Friday, 24 January 2020
Sunday, 12 May 2019
Context and general impressions
And then it sort of didn't. There were some episodes with great ideas. The handling of Pike's past and future links to TOS episodes was good, with some subtlety and delicacy in not fucking up the canon, while still adding some new detail that enriched the character. The episode "An Obol For Charon" felt like the broad, challenging stories TOS tried to tell, but with the budget and special effects to make it look adequately epic. "Saints of Imperfection" felt totally new and different, but seemed interesting and exciting. They were doing some real exploring again! No more Klingon War!
And then the second half of season 2 just slumped, mostly. Exploration and discovery were sidelined for timetravellers exposition. If Doctor Who and Back to the Future teach us anything about telling time travel stories, it's that you explain the setup quickly, early, and simply. If you're spending half your dialogue just spelling out what may or may not happen, and then most of that turns out to be irrelevant anyway, then you've maybe wasted my time. I can enjoy long discussions of made-up physics, but I have my limits.
I'm not going to repeat my mistake from a decade ago and write everything off from this point onwards. I'm sure we'll still get decent episodes in future. Disco may thrive in the far future, especially if they keep their better writers on, and leave them to do their jobs unimpeded. And I'm at least happy we'll get to see more Picard later too. But I won't feel fully comfortable until I know Kurtzman has dropped the reins and isn't going to fuck up more things.
The explanation for why season 2 went the way it did probably won't be made clear until insiders start giving their perspectives, probably years or even decades from now. But it seems to me that the main cause was likely the change of showrunners a third of the way through the season. That's when the focus of the stories seems to shift towards time travel, but also when they seem to change course on some already established facts. In hindsight, it looks like a lot of ideas were summarily chucked and replaced by the new management, without too much consideration for overall narrative integrity. I'm told this is pretty common with management changes.
My initial impression is that Kurtzman may have been a little obsessed with "fixing" canon issues, in the sense of pleasing older fans who didn't like changes to the way things used to be. On the one hand, I don't think Kurtzman succeeded at that. On the other, I think it was mostly a mistake to try, and I'm compelled to digress a little to explain that:
Don't fix canon that ain't broke
Disco season 1 didn't break the canon. Fans who said otherwise were, at best, premature. The single biggest canon concern, to me, was how they'd handle the spore drive, which was just so extremely advanced compared with everything else until around Voyager, and so conspicuously absent in everything else. Its existence should make a huge practical, narrative difference. Voyager would have been home in minutes with such a drive, the Bajoran wormhole would have been irrelevant, and all the TOS/TAS conflicts over dilithium would have been moot. But I still didn't consider that a dealbreaker; it was just an interesting opportunity to write in the explanation for why the technology was ultimately a failure. If it was so bad that a century later, nobody would even consider using it, then there's got to be an exciting story about why that is, right?
What others have instead chosen to focus on doesn't usually make much sense to me. Bernd Schneider, of Ex Astris Scientia, has seemingly become obsessed with looks, more than anything else. This is silly. His explicit argument is that visual continuity is important, but that's a very 20th century anomaly. Before film, that was never true in storytelling, going back millennia to the first oral traditions. Images always changed, whether because the storyteller said that they did, or because a different artist drew them differently, or because the production design on stage naturally varies from performance to performance. And in reality, this is true of TV series too; entire actors get replaced in roles, sometimes, on the assumption that the audience can suspend disbelief and play along. The fact that things do still look exactly the same when you go back to reruns (which they couldn't if you watched a repeat performance of a play, for example) only helps to reinforce the illusion of visual continuity. Schneider pretends a little too hard, and so can't accept an inevitable change when it comes. The Klingons have never been visually consistent, just as elves and giants in fantasy have always had varying appearances over the centuries. It doesn't change their narrative function. And ships and technology look different too. That's inevitable. I remember laughing, years ago, when I first saw the ship's computer giving paper printouts in The Cage. Things change, visually, because they were never, ever real to begin with. This doesn't alter the story being told.
(I'm not certain, but it's possible the 21st century will change visual storytelling in a different way, because you'll now always be able to pull up an endless archive of images from the past, while watching the latest stuff, and compare them in real time. We'll have to learn how to navigate this option, making it something constructive and fun, rather than limiting and dogmatic. I feel Schneider's approach is more like the latter.)
