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out of whack unless some wizard or act of some specific person or personal act
has set things off.
Fantasy deals with “monsters.” Rarely does the hero need to understand or deal
with or communicate with these monsters, but rather they perform the role of
gatekeepers or “tests” for the hero, battling him for some prize. While mon-
sterssuchasdragonsareusuallyportrayedasintelligent,thepointofmany
fantasy stories is to battle these monsters rather than integrate the monsters
into fantasy society.
What Is Science Fiction?
It has been said that the typical place to start a science fiction story is to take one
natural law then break it, and then ask, “What if?” Faster-than-light (FTL) travel
is a classic, oft-repeated example of such an approach, and many stories have been
woven based on the idea of, “What if we could travel to the stars quickly in some
fashion?” There is a comparison between this kind of “classic” sci-fi, which (interest-
ingly enough), is called “hard” sci-fi, with what has been called “soft” sci-fi. Soft sci-fi
is that which is not so fundamentally rooted in the science of it all, but drifts more
towards themes and elements of the fantasy story. The Dune series of Frank Herbert
is often classified as soft sci-fi because it takes place in a star-faring society but with
themes that are very fantasy-like. Traditional sci-fi is rooted in the use or breaking of
one of those natural laws.
Sci-fi seems real. Here. Now. It could happen today or tomorrow. Think
of the famous “War of the Worlds” broadcast by Orson Welles. On October
30, 1938, Orson Welles adapted the H. G. Wells sci-fi novel and delivered
it as a “live” radio broadcast. The broadcast was delivered as if it were really
happening that very evening. Even though the novel was decades old (Wells
wrote it in 1898), people were taken in and thought the invasion was actually
happening. Welles warned people that it was fiction but couched it in the
vernacular of a radio news broadcast. Could that have ever happened with a
supposed invasion of dragons or trolls?
When science fiction stories aren't happening now ,theytendtotakeplacein
the future, often using a “future” extrapolating one fundamental change to so-
ciety. “In a post-nuclear holocaust world, one man takes it upon himself to
re-start delivery of the mail,” for example ( The Postman , starring Kevin Cost-
ner). Famous sci-fi author Larry Niven made a career for himself by using this
“what if ” technique, such as: “What if organ transplant technology became
perfected and the demand for organs far exceeded the supply? Would society
begin to increase the crimes for which the death penalty was appropriate pun-
ishment in order to fuel the organ banks?” This question is at the heart of
Niven's Gil Hamilton detective series. It is only very recently (in the last 15
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