Monthly Archives: April 2021

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Apr. 28, 2021)

Again with the Skypirates! developer log in place of a what-we’re-reading last week, since the news folder was looking a bit light.

Not so this week!

The Cyberpunk Future

  • Prospectus on Próspera – Astral Codex Ten’s Scott Alexander on a particular instance of the charter city movement, where a private company receives limited grant from the government of Honduras to compete with the government of Honduras. The typically clear-eyed Alexander says, “If you were a completely ordinary Honduran, making $1,300 a year, having a medium lifetime risk of being murdered, with the government occasionally taking your land and killing you if you complained – would you want the option of moving to Próspera? With its civil rights, property rights, strong security, good education, and higher salaries? I have these things right now in America and they’re great.”

Have you tried turning it OMFV and on again?

  • Everyone’s favorite IFV program, after a brief cancellation, is back in the news
  • BAE’s entry – Parvusimperator notes: looks like an Elbit UT30 Mk. 2 turret on an AMPV hull, which is a turretless Bradley hull with some mine resistance and layout changes.
  • Oshkosh is partnering with Hanwha, to (probably) enter the AS21 or something similar
  • Rheitheon/Raynmetall are back too, along with GenDynLandSys (the only entrant last time)
  • There are some small business entrants, as well: MettleOps and Point Blank Enterprises – Since phase 1 is basically just concept art, you don’t need much to get a foot in the door. Both of the wee tiny entrants seem to plan to work with bigger manufacturing partners if their entries get the nod for further development.


Science and Technology



Grab Bag

Skypirates! Development Log #2: RPG Layer

At the very bottom, Skypirates!1 is an RPG. World entities like characters and airplanes have rollable attributes, and those determine how they interact. Those interactions are out of scope today, though. We’re going to cover how the RPG layer works at its very core: the dice, or at least the simulated dice.

If you’ve been around a very long time, or spent a long time trawling the archives, you might have come across a set of rules for building zeppelins in Savage Worlds. This was the jumping-off point. Skypirates designs past used a step dice system Savage Worlds players would have found very familiar. Start at d2, and skills/vehicle characteristics go up to d12 by die size, then to d12+d2 and d12+d4.

That last clause indicates the problem: step dice have poor resolution. For a moment-in-time, quick-playing tabletop RPG, it’s sufficient. For a PC game where I expect the timeline to run from about 1922 to 1937, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for multiple generations of airplane, in a period of time wherein aviation technology would advance even more quickly than in reality owing to greater conflict between the major powers. It leaves even less room for variation in individual airframes2. So, regrettably, step dice had to go, simple as they are to reason about.

In abandoning physical dice as the underlying abstraction, I found myself wondering, “Why not a 1-100 system?” A number between 1 and 100 represents each skill or characteristic. To roll it, generate a random number between 1 and the skill value. Highest number wins. Hard to do with physical dice, trivial with computers.

It doesn’t quite capture everything, though, so I brought in an idea familiar to players of D&D Modern: advantage. Roll two dice, take the better result. But, I don’t plan on using it primarily for rolling character skills with a bonus. Instead, in a form I’m calling ‘capped advantage’, it’s a way to combine pilot skill with airplane characteristics.

Say a plane has Agility 50 and its pilot has Flying 70. I take that to mean that the pilot knows where the edge is, and can use every bit of the plane’s agility. So, behind the scenes, we roll Flying with capped advantage Agility: roll both skills, and take the better of the two, up to a cap of the best Agility result. If the rolls are Agility 37 and Flying 64, the pilot has hit the cap, and the final result is 503.

I’ll go into the representation of planes and characters at some later date, but I wanted to make sure we got through the week with some content here, even if it’s not the allegedly-weekly news update.

  1. While the exclamation mark is part of my official branding plan, I am likely to omit it in the running text for reasons of forgetfulness. 
  2. The Secret Horsepower Race relates a story of six production Spitfires, which varied in tested top speed from 330 mph to 360 mph. 
  3. I plan on doing something similar with aerial gunnery: roll the gun’s accuracy with capped advantage the pilot’s Gunnery skill. For simulation-fun reasons, lighter guns are more inherently accurate, but that doesn’t mean a pilot can shoot better than his overall skill just because the gun helps. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Apr. 14, 2021)

The last two updates were 109 and 110, fun numbers if you’re a Messerschmitt fan.

Last week’s Skypirates! developer log was a calculated choice, to give us time to build up a list of interesting stories for you.


Science and Technology


Grab Bag

Skypirates! Development Log #1: Introduction

You may remember Random Carrier Battles, if you’ve been here for long enough. That project is now abandoned, because modern alternatives like Task Force Admiral exist, and although they lack the Random element, they hit the Carrier Battles part of the project with more verisimilitude and much prettier graphics.

But the germ of the idea stuck around, and a better, easier 2d engine in the shape of Flutter presented itself. The idea (small-scale strategy-game air combat in the Pacific) got me thinking: what other settings would fit this kind of design?

The Pitch

Enter Skypirates! (Exclamation mark included.) Skypirates! is a game of air piracy, zeppelin aircraft carrier combat, and high adventure in the South Seas. My current, very preliminary design document covers three main gameplay layers.


Air Combat

Send your zeppelin’s air wing into combat against all challengers: other planes and airships, surface targets, ships at sea, and more. From your radio room, direct squadrons of your own construction, staffed with pilots and officers whose personalities and particular abilities affect the way dogfights play out.

Airship and Crew Management

Design a zeppelin, or choose from premade options, with which to tackle the unfriendly skies of the Far East. Pick and choose aircraft to fill its hangars, and crew to fill its cabins.

