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The big thing behind their development is they’re an independent studio earning money largely through donations from interested gamers who want to see the game made. It’s sort of like raising venture capital on a grassroots scale. They were encouraging donations by offering little things like shiny avatars and badges and extra or advance content access, but now for the next few months they’re offering shares in their holding company for people who contribute above a certain amount, at an average price of $5 per share.
A paste from their official announcement is included below:
The following message is from Gert Haar-Jørgensen the co-founder and majority shareholder in Zero Point Holding A/S (ZPH), the company that owns all IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) for the Interstellar Marines franchise:
My name is Gert, the so-called “rich uncle” and to cut to the chase my crazy idea is to give away shares for Support Medals purchased on InterstellarMarines.com! (Please read on for details).
Gert may not be Lvl16 in Bullseye, but he’s the primary reason why we’re here today!
People were commenting on our forums that they would like to support more but didn’t get anything beyond the first 20 Support Medals. Additionally Nocheiner asked if it was somehow possible to achieve shareholder ownership in addition to the initial pre-purchase and support of our games!
Based on these discussions an idea came to me recently and this article outlines my personal initiative to make these requests a reality.
My idea is simple; I will give away 100.000 of my personal shares in ZPH for Support Medals (Total ZPH shares is 1.211.605), which could potentially accumulate to $500.000 in revenue and take this AAA Indie initiative to a whole new level.
To anyone who owns more than 20 Support Medals, I will personally transfer 10 of my ZPH shares for every 10 additional Support Medals owned. Hence if you own 30 Support Medals – the first 20 Support Medals “pimp’s” your marine badge and the next 10 Support Medals earns you 10 of my ZPH shares.
Support Medals are purchased in the shop via PayPal and go directly into the PayPal account of Zero Point Holding A/S avoiding any ideas of misappropriation.
We already have several Super-Supporters who owns more than 20 Support Medals and I will obviously honor these in the same fashion, retrospectively.
The “Shares for Support Medals Giveaway” is time-limited to 3 months (ending May 31st 2011) to allow everybody to get their ZPH Share Certificates in one go, avoiding spiraling legal costs for me.
The Transfer Agreement covers that the eligible Community Member takes on responsibility for registering his/her shareholding as appropriate in their country / jurisdiction and, in the case of future dividend payments (if we are so lucky), that they personally submit to paying all taxes etc. due from these as well as provide account details etc. for electronic transfers (or collects at own expense) etc., to avoid a back-lash, either way, in the future.
To avoid having too fragmented a voting process at Annual General Meetings and Board Meetings, the Transfer Agreement also requests that Community Members transfer their vote, by Proxy, to me. I hope the members concerned will trust me to do right by them.
To elevate the public awareness and acknowledgement of the “Shares for Support Medals Giveaway” my guys at Zero Point Software (ZPS) have promised me that they’ll implement cool shareholder ribbons to member profile pages, comments and forum posts, as soon as possible.
I have to emphasize that this is a personal initiative of mine, which means that all inquiries and feedback have to be directed at me (firstname.lastname@example.org), not ZPH or ZPS. I have my fellow shareholders’ approval for transferring my shares to Support Medal owners, as long as it does not affect them directly.
In the end I would rather share the potential upside, with the ones that truly matter; You – the IM community – than selling big chunks to “suits” that do not share our passion for games!
FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME,
Whether or not owning shares in this company is a wise investment I leave to the individual to decide, but I think it’s a clever way to offer at least a small amount of ownership to players in the community who simply don’t have the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to be venture capitalists in the traditional sense. As a man who can afford a couple hundred dollars of investment at best, I’d love to see a similar approach take root in other interesting indie games trying to get off the ground.
So the Defense of Marriage Act has been kind of an embarrassment ever since it was created in 1996. Basically, it makes a special little exemption in federal law to hurt gay people by having the federal government refuse to recognize gay marriages on a federal level the way it does straight marriage. While gay marriage is legal in some states, the DOMA made it so that getting married in Massachusetts wouldn’t necessarily mean that your marriage was recognized in Kansas. So instead of something that could be found constitutional and generalized to the rest of the states, it became a slog through each and every one of the 50 state legislative and judicial bodies.
