

Orbital Simulation

Playing with a setup where masses could be placed in three dimensional space and then items released and run the simulation forward.

Could be fun to play with looking at the orbital mechanics issues .

Could move forward to a game where orbital combat is run through. Place vessels with real-ish engines and weapons. Implement UI and interaction to manage motion and allow planning and execution of maneuvers .

Missile Command Inspired VR

Interesting way to play with VR UI approaches if taken moderately seriously

The player is standing on the ground with a dark sky overhead. Controllers are used to cue weapons fire.

Inbounds are shown with location, trails showing previous track and various information attached as they move…possibly current velocity and acceleration vectors attached.

Player points at desired target and cues in a weapons system on that target (or targets sensors perhaps to gain more information)

Could be a fun thing to play with.

Ideas for VR Games

On the flight out to San Diego I was kicking around some game ideas. The cluster game is already in progress and I’m leaving that one aside. Here are some of them… this is going to be a bit ‘stream of consciousness at the moment.

Human Space Invaders

The idea is that you’re standing there looking up at space invaders flying around and getting closer. You have several weapons you can fire at the attackers and they drop ordnance towards you as they fly over. There are shields above you in places that neither you nor the invaders can shoot through but all shots damage the shields if they hit them.

I was thinking of a few weapons for the player:

  • a beam weapon that you can play around like a flashlight. This would use ‘energy’ that is slow to refill and rapidly consumed when lasering. Very powerful and effective but limited availability.
  • Pulse weapon similar to the laser but much more efficient. Draws from the same energy reserve but fires blobs of energy up at the enemies.
  • Controllable weapon. Limited number per stage. After launch you can direct it with your controller and either cause it to hit an enemy or detonate it on command to throw out a spray of damage. The direction the relevant controller is held in would control the direction of flight of the round. Releasing the fire button would detonate the round.
  • Possibly a ‘boom’ round that flies directly up from where you currently are and when triggered throws out a much larger spray of damage than the missiles. Probably like a ‘smart bomb’ a limited total supply of these over all.

Hypergate Centurion-alike

Resource management game.

You are looking over a set of hypergates where your job is to send out attack craft to deal with space monsters and pirates. You get points for ships successfully transtting your gates or coming in and flying off to in-system destinations.

Items in the game:

  • Hypergates: ships and monsters enter and leave through these. When a commercial ship leaves through its designated gate you get points.\
  • Defense stations: Each station hosts a number of attack and salvage ships that you can send out to perform tasks. Stations and ships can be attacked by various things. You need to manage these resources to get your job done.
  • Plasma buoys: You have a plasma weapon that you can fire directly at targets (think ‘grid fire’ in the culture novels). Your attack power is related to how many buoys you have active and how close they are to the target location.
  • Off screen destinations: some ships (and pirates) come from or go to planets in the system that are off screen.
  • Commercial ships
  • Noncombatant military ships transiting the system. You get points for these ships getting where they’re going. They will defend themselves if attacked. They can be asked to assist with threats that don’t directly affect them but this costs points and is not guaranteed.
  • Gas and debris clouds. Obscure sensor readings. Conceal and generate monsters and pirates

More options to come…those were the first two on the list and probably the most fleshed out…also could restyle the invaders game with a less cartoony missile command approach and get something more serious and perhaps with more long term playability.

Cluster – RESTful APIs

As part of building the front-end to the shared web side aspect of the cluster game, I’m starting to lay out the RESTful interface to the database at the back-end of the server side.

I’m looking at several main categories using query parameters to filter results on aggregate areas.

  • players
    Returns a list of player names and ids. Details of a specific player can be retrieved (and changed) by accessing the player by player id as a sub-resource. Permissions do apply here…a normal player can only view or edit the details for their own information. An administrator can view and change information for any player.
    • id (immutable after creation)
    • name – Unique, human readable user name
    • email
    • is email public
    • password (settable only)
    • active
    • date joined
    • date last activity
  • games
    Returns a list of games in the database. With query parameters this can return games containing only a selected player or players, games that are in progress and perhaps other subsets of all stored games. Details of a specific game may be retrieved by game id. For normal players, only the details that their player identity has access to may be retrieved. For developers all details are visible and subject to modification.
    • id
    • player ids
    • turns
      One entry for each turn in the game so far. All open if the game is completed otherwise only information visible to this user is present.
      • turn number
      • units list
        • unit id
        • unit type
          ship type, planetary resource type, population
        • location type
          space or system or planet
        • location
        • player id
      • technology list
        • players
          • player id
          • technology id
          • level
          • investment
      • moves list
        • players
    • current turn
    • moves submitted
      (may be part of the turns container)
    • active
    • created
    • completed
    • final scores if completed
    • stars
  • options
    Options that relate to new games being started. Global lists (start information, admiral information and such). Generally these will only impact newly created games. Selected items may affect all games.
  • audit
    Audit log recording changes made using administrative privileges.

