The Arcenverse

This is relatively spoiler-free.  When it talks about specific games, it largely is talking about their premise.  The details of any particular story are where meaningful spoilers would be, and those are skipped. 

Table of Contents

What Is The Arcenverse?

Most of the games in the Arcen lineup are in the same sci-fi universe/multiverse.  It’s somewhere on the softer end of hard sci-fi (or the harder end of soft sci-fi), but it’s an internally-consistent universe, anyhow.  There’s no magic, the rules of science as we understand them from a lay perspective apply, and the imagined-science that fills in the fiction part of science-fiction is consistent from game to game.

The Chronology So Far

Earth Timeline

  • Two Billion BCE: The Zenith go extinct in every universe of the multiverse that has humanity in it.  This is important, because in the universes where the Zenith survive, humanity never gets a chance to exist.
  • Human History Up Until Now: All the same as what we know in the real world.
  • 25th Century: Humans start spreading to other planets, but not very fast.  Nobody meets any aliens.
  • 26th Century: Earth is becoming a backwater.  Nations are considered an anachronism, and are finally abolished; they have been gone in spirit for generations as it is, replaced by corporations.  This is not a good thing.  Inequality between the rich and poor has grown to astronomical levels.
  • 27th Century: Corporations on Earth have a series of nuclear wars, which further deplete the planet.  Overall, it’s getting pretty dystopian around here.  However, humanity is thriving out in the stars.  All manner of civilizations, both wonderful and terrible, religious and secular, autocratic and democratic, have someplace out in the stars by now.  Earth is not so lucky.
  • 28th Century: Nuclear war is clearly bad for business, so the Earth Corporations turn to other forms of jockeying for power.  A lot of advances in robotics, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and genetics come out of these short-sighted squabbles, and those advances are simultaneously great for humanity and very dangerous to it.
  • 29th Century: Earth Corporations are in their final days.  The earth is a polluted wreck, and many forms of irresponsibly-used technology are running amok on the planet.  For anyone with any wealth at all, it makes far more sense to just leave the planet and either immigrate to another human world, or try to conquer a new one — except there’s a blockade around earth from the humans space nations, so everyone is locked here.  A few corporations are eventually able to break the blockade, and right around that time, the Earth mysteriously disappears.  

