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News: Celebrating 30 years of Star Control 2 - The Ur-Quan Masters

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1  The Ur-Quan Masters Re-Release / General UQM Discussion / Re: Languages in SC2 (new thread) on: September 09, 2004, 09:30:24 pm
It wouldn't help much to give the aliens the frequencies for R, G and B that we were mixing to make our colors, since they wouldn't know how the mixtures would look to us without knowing a LOT about the details of the chemistry of our eyeballs.  R+G=Y is not a universal equation, even if you replace names with frequencies; it's still dependent on the chemical color receptors unique to humans.

But, establishing an absolute frequency scale might work - giving them the range of frequencies visible to us and then telling them how we were going to indicate different frequencies within that range.  It would still require a lot of other things to be established first, however.. for example, we measure frequency in hertz, which roughly means "oscillations per second", but how do we tell them how long a second is?  We define seconds in terms of minutes in terms of hours in terms of days, but even if we told them that a day was how long it took our planet to complete one revolution on its axis, they still wouldn't know how long that was without us telling them a lot about the orbital properties of our planet, etc etc.

Basically, the problem of color is a pretty high-level one, and it couldn't really be addressed until we'd already established a way to convert our measurement units, which is in itself a big task and would probably require the ability to translate arbitrary sentences.
2  The Ur-Quan Masters Re-Release / General UQM Discussion / Re: Languages in SC2 (new thread) on: September 09, 2004, 04:37:16 am
So far as I know, this hasn't come up yet - I haven't sat down to try to translate all your new-language messages, I'm just going on the commentary on those translations posted here.  But since you've already progressed from unary number systems to 2d (3d even?) images, someone, eventually, is bound to try to come up with a way to encode color.  Unless they've studied the physics of light and human color perception, they are almost certainly going to do it in a way that would be completely nonsensical for any alien species, even one that detected visible light much the way we do (which is a stretch in itself).

I won't go into the mucky details of it unless somebody's really curious, but suffice it to say, the red-green-blue additive primary color scheme we use on CRTs, projectors, etc, and the cyan-magenta-yellow subtractive primary color scheme we use for everything on paper ONLY works because of the exact frequency responses of the three color receptors in the human eye.  Even if we encountered an alien species that also detected visible light using similar receptors, which is unlikely, the chance that they would have three such receptors and that they would have the same frequency responses as our own color receptors is about zero.

As an example: when our monitor mixes red and green light to make a yellow pixel, it may look (to us) exactly like the yellow we see on a banana.  But, that does NOT mean the light coming from our yellow computer pixel and the light reflecting from the banana are both yellow; the electromagnetic frequency of light coming from the computer screen is still just red plus green, and the light coming from the banana is still just yellow.  The fact that we can't tell the difference between those two situations is a product of the physics of our eyeballs.

So what I'm saying is, if you try to encode color, DON'T do it in RGB.  Or even CMY.  In fact, offhand, I'm having a really hard time thinking of a good way to encode color to make sure an alien would be able to reproduce it correctly.  But maybe one of you is more clever.  Smiley
3  The Ur-Quan Masters Re-Release / General UQM Discussion / Re: Key Binder on: August 22, 2004, 06:02:52 am
So key jamming is unsolvable, and will always be different depending on each user's particular keyboard?  Weird.
4  The Ur-Quan Masters Re-Release / General UQM Discussion / Re: Key Binder on: August 22, 2004, 02:13:53 am
My experience is that it has more to do with the software than the hardware.  I toyed around with writing some game engines in Turbo Pascal back in the day, and there are numerous libraries available to handle keyboard input - some of them were vulnerable to key jamming (i.e. specific pairs or combinations of keys would block eachother) more than others, and the specific keys that jammed varied with each library.  So my guess is that it's basically an issue in the keyboard event handler, which is hooked into the OS kernel (usually by redirecting an OS interrupt using assembly code - at least that's how it was generally done when I looked at the source for the keyboard libraries I used to use).  If there are specific keys that jam in UQM, it could probably be corrected by writing/using a better keyboard interrupt handler in the code.
5  The Ur-Quan Masters Re-Release / General UQM Discussion / Re: Languages in SC2 (new thread) on: August 15, 2004, 07:47:00 am
Some comments to toss into the mix...

The line between different dialects and different languages is blurry

Actually I think Noam Chomsky summarized it quite well: a language has an army and a navy.  Smiley  Which is to say, the distinction is fairly arbitrary from a linguistic standpoint, and has much more meaning from a political and cultural standpoint.

