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View Full Version : Hard Science vs. Soft Science/Space Opera Styles



theMonk
05-11-2010, 02:20 PM
I tend toward liking soft sci-fi (so-called story-driven) games versus more hard science (stat/physics) style games.

Which of these styles do you gravitate towards?

Farcaster
05-11-2010, 02:58 PM
I'm not a number crunching, physics type, so I would be far more interested in game that focused on the story and glossed over the science, only bringing it to the forefront when it was cool or interesting. Now, if there is a "hard science" foundation, but I don't need to understand it to enjoy the game (or book, or movie, or whatever) then I'm completely fine with that.

cliff
05-11-2010, 03:48 PM
I'm not positive I agree with the differentiation... soft science means the universe's laws don't reflect our current understanding of the laws in the real universe, whereas hard science tends to try to retain accuracy - albeit there are sometimes needs to bend those rules a little bit (most notably, travel).

Soft science fiction blurs the line a lot more between itself and science fantasy. In the books I read, I tend to prefer hard sci-fi, but at the table, I can totally enjoy both.

tesral
05-12-2010, 01:46 AM
Hard Science does not preclude story driven stories. It does not mean the technology is the main star.

I use the following definitions.

Science fiction is often defined in terms of various sub genre. These can include:
Hard SF: Obeys the known rules of physics with one exception. (FTL, Hyperdrive etc.) Can speculate on future developments within reason.
Soft SF: Obeys the general rule for Hard SF but can play freer with the exceptions.
Science Fantasy: Follows the framework of science fiction, using the tropes of that genre I.E. space ships, strange worlds etc. but hews closer to the rules of fantasy. Most space opera is Science Fantasy.
Fantasy: Breaks known laws of physics and replaces them with alternative laws. "Magic" known unreal beasts on Earth etc.
Alternate History: Can be hard or soft but explores the possible future if certain events in history had not turned out as they did. The Confederacy won, ancient people did invent the steam engine, etc.

theMonk
05-12-2010, 04:42 PM
Sorry, by story-driven, I really meant the story/plot takes precedence over other factors like physics. In other words, in a hard sci-fi game, the story would be shaped by the restrictions of physics (the "real" world"), whereas in a soft science game (or perhaps science fantasy) the world is shaped by the story. In other words, poetic license is the highest power instead of reality.

cliff
05-12-2010, 06:16 PM
Fair enough, but in a good hard sci-fi game, I think it's not so much that the science shapes the plot as the plot fits into the tropes of the framework. All genres have tropes, even soft sci-fi, but they are different from genre to genre. I think my preference for hard sci-fi is just that it tends to be a bit more believable, which helps my immersion.

tesral
05-12-2010, 09:48 PM
Inconsistence in physics for the sake of story is to my thinking bad story telling.

Farcaster
05-13-2010, 12:20 AM
I wouldn't necessarily agree with that, Tesral. There is a lot of good science fiction out there that glosses completely over the explanations of how the technology works and moves forward with telling the story that they want to tell. Star Trek is a perfect example of this. The show spews technobabble when it needs to and doesn't really much worry about true-to-life physics. What sci-fi must do, however, is be consistent to the "rules" of physics that it it has previously established.

theMonk
05-13-2010, 11:26 AM
To me it's funny the things that bother us and the things that don't (i.e. that we'll accept as okay).

In a recent episode of Family Guy, Brian and Stewie were trapped in a bank vault. A gun went off and the bullet began bouncing off the walls continually without stopping. I immediately thought "Hey, the bullet would never have enough energy to keep ricocheting off things like that." And then I thought "Oh, on the other hand, Brian is a TALKING DOG!"

By the same token, I was recently criticized by someone for using a Latin name for an alien race, but not for using the Latin alphabet to spell it. :-)

From my standpoint, I go by "in for a penny, in for a pound" when it comes to what is allowed and what isn't. But even so, I will sometimes catch myself thinking one thing is perfectly okay, while something else doesn't sound "right." I think it's just the funny way our mind works.

tesral
05-13-2010, 01:19 PM
I wouldn't necessarily agree with that, Tesral. There is a lot of good science fiction out there that glosses completely over the explanations of how the technology works and moves forward with telling the story that they want to tell. Star Trek is a perfect example of this. The show spews technobabble when it needs to and doesn't really much worry about true-to-life physics. What sci-fi must do, however, is be consistent to the "rules" of physics that it it has previously established.

Im a big Trek fan, and when Trek does that, it is bad story telling. One does not have to explain the technology, in fact you shouldn't. It's called showing not telling (http://phoenixinn.iwarp.com/trkguid/lexicon.html) and the edges of ideas. And no Trek has a poor record of being consistent.

What ever your rubber science, be it hard of soft it should be consistent. While I don't go into long explanations as to how things work, I do explain them to myself so that I keep them consistent. Even if the explanation is total bull, as long as it stays consistent. That is the important part.


1: Garry's First Rule of Fantasy
A) Do not change reality more than necessary to make your Universe work. Real world physics are you friend, you do not need to explain gravity, weather, or in general how the world functions. So don't complicate things that do not require complication. Adding super science or magic is complication enough.

B) All role-playing games are fantasy, even if it is not. Of course it's fantasy, if it was real you would be living it, not playing it in a game. Even the modern games or science fiction games are a fantasy.

C) Fantasy is not an excuse for sloppy writing or world building. Never ever. "Fantasy" is not an excuse word that means you don't have to do your homework or keep track of things. Good fantasy is internally consistent. We do wish to write a good fantasy.

Raicheck
06-18-2010, 12:54 AM
I tend to go crunchy Sci Fi, but with common tropes. I like the games I run to be based around the heroic journey, but I tend to vary on the amount of soft chewy fantasy elements I put in. In the current setting I'm running it's mostly a hard sci-fi setting. The tropes I added included faster than light travel, artificial gravity, nanotechnology, and rapid space transit. On the other hand there is more than ample crunch to satisfy my more die-hard sci-fi purists. They have to worry about supplies, radiation, gravity wells, newtonian physics, etc.

Fersboo
06-18-2010, 10:12 AM
I have to side with Garry on almost all of his points. I don't necessarily need an explanation of how the technology works, just that the story operates within the bounderies of what we understand how the universe works (that is why we need the technology, to explain how we circumvent our current understanding). It really does help with the suspension of disbelief necessary for some types of stories.