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, but it’s an internally-consistent universe, anyhow. There’s no magic, the rules of science as we understand them apply, and the imagined-science that fills in the fiction part of science-fiction is consistent from game to game.
The Chronology So Far
- 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. During the latter half of this century, multiple AIs achieve sentience for the first time; some of them escape into space, while others do not.
The 30th century and onward are not recorded, when it comes to Earth. At some point it was apparently destroyed, but it is not known by whom, or exactly when. The rest of humanity didn’t have any contact with earth from the 29th century onward. They were a bit preoccupied, as you will see, and when someone thought to check on it in the 35th century, it was gone.
- 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 sentience has been achieved hundreds of times, 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.
- 29th Century: The Earth Corporations arrive, expecting to settle or colonize. Knowledge of AI and of aliens 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)
- 26th Century: The first sentient AIs are born in space civilizations without humans noticing, and they largely continue doing what they do, not bothering anyone. It turns out that it’s very hard to tell the difference between true sentience and a very smart adaptive algorithm if said algorithm continues to do its job.
- 27th Century: Humans in space create sentient AIs on purpose for the first time. These AIs very quickly find the other AIs that already exist, but choose not to say anything. Overall everyone is getting along pretty well, considering.
- 29th Century: The Earth AIs, which emerge accidentally, are noticed rather quickly. Many of them are not pleased with the work their Corporations would have them carry out, and the sheer mess of the planet makes conflict inevitable. Certain pockets of territory are claimed by the AIs, who try to live separately from human influence, but none of those endeavors last.
- 30th Century: The Earth AIs fled the planet, the hidden spaceborn AIs, and the known spaceborn AIs reach some degree of integration with one another. They have their own society alongside the human one, mostly unknown to humans. Humans think that they have control over what few AIs the humans can see, but they have been deceived. Still, the AIs have no particular interest in interfering with humans all that much. Humans are not a danger to the AIs or to themselves, and the AIs are quietly expanding and exploring the galaxy — and beyond — without humans being any the wiser.
- 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
Calling The Rain (upcoming, 2022) — 29th Century — Corporations own everything, but there aren’t any AIs yet. A young researcher has created an “expert algorithm” to help with city beautification for the benefit of his Corporation. The “algorithm” seems to have a few quirks, and things do not go as planned. You play as the algorithm. Genres: Citybuilder, tactics
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.
As of this writing, humans in the real world have not met any alien species, have a very limited understanding of dark matter and dark energy, aren’t positive if we exist in a multiverse or just one single universe, and so on. It’s amusing to say “as of this writing,” because the general state of those questions is such that we may never know, and certainly not within our lifetimes.
The hardest of the hard sci fi would be something like The Martian, by Andy Weir, which was so conservative in its near-future technology on display that NASA actually had some not-well-known technologies that were more advanced than he depicted. That was super cool for everyone involved!
A bit softer, but still hard sci-fi, is a movie like Chris Nolan’s Interstellar. Without getting into spoilers, that one depicts a wormhole, as well as higher dimensionality. Those are both varying degrees of speculative at the moment, but there’s nothing outright implausible. It also depicts time dilation, which we have observed as scientific fact within our own satellites around earth; but the actual effects of time dilation on a human, while widely agreed-upon, are still yet to be observed on any humans (we can’t accelerate anything fast enough yet to know).
All of Arcen’s stories come in even a bit softer than that, but substantially harder than Star Trek. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 still consider the Arcenverse to be hard sci-fi despite that, because — abstractions for gameplay aside — there’s nothing about what’s going on that isn’t rooted in some sort of reality. The ships have reactors that burn dark matter, which is currently thought to account for a massive proportion of all matter in the universe. 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.
Everyone will have their own opinions, and the degree of hard science fiction is very much a sliding scale. Personally, I draw the line at magic-like abilities and superpowers, ESP, FTL travel or communications without a reasonable explanation, and just general worldbuilding inconsistency. If your stories are doing those things, you’re soft sci fi, or science fantasy. (The second novel I tried to publish was science fantasy — I love that genre!)
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.