The primary purpose of sound is to let you know there's something going on outside your field of view, behind or to the side of you.  That's *all* it's really designed to do, however.

Having read a number of your posts here, I am inferring that you're like me in that you tend to let your theories run away with you and start making claims that, interpreted fairly literally (which is how we have to interpret them, since all we have is your literal text), don't make much sense.  So, I'm going to reign you back in on this one (and I hope you'll do the same when my theories run away with me): on what basis, and by what authority of research or expertise can you make such a claim?  Is it even meaningful to try to state the "primary purpose" of something like the phenomenon of atmospheric pressure differentials that our bodies and brains decode into something we call "sound"?  And who "designed" that phenomenon, anyway?  Come on Art, I know you can write more precisely than that.  Smiley

I would offer that sound is a valuable source of information about our environment, just as sight is; it is useful to be able to hear things which you can see, just as it is useful to hear things you cannot see (for slightly different reasons in each case).  Which leads neatly into the next quote:

This is the main reason I find the "sound-enhanced cockpit" theory unrealistic. The fact that battlefields are filled with noise makes them exciting to watch in movies, but it's a liability in real life. Hearing a loud, crashing explosion is a *bad* thing if the explosion isn't close to you but a silent, dagger-clutching enemy is. A series of loud noises unnerves and distracts more than it adds information.

This is true, but it is also incomplete.  In a situation like a very loud and chaotic battlefield or a very busy street, yes, the noise tends to hurt more than it helps because the amount of information being conveyed on that channel (the auditory one) is more than we can handle, so it just confuses us.  However, in a situation like 1-on-1 ship combat in SC2 (that is, not a fleet engagement, not a particularly 'chaotic' environment), simulated sounds could be extremely useful, and let's recall that we're talking about 1-on-1 ship combat in SC2, and not a chaotic battlefield where enemies might be sneaking up on you with a knife.

Also, just because noise can be confusing and distracting to the average Joe doesn't mean it has the same effect on a seasoned starship captain.  I imagine that with experience, captains learn to subconsciously interpret those auditory cues and extract quite a bit  of useful information without it really distracting them much at all.  So for those experienced captains, simulating the sounds of 1-on-1 ship combat could be a very useful thing, and therefore a perfectly plausible thing for ship computers in the SC2 universe to do, or at least be able to do.

And finally, let's remember that in every discussion on this forum, we have to think about this stuff in two fairly distinct ways: we all enjoy thinking about how (or if) the 'universe' of SC2 would actually work and make sense, but we also all know that, at heart, it's still a computer game, for humans, on Earth, in the 20th Century, and therefore it has to bend the rules a little to be compelling.  Although ship combat with no audio except humming engines and your own grunts would be more 'realistic', it'd be a crappy gaming experience for most people.  So let's not get *too* in depth about it.  Smiley

While the Enigma machines failed in World War II because even really complicated ciphers can be broken mathematically, the Navajo code-talkers succeeded and were *never* decoded, because they had a completely internal code (with no codebooks), the Navajo language, that was truly alien to English or Japanese and could not be broken mathematically.

I'm actually just responding to this becuase that point about the Navajo "code" is a really good one and I want people to read it again.  I actually wrote a paper for a linguistics class a few years ago that made a similar comment: the Germans couldn't decode Navajo because they were starting from a faulty assumption (that it was a cipher of English, or of some other language known to them) - the idea that humans will be able to decode an alien language without a *huge* amount of assistance (from the aliens) seems fairly perposterous.
6  The Ur-Quan Masters Re-Release / General UQM Discussion / Re: Your current melee set on: August 09, 2004, 04:44:00 am
Yeah, I think the devs should take a detour from the 'straight port first' philosophy just to enable internet melee.  Then at least we all have something to play with while they finish the port and the real fun begins.  Smiley
7  The Ur-Quan Masters Re-Release / General UQM Discussion / Re: 'They' cannot see you now. on: August 08, 2004, 06:51:03 am
To resurrect something that's come up a few times in this thread...

I was playing the other day and noticed something odd.  One of the fairly universal interpretations that this community (or at least this thread) has made about SC2 is that Orz is a singular entity which projects multiple *fingers*, or however you translate the concept, into this dimension; this means talking to any of Orz's *fingers* is equivalent, since you're still communicating with the same extra-dimensional entity.

