Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Will Hollywood Ever Be Accurate About Space?

Scene from
As a change of pace from Mars exploration mission architecture, and by popular demand - or, at any rate, the suggestion of regular commenter Geoffrey S H - a few thoughts on Hollywood and outer space.

First, the short answer to the question posed in the title: Yes - when it has to be. That is, when the audience knows the reality, or at least has some notion of the reality, and would laugh at obvious faketude.

Which will not be for some time to come - namely, when enough people are traveling in space for actual space footage to become a familiar commonplace.

Until then, Hollywood will be completely indifferent to space realism. See this page at Atomic Rockets. Scroll down about halfway, to Hollywood Reasons.


In principle, how real spacecraft maneuver should already be familiar. We have been performing successful rendezvous and docking maneuvers since 1965, meaning 46 years of impeccably realistic maneuvers by spacecraft in space, and in close proximity to each other. But so far as I'm aware, in none of these operations has a third spacecraft been handy nearby to film the maneuver from a photogenic angle.

More to the point, rendezvous and docking is conceptually cool, but in purely visual terms it is only slightly more exciting than watching paint dry.

The day may come when docking and undocking are standard bits of stock footage, used the same way snippets of an airliner pulling up to the gate are used, to convey arrival or departure of a character. But the time and attention given to such snippets will be minimal, unless justified by some plot complication - say, a squad of police in hot pursuit, trying to arrest someone before a departing ship undocks. In which case the whole scene will get a lot more attention.

How accurate this attention will be is another matter. The scenario itself invites some interesting legal and practical questions. When a plane pulls away from the gate, or a ship from a pier, it is still within the jurisdiction of the airport or harbor - but once a spacecraft unlatches from a station, is it still within the station's jurisdiction?

Enforcing jurisdiction has its own points of interest, but in any case, don't expect Hollywood to care, any more than most cop movies today care about what would really happen in equivalent situations.

Anyway, space cops are a sideshow. Let's be honest: What you're really interested in is space battles. The usual Hollywood treatment of these, from Trek and Star Wars and on through various TV shows, is pretty risable. Space dreadnoughts fight at Trafalgar range, space fighters do barrel rolls and Immelmann turns, and an implausibly spectacular (and, especially, noisy) time is had by all.

There are a few honorable exceptions - a silent rifle shot in Firefly, and most notably the Starfury fighters in Babylon 5, which sometimes actually maneuvered like spacecraft.

How did they get away with that? I'll venture a two-part answer: First, the fliparound and retrofire maneuver is visually impressive and somewhat self-explanatory - you don't need to understand the underlying physics to appreciate its coolness. Second, J. Michael Straczynski, or someone in his development team, guessed that a small but significant part of the show's core audience would appreciate the maneuver and the logic behind it, and say "Way Cool!" Which would cue in other viewers that something way cool had just happened.

Which is useful guidance on how to make similar effects appear again. You will never convince Hollywood to replace cool by non-cool for the sake of mere realism. You have to offer a cool alternative to the existing conventions.

As one example, combat range. I can think of scenarios where spacecraft might start shooting at very close range (say, an exchange of prisoners/hostages goes pear shaped, or whatever). But most space combat situations imply Stupendous Range, or at least enormous range, certainly far too great for the rival combatants to both show visible details in the same frame.

World War II newsreel footage already solved this problem: Good guy battleship shown firing toward the right, cut to bad guy battleship shown firing to the left. We know and understand this convention - but you still need to convince the director to forego showing both the Enterprise and the Klingon battlecruisers at once.

My solution would be to use a handy moon as a prop. (It isn't like moons are hard to find out there.) Now you can have one ship firing in the direction of a distant moon - then cut to the other ship firing back, with the moon as a nearby planet-scape. Stupendous Range is instantly and vividly conveyed.


Stepping back a bit, I should acknowledge that what exactly constitutes 'realistic' space combat is rather more complex and ambiguous than simply making a nod to Sir Isaac Newton.

As has been previously discussed/argued about here on this blog, space warfare does not just involve physics; it also involves power politics and economics. In the Plausible Midfuture, at least, any space warfare is most likely to a) be fought between rival Earth powers, b) be confined almost exclusively in Earth orbital space, and c) involve only robotic or remote-piloted vehicles. None of which offers much place for space armadas, colonial rebellions, or other classic SF space warfare tropes.

All of which having been said, we'd still be inclined to stand up and cheer for space battles that have even a superficial ring of plausibility.

Good plot and characterization might also be helpful, but that is another discussion.





Anyway, discuss.


The image, via Atomic Rockets, is a scene from The Wrath of Khan - concerning 'three-dimensional thinking' in a battle between spacecraft with a thoroughly two-dimensional aesthetic.

138 comments:

MarylandBill said...

I think we should also give some kudos (thought slightly lesser than for B5) to the revised Battlestar Galactica which actually did do some of the same things with fighters manuvering in space.

That being said, ironically Star Trek (The original series anyway), which in most cases was horribly unrealistic about space combat got one aspect of Space combat right, which is the ranges involved. In most cases, they acknowledged that battles occurred at ranges of thousands if not tens of thousands of kilometers. The main exceptions (particularly in "Wrath of Kahn") are generally explained by the plot.

Geoffrey S H said...

Battleships at sea seem to be a very good example of how space combat could be depicted- they don't manouvre well, fire salvos at targets beyond visual range, and usually are pretty much stuck on one course, with only minimal manouvring open to them. The British film "Battle of the River Plate" is perhaps the best example of this, while not losing dramatic impact (the enemy ship, incidently, is barely seen by the protagonists).

If one wants coloured bolts of light streaking to a far-off target, one has guided tracer shells fired from accelerators (bsg did something like this quite well). Beams could be streams of tracer or missiles. Lasers could be easily represented by the impacts- hull parts flaking off, with an optional infrared view of the victim space craft showing the beams striking it. Do we need to see or hear the rounds striking the wall of the saloon as the cowboy dives for cover? No, but we do see the impacts, and that satisfies us as an audience- we don't need to see them individually in flight.

Internal explosions and shakes would produce sound, and the rising panic of the voices of the bridge crew, and the explosition they provide could add sufficient tension. Radar/ holograph screens would show positions of various craft and how the battle was unfolding.

If one wants to show the passage of time (given how much time a space craft ould take to enter orbit, go from one planet to another, and just about any other task that t.v. shows seem to trivialise) one should simply emphasise each voyage as important, like a flight of an aircraft- going from base to the destination, then coming back to re-supply. Change scenes to show the passage of time and factor it into the script and storyline. It shouldn't be impossible to do a decent show/film with this in surely?


Avatar showed what must surely have been at minimum a several hour-hong arrival inbto the Alpha-Centauri system with the accompanying orbital capture and landing of the humans on board in seconds. That doesn't mean we cannot imagine that in "reality" it took seconds.

If I have time, I will try and sketch out a hard- sf t.v. series season with references tp how it would be harder than what is currently around.

Surely if the space dreadnought is impressive (but realistic) enough, who cares about whether we can see what its firing at- we'll get an equally georgeous shot of its opponant a second later anyway.

Tony said...

I think the real problem with filming PMF space warfare is how to plausibly portray combat with sledgehammer weapons and (almost literally) aluminum foil armor. Casaba-Howitzer missile warheads would be fun. It would be a real world game of Killer, with nuclear flashlights for weapons. Yee-hah!

If we leave nukes and gigawatt lasers out, it gets a little easier. Weapons and effects would be something like modern air-to-air combat. Semi-hard kills would be acceptable for example. If you take out a ship's power and weapons, knocking out the surviving crew (to the extent that ships are crewed at all) becomes pretty pointless. So you could have post-battle survival stories and maybe even something like WWI knights-of-the-air chivalry.

In filming operatic space warfare, I like Rick's Sink the Bismarck! visual paradigm. Depending on your technical assumptions, it could lend itself to anything between straight trading broadsides and complex measure/counter-measure combat.

Geoffrey S H said...

Even if one has realistic one-salvo missile broadsides in one's opera, then one could have the tension from characters anxiously watching to see if the missiles get through the enemy missiles wave (assuming intercepters are among the KKVs) on the display screen, with the silent tension rudely interupted by the realistion that too many of the enemy's wave got through and the desperate attempts by both side to deploy adequare pds measures now they know how many missiles are incoming.

Assume that both sides cannot significantly alter their direction of travel, and you can even factor basic astrodynamics and orbital mechanics into the show.

Maybe I'm too optimistic here, but sf on t.v. seems so soft with small exceptions that anything would be an improvement. However, the number of those individual exceptions seem quite a few from the tally I've drawn up- suggesting that the raw material for those improvements are there at least in part.

Tony said...

I'm not so sure about visibly desperate attempts at point defense. One would think that the optimum engagement ranges and resource allocations would be known and programmed into each ship's combat systems. Those combat systems would control the engagement. What you might see is the tension rising as the crew watches the engagement, waiting to see if their systems work as advertised.

What I think might be an interesting bit of verisimilitude would be portrayal of the monotonous stand-by time inherrent in long range combat and pre-combat maneuvering. For example, Prince Albert (later King George VI) of Great Britain was reputedly sunning himself on top of his turret while the Grand Fleet maneuvered prior to opening fire at Jutland. One might portray spaceship crew goofing off at battle stations waiting for what happens next.

Geoffrey S H said...

TBH Tony, I don't think I can respond to your comment in any way other than "I agree". What you're describing shouldn't be impossible to portray on the t.v. at least once.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Rick:

"When a plane pulls away from the gate, or a ship from a pier, it is still within the jurisdiction of the airport or harbor - but once a spacecraft unlatches from a station, is it still within the station's jurisdiction?"

It is either that or in international "waters", in which case the cops have a right to pursue because there's no-one to tell them no.

I do think it's reasonable for space stations to have a right to keep their surroundings free of debris, and by extension, have jurisdiction over those surroundings. They might even have some jurisdiction over anything that (keeping inertia and orbital mechanics in mind) is slated to pass near them soon, even if it isn't anywhere nearby yet.

In any case, the laws have not been written yet and so present-day films can decree they are whatever the plot calls for. Criminal laws can be decided by humans and so have much more plausible leeway than laws of physics, which cannot be decided by humans.


"You will never convince Hollywood to replace cool by non-cool for the sake of mere realism. You have to offer a cool alternative to the existing conventions."

Quoted for truth.


"Stepping back a bit, I should acknowledge that what exactly constitutes 'realistic' space combat is rather more complex and ambiguous than simply making a nod to Sir Isaac Newton."

One opinion of mine that I will reiterate is that it will serve little realism to correctly portray thrust and inertia if you do not also portray sensible delta-vee limits. Some (admittedly fairly fun) video games feature space combat with believable Newtonian maneuvering, until you realize that you basically need a torchship to be able to be able to do any maneuvering at all in combat time, Newtonian or otherwise. This dates back as far as some of the oldest video games in existance - Space War and Asteroids - which, while treating space as two-dimensional for the rather understandable reason that three-dimensional space would be really hard for players to make sense of on a two-dimensional monitor, and the latter treating asteroids as being rather more numerous than they should be, applied inertia and (in the former) gravity correctly - but still ignored where you're getting that delta-vee from. This might have something to do with the fact that the first video games were made entirely by computer geeks, who care about math and physics somewhat more than the kind of people who make video games now that they've gone mainstream (and the programmers, while probably still computer geeks, don't themselves call the shots in the production effort).

Even worse is in games which correctly portray inertia (that is that an object in motion will continue to remain in motion indefinitely), but still have an arbitrary maximum speed that you can't exceed. There's no logic for this - in Earth vehicles, maximum speed is simply the point where negative acceleration from friction equals the positive acceleration that you engine can put out, which doesn't happen if you have no friction. The famed Star Control is an offender on this one. (And yes, it does affect gameplay - a common tactic of mine in Star Control 2 was to accelerate to maximum speed, then turn around and start firing at the enemy. Without a maximum speed, this would give the enemy time to accelerate and catch up to me.)

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Geoffrey S H:

"If one wants coloured bolts of light streaking to a far-off target, one has guided tracer shells fired from accelerators"

Should we even be using tracers? Tracers are useful for human aiming methods, but I doubt they'd be much help for computer aiming methods.


"Lasers could be easily represented by the impacts- hull parts flaking off,"

Yes. That.


"Internal explosions and shakes would produce sound,"

Right. While space itself carries no sound, both shooting and being-shot-at spaceships are going to have their own kinds of sounds which can sound plenty cool in their own right, they just don't share them.

If you're showing a space battle from an external "omniscient view" camera, then I don't actually mind that view including sounds that are properly internal to the ships being shown, unless the camera is actually on a third-party spaceship acknowledged to exist in-universe.



Tony:

"I think the real problem with filming PMF space warfare is how to plausibly portray combat with sledgehammer weapons and (almost literally) aluminum foil armor."

Don't forget the part where you can't dodge, either. That's important.

Combat between fragile but agile opponents trying to land a hit on each other - for example, airplane dogfights - are actually flashier than those between dreadnoughts exchanging broadsides until one sinks.

But if you have neither armor nor mobility to defend yourself, then combat gets pretty boring since you're either immediately destroyed or you immediately destroy your enemy, often on a basis of luck.


"I'm not so sure about visibly desperate attempts at point defense. [...] What you might see is the tension rising as the crew watches the engagement, waiting to see if their systems work as advertised."

