20

Let me explain: I'm writing a game where the Earth gets a massive biological attack from an alien race in the close future, and only a small part of the planet's life survived (few dozens of humans and animals).

The explanations for those events are discovered by the player during the game, and are:

  1. The alien race is a type III civilization, and eliminates all the intelligent life in the universe that achieves quantum supremacy.

  2. This happens because the only possible way to detect life that is several light years in distance is through quantum disturbance events that are caused by quantum processors, and can be captured by the type III civilization on the other side of the universe instantly.

  3. The biological attack is a viral/bacterial weapon, and the reason why there are a few survivors is because their bodies achieved symbiosis.

The main goal is that the plot is the "solution" to the Fermi paradox. Humans do not find any aliens that are close because all the life in the universe is constantly wiped out by the first race that achieved type III, to protect its monopoly, and they detect a rising intelligent race when it innocently creates quantum computers.

Avoiding plot holes and trying to explain everything to avoid being a "generic alien invasion" is the goal with all that sci-fi, and I think that I can't balance it correctly, because I want to hit a broader audience.

This question relates a lot to my feeling, but the solution does not satisfies me.

My main concern is with the explanation 2. I feel that I need to give the viewer the reason why "only today" the invasion happened and why, and I can't find a better excuse to that. It seems solid, but a bit narrow and forced in my opinion.

I'm open to changing the plot as much as necessary.

EDIT

Thank you all for the answers. Every one of them contains important tips that I will consider when writing the game.

So, just to summarize:

  1. I will put the deep sci-fi concepts into some optional lore, giving the player the freedom to read if he/she wants to

  2. Focus on the gameplay, fun, battle system;

  3. Avoid over-explanations, as this may cause more plot holes

  4. I will remove the "how" completely. A type III civ is godlike to us and have unimaginable tech, therefore multiple ways to detect life on earth. How they detect is not important.

  • We are close to singularity. Can you world-build that the invasion can only occur when the alien species finds a virtual intelligence on Earth advanced enough to speak with? This might explain the 'only today' part. – DPT Jan 17 at 18:39
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    Isn't this already the plot of the Mass Effects series? – kikirex Jan 17 at 21:53
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    Are you concerned about whether your method of alien superluminal quantum detection is scientifically accurate? Because it is not. So if that's okay, then you can take further creative license to make the concept easier to digest. – Bridgeburners Jan 18 at 14:58
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    @kikirex Is it? I don't see many similarities, honestly... actually, I can barely see any. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Jan 18 at 18:02
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    This is why you're supposed to let us press X to skip. – Mazura Jan 19 at 13:49

12 Answers 12

37

I don't find anything wrong with your explanation per se. You have a range of options as how to best present it, and what works depends on your aims:

  • Don't explain it at all: This is a legitimate choice, especially if you're sticking close to the POV of the humans, and they (we) never figure it out.

  • Give it a brief, non technical explanation: ("Great Scott! It's as though our computers were a beacon signalling them. It was like blood in the water to a shark!") Less is often more. Think how much more convincing the Force was in the the Star Wars original trilogy, where it was barely explained, than in the prequel trilogy, where it was over-explained.

  • Include a scene from the alien POV: ("Commander! There's a new light on the charts. A previously unknown species must have achieved quantum computing!")

I don't think any of these approaches overly burdens even a non-technical audience. And if it does, SF may not be their genre to begin with. You can't please everyone.

  • Since the OP is writing a game, it needs to be a fun game for people who won't read anything other than the strategy guide and who couldn't care less about the back story. If the game isn't enjoyable for that crowd it won't be very enjoyable for very long for anybody. – EvilSnack Jan 19 at 19:48
15

You have another problem, if you solve that, you solve this.

How did we figure out it was quantum computer activity that signaled them?

If this is told omnisciently or from the alien POV, you have no problem:

Alien #1: "A sustained trans-universe anomaly in sector 37. Quantum computing detected. Exceeding 100 qubits in total."

Alien #2: "Verified. I've scheduled an extermination bot. I have a transfer reservation on portal seven, it should open in [thirty minutes]."

If it is told from a human point of view, they either won't know why it happened now, or you arrange the plot so they find out.

The smart quantum physicist that figures it out (say he is on vacation in the wilderness when it happens) is bothered by what caused it for some time in the book.

He finally learns that the device that released the biological agent arrived at time X:Y, less than one hour after the minute this massive quantum computer was turned on for its first test run, a project that had taken three years and billions of dollars to complete.