But if that's the case, why do the Orz make you go to their/its "homeworld" in order to form an alliance?  First of all, it's not their/its "homeworld", but even if they/it have designated that their/its base of operations, why would the *fingers* present there be any different than those present on every Orz ship you encounter in hyperspace?

Seems to suggest that there are, in fact, multiple distinct entities that make up the Orz; maybe it's just a few and each one has multiple *fingers*, and the "leader" is the one whose *fingers* all stay on the "homeworld"?  It still seems contradictory, though, since the Orz do say some things that fairly strongly suggest there being just one Orz (I forget the exact wording, but "you think I am many bubbles, but I am just Orz", for example).
8  The Ur-Quan Masters Re-Release / Starbase CafĂ© / Re: Best UQM Quotes on: August 08, 2004, 03:16:59 am
I had a few ideas for this, but I was just playing through the game again and was reminded of the best line ever:

Captain: When we were fighting, why didn't you use your Glory Device?
Katana: During my battle with the VUX, I decided to employ the weapon.  But I guess I used too much gusto... and the switch broke.

You really have to hear it spoken to appreciate its hilarity.. as much as I'd like to redo the voiceovers for some of the species, I could never, ever, change the Shofixti.  Its just perfect.
9  The Ur-Quan Masters Re-Release / General UQM Discussion / Re: Arilou and the Orz: What's the Deal? *spoilers on: August 07, 2004, 04:52:35 am
Well - thinking about it - it starts to make less and less sense about the quasi-propell/no fuel problem. See, you are required to get a ur-quan warp pod for it to work. Now, the pod will require fuel - And not just 10 units to get started - I imagine - to keep it going, you have to have it taking in fuel at quite a bit of speed.  

Hm?  I always thought the warp pod just needed fuel to power it while it did whatever it does with the Arilou's IDF-generating equipment; once the portal has been opened and you've gone through it, is any of that stuff still running?  I figured you were just in QuasiSpace at that point, so the warp pod wouldn't be doing anything.
10  The Ur-Quan Masters Re-Release / General UQM Discussion / Re: Arilou and the Orz: What's the Deal? *spoilers on: August 07, 2004, 01:58:05 am
Pockets of TrueSpace with inhabited planets on them presumably don't just pop up by themselves in QuasiSpace.

They might if you accept the 'QuasiSpace is a mental plane' argument from the 'They cannot see you now' thread, which seems about as reasonable as any conjecture abou the nature of other dimensions (such as HyperSpace and QuasiSpace).  And actually, the argument about QuasiSpace travel requiring 0 fuel use, and yet your ship coming to a swift stop when you're not thrusting, is fairly compelling; that doesn't make any sense by normal physics, and it doesn't even make much sense by slightly-odd 'closely related but different dimension' physics.  The idea about QuasiSpace (and therefore your ship, while you are in QS) being a psychological construct is kind of a good one, IMHO.

On the other hand, the Arilou *do* refer to their homeworld as being "nestled in a TrueSpace eddy", which suggests an actual physical planet and not a psychological manifestation.

11  The Ur-Quan Masters Re-Release / General UQM Discussion / Re: 'They' cannot see you now. on: August 07, 2004, 01:44:25 am
I hesitate to play the 'off-topic' card, since technically this thread has been off topic for a long time, and nobody's really sure what the topic *was* anymore, but I think this Slylandro discussion deserves its own thread.  Or you guys could just PM eachother.  Smiley
12  The Ur-Quan Masters Re-Release / General UQM Discussion / Re: new comm voiceovers? on: August 05, 2004, 10:02:13 pm
Oh, I think Hayes could use some serious redubbing as well.  I generally skip every word that guy says just so I don't have to listen to his ridiculous intonations.

But you're right, it would probably make more sense to start by replacing the more egregiously bad vocals, and do the rest later.  But I do think they should all be redone at *some* point, for simple sound quality's sake; as somebody else pointed out, it'll sound bad when we have remixed music, redone sound effects, maybe even redone graphics, and yet the vocal samples are still so low quality.
13  The Ur-Quan Masters Re-Release / General UQM Discussion / Re: Official remix addon 3: The Ur-Quan Hierarchy on: August 05, 2004, 09:34:19 pm
The straight answer: Yes, we do find these comments useful. ... if you have to stretch out over a plethora of paragraphs to say what you have to say, so be it!