I think the general concensus is that tasks like aiming (including in point defense) can best be automated, so that humans' role, if they are necessary at all, will be to make tactical decisions.

As a corollary, in order to show humans actually do anything interesting besides praying the computer does its job right, there has to be an interesting variety of tactical situations that require ingenuity to respond to.


"What I think might be an interesting bit of verisimilitude would be portrayal of the monotonous stand-by time inherrent in long range combat and pre-combat maneuvering. [...] One might portray spaceship crew goofing off at battle stations waiting for what happens next."

I don't think deep space combat will have much of a "what happens next" - there will be a long period of boredom as you approach the enemy fleet, a short period of terror as you exchange blows, and then (if you survive) a long period of boredom after the battle is over.

On-and-off alerts during a single deployment are more likely to happen in orbital environments, where enemy ships in different orbits will periodically pass near you, and where you have to remain alert to unexpected stuff happening on the planet's surface (like someone firing surface-to-orbit missiles, or new ships launching).

Anonymous said...

A spacecraft launching missiles that disapear into the far distance; cut to a close-up of those missiles for a couple of seconds, then cut to a close up of the enemy's missiles (they should be visually different and pointed in the opposite direction); cut back and forth a couple of times and then a scene of explosions blooming all over the screen; finally, cut to each ship as explosions bloom around them (or one of them explodes).

Most of the time, the crew will be sitting around, gripping about stuff, flipping switches, turning screwdrivers, reading gages, polishing brass fixtures, trying not to get into too much trouble, and generally fighting boredom...until those few hours where you're shooting and being shot at, and hoping your bladder is big enough to not embarrass you...and that you live long enough to be embarrassed.

Ferrell

Jnani said...

There are a lot of good suggestions here for instilling tension and drama into 'realistic' space combat. One question I have though is: what modern sci-fi films are we discussing?

Avatar had no space-combat, and it's portrayal of land based combat seemed at least passable (with exceptions). BSG is the most recent thing I can remember seeing that had big space battles in it, and it had large leaps of realism over the various Trek's and Star Wars (I can explain why I think this later).

But the reality is that people don't even seem to want to see big space battles in their sci-fi anymore. In fact, it almost seems like they don't want to see sci-fi anymore. sci-fi has moved on to video games for the most part, which has an even lower tolerance for realism than moves (imagine!).

Sci-fi is changing. The big battles are over (for now). As far as drama goes, not caring about realism, Star Wars did big battles the best that it might ever be done. Modern sci-fi is more concerned with terrorism and politics than large armies clashing in space, unless you're playing halo (which is halo, and won't ever try to be anything different).

And for the record, having just recently rewatched B5 in it's entirety, I can't recall the first two seasons showing two battleship-size ships shooting at each other in the same frame. The distance between them could be (and is, as they say in the show) tens of thousands of miles. Still not the hundreds of thousands of miles that could be realistic, but hey, it's something.

Damien Sullivan said...

Firefly didn't just have the silent rifle shot; anything in space was silent. I think Serenity sold out here, though I'm just repeating what I've been told, I don't remember.

B-5 had pseudo-silence [sic]; no whoosh and bang a la Star Wars, but Christopher Franke's music provided musical equivalents to punctuate the visuals.
The station had "realistic" point defense. Beams tended to be visible though, plasma weapons were everywhere, and bullets and missiles absent.

Have you seen the anime Planetes? It's about as realistic a depiction of near-term space activity as you'll find, short of Apollo movies and no activity at all. It's about a space debris removal company.

Rocket Girls is odd in having more realistic space tech than psychology.

There's also Wings of Honneamise.

I wouldn't bill Crest/Banner of the Stars as accurate overall -- I think they have artificial gravity, and definitely an odd form of hyperspace FTL, but the combat is hardish. Lots of missiles and missile carriers, lasers, and automated mobile mines, plasma shields to reflect lasers and arguably mines (electrical current attack), the smallest vessels still have several people for 24/7 shifts.

Anonymous said...

Hollywood doesn't get space right because Hollywood doesn't get anything right. Military tactics in film are straight out of the American Civil War, regardless of time period. Police methods in real life are very different from what is shown on cop shows. Business doesn't work the way Hollywood depicts it, college life isn't as shown, scientists are completely unlike their cinema versions . . . and on and on through the dictionary.

The only people who seem to care about getting things right are the set dressers, costumers, and prop makers. The big guys in charge subordinate everything to the Story, even if the Story was devised during a cab ride by two coke-addled high school dropouts.

Citizen Joe said...

External shots could be depicted as remote drones flying nearby and what we see on our screen is actually one of the tactical screens onboard ship. We could then 'hear' our own weapons fire and 'hear' any impacts on our own ship.

KraKon said...

Even without armor and the mobility to get out of the way of hits, 'destroyed immediately' is too strong a word. While it might lose its drive to the first hit by a frag missile, or get blasted in half by a pulsed laser burst, it can still ficght for a rather logn time.

Consider today's warfare, where 'destroyed immediately' is justified. An aircarft if hit rapidly loses the ability to stay in flight. A ship sinks (even if gradually) if hit below the waterline). A submarine just implodes. What of land warfare? Tanks have a single compartiment, and the plamsa and debris spray from a penetrator kills the crew much too easily. Oher vehicules are much too thinly armored in face of ATM's and laser guided bombs to talk of 'survivability' beyond the ability not to get fired at.
So on earth, if you're in a vehicule, you get shot you die and crash and fall.

A better mindset would be to think of spacecraft as...greenhouses. Thin walled. Any shot penetrates, all laser strikes will drill through. BUT they don't explode, they don't sink of fall, and WILL KEEP ON RUNNING.

My point is, Hollywood studios better leave the humungous ship-killing explosions for an Age of Sail damage system where debris flies everywhere. Except in space the debris stays within the camera's field of view, allowing backlighting of nuclear explosion, laser traces from going through gasses, hisses from escaping atmosphere....not some stupid big bang (I HATE GAS EXPLOSIONS they're boring and the fireball is unreaslistic as hell) that finishes the ship.

I mean, every scifi film has some sort of justification for a big bang, from the drive going critical to some hypercore getting unstabilized. Even in pirates of the carrabian 4 they HAD to include a gunpowder explosion. It's up there with every girl needing girly armor, and barrel rolls.

Tony said...

Milo:

"I do think it's reasonable for space stations to have a right to keep their surroundings free of debris, and by extension, have jurisdiction over those surroundings."

Jurisdiction is a question of power. Sanctuary in a Roman Catholic church, for example, was based on the power of the Church to really screw up a prince's life if he didn't honor it. Similarly, jurisdiction in space will be based on the various competing powers' abilitities to enforce any claims to territorial sanctity that they make.

"Should we even be using tracers? Tracers are useful for human aiming methods, but I doubt they'd be much help for computer aiming methods."

Modern wire guided antitank missiles rely on a flare in the tail of the missile. The guidance computer uses the position of the flare in the tracker field of view to generate steering commands. I'm not sure if there would ever be a space equivalent, but the fact that it is everyday military technology right now suggests to me that it can't be ruled out.

"As a corollary, in order to show humans actually do anything interesting besides praying the computer does its job right, there has to be an interesting variety of tactical situations that require ingenuity to respond to."

Certainly -- at the level of programming the priority of fires or a maneuver sequence. One of the things that jumps out at you in reading about modern naval combat, especially after the introduction of radar, is how scripted everything becomes. Gun crews basically blazed away at available targets and maneuver was a matter of closing or extending range, plus avoiding collisions. Much like sailing ships in the line of battle, it's basically attritional warfare.

"I don't think deep space combat will have much of a 'what happens next'..."

Not to be a contrarian, but I think that it's one of the most universal features of combat. Yes, the fighting itself is over in minutes or even seconds, but you're at battle-stations/on-post/in-the-cockpit for significant amounts of time around and between those times. You simply can't endure that kind of thing with clenched teeth or a white knuckle grip on your console/rifle/control-stick.

Tony said...

Anon:

"Hollywood doesn't get space right because Hollywood doesn't get anything right. Military tactics in film are straight out of the American Civil War, regardless of time period."

I think Band of Brothers and The Pacific didn't do too bad, all things considered. Hamburger Hill was pretty decent as well.

The big problem left to be overcome is time-space compression. A firefight could realistically be over in seven cinematic minutes, especially if it's an ambush or a meeting engagement. But if both sides have no real reason to disengage and plenty of cover to keep from getting rolled right away, it could take hours to resolve.

Also, the narrow field of view of the movie camera and the perceived need for onscreen action leads directors to push things too close together, even when they're trying to be realistic and have good technical advice. The classic example of this is probably the initial combat sequence in Saving Private Ryan They really tried to do realistic tactics. The sound design and visiual effects were breakthrough. The German machine guns in the bunker actually sounded like real machine guns. The mortar rounds and grenades looked and sounded real. But Spielberg just put too much in each scene, as anyone who has seen Omaha Beach photographs and films will tell you.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Tony:

"Jurisdiction is a question of power. Sanctuary in a Roman Catholic church, for example, was based on the power of the Church to really screw up a prince's life if he didn't honor it. Similarly, jurisdiction in space will be based on the various competing powers' abilitities to enforce any claims to territorial sanctity that they make."

I am sure that a ship that only just undocked from a space station would be well within the weapon range of an even remotely armed station, as well as interception range of any police craft docked to that station that launch only a minute after the fugitive does. So, this supports my statement that space stations would have jurisdiction over their surroundings.


"Certainly -- at the level of programming the priority of fires or a maneuver sequence."

Which is boring to watch. Once again:

"You will never convince Hollywood to replace cool by non-cool for the sake of mere realism. You have to offer a cool alternative to the existing conventions." (Rick)

Thucydides said...

If you are looking for a model for realistic space travel, we need to go into the past and watch 2001: A Space Odyssey. The various ships move in majestic silence (unless you are in an interior shot), and everything is moving in a slow and methodical manner.

Now imagine the Orion SSTO belonged to the USASF and was lining up not on the orbiting Hilton but a Soviet space fortress and unleashing a silent volley of missiles and we have a visual of realistic space combat(tm). The Moon shuttle drifting over the surface of the Moon and disintigrating as a surface based mass driver fires at it would be another example of realistic space combat (tm). Don't forget the mass of debris would continue to orbit the Moon....

Now we can also imagine the show being cancelled after three episodes because the studio execs and the test audience don't "get it"

Geoffrey S H said...

"If you are looking for a model for realistic space travel, we need to go into the past and watch 2001: A Space Odyssey. The various ships move in majestic silence (unless you are in an interior shot), and everything is moving in a slow and methodical manner."

While I agree that 2001 did alot to get things right, there was alot of experimental cinematic flare by Kubrick tossed in as well- a film without women, much incident or music. I wouldn't look too closely at it as an example, even though it did have some truly georgeous shots (the Ares V touching down at the moonbase being a prominant example in my mind).

Tony said...

Geoffrey S H:

"While I agree that 2001 did alot to get things right, there was alot of experimental cinematic flare by Kubrick tossed in as well- a film without women, much incident or music. I wouldn't look too closely at it as an example, even though it did have some truly georgeous shots (the Ares V touching down at the moonbase being a prominant example in my mind)."

I'm just a bit mystified by this. There were women in 2001 -- just very incidentally and essentially in the background. But then you wouldn't expect men going on a five year interplanetary mission to have a serious relationship back at home that could be worked into the plot. The lack of incident was just a realistic portrayal of long duration transit of any type. If Hornblower or Aubrey-Maturin had been written with an eye towards realism, they too would have mostly been about punctuated monotony. Finally, 2001 had plenty of music.

Geoffrey S H said...

Meh, sorry- I meant incidental music.

I just think that another attempt at realism on the scale of 2001 needn't be quite so... "tranquil". Of course it can be, but one can also have a nuclear electric craft whizz past the camera at several miligee acceleration in the mann of the origional star trek opening, then cutting to the chatter and rituals of the bridge crew, or whatever. I don't want to sound like a habitual contrarian or anything... but I just feel that things might be able to be done differently, without losing realism- bearing in mind that the Oddessy would not actually be gliding that slowly past the camera if it wanted to reach Jupiter in the span of time depicted in the book/film.

Just a small thought.

Geoffrey S H said...

*sp manner

Geoffrey S H said...

...and I also meant the Discovery, rather than the Oddessey.

Sorry, been a long day.

Tony said...

Re: Geoffrey S H

From a purely cinematic point of view, I don't think whizzing past is any more realistic than slowly scanning past. In space it would have to do with the relative velocity of notional point of view. Actually, that applies anywhere -- a jet fighter can whizz past somebody standing still on the ground, or seemingly float past an airplane in flight at almost the same airspeed.

Even an observer in the air can have different aparent POV velocities. Just think of actual combat footage of German fighters vs US bombers in WWII. In combat cameraman footage from the bombers, the fighters seem to just blow by the bombers on attack runs. In German gun camera footage, the bombers seem to hang still in the air as the fighters pump cannon rounds into them (thanks to very fast film speeds on the gun cameras).

It's all aesthetic preference. Speaking of which, with a spacecraft I think most audience members would probably not want whizzing. One doesn't get any detail that way, and it seems pretty artificial, given the very real footage many have seen of spacecraft in space. Certainly science fantasy films and programs from the two franchises only have whizzing around when they want to suggest high relative velocities. Otherwise they tend to adopt a motionless or almost motionless POV WRT the subject spaceships.