Heck, maybe he even finds the expended drone they sent; no reason for the aliens to retrieve it; and in analyzing it figures out it was a quantum computing device too, but centuries ahead of anything humans could have done. Thus alien. And his own theories of quantum physics and alien life finish the conjecture.

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    Another possibility could simply be (a) the quantum computer is built in a lab in a relatively remote area, the only thing of interest there; (b) this remote area is ground 0 of the biologic attack, so that even as the attack spreads, military over the world conclude it cannot be a coincidence; even not knowing it's not alien. I find it much harder to deduce that the alien civilization is type III just from that... – Matthieu M. Jan 18 at 8:00
  • @MatthieuM. I am not a super-intelligent alien with quantum computers, but I think if I wanted to exterminate humans with a biologic weapon, I'd deploy it everywhere in the world at once. The survivors in the MC scenario do not escape the weapon, they engage in symbiosis with. Of course, why the super-smart Type III aliens cannot design a 100% lethal weapon is beyond me; it sounds implausible. But that's just me. The Stand is a similar story by Stephen King, but that was a virus escaped from a human lab and not complete, thus only 99.9% lethal, with some naturally immune people. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jan 18 at 12:12
  • I disagree. If you are sure of the efficient of the weapon, then a single shot is all you need. It'll proliferate and wipe out all life in the course of the next month, no issue. Why waste more time thinking about it than necessary; it's a proven protocol that's worked on countless civilizations already! – Matthieu M. Jan 18 at 12:20
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    @MatthieuM. Alright, you write your way. That seems too weak to me, projecting primitive human work values on an incredibly advanced civilization with quantum computing. I doubt anybody in that civilization "works" for a living; they are probably all retired at birth and everything else is automated. But you do you. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jan 18 at 16:42
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    @MatthieuM.'s approach (bureaucracy) is funny, and reminds me of Douglas Adams. Depending on the general tone of the work, funny can trump logic: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RuleOfFunny – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jan 19 at 13:56
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I am a sci-fi guy, and I find this whole concept a little boring... it would be like if Robert Kirkman comes up with this explanation for the Walking Dead, would anyone in the audience really care?

Does it even matter?

People may not like this observation.. But there is a reason why the explanation of an apocalypse is NOT very important to the survivors. And there is a reason why most TV shows, games, comics and novels about a post apocalyptic world don't really address the HOW.

The HOW, as Captain Adama pointed out in the aftermath of the cylon all out sneak attack, "does not matter"

The only situations where the cause of the apocalypse matters are: 1. There is a way to stop it. (Terminator) 2. There is a way to move forward knowing about it (Nausicaa)

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    I think there is a third part of the apocalypse. "IS there a point? is it going to get better" I had a large issue with The Road, that made us have to imagine a world where all animals died and everything melted and burned, nothing could be farmed, but yet humans were fine. Knowing that the aliens did their thing to put us back in the stone age, but we are now no longer at risk from them is an important part of a story. – Andrey Jan 17 at 22:29
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    "The HOW, as Captain Adama pointed out in the aftermath of the cylon all out sneak attack, 'does not matter'" Dunno, this always kind of bothered me. I get that it was part of the point of the show - an early way to signal that we're not going to get bogged down in this sort of stuff, but instead just focus on the human aspect of what we're going to do now. But YMMV which is exactly the point :) – Lightness Races with Monica Jan 18 at 13:21
  • @Andrey - That's why you should have been watching The Road Warrior which is all about the precious juice, as described to us in detail during the introduction that explains why we kill each other - and why we still do and always will. – Mazura Jan 19 at 12:50
9

As somebody that likes to play role playing games, I love it when the game gives me the option to read up on the lore. Some games do this very well, like the books you can read in the Elder Scrolls games. They're completely optional, so anybody that wants to read them can, but anyone that just wants to play the game can also do that.

In case of a sci-fi game, you could for example have data pads (I'm sure I got this idea from some game, but not sure which anymore) which, when picked up, saves a log a player can then read anytime they want. This is a great way to provide more background information to those interested in it. You could then even have them in varying formats. For example one is a scientific report, while another is an entry in someone's personal diary.

  • I think Mass Effect was the game with the data pads. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jan 18 at 10:40
  • @Galastel That must be it indeed. Thanks for reminding me! – Dnomyar96 Jan 18 at 10:48
  • This is the best answer. Figure out what the readers need to understand the plot, and include that as exposition. Put the rest in as optional information scattered throughout the world so that those who are interested can dig in to whatever level they like. – Arcanist Lupus Jan 18 at 23:18
4

You need to know your audience.