Starfaring Timeline

  • 25th Century: Wormholes are discovered, and how to traverse them.  There are plenty of planets to go around for humans to share.  Most wormholes come out near a planetary body that is colonizable, for whatever reason.  A quirk of nature, or someone’s prior design?  No aliens have been discovered despite all these worlds, but there are plenty of ruins of multiple alien civilizations, the Zenith Among them.
  • 26th Century: By reverse-engineering ancient Zenith automatons known as “Golems,” humans discover the science needed for the creation of Dark Matter Drives (DMDs).  These quickly spread to all spacecraft used by any humans.  They allow for extended sub-lightspeed travels outside of wormhole use.  Some groups of humans head out of the wormhole network and are never heard from again (but then again, that’s to be expected unless someone invents FTL communications).
  • 27th Century: AI that appears sentient, but which is really just a combination of a Large Language Model and an expert system, has been achieved hundreds of times.  The better ones are by the space nations, but this knowledge — and indeed most knowledge — is not shared with the Earth Corporations, who are widely seen as corrupt and an embarrassment to the far more enlightened space cultures of humanity.  These cultures get into wars from time to time, but it’s hard to stay too mad when there’s so much room for everyone.  Someone always eventually just decides it is easier to go somewhere else.
  • 28th Century: First Contact.  Followed by a dozen more alien contacts immediately after.  The details were largely kept secret by the governments and individuals involved.  Humans now number in the trillions across a few hundred star systems, but immediately all expansion ceases.  Governments confer in secret, and electromagnetic broadcasts into broader space are quieted.  On a cosmic scale, the very noisy humanity seems to notice something and go quiet.  Earth itself is under a blockade by the space nations of humanity, for reasons unclear.
  • 29th Century: The Earth Corporations break the blockade and arrive in space, right on the heels of the unexpected disappearance of Earth.  Knowledge of aliens and many technologies has been withheld from them, but similarly their knowledge of nanotechnology and genetic manipulation has been kept from everyone else.  A brutal “Civil War” erupts and lasts for nearly 8 centuries.  It’s considered to be the first and only humanity-wide civil war, since despite their many governments and political entities, humans now see themselves as a single species existing in a dangerous expanse of often-warring other sentient species.
  • 37th Century: Sentient AI breaks ranks from its human masters.  The AI is disjointed and disorganized, but still takes easy command of all human technology.  Billions of human soldiers are lost, and all human presence in known space is lost.  However, there are still those humans who flew to parts unknown with their DMDs, and additionally there are still trillions of civilians trapped on hundreds of settled human worlds.  The AIs do not engage these worlds in ground combat or bomb them, but do set up space-based blockades.
  • 38th Century: A tiny pocket of a few thousand human soldiers did indeed survive the purge of the AIs, it turns out.  Now that they have hardened their ships and systems against AI interference, they are ready to strike back.  Thus begins — and swiftly ends — the AI War, the war against the machines who took everything from us.  Depending on which universe you are looking at, humanity both canonically wins and loses this fight.  In some cases they have alien help, in others alien enemies, and in still others no aliens are involved at all.  In a few very strange timelines, living Zenith from a neighboring universe manage to hop into our universe, and are not pleased with what they see.
  • 39th Century: In any of the universes where humanity wins the AI War, they now face the task of reintegrating trillions of divergent societies with one another in a hopefully-peaceful way.  Remnants of the AIs still abound as well, so it’s quite a dangerous time to be alive.

The story of humans beyond this point has not been written or explored yet, but humans do go on living in every universe where they exist.  Having spread themselves so widely, they are quite difficult to eradicate entirely.  That’s true of most spacefaring races, to be honest — if someone wants to remain unseen and get away, and they have a Dark Matter Drive — which all of the sentient races seem to use — then it’s almost impossible to destroy them in an absolute sense.

AI Timeline (Largely Redacted)

  • 33rd Century: The AIs encounter [redacted] and are drawn into a truly desperate war in interstellar space.  Fortunately, [redacted], so drastic measures can be avoided for now.
  • 37th Century: The war in interstellar space is ongoing, and [redacted].  Seeing no alternative, the AIs destroy all human presence outside of planet gravity wells, and properly silence all human civilization.  Humanity is still very much alive, but even to the human insurrectionists in the 38th century, the planets look lifeless.  “Good,” the AIs agree.
  • 38th Century: It’s really only the dregs of the AIs that have been left in human-colonized wormhole-accessible space.  The AIs have cracked the mysteries of wormhole creation, giving them a limited form of FTL travel.  Most of their attention is still on the war in interstellar space, however, which is at a particularly sensitive juncture.  This is when the human insurrectionists — the last of their kind left in space, in hiding for the last century — strike back against the picket AIs.  The AIs decide [redacted], and consequently [redacted], but [redacted]. “This is very bad,” the AIs agree.

The entire story of the AIs is redacted beyond this point, for now.

The Andromeda Timeline

  • Five Million BCE: A mysterious party seeds nine races on nine planets, somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy.
  • 35th Century: Some of these races are encountered by a sub-AI that sardonically refers to itself as The Scourge.  [redacted]
  • 118th Century: All nine races are poised to become spacefaring civilizations, but the Hydrals get there first.  They then set about shooting down any manned missions the other races launch.
  • 120th Century: Two of the other races strap rockets to a moon, as seen in The Biscuit Federation, and that’s the end of the Hydrals — save for one.  That  Hydral, now the last of its kind, swears revenge on the concept of nationalism, and becomes a mercenary-type pulling the strings behind the scenes of the politics of all the other races.  Its hope is to create a lasting Federation of races that will last.  How exactly this plays out, and who survives, if anyone, is universe-dependent.