So I wasn't bugged by canon concerns after seeing season 1, and I struggle to take seriously those who were concerned to extreme, panicked levels. I don't think Disco season 1's complications were necessarily all good, worthwhile ideas, but there was still plenty of room to steer back on course, and it looked like things were being set up that way. Discovery was the only ship fitted with a spore drive, and had already encountered serious medical, psychological, and reality-altering side effects from its use. The harm done to the miniature giant space tardigrade seemed a very clear indicator that they were going to say the technology was more harmful than helpful, and when season 2's "Saints of Imperfection" showed us an entire extra-dimensional ecosystem at risk from it, I thought that was precisely where they were taking this story arc. Given our modern need to urgently end the use of fossil fuels, that felt like an excellent analogy to draw, very much in line with the old TNG style of scifi parable.
But then Disco season 2 didn't end up satisfactorily addressing the spore drive problem after all.
The following is just a list, in no especially clear order, of all the things I object to in Disco season 2. Some have already been pointed out by others. It turns out, the majority of my complaints center on the final two-parter, "Such Sweet Sorrow", though a few problems have earlier roots than that.
* Dr Gabrielle Burnham's body was found by Leland, and Michael heard her die. So how can she also have survived to become a time traveller? It's possible Leland was lying and Michael mistaken, but the show makes no effort to clarify this. It just looks like a plot hole.
* What were Control's motives anyway? It appears on screen, via Leland, to monologue its evil plan directly to us, and I'm still not sure. Kill all life, yes, but why? I don't like a vague villain, I want motive and depth.
* Why set up that spore drive is bad for mycellial network natives, then ignore that huge threat? It seems that after the change of show runners, not only does the Discovery keep harming the jahSepp's ecosystem with more jumps, never once showing concern for the mycellial plane, but they also waste the story potential to show voluntary abandonment of dodgy tech for environmental reasons.
* Similarly, whose dumb idea was it to have Discovery & Enterprise disgorge literally hundreds of shuttles to act as fighters? Star Trek shuttles are just space buses, usually unarmed, and it's long been established that even the huge Galaxy class doesn't carry hundreds and hundreds of them. Now, if there had been a good narrative or artistic purpose for it, I might have accepted it. But instead, they just mention it, very briefly illustrated with an unreasonably large swarm of them, and then the rest of the episode proceeds with their vast numbers being totally irrelevant to anything.
If anything, I feel it would have been more dramatic if only a dozen or so had been available, few enough that we could have shown the pilot of each as a real character, not a distant video game icon, with tensions rising as each unlucky one is killed in the battle. My first instinct was to dismiss the whole shuttle-fighter concept as lazily stealing from the fighter scenes of Star Wars and BSG, but I now realise that the more character-driven scene I've just suggested is actually closer to watching Luke or Starbuck struggle through in their lonely little cockpit. So I guess "Such Sweet Sorrow, part 2" didn't really plagiarise, it was originally stupid. People used to mock Voyager for maybe having one or two shuttlecraft more than it ought to be able to fit inside. I would love to go back in time and show them this new thing, to put their complaints about Voyager into perspective.
But never mind that. Let's take it as given that there are these 7000 vessels of one sort or another, and yet none can help Discovery in any way at all? Sure, they make the excuse that communications are limited for security reasons, but they work around that limit fine when they want Enterprise and Sarek and Amanda to pop by. So is there a limit or not? Is there a workaround to the limit or not? Maybe some of the 7000 starships are too far to get there in time, but none of them can make it at all? No major starships are faster than a little Vulcan diplomatic shuttle? And only Enterprise can help? It seems a silly gaff by the writers, and I think fixing this might have saved them the trouble of feeling they needed to cram hundreds of anonymous extra shuttles into the end boss battle. Just two or three additional starships, rushing to be the cavalry, could have added some decent extra tension, evening out the battle numbers to something slightly more realistic, and they could even have shown us quick glimpses of their non-human captains, for a little bonus variety.
* The idea that the season had to be resolved with a big battle seems terrible to me. It's just too video gamey. Even season 1, the "war" season, cleverly wrote itself out of that mess with some internal Klingon diplomacy, sidestepping a big, dumb battle to the death. It wasn't a flawless ending, but it shouldn't have been that, or Kirk wouldn't still face trouble from the Klingons a decade later. So given that, it was a damn clever path out that the season 1 writers found. But the season 2 ending was just "shoot everything until we can magically escape"; I feel this was uninspired, and a bit un-Trek.
* Forcing in guest cameos as fighter pilots was weird. Saru's sister, Siranna, was a rural, pacifist priest, and then suddenly she's recast as a generic Star Wars fighter pilot character, pew pew pew. It made more sense for Queen Po to be present already, as she was engineering shit, her established major talent; making her then also have to be yet another fighter pilot was weird. It made good enough sense for the Klingons to arrive as the cavalry in the end, with full-size starships, and it probably would have been much cleaner, clearer writing if it was just a way to show the two recent war-enemies suddenly working together towards a common goal. Trying to make the Xaheans and Kelpiens fit in there too muddies that nice, simple demonstration of cooperation, not least because they were then forgotten for the rest of the final episode anyway. There was no advantage to including them, it was just weird.