Some people love hard sci-fi. These people would love nothing more than pages of extrapolations of modern physics to explain the phenomenon in your books. This is kind of like pornography. When readers pick up this specific genera they expect great detail and time spent on this particular detail of the work. Here is the problem: to write good hard sf you really need to know your stuff. Judging by your explanation in the question it seems that you have only passing knowledge of the topics. This is not a science exchange but here are the red flags that went up in my head. Not really understanding that quantum events can't pass information faster than light. Assuming that quantum events in a computer would somehow be visible above the background noise of the universe. Worrying about quantum speeds, but still giving the aliens a way to arrive and attack instantly.

So for someone without a PhD or at least access to someone who does have one, I would recommend sticking to soft sci-fi or even science fantasy. Here your job is to just quickly explain what you want in a sentence or two and then get back to the real themes of your work. Your story is about characters, plot, themes, and morals. Not about teaching someone physics.

  • The only thing I can think of for recent realistic fiction is in The Expanse where they turn the rocket around halfway there to slow back down. Everything else from Star Trek either exists now, is literally science fiction, or requires a degree to understand. – Mazura Jan 21 at 14:16
  • @Mazura The Martian is first to jump to mind, but I always recommend Arthur C Clarke on how to do hard SF right – Andrey Jan 21 at 14:26
4

I am writing a very complex sci-fi book and faced a similar dilemma. I don't think my story would make a good game, but I like games that are based on good stories because they seem to have better themes, interactions and player engagement. Personally, I don't think the story matters a lot to most players, but popularity of games seems correlated with having a good story.

That said, here is my suggestion to your question:

How to explain the main plot with science based concepts, without the non-sci-fi fans getting bored?

The way you outlined the themes in your plot makes logical sense, especially to the alien race ("we were here first, we have amazing technology, we will suppress other life from threatening us"). But the human experience would be backwards from that, so you should mold your game and sci-fi story telling around explaining those themes in reverse from your outline.

For example, your game should start with the human experience of the biological event appearing without any explanation. The player must resolve the problem of survival, of course. In order to survive the player will obviously need to first, handle the immediate biological threat and second, understand what it is in order to stop or reduce the threat.

Making a connection between this new biological problem and recognizing that it is a weapon designed to destroy humans is important to your story, but not critical to game play or enjoyment of the game. However, it gives you the constructs you need to build the game. In your game, the biological threat can't be stopped simply with biological methods because it is a weapon and this discovery is important from a human perspective because, I assume that their attempts to deal with it are not effective or else it is, in some way, obviously alien.

Regardless, next the player must resolve the problem of why they are being attacked and how to stop the attack. In this part of your story, the sci-fi context and complexity picks up, and those interested in the story will delve into it. For those less interested, they will decide to play your game based on their investment so far and expected game play enjoyment. However, explaining to them that they have to "stop an attack because of quantum computers" is not really a problem. Any non-sci-fi fan would chalk that up to "I like the game, despite the stupid sci-fi story telling."

Third, once the player recognizes the connection between quantum computer activity and the biological attack, they now need to resolve who the attackers are and their motivation for attack. This requires some explanation about who they are so that the player can suppress or eliminate the threat from the attacker. At this point in your story, the sci-fi concepts of "biological weapon" and "quantum computing" set the foundation for explaining some kind of extra-terrestrial race that has amazing technology. Call it "alien" and be done with it, or dig into explaining a "Stage III Civilization," who they are, their motivations and technology.

For those invested in the story, it will be important that it make sense. But for players that are not interested, the increasing complexity of the story should simply parallel and be an explanation for more complex game elements and themes, like the complexity of weapons, introduction of alien technology, difficulty of problem solving, new and increased difficulty from opponents, the basis for cut-scenes and level transitions, etc.

So, while your story makes sense from the alien's perspective, telling sci-fi stories from a human perspective seems important here. It starts with familiar human experience, and transitions toward unfamiliar ideas in a progressive way that allows the story to introduce the new information to your audience in small enough pieces to help them assimilate the information. It keeps the strange or complex ideas manageable and meaningful as the more basic ideas build toward the more foreign and complex.

3

If you're trying to hit as broad of an audience as possible, your primary goal should be gameplay. Make the gameplay good enough and satisfying enough that the story doesn't matter to anyone who doesn't care about the hard sci-fi portions.