WRT the use of music/dialog/whatever, I'm perfectly agnostic. If the visuals are plausible in appearance on the sounds show some plausible connection to the visuals, good enough. Of course, notwithstanding the above about what I think the majority audience wants to see, I have a very strong personal bias against being prescriptive when it comes to art.

mithril said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mithril said...

there have been some non-hollywood space shows that got things semi-right. most come from japan, where they rely on animation more than live action (and thus accuracy is no more expensive than inaccuracy), and they understand that there is a fanbase that is obsessed about such details.

two of the better shows are Starship Operators and Planetes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starship_Operators

Starship operators is the least accurate of the two, but they got some of the more important (for this discussion elements correct. the show chronicles the battleship Ameterasu, which was on a training cruise with a crew of cadets. first episode, it's homeworld is conquered, and the trained crew leaves as part of the armistice deal. the cadet crew however runs off with the ship to continue to fight and bring public attention to the invasion. (they got taken over by the local 'bully', heavily expansionist)
in order to get funds to keep operating, they sign a deal with a news network to film a reality show onboard, basically the news people film everything and broadcast.
the show gets sound in space (there isn't any), ranges (really really long), lasers in space (invisible except where it hits..made for one awesome but depressing scene when they demonstrated this using a repair crew on the hull..), battles are long, tension filled duels over the span of hours run mainly by computer, they even got gravity right (there is none, the ship has a rotating grav-deck onboard)

downsides? the ships use reactionless drives and don't manuever exactly right (more starwars like), they portray plasma as a viable weapon, some of the weapons are oddly mounted, and all the ships are works of art that ignore thermo-dynamics, there is a "stealth" ship...

one of the more interesting bits was how they lampshaded sound in space. the network producer assigned to them installed sound effects into the ships computer so that when they fired weapons or turn one the drive, etc, it would give off a special effect. stated reason was that the aufdiance expects special effects. the crew immediately asked for them to be disabled onboard and left only for the feed to the viewers.


while this show make some of the normal mistakes, it's depiction of the combat side of things is almost spot on.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetes

planetes is a non-combat show about a group of "garbagemen" who clear out space junk. the depiction is accurate, the situations based largely on real life concepts..

Rick said...

Welcome (I think) to another new commenter! I do encourage 'anonymous' commenters to sign a name or handle, just to keep straight who's saying what.

I'm definitely in the slow grandeur camp when it comes to spaceships, especially big ones.

And music is a freebie. No one thinks the theme music is playing during the actual battle anyway.

A lot of the questions about how to make space battles cinematically interesting are closely related to the question of making them interesting in general. Which, I think, favors things like orbital combat, security ops, and generally alternatives to Lanchesterian engagements.

Remembering that there is usually one side that would be happy to get a Lanchesterian outcome.

On stations and zones of control around them, this is surely primarily power politics, not physics.

And so far as story ruling everything - it does, and basically it should. I will have more to say about that in upcoming post. I have had first hand experience that story can relentlessly take over a story.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Thucydides:

"If you are looking for a model for realistic space travel, we need to go into the past and watch 2001: A Space Odyssey."

Having seen that movie, I really don't see what the hype is about and would not recommend it for any purpose. It's continuously dragged out and boring, and does a horrible job of explaining what is actually going on.


"The various ships move in majestic silence"

Right up until someone spacesuits up, at which point you hear such absurdly exaggerated breathing sounds that it's hard to appreciate the otherwise-silent environment.

Hugh said...

Maybe we need a space combat film with a new direction style? Compare modern land combat as depicted in film pre- and post- Saving Private Ryan. The "carriers in space" style has been done so often that, with luck, when the next wave hits the directors will tell their SFX teams to do something different.

Byron said...

Various thoughts:
1. Firefly:
The only thing firefly got right was the lack of sound in space. The gun didn't have to be in the suit, for instance (though they did try to check). It's a wonderful show, but it's not realistic in the slightest. For example, in the pilot, when they activate the crybaby, the alliance says that the ship is 11 km away, and that it's big and without power. This is even more bizzare given that their ship is 2 km long. What are they using for sensors? Blind Baboons?
2. How to show space combat.
I think that the tactical display is the best option for most things. It must be compressed to a level where a human can see everything anyway, and gives us the characters at the same time.
I have to go now, but I'll try to add more later.

Byron said...

Bookmarking.

Teleros said...

A few thoughts...

1. Sound in space. One idea (aside from the Starship Operators idea) is to generate sounds for fighter pilots (let's assume we have them for a minute), on the basis that it'll be another source of information. That TIE fighter approaching you in the silence of space? Yeah, now your speakers are giving it that classic TIE fighter scream from the direction it's approachin from.

2. I can still see people expecting guns to "do stuff" when fired (eg WW2 battleship muzzle flashes = visible lasers in space).

3. This is to the directors more than anything else, but... would Obi-Wan's & Anakin's flight through the warring fleets over Coruscant in RotS been *worse* due to realistic manoeuvring, or just as good (if not better)? Wouldn't it have been cool to see Luke Skywalker scorch a few of the Death Star's surface buildings with his X-Wing's engines whilst the not-so-lucky TIE behind him crashes?

Something of a ramble, I know, but the point is that I don't see why, excepting perhaps visible & audible weapon effects, you can't have more realistic space combat that looks just as exciting for the audience as what we actually get.

Byron said...

Teleros:
Something of a ramble, I know, but the point is that I don't see why, excepting perhaps visible & audible weapon effects, you can't have more realistic space combat that looks just as exciting for the audience as what we actually get.
That depends on the exact flavor of realism involved. If we're discussing PMF space combat, visually exciting it ain't. You'll have all the problems mentioned above. No visible weapons, no real maneuvering, etc.
However, if we go for something more cinematic (like, say, my old universe Duel of the Buffoons) it can be both realistic and good TV. Ships can accelerate on a tactical timescale, with big cones of glowing plasma exhaust (which might allow you to "see" other ships at long range.) Weapon ranges are fairly short compared to maneuverability, and maybe there are fighters. It's not a universe we expect to see soon, but it is far more realistic than any we've yet seen.
And the use of audio to convey information to the crew is something I've thought about, too.

Byron said...

I should clarify the above. We don't expect the cinematic universe to occur anytime soon (or ever) but it's more realistic than anything we've yet seen on TV.

Tony said...

Re: sound effects in fighter cockpits

Well, if you're ruling out cinematic physics, then the fighter (or more likely, I think, gunboat) pilot already has a complete threat display that just isn't changing that quickly or unexpectedly. And I mean that even in an operatic setting. I think if you want to be realistic, you just have to eliminate the sound, except for plausible onboard sounds and mood music.

Byron said...

I'm not so sure about that. If the setting is right, you could have significant maneuver. Look at AV:T for example. And in that case, I can see ships using audio threat displays. It won't be PMF, but I think a TV show is a lot more likely to go for fusion torches and short-range lasers (100-1000 km) and kinetics, which allows more interesting battles.

Tony said...

Byron:

"I'm not so sure about that. If the setting is right, you could have significant maneuver. Look at AV:T for example. And in that case, I can see ships using audio threat displays. It won't be PMF, but I think a TV show is a lot more likely to go for fusion torches and short-range lasers (100-1000 km) and kinetics, which allows more interesting battles."

In AV:T, you see the enemy coming long before he can shoot. Also, you don't have any blind spots in your sensor coverage to give the enemy a surprise approach advantage. Even with celestial bodies in the picture, you're either in orbit and see the enemy coming, or you're approaching the body over a long enough period of time to detect and analyze everything that's in orbit.

And we have to remember that in the realm of hard, "realistic" SF, operatic conditions are just a difference in available energy for propulsion and weapons. The physical rules of the universe are the same: ships still produce heat, which is detectable; radar still works; and it's still a long way from place to place.

In fact, if you're thinking in terms of orbital combat, things can't change all that much, even with operatic propulsion and weapons. If you accelerate for more than a few minutes with a torch drive, you just boost yourself out of orbit. Your ranges are still limited by planetary horizons. Your enemy can't even come "over the hill" at high speeds for a surprise attack. Even in a hyperbolic orbit he can't be going much faster than a circular orbit for a given altitude, or he wouldn't be in a hyperbolic orbit to begin with -- he'd be in a very shallow parabolic orbit and just shoot off into interplanetary space.

Anonymous said...

I suppose that laser strikes on a ship could have the beam shown for a brief second through a cloud of escaping atmosphere or propellant.

A scenario of having days or hours to approach the enemy or vice versa could have dramatic potential. Soldiers encouraging each other and sharing their fears the night before a battle is a fairly common scene in war films, and arguably goes back to Shakespeare's Henry V or before.

As for space stations/habitats and their jurisdictions, I could see speed limit zones existing: under 10 m/s within a km of the station, under 500 m/s within 50 km, etc. These would necessarily include legal jurisdiction, so that those infringing these regulations could be punished.

R.C.

Byron said...

Tony:
And we have to remember that in the realm of hard, "realistic" SF, operatic conditions are just a difference in available energy for propulsion and weapons. The physical rules of the universe are the same: ships still produce heat, which is detectable; radar still works; and it's still a long way from place to place.
I am aware of all of that, and I think I know what the problem is. We're don't have a good definition of realism. Under a strict definition, you are correct.
I think if you want to be realistic, you just have to eliminate the sound, except for plausible onboard sounds and mood music.
However, I can see a system in which sounds are used to convey significant information. I'm not as sure it will sound like a Hollywood space battle.
Take the following. There's a giant space station in deep space. It's more of a patchwork, really, and it's really big. In the tens of kilometers. There's "fighters" that fly outside it and fight each other. The station itself provides an interesting environment. I'm not saying this is plausible, but it does fall under a loose definition of realistic, and allows fighters.

Even in a hyperbolic orbit he can't be going much faster than a circular orbit for a given altitude, or he wouldn't be in a hyperbolic orbit to begin with -- he'd be in a very shallow parabolic orbit
I think you're mixing up terms. A parabolic orbit has a specific orbital energy of 0. A hyperbolic orbit's energy is greater than 0. And with torch drives, you can power your orbits, or pretty much do whatever you want and have the delta-V for.

RC:
I suppose that laser strikes on a ship could have the beam shown for a brief second through a cloud of escaping atmosphere or propellant.
I expect the beam to be on a short enough timescale to show virtually nothing.

Tony said...

Byron:

"I am aware of all of that, and I think I know what the problem is. We're don't have a good definition of realism. Under a strict definition, you are correct."

Let's look at what "realistic" means as a qualitative measure. Fantasy and magic are functionally just loosened definitions of what is real. In a swords and sorcery or science fantasy setting, gravity, inertia, thermodynamics, etc. still all work when the author wants or needs them to. When he requires magic, he relaxes the definition of what can be real. He doesn't throw it out altogether.

So if you want your fighters with sound effects, be my guest. They're a form of narrative magic you find useful. But don't expect everyone to call them "realistic", when there are stricter definitions available.

"I think you're mixing up terms. A parabolic orbit has a specific orbital energy of 0. A hyperbolic orbit's energy is greater than 0. And with torch drives, you can power your orbits, or pretty much do whatever you want and have the delta-V for."

I did have the relative eccentricities of parabolic and hyperbolic trajectories backwards. It's been a long time since analytical geometry class. Mea Culpa. But the point I was making stands. If you're going too fast, you can't maintain a tight enough orbit around a body to make much use of the body for cover and concealment.

As for powered orbits, you have to recognize that all you're doing is forcing the orbit to behave like one around a denser body. You'll go faster, but you won't be whizzing along at a dramtically higher speed. The formula is:

(G * M / r)^1/2

Where:
G is the gravitational constant
M is the mass of the body
r is the orbital radius

So if you had a torch drive that could generate 1 g of acceleration, you could maintain a circular orbit at a LEO altitude at approximately 2^1/2 of the orbital velocity for that altitude. That's not exactly zooming along at cinematic velocities.

Tony said...

And, oh yeah, a powered orbit is maintained by thrusting directly outward WRT the center of the body. Depending on how much side scatter you get in your reaction drive plume, somebody looking for it would be able to detect your engine exhaust well before your ship came over the horizon. Even without significant side scatter, doppler radar should be able detect your exhaust plume (which at operatic torch energies would be moving at a significant fraction of the speed of light).

Byron said...

Tony:

So if you want your fighters with sound effects, be my guest. They're a form of narrative magic you find useful. But don't expect everyone to call them "realistic", when there are stricter definitions available.

Ah, the Tony definition of realism. Like a thousand and gates linked together.

I will admit that I can't think of a lot of reasons why you would need to project the sounds of space combat into a cockpit. Of course, practicality hasn't deterred military crackpots (Jackie Fischer springs to mind).

I choose to view realism as comparative, and principally relative to current TV shows and movies. And honestly, I know the PMF, which, God willing, will happen some day, won't make a great space combat TV show. I would declare a TV show highly realistic based mostly on physical realism. Yes, the show may have torch drives and the weapon ranges may be absurdly short, but here's some of my criteria:
1. The only sounds are those generated onboard the spacecraft. No "sound systems" unless you have a very good reason.
2. Newtonian movement. No "maximum speeds" or fighter-like movement.
3. At least a reasonable attempt to keep with rocketry and delta-V. I won't declare a show unrealistic if the ship's delta-V doesn't add up in every episode. I would if in one episode it can make it from Earth to Luna in 6 hours and still have remass to fight, and in another it can only make a 12 hour trip, and is out at the end. At least not without a very good reason.
4. Graphics that look like they really will. No visible lasers or dense asteroid fields.
5. No other egregious violations of the laws of physics. The only exception might be an FTL drive. If you're going to violate the laws of physics, at least do it quietly. You have a 100% mass conversion torch that requires no antimatter? I think that's probably unphysical, but if everything else is right, I'll let it slide.