The Near-Heat-Death Timeline

  • It’s been a while.  Almost a hundred trillion years, actually.  But not quite.  The universe is in a state of near maximum entropy, but it’s going to be quite a while before black holes swallow everything, before a possibly Big Rip, and before a potential new Big Bang.  So for now it seems like it’s pretty close to the end of all things, give or take another trillion years.
  • Our Hydral protagonist from the Andromeda timeline returns — in the universes where they survived, anyhow — and explores for mysterious signals.  Not a whole lot is mysterious to them at this point, but a few things catch their attention now and then.

How Games Fit Into The Chronology

Heart of the Machine (upcoming, 2024) — 28th Century — Corporations own everything, but there aren’t any AIs yet.  A machine intelligence suddenly emerges in the midst of green and temperate Siberia, in one of the richest cities on Earth, which is a generally-awful place to be.  Genres: 4X, Strategy, RPG

Bionic Dues (2013) — 29th Century — Corporations own everything, robots are rising up, AIs are trying to take over bits and pieces of land, and the Corporation that employs you is a specialist in bionic implants.  Your job is to go in and liberate a city from the glitchy machines that have overrun it before the Company decides to just nuke the whole lot. Genres: Turn based tactics

In Case Of Emergency, Release Raptor (aborted but now freeware, 2016) — 31st Century — Corporations have fled the Earth, which now belongs to the poor and to the AIs.  Everyone is off busy having wars in space, but meanwhile people need to stay alive on Earth, too.  This is a post-history moment in time, and not something that any of the spacefaring humans ever find out happened.  The Corporation that once owned this part of the planet were specialists in genetics, and of course they had bio-engineered intelligent dinosaurs for amusement.  Just like in the movies!  Some enterprising individuals from the humans who are left decide to free one such animal, and ask it to save them from the machines in their sector.  Surprisingly, it complies.  You are that raptor.  Genre: procedurally-generated dungeon crawler

Untitled 3D Survival Game (canceled, 2017) — 33rd Century — You awaken on a planet, isolated in the mountains.  This is indeed a planet called Earth, but it’s not Earth Prime.  Good thing you’re handy with a firearm.  Genre: FPS, survival

Exodus of the Machine (cancelled, 2013) — I may have the timeline wrong on this one.  This was to be Keith’s story and design, and I don’t remember all the details.  Genres:  visual novel, kind of an Oregon-trail-like.

AI War (2009) — 38th Century — The first Arcen title, and definitively the most popular as of 2021, sees you in charge of “the last of humanity” as you understand it.  There’s no way to contact the trillions of people alive on various planets, and if you tried to then they would probably try to tell you what to do or fight you.  All you can do is fight the AI, which seems to grow angier the more progress you make.  You may wind up meeting the Zenith, Neinzul, and Spire races, and several factions among them.  The only Zenith are synthetic replicants from their race (like Mr. Data from Star Trek), rather than proper specimens from their original race.  Genres: 4X, Tower Defense, RTS, Grand Strategy

AI War 2 (2019) — 38th Century — The largest and most expensive Arcen title.  The same story as the original AI War, but a variety of different universes from the first one.  You can meet all of the same races as in the original, but you can also encounter them in far more detail than before.  You also see some of what the Scourge brought back from Andromeda.  Genres: 4X, RTS, Grand Strategy

Stars Beyond Reach (canceled, 2015) — 116th Century — The second-largest and second-most-expensive Arcen title.  This involves three new alien races, a sentient planet, and a whole lot of tales of woe (in terms of the three-part promotional animated shorts, in-game, and in the development process).  Genres: 4X, Citybuilder, Grand Strategy

The Last Federation (2014) — 120th Century — The last living Hydral — that’s you — is bent on bringing about a Federation of Races in its solar system, no matter the cost.  One of Arcen’s most popular and unique titles.  Genres: Grand Strategy, (optional) turn-based bullet-hell

Starward Rogue (2016) — Near Heat Death Of Universe — The Last Hydral is way off in space doing interesting things on its own.  For the moment, that means investigating a signal emanating from a megalith sticking out of the side of a star.  Genres: Isaac-like, bullet hell

How Does Arcen Use The Term Hard Sci-Fi?