Fair enough.  I'll *try* to be more concise, but it's not really my nature, so no promises.  Wink

I should note that the last thing I would want to hear would be the strings in the Kzer-Za remix replaced by brass, and I am pretty fond of that wild tenor and the swishy percussion, too.

I would never suggest that the strings be replaced with brass, because I wholeheartedly agree with your next paragraph - for a song like this, leading with brass has been done too many times.  I like the strings.  I love the strings.  But they sound naked to me - they sound like they're alone and they don't want to be, they want some companionship, some other instrument to march in step with them and contribute some more volume (in the spatial sense, not the decibel sense).  I'm not sure what that instrument should be - horns seemed like an option, maybe they'd be a bad one, I dunno.  I'm not a composer either, so I'm sure most of my suggestions would sound pretty bad if executed literally, but I'm hoping that if I make these suggestions to people who are composers, it will inspire them to try something that actually will sound pretty good, even if it's not exactly what I suggested.

The Ur-Quan music is the first race music the player hears; she should hear a well-developed piece that draws her in and makes her interested rather than prompting her to dismiss the Ur-Quan as cheesy sci-fi villains.

I entirely agree.  I think where we differ is in how we hear the main melodic tune that's already there, played by the strings.  I already hear some ambuguity there; I hear those strings singing with a tone of longing and regret, but also with the sad resolve of one who has committed themselves to a course of action that is not so much desirable as necessary.  In wanting to flesh out the strings a little more, I'm trying to strengthen and emphasize what I hear as the main source of the ambuguity we're both looking for; if you hear those strings saying nothing but "I am Imperial!  Quiver before my might!" then I fully understand your objection.

And I do disagree about the tenor voice -- it *adds* alien-ness. ... a well-trained tenor ringing out high notes clear as a bell is as compellingly, seductively alien as a voice can get and still sound voicelike ... Especially when the voice is suddenly, unexpectedly belting out unmelodic notes during a break in the main theme -- it sounds like an interruption of music, not like the music itself. The voice isn't singing the song, it's interrupting the song with a brief cry of pure, unanalyzable emotion. It's the farthest thing in the world from corrupting the purity of the music with prosaic human speech -- the exact opposite.

I thought about this for a while, and I agree with you.  If this were a song meant to convey the nature of the Ur-Quan which was meant to be heard outside the game, I would absolutely say to leave the tenor.  However, I think this highlights my absolute biggest comment to the remixers, and I know I'm longwinded so I wouldn't blame them for skimming, but if you're a remixer, if you read nothing else I ever say, read this next paragraph at least:

You have to make a decision about what you're composing these tracks for: are they primarily for use outside the game, or inside the game.  If your goal is to write tracks for us to listen to in our playlists, put on mix cds, play in the background while we read books or before frisbee games to pump us up, then you are on the right track.  But if your goal is to remix the in-game music, and therefore compose new tracks which sound good in-game, then I really think you need to tweak some things; in this case, that tenor sounds great in principle, but it's out of place in-game.  I actually went out and found and Ur-Quan to talk to in the game last night just so I could hear the entire track with actual Ur-Quan dialogue in front of it, and that tenor completely threw me.  During the conversation, I was listening to the Ur-Quan speak and absorbing the music mostly subconsciously, which is exactly right - it's background music, it should create an ambience for me, but I shouldn't be listening to it more than I'm listening to the dialogue.  But as soon as that tenor broke in, it immediately grabbed my attention away from the dialogue and made me think "what the hell?  is the Ur-Quan torturing some poor opera singer in the bowels of his ship while he's talking to me?"  Similarly, I've noticed that just about every one of the original songs for SC2 was written in order to loop seamlessly, because it sounded better that way in the game; we'll hear most of these songs end and restart when we're listening to them in the game, so it's better if that happens without us noticing.  But the remixed tracks don't follow the rules of loop-able game music, they follow the rules of regular music that starts with silence, begins, plays, and then quiets down and ends; when you loop that in the game, it's very noticable, and it sounds bad.

Basically, what I'm saying is, you can't achieve both goals with one track.  You can either compose these songs to sound great in our playlists, or you can compose them to sound great in the game, but if you do both, they'll sound, at best, mediocre in both situations.  Maybe you should release two versions of each track?  One that loops well and doesn't conflict with the spoken dialogue in the game, and one that's more natural sounding on its own, to listen to outside the game?

This concludes my most important comment.  You may now return to skimming.  Smiley

(Don't feel bad, taleden. You're not the only long-winded one.)