The above is the best statement I can make of my own definition. I've tried to balance the need to tell a good story with realism, and while Tony will no doubt tear it to pieces, it might be a good guide if this post happens to be Rick looking for ideas as he's just gotten a job to write a pilot for a realistic space sci-fi series.

And, oh yeah, a powered orbit is maintained by thrusting directly outward WRT the center of the body.
Good point. There goes that idea.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Teleros:

"2. I can still see people expecting guns to "do stuff" when fired (eg WW2 battleship muzzle flashes = visible lasers in space)."

You can still have a laser muzzle flash, it just doesn't extend in a beam into the distance.

And it does "do stuff": it makes the target explode.



Tony:

"Well, if you're ruling out cinematic physics, then the fighter (or more likely, I think, gunboat) pilot already has a complete threat display that just isn't changing that quickly or unexpectedly. And I mean that even in an operatic setting."

If you have multiple opponents with enough maneuverability, then it may be confusing to keep track of all of them at once.

Of course, if you have that many opponents you're probably in a bad position already.


"If you accelerate for more than a few minutes with a torch drive, you just boost yourself out of orbit."

Actually, what limits your speed most is that faster orbits need to be at lower altitudes, but you can only go so low before you burn up.

If two ships are both in a low (fast) Earth orbit in opposite directions (one prograde, one retrograde), then they're approaching each other at a relative orbital speed of 15.6 km/s. At this altitude (173.5 km), they can see each other when they're 3022.42 km apart (orbital track distance, not straight-line), meaning they'll take 6.5 minutes to meet each other. Less if the atmosphere blocks sight.

If they're at a higher 7 km/s orbit (1756.6 km above the surface, toward the high end of what's today called "low Earth orbit"), then they take 26 minutes to meet each other after coming over each other's horizons.



R.C.:

"A scenario of having days or hours to approach the enemy or vice versa could have dramatic potential."

I'm fine with spending days to reach the enemy (like you say, plenty of dramatic potential), as long as you don't get blown up in three seconds once you arrive.

The "can defenders hold out long enough for reinforcements to arrive?" plot is also an old favorite.

Tony said...

Byron:

"Ah, the Tony definition of realism. Like a thousand and gates linked together."

I'm afraid I can't parse that expression and extract a meaning.

"I choose to view realism as comparative..."

Going that far and no further, I absolutely agree. That's in effect what I was saying earlier. But if you accept a comparative standard, you implicitly accept the right of someone else to say you're not being real enough, if you invoke any magic whatsoever. There's always the real world standard, which is more "real" compared to the slightest handwave.

"...Tony will no doubt tear it to pieces..."

Why? It's an excellent standard for prescribing cinematic realism.

"Good point. There goes that idea."

I wouldn't say that. It just means you have to approach the concept carefully. You do for example get an absolute reduction in exposure time the faster you go, so a powered orbit would be useful for at least that. And it works for shooters on the ground as much as it does for ones in orbit. It's just not magic.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Tony:

"That's in effect what I was saying earlier. But if you accept a comparative standard, you implicitly accept the right of someone else to say you're not being real enough, if you invoke any magic whatsoever."

But by the same token, I don't think it's fair to go "well, we've already bent the laws of physics a little wo we're not entirely realistic anyway, so we might as well toss realism out the window entirely and just show some patent nonsense". There is a value in a partially realistic setting which cannot be ignored simply because it isn't entirely realistic.


"There's always the real world standard, which is more "real" compared to the slightest handwave."

Obviously, the most realistic film would be a documentary.

Anything that describes fictional events, even ones obeying the laws of physics as far as the viewers can tell, is going downhill from there.

Geoffrey S H said...

@Byron:

"1. The only sounds are those generated onboard the spacecraft. No "sound systems" unless you have a very good reason.
2. Newtonian movement. No "maximum speeds" or fighter-like movement.
3. At least a reasonable attempt to keep with rocketry and delta-V. I won't declare a show unrealistic if the ship's delta-V doesn't add up in every episode. I would if in one episode it can make it from Earth to Luna in 6 hours and still have remass to fight, and in another it can only make a 12 hour trip, and is out at the end. At least not without a very good reason.
4. Graphics that look like they really will. No visible lasers or dense asteroid fields.
5. No other egregious violations of the laws of physics. The only exception might be an FTL drive. If you're going to violate the laws of physics, at least do it quietly. You have a 100% mass conversion torch that requires no antimatter? I think that's probably unphysical, but if everything else is right, I'll let it slide."


6. Once, just ONCE, I'd like to see the ultra-death-battlecruisers of the super-imperial armada, in whatever fantastical show they appear in, have some form of thermal managemant system. Its abit depressing as far as I'm concerned that the only time I've seen heat radiators is in a 30 second clip in Avatar and on the T.I.E fighters (with the thermal exhaust port as well).
When Star Wars is one of the only franchises to include such a basic detail (thrown in once or twice), you do sometimes have to despair.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Another opinion of mine is that you get more realism leeway in human-made stuff than natural stuff. I can suspend disbelief in humans building wacky and implausible magitech, as long as it's handled reasonably consistently. Many details of the setting, particularly onboard a ship or station, can then be justified as "well, humans just felt like making it that way". But I can't so easily suspend disbelief in there being sound or friction in space, since humans didn't create space and so don't get to define how it behaves, no matter what magitech they have.

Tony said...

Geoffrey S H:

"6. Once, just ONCE, I'd like to see the ultra-death-battlecruisers of the super-imperial armada, in whatever fantastical show they appear in, have some form of thermal managemant system. Its abit depressing as far as I'm concerned that the only time I've seen heat radiators is in a 30 second clip in Avatar and on the T.I.E fighters (with the thermal exhaust port as well).
When Star Wars is one of the only franchises to include such a basic detail (thrown in once or twice), you do sometimes have to despair."


In fairness to Hollywood, few real world spacecraft have relied on obvious thermal control measures. Even the Shuttle's cargo bay radiators can be missed if you don't know what you're looking at. One could argue that the radiators are there, just wrapped around the hull, like the ones on the Soyuz service module (which you can't even tell are radiators without knowing where to look and then looking real closely).

Having said that, it would be interesting to see a plot complication where the hull radiators fail or are too damaged to do the job. Also good for realism would be some byplay about how laser engagements aren't limited by available electricity so much as by the supply of consumable coolants (which are visibly outgassed during battles).

Tony said...

BTW, "ultra-death-battlecruisers of the super-imperial armada"? I'd like to fly with those guys. Where can I sign up?

Byron said...

Tony:
I'm afraid I can't parse that expression and extract a meaning.
Everything has to be exactly perfect.

Why? It's an excellent standard for prescribing cinematic realism.
Did I just get a complement? Is the world ending?

But if you accept a comparative standard, you implicitly accept the right of someone else to say you're not being real enough, if you invoke any magic whatsoever. There's always the real world standard, which is more "real" compared to the slightest handwave.
OK, that is true. However, we will never see an objectively realistic Sci-Fi TV show, partially because Objectively Realistic and Sci-Fi don't go together by definition. I was trying to lay down my personal minimum standard for a "realistic" TV show.

Milo:
There is a value in a partially realistic setting which cannot be ignored simply because it isn't entirely realistic.
Seconded. We're trying to find a value that should work, both for us and for a mainstream audience.

Geoffrey:
6. Once, just ONCE, I'd like to see the ultra-death-battlecruisers of the super-imperial armada, in whatever fantastical show they appear in, have some form of thermal managemant system. Its abit depressing as far as I'm concerned that the only time I've seen heat radiators is in a 30 second clip in Avatar and on the T.I.E fighters (with the thermal exhaust port as well).
Those weren't radiators. They were officially described as solar panels. That's ridiculous, but so is a thermal exhaust port in space. In space, you can't exhaust hot gasses.

Byron said...

Milo (continued):
Another opinion of mine is that you get more realism leeway in human-made stuff than natural stuff. I can suspend disbelief in humans building wacky and implausible magitech, as long as it's handled reasonably consistently. Many details of the setting, particularly onboard a ship or station, can then be justified as "well, humans just felt like making it that way". But I can't so easily suspend disbelief in there being sound or friction in space, since humans didn't create space and so don't get to define how it behaves, no matter what magitech they have.
This pretty much sums up my opinion, too. I'm far more interested in physical realism (Newtonian movement, lack of atmosphere) than I am in technological/economic realism. That isn't to say that technology shouldn't be handled consistently, but if you're going to have non-Newtonian movement, I expect one incredibly good explanation out of you. The only good one I've ever seen was the 4x game Aurora. On the other hand, if you just feel like making a fusion torch I'm generally OK with that, even if it is also magic. Reactionless drives, for example, fall somewhere in between.

Tony:
Having said that, it would be interesting to see a plot complication where the hull radiators fail or are too damaged to do the job. Also good for realism would be some byplay about how laser engagements aren't limited by available electricity so much as by the supply of consumable coolants (which are visibly outgassed during battles).
Another system to fail. Maybe the writers won't have to repeat plots as often.
Also, the coolant outgassing could serve as the equivalent of a muzzle flash. You have a puff of steam, and you know the laser just fired. Then the incoming laser hits the cloud, providing a beam for the last few meters.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Byron:

"In space, you can't exhaust hot gasses."

Well, you can, you'll just quickly run out of gasses :)

Then again, when you somehow have enough energy for a laser capable of vaporizing a planet, you can probably afford converting energy into mass.

Byron said...

I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure that's not a good way to get rid of waste heat. I could be wrong, thought. This sounds like a question for my Physics professor.

Thucydides said...

We are so used to the cinematic conventions of conventional ground combat (i.e. giant muzzle flashes, hand grenades going off with about a kiloton of explosive energy, rifles feeding from 50000 round magazines) that we almost expect something similar in space combat.

An episode of Mythbusters is very illustrative. The myth being explored was "can a human dodge a bullet from a sniper?" Various tests suggested that , given the time of flight of the bullet, a person *might* be able to dodge a bullet fired from 400m away. The problem was a real rifle's muzzle flash could not be seen past 200m, and even an ultra bright Hollywood blank round was only marginally visible at 400m.

Using this as an springboard, it would suggest that we would probably not recognize the signatures of weapons in space battles either. Near term space combat using modified aircraft weapons such as 20mm cannon *might* generate a brief flickering as a burst was fired (and remember most weapons of that sort have some sort of burst limiter which prevents the pilot from emptying his 500 round drum with a single long trigger squeeze). The phosphorus tracer compound in the base of the round would not ignite in space, since there is no oxygen. An AAM modifies to work in space would not leave a long smoke trail as the engine burned. More futuristic weapons like lasers have been discussed, and railguns firing solid projectiles would impart so much muzzle velocity that the projectile would literally leave the screen between frames.

Even fantastically powerful far future weapons would be swallowed by the immense distances in space; in the Forever War, Major Mandella comments that a nova bomb is visible from the surface of the planet if you know exactly where and when to look; you see a bright new star which slowly fades away. (paraphrase). In order to get the Sfnal final battle, Joe Haldeman has the starship's fighter pull a relativistic slingshot manouevre around a black hole, with the result that the missiles hit the enemy ship and the planet with Giga Ricks of energy

The only other way to get cinematic space battles is to invoke magitech, like warp drives which allow you to project yourself short distances (so you can "flicker" around a planet, for example), or weapons powered by matter being consumed by a strange quark nugget (releasing photons at an incredible 20 MeV). Otherwise, the idea of space battles happening at 2001 like speed is what a realistic space battle will look like.

Anonymous said...

Geoffrey S H said:"6. Once, just ONCE, I'd like to see the ultra-death-battlecruisers of the super-imperial armada, in whatever fantastical show they appear in, have some form of thermal managemant system. Its abit depressing as far as I'm concerned that the only time I've seen heat radiators is in a 30 second clip in Avatar and on the T.I.E fighters (with the thermal exhaust port as well).
When Star Wars is one of the only franchises to include such a basic detail (thrown in once or twice), you do sometimes have to despair."

I keep expecting the ships to melt and/or vaporize as soon as they light up their engines or shoot their weapons...that would be both realistic and dramatic.

Having a dozen fused-quartz radiators on a combat spacecraft that are chipped, scorched, and cracked should convey a sense of battle damage. As for visual cues, flashes from the weapons' mounts, along with corrosponding debris from the hit ship, and (rapidly disapating) smoke trails from missiles should do. I think that there should be lots of sounds inside a ship, but none in space; use music to convey the mood/emphasize the action/build tension/etc all you want for the external scenes.

Ferrell

Tony said...

Byron:

"Everything has to be exactly perfect."

No. Things just have to be plausible to a fairly high standard.

"Did I just get a complement? Is the world ending?"

Contrary to popular belief, I'm not an inveterate contrarian. I just don't buy-in to magic.

"OK, that is true. However, we will never see an objectively realistic Sci-Fi TV show, partially because Objectively Realistic and Sci-Fi don't go together by definition. I was trying to lay down my personal minimum standard for a 'realistic' TV show."

I have absolutely no issue with your standard, as you enumerated it. I just didn't see the point in the fighter cockpit sound effects, given that standard.