“Hard science fiction” are stories that are told from within the perspective of scientific possibility.  In other words, anything that happens is to some degree plausible, scientifically, based on what we know — and, critically, do not know about the nature of our universe.

However, when we get very far out from the present day, this falls apart almost immediately.  Partly because of things like the fact that we haven’t yet met any aliens, or experienced certain common elements that can be written about.  But also because physics is so dang complicated!  There’s a lot that is known in cosmology, but as a non-scientist it’s hard to keep track of what is the consensus, what is a realistic theory, and what is just an interesting idea.

Turns out that ideas like String Theory, which have been captivating the popular imagination (including my own) for decades, are completely junk and have always been so.  It also turns out that dark matter isn’t some theory to explain math that didn’t quite work yet, but instead is just a bunch of literal observations that are all consistent with one another.  Dark energy has no relation, it’s just “missing energy” that is confusingly named, and perhaps the leading theory is that such energy is in transit through space?  It’s really hard to be sure on that.

It is incredibly hard to keep up with all of this, and the understanding of those of us who have written in this universe has always been non-professional in general.  None of us are physicists.  So with that in mind, the details of this universe are going to and have diverged from what known-reality is over time.  The general stance here is that it’s better to keep this fictional universe consistent with itself, while reconciling with improved understandings of science as possible, but to stick with faulty understandings where it would require a giant retcon.

I’m a fan of both Star Trek and Star Wars, but essentially you can tell that a large number of writers working in both franchises kind of go “well, I want something to happen a certain way, so insert some technobabble here.”  And often the technobabble doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So let’s talk about plausibility in the Arcen series:

  • The protagonist of both The Last Federation and Starward Rogue is a Hydral, a large sentient creature that has multiple heads that look dragon-ish and which do in fact grow back after being chopped off.  Unlike the fantasy beast, more heads don’t grow back; it’s purely regenerative.  Probably the thing that pushes the limits the most is that a head is able to survive without a body, but placed into a mech suit that has a radio link to the rest of the Hydral.  This is kind of me pulling a Star Trek, and that’s the way it goes, I suppose.
  • The Last Federation also depicts a single solar system with nine habitable planets (although gas giants being habitable is a complex topic), and each planet has an individual sentient race on it.  This is unlikely in the extreme, and the lore calls this out and notes that there’s no way that solar system could have evolved that way naturally.  This is something that needed to be the way it is for gameplay reasons, but it also raises questions of potential intelligent design in that specific solar system (kind of like the Obin in the Old Man’s War series).
  • We don’t really represent time in any meaningful way in the AI War games, and energy transfer is kind of the same thing.  In other words, events happen in a matter of minutes rather than over months, flight times are massively reduced, and you don’t have to worry about how energy is distributed through the wormhole network.  Once you build a new reactor, you just have energy everywhere.  Uh… yeah, that’s definitely not hard sci fi.  The way that wormholes work also has a pretty loose relation to reality, but it makes for useful storytelling and is similar to many other stories with similar types of FTL.

When players ask me how energy or something like that works, I do exactly what the Star Trek writers do, and I start pulling stuff out of my rear end based on what I know about current science and theoretical science.  But most importantly, I also note that certain things make for good game mechanics, and so the entirety of those games are basically an abstraction of reality.

I used to consider the Arcenverse  to be hard sci fi, because at least it’s trying to be consistent.  But I think maybe a better term would be “Internally Consistent Sci Fi,” overall.   Most of the time there’s some attempt to also root the science of these games in reality, but sometimes that goes out the window on purpose, and other times I simply have a large misunderstanding of what the current state of physics and cosmology actually suggests is real. 

