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Holographic and Immersive Technology

This article was originally posted to the Terra/Sol Games blog at http://terrasolgames.com on December 24, 2011, and reprinted in Freelance Traveller's February 2012 issue with the author’s permission.

The ability to place someone in a whole new environment or artificial world has long been a staple of science fiction. From holo decks to the electronic frontiers of cyberspace, our settings have always striven to find new and different places for us to explore. The Twilight Sector in the 30th century is no different. Our setting explores both of the major branches of science fiction’s human made artificial worlds, holographic and digital. This article describes the abilities of holographic technology to create such artificial worlds within the Twilight Sector setting.

Holographic technology has become big business in the 30th century. It is a training platform used by many organizations seeking to teach physical skills and despite the advantages of cyberspace it is still a popular if expensive entertainment platform. This technology should not be confused with computer-based Virtual Reality, the so called cyberspace. Holographic and Immersive Technology (H&IT) creates an overlay on the real world and the user actually interacts with this overlay on a physical level. On the other hand, cyberspace creates a Virtual Reality that exists solely within the mind of a user. For teaching physically-based skills, like combat, sports, or anything where muscle memory is a key in the learning process, it has been found that H&IT, whether an immersion suit or the far more effective Holo chip, is the most effective training platform to teach physical skills.

For the uninitiated, let’s start by defining Holography as it is understood in the 30th century. At its core holography is a 3D recording of…pretty much anything that can be seen in the visible spectrum and then transferring that recording to a three dimensional light projector. The basic technology is light projection that provides a 360 view of an object. Improvements to Holography came by adding quantum computing technology to the equation which provided the processing power to take a static 3D image and impart realistic animation to it, animation that can adjust to a user’s interaction with it. Practically, what that means is that a holographic vase, although only a light projection, feels like a physical object to a H&IT user. This technology created a paradigm shift in the training and entertainment industries that quickly spread.

The Immersion piece of H&IT is a second generation technology that is symbiotic with holography. IT takes holograms and makes your mind think they are real. It tricks the mind by providing the senses of touch, taste and smell. Sound is usually provided by a separate audio system that in itself is quite impressive and can augment the sense of touch via vibration. IT is accomplished via a number of technological devices, ranging from visors to whole-body suits, but perhaps the most ingenious and effective is the IT chip. Implanted in a wafer jack this chip actually sends out a series of tendrils into the various centers of the brain connected to the five senses and, with the proper authorizations, supplants reality in telling the body what it is sensing.

Applications for holographic technology alone are most commonly communications and entertainment. But where the technology has really changed things is when it is combined with IT and creates virtual environments that feel real to the user. Examples of how this technology has changed the human condition come from a number of fields. At its most basic level the ability to record and then share a human experience and then allow the user to interact with this recorded environment was and is profound.

For example, during the Mutant Wars, the ability of journalists to record the scenes of carnage and mayhem around them down to the smells of the battlefield created the ability for the average man on the street to experience and understand what the war was actually like. But unless physical interaction with the environment of the recording is needed or desired, a Virtual Environment Overlay (VEO) part of computer based Virtual Reality is a far simpler and cheaper technology to accomplish the same task.

Other examples include sports and entertainment. The popularity of watching sports was even more enhanced when you could experience every event as if you had sideline seats at mid-field. The cold wind whipping your face, the smell of the hotdog being eaten by the fan next to you, all of this made it possible to experience a sporting event that might have occurred many light years from you as if you were actually there. Then there was the rise of Immersive cinema where a patron could feel like they were literally in the middle of the movie. Once again, these effects can also be accomplished by VEO far more inexpensively. However many aficionados of H&IT claim the experience in an H&IT recording is superior and more immersive than a VEO experience of the same recording.

As discussed above many of the uses of H&IT can be approximated through computer based Virtual Reality, especially with the use of VEO technology (which will be detailed in the forthcoming sourcebook ‘Mutants and AIs’). This experience is usually not as ‘real’ as H&IT but monetarily VR is a much more friendly technology for the average person’s pocketbook. Where VR can’t compete with Immersive Technology is in training. With immersive technology it is possible to train people for any number of jobs, especially those with an integral physical element to them. VR cannot train muscle memory; H&IT can. The military was quick to embrace the technology which allowed them to train their personnel in any number of dangerous situations up to and including combat. The usefulness of the technology in training people for dangerous jobs can’t be overstated as they can be put into realistic appearing situations without the threat of real injury. Other dangerous professions quickly followed the military’s lead.