Thucydides said...

Modern cockpits have various warning sounds and tones (even civilian airliners), so some sort of cockpit sounds should be expected in a spacecraft.

If you are watching on a home theater system with surround sound then having a three dimensional effect would add to the viewing experience (and a three dimensional sound in the cockpit could provide a cue to where the target or object of interest is in space.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"Modern cockpits have various warning sounds and tones..."

In aerial flight there are urgent and emergent situations that have to be dealt with immediately. In spaceflight? Cockpits have warning and alarm tones and lights that alert the crew to spacecraft system problems, just like in aircraft. Where external issues are concerned? Not so much. Even with combat in mind, things just aren't likely to develop so unexpectedly and quickly that 3D sound makes much sense, even in an operatic setting. At most there would probably be a distinct tone and light signal to alert the crew to inspect the combat sensor systems when something new pops up that the edge of coverage.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Thucydides:

"Modern cockpits have various warning sounds and tones (even civilian airliners), so some sort of cockpit sounds should be expected in a spacecraft."

And how often do those sounds resemble whooshing engines or other "natural"-sounding effects, rather than going "blip bleep bloop"?



Tony:

"At most there would probably be a distinct tone and light signal to alert the crew to inspect the combat sensor systems when something new pops up that the edge of coverage."

Same thoughts here.

Sabersonic said...

Might as well add in my two cents to this little debate we're having here.

From all the discussion about how to properly portray "realism" for a sci-fi movie/TV series, there seems to be an element that seems to be missing: The audience themselves. If I remember my cinema class correctly, there is a tension between the viewing audience and the film itself that must be taught at all times. If it becomes slack, then the audience becomes boared and disinterested in the events presented. If it is tightened to much as it becomes broken, the audience becomes confused and disoriented to what is occuring on screen.

Many commentors have placed all of the blame on the producers and directors of such films (though with some justification), yet it is easy to forget that film and television production is at it's core a business and the success of any business hangs in anticipating and satisfy the needs of the consumer. If the audience expects sound during space battles, spacecraft moving like they're flying in the atmosphere, and glowing beams of light, there's little incentive for the companies that sponsor such programs to add any more realism than it is required by the audience. And considering what I've seen of the US educational system in that department, the expectaitons of the audience majority isn't going to change anytime soon.

As for the radiator and other such thermal management systems, it would probably work if someone makes mention of the radiators hit if the design doesn't make them visually obvious enough. Just the mere mention of the damaged heat management system and its consequences should be enough to satisfy the whole "spacecraft need radiators" problem with cinema.

Well...in theory...

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Thucydides said...

Sorry, I thought cockpit warning tones were what was being discussed. Military aircraft have warning tones when being painted by radar or lasers so by analogy a "threat" tone localized in space would cue the spacecraft pilot to the location of the threat. This would play well in orbital space scenarios, where the threat might have to be picked out from other orbiting objects, decoys and debris.

The addition of radiators could be more popular if spaceships were patterned after "sexy" aircraft like the F-16 (the wings becoming the radiators).

Production companies on a tight budget might look to paper airplanes; large triangular fins becoming the radiator panels. If this is a warship, the central area becomes the spinal mount for a laser weapon, and missile pods can be hung from the "wings" or wingtips. This gives the ships some visual appeal, but still does not overcome the problem of depicting range and motion for viewers.

Cambias said...

What we need is for someone to kidnap James Cameron, then have one of us impersonate him at production meetings. With that done, we can get totally absurd.

"We need space battles that aren't just sea or air battles!" shouts the faux Cameron. "We can make a dramatic battle scene using the real science of space travel!"

"But nobody knows about that stuff . . ." says an assistant producer.

"Silence, dog!" roars Cameron. "Nobody knows about air battles or naval combat, either. It's our job to show them, remember?"

After the unfortunate assistant's limp form is removed, Cameron continues. "Space battles involve a lot of waiting. We can use that. Build tension. Put in character moments. Show the commanders planning their chess game. Then, when the fighting starts, it's fast and devastating. The ship's getting pounded. Systems are overheating. We can show this with the radiator fins -- they're glowing brighter and brighter, and the enemy is blowing bits off of them. The audience can see this is a problem. They're like the health bar for a video game character."

"Can't we have the ships swooping around like planes?"

"NO! And during the battle I don't want any cutaways to the enemy ship. Our guys are getting blinded, so the audience doesn't get to see what's happening, either. Only when the tension's at its peak and the ship can't take any more hits do we show that the enemy's even worse off, and our guys have won."

"But audiences are stupid! They want air battles in space! They . . . URGK!"

"I find your lack of faith disturbing. Our audiences can master jobs nobody in this room has a clue how to perform. You! Can you change a fuel pump in your car? Of course you can't! So don't look down on the guy who can just because he's not on the List at Spago. Get to work, people!"

Byron said...

Milo/Tony:
"At most there would probably be a distinct tone and light signal to alert the crew to inspect the combat sensor systems when something new pops up that the edge of coverage."

Same thoughts here.

I'm pretty much in the same boat. I don't expect anything like Star Wars says they have (which is how the sound carries).

Sabersonic:
And considering what I've seen of the US educational system in that department, the expectaitons of the audience majority isn't going to change anytime soon.
Yes and no. We honestly don't know how the average person would react to a moderately hard sci-fi movie. Do most people understand that spacecraft don't move like airplanes, and only watch them do so because that's what the movie people (who don't understand) give them? Or do they want spacecraft moving like airplanes? The problem is that if the first test movie isn't good, we might have trouble getting the second.
This might be a case for some polling, though I'm probably in the worst place to do so. An engineering school is not a representative sample.

Cambias:
I like that idea, though I have doubts about the practicality. On the other hand, he might do it anyway, particularly if we find a good story to start with. After all, the hardest ship I've seen on screen was in Avatar. (Barring movies like Apollo 13, of course.)

Lee Wang said...

Longtime lurker, first time commenting. Love the blog.

I'm sorry if this seems like a weird place to ask, but I want to join SF-Consim on yahoo groups. But I get error messages (like:PythonError: ) whenever I try to reply. I've tried searching on the internet for a solution but found none.

jollyreaper said...

The short answer is few people will ever care. Case in point, on one of the crappy Transformers movies there was some casual bit of stunt action that was supposed to take place, a guy sliding along on a piece of metal shooting at robots. This badassery was supposed to be by the seat of his pants but it took an army of production guys to make it work becaue it simpy couldn't be done.

Personally, I love it when films deliberately mess with physics as a cartoonish wink towards the audience. The Blues Brothers was awesome that way. Illinois Nazis drive off a bridge, they're now falling from 10k feet over Chicago. It makes no sense because it's never supposed to make sense.

What I hate is when it doesn't make sense and it's not entirely clear the writer and director know it wouldn't make sense. Sort of like it's awesome in Army of Darkness when women respond to Ash's cheesy one-liners but it becomes worrying in different films when it appears that the people involved seem to believe that this is actually the way women are supposed to be treated.

jollyreaper said...

As a PS: I don't think that the problem is Hollywood getting scifi or space stuff wrong, I think it's a case of Hollywood getting details in general wrong. There's a forgivable editing process involved in propelling a screenplay along such as simplifying police procedures, editing out the boring bits like sitting around and waiting. Clear-cut case of dramatic necessity. And then there's just not bothering to do any research at all. General Washington wielding a chainsword and riding a saber-toothed Velociraptor into battle against the Nazis to win World War VII and found the United States of Jesusland.

This is the same stupidity that sees action stars cocking their guns at dramatic moments, walking away from wrecked things all badass without turning around to say WTF was that when the big explosion happens, it's why people wear sunglasses at night, the hero never suffers a debilitating injury in a firefight and etc etc etc etc etc. And this will never change.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"Sorry, I thought cockpit warning tones were what was being discussed. Military aircraft have warning tones when being painted by radar or lasers so by analogy a "threat" tone localized in space would cue the spacecraft pilot to the location of the threat. This would play well in orbital space scenarios, where the threat might have to be picked out from other orbiting objects, decoys and debris."

Well, we were, but I think the consensus is that synthesized 3D aural tones are a bit much. Doing some research, it turns out that the auditory channel is really low bandwidth. It is generally used in cockpits to change the pilot's center of attention, but not try to communicate too much information. For example, the AIM-9 Sidewinder pilot interface is a simple tone at a known frequency. All it does is warble when the missile's IR seeker is unsure of its lock, and sound steady for a solid lock. Likewise, even synthesized voice warnings are as simple and straightforward as possible. They aim to give the pilot discrete and unambiguous information. For example, the entire palette in the F-16 is 13 items:

PULLUP, ALTITUDE, WARNING, JAMMER, COUNTER, CHAFF-FLARE, LOW, OUT, LOCK, IFF, CAUTION, BINGO and DATA

Speaking of threat warning receivers in particular, we have to remember that they not only give a direction. They also give a range and type of threat. That's much easier to communicate over the visual channel, with less possibility for ambiguity. The aural alarm of such systems is simply designed to focus the pilot's attention on the threat warning display.

Citizen Joe said...

In five thousand years, when space travel is common place and all the problems get worked out by super science, the last 500 years of our current time will all be the same time period to those future historians. So, yes, you will get Washington wielding a chainsword killing nazis in WWVII. The velociraptor will only depend on how our cloning science progresses in the next few decades.

Rick said...

Welcome to a couple of new commenters!

This is really a pretty logical place to ask about SFConsim-l, but I don't know what is causing that particular issue. Does it happen for other Yahoo groups?

If all else fails you could try emailing Chris Weuve, who founded the group and surely still administers it.


Some things I'd give a pass to for technical reasons, such as gravity even in parts of the ship that shouldn't have it (i.e., anywhere but the spin section). Faking zero gee in live action film is too expensive for routine use.


My intuition is that the best way to get realism into a space battle is to not approach it as 'a space battle.' Instead work it seamlessly into the plot, and show audiences something they aren't expecting.

Riffing off the ship-departure example, suppose the station authorities dispatch a gunship to board the departing ship and arrest the fugitive.

Now you've got an action sequence involving a 'helicopter,' which immediately cues both the production team and the ultimate audience to expect something a bit different than (fixed-wing) airplane tropes.

Real helicopters behave in some superficially spaceship-like ways - turning in one place, backing up, etc. - so you're not fighting head on against deep-rooted tropes.

Tony said...

With 64 bit timestamps, the current unix epoch is good for the next 292 billion years. Anachronism may not be at all common in the future for the simple technical reason that records now routinely include a time element accurate to the second.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Rick:

"Some things I'd give a pass to for technical reasons, such as gravity even in parts of the ship that shouldn't have it (i.e., anywhere but the spin section). Faking zero gee in live action film is too expensive for routine use."

If you have explicitly spin-based gravity, then you should only have gravity in the parts that spin. Otherwise you're making a mockery of the claim to hard science. Filming costs can be kept down by simply rarely having people leave the spin section during routine use, which is probably how it would work in real life anyway.

If this is absolutely unacceptable and you must have gravity in every part of the ship, then you're better off using magitech antigravity. It may not be scientifically justified but at least it'll be internally consistent.

Also, none of this applies to animated or CG films.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Tony:

"Anachronism may not be at all common in the future for the simple technical reason that records now routinely include a time element accurate to the second."

While not accurate to the second, we have a good idea of the decade-by-decade progression of medieval technology, and important political events can be pinpointed to the year. Most filmmakers don't bother to read these records and just want to show knights in shining armor riding around killing stuff.

Thucydides said...

I think Rick has hit on something that clever filmmakers could exploit (assuming any read this blog); taking the space battle trope and weaving it into the story rather than having it be the story.

I would imagine that the high costs of setting up and filming space sequences (not just battles) gives the producers and filmmakers incentive to get as much bang out of the production buck as possible. Most filmmakers would not even consider a 2001 like shot of a shuttle docking with a space station because it is expensive and does not "add" to the story.

In fact, the movie Apollo 13 is probably a good example of how it "should" be done; most of the action was focused on the interior of the spacecraft and even many of the 0 "g" sequences were done in the form of "suggestion" (filming astronauts from the waist up and having them sway slightly). For most films and TV this would work well, saving money on production and focusing on the story.

(Yes, Apollo 13 was a big budget hollywood fim which could afford to rent the Vomit Comet for full body 0 "g" sequences and build accurate replica everything for the sets and set dressing, but you can adapt these techniques)

Now even Apollo 13 upped the drama in some exterior shots (think of using the LEM engine to make a course correction while the crew steered the ship by eye), but the tense interior cockpit action intercut with the spacecraft actually responding to inputs made for a dramatic scene, and that could work very well as the standard "shot" for space action.

Anonymous said...

Think about movies featuring submarine warfare; most of the shots are interior shots of the crew reacting to sighting an enemy, setting up to take a shot, waiting to see if it hit, reacting to getting depth-bombed, dealing with damage, and shooting back and escaping. I think that Thucydides' approch is good; interior shots of the crew to build tension, intercut with brief external shots to show what they're reacting to.

Ferrell

Geoffrey S H said...

"(Yes, Apollo 13 was a big budget hollywood fim which could afford to rent the Vomit Comet for full body 0 "g" sequences and build accurate replica everything for the sets and set dressing, but you can adapt these techniques)"



What if someone set up a company hiring out private versions of the Comet? I guess some small twin turboprop craft wouldn't really cut it, and it still would be expensive, but for those wanting freefall shots in their films, such a private "visual effects enabler" company could be quite useful. If its cheap enough to appeal to a tiny niche market of directors, it would work. If not, then no.