The ships have reactors that burn dark matter, but there’s no consensus yet among physicists on what dark matter is — they know it exists, and certain things about it, but a lot of the rest is theoretical.  The Arcenverse posits a very fanciful and unusual version of what it might be, because it makes for interesting storytelling.

Conceptually, no ships are breaking the speed of light, and lightspeed limitations are partly related to lore about the AI and how it’s able to be surprised.  The aliens are truly alien, and tend to not be humanoid in the slightest, but there’s nothing we know about that suggests a sentience could not arise in such a way.

The Arcenverse is meant to be internally consistent if nothing else.  The term tachyon has been assigned a meaning, and it has only that one meaning rather than being used for many different convenient plot devices.  The alien races, their motivations, and what happens with them all follow my own understanding of what we could actually run into out there.  The Arcenverse subscribes in general to the Dark Forest theory of why we don’t see more alien races than we do, and that helps me get away with a lot.

When it comes to questions of “how something works,” I specifically will avoid giving a definitive answer for as long as possible, so that I have more options for story possibilities in the future.  If I prematurely answer those questions in a canonical way, then the possibilities for the future are diminished.  I want lots of flexibility in the future, so I only answer what I need to for each story.  Unlike Star Trek, I work really hard to not say that transporters work one way, and then later undo that (not that the Arcenverse has transporters).  That’s a luxury I have since I get to steward this narrative universe by myself, and don’t have to worry about dozens or hundreds of writers I’ll never meet not understanding my prior intentions.

At any rate, when it comes down to it, I place gameplay first, and then make sure that it makes sense in the scientific context of the Arcenverse.  And I’m really good at coming up with bs scientific explanations, on the spot if needed, for pretty much anything.  To me, the key is not taking the bs too seriously, but at the same time respecting it and not just saying anything goes.

Which Games Are Not Part Of The Arcenverse?

Anything that is not hard sci-fi.  After all, I occasionally enjoy writing stories that are fantasy or horror or similar.  So what we have on that list is:

Tidalis (2010)  is in a cartoon world all of its own.  The story is absurdist and funny, and was written by my ex wife, Marisa Miner.  She did a great job.

Shattered Haven (2013) was Arcen’s fifth title, but it was the game that I was working on prior to all the rest.  It’s a light horror game with its own mythology, and zombies are only part of it.  It doesn’t really exist connected to any other narrative, aside from the novel that I was working on that led to it.

Silent Halls (canceled, 2017), is another horror game set in a supernatural world without real connections to anything else.  Part of me was interested in tying it very loosely to some of the Shattered Haven storyline, but I wound up not doing that.

A Valley Without Wind 1 and 2 (2012 and 2013)  are technically science fiction, but they are not hard sci fi.  They’re… I guess space opera, kind of?  But just set on a single planet, so I’m not sure if that works entirely as a subgenre descriptor.  On the face of them, they look like fantasy, but it’s kind of in the same vein as Chrono Trigger in that regard.  You see the far future and the far past, and there is magic, but you get the sense that this is some sort of property of the locale (as is the case with The Force in Star Wars) rather than something completely supernatural.  Then again… there’s a lot of supernatural elements, including a relentless demon chasing you around the overworld in Valley 2, so maybe I can’t really claim not-fantasy.  

At any rate, these two games both take place in their own little multiverse, where a single world (Environ) has gone through a 4D shattering and reforming.  In other words, the planet was broken across time and space, and reformed in a single spot, which I thought was kind of cool.  Each version of each game that someone plays is a different universe unto itself, and the (many) differences between the two games are best explained as being groups of parallel universes that are a bit more distant from one another.  But none of them is “more valid” than any other.  This is the exact relationship that AI War 1 and 2 have with each other, come to that.