Speculations On Communications and The Media Of The Frontier
"Thanks, Ktiktlit! Hey, those Vruskan hatchlings are really something, eh Gathash?. That was Ktiktlit Kzak, reporting via sub space packet from the Volturnus Colony. Wait! They are telling me that... there is news from Solar Major. It seems a sub-space relay has indicated a distress signal from that system. Sathar ships have appeared. Now, this report of course is some 8 hours old. There is no telling, ladies and gentlemen, what has happened. We will keep you informed as this apparently serious situation develops. For now, this is Rogan Delmar. For Gathash Grachak,and the entire crew of Fromeltar Live! Thank your for helping us explore our worlds!"
War. New Worlds. The Blue Plague. Scientific discoveries. Corporate Intrigues. Sathar. All the news that's fit to print. And to transmit across the lightyears over tight-beam tachyon subspace impulses.
The Media. It's everywhere, including the Frontier. It serves the same interests it always has,... to tell a good story, true or not. In our time, the media is complex enough, with the development in the last 100 years of entirely new forms of communication that reach out to hundreds of different cultures speaking different languages scattered across the globe. Imagine how much more complicated
the task to relating information effectively to entirely different species across dozens of star systems each facing unique circumstances with unique interests. Its a daunting task.
The clearest expression of the Media in the Star Frontiers rules is in Zebulon's Guide to the Frontier. Starplay Industries is the megacorp with the frontier's largest stake in the news, entertainment and information industry. Starplay is growing into
a large vertical monopoly, developing "legal intoxicants, confectionaries, exotic cuisine, sporting goods, sports events, gambling, recreational equipment and facilities, and general entertainment...". In effect, the megacorp develops the kinds of products ideally suited for advertising on its media outlets.
There is a catch. UPF laws specifically prevent media monopolies, a rare exception in the world of megacorporations, given the descriptions of Megacorps in Zeb's. UPF laws prevent a single corporation from holding "complete monopoly in the tri-vid, holograph, or publishing industries." These, it seems, are the primary media forms in the frontier (See below).
The complexities of subsidiaries still allow Star Play to dominate the telecommunications and news and entertainment industries on the frontier
The settled worlds of the Frontier, including the newly contacted Rim Worlds, all have electronic media of some form available to residents. The kind and quantity depends upon the relative wealth of the society, its local system of government and its cultural and racial makeup. Some highly controlled societies severely limit the number of channels and the kind of material available, maintaining the minimun necessary to maintain UPF charter standards.
Worlds with two or more resident species are required to have a minimum of one channel per major resident species, plus UPF-I(or 'Eye' as its sometimes known), a common carrier that provides UPF news and information in Pan Gal across the entire frontier. In addition, UPF requires the presence of two other major Interstellar Channels (see below). However, on nearly all worlds there will typically be at least ten, and on higher population worlds, at least one hundred. The best guideline is one channel per million inhabitants.
These channels are typically available across an entire planet via direct satellite transmission, and can be picked up from at least 1 hundred thousand kilometers away from the planet surface with unsophisticated equipment. Higher quality sensor suites on starships or O/R Stations can pick up virtually any powerful broadcast signal in the same system, as long as local conditions, such as eclipses or solar flares, do not interfere.
The content of the channels varies system to system, with all manner of local content, instructional, interpersonal and generally uninteresting information. However, there are some interstellar services that are worthy of mention, since they are mandated by UPF charter to be carried in all member systems in keeping with the laws against media monopolies.
This is the UPF's interstellar organ for disseminating news and information. The "Eye", as its called, is the common name for this over-arching techno-bueracracy that beams signals to every UPF member system or applicant. In times of war, citizens of the frontier are glued to the stream of holo's coming out of Gran Quivera's Central I. Central I becomes the government at those times, the faces of its stalwart anchors and political and military experts provides the populace of member worlds the face
of law and order.