Citizen Joe said...

Start with an animated movie, maybe 3D renderings if that is cheaper. Test how much reality the audience is willing to accept. No point spending the money on freefall when it won't fill the seats.

When you bump up to live action, fake it with camera angles and other tech gimmicks to minimize the amount of freefall footage. For example, shoot upwards, parallel to a person that is 'floating' down a long corridor. Explain the use of magnetic boots and then have the actors hold up their arms slightly when 'relaxing' and use hair spray to make hair seem to float. In post production, add floating pens and stuff in the background to add to the sense of weightlessness. Film at odd angles instead of having the actors straight up and down, maybe have them at 30 degrees. Early on, toss one of the actors around in free fall to point out why they need to always be hanging on to something or strapped in. Once that is clear, shoot everything else with them strapped in/secured.

When the aliens show up (and they will, we're talking Hollywood) have a scientist bitch about how the alien technology is impossible. List off a few grievances before having his head explode from a laser blast or something. Only later on in the movie is that scientist vindicated as the heroes discover and destroy the magic gizmo that allows the aliens to break the rules, which then causes physics to collapse in around them.

Geoffrey S H said...

"When the aliens show up (and they will, we're talking Hollywood) have a scientist bitch about how the alien technology is impossible. List off a few grievances before having his head explode from a laser blast or something. Only later on in the movie is that scientist vindicated as the heroes discover and destroy the magic gizmo that allows the aliens to break the rules, which then causes physics to collapse in around them."

I'm sure Dr Who did that already, but its still an interesting idea...

Speaking of Dr Who, type in "The Ark in Space" on youtube for an hour or so of reasonably "accurate" space opera on a BBC budget.

As concerns the interior of a space craft being the only thing seen during a fight, Andromeda- that supposedly softer than soft show, did do a few episodes with that format. They were the only ones I quite liked tbh.

Thucydides said...

When the aliens show up (and they will, we're talking Hollywood) have a scientist bitch about how the alien technology is impossible. List off a few grievances before having his head explode from a laser blast or something. Only later on in the movie is that scientist vindicated as the heroes discover and destroy the magic gizmo that allows the aliens to break the rules, which then causes physics to collapse in around them

Watching "Physics Collapse" is potentially the most exciting idea yet. Inertia suddenly asserting itself in moving objects, gravitationally collapsed matter suddenly escaping its container at the speed of light or bubbles of modified spacetime popping or collapsing...the possibilities are endless.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Citizen Joe:

"When the aliens show up (and they will, we're talking Hollywood) have a scientist bitch about how the alien technology is impossible. List off a few grievances before having his head explode from a laser blast or something."

Heh. Like this?


"Only later on in the movie is that scientist vindicated as the heroes discover and destroy the magic gizmo that allows the aliens to break the rules, which then causes physics to collapse in around them."

It's pretty unlikely for any superscience to be based on a solitary gizmo that affects the physics of everything else in the surroundings.

Not to say that Hollywood won't do it. All the time.

Geoffrey S H said...

"It's pretty unlikely for any superscience to be based on a solitary gizmo that affects the physics of everything else in the surroundings."

That's the point. I think its meant to be a "take that" to hollywood science.

Anonymous said...

You could always just spin the whole ship. It might be interesting to illustrate the unique features of spin gravity: have curving floors as in 2001, show the characters moving slightly differently at different distances from the spin axis, and use fans or wires (digitally removed later) to show objects falling in curved trajectories under the Coriolis effect.

R.C.

Citizen Joe said...

We're kind of dependent upon electricity. If that suddenly didn't work, we'd be kinda screwed.

So, if some sort of super science developed 'dark energy' that avoided all the problems we have with various types of energy, then it stands to reason that they might build entire technologies around the stuff.

Thucydides said...

On a more meta level, Hollywood simply lacks the imagination to deal with aliens. Why on Earth (heh) would aliens cross light years of space to steal Earth's resources/women/DVD collections when they could simply pillage the entire Solar System?

What sort of movie would Hollywood make when the story starts with the aliens suddenly consuming the Jovian moons for their ice, or modifying the Sun to suit their needs? Would Aliens even notice us?

SF books like the "Forge of God" and a few episodes of B5 (that I can remember) have explored that idea, but it seems ripe for exploration by a talented writer or SF production team.

Brian/neutrino78x said...

They should make more movies of Hard SF books, such as Ben Bova's Grand Tour series. Like I said earlier, I prefer Hard SF, unless I'm reading ST or SW. I don't like to read a SF story which is not only not Hard SF, but also not based on an established universe like ST/SW, because then I'm left trying to figure out what the rules are in the author's universe.

I think Ben Bova hesitates to allow people to make movies of his books because he has bad experiences being the science adviser for TV and movies and being ignored, lol.

I heard they are going to make a movie of The Forever War, hopefully they will preserve the time dilation elements. It was not 100% Hard SF because the author made up a magitech drive that could sustain 10 G for long periods of time, but it was mostly Hard SF.

jollyreaper said...

I'm sure that the Forever War adaptation will be as accurate as World War Z which they basically just took the name of and slapped on a shitty-ass, generic zombie script. WTF? The book was cinematic as hell and they couldn't figure out how to film that?

Thucydides said...

I understand Ridley Scott is going to direct; I suspect the movie will be a visual feast but much of what made the novel so good (the character of William Mandella evolving under the constant stresses/changes wrought by war) will be overwhelmed by gigantic bursts of multicoloured pyrotechnics masquerading as microton grenade explosions, laser weaponry, tachyon emissions and nova bombs.

I predict "Saving Private Ryan" is Spaaaaaace.

A close read of both Forever War and Starship Troopers reveals that combat only make a small portion of the story (I think there are only four combat sequences in Starship Troopers, but I'll have to dig out my copy to be sure), but Hollywood will be very sure to make those the visual centerpieces of any "real" adaptation of the book.

Tony said...

Y'know, thanks to one of my grandfathers, I used to have a pretty damn close to complete collection of Galaxys and Astounding/Analogs from beginning of publication through the mid Seventies, including the issues in which the Forever War was published as a series of novelettes, not to mention the original publication of much of the Heinlein, Dixon, Harrison, Piper, Pournelle, Niven, and manyothers canon. (Don't ask me about where those collections went -- a bad marriage messes up more than just your bank account.) I would have to say that Forever War was way more hard SF than anything Ben Bova ever wrote. Heck, some Andre Norton juveniles were harder SF, in many ways.

In any case, the high acceleration "tachyon" drives in Forever War were just invocations of superconcentrated energy. The fact that ships had to be a half mile or more in length to carry sufficient drone missiles for a couple of battles and a company of grunts just makes it more believeable -- a lot of energy to move a relatively small amount of payload, even with magitech power generation? Sign me up.

WRT Ridley Scott directing a Forever War movie, I think you can expect the following:

Extreme contrasts in dark and light,

At least a little bit of respect for military accuracy, and

Strong female characters.

Beyond that? WTF knows?

Finally, I do find from personal expereince that I find more verisimilitude in military stories where the combat is relatively rare and compartmented. But combat has to be done right. It's kind of s disservice to the majority of readers, but well-written combat scenes tend to be inaccessible to non-combat veterans, even if the words can be read and seemingly understood. The First Battle of Klendathu, for example, has a totally different meaning to one who has been in combat than to one who has never been there. (How Heinlein managed to tap into the combat gestalt so well is still a mystery to me, given his known lack of front line service.) It's evocative enough to someone who has never fought in a modern war. But to someone who can actually place himself in Johnny Rico's shoes from personal experience? It grips you in some inexplicable but very real way.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"On a more meta level, Hollywood simply lacks the imagination to deal with aliens. Why on Earth (heh) would aliens cross light years of space to steal Earth's resources/women/DVD collections when they could simply pillage the entire Solar System?"

Habitable planets are relatively easy and cheap to use, even when you have the energy available to cross interstellar distances. Plus they're inherrently safer than space habitats. Finally, they are aesthetically attractive.

Also -- and this seems to be a factor that many people refuse to acknowlege -- if you have the power to utilize a solar system's resource and cross interstellar distances, what do you do with it? Live out your life as a producing, consuming biological machine? Or do you go seeking challenges, like reducing other intelligent species to your will, or even killing them off and taking their stuff?

Anonymous said...

Thucydides said:"On a more meta level, Hollywood simply lacks the imagination to deal with aliens. Why on Earth (heh) would aliens cross light years of space to steal Earth's resources/women/DVD collections when they could simply pillage the entire Solar System?"

Why would aliens cross countless light-years, uprooting their lives in pursut of a nimbious goal? The same reason anyone does: to come to Hollywood to MAKE IT BIG; I'm sure being able to trade FTL tech and the exclusive distribution rights to their home planet wouldn't be lost on the studio executives.;)

Maybe the first thing aliens should do when/if they visit, should be to hire on as consultants to movie studios.

Ferrell

Thucydides said...

Ridley Scott is probably the best choice for directing Forever War since he did good SF (Alien) and a good war movie (Blackhawk Down). We can hope the screenwriter(s) can translate Haldeman's vision into a good screenplay. One possible stumbling block could be screenwriters trying to stay too true to the book; film is a visual medium and the story needs to be retold differently for the screen.

For an example of a movie being too literal watch Gettysburg, which is a virtual word for word/scene for scene translation of Micheal Sharra's "The Killer Angels". Most of the movie seems very stiff and "stagey", but there are a few moments of movie magic; Jeff Daniels delivering this speech

"Many of us volunteered to fight for the Union. Some came mainly because we were bored at home and this looked like it might be fun. Some came because we were ashamed not to. Many came because it was the right thing to do.

This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you'll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we're here for something new. This hasn't happened much in the history of the world. We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here you can build a home. But it's not the land. There's always more land. It's the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we're fighting for, in the end, is each other."

Thucydides said...

well Hollywood has a long way to go if they ever want to top this

http://io9.com/5837956/the-most-amazing-bollywood-space-opera-youll-ever-see

Brian/neutrino78x said...

(trying to keep my posts shorter...I've let it run away from me in the past)

Tony, I don't know what's so inaccurate about Bova's novels (I'm specifically referring to the Grand Tour series). First of all, there's no magitech there; all the ships in his book use either chemical propulsion, fission, or fusion. These are all considered plausible midfuture technologies, at least, I have seen them all discussed that way on here, including by yourself, IIRC. It all takes place within the Solar System, and they don't approach the speed of light; it takes them months to get to Jupiter.

Forever War has them sustaining like 10 G for like 3 months, using their magitech "tachyon rocket". They also have FTL in some places in that they use wormholes.

I think the hardest SF we have seen on TV would be a toss up between Defying Gravity and Virtuality.

Brian said...

btw the guy who runs the hardsf.org web site is about as skeptical as Tony, but he thinks Ben Bova writes Hard SF. Observe:

http://www.hardsf.org/HSFRJupi.htm
http://www.hardsf.org/HSFRPrec.htm

Also Bova is listed in this guy's list of suggested reading for Hard SF readers:

http://hardsf.org/HSFSAuth.htm

Tony said...

Brian:

Following suit and not going into deep detail, one good way to tell the difference between hard SF and Bova is to compare the editorial direction he took Analog with the content selection practiced by John W. Campbell before his death.

WRT why I classify Haldeman's tachyon drive as "hard", it's because it's not a convenient solution to Our Hero getting from here to there, or an enabler of some Belter libertarian utopia. Instead, it takes a world government to afford and requires ships that it is installed in to be larger than the largest supertanker ever floated. IOW, it's not handy-tech -- it has real world limitations, even when being used for magitech purposes.

Thucydides said...

Much of what I liked about Bova was from the "Kinsman" novels, he had a fairly multidimensional space for his characters to work in (hostile environment, military confrontation, political gamesmanship) and complex motivations driving them.

I will admit I haven't read his stuff in a while, so don't know what "technical enabler" is allowing libertarian colonies to flourish in the Belt. We are having an election in Ontario, and the Libertarian Party is as effective and organized as ever (/sarcasm); please tell me what that magic piece of technology is....

Tony said...

I find libertarians to be the same thing as marxists, fundamentally -- adolescents in adult bodies, seeking wish fulfillment.

Byron said...

Did you really have to say that? I foresee much shouting in the near future.
Could we skip that bit and get onto something technical? I'm just waiting for something I can do research on.

Tony said...

Byron:

"Did you really have to say that? I foresee much shouting in the near future.
Could we skip that bit and get onto something technical? I'm just waiting for something I can do research on."


Well, while the reds and golds shout at each other, what do you think of Ridley Scott's visual style and his preference for strong female characters?

Byron said...

I have absolutely no clue. I'm an engineering student, not a movie critic. I have learned new stuff about electric propulsion, though. I find that much more interesting.

Thucydides said...

Politics in Spaaaaaace...

Please make that its own post and thread. We can probably beat 1000 replies quite easily ;)

As for Ridley Scott, while I like his films for the most part, his style uses visual spectacle to overwhelm the story sometimes. In Blade Runner, I recall the wonderful visuals on screen, but when sitting with my friends to talk about the film later we were suddenly brought short by such questions as:

Why a society which can send people to off world colonies and make flying cars have people living in slums?

Why is the top genetic engineer of the corporation living in a slum (see above?)

Why don't all the androids look like Rutger Hauer (or better yet, like Daryl Hannah)?

