Tuesday, September 28, 2010

[Future Perfect] Starship Computers

Another excerpt from some of my Future Perfect background documents, it outlines ship computers, including the differences between Basic Computers, AIs, and Drones.  Additionally, it explains many of the Accessory Functions most ship computers can run.

[Starship Computers]:
Just about all space faring vessels rely upon some form of computer in order to ensure they are functioning properly. Even if just to monitor temperature sensors or to calculate fuel requirements, simple computers are ubiquitous. More advanced functions, such as autopilot, scanned pattern recognition, and even complete synthetic intelligences are managed by a ship’s computer system, as well.

While many advanced ships are equipped with extremely robust computers furnished with fully integrated intelligences, most vessels cannot spare the requisite power or justify the added cost for design and construction. Instead, these “Basic” computers operate along a vast range of capacities from little more than basic number crunching calculators to predictive logic boxes that skirt the line of an AI. Regardless of its capacity, Basic Computers are found on all starships that are not equipped with Integrated Intelligences, and while these computers lack the adaptive qualities of their more advanced counterparts, they are designed to run several types of programs.

Called Accessory Functions, they represent extensions to the Basic Computer beyond monitoring ship status, fuel levels, and the like. Instead, they are the means by which a computer really can assist a ship’s crew with their day to day tasks (instead of completing those tasks for them, which an AI would do).

[Accessory Functions]:
Accessory Functions are various essential programs able to be implemented by any computer. A ship may have any number of Accessory Functions enabled, but keeping large numbers of them active comes at the cost of an increasingly higher Power draw.

Common Accessory Functions include:

  • Autopilot - Allows Course Plotting with route and navigation management (can become fairly detailed if Maps/Navigation are accessible) which allows the ship to fly without constant monitoring by the pilot. It is not effective in combat, unless programmed to fly in a straight line or similarly simple plotted course. When enabled, Autopilot generally stops a ship before a collision would occur, or at least warn of impending collisions if anti-collision protocols have been disabled.
  • Target Acquisition/Control - Allows one or more targets to be tracked with a target lock. Computers without a TA/C system cannot achieve a target lock at all.
  • Fire Control - Allows a ship with a TA/C computer to fire upon a tracked vessel automatically if certain programmed parameters are met. Fire Control uses an AI's Gunnery Skill; without a controlling AI, shots are considered Unskilled, but should gain normal Target Lock or Burst Fire bonuses. Additionally, Fire Control allows a gunner the capacity to link and unlink, group and ungroup, weapons and to designate such linked and/or grouped weapons for use against specified targets.
  • Information Libraries - Libraries of information which usually are represented as Knowledge or similar Smarts skills. The information provides a +1 assistance bonus to relevant skill tests. For example, a ships with Medical and Astrogation Libraries offers a +1 to Healing and Knowledge (Astrogation) Skill rolls.
  • Passive Scanners – Even when not actively scanning, the ship’s scanners are searching for assorted abnormalities which can predict certain types of events, such as impending H-Space arrivals, various Stellar Phenomena, SubSpace bleeds through a Gateway, etc.
  • Pattern Recognition - Scanners can recognize and identify ships and stellar phenomena from a library of common objects. Previously scanned signatures may be saved for later reference.
  • SysNet Uplink - Computer can transfer information to and from local SysNet feeds and allow a general link to the regional SysNet.
  • SysNet Locale - A ship so equipped is a fully operational SysNet Locale all in itself. Generally, this type of equipment is reserved for Capital Ships, Colony Ships, and Cruise Liners. (Medium Size Vessel or Larger)
  • Standard Translator - Any incoming and outgoing transmissions through the ship's Comm system with be translated automatically between any of the following languages: Imperial Standard, Ranti, Gujar, and IO.
[Integrated Intelligences]
Many more advanced computers house an adaptive intelligence capable of thinking, reacting, and changing its core operational procedures as needs demand. For the most part, they are intended to reduce and/or remove much of a crew and their workload to streamline the operations of a starship. These computers are referred to as Integrated Intelligences and include both Drone Technologies and true Artificial Intelligence.