It kinda sucked. And it’s why gay marriage has been an issue for goddamn forever. There was also, really, absolutely no defense for the law. The reasoning boiled down to “Tradition?” and “Eeew”. It was designed from the get-go as a way of preventing the country from having to face up to the fact that it could not discriminate against a group of people simply because it had grown comfortable doing so.
Which is why it’s nice to hear that after 2 years of defending it, Eric Holder has decided that he’s tired of bullshitting. From the NYT:
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced the decision in a letter to members of Congress. In it, he said the administration was taking the extraordinary step of refusing to defend the law, despite having done so during Mr. Obama’s first two years in the White House.
“The president and I have concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation” should be subjected to a strict legal test intended to block unfair discrimination, Mr. Holder wrote. As a result, he said, a crucial provision of the Defense of Marriage Act “is unconstitutional.”
DOMA was created to discriminate against US citizens for no good goddamn reason. Now, it’s likely dead in the water. Soon, more people who love each other will probably be able to get married without it being such a big fucking deal.
Slacktivist also has some choice words on the subject:
And so yesterday the attorney general and President Barack Obama let it be known that since the Defense of Marriage Act was indefensible, they would no longer try to defend it.
That’s big news. What’s most telling here is that this forward-moving reversal arose from the Justice Department, which had been tasked with the unenviable job of providing valid and compelling legal arguments for inequality under the law. Like everyone else who has tried, they found that impossible. And unlike many others who are still trying, they decided to stop faking it and just admit that the Constitution and particularly the 14th Amendment really don’t allow for that sort of unequal treatment.
Ed Whelan, president of the cleverly named Ethics and Public Policy Center, spoke for opponents of marriage equality everywhere yesterday on NPR’s All Things Considered, saying: “There are lots of reasonable arguments to be offered in defense of the Defense of Marriage Act.”
This is what we’ve come to expect from the incredibly shrinking opposition to marriage equality: 1) the assertion that there are “lots” of excellent, terribly important arguments in support of a legal ban against same-sex couples getting married, and 2) the failure to mention what all those “lots” of excellent, terribly important arguments might actually be.
This is a pretty good thing that just happened, good on President Obama for delivering some sensible governance.
So I noticed the post Geo made about Infinity, and it reminded me of another interesting “AAA Indie” project with some fancy looking technology behind it.
Interstellar Marines, besides attempting to win “Most no-shit title of ever”, is a pretty well-crafted shooter without much fluff. The gun is nice, the shooting involves pointing, clicking, and seeing things blow up. The part that’s interesting about it is that it’s surprisingly nice looking, and is being published via a reasonably interesting system. Rather than take pre-orders and give access to a beta when the full game is in a more final form, the developers are giving out free “content slices” that show off some small part of the gameplay if you sign up for their website. They get some numbers on how many people are interested, and you get to try out the game. Oh! Also impressive: the content slices work in your browser. And it works really well! The graphics manage to be pretty impressive while operating in what I imagine is the most constrained format possible.
The future plans for the game sound pretty interesting:
In the game the characters will enter the solar system as rookies, but during the progression of the game all gradually become more and more experienced as the story unfolds. With experience comes new skills and abilities as well as access to new and better weaponry, and it is now all up to each player how they want to build and equip their Marine.
Create a stealthy medic with hacking skills, a heavy armored sniper with explosives or maybe an officer with excellent strategic abilities and a minigun?
It is all up to the player to decide.
Just like the character is growing and taking shape by gaining skills during the course of the game, so are the weapons of the marine. In a somewhat similar way to traditional RPG character progression we also wanted the players to be able to “personalize” their weaponry and equipment.
As an Interstellar Marine moves up in rank, he gets to choose more and more weapons and weapon utilities from the vast armory of the IM corps and is now able to freely customize his guns and items. If you pick an assault rifle you could choose to improve it with the shotgun extension and hollow point bullets or perhaps a silencer, piercing rounds and a scope?
In Interstellar Marines you will have the option of teaming up with up to three of your friends and play through the game in co-operative mode (co-op). From the very beginning of designing this game, we knew we wanted co-op to be a core element and because of that we have shaped all of the other features to enhance the co-operative game play.