Cluster Game Moves


  • Turn based multi-player
  • Internet based shared state
  • Once all player moves for a turn are complete, the turn is executed
  • Strategic level
  • Non-interactive combat resolution a the end of the turn


  • Scout ships
    Small, unarmed vessels with unlimited range used to gather information.
  • Colony transports
    Large vessels that only exist to transport a group of colonists to a new star. Once the colonists debark, the transport ceases to exist as its parts are used to support the new colony.
  • Escort
    Small interstellar armed vessel
  • Assault ship
    Medium sized interstellar armed vessel
  • Capital ship
    Largest interstellar armed vessel
  • Defense platform
    Small defense system dedicated to the defense of a single planet. Combat equivalent to an escort.
  • System defense boat
    Medium sized system defense vessel. Equivalent to an assault ship in combat. May be used in defense of any planet in a single system.
  • Factory
    Production facility on a given planet. Increases output of one unit of population based on the level of factory technology that has been developed.
  • Robotic Industry
    Production facility that operates without an accompanying population unit.

Basic Turn Mechanics

  • Spend on building ships
  • Spend on building facilities
  • Transfer population to colony transports
  • Form ships into fleets and break ships out of fleets (if at a star)
  • Spend on technology buys

Movement Mechanics

  • Scout ships can move independently and over unlimited distance
  • Unarmed ships that are not escorted may be destroyed on entry into a new system
  • Without hyperwave technology, fleets always continue to their destination system
  • Fleets never encounter each other in open space
  • Fleets move at the current guidance velocity for their side
  • Fleets are destroyed if they move beyond guidance range of all of their side’s beacons
  • Ships that aren’t scouts can only move as part of a fleet
  • Every fleet must have an admiral assigned to it
  • One ship with an admiral can be a fleet
  • When a fleet enters its destination system it ceases movement

Combat Mechanics

  • If fleets from different players are at the same star then combat will occur
  • Combat ends when a system contains only ships from one side in a system
  • Planets with defense platforms may be reduced by attacking and destroying those platforms or interned.
  • Production on planets that aren’t interned becomes available to the controlling player after some delay
  • The owning player may perform planetary bombardment to reduce planetary population. This eliminates one unit of population capacity for every unit of population removed. Likely only relevant if you expect the enemy to reclaim the system soon.

Looking at database structure for Cluster

We’ve framed out the ‘Cluster’ game graphically (at least to a first approximation). Currently the cluster generation is handled in Unity and there are no game rules and no save games.

I’m in the process of roughing out the MySQL database structure that will hold persistent game data and convey it between players and looking at coding up the php code needed to manage this data and implement game turn logic and playing field generation.

Once the basics are sketched out, I expect to remove the generation logic from the Unity code-base and switch things over to use the layouts and turn management provided by the site based php code.

I’m expecting to see the database side layout break out into:

  • System Data. Things that control game operation but do not change game to game or player to player.
  • Player Data. Information about the players that is not related to a particular game. Name, picture or icon, other particulars.
  • Game Data. Information that is a base part of a particular game run but does not change turn by turn.
  • Turn Data. Turn and move data for the game.

System Data

  • Star name list
  • Planet types list
  • Configuration such as number of stars per game and other similar items.

Player Data

  • Player ID
  • Player Name
  • Player picture or icon
  • Games played
  • Wins/Losses

Game Data

  • Stars Information
    Table with color, location
  • Planets Information
    Table with type, properties, max pop, orbit

Turn Data

  • User Move
    Fleets from -> to. Scouts from -> to.
  • Resource Production
    Build Ship here, Build planetary resource here, Spend on research. Form and break fleets.
  • Combat Resolution
    Combat results. Remove destroyed ships. Resolve ownership changes.

Experimenting with Commercial MoCap

Configuring Eye cameras here.

Playing with the evaluation version of this.

Malcolm and I spent part of Friday experimenting with an evaluation version of a commercial motion capture package. I now have six PS3 Eye cameras and my VR machine has enough USB-3 ports and controllers installed to run them.

Our initial setup had three or four cameras attached and used the room lighting (pretty bright, ceiling mounted LED lights) for illumination. Initial results weren’t great but over the rest of the day we learned a few things.

  • Need a more contrasty background and a less cluttered background. The bookcases behind the area we were using were better when covered with a piece of white fabric. The tan rug on the floor was less of a problem when the model put on black socks.
  • Hands really aren’t handled by the package. No big surprise here as hands and fingers are rather small targets for these cameras.
  • More lighting is better. I added two diffused studio lights I have around and a high intensity three light halogen light bar and things became more precise.
  • A larger and more diffuse calibration target seemed to work better.
  • Sliding the calibration beacon along the floor with periodic stops seemed to work better than touching it to the floor. This makes all floor level reference spots about equal (when I was touching it down, it took a little work to make sure we had the lowest spot in each arc).
  • Aligning the reference person with the human figure in the images at the start helped quite a bit. The tool didn’t seem to do a very good job of this without manual help.

By the end of the session, we seemed to be getting a pretty good capture of arms and legs. Feet could still be a bit twitchy.

Malcolm is going to look at 3D printing mounting clips to attach the PS3 Eye cameras to light stands for more stability.

I ordered a couple of spare cameras to ensure that we don’t come up short if any of them fail and a couple of PCIe USB-3 cards to supplement USB controller availability.

Overall things turned out pretty well and I think we learned a bit more about making motion capture without dedicated beacons work decently. The price of the package is high enough that even a short time license would need us to have some substantial amount of motion capture to get done in order to make things make sense.