State of the Moonion - newsletter Jan 2021

Planet Earth is hard. Let’s talk about the moon.

Injecting more engineering

The infrastructure and equipment of Moon Town has been designed to a draft state only, and fleshing designs out has now begun. Doing this through the Tough SF Discord server has turned out to be quite an effective approach. I have only gone over two designs with them so far, and now both need extensive editing to incorporate the improvements they outlined.

The first was the Molten Soil Reactor, which extracts oxygen and iron from the mineral ilmenite, a constituent of the regolith near the town. In this, they displayed superior Google-fu. In half an hour they posted a schematic of such a reactor that I’d never run across when researching this, shown below. Now several pieces of the reactor will be shuffled around and reshaped to reflect it. Also worth mentioning, they found this on a website I was aware of but hadn’t checked out in a while, the Lunar Homestead project. They do a great job of cataloguing and summarizing settlement research, and I should work more with them in future.

schematic of a fluidized bed reactor for the moon
This schematic is from "Space Resources - Vol 3, Materials", a collection of articles published as a volume by NASA in 1992. It can be downloaded from the NSS Space Settlement Library

The second was the vertical stairs. There was one person who thought they were a decent system but ladders would be better, and everyone else hated them. The biggest lesson I got from this is that there should be nice, easy, shallow ramps as an alternative. (Ramps already exist but are steep and favor the transport robots over people.) But I also changed them so they don’t require any stretching, and recovery is easy if you miss a step. It will take a while before it can be incorporated in the game.

A man climbing stairs made of two parallel ladders designed to step from one to the other side to side

Vetting and improving all the designs will take months. I continue to seek avenues to getting good input on that.

Stability is job 1

The code that manages the events in a live online game with many players is very complex. It’s difficult to find a capable programmer in this area, especially as a small project, and it’s a feather in our cap that we have one. Truth be known, the demo is a highly sophisticated product for something mostly being used to acquire financial support. Our game has quite a unique business model and target audience, so for us it was important to have something sufficient to draw in early users at the same time as we pursue funding. Thus we had to grind through the process of making it stable, which gets harder on a steepening curve the more complex something is. And we did it! You know, mostly – the kind of thing expected of a pre-alpha release.

In fact, the server has been running fine for days, and today we will have to restart it not because of a crash, but because somebody drove off one of the rovers and left it somewhere, and we can’t find it. The game environment is a really large place. Hunting for a rover that is 20 m across and not finding it really gets that across. We’ll have to do a restart so it begins again in its parking spot. Please, if you drive one of the rovers, bring it back to the airlock bay when you are done. Until we can add code to make them pop back to their starting point after a while if they’ve been abandoned.

Steve

Steve is a nice guy. Most AI game characters are, but we think he is especially nice. All he wants to do is go to the pool, but he’s new and can’t find it. Yes, we know it’s hard, it’s a big place. So if you start talking to him, he asks you if you can take him there, and follows you while you do. He was created with our character maker, already part of the game. He’ll be part of the next release, he’s still being polished. He sometimes gets stuck in corners, poor thing.

The character maker is a big deal. We hope to show off how big a deal by making more characters people can interact with. The first such character created by a player will be an important milestone, and I’m searching for a willing guinea pig to do that. If you are interested please let me know! Email me at kim@moonwards.com

At this point, it’s helpful to have some familiarity with visual coding tools in order to make one. Later we will make it easier to use and provide a set of tutorials and lessons. For now, Yael, who wrote the character maker, will help you through the process. And I’ll probably record some of that, so we can show it off.

An artificial game character having dialogue with a player

The Question of License

As we refine our business plan and begin seeking financial support, researching our licensing has been vital. The project currently is under the MIT license, among the most permissive open source licenses there are. At this point it could be wise to switch to an AGNU license, the crux of which is that anyone who uses our code would be obliged to also make their code open source. (Unlike a GNU license, an AGNU license also applies if the application is only accessed online – which could definitely apply in our case.) That means that if a group copied our project and charged for it, they would be competing with us on a level playing field, and would need to appeal to the same core community. We feel comfortable we can compete successfully in that scenario. We have not yet made the decision to switch licenses, however, as there is much to consider and time must be taken.

We have applied to be an associated project of Software in the Public Interest (SPI). They are a 501(c)3 organization that acts as a fiscal sponsor of various open source projects. That means that they handle legal and accounting matters for their associated projects. So, for instance, if accepted, they would enforce our license terms, and would ensure that any funds donated to us are spent on our projects needs according to the standards of a 501(c)3 (although we aren’t such an organization ourselves). In return, they would receive a percentage of any such donations – typically 10%. At our stage of development, this is a very good deal. We get services that could otherwise be expensive for us, from specialists. We get mentoring. They give confidence to donors that their money will be well spent. And donors in the United States can claim a tax deduction, thanks to their 501(c)3 status.

The process of joining SPI is now under way, but we will also be applying to the other similar fiscal sponsor organizations available.

Ok – that was a lot of stuff. I hope it was interesting. Cheers!