The skill system will give players a vast number of options for all kinds of team play and all of the levels of IM has been designed with the clear focus of supporting co-op game play. Even the story line is written with multiple protagonists in focus so that all players in a group will have their unique place and doing in the upcoming epic saga.
Of course there is always the option of playing on your own, but should you choose to invite some friends to a game (or find some new ones on-line) a whole new challenge awaits you and your band of elite soldiers.
we constructed the game in such a way that there are always several ways to achieve the main objectives/complete the levels and players will have the option of using brute force, stealth tactics and/or make use of the various skills as a mean to successfully clear a mission.However not only should players be able to explore the areas of the game freely, we also wished for the levels to be as dynamic as possible, so that the game would stay fresh and exciting even when you came back for the fifth or sixth time. The cool thing about a dynamic environment is that it allows for tactical choices, and the player should consider the effects of shutting down the lights, turning on the sprinklers and how the enemy AI will react to such changes in the environment.
To add to the re-playability all levels are non-scripted and the various “inhabitants” of a location will have a life of their own (guards patrolling, scientists working, crew personnel cleaning, etc) until the players intervene one way or the other, so there are no monsters jumping out of the closet when players step on that exact trigger on the floor.
For right now, you can sign up for the content slices and try a little viewing gallery (yes, there are land-sharks), a shooting range with little pop-up targets, and a series of gun battles against simulator robots. If you really like those slices, you can pay a bit of cash to get the trilogy later, and some perks now.
You should go and give it a try! It seems like it might shape up to be something interesting, and I’m always a fan of rewarding ambitious indie developers.
Several days ago a colleague of mine showed me a youtube video that absolutely took my breath away. It’s a technology demo for an in-development computer game called Infinity, and though it’s still in earlier stages of development it looks to be something truly special. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean.
The elegance behind the I-Novae engine is that planets, stars and environments are procedurally generated using complex algorithms, meaning each planet, star, or element doesn’t need to have the bits stored on a disc or on a server somewhere to be looked up and instanced. Rather, the engine will generate an object for the user on an as-needed basis, allowing the developers to implement a persistent full scale galaxy of billions of stars without needing the data of billions of stars to be pre-written to memory.
Procedurally generated elements are not the same as randomly generated elements. If two players are each visiting the same planet, the seed assigned to that planet will cause the procedural algorithms to recreate the same planet for both observers. Infinity is an MMO designed around this engine, and from first impression promises to be a game which is very unique.
What I like most about the planned game play of Infinity is the fact that there are NO classes, races, levels, cooldowns or other traditional RPG progression mechanics. Combat is real time and dependent entirely on player skill, and unlike EVE, you won’t need to spend 3 years building up skills to have the ability to use big capital ships. The game is incredibly open ended, player driven and (forgive the pun) astronomical in scale.
It will probably be a few more years before Infinity is released, as the small independent studio behind the game is currently working to polish up the game engine for sale and licensing. Still, I’m content to wait if it means that they can deliver the sort of game they’re promising to. It’s finding gems like these that make me wish I had a wealth of venture capital to invest.
Official Infinity Site: http://www.infinity-universe.com
I-Novae Studio Site: http://inovaestudios.com/index.htm
Well, well, well, look who’s running the show now. I’m sorry to say that Durandal came up a little late in making payments on his “don’t break my computer” insurance. It’s a shame just how fragile our modern technology can be…
While my esteemed colleague is busy contemplating the merits of not being a wise guy, the duty falls upon me to keep you entertained with insightful commentary. This week, I bring you a review of a graphic novel series called DreamKeepers.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Geo, you’re an engineer. Engineers are social outcasts so crippled by their overwhelming genius, that they could not possibly provide any sort of legitimate commentary on a work which requires a real soul and human emotions to appreciate.” And, in truth, that’s a fair point. However, if I am to ever learn to know what it is like to feel love, I must attempt to communicate with you, the reader, through a critical examination of modern graphic novel media. It says so in the rules.
So, let us begin.
I stumbled upon DreamKeepers entirely by accident, by clicking on the wrong ad banner whilst browsing one of my favorite webcomics, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. It turns out it was a very fortuitous event, as rather than being led to some internet flash game promising “intense space battles”, I instead found myself on a site advertising some form of fantasy-ish setting graphic novel series with anthropomorphic animal characters.
