Programming Languages in the Star Frontiers Game

by Thomas Verreault

A consistent gag throughout Star Wars was the problems that C3PO had communicating with other computers. In Star Wars it was the interaction with Luke’s uncle over the need for someone to talk to the moisture vaporators. In Empire Strikes back it’s the difficulty understanding the strange dialect that the navi-computer is using. The irony of a robot having difficulty talking to a computer was always good for a chuckle.

In Star Frontiers there is no real analog to computer languages and the need for a translation droid. Yet this is an area with rich possibilities for role play, adventure hooks and various complications to the player character’s lives. Back in the 1980’s when Star Frontiers first debuted; computers had languages like Basic and Fortran. It’s not inconceivable that computers and robots in the Frontier operate by similar artificial languages.

In the early days of the Frontier, before the UPF was founded, protocol and translation bots saw their heyday. The polyvox, of course obsoleted these robots but many had tech language modules installed and were used by technicians to talk to older computers or robots with out of date code. During the emerging Frontier it was often cheaper to let a computer or robot with out of date code to continue to do its job rather than spend money for upgrades.

The advent of the Pan Galactic Corporation and the polyvox spelled the doom of protocol bots. PGC instituted a new generation of programming language and like the rest of the Pan Gal “system” its use spread and became so pervasive that nearly everyone was using it and most technicians only needed to learn one programming language. Even then they only needed it for low level robots that lacked the ability for verbal communication. Then, the polyvox meant that everyone could communicate and protocol bots were quickly retired or re-purposed.

Why bother with this extra level of complication to the game? First off it’s just another layer of reality and it’s optional. Secondly it could be a way of applying limits to free gear and equipment. If the players have captured a pirate ship they naturally want to keep it but if its computer speaks an out of date programming language it could be become very difficult to operate. They may be even forced to pour all their money into upgrading the computer’s programming.

As an optional rule a computer or robotics specialist begins with the prevalent programing language in his field and can learn a new computer language every time he advances a new level instead of learning to write a computer program. After reaching 6th level in their respective skill these characters can spend 2 EXP to learn more languages.

Current Programming Languages

New Generation
Introduced by Pan Gal Corporation and for a long time it was the ubiquitous programing language in the Frontier since everything that PGC sold that needed a computer language used it. Most computer programmers start with this one by default.

Network
Introduced by Nesmith Enterprises of Triad corporation to safeguard ulta-high tech networks. Network is designed for security so defeating security on a computer with this language is at -10% for the skill check.

GenBot & GenBot II
Introduced by Pan Gal Corporation in there early generation robots before Tachton Instruments corporation became the preeminent purveyor of robots Frontier wide. Tachton revised GenBot as GenBot II. The languages are close enough that if a technician who knows one is working on a robot programmed with the other there is a -10% penalty for skill rolls. If the game is early in the Frontier timeline than the starting language a roboticist knows if GenBot but latter in the timeline it will be GenBot II.

Obsolete Languages

Data Flow
At the time of first contact with the other sapient species in the Frontier the dralasites were using a computer program called Data Flow. A dralasite programmer will recognize it since it’s based on their language and he gains a +10% bonus to skill checks involving it.

Zzik
Similar to Data Flow this language was in use by the vrusk at the time of first contact. Its unaffectionately referred to by human programmers as “sick”. Any non vrusk programmer performing a skill check on a computer programmed with this language is at -20%.

Sates Logic
This is the programming language used by humanity at first contact.

Fenric
This is the programming language used by yazirians during their famous Star Exodus. Of all the obsolete computer languages it is the one most likely to be found running on equipment particularly on a yazirian colony. It is rumored to be the language running the Family of One data bases on Hentz. Buyers of vintage yazirian star ships should beware; the ship may seem like a good deal till you try to talk to its computer.

Mech
This is not an obsolete language but rather that used by the mechanons. It’s used for both computers and in the robots that serve the mechanon. It’s not available for programmers to learn thus any attempts to perform a skill check with this language is at -20% (same as working on alien equipment). It’s unknown what role this language plays in the thought processes of the mechanons themselves. It’s possible for this programming langauge to be encountered on Volturnus before or after the Mechanon Migration.

Adventure Hooks

“Don’t Look the Gift Starship in the Computer Core”

The player characters have obtained a “free” ship by one means or another. However, the ship was originally built by one of the core four species and retains its obsolete computer language. All starships skill are at -20 for a month and -5 for a year after that as the PCs become use to the ship unless they learn the computer language or pay to update the computer programs. Failed skill checks can and perhaps should result in things happening the PCs did not intend.

“The Maltese Computer Core”
The player characters discover an old computer core. They are initially unable to power it up without older model equipment. In the meantime someone tries to kill them and steal this old computer core for what’s on it.

“We Have No Need for a Protocol Bot”
The player characters accidently reactivate an old protocol droid which begins to fallow them like a lost puppy dog. It wont go away and insist on trying to help the PCs potentially to their detriment.