(Although, why did Control stay neatly inside Starfleet computers only? If there was free communications with Klingon and other alien receivers, why didn't it copy itself onto their computers?)
(I also think it would be nice to see who the Ba'ul really are. There was a Wizard of Oz analogy waiting to be grabbed there, once we saw a little of the Ba'ul behind the curtain, but the show never progresses them much beyond mysterious semi-magic demons.)
* The Red Angel suit was ridiculous, once revealed. It wasn't super-science, of the sort we just have to accept in Trek (like transporters and warp drive, and even spore drive). It was just magic. It can fly better than a full starship, it's ridiculously survivable, it never runs out of power, once started up, and its computer memory is far more vast than Discovery's. And it can do all sorts of plot-convenient combat and medical things too, literally raising the dead! And this is early 23rd century Federation technology? Nonsense. It is level 9 magic.
* What were the first seven red signals that the season started with? They definitely were not the seven that Burnham later retroactively creates at the scene of each episode, because those episodes all happened after the season had begun. And the original seven signals all appeared before Pike arrives to take control of Discovery. The first one they visit is described as having lingered when the other 6 vanished, so there's 1 that's possibly justified, unless Burnham's signal there was just appended to the lingering 7th. But then there are 6 signals Starfleet definitely received weeks or months before Discovery spots 4 further signals that lead them places, adds 1 more shortly after, and 1 that is somehow sent back in time to signal to Spock, many months later. So in fact, there were 13 or 14 signals, and we still have no idea at all where the first 6 or 7 came from or why. Is it even worth asking for a rational explanation? Clearly, if one was written, we're not being given it.
Saturday, 27 April 2019
I've divided it mainly between general rules stuff, and stuff that is specifically for my personal campaign groups (collectively titled Star Trek: Explorations). My own players should treat the latter as potentially spoilery. Other GMs may steal whatever ideas they like from it, and if you as a player know your own GM might use some of this material, then perhaps you'd like to follow the guidance I give my players too.
Stuff that could have some use in anyone's Star Trek Adventures campaign, regardless of setting or era.
List of all known Star Trek adventures - Definitely GM Only! My spreadsheet listing every Star Trek adventure I could find, from all official systems and a few unofficial ones. Contains many Spoilers!
Maps & Legends - My unofficial, but pretty extensive setting expansion to include Star Trek: Picard, and anything else that falls within the period from 2380 to 2400. Currently on version 3, including bits from season 1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks.
Adventure: Flora & Fauna - A medical/exploration away mission to a planet with some unusual biology. Includes an appendix on how it can be adapted for my Explorations campaign setting. (And for comparison, I dug out the old LUGTrek version from 2005.)
Adventure: Ghost in the Shuttlebay - A crewmember keeps seeing someone in the shuttlebay. Someone who died years ago.
Adventure: The Sorceror's Apprentice - Introductory adventure written specifically to introduce the PIC setting and rules from Maps & Legends.
Adventure: Twisting With Shadows - Written for an aborted adventure-writing contest run jointly by Star Trek Adventures and Star Trek Online, I suspect mine may have been the only submission. Anyway, here it is, a sort of seedy underworld thing to do with pirates and weapon smugglers, in the STO setting.
Adventure supplement: 'World With a Bluer Sun' calculator - A spreadsheet for imperfectly estimating how much a thing might affect the player characters, in the published adventure 'World with a Bluer Sun'. Saying any more would spoil the plot. If you're running that adventure, you'll figure it out. If not, it's no concern of yours anyway.
Campaign Ideas list - A bunch of hooks I have for different styles of campaign that could be played in future. Some of these could possibly also be shrunk down to single-session adventures, instead of full campaigns.
Critter: Tribble (NPC) - The very first thing I ever created with the STA rules, just to get a feel for them. Coo coo coo.
Critter: Gormagander (NPC/ship) - House rules for the species of space whales (who look more squiddy to me). As space-dwelling creatures, their stats use the starship format.
Dice-free Rules for Promotion & Reputation - House rules to replace those in the core rule book for handling rank promotions and reputation changes without having to rely on the randomness of dice.
Equipment Guide - A combined list of all the items of gear listed in the official rule books, sorted by type, with their available era, costs, and reference page.