In times of peace, it is called Shut-Eye. The reason is clear. That's what happens to those subjected to its incredibly dull programming. If there are no Sathar attacks imminent, no blue plague outbreaks, etc, the 'I' runs a tedious combination of text scrolls, Council proceedings, informational programming on such topics as vruskan joint hygeine or Dralasite linguistic commentaries. The Eye is operated with an agreement with Pan Galactic Corporation, a concession the giant garnered from the UPF to prevent StarPlay from developing monopolies.
The conspiracy minded view the 'Eye' with suspicion. They believe that the government organizational structure provides anything but the truth, and believe that the 'eye' is actually looking at its own citizens.
"Vrusk, Human, Dralasite, Yazirian. Everyone watches Starplay, because there is something for Everyone!" The shopworn slogan of the frontiers biggest, most-watched channel has never been replaced because no one could think of anything more accurate. Everyone watches StarPlay Channel, at least some of the time.
This is one of three 'required' channels on each world, and is consistently the single most watched outlet in the frontier. Its fare offers the highest production values, biggest stars and the blandest forms of entertainment. Star Law shoot-em-ups, glitzy variety numbers, and saccharine sit-coms dominate its fare. It also provides news (albeit in an untastefully flashy and pretentious manner) of the frontier. Well produced 'reality shows' like "World's Uncharted" have made hero's and cult figures of common adventurers and their exploits. The news monolith "The Frontier Today" and its crack anchor team have tied the disparate worlds of the frontier together in times of crisis and joy. This last segment of programming is how StarPlay publicly justifies its required status, although most suspect that StarPlay Channel was strongarmed into the UPF charter by StarPlay using the political leverage of the Transtar service.
StarPlay Channel is a huge revenue producer for the mega-corp, which also provides several other channels to system, although those are not required. They include sports channels, shopping channels, interactive chat channels, and other more esoteric offerings. Increasingly, StarPlay Channel is creating strong interchannel tie-ins, and is selling 'paks', carefully crafted channel packages to subscribers. Buying an info-pak is cheaper than buying channels ala-carte, but has the effect of squeezing out competitors. This tactic is under review by UPF-I
The third must-carry channel is the holo-vid arm of the Society for the Standard Day (SSD). This private, non-profit organization was founded in the early days of the UPF by the merchant's guilds in an effort to promote the concept of the standard day as the excepted chronological baseline for the UPF member worlds. The Society operates much as the National Geographic does, sponsoring well-funded expeditions to remote corners of the frontier, chartering new star routes, and at the same time promoting the cultural development and expression of the frontiers established citizenry. In addition, it has strong ties with the academic communities of the frontier, particularly the newly founded University of Zebulon. The board of directors is a distinguished and independent group of grey eminences, all of whom are noted philanthropists with strong academic interests. To this day it promotes the cooperative capitalism advocated by the guildmasters. The merchantmen, most of whom also belong to a masonic secret society,
The programming is distinguished from the dull, government agenda of the 'Eye' and the commercial monopolostic, dumbing-down of StarPlay Channel. Ephemeris features scientific discoveries, high quality documentaries and historical recreations. It offers a romanticized (some would say 'homogenized' view of the frontier, particulary engaged with its wildlife, resources, and potential for controlled, sustainable development. Its costs are paid for by the Society for the Standard Day, which solicits in turn tax-deductible contributions from the general public. It airs no commercial messages and recieves no government subsidies. However, the sheer quality and integrity of the programming exceeds the capacity of such limited funds derived from these genteel solicitations.
The SSD's holo-vid channel is just one arm of a vast multi-media empire that exists outside the governmental and commercial confines. It produces tremendous reference works, subsidizes artists, and supports educational initiatives. However it also zealously protects its properties, intellectual and real, and there is a general feeling that its merchanter ties can exact tremendous pressure on other megacorps and the UPF itself. This has made it the target of many religious zealots and other smaller non-profit organizations who envy its special status and its impugnity.