I've found my soul mate!

I was about to respond to your Kohr-Ah comments as well, but this post is already pretty long and I haven't even posted my own yet, so, til next time.
14  The Ur-Quan Masters Re-Release / General UQM Discussion / Re: Official remix addon 3: The Ur-Quan HierarchyI on: August 05, 2004, 09:51:43 am
So, I was in the process of writing up commentary on the other tracks from this pack when I realized that I was being really longwinded again.  I don't want to subject this thread to another super wordy review just for the sake of my own ego, so, do the composers find this kind of commentary useful?  I can give you guys pages of feedback if you want it, but since you're already basically done with these tracks, it might not be very useful to you, and I don't want to be that guy who spouts endless opinions just to .. erm .. read himself type?  Dunno what the analogue is.  I will promise, though, to try to be more concise per track than my Now and Forever comments.  Oy.  I didn't realize that was so monstrously long until I posted it and saw it next to all the other posts.   Embarrassed
15  The Ur-Quan Masters Re-Release / General UQM Discussion / Re: Official remix addon 3: The Ur-Quan Hierarchy on: August 05, 2004, 08:26:51 am
Our first attempt at remixing the 'Quan theme was actually a full-blown orchestral version, but that one stranded because we simply don't have access to full orchestra instruments of proper quality.

I've heard other people say, and I definitely agree, that we'd be interested in such a version, should it ever become feasible.  I fully encourage anyone to come forward with suitable samples, just to hear what it would sound like.

The strings ... are actually string quartet samples. When used standing alone, it sounded somewhat like an intimate, four-piece concert, which simply doesn't sound overwhelming enough.

I don't want the strings solo, I just want them a little more prominent, and with more abience behind them - reverberation, whatever the technical term is, I'm not sure.  'Overwhelming', in fact, may be exactly the right term - I want them to be more overwhelming.  In fact, the comparison with the SW Imperial March got me to thinking - would horns work here?  A few french horns or tubas might complement the violins and add that nice ambient overpowering undertone I'm looking for without making the violins too exclusively prominent.  But you're right, intimate is on the wrong end of the spectrum.  Smiley  (by the way, what exactly is an overpowering undertone?  the world may never know)

I can understand some people's reservations about us using a solo tenor in the foreground of the piece; it is, after all, a surprising and unusual element in any non-operatic music. ... no one has commented on the sudden organ break, when everything else stops. To my mind, the tenor comes in the wake of this sudden dynamic pause (of sorts) in the music, and sounds less intrusive because of that.

My objection to the tenor is not because it doesn't belong in non-operatic music; in fact, I think that tenor would sound great in all kinds of non-operatic music, I just don't think it sounds good here, behind spoken dialogue.  Similarly, the organs don't sound at all out of place to me because they are just as overwhelming and imperial sounding as the violin riff - they sound right at home.  Maybe that's part of the problem.. coming out of this organ break which is a great mid-climax to the piece, there's this weird tenor, before we get back into the regular imperial march of things.

I'll consider that high praise, if you don't mind. Cheesy

I don't mind at all, since it was meant as such.  Tongue

Just to correct you here: ... The sample was indeed consciously chosen. Smiley

I didn't mean to say *I*, my conscious mind, didn't accept it, I meant my ear and my unconscious mind didn't accept it.  *I* know you chose that sample because *I* know you weren't limited the way oldschool MIDI composers were.  My objection is that the particular sample you chose causes my ear to react as though it wasn't a willing choice; my ear tries to remap the sample on the fly into what it thinks actually belongs there, becuase it doesn't think that sample belongs there.

The main advantage of using such a sample, instead of snare drums, timpanis and whatnot - besides the fact that it does fill out the higher frequencies and, as such, helps balance the overall sound - and, indeed, one of the things that made me want to use it in the first place; it sounds a lot more alien than almost any other kind of percussion you can come up with.

I can understand that.  I guess my overall suggestion here is of the lame stage director type (and I know, cuz I've done some stage acting): "I don't know what I don't like about that, but I don't like it.  Try something else, which I won't specify for you, because I don't really know what I want.  But just try something else."  Also, if (in my opinion) you're already sacrificing good sound for alien-ness, what's with that human tenor?  Wink

...more?  Shocked

I know, I know, and I'm sorry.  Out of respect for the sysop's poor hard drive, I'm thinking about gzipping and UUencoding my future posts.  Whaddya guys think?  Tongue
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