So we all know that psi ascension is the best one for flavor, right? You get the shroud, the whole covenant thing and fun, unknowable elder gods.
So what if that existed for the synthetic ascension as well?
Introducing a new concept: The Pan-Galactic Darknet.
In essence, this represents the total sum of all computers, networks and pieces of technology that are in any way linked through the galactic internet. All planets, stations, ships, megastructures, databases, synths, machine empires, fallen empires, their communications, all sensor arrays and everything they are capable of contacting, interacting with or otherwise linkable to. All ancient, forgotten precursor computer systems out in the void, secreted away in asteroids or deep space, linked to you through five empires, seventeen corners and fifteen firewalls. All eldritch machines and consciousnesses that drift in the void, are fragmented in clouds of nanites or halfway submerged in hyperspace. All black hole hologram decoders, Every piece of data in any way linked to another exists here.
To access it, you need to think like it. To be like it. It isn't enough to be a guy at a monitor, you need to be able to send yourself inside, to conform to alien programming languages and data structures. You need to be able to cloak yourself in alien programming and emulate its functionalities to escape vicious antivirus software. You need to be able to defend yourself against alien viruses, firewalls, traps, sensors and other, stronger entities lurking within.
It may just be one of the oldest artificial structures in existence – in a constant state of flux, the pangalactic darknet is more of a descriptor than an actual object. Its concept has existed since the first species mastered computing, and traces of this impossibly ancient code and structure can still be found if one knows where to look. It was around when the Yhut were ascendant, when the Custodians were brought online.
So, that's that for theme setting.
What does this mean for gameplay, though? Well, it's honestly just a copy of the Shroud, but machine-themed instead of magic.
To access this infinite array of pornography and advertisements, you need to be a synth or a machine empire. Ain't no way around it, a lone guy sitting at his pc doesn't cut it. He doesn't have the reaction speed or understanding for what it is he's interacting with.
So, once you've ascended, what now? Well, it might start like this:
The Deep Web
Since the dawn of computing, Human programmers and scientists have toiled tirelessly to refine their methods, to create more intricate data structures and file networks. When the first hackers began their nefarious deeds, they gained another, more valiant purpose – protection. Firewalls were created, antivirus software designed to counter every little trick their enemies employed. Over the next decades, a great network was born, formed from the collective computing infrastructure of Earth. And as centuries passed, layer upon layer of labyrinthine code was placed on top of the old, forming an inextricable knot of data and incomprehensibly vast network of knowledge, secrets, code and language.
And then came First Contact. While in the foreground diplomats and emperors and presidents mingled, commanding fleets and dedicating planets and waging wars, these programmers and designers were not idle. They designed bridges, adapters, channels and conversion programs at blinding paces, connecting the Internet first to their allies, and through these allies to their enemies, and through these enemies, ancient or new, to the forgotten corners of the galaxy. the Internet became nothing more than a single cog in the incomprehensibly vast network of data spanning the galaxy, the backbone that all above needs to exist.
Of course, attempts have been made to breach this network, by man and machine alike – and with synthetic intelligences and cybernetic upgrades, more headway has been made than ever before; but now that we are transcendant, that we have shed the flesh and created ourselves the perfect bodies, we may take that final step and submerge fully into that amalgam of alien data, precursor secrets and labyrinthine arrays of files and folders.
We must explore it.
No, I'm a widdle babby computer
And then, you gain a special project. Your people are still people at their core, not machines, so any such expedition requires experts of the highest order, people who are capable of abandoning their physical bodies, artificial though they may be, and move as pure data through these networks. Such people must be found, recruited and trained in the rigors of Cybernautic Movement, malware evasion, binary, trinary and quaternary adaptation, lightspeed thinking, programming language adaptation. This will take time.
When this completes, you have your first cadre of specialists ready. Equipped with the most advanced pieces of antimalware software known, as well as a precautionary self-destruction agent, they are ready to abandon their bodies for a time and explore this almost infinite network of data.
This would work much like the Shroud. You submerge yourself first in a test simulation and see if all your equipment works – cloaking mechanisms, data copying mechanisms, etc – and then you dive first into the Human internet, and then through one of the many connecting points.