The headquarters for Ephemeris 20 was for years located in Gran Quivera. However, with the opening of the Volturnus star route (which it pioneered), the Society quietly moved all operations to that undeveloped world. Today, it has a small, but impressive
planet-side facility overlooking the Eorna Crystal City. Its main operations are located in a large orbiting facility, from which it dispatches its well-financed expeditions to all corners of the frontier, and beyond.
The frontier's size and its relatively low population density mean that much of the media will focus its attention on local events. PC's will encounter the news media in practically any civilized area if they are in or around any emergency situation,
crime scene or major event. Outside of civilized systems, the media will be encountered rarely.
In cases where media is encountered in remote areas, it will be an expedition sized contingent, aboard a Moraes-Class vessel converted to its special needs. In addition to the spacer crew needed for ship operations, press-ships will have a crew of 12, including 1-2 producer/journalists(Explorers), 4-7 media specialists (tech-ex's)including holo-vid and audio recording experts, and a combination of 1-3 expert commentators (sci-specs and enforcers), depending upon the support/expert commentary needed. The producer/journalists and any expert commentators will all have high PER/LDR skills, reflecting their on-screen personae.
These press-ships will have landing capability and sophisticated media/communications equipment, including 3 to seven professional holo-vid recorders, microphones, a minimum of two subspace transciever units, and full sensor suites.
In general, press-ships are owned only by one of the three registered carriers (see above) or leased by smaller entities on a yearly basis.
Press-ships are often found accompanying major military operations, reporting on major new commercial ventures, unusual natural phenomenon, flights by high-profile UPF administration personnel, etc. In short, all the news that's fit to vid.
Their presence is both a positive and a negative for PC's. On the one hand, the media can get in the way, distort the PC's efforts or those of their enemies, distract attention or steer the mission to more glamorous and less substantive ends. On the other hand, media will often pay for exclusive rights to intriguing stories and to cover major expeditions, will finance expeditions, and the resulting publicity can make the PC's services in greater demand, and thus worth more. Finally, the media can help uncover hidden information, get the PC's side of the story out, and generally act as a vigorous counterbalance to megacorp intrigues and government intransigence.
What constitutes local vs. system vs. frontier wide news? Let's use as rule of thumb stories from the official SF adventure modules on a scale of 1-4. Local/Planet wide stories = 1; System wide stories = 2; Possibly Affecting Nearbye Stars (one jump away) =3; Important to the entire UPF = 4.
While there is no hard and fast rule on how much the media will pay for exclusive footage, stories, rights or interviews, generally the media will they will pay 1000 to the PC's for Level 1 stories, 5,000 for Level 2, 15,000 for Level 3 and 45,000 for level 4 crisis. Additionally, if a character plays a central role and has a high PER score, add 10% to the amount for each 10 points of PER 60 or greater (PER 60=10%, PER 70=20%, etc.). This reflects the cult of personality.
|Level 1||Local Disasters, Crimes,
Primarily affecting PC's life and limb.
|AD Basic Book adventure; GM Screen Mini Module Volturnus, Planet of Mystery.|
|Level 2||System-sized conflicts, Space Battles; System Politics; New Planet exploration||Warriors on White Light--up to and incl. Pirate Battles; Dramune Run (possibly Level 3); Mutiny on the Eleanor Moraes;|
|Level 3||Major System/Minor UPF political pheaval/Health Hazards, Minor confrontations with Sathar; technology from precursor civilization; New sentient race discovered; Major New Technology discovered.)||Sundown on Starmist|
|Level 4||Major Sathar Confrontation; New advanced intelligence discovered; Major UPF political upheaval
||Starspawn of Volturnus, The War Machine
The 3-D version of our television is the single most powerful medium in the entire Frontier. It is the most compelling, the most followed, and ultimately the most superficial of all the dominant mass media. It is also the most human. Humans are utterly devoted to the moving image, these descendants of curious hominids on a forgotten homeworld, the human fascination for the moving image, the emotionally complex human face, the simple repetitive nature.