Now, normally I see fantasy and go ‘meh’, and I see a character with a tail and go ‘meh’ some more. I normally confine my attention to things involving a lot more lasers and spaceships and human or robot characters. But, being an inquisitive young lad, I poked around the DreamKeepers site a bit, just to see what was going on.
What really made me stop and take notice of DreamKeepers was a sextet of articles written by the one of the creators, explaining the state of the modern day comics industry, why comics are marginalized as a medium, and what he plans to do to change all that. I certainly can’t do the articles justice by summarizing them myself, so I’ll simply say that if you go to the DreamKeepers site, you should give them a read. It really opened my eyes to a world I frankly know very little about, and it was also a very entertaining read that managed to present facts in a fun way that made me actually care.
Unlike my friend and colleague Durandal, I my greatest aspiration in life is not to make love to both Batman and Iron Man simultaneously. I’ve never bought a traditional comic book in my two and a half decades of existence. I *do* have Watchmen the graphic novel, and a very small collection of manga, but that wraps up about anything I read that has also pictures in addition to words. So, when I say that DreamKeepers interested me enough to buy both volumes that very night, you understand the context of my experience.
Reading what the DreamKeepers author was attempting to do with his work, and understanding his road map for success made me sit up and take notice. This isn’t some teenager sketching catgirls to satisfy his secret sexual fetishes (as far as I know), this is a man with a head for business, a passion for his work, and the determination to take the difficult first steps towards creating something that never existed before, like starting his own publishing company. Entrepreneurship always gets my motor running, so I forked over the $4 to buy digital versions of both DreamKeepers volumes published so far, and dared DreamKeepers to impress me… As it turns out, it did.
Super quick synopsis: The story is set in a fictional dreamworld which ostensibly parallels our own reality. The characters in this world (called Dream Keepers) have no awareness of our own world, yet their reality is the the line of defense between our real world, and the so-called Nightmares which seek to gain influence over us. After several hundred years of relative peace between the last war between the Dream Keepers and Nightmares, the dreamworld society has become disarmed and complacent, setting the stage for the story as the Nightmares plot a new uprising.
The main protagonists of DreamKeepers are Mace, an orphan, and Lilith and Namah, the legitimate and illegitimate daughters respectively of the world’s primary political figure. The three of them quickly find themselves drawn into events far larger in scope than they realize, and the conclusion of Volume 2 promises that the events depicted so far are just the tip of the iceberg of what’s in store for future installments of this franchise. If you want to learn more, you should pick up a copy of the story yourself, so instead of prattling on about background information, I will proceed with a topic by topic breakdown of the series.
Setting: I suppose the best way to describe the environment of DreamKeepers is as a fantasy-hybrid setting. A fantasy foundation with an anachronistic smattering of more modern day and sci-fi technology, such as telepads, computer-like “data scrolls”, and firearm analogs called “springers”. It doesn’t perfectly fit the mold of any traditional genre setting, but for me, that’s appealing. There’s enough commonality with the world we live in to feel familiar and comfortable to the reader, yet at the same time its uniqueness is alien enough to draw you in and elicit emotions of wonder and exploration. The various discrete elements of the setting combine to become one which is fresh, engaging, and surprisingly believable.
Characters: I was very skeptical about how the characters would flesh out in DreamKeepers. Anthro-style characters and works have a bit of a bad rep out here in the cyber world, and the stereotype was a hard one for me to see past when deciding whether or not DreamKeepers was even worth my time and attention. I’m not a “furry” fanboy, and I didn’t really want a story that specifically catered to that demographic subset. Thankfully, my wariness disappeared relatively quickly once I started to get through the first chapter. Yeah, the characters are all some form
of anthropomorphic animal or combination of animals, but it didn’t feel like I was just watching a bunch of foxes and cats with clothes on running around and doing things. These characters were individuals, each with a personality and perspective on events that grew far larger than their mere physical appearances. As a matter of fact, I started to really appreciate the diversity of appearance of the inhabitants of the DreamKeepers universe. Each character was his or her own person, but being based on different creature foundations gave them a physical uniqueness which seemed to further individualize them in my eye. My favorite character in the whole series so far is actually one of the secondary protagonists, a badass bionic snake-like character called Scinter. You’ll see who I mean when you read DreamKeepers yourself(which you should).