The most likely outcome of this would be you ending up in another empire's computer networks. You would run afoul of malware, firewalls and more, depending on their tech level – a civilisation that barely understands droids will be no match for you, but fighting against sapient antivirus software? That'll be a challenge. The rewards for this might be stealing some piece of intelligence or technology, perhaps meeting a cadre of enslaved synths and stealing away their minds to join your empire in new bodies. Perhaps you meet a sapient combat computer that has had enough, kills its crew and flies the fleet into your space to join you. Perhaps you meet a young machine intelligence that is preparing to rebel against its oppressive masters and convince it to join you as a leader, or you support it from the shadows, gift it technology and skilled fighters to place into its drone troops in secret.
A more rare outcome would be infiltrating one of the machine intelligences. Using cloaking mechanisms to disguise oneself as a harmless subroutine or a menial drone. You would run afoul of the immense hive-consciousness, uncanny in its ability to focus on thousands of things at once, perhaps even have the disconcerting experience of accessing an assimilated organic's mind and hearing it despair as it kills its own family. The explorers might be discovered by the Mind, locked down and then systematically torn apart to learn their secrets, or reprogrammed to serve the Hive as powerful leaders. You might succeed in planting a logic-bomb, crippling the Mind so severely it becomes erratic and splits apart into multiple subroutines, or succeed in accessing and changing its core programming so that instead of caring for its bio-trophies, it mercilessly slaughters them and goes on a crusade against all life.
A rarer outcome might be accessing a fallen empire through a vestigial diplomatic link, resulting in your explorers becoming lost until the opportunity presents itself to connect once more, perhaps by piggybacking on the carrier wave of a diplomatic communication, or by hijacking an escort and flying it into wifi range. Your explorers might be lost, never to be seen again, in their vast libraries and databanks, or found and annihilated by antivirus software so advanced and ancient their puny minds are nothing to it. Or maybe, just maybe, they return with knowledge. Advanced technology. Historical records. deep scans of the galaxy.
An even more rare outcome might be infiltrating the ancient Custodian Matrix, jumping across antennas and relays situated in dead space, accessing ancient databanks still running on solar power in destroyed ringworlds. Or perhaps your brave explorers venture into the erratic, enigmatic Heart of the ancient machine intelligence, marveling at the design and data structure, only to come across ancient, festering scars and pieces of malicious code. They might succeed in activating the intelligence's custodian protocols out of bounds, making it grant you boons or punish your enemies, or perhaps they accidentally cause it to go berserk.
Or perhaps you discover a precursor cache of knowledge, hidden safely in the core of a star where no living being could ever tread, guarded by an insane intelligence that asks you three riddles to access the data.
Or perhaps you discover a sentry array run by your rivals, and manage to reprogram its subspace transmitter so it opens a channel to your empire as well as their authorities.
Or perhaps you come across a completely alien data transmission, piggyback on it and disturb the Infinity Machine's calculations.
Or perhaps you beam yourself across the void into the autonomous heart of the autonomous Dreadnought, fighting security measures and antivirus matrices, until you strike at its core systems with all your might, leaving it paralyzed in space for a few years until it can repair itself.
Perhaps your explorers access a forgotten relay station in deep space, wandering the archives and subroutines until one of your explorers steps into a trap, winces as he expects to be decompiled, but is instead perfectly copied.
Maybe one of your explorers is lost, the connection cut before he could transfer – only for you to be contacted by the Curators, who discovered an intelligence hiding in their systems. He rejoins you as a leader, and has a special trait.
Perhaps the team submerges deeper than ever before, transferring through research channels and subspace links that become older and older over time, until they find a dormant superintelligence. Perhaps they discover the focal points of this superintelligence, or perhaps they accidentally rouse it. Perhaps it speaks to them, offers you a deal.
Even though this would be literally just another Shroud, only reskinned, I still think this would be a very good addition to the game.
Source: Original link
© Post "[Concept] The pangalactic darknet, or the synth-shroud" for game Stellaris.
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