Holovid comes in 3 forms: 1)Single Perspective, 2)Virtual Reality and 3)Phantom Projection
The first is a high resolution flexible flat panel screen that provides the intense illusion of three dimensions. This is the most popular and most produced version of holovid. Most of the popular news and entertainment programming is produced for it. In the era of the Frontier, the quality of the everyday holovid screen is universal. The result is that the 'movie-screen' is increasingly rare, especially among the dralasite, who prefer lonely introspection or determined and specific interaction even among their own kind. Screens smaller than 100 sq/cm have cannot display are simple LCD panels incapable of real depth display.
Flatscreens can display limited forms of all visual images, and can be crafted into practically any size greater than 100 square centimeters to a mega-screen several stories high. The panels are formed a milimeter in thickness for every square meter in size. The filmy flatscreen is often bonded to stronger polymers, or molded to fit the contours of nearly any shape. The cost is10cr per 100 square cm. However, most computers or CAS/CAC's come with a basic screen included, along with a simple audio suite.
This technology comes in many forms but involves a series of holovid projections in a 360 degree field of vision. Vision is occluded by microprojectors in a visor. The visor is also outfitted with micro-speakers for audio. Advance outfits also come with tactile
and scent inducers for a total experience. Feedback from the viewer can be performed with a sensor glove and specified hand movements, a keyboard, or even direct neural link.
In the frontier, the primary use of virtual reality is for training,
but it is also widely used for games and other experiential forms
Virtual reality rigs range in price based upon their list of options,
This is truly the state of the art in holovid: a three dimensional model of objects in space. A Phantom Simulator emits streams of charged particles that reform into the appearance of solid objects. The display is installed in pairs of two pads mounted opposite each other, either vertically or horizontally. The pads themselves are no larger than 1 square meter, but multiple projectors can be linked to make larger displays possible. The simulation is realistic yet has a distinct 'electronic' feel if examined closely. Advanced computers (level 3 or above) can 'peel' away layers of an object, allowing for cutaway views.
These 'Sims' eat up 10 times the amount of information of standard holo's and have a much higher cost.
Each Phantasm rig costs 10,000cr. Typically mounted on ships-bridges, the sim adds 10% to piloting maneuvers and astrogation skill checks where appropriate.
The communications technology of the Frontier is sophisticated, but there is still plenty of demand for printed communications, the print media, and other low-tech media.
The newspaper is little different from those we are commonly exposed to now, although delivery is often in electronic form, which is subsequently printed and bound into a conveniant bi-fold tabloid. Each settled planet has some form, although local censorship laws and community standards may vary wildly from community, nation, planet or system. For game purposes, they fall into roughly these categories, although some cater to single species interests.
At any given time since the founding of the Frontier, there have been between 3 and 5 interstellar newspapers serving wide communities of interest. Mergers, upstarts, and failures occur on a regular basis, but some have established themselves as benchmarks of journalism. Others are considered more frivolous, catering to prurient and salicious tastes, but generally getting a wide circulation.
This is the largest and oldest newspaper, a respected and surprisingly stodgy publication from a StarPlay subsidiary. It is generally considered or at least considers itself to be the paper of record for the Frontier. It is made available daily via E-Net or sold as hard-copy. Higher tech worlds deliver it using robot-delivery. Cost is 1cr. A subscription for one standard year is just 100cr, which comes with a free chronocom, if you order now.
The Znadkitkar Almanac
Commonly called "The Almanac" or just "The Nack" in Pan Gal, this vruskan publication has gained a wide readership because of its savvy, no-nonsense reporting. Its focus is primarily on commerce and free trade, and its slant is decidedly strong in its editorial outlook. However, it does a thorough job of reporting all kinds of news and information, since anything can affect the business of the Frontier.
This sensational news-zine is also published by StarPlay. Its
focus wanders into the lurid, the spectacular, the novel, and
at times nearly pornographic. Because it is under the same umbrella
as The Star, it casts a shadow on the more mainstream publication's
Like newspapers, magazines and other periodicals vary by audience,
system, species, etc. Moreover, there are popular publications
for mass audience and more narrowly focused ones, including scholarly
journals. Some are exclusively print, others carry electronic
components, holographic images, recorded sounds, and an endless
variety of formats.