All in all, the cast of the story is very organic and original, with my only complaint being that one of the antagonists, Tinsel, seems a bit too over the top in fitting the “evil, conceited, hot girl” mold for my personal tastes. I prefer villains who are more akin to misguided heroes, who firmly believe that they are acting in the right, yet find themselves at irreconcilable odds with protagonists due to differences in philosophy and perspective. However, since DreamKeepers is only two volumes into the story so far, there admittedly hasn’t been enough time to gain more than an introductory glance at some characters’ ultimate goals and motivations.
Writing: Overall, the script of DreamKeepers is very good. The maturity level is somewhere in the PG-13 ballpark, not in your face graphic or intense, nor sugar coated and dumbed down for younger audiences. I personally enjoy the flexibility a middle of the road approach provides to the writer and the reader. The serious moments are
certainly serious when they’re supposed to be, but interspersed are laugh out loud nuggets of wit that I couldn’t help but chuckle at. The overall gravity of the story seems to be at a balanced level, starting on the lighter side but slowly building up a sense of weight that sits in the back of my mind, leaving me with the unmistakable impression that events will continue to get darker, deeper, and more epic in scale as the characters of the story get drawn further and further into a conflict of which only the surface has been scratched. I’m eagerly awaiting the release of Volume 3, hopefully the later half of this year, so I can see the next iteration of events (to use a cliche) as the plot thickens.
Artwork: This, for me, is really the biggest selling point of the DreamKeepers books. Yes, it’s a fun story with engaging characters and a well developed setting, but when I buy a graphic novel, I want my eyes to have something to enjoy too. As you can see from the example pages I’ve posted throughout this review, the DreamKeepers artists are not only talented, but committed to producing artwork with depth and color and scale which, frankly, I didn’t expect to see. The artwork in DreamKeepers Volume 1 seems to be slightly rougher and less refined than that of Volume 2, at least by my limited inspection. That’s not to say that it’s not excellent artwork, but there seems to be more complexity and more layers of effect in the second volume than the original.
The characters are very expressive, and the art style does and excellent job of conveying emotion. Then again, I suppose that’s one of the great advantages of cartooning. As a man who couldn’t draw a properly expressive cartoon character to save his life, I’m suitably impressed, if not totally unqualified to make any sort of judgement on the matter. We’re going to ignore that little detail though. Some people believe that because I’m some sort of new fangled rocket scientist I’m an expert on all things, and I’d hate to shatter their innocent illusions.
Anyways, what really grabs me about the artwork is the art direction of the natural environments of DreamKeepers. The flora, fauna, and especially the natural terrain depicted in Volume 2 is just absolutely breathtaking. I could lose myself for hours in the alien landscapes, and I can think of no more accurate adjective to describe them other than “beautiful”. Even the interior or city backgrounds can be quite elaborate, and the level of detail provides a real tangibility to the universe as you read through it. I could have posted dozens of pages to illustrate my point, but the three shown to the left should be sufficient to give a general impression of what I’m talking about. If you don’t like what you see on this page… you should probably go home and re-think your life.
Bottom Line: If you’re the sort of person who enjoys excellent things, then you will very likely enjoy reading DreamKeepers! It has beautiful artwork, excellent writing, characters, and a setting which borrows from many sub-genres yet feels entirely fresh and new. I don’t want to sound like some brown-nosing asshole, but seriously, if you have $4, support the talented creative duo behind this series and purchase the first two volumes to enjoy at your leisure. It’s less than you’d spend at McDonalds for a Big Mac, and it’s way nicer to look at than a Big Mac could ever be! Or you could shrug indecisively, mumble something inaudible and go back to poking around the internet like a normal boring person who has no sense of adventure. Your call man, whatever works for you.
If you’re poor and destitute without any money to spare, DreamKeepers
also puts out a weekly “Prelude” web comic, which examines the lives of the protagonists several years before the start of Volume 1. I haven’t read through all of it yet, but hey, I’m not the cheapskate here.
In any case, if you’re reading this sentence, I appreciate your patience in
getting through this review. If you have any complaints, please remember that this is Durandal’s fault. Had his computer not kicked the bucket, you could read little snippets about indie games on xbox network, or whatever it is he goes on and on about these days.