After that it really depends on the game, but my best recommendation would be to hide that information in the world. Good examples of this can be found in Fallout. There's a channel on YouTube called Oxhorn that showcases a lot of this stuff, here's an example from vault 34. A lot of players will just see the objective, follow where it leads, do the thing, and move on. But, for the players interested in the lore, there's extra goodies thrown in to really piece together a full story of what happened.

This could be especially good in your case if the main character doesn't know anything about what happened. Put the player in their shoes by assuming they also know nothing, but put enough information in the world that the players who do care can find it and learn the full story.

2

Since this is a game, you can have your cake and eat it too: put the detailed explanations in sidequests or optional logs. The main plot presented to the player doesn't need to include anything but the basic rules of how the aliens are scary and evil. The side material can go into more detail about the nature of the aliens, the details of the invasion, and such. Now your boring exposition has become immersive world-building, and you can be the next Dark Souls (or Metroid Prime, or Majora's Mask, or Myst. This sort of story presentation goes way back.)

2

Let me point out a different risk of providing a too detailed description of how the aliens learned about it: The risk of unnecessarily contradicting established science, and thus losing exactly those who would otherwise be most likely to enjoy detailed descriptions.

In this particular case, it is clear to me (a physicist working in quantum physics) that your knowledge in this area is based basically on popular science articles (which, I regret, are often terribly misleading). If you just say they detect it through some quantum gravitational effect unknown to us, that's enough for me to keep suspension of disbelief (we don't have a successful theory of quantum gravity yet). Or some post-quantum effect. Or basically, anything we don't yet know.

But if you try to explain it through entanglement, without invoking something we don't know yet, for me that breaks suspension of disbelief the same way it does if you claim in a Hard Science Fiction story that a Ford model T can go to space if you just select the right gear and then turn on the lights.

2

Is it an option to explain the plot to a in-universe child? That way you would tone down the science to a minimum and also need to keep it short and simple.

"Hey Bro, why are the aliens mad at us?"

"Well, it's because we got a new toy, they dont like us to have."

"Don't they they have their own one?"

"Yeah, they do, but they really dont like to share."

"Why do we call them 'Fermaliens'?"

"You ask too many questions! Concentrate on shooting them with the laser instead!"

You could also explain the plot by someone who doesnt fully understand the science behind it himself (e.g. the kid, the brother).

Or you could make the symbiosis manifest in some kind of shizophrenic/dual-personality fashion, where the main character has an inner dialog (monolog?) with an alien intelligence, which answers his questions. That way you would still have a naive, uninformed way of discovering truth, while the "inner voice" can provide all the answers, or might even play its own little game of withholding information.

1

If this were book (your "plot", the solution to the Fermi Paradox, would actually be the reveal).

Cut enough fat so that it fits on the inside of the book cover. If you don't want to bore me with SciFi, don't put in the actual book.

Your plot synopsis should name drop just the few things that are most important. Here that's, type III civilizations and quantum computing. I know a little bit about those; enough to make that plot sound interesting to me. If I was really thinking about picking this book up, that's what I might read up on first. But no one needs to if you tell them if they already know this:

To protect its monopoly on the universe, all life is constantly wiped out by a mysterious race that was the first to achieve a type III civilization. And when they detect that the budding human race has invented quantum computers, in an ironic turn of events, H.A.L may be the only thing that can save humanity - from them and ourselves.

That opens the book up to just about everyone. But by all means bore us with a few pages of technobabble (assuming you know what you're talking about). Hard core SciFi fans love that stuff. Those who are not indoctrinated will simply glaze their eyes over it, thinking to themselves, 'computer stuff... okay'.

  • Psst, the OP is writing a game, not a book. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jan 19 at 13:33
  • @Galastel - well, that's different. I was wondering how data pads were supposed to work in a book... – Mazura Jan 19 at 13:41
1

If your plot depends on faster than light propagation of information, you don't really need to try to explain it scientifically at all.

From the point of the lore, does it matter all that much if they had a satellite in system or 10 000 light years away? also, pardon me not knowing too much about the spooky distance action, but doesn't that one also need a particle to travel the distances to where it would be observed? or would they have already an entangled particle from everywhere in the galaxy? I just don't see how it's directly applicable without actually being just a magic word.

And why would such apparatus only detect humans at quantum supremacy and not already as we're toying with qubits? The explanation raises all kinds of questions some of which need non-science based lore answers.

You don't really need to explain the mechanism for how they detected the human activity.

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