This is the 'National Geographic' of the Frontier: A widely read,
exploration and science oriented journal published by the Society
for the Standard Day.
The vast distances between the systems of the frontier make any communication difficult and costly and real-time communications impossible. Subspace radio is the fastest known method of communication, allowing unimaginably fast transmission of signals from point to point in the space of an hour per light year. However, this amazing technology has severe limitations. For one thing, the cost of a transmission in power is tremendous. For another, it demands pinpoint accuracy and is fired in a brief burst of tachyon particles. From this we can assume that the amount of information sent in a single burst is limited, even allowing for a digital signal with extreme compression ratios.
For the purposes of this article, it is assumed that transmissions are also limited in the amount of distance they travel at a maximum of 20 light years. Beyond that distance communications are impossible, and grow more limited as they near that limit. At a distance of 1 light year, a single, pinpoint burst of subspace radio can recognizably transmit 1 gigabyte of information without loss. The amount of information is effectively halved every two light years or 500 megabytes at two light years, 250 megabytes at 4, due to the need to use lower compression ratios. Note that a gigabyte of information is the equivalent of 10 minutes of quality holovideo signal, 2 hours of audio signal, or two sets of encyclopedias if sent in text form.
|distance in light years||signal size in gigabytes|
The amount of signal that can be carried beyond this range is barely significant, but can be detected by sophisticated receiving equipment. However the amount of information capable of moving farther is limited to a simple emergency signal bearing minimal information such as ship registry, location, and number of survivors.
Further, to send a gigabyte of information is costly for those who don't have their own subspace transmitter. To send a signal via a commercial provider is up to cr.100 per gigabyte per lightyear and an additional 100 per relay used. Thus for a signal to travel the entire length of the frontier at the highest speeds requires the kind of capital only the largest megacorps and government agencies can afford, mainly because they are the ones that own the relays.
In any explored system there are a minimum of two federation-chartered Origination/Relay ("O and R") stations located at least one light minute (17.28 million km) apart. These stations are manned with a small compliment of highly trained technicians skilled in communications and cryptography. At least one of those systems is located on a space platform. The distance allows them to triangulate emergency beacon information. It also allows one relay post to monitor the other in case of disasters such as surprise Sathar attack. In addition to the mandatory two UPF relay posts, most systems have 1 commercial O/R stations for every million inhabitants to a maximum of five commercial. Of those, Starplay and its subsidiaries control at least one.
O/R stations are highly regulated and liscenced by the UPF. The liscences are among the most lucrative and highly prized possessions in a corporate portfolio. The reason is that they are supposed to be known quantities, their coordinates in real space fixed to within 1 kilometer of their known position. Only by maintaining that precise location are they able to be targeted by subspace signals billions of kilometers away. Moreover, a licensee is required to maintain the equipment at optimum levels, keep a minimum compliment of trained personnel who are themselves liscenced, and to transmit accurately and discretely all signals (although many anecdotal rumors cast doubt upon the latter quality... i.e. Starplay is very seldom 'scooped').
That does not mean that all communications in the frontier moves through O/R's. Quite to the contrary, any subspace-equipped ship or ground transceiver location can target any known coordinate within range. Therefore private and very temporary O/R stations can be set up by well connected corporations, law enforcment, military, or criminal organizations. All they need to do is deploy the infrastructure in a system to apprehend the tachyon burst and to relay it.
"Excuse me sir, you have a "Transtar".
No end of holovid blockbusters have latched onto this cliche. The hero gets a Transtar, giving him/her/it the crucial clue needed to defeat the detestable enemy, some sathar collaborator, pirate, or the vile live worms themselves. The meaning of 'transtar' is clear: a costly message of incredible importance.
For the well-connected, there is a way of moving signals across the frontier in a matter of hours or even minutes. This far exceeds the theoretical speed of subspace transmission, but uses a far less elegant but greater brute-force technology, the frontier equivalent of the pony express. The Society for the Standard Day and its parent Merchants Guild thus far is the master of this feat of monumentally precise scheduling, holding a virtual monopoly that even the UPF or its spacefleet cannot equal. Even they send urgent 'transtars' via SSD.