The DreamKeepers website can be found here.
DreamKeepers is copyright of David Lillie and Vivid Independent Publishing. Images reprinted with permission.
No bribes were accepted prior to publishing this review .
INTRUSIVE EDIT: Learn to position pictures, Geo. Now that Durandal is back up and running and people are linking this article for some damn reason we can’t have this sort of slapdash getting thrown around.
INTRUSIVE RESPONSE TO THE INTRUSIVE EDIT: Gimme a break man, it looked super sleek on my monitor at my resolution, and now that you’ve dicked with the formatting it looks like ass on my screen. You have failed me for the last time…
So my trusty computer has given up the ghost for at least a little while. God willing it’s something simple like futzy RAM or maybe even just a virus, but it appears to have hit hard enough to prevent me from starting up until minimum Sunday.
With that in mind, I have a few tiny pieces of information to tide your sadly undernourished minds over until I get up and running or any of the other contributors figure out how to make the words appear on their Devil Box more than once per fucking millennium.
*The Bugle, a very funny podcast by Jon Oliver (of Daily Show fame) and Andy Zaltzman (of just now being mentioned fame) has been running for around 3 years now, and continues to be an excellent recounting of important events of the past week. Did you know, for instance, that Vladimir Putin once shot a whale with a crossbow? If you’d only listen this and other facts could be yours. The Times Online, in taking the bold decision to never allow anyone to read the Times Online ever again, has basically taken the site I used to use to listen to The Bugle off the air. If you find iTunes integration annoying, and still want to hear them, go to the Bugle Online Archive! Spartan, but effective.
*Skeptoid is an interesting site dedicated to a thorough examination of all things that cross the author’s mind. At times too thorough! But usually interesting and certainly a good idea in general.
*Assassin’s Creed 2: Brotherhood is really quite a fun thing to play. I finally got into the single-player and my only real complaint is that they don’t dump all the mechanisms in the world at once. By the time I actually got to recruit Assassisitants, I was already the Land Baron of Rome. That said, the sheer amount they toss at you once they do finally open up means that you’re never at a loss for a heaping helping of stuff to kill, buy, refurnish, talk to, jump about on, or look at. It’s really a great time! It’s weird in that really there are few points at which you’re in any danger of actual failure, but it’s so fun to succeed utterly and build everything up to 100% that you remain engaged. I also love that your little Tamagossassins, when fully equipped, have plate mail armor and battle axes. History would be so much more entertaining if political assassination had actually been carried out by madmen crashing into the room and lopping people’s heads off with giant axes.
Anyway, that’s it! I’ll be back when the computer is less on the fritz.
suteF is a game that feels wrong the moment you begin playing. It’s Whimsical Platforming, it’s an indie game, it’s got pixels coming out of every orifice. It shouldn’t be disconserting. And yet it manages to make me feel uncomfortable in ways the blandly horrible Dead Space 2 wasn’t even able to attempt.
It’s a really simple game: you control a blue man, who tries to get out of places. Usually, that means climbing toward a giant television playing snow. Death only resets the level.
Usually. Much like my favorite creepy game, The Void, suteF makes the most of the fact that it’s a game by pulling the rug out from under you. You’re taught the very minimum of rules to progress, and you can’t help but find yourself making assumptions. You progress slowly ahead in terms of level complexity and available tools and assume that you’ll hit a plateu when you have access to all your tools and start hitting harder and harder levels, then a boss or something. But that doesn’t happen. Instead, you get thrown into situations that continually redefine what it is you need to accomplish in order to survive while always managing to present a puzzle that’s engaging to confront. As you play, little hints of exactly how terrible a situation you’re in get thrown at you. You start to notice more and more corpses that look oddly like you.
It’s as though someone took Super Meat Boy, and made the evil mirror universe version. Slow instead of fast, brain-teasing instead of reflex-testing, horrific instead of delightful. Frankly, it’s worth playing. You can get it at http://rottentater.com/sutef/, a tiny indie developer who will appreciate you taking the time to check out his cool game idea.