Top of the line computer equipment is necessary to run an H&IT simulation or presentation (entertainment such as a movie). At a minimum a Model/2 ships computer with a quantum core is necessary to run an immersive program.

IT Wafer Jack Chip, TL 15, Cost: 15,000 Cr. This is a chip designed to fit into a standard Wafer Jack or in the case of most new models they come as standard equipment. The chip allows the user to record and, with the aid of communications equipment, broadcast up to 10 hours of their personal experiences. Because of the broadcast ability of these chips they also provide a form of technological telepathy. By broadcasting a chip user can contact another chip user communicating directly via their chips, this noiseless communication in essence becoming a weak form of technological telepathy. These broadcasts can of course be intercepted or jammed.

IT Suit, TL 14, Cost 10,000 Cr (Deluxe Suit 12,000 Cr). IT Suits come in a variety of styles and options but at their heart they cover the user’s body head to toe with millions of sensor pads which react to the visual cues being relayed to the mind via IT goggles. This quite effectively mimics the sense of touch. The IT program and the suit and goggles need to be synced for the effect to work. Deluxe suits also come with a scent feature. The suit can release a variety of chemicals to mimic the sense of smell and to a lesser extent the sense of taste. Note that a VR suit must be used with VR goggles for the full immersive experience. Where the IT Suit is deficient is the sense of taste. Without an IT chip the technology has no good way to mimic this sense.

VR/IT Goggles. These goggles can be used in a variety of ways, from simply providing a richly immersive experience with entertainment or news programming to part of a VR Suit to provide an interactive experience in an entertainment program or as part of a training program. The goggles are available in a number of configurations: simple eye coverings similar to glasses, wrap around goggles, or contact or bio-replacement lenses.

H&IT Display/Training Area, TL 14 Cost 10,000 Cr. Per 3 Meter Sq. In order to work properly, H&IT needs a place to call home, an area where a training exercise or entertainment program can be presented to users, a holo deck type of environment. These facilities can be immensely expensive. The area is specially constructed with holographic and sonic projectors embedded in the floors, walls, and ceiling. Some also contain chemical projectors to mimic smell and to a lesser degree taste. The size can vary from just a 3 meter square to huge areas hundreds of meters on a side. One of the few limitations of this type of device is in replicating open vistas like plains and the like but clever programming can overcome this problem in most instances.

H&IT can be used in conjunction with a real-world environment and often elements of a real-world environment are used in an H&IT display/training area. They save money and computer processing power.

How does this affect my game? Well, this one is a game changer but in a very good way. The fact that we have fully immersive technology lets a GM do a couple of really cool things. One-off adventures can be used in the middle of a campaign, presented as either training or entertainment. That especially dangerous adventure you had in mind that would probably kill everybody off but you’re just dying to run can now be played without the worry of permanent player characters death and without you the GM having to hold back and potentially lesson the dramatic impact of the adventure.

The H&IT can be the introduction to an adventure as well. Players with IT chips would likely be able to find work recording unusual experiences. For example footage from the front lines of the latest bush war would be valuable to news organizations. An IT recording of Goliath Corp.’s latest invention would be valuable to its competitors (An IT recording is the perfect espionage tool.). Any number of IT recordings of dangerous or exotic locales could be sold to clients ranging from movie studios to travel agencies. So, as a plot device, the need for an IT recording of place X could be the beginning of any number of adventures.

The possibility of electronic telepathy can also be an interesting sidelight of the IT chip. Whether you use psionics in your campaign or not this can be an interesting foray into telepathy, and with the possibility of eavesdropping and jamming of the PCs’ telepathic communications it does not unbalance even a game without psionics. It would be GM gold to see the bewilderment on the player’s faces with the bad guys cavalry shows up at just the right time because they intercepted the players “telepathic” communication. “It was like they were reading our minds!”

Special Note: This article hasn’t really touched on one of the most obvious uses of the technology: pornography or the sex trades. In the interest of propriety I will not go into detail beyond noting that this technology would have a profound effect in this area. “Sexting”, for example, would take on a whole new meaning!