Expanded Transporter Rules - Extra house rules for using the transporter. I still consider this an experimental work in progress.
NCC Registry Number Picker - For years, it bugged me that I could never be sure if I was picking appropriate registry numbers for my invented Starfleet vessels, and I've previously blogged about exactly that. This spreadsheet condenses everything I've researched on that infuriating, illogical system, and offers simply an indication of what NCC numbers most likely first appeared in a given year. It still needs some improvement and updating, but this should be fine for most uses.
Power Effects table - Summary of all rules effects that add or subtract from the ship's Power.
Random Encounter Tables - Rough guidelines for random starship encounters. More of a quick hook generator than a full encounter builder.
Solar System Maker - Random generation tables for creating astronomically realistic(ish) stars and their planets.
Spaceframe: Asia class - House rules for making starships of the ENT/TOS-era Asia class, as borrowed from Starfleet Museum. Created as a spare for the Explorations campaign, but not yet used at all.
Spaceframe: Gagarin class - House rules for making starships of the ENT/TOS-era Gagarin class, as borrowed from Starfleet Museum.
Spaceframe: Moskva class - House rules for making starships of the ENT/TOS-era Moskva class, as borrowed from Starfleet Museum.
Spaceframe: Paris class - House rules for making starships of the ENT/TOS-era Paris class, as borrowed from Starfleet Museum.
Spaceframe: Suurok class - House rules for making starships of the Vulcan ENT-era Suurok class.
Starship: The Phoenix - House rules for the first Earth warp vessel, as seen in First Contact.
Spaceframe: Kaplan F17 Speed Freighter class - House rules for the type of light cargo ship seen in Picard, as La Sirena. (Insert mention of Talent for multiple holo-crew here.)
Species Stats Table - A thing that's going to be turned into something more complete, similar to the Starship Stats Table. For now, it's a list of all official and fan-made Species rules stuff, together with my attempt at working out when everyone joined the Federation and Starfleet, and when they first started appearing at all.
Species: Rigellian - House rules for making player characters of the Rigellian species. Cobbles together bits and pieces from the many confused possible versions of this species (or group of species, depending who you ask), into something I felt was at least fun to play as. This has since become supplanted by the official Rigellian species in the Beta Quadrant book.
Starship Crew Breakdown Table - House rule, linking Modiphius starship Mission Profiles with the crew departmental percentage splits from the Last Unicorn Spacedock rules. For a ship of a given Mission Profile, divide its total number of crew into departments per the given percentage. Each department can then be further divided by the rank category of its crewmembers. Assumes a total crew of close to 100, so some manual adjustment may be needed for very small and very large crews.
Starship Random Names Tables - Guidelines for coming up with a healthy variety of Federation starship names.
Starship Scale Table - House rule, expanding on the Scale table on page 215 of the core rule book. I was pretty sure Modiphius had made theirs by adapting the old Last Unicorn Size table, especially the version given in the Spacedock rules, so I decided to see if I could work out the logic behind it, and present it in a more precise way, to help classify new spaceframes I was making.
Starship Stats Table - Summary list of all starship spaceframes and specific named vessels from all of the official rulebooks (including some minor spoilers for published adventures), plus many of the unofficial fan ones. Also includes a tool (the copypasta shipyard) for quickly throwing stats together per the ship design rules. I've also included known canon warp speed limits, and my own version of the Scale table.
Valuematic 3000 - A walkthrough for creating a Value that will hopefully be more fun and useful to play, and to GM.
Warp Tables (public version) - Includes a more detailed version of the warp speed table on page 205 of the core rule book, as well as a speed-distance-time calculator, and a list of known canon starship warp speeds (all Alpha canon, with one or two Beta canon examples, in grey, thrown in where I felt they were helpful for getting the big picture). All three of these tables include three different measures of speed: the ENT/TOS "Cochrane" scale of warp speed, the TNG "Eugene" scale of warp speed, and simple multiples of c (speed of light), made equivalent using semi-canon formulae. If anyone can figure out how to fully reverse the TNG formula, to solve for W from a known c in all cases, I'd appreciate it.
|I was very amused at how easily I could find my completely non-canon Sector 21 stars in a map from 50 years later.|
GM's Starter Pack - All the stuff I'd created for myself at the time that the campaign began, packaged for other GMs to borrow from. Includes setting info and maps, extra Species rules for Aenar (by David Gibson) and Rigellians, extra Spaceframe rules for the Asia, Gagarin, Moskva and Paris classes, and premade starship stats for the USS Delhi, USS Jemison and USS Johannesburg (our three player starships).