I'm pretty sure the film adaptation of Forever War will be a visual feast, I just hope Scott's focus is on the story and in particular on Mandella as a character rather than the hardware. The story has several strong female characters (Marygay Potter, of course, but also Hilleboe and Dr Alsever come to mind). The source material is good and the director has a very good reputation for turning out entertaining movies in both SF and War genres, so I am hopeful.

Tony said...

Byron:

"I have absolutely no clue. I'm an engineering student, not a movie critic. I have learned new stuff about electric propulsion, though. I find that much more interesting."

Take a film class. You'd be surprised how much more you appreciate movies. (This coming from a software developer that took Film simply to fill a requirement, and wound up enjoying it as much as Data Structures.)

In any case, electric propulsion is pretty moribund as a topic of conversation. Once you get past the energy density issue for the power source, it's all pretty straightforward engineering.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"Why a society which can send people to off world colonies and make flying cars have people living in slums?"

If they gave everyone an equal standard of living, they wouldn't have the money to send people to offworld colonies.

"Why is the top genetic engineer of the corporation living in a slum (see above?)"

Tyrell ain't living in a slum. That's what La Puente always looks like.

"Why don't all the androids look like Rutger Hauer (or better yet, like Daryl Hannah)?"

Variety is the spice of life.

Byron said...

Tony:
Take a film class. You'd be surprised how much more you appreciate movies. (This coming from a software developer that took Film simply to fill a requirement, and wound up enjoying it as much as Data Structures.)

In any case, electric propulsion is pretty moribund as a topic of conversation. Once you get past the energy density issue for the power source, it's all pretty straightforward engineering.

I don't think that have film classes here.
Actually, there's one. But if it comes down to that or explosives, I'll let you guess which one I pick.
As to electric propulsion, I actually do have new data, including some stuff on scaling laws. And an opinion from a professor who does plasma propulsion research. He says that everyone in the field views VASIMIR as superfluous. A hall-effect thruster will give better performance, and it's far more mature.

Tony said...

Byron:

"He says that everyone in the field views VASIMIR as superfluous. A hall-effect thruster will give better performance, and it's far more mature."

I like Hall thrusters -- less to go wrong and definitely proven in practical applications. The only unique attraction of VASIMR was throttleability, which would enable a quicker crewed passage through the Van Allen belts. But you could take care of that with a chemical kick stage, then use the electric propulsion for the rest.

Byron said...

Actually, you can do that with a hall thruster, too. I asked about that, just to make sure. And I found a paper, too. Actually I found two. One is here and the other one I got from the professor I talked to, but I can send it to you. Right now, I'm trying to work out an equation for efficiency as a function of Ve.

Byron said...

I found the paper I refered to earlier. It can be found here.

Thucydides said...

Actually, I was thinking of the J.F Sebastian character living in a slum (an abandoned hotel actually, but given the demonstrated population density on screen, it should be overrun with squatters).

The visual effects are stunning but the society depicted does raise questions for the alert viewer

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"The visual effects are stunning but the society depicted does raise questions for the alert viewer"

One has to remember that Blade Runner was not just SF. It was also film noir. The seedy underbelly of society doesn't reflect everything that's going on. One wouldn't judge the insurance industry and society in general based on the murder and insurance fraud portrayed in Double Indemnity.

Also, I grew up in a Los Angeles suburb at the intersection of the hispanic and asian communities. The cultural extrapolations made in the movie seemed to me only slightly exagerated, given what we thought the future was going to be like thirty years ago.

Cambias said...

The society in Blade Runner is a weird hybrid of what's in the original novel and what the moviemakers came up with.

Dick's novel implies an atomic war in the nearish past, so that depopulation and fallout are a major problem. One man in an empty building is straight out of that world.

The moviemakers, meanwhile, took a bunch of stock tropes from the mental attic of late 1970s/early 80s depictions of the future: overpopulated, polluted, resource-poor. They mashed this up with the novel and the result is on the screen.

Tony said...

Cambias:

"The moviemakers, meanwhile, took a bunch of stock tropes from the mental attic of late 1970s/early 80s depictions of the future: overpopulated, polluted, resource-poor. They mashed this up with the novel and the result is on the screen."

Which is not necessarily a condemnation of the film, unless you're a purist for received text. But then if you are, you'd have to condemn all of Shakespeare, the Decameron, and a lot of other classics as well. The measure of a film is how it works on its own terms, not how faithful it is to any given source text.

The obsessed Scholar said...

Why on Earth (heh) would aliens cross light years of space to steal Earth's resources/women/DVD collections when they could simply pillage the entire Solar System?


We're untermensch to to them? We don't believe what they believe so they offer us a choice between coverting or dying and war breaks out when some humans agree to convert and others tell the aliens and their human cronies to shove off.

And a habitable planet is easier to exploit, easier to live on, it's cheaper than terraforming some other planet and it's easier to kill the original inhabitants than to set up expensive habs on lifeless worlds.

That and humans could potentially be a cheap and plentiful source of slave labor and cannon fodder.

Rick said...

Welcome to another new commenter!

A lot of classic era SF had a nuclear war in the story's past - some of the Heinlein juvies are explicit about this. (Crater where Denver used to be; Bedloe Crater; a spaceport built on the site of Old Chicago and still slightly radioactive.)

"Blade Runner" updated to tropes that were current to the 1980s vintage of the film.


Regarding Hall thrusters versus VASIMR, I haven't yet read the paper Byron links - even though he told me about it some while ago. (Thanks, belatedly!)

But this does not really surprise me. VASIMR is rather cinematic, as electric drives go. It at least hints at a combat mode, blasting along at 10 milligees instead of one milligee.

And it does sort of express vividly the idea that these drives in principle have no inherent specific impulse, the way chemfuels do.

I tend to just stick with 'electric drive,' without getting too specific about details. As Tony noted, once you have good power density, you've solved the main challenge.

Damien Sullivan said...

"Why a society which can send people to off world colonies and make flying cars have people living in slums?"

Why does a society which can send people to the Moon and fight wars across the globe and export food, have people living in slums and impoverished reservations, or in no homes at all and hungry?

Tony said...

Damien Sullivan:

"Why does a society which can send people to the Moon and fight wars across the globe and export food, have people living in slums and impoverished reservations, or in no homes at all and hungry?"

A rising tide lifts all boats? ;-)

Actually, in all seriousness, there is some validity to that -- what we call "poverty" in the US is only poor relative to the North American standard. Compared to some truly desperate places one can go on this Earth, a Navajo living in a hogan -- with TV, a cell phone, and a beat up Chevy pickup, and plenty of cheap, what-sheltered-busybodies-would-call-"unhealthy" food -- is living an enviable life.

I expect that in the future, no matter where man goes, or what he sees and does, there will always be people who at least relatively (and quite probably absolutely) live what many will call impoverished lives.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Tony:

"I expect that in the future, no matter where man goes, or what he sees and does, there will always be people who at least relatively (and quite probably absolutely) live what many will call impoverished lives."

Yup, though I expect the absolutely impoverished lives would mostly be in "third-world countries" that lack the infrastructure of more developed places.

I don't think complete equality between everyone is an attainable goal (short of having everyone be equally miserable), but we can try to raise the minimum standards of life that even the poor can count on having. Will they still gripe about being poor? Sure. But then, even the rich find things to complain about.

Scott said...

What, no music? No way, I want my Hueys coming in out of the rising sun, blaring Wagner at 180db to scare the crap out of Charlie!

The problem with a civilian 'vomit comet' is that you actually need a pretty big bird. I think the smallest you could get away with would be a 727/737, although a C130 would also work (and would likely be cheaper).

I'd still love to see more zero-gee events, though. I was thinking a couple stock scenes: one where someone floats down the hall pulling a combat suit on while the General Alarm gongs in the background (yup, bad hangover from the Navy), and then drops into their seat while a crash cage locks them in. Maybe a longer version where more of the crew is getting into their seats and locking in. The second would be a bit more problematic, since I'd like to do some zero-gee damage control events. Fires should scare the crap out of people in a sealed environment, and would seem to be likely when you're throwing high-megawatts around for punctuation.

As far as visual effects, haven't we already determined that any drive with sufficient energy to be interesting would have a *very* bright plume?

One interesting thought that came from Dream Pod 9's Jovian Chronicles setting was to actually have the vectors displayed on the tactical map like rails. I think this would be a great place for a big screen and 3d.

An interesting point that Dave Drake made once was that many stories have a very high learning curve attached to them, so a good storytelling feature could be to have a main character be the new kid, and getting checked out in all the stuff onboard.

Tony said...

Scott:

"I was thinking a couple stock scenes: one where someone floats down the hall pulling a combat suit on while the General Alarm gongs in the background (yup, bad hangover from the Navy), and then drops into their seat while a crash cage locks them in. Maybe a longer version where more of the crew is getting into their seats and locking in."

In my experience, if you know the enemy is coming, you go to General Quarters long before any possible contact. And in space, you'll know when and where contact is going to be made. Crewmembers know when the alarm is going to be sounded (it's announced well ahead of time, so everyone can get a good meal and take a good crap) and usually have their gear on and are at their stations 5-10 minutes previous. Reading history, that pretty standard.

"As far as visual effects, haven't we already determined that any drive with sufficient energy to be interesting would have a *very* bright plume?"

Only in certain parts of the EM spectrum, not necessarily in visible light.

"One interesting thought that came from Dream Pod 9's Jovian Chronicles setting was to actually have the vectors displayed on the tactical map like rails. I think this would be a great place for a big screen and 3d."

I can see projecting trajectories. But vectors are meaningless in themselves. At a minimum there's a velocity vector in three dimensions and a local gravity vector (WRT the ship), also in three dimensions. Add a constant propulsion vector, thanks to our operatic torch drives, and things get really interesting. Then even your trajectory projections are only good to the degree that you can update them in real time.

"An interesting point that Dave Drake made once was that many stories have a very high learning curve attached to them, so a good storytelling feature could be to have a main character be the new kid, and getting checked out in all the stuff onboard."

With all due respect, no thanks. "The nuclear torpedo comes from a universal force that's all around us. You must learn to channel that force for Good..."

Scott said...

Vectors versus trajectories... oops. I meant to use 'trajectories,' even though DP9 used 'vectors' (probably in the aircraft sense).

For cinematic effect, I would use visually-bright drives. That generally would mean that you're using carbon remass, though.

And that doesn't change the fact that the crew is NOT going to hang around partially suited up waiting for battle stations. suits are uncomfortable.

For some eyecandy, I was going to propose skinsuits usually worn with a pair of coveralls over the top for modesty and sharp-edge protection. Seven of Nine in a .5mm drysuit, guys... Instant hollywood gratification that makes operational sense.

However, battlestations suits would require better protection, since you're dealing with potentially hot shrapnel, so those suits would look more like the suits from the end of Alien3, if not the Debris Section suits from Planetes.

Scott said...

An interesting point that Dave Drake made once was that many stories have a very high learning curve attached to them, so a good storytelling feature could be to have a main character be the new kid, and getting checked out in all the stuff onboard.

With all due respect, no thanks. "The nuclear torpedo comes from a universal force that's all around us. You must learn to channel that force for Good..."


I mean simple explanations, like the one I've mentioned before from the Peacekeeper series: early in the story, the main character 'tch'es at a drive that shows a burst of light as it enters FTL, saying it's out of tune, wasting energy. Later on, that 'feature' of the FTL drive becomes rather important to the story.

You don't have to do a Clancy/Dale Brown infodump to convey information, you know. In fact, I regard the Clancy infodump as poor storytelling. The Hammer's Slammers story I was referring to was 'Under the Hammer', which you can read here: http://baencd.thefifthimperium.com/15-WhentheTideRisesCD/WhentheTideRisesCD/The%20Tank%20Lords/The_Tank_Lords.htm

Rick said...

Is the aviation use of 'vector' fully consistent with the mathematical usage? And I think its use in discussions here is influenced by 'vector movement' in space wargaming.

Loosely related, I remember being confused as a kid by reference to WW II fighters 'orbiting' a location, since I knew they were not capable of anything like orbital speed.

Rick said...

In military-setting stories, the 'new kid' trope is often more important for introducing the culture of the unit - introducing the technology is a side bennie.

For that matter, the coming-of-age trope applies this principle to human social life in general.

Tony said...

Scott:

"For cinematic effect, I would use visually-bright drives. That generally would mean that you're using carbon remass, though."

Actually, I'd probably go the Star Wars route and have reaction drives with very bright reaction chambers but no visible exhaust -- it's the one thing they got right.

"And that doesn't change the fact that the crew is NOT going to hang around partially suited up waiting for battle stations. suits are uncomfortable."

Not "hang around", but if you know when battle stations is scheduled, you avoid a lot of hassle by getting geared up and reporting to your station a few minutes early. We used to do that weekly on the Long Beach in the North Arabian Sea, for the scheduled GQ drill. In real combat operations, as I stated earlier, if you know when the enemy is coming -- and you will in space -- you do essentially the same thing. In 1942, during the Guadalcanal campaign, US Navy task force commanders were almost always alerted hours or more in advance of the approach of Japanese surface forces, thanks to efficient aerial reconnaissance. They carefully considered the time distance factors, Scheduled battle stations for a certain time, and the crews reacted as I described.