The method is simple in theory, horribly complex in execution. Transmission time via subspace radio is 1 hour per lightyear. Transtars take advantage of the fact that hips can traverse the void in a matter of seconds. Starplay has devised a scheduling system of transtar ships that dip into and out of the void, relaying information across real space via secured secured laser transmission. The network schedule is too complex for brief description, but suffice to say that if transtar fees are paid, a gigabyte message can traverse the entire frontier end to end in less than 1 hour. Those fees are steep: One hundred times the cost of normal subspace communication.
TranStar Courier ships are given priority over all vessels throughout the entire Frontier. Nothing has greater priority than a TranStarCourier. An on-duty TranStar has general priority over military, emergency, rescue, or diplomatic vessels. Only the UPF executive authority can overide this edict. Even in a period of martial law, these authorities are loath to tinker with the clockwork scheduling necessary to maintain the network. In times of emergency, all TranStar operations are impressed by the UPF for emergency communications. In fact, key TranStar personnel are required to have at least a nominal officer rank in the Spacefleet reserve corps.
Psi-Corp, the shadowy agency within Star Law has begun exploring a totally new method of super-luminal communication. It is the fastest and most feared form of getting messages across interstellar space.
Psi-Corp Com has found that certain pairs of enlighted fraternal twins (and, in at least one case, triplets) who share the discipline of Telepathy can achieve limited instant communication. The communication is exact and has been known to work to a distance of 40 light years! However, the contact is draining on the sender, who must exert complete concentration to initiate the link. The longest known use of the discipline is 3 minutes, after which the sender needed a full day of bed rest to recover.
Research on this method is in its earliest stages, with few reliable studies defining its limitations or potential for development, via drugs, genetic enhancement, or biomechanical supplementation. Still, it has the potential for providing untraceable, unjammable communications across the lightyears, providing real-time communication in a frontier that is scattered across dozens of remote star systems.
[editor's note-- the MRB concept was devised by Albin Johnson. His description is placed here, followed by additional notes from Tim Carrier]
Every major starport had a Message Relay Bank. MRB's were the mainstay of the quickly-growing new MegaCompany, Datacorp (a company that works a lot like Western Union or the old Pony Express, or even the amorphous Internet).
MRB's work on a simple premise: the average space-farer has little time or money trying to reach a party light-years away, especially if the party's location is unknown. So they purchase an account from Datacorp that allows them access to the entire MRB network. Information is processed by a fleet of heavy-duty communications and relay satellites, channelling vast amounts of data every day. The average customer can check at each Starport message center to see if 'mail' is awaiting them. Accounts usually run from 1200 -2400 credits a year, plus transfer charges.
For those who cannot afford to have their messages forwarded from system to system, some people (mostly on-the-go spacers) leave static messages at frequently travelled ports. The messages can cost anywhere from 10 to 100 credits and stay there in hopes that the recipient will soon be passing that way and check for it. It is a good system. Datacorp has profited tremendously and simultaneously stream-lined the availability and transportation of information across the Frontier. However, suspicion has grown over the power Datacorp has in handling so much sensitive data. Surely an abuse of that power would be profitable, but such a matter is the subject of politicians and nothing has emerged to prove it occurs.
[additional notes below on MRB's by Tim Carrier]
Message Relay Banks are the most common form of interstellar communications. These are the SF equivalent of email, with every person on the frontier capable of having at least one personal private MRB account. MRB's can be accessed through special booths located in public places, or accessed remotely for an additional fee. Because the amount of access locations available (the MRB is distributed via subspace relay throughout the entire frontier) the size of messages are limited to one Megabyte. This is the equivalent of 1 minute of low-rez video, 10 minutes of audio or the equivalent text/pictures. An MRB account has a limit of 1 gig or 100 maximum-sized messages.
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