Map of Sector 21 in the Federation, circa 2208 - My best estimate of how my Sector 21 fits into the galactic map (red box), and what the extent of the UFP is during this period (space marked in blue). It's intentionally much more spindly than the vast UFP that the 24th century map presents.
Panda Span map - The full extent of the nebula, beyond the part that's within Sector 21.
Handout: Interior layout of Starship Wehikore - I wanted to replace the Atlantis from the published adventure "A World with a Bluer Sun", as Earth's smaller Intrepid class felt more interesting to me, and also closer in scale and purpose to the USS Jemison, so there was a better narrative link. But then I had no good sense of the interior layout of the ship, so I made up my own.
Handout: 400 years of astronomy records of the Panda Span nebula - Images of this region of space, as recorded from Tellar Prime since 1800.
Handout: Observed subspace flux and Handout: Map of subspace observations - Final versions of the list of all subspace field measurements taken by the Starfleet vessels in the sector, over the course of about a year, and the map that marks their positions. Also includes separate list of equivalent measurements taken at Kontunel. My players spent a year analysing this to try and figure out the hidden pattern behind it, and got pretty close, so I'll be interested to see if other GMs or anyone else can work it out, without the benefit of me explaining any of it. Ask if you really want to know.
Sector 21 major worlds images - Portrait set of most of the major planets the players visited during 2018/2208. I've got various other maps and images of these planets, and others, but it would take a long time to gather them all. (Still missing: Brissid, Duboz and Silik 6.)
Suliban faction chart - Showing how the Suliban factions from canon and of my own invention are related to each other. We got very, very little canon background on them in ENT, and even the subsequent novels have barely mentioned them, so I haven't had that much to build on.
Player Intro - Brief introductory booklet for players starting this campaign.
Player Map - The starting version of the player's map of Sector 21, as it stood at the beginning of 2208.
Class C shuttlepod - The little sublight crew shuttle my players mainly rely on. The image is taken from a John Eaves preliminary design that wasn't used, but I liked how it implies a shared design lineage from the earlier ENT shuttlepods. (It wasn't until over a year later that DISCO finally named its own shuttles as Class C too, which is an unfortunate coincidence. I had assumed they'd go with Class E, a generation before the Class F of TOS, but oh well.)
Class D shuttle - The larger, rarer warp shuttles that our campaign seldom uses. The image is from an unused Matt Jefferies preliminary design for the Class F.
Starship: Trade Station Kruh - The starship stats for the Tellarite merchants' space station in orbit above Starbase 21. Its image is copied from a Tellarite trade station seen in ENT, which was itself a reuse of a model of Cardassian station from DS9.
Handout: Missing Starships - Silly little thing I made to frame some story elements together with similar canon stuff.
Handout: News: Suessor elected president - A random factoid I borrowed from the FASA roleplaying, just because it fit our timeline and added some more detail to things.
Probe Design Rules - House rules for a complicated ad hoc build of a long-distance warp probe. Borrows ideas from the Last Unicorn Spacedock rules. Never used, because the Jemison players felt they had left it too late to begin, for the specific purpose they had at the time.
Species: Zenian survivor - House rules for making player characters of the Zenian species. I threw this together after the crew of the Jemison found their group of survivors on Thuln. It seemed like a fun option to make available for any future character creation.
Warp Tables (Explorations version) - Same as the public version, but with our campaign-specific starships included (in red).
Thursday, 27 December 2018
1. There is a logic to the numbering, with later ships tending to have higher registry numbers, as if they were sequential, or something similar.
2. There is complete madness to the numbering, with all sorts of exceptions, anomalies, and persistent typos that mess the whole scheme up beyond useful recognition. I am far from the first to point this out.
Reconciling thing 1 with thing 2 is frustrating, at best. So I've decided to make it more fun for myself by also trying to reconcile the canon NCCs with those used by Starfleet Museum's non-canon designs, as promised in my last post. This actually turns out to be the simpler, quicker thing to resolve, as this graph will illustrate:
|(click to embiggen)|
Graph of earliest known appearances of Starfleet registry numbers (2160 to 2300)
It initially seemed pretty obvious to me that Okazaki had simply drawn a straight line from an origin in 2161, to the established launch of the Constitution class in 2245, and then used that line as a rough guide for picking when each of his new classes should launch. What he couldn't have known then, nor even known during the run of Star Trek: Enterprise that messed up most of Starfleet Museum's chronology, was the 2009 appearance of the USS Kelvin, with it's obscure dedication plaque. This hints (though I'll admit, doesn't definitely prove) that NCCs were still only in the 500s in the 2220s, and that there was likely a big, sudden growth in Starfleet during the 2230s and 2240s, jumping up the registry by over a thousand new starships in a couple of decades. This gives the S-curves of my rough estimated blue and green lines on that graph.