"For some eyecandy, I was going to propose skinsuits usually worn with a pair of coveralls over the top for modesty and sharp-edge protection. Seven of Nine in a .5mm drysuit, guys... Instant hollywood gratification that makes operational sense."

The skinsuit would be covered by an armored coverall. Not much eye candy there, unless you inserted a Verhoevenesque locker room scene.

"With all due respect, no thanks. 'The nuclear torpedo comes from a universal force that's all around us. You must learn to channel that force for Good...'

I mean simple explanations, like the one I've mentioned before from the Peacekeeper series: early in the story, the main character 'tch'es at a drive that shows a burst of light as it enters FTL, saying it's out of tune, wasting energy. Later on, that 'feature' of the FTL drive becomes rather important to the story.


I guess the humor was not as obvious as I thought it was...

In any case, the point I was making is that one has to find a way to get beyond the formula "Look boot, this is how it's done..." form of exposition.

"You don't have to do a Clancy/Dale Brown infodump to convey information, you know. In fact, I regard the Clancy infodump as poor storytelling. The Hammer's Slammers story I was referring to was 'Under the Hammer'"

That's not bad, but I think the Full Metal Jacket approach was better -- no explicit explanations, just show how it works, both in training and combat.

Tony said...

Rick:

"Is the aviation use of 'vector' fully consistent with the mathematical usage?"

Entirely consistent. Lift, drag, thrust, and weight are all expressed as vectors in aerodynamic analysis. Go to Google Images and search on "aerodynamic forces" to see what I mean.

The term "trajectory" is even used, in this sense:

"the line the craft is travelling along"

"And I think its use in discussions here is influenced by 'vector movement' in space wargaming."

I've never really thought about it before, but that's a pretty poor term when you do think about it. Whether you use Hollywood (essentially aerodynamic) or Newtonian movement, flight is always affected by vectors. The nature of the vectors is just different.

"Loosely related, I remember being confused as a kid by reference to WW II fighters 'orbiting' a location, since I knew they were not capable of anything like orbital speed."

That's what happens with endlessly borrowed and repurposed terms. "Orbit" really just means something circular, as in your eye socket, an idealized circular orbit around a celestial body (which is mathematically just a special case of elipse), orbitting a point on the ground in aerial flight, etc.

"In military-setting stories, the 'new kid' trope is often more important for introducing the culture of the unit - introducing the technology is a side bennie.

For that matter, the coming-of-age trope applies this principle to human social life in general."


But do we have to be so formula in our pursuit of the bildungsroman?

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Scott:

"However, battlestations suits would require better protection, since you're dealing with potentially hot shrapnel, so those suits would look more like the suits from the end of Alien3, if not the Debris Section suits from Planetes."

Anti-flash goggles are important, particularly if you're being attacked by lasers.



Tony:

"Whether you use Hollywood (essentially aerodynamic) or Newtonian movement, flight is always affected by vectors. The nature of the vectors is just different."

In settings where friction is high enough that inertia doesn't carry over from turn to turn, though, vectors can be abstracted out of the game. Most such games also allow you to turn halfway through your... err, turn (no pun intended), so you move in multiple directions in one turn. While technically the underlying physics still uses vectors, that is really not an intuitive way to understand what's going on.

There are situations where inertia needs to be taken even in ground vehicle simulations - a car race, for example. But tank wargames rarely care about such things.

Rick said...

Lift, drag, thrust, and weight are all expressed as vectors in aerodynamic analysis.

True about aerodynamics, but I was asking about aviation = aircraft operation. I don't know if pilots and air controllers actually use the term, but my impression is that they do.

Scott said...

Well, as an aviation term, 'vector' means 'go this way' or more specifically 'steer this course'.

It's not the same meaning as the physics term.

My point about the crew suiting up for battlestations is that it gives you a scene you can work with and show a little scientific accuracy.

Besides, a lot of people have associated the General Alarm with a rise in tension. It's simply a dramatic device. Showing people lock down their crash cages is another point of tension increase. Then you can add some other 'events', including radiators ablating or whatever.

I'd LOVE to see some fused-quartz or even simple carbon radiators, chipped and pitted from combat. Nothing says 'well-used' like some parking lot rash. It's a simple visual trick, but it makes the whole world much more believable.

There was this great line from the Prince of Persia movie, about the costume designer by the actor playing the merchant. "She made this beautiful costume, and then did unholy things to it with a cheese grater! Now it doesn't feel like a costume, it feels like clothes I have owned for years."

Sometimes it's the little things that you don't even consciously see that are the biggest part of making the imaginary world of the movie real.

Tony said...

Milo:

"In settings where friction is high enough that inertia doesn't carry over from turn to turn, though, vectors can be abstracted out of the game..."

But inertia does matter in aerodynamic maneuvering. In a zoom climb, for example, the aircraft trades the energy of forward motion for altitude in a way that could never be matched by engines alone in a lower angle of attack. And the gravity and drag vectors always apply. That's why the engines have to be running all of the time. It's all about vectors. And none of it can be abstracted out.

Even in space, the gravity vector always applies, as does the drag vector, close to planets with atmospheres. If there's any environment in which vectors are abstracted out, it's in a lot of space combat simulations.

Rick:

"True about aerodynamics, but I was asking about aviation = aircraft operation. I don't know if pilots and air controllers actually use the term, but my impression is that they do."

Well, the term is used by air traffic controllers in the sense of "vectoring" an aircraft towards a point in the sky or an airfield. But while ATCs may not give a crap about aerodynamic forces, all of the pilots I've known are serious as a heart attack about the cardinal aerodynamic forces. They may not always talk or think about them in terms of vectors, but they know that they are vectors that need to be balanced by their decisions in the air.

Scott:

"Scott said...
Well, as an aviation term, 'vector' means 'go this way' or more specifically 'steer this course'.

It's not the same meaning as the physics term.

My point about the crew suiting up for battlestations is that it gives you a scene you can work with and show a little scientific accuracy.

Besides, a lot of people have associated the General Alarm with a rise in tension. It's simply a dramatic device. Showing people lock down their crash cages is another point of tension increase. Then you can add some other 'events', including radiators ablating or whatever."


It's not that I don't comprehend the dramatic effect. It's just that there are rules to how you construct it. If you've been otherwise honest with the audience, and they know that a spacecraft crew has been tracking an enemy for hours or days, they're not going to accept the emergency treatment of going to battle stations, even in the name of drama. They're not stupid.

Scott said...

Got a couple points here. I *know* that some people will complain about a rush to battlestations, when you've been tracking the target for hours/days.

counterpoint: Spacesuits are uncomfortable, bulky, and 'sucking rubber', well, sucks. Therefore, people will delay donning such protective equipment for as long as possible, and remove it ASAP.

All it will take is ONE guy bitching about how the skinsuit gives him a rash** and a 'tell me about it...' response, and you have set up a perfect reason for a tension increase by a scramble to get dressed for battlestations.

Total elapsed time in the movie for the setup: 3 seconds. How much is the dramatic tension increase worth?

**or similar complaint about uncomfortable gear.

Tony said...

Scott, you're swinging after the bell. Soldiers in the field stand-to at dawn (and sometimes at sunset). Ready interceptor aircraft are manned and ready to fly, sometimes for hours at a time. (And some guy's used to do it in partial pressure suits at least as uncomfortable as an full pressure skin suit.) And ships do go to battle stations in a scheduled, relatively relaxed manner when they know enemy contact is likely.

From the cinematic point of view, even an overdone piece of melodrama like Top Gun got this right. The crews were assembled and briefed well before the battle. Patrol aircraft were launched ahead of predicted enemy contact. The backup element was staged on the catapults with the crews aboard. Nobody whined or cried about how it sucks to sit around in a small cockpit, in a poopie suit an G harness. They just did their jobs. Hollywood can create drama without overdramatizing.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Tony:

"But inertia does matter in aerodynamic maneuvering."

Oh, hmm. You said "Whether you use Hollywood (essentially aerodynamic) or Newtonian movement, flight is always affected by vectors.". Sorry, I didn't notice that "flight" there and thought you were talking about all vehicle movement in general.


"It's not that I don't comprehend the dramatic effect. It's just that there are rules to how you construct it. If you've been otherwise honest with the audience, and they know that a spacecraft crew has been tracking an enemy for hours or days, they're not going to accept the emergency treatment of going to battle stations, even in the name of drama. They're not stupid."

You just need to trade the panic for nervousness and tension. Knowing that you've already made all possible preparations and it's still another half-hour before you'll be able to tell if they're enough to win the battle is pretty uncomfortable. I could imagine that having to wait at your battlestation well in advance even though there's no enemy within range yet is going to lead to a lot of fidgeting and quintuple-checking things.

Tony said...

Milo:

"You just need to trade the panic for nervousness and tension. Knowing that you've already made all possible preparations and it's still another half-hour before you'll be able to tell if they're enough to win the battle is pretty uncomfortable. I could imagine that having to wait at your battlestation well in advance even though there's no enemy within range yet is going to lead to a lot of fidgeting and quintuple-checking things."

Well...that's not quite right either. If you've set everything up right and double-checked, unless you're a sensor operator or on the bridge crew -- IOW, unless you have something constructive to do -- you tend to engage in whatever inane activity you tend to when you're bored. You could imagine guys in the missile magazine talking smack about who had the best girl on their last liberty. Or maybe you have a bunch of Marines in their berthing space playing cards and watching the game. Or you'll have guys like Corporal Hicks, who just sleep through it.

jollyreaper said...

As for crash emergencies, you can have it in two ways.

1) jump drives or wormholes. A quick way to add enemies to the mix with little warning. Writer's best friend.

2) local clutter. You can have a ton of ships on the scope with no indication that any are hostile until they start firing. Would be the consequence of operating in a very crowded environment. I've seen some nice simulations of this in navy games where you have a ton of neutrals and it becomes difficult to find the bad guy, even when you know there's one in the mission. In real life it would be worse since you'd be screening for months without even the guarantee of finding a bad guy. And then you're suddenly in a pants-shitting situation having to make the call before the ship is lost. Vincennes all over again.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"As for crash emergencies, you can have it in two ways.

1) jump drives or wormholes. A quick way to add enemies to the mix with little warning. Writer's best friend."


If there's a possibility of running into BGs on the other side, you go to General Quarters before jumping or traversing the wormhole, as a matter of routine.

"2) local clutter. You can have a ton of ships on the scope with no indication that any are hostile until they start firing. Would be the consequence of operating in a very crowded environment. I've seen some nice simulations of this in navy games where you have a ton of neutrals and it becomes difficult to find the bad guy, even when you know there's one in the mission. In real life it would be worse since you'd be screening for months without even the guarantee of finding a bad guy. And then you're suddenly in a pants-shitting situation having to make the call before the ship is lost. Vincennes all over again."

Significantly, Vincennes was already at General Quarters and actively engages with Iranian patrol boats. Yes, the environment was confusing, but the crew were not in a scramble mode. Nor would they have been in somewhat altered circumstances, because at the time and place it was SOP to operate in Condition 3 -- half the weapons manned and ready. Even if the tracking and engagement of the airliner had triggered General Quarters, the people actually managing the engagement would have already been on post.

Thucydides said...

The only unscheduled emergency that would leave a crew scambling for their gear would be an in flight emergency caused by the catastrophic failure of a piece of equipment. In old navy terms something like a steam line rupturing (aren't you glad most ships use diesel or gas turbine power these days?).

Even then, given the rather sedate nature of space travel outside of re-entry, aerobraking or power on manouevres, most emergencies would be more in the nature of the HAL 9000 suddenly interrupting your conversation with:

"I've just picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It's going to go 100% failure in 72 hours."

Most of the stuff with radioactive fluid, high energy ions or other really dangerous material would be on the far side of a pretty solid bulkhead, if not at the end of a very long boom separating it from the crew hab, so even then the scramble might be to the control room to grab the robotic arm's joystick....

Anonymous said...

Being woken from a deep sleep by a klackson going off in your ear and jumping up before realizing that you're already at your battlestation and everyone laughing...then later the tension while the point defenses fire and everyone waiting for that Bang! that means one got through; or even worse, NOT hearing it.

The change from easy going and laughing to quiet and serious should show the tension; going from saying "Bob" and "Sarah" to "Mission Specialist Kline" and "Pilot Lynch" would also should convey tension. Just little things make all the difference.

Ferrell

Jim Baerg said...

This
http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com/2011/09/viewing-imaginary-spacecraft-from.html

has a good point about SFnal spacecraft.

Tony said...

I for one welcome our new alien overlords.

Scott said...

My apologies for letting this lie for so long.

As far as 'eyecandy' goes, if you're going to assume manning General Quarters more-or-less with lots of notice (something that we were never allowed to do when I was in the service), then you can always abuse a shower scene, someone skinning into their suit, and then pulling the armored coveralls over the top. For that matter, if you're basically using a .5mm wetsuit with a hard-hat collar as your space suit, you don't even need the shower scene. You can just have someone changing from the lightweight every-day coveralls to the armored battlestations ones, with a helmet floating next to them. Or several someones.

I would still have the General Alarm go off, and have people lock down helmets and/or crash cages, even if we just had a setup scene with people getting ready.

Have some people joking around before the alarm, and then all joking stops and you get the shift from Mary and Tom to Lt. Mericle and Chief Clark (or 'Weps' and 'Eng').

You still need to carefully rachet up the tension. Most civilians don't do well with the 'hours of mind-numbing boredome punctuated by moments of mind-blowing terror' in a movie, after all.