Integrated Intelligences have a Smarts Die rating and a group of supplementary Skills, the number of which depends on whether or not it is a Drone or a real Artificial Intelligence. Regardless of a Skill’s normal controlling Attribute, all of an Integrated Intelligence’s skills are considered controlled by Smarts and are equal to it’s Smarts die value. Thus, if an Integrated Intelligence is rated at d6, then all of its Skills are at d6, regardless if it is an AI or a Drone.

Drones - Drone ships drastically reduce and/or eliminate crew requirements altogether. They eliminate the need for Life Support Systems (and thus any requisite Power requirements), and often free up a small amount of additional space on a ship. Drone Technology allows a ship to run autonomously or be coordinated remotely and, either way, requires extensive computing power built into any such vessel. Thus, every Drone ship’s advanced computer system has an Integrated Intelligence with a Piloting Skill in order to fly itself. Additionally, the Gunnery Skill is a must for combat drones, with Notice (for Scanners), Stealth, Astrogation (for FTL Capable Drones), and other Knowledge skills being common finds. A pilot with a DNI link may interface with a Drone ship and use his/her abilities in conjunction with the Drone system, assuming the Drone is set to receive remote commands/controls or that it is hacked to take them. Sometimes robots/androids and even a few cyborgs are used on-ship to help control a Drone because they require no Life Support active on board the vessel.

Drone ships may have a number of skills equal to half their Smarts die, with Piloting being one of those skills. Additional skills may be chosen, but result in the Ship’s Computer having an increased Power (and possibly Space) cost. Since Drones lack any personalities, no social or Spirit-based skills may be selected. Furthermore, a Drone may run the same number of Accessory Functions.

This technology does have a few down sides. A skilled hacker may hack a Drone via a DNI link assuming they get close enough to access it. Additionally, and quite unfortunately, Drone ships tend to rely on patterns and therefore are more susceptible to Tricks than normal. Any appropriate attempt to Trick a Drone is made at +2 on the roll. However, since Drones lack a sense of personality, Taunting is ineffective.

The Collective has an advanced form of Drone that they control remotely. These Drone vessels possess an ability called Dynamic Meta-Coordination (DMC), essentially linking their control into the local tactical network of implanted Collective Officers controlling the flight group. Collective Drones lack the susceptibility to being Tricked. Furthermore, such drones may be controlled remotely by a Collective operative as if he was piloting it via a direct NIC link.

Artificial Intelligences – Unlike Drones, Artificial Intelligences are intended to assist an existing crew, not replace them. An AI is integrated into ship functions in order to streamline the operation of the ship, increase efficiency, and sometimes, to act as “soul of the ship” itself. AI’s come in all sorts of personalities and styles, generally dependent upon the desires of the programmers who first fashioned it. A fully formed AI of sufficient intelligence can seem like a very realistic person, and many crews consider the AI to be a special crewman; many ship captains give considerable weight to the input of their starship’s AIs.

A starship’s Artificial Intelligence may have a number of skills equal to its Smarts die, with Piloting being one of those skills, and any number of Accessory Functions. Additional skills may be chosen, but at a cost of increased Power and possibly Space requirements. Even still, most Artificial Intelligences have a fairly robust set of skills, which, unlike Drone ships which lack a sense of self and any demonstrable personally, may include social skills and Spirit-based skills. Some AI’s may gain enough experience or awareness to achieve a sense of autonomy (like many other Synthetic Intelligences such as robots and androids) or even Wild Card status, at the Game Master’s discretion.

[Kokoran Computers]
Kokoran’s are an anomaly among the Factions, forsaking any form computer using Integrated Intelligence or advanced logic with the capacity for decision making. Kokoran ship computers never have a Smarts rating and are limited to running only Basic Computers and normal Accessory Functions. Even Functions like Autopilot and Fire Control, while available, cannot be used for some of the actions available to other Faction-built computers. For example, Autopilot is used for little more than course plotting and collision control, and Fire Control cannot be set for autonomous attack.

Their computers should be considered slower than other Factions’ as well, and while it has no real game effect, Kokoran ship computers should lose in any contest against similar non-Kokoran computers. The upside is that hacking Kokoran computers has no effect at all on ship operations, except at best to muddle up some weapon groupings or change a plotted course that is only being used a reference anyway.

Essentially, Kokoran Computers are all Information and no (autonomous) Application.

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