I did notice, at the last minute, that Okazaki's numbers might also fit an S-curve too, though subtler and starting much earlier. That curve would also seem to fit the right side of the graph better than the straight line too.
We know the early UFP Starfleet didn't start from zero ships, because pre-Federation ships belonging to the Andorians, Earthicans, Tellarites, and Vulcans were folded into the initial formation of Starfleet. We don't know for sure how many of them there were, but we can estimate. On the lowest guess, if we just count the ships seen during ENT, and take it that these represent the exact same size of the fleets at the end of 2160, then it's about 10 ships per fleet, adding to about 30 to 50 to start Starfleet with. On the higher end, we have the evidence of the USS Franklin NX-326, known to be a pre-Federation Earth starship, folded into Starfleet in 2161. And that would seem to imply over 300 starships at the foundation of Starfleet.
That higher estimate would seem to suggest that maybe early Starfleet might have had way too many ships for its initial needs, presumably with many repurposed warships left over from the Earth-Romulus War, and so they wouldn't have felt in a rush to build up their shipyards further for a long while. With hardly any colonies, and all fairly close together, the early Federation wouldn't have needed to push most of its Starfleet too hard, most of the time. We know at least the Daedalus class explorers kept going for a good 35 years, so Starfleet could have put off increasing starship production until around 2200. And that's why the S-curve makes sense. It just seems to have curved up later in history than Starfleet Museum guessed. After 2245, Starfleet Museum's NCCs seem mostly fine again, as the curve settles down.
Related to this, I'd also be willing to take a guess at when the Walker and Crossfield classes might have launched, based on my S-curve, and on the warp limit graphs from my last post. If we assume USS Shenzhou, USS Glenn, and USS Discovery all have low NCCs for their classes (and there's no evidence to say they must), then USS Crossfield (approx. NCC-1000ish) would fit well around the mid-2230s, perhaps as early as the late 2220s, making the class a decade or more older than the Constitution class. The warp limits from the previous post would even support a much earlier launch of the Crossfield class, sometime around 2220, but today's graphs and the launch of the Kelvin suggest that would be too early. (This also hints to me that perhaps there should be a stepped or S-curved line for the warp limits graph too.) I would be comfortable saying the Crossfield class (and thus also USS Discovery, most likely) could have launched between 2230 and 2235.
If the USS Walker (approx. NCC-1200ish) can't be placed on the timeline by its low top warp speed (as discussed last time), then registry number is our only big (if vague) clue for it. We've seen it on screen as far back as 2239, and you can see that's already close to my S-curve. If 1200 comes after 1000, chronologically, then I would guess the Walker class probably launched around 2235, with the USS Shenzhou launching within a few years of that. This would imply that Starfleet grows by 700 ships in the decade from 2225 to 2235, and then grows by a slower 500 new ships in the decade from 2235 to 2245. That makes sense, for an S-curving trend on its way down.
(As a digression, I was wondering if those growth rates are realistic or not. Apparently, modern day Earth's production of new ocean-going vessels is in the thousands to tens of thousands of new vessels per year. And starships are perhaps bigger and more complex to build, but spread it over more than just one planet's factories, and suddenly a thousand in a decade actually seems pretty slow, though this isn't counting civilian starship construction. As more planets join the UFP, the rate can increase even more, perhaps helping to explain the S-curve further.)
But now I have to mess everything up by reminding you of thing 2: NCCs often make no sense. There are plenty of registry numbers that appear to be illogical and badly out of chronological order, and that's because they are. Writers make shit up, artists make shit up, and even people outside of the official production of any series or movie sometimes have enough influence to get involved, and they make shit up too. But the good news is, after studying this for a while, it's not as bad as I thought. I re-drew my graph for each class, separately, one at a time. And that's slow and boring and I won't waste your time with all of it here. The bottom line is, the outliers are relatively rare for most classes, and can mostly be ignored. And for most of the 24th century outliers, there's often already conflicting information about their registry numbers from other sources. I've stuck with the strictest onscreen Alpha canon to make these graphs, but I'm very happy to retcon silly mistakes away.
The only huge exception is the Constitution class. It's full of anomalous registry numbers:
|(click to embiggen)|
Green: Known launch dates of Constitution class vessels.
Red: Known service periods of Constitution class vessels (ignoring time travel).