Careful weighting of the options will pay off! Pilots with certain temperaments and skills match certain planes better than others.

High Adventure

Daring deeds and thrilling exploits are just around the corner in every port of call. Choose your own path through branching stories of treacherous pirates, ancient civilizations, and treasures thought lost to the mists of time.



These are the very early days, so it’s time for some generalities!


“Flutter?” I hear the technologically-inclined in the audience asking. “The mobile app framework?”

It is an unusual choice, but not an unreasonable one, from where I stand.

Reason one: I’m familiar with Flutter right now, thanks to work. It’s simple and expressive, easy to extend, and ludicrously cross-platform. (I don’t intend to support anything beyond desktop, though.) It being a UI-centric toolkit, it makes the hard part (pretty UI) easy.

Reason two: Dart has gone from a pretty good language to a great one, with the addition of null safety. It’s concise without being unreadable, I like having named parameters, and it doesn’t go overboard on the punctuation.

Reason three: it’s less opinionated than most game engines about how world and data ought to be structured. This isn’t an attack on traditional game data modeling practice, merely a note that I find it easier to reason about when there’s a world state on one hand, and a rendering engine on the other, and they only talk in strictly limited ways.

Design: Scope and Scale

The world map image above is a lot of the map, but not the whole thing: it runs from about the top of Honshu west to Afghanistan, and south to about the northern third of Australia.

In this alternate history, that region of the planet has all of the ingredients for a vigorous population of pirates: namely, a lot of territories belonging to a lot of different powers, most of whom are busy in their home theater(s) with more pressing threats, and all of whom want to obstruct their opponents’ progress in overseas holdings as much as possible. Nearly every player in Europe is represented somewhere on the map: Britain, France, the Dutch Republic (alternate history, remember), Germany, Italy, Portugal… There are American colonies too, in and around the Philippines, from all the several American nations, and local powers too.

Because I am lazy, I’m using Cartesian geometry instead of spherical geometry, so distances aren’t quite accurate. Eventually, that may change, if I decide to expand the scope of the world, but India, Southeast Asia, and some very near parts of Oceania seem like plenty of room to run to start with.

The world runs on one-minute time steps, and although positional accuracy is basically ‘as high as floating-point numbers allow’, I’m planning on an ‘interaction range’ of 5-10 miles, at which point other systems (dogfights, visiting a port or point of interest, etc.) come into play. Maybe. This part’s still up in the air.

The typical player faction is a single zeppelin, its crew, and its air wing, an independent with an eye toward privateering or outright piracy. The design likely admits some mild variations on the theme (employee of an aviation security company, a task force of two or three airships…), but those will come later if they come at all. As alluded to in the elevator pitch, crew will have relatively detailed character sheets, and crew characteristics and aircraft characteristics intersect somewhat. A pure virtuoso pilot might prefer a more agile machine, while a tactician might want something with better energy fighting. An instinctive gunner might do best with a few heavy guns, carefully choosing his shot. A more exuberant personality might prefer more ammo.

Characters under the player’s command get placed into three categories, to reduce skill management minutiae: the player’s avatar, over whose sheet the player has full control; officers, who the player can guide down certain paths; and ordinary crew, who level up and gain skills on their own, according to templates.

Design: Aircraft

All of which will be accounted for in aircraft design—although designing airframes is outside of the player’s scope. On the other hand, souping up an existing model, swapping its engine for a bigger one, or adding guns are within reason.

I have a lot more to say about aircraft, because getting the math down took a ton of effort, so I’ll save it for its own post.

Anyway, that’s a very brief introduction to a few parts of Skypirates! As I continue the creative process, I’ll have more to say.

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Apr. 3, 2021)

This is about as far from a Wednesday update as it’s possible to get, and it’s also a bit on the late side, but so it goes. At least 4/3/21 is a fun countdown.

Local News

  • The spam-stopper plugin is doing its job (1.5 million spam registrations/comments blocked!). If it’s doing its job too well and preventing any of you regulars (or newcomers who happen to read this) from commenting, let me know in the Discord, and I’ll try whitelisting you.
  • The 3D printer had recently ceased to go brr, because printing tabletop-quality miniatures is a very, very tricky affair at the knife edge of the machine’s capabilities, but it’s running again after an afternoon picking thin coatings out of threads on two mating parts.
  • A book recommendation from the Discord (The Secret Horsepower Race) has been great reading so far. I think I got to page 53 before I came across a full four-column, two-page spread with no fascinating pictures or diagrams. Serendipitously, this is What We’re Reading 109, an auspicious number given the subject matter of the book.

Suez Canal

  • I caught wind of this on Tuesday, March 23, and if I’d published it in the scheduled timeslot, I would have been well ahead of the curve. As it stands, I’d be a little behind the curve linking a postmortem. Oh well. I imagine you don’t come here for breaking news, and if you do, I’m a little concerned about how up-to-date you are on any number of current events.
  • Relatedly, it’s been a bad year for container losses at sea – Volumes are up, schedules are tight, stormy seas are less easily avoided.
  • Memes made Suez Canal workers work faster – National pride cited as the reason, in that I guess the Egyptians thought we were laughing at them, and not the situation generally?
  • On that note, I saw someone on Twitter remark that, given his long experience in Egypt, he was surprised the shouting over the situation wasn’t audible in space.


Science and Technology


  • Back on March 17, I noted that I was hearing rumors of the Pennsylvania background check system going down, as people converted stimulus checks into handguns.
  • The top US general in Afghanistan carries a Glockblaster – Compensator and slide-mounted red dot. Suggestion box is open for appropriate Glockblaster-themed names.

Grab Bag