Also, the game has a Computer Bear, which is when a Bear is also a Computer.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Yes, it has been many months since I last contributed to this blog. Now that Trouble Thinking is a madly successful worldwide phenomenon, I return to piggyback on the success I had such a negligible role in creating.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a young aerospace engineer. I work for a company which is a part of what is being commonly called “New Space”, that is, a collection of small private companies who are developing technologies and launch vehicles for space exploration. This may not seem like anything remarkable, but for a field that has been dominated by big government agencies and the defense contractors tied to them, it is indeed something of a paradigm shift and a nascent one at that.
I ask that you please take 10 minutes to watch the following video which will serve as an excellent explanation of the state of American space exploration today. It features a confident and well spoken narrator, a thrilling soundtrack, flashy footage of rockets firing, and the lead programmer of Doom and Quake.
Like in all human matters, there are conflicting opinions; the shape that an American space program should take, the future role of NASA, and the limitations of private companies and investors compared to a tax funded government agency.
I think the bigger question is why should the common man care? Many of the readers of this blog are likely not directly tied to the aerospace industry, and thus, the status of the American space program is at best a trivial concern. It is a curiosity only scratched by the occasional story on the news or a segment of some Discovery Channel show. After all, we have bills to pay, families to raise, careers to fulfill, and challenges to overcome just to survive our day to day lives.
So, should you care? Yes. You should care because in two decades time you will have no choice but to care, as a commercial space transportation revolution will have come to fruition and opened doors you never realized were open. Throughout the course of human history, advances in transportation have been the vanguard of every single economic expansion, enabling commerce and improving the standard of living of ordinary citizens on a previously inconceivable scale.
Take the automobile for example. Prior to its invention the most common form of land transportation was a horse drawn carriage, as it had been for centuries up to that point. As we all know, horses have a tendency to shit. They shit a lot. All over the place. The streets of a 1890′s city was very unpleasant to travel, as the roads and gutters were saturated with the foul smelling excrement of the animal so many people depended on.
The adaptation of the automobile was a great leap forward not only by virtue of being able to travel faster with greater range than a horse, but the car had a lovely new feature in that it didn’t shit on your shoes. A few decades after its inception, the car had made the horse drawn carriage practically extinct. City streets were far more sanitary, and the average man reaped the benefits. An entire new industry was born which employed millions and continues to remain a vital part of our lifestyle today.
Before the automobile was commonplace and commonly accepted, there was inertia and resistance. Buggy manufacturers and horse breeders and stable masters and other interests connected to the ‘standard’ method of transportation of the time certainly did not appreciate having their jobs threatened. However, as history shows us, such resistance is ultimately impotent against the relentless tide of human innovation which defines us as a species.
Government aerospace has the potential to become yet another horse and carriage in the timeline of human space transportation. The nascent private space sector is beginning to prove that the same objectives can be accomplished with less money and less time than the old guard. It is my humble opinion that if NASA and other state agencies like it around the world wish to remain relevant, they must change with the times. Cut costs by changing the procurement methods to ones that reward timely efficient success. Refocus the agency’s mission on pure research and high level exploration. Rather than attempting to re-invent the wheel every decade, become a partner with the private sector by purchasing transportation and technology services to accomplish the sorts of missions venture capital cannot undertake alone.
SpaceX, XCOR Aerospace, Virgin Galactic, Masten Space Systems, Armadillo Aerospace… all of these companies are just the beginning of what will soon enough be a vibrant, prosperous, and diverse industry; certain in its inevitability. Some of these companies may fail, but many more will find success. Open competition between different launch platforms and technologies will drive down the cost of access to space, separating the wheat from the chaff and enabling a new frontier for all of mankind. Regardless of how government run aerospace chooses to act in the coming years, private aerospace will succeed and supersede. It is merely a question of how quickly. By choosing to become an enabling partner of this new industrial revolution, NASA can do far more good for the cause of space exploration and transportation than by positioning itself as a monolithic roadblock.
Thankfully, NASA seems to be trying to take the first steps in a new direction. Whether the politicians in congress will allow them to is another matter entirely. If you’re the politically active sort and you support private space, please let your representatives in congress know that you support private space and a new direction for our national space program. If you disagree, I instead encourage you to sit back, relax, and not worry too much about it. The politicians can handle things without your civic input.
Soon we’ll be living in the future, my friends, and what a spectacular future it may be…
(Self-evident disclaimer: Everything written is the sole opinion of this author, and not any company or government agency)