There are two broad conclusions to choose between here: Either NCC is not useful for estimating chronology (and we throw all the work above out the window), or it is useful for that (and we just have to rationalise the Constitution class being full of weird anomalies). I favour the latter. Consider the bigger graph of all known registry numbers with their first appearances:
|(click to embiggen)|
Graph of earliest known appearances of Starfleet registry numbers (2160 to 2380)
Just adding another 80 years, the known years of the 24th century, seriously changes the graph, with another big S-curve apparent, jumping the Starfleet registry up by seventy thousand ships in about 50 years (averaging around only 1400 new ships per year, which, as discussed above, is actually still pretty low by modern Earth shipbuilding standards). It's a big jump, but an entirely believable one. And the blue diamonds (first appearance of any sort) seem to scatter all over the place, but the red squares and green triangles still paint a nice, clear pattern: When new ships and new classes are launched, their very first appearance, then NCC number is a good predictor of what chronological order they came in. For that reason, I'm inclined to excuse away the contradicting blue diamond anomalies.
So how do we deal with the Constitution class? We could just ignore it. Maybe (in universe) Starfleet went crazy for a couple decades. Maybe (real world) it's a just real-world production-side mess that spoils an otherwise neat, logical pattern. Maybe (in universe) they're re-uses of older ship's registries, in the same way that the Enterprises shared NCC-1701, with -A, -B, -C, -D, and bloody -E tacked on; maybe these are Constitutions named and numbered after earlier vessels, but they're just not showing us the -A or -B on the end, for whatever reason (and after the Federation-Klingon War, there would certainly be plenty of lost vessels to commemorate). Maybe (real world) TOS production values were shit, and everyone just assumed all "starships" were Connies, but retroactively a lot of those should be re-interpreted as vessels of other, older classes.
Or maybe any combination of the above. I'm not sure, and there's no good reason to pick one over the other. But I do tend to favour just ignoring the Constitution anomalies. Pretty graphs are better.
The last thing I'd point out is how the 24th century S-curve flattens out towards the end of the century. The pattern this seems to suggest is that roughly every mid-century (real-world: at the time that each new series is set), Starfleet goes on a big shipbuilding spree, bumping its numbers up by roughly one order of magnitude. If that happens again in the mid-25th century, and the new Picard series is expected to be set in about 2400, then that next big surge shouldn't have been completed yet, and might not really have even begun yet. So, given these assumptions, I'd consider it a mistake if ships in the new Picard series have registries greater than -100000. The -80000 to -90000 range will probably be sufficiently realistic. Of course, it'd be fascinating if there are good reasons to justify higher numbers than that. Perhaps a concerted effort to rebuild and get exploring again, following the Dominion War. Perhaps introducing advanced new technology (via Voyager and other sources) makes the old fleet suddenly very outdated and in need of a large number of replacements (which new construction techniques can spit out way faster than before).
I guess we'll have to wait a couple of years and see.
Tuesday, 25 December 2018
But mainly, I wanted to kill time making graphs, and these warp speed graphs proved to be much more enlightening and entertaining to me than the ones I've been using to try to make sense of Starfleet's registry number system. I guess that'll be a future post.
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Graph of maximum speeds of starship classes vs. earliest known year for that starship class (2060 to 2260)
(warp speeds in old TOS scale)
And the known canon Earth starships before 2145 seem to start off following a pretty similar line. But from 2145, the dark blue line veers up sharply, through the early NX prototypes, the Freedom class, the actual NX class itself, and Beta canon's Columbia/NX-refit class (just to show that a warp 6 example fits the same pattern) These all make a surprisingly straight line right up to the warp 7 Daedalus class of 2161, the first UFP starship. It's so neat that I have to assume it was mostly intentional, with the ENT writers having at least some sort of plan about this in mind, and which the writers of the 13th movie could easily slot their own addition into.
But why is it so different from the Starfleet Museum gentle exponential curve, and why does it make sense? Well, look at the pale blue line, the Vulcan ships. ENT made it clear that the Vulcans were well ahead of the Humans, and had been for centuries. But they didn't invent that; TOS's writers established this technological headstart decades earlier. Okazaki couldn't have guessed that ENT's writers would pick warp 5 and warp 7 as the exact figures for Earth and Vulcan maxima in 2151, but he probably shouldn't have assumed Human engineers would be at the cutting edge of starship design once the Federation was formed. Andorian, Tellarite and Vulcan engineers all had to have had roughly a quarter of the whole pool of Federation astronautics skill, and it's long been established that Vulcans started off with greater than just a quarter share.
We also know that Vulcan progression was described by humans in ENT as "slow", since they'd been developing warp drive since some vague time in the 19th century (probably) and compared with Human progress in the 2140s, that Vulcan development rate must have looked painfully slow. But considering the Human rate before the 2140s didn't look much faster, and the sudden Human jump was definitely helped by Vulcan and other species' assistance, it's probably fair to say that Archer and co. were being unrealistic and damn ungrateful. Earth, left solely to its own devices, probably wouldn't have reached warp 7 any faster than Vulcan did.
Of course, Vulcans do seem to have stagnated a little, with no recorded improvement in their top warp speed in the couple of decades preceding the events of ENT. I'm sure it's fair to say that all parties, including the Vulcans, gained a lot from the combined efforts of the post-2161 UFP engineering pool, sharing knowledge and different specialisations in the way that a monoculture inherently can't. Technological acceleration due to the founding of the Federation seems to have been inevitable. If that's not all intentionally in keeping with Star Trek's inclusive, mutually supportive ideals, then it's a great coincidence to uncover. Once everyone starts working together for the common good, things get great fast.
So, Starfleet Museum forgot to account for Andorian, Tellarite, and especially Vulcan contributions to Earth's starship designs, and that's why the gentle orange curve makes less sense than the sharp blue jags that ENT gave us. But what next, what about the time from TOS to VOY?
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Graph of maximum speeds of starship classes vs. earliest known year for that starship class (2060 to 2380)
Canon information about starship performance between TOS and TNG gets sparse, as the TOS movies were generally pretty vague about technical details. There's a whole lost century to fill in there. The same is true between 2160 and 2240, by the way, if you exclude all the orange dots. These are the two big empty periods in Star Trek history generally, and not just for starship stats.
It looks like warp 9 on the new TNG scale (a little more than double warp 9 on the old TOS scale, which would be nearly warp 11.5, not warp 18) should have been achieved around the mid-2300s, but I don't think there's any clear evidence for exactly when this would have happened. To give at least a rough sense of how things might have changed over time, I connected the dark red line between only known canon classes with exact first launch dates, and which are known to have been the fastest of their time. That doesn't give a lot of data points to connect, but at least it looks roughly like a neat curve of some sort.
Are the last two Starfleet Museum classes (the Furious and Spectre classes) feasibly positioned on this graph? Yeah, sure. I don't have clear data to argue with them, as I do with the earlier ENT stuff. It looks to me like Okazaki has in that case simply drawn a straight line between the Constitution and Galaxy classes, and I can't reasonably call that a mistake. My dark red curve is just as much a guess.
One other possibility, which makes reasonable sense, but still doesn't have much supporting data, is that we do know that warp power requirements jump up fiercely at each higher warp factor (and that's why the warp factor numbers are set at those specific integers), and this could be reflected in warp drive development timelines too. Perhaps it's easy to get from a warp 7 design to a warp 7.1 design and a 7.2 design and a 7.3 design, and then 7.5 is trickier, and 7.8 is a pain, and 8 is a huge extra effort, but then the first 8.1 design is (comparatively) piss easy again, etc. With recurring challenges like that, I'd expect to see a stepped graph, mirroring the steps of the warp power graph. This could explain the slow progress of pre-Federation Vulcan warp development. It would also imply that the neat straight line of Human warp drives between factors 2 and 7 was definitely artificially boosted.
I'll also note the only two DISCO designs with known (although not mentioned on screen yet) warp maxima. The little green triangle below and left of the Constitution class square represents the earliest known date for the warp 6 Walker class (specifically, the USS Shenzhou), and the green triangle just to the right of that is the warp 8 Crossfield class (specifically, the USS Glenn and USS Discovery).
It's been pretty common in all Trek series for the main hero ship to be the fastest in the fleet (at least at first), with most other ships running a fair bit slower. So it doesn't seem unreasonable that the Walker class is below where the fastest Vulcan ships were a century earlier; it's just not designed for missions that require maximum possible warp speed, even when it was brand new. And so it can't easily fit in just about anywhere on my graph. I have thoughts about its registry number and what that implies about when it was built, but that's another post.
The Crossfield class is more complicated in a few messy ways, but warp 8 is basically about right for a fastest ship preceding the Constitution. The very low registry number (lower even than the Shenzhou's registry) of the two known Crossfields has thrown a lot of people off, and it does complicate trying to work out how all these things fit together. I'm sure the show will provide more evidence about this eventually, but for now, my personal headcanon is this:
Of course, a lot of this is also dependent on finding a logical system underneath the mess of NCC numbers, which I said I'd leave til another day. But just looking at the warp factor, I think we can take it as pretty damn certain that USS Discovery probably isn't totally brand new as late as 2256.