Quotes

Q&A: Lightsaber Physics

Regarding lightsaber physics, I believe the official version is that they basically have artificial inertia, because the blade is in constant motion (and as such does have an edge), and this is mainly used to justify really lengthy wind ups for attacks (like what Kylo Ren does). On the other hand, we see plenty of Jedi fighting like the things weigh nothing, so I think it’s a case by case basis to justify fighting styles, rather than fighting styles being derived from it

automata-systemata-hydromata

The specific logic is that lightsaber physics changed over time, during the development of the films. When Lucas was working on A New Hope, he approached it with the idea that the actual blades were quite heavy. As in the actual projection of light/plasma/whatever had substantial mass. Though from here on out, I’ll be talking about the actual props.

The stunt choreographers patterned, their fights off a mixture of 1940s Hollywood swashbuckler duels, modern fencing, and kendo. There were also other factors, including that the stunt blades themselves were quite fragile. (I want to say they were made of fiberglass, but I’m not completely positive.) I’ve also read that David Prowse had a bad habit of breaking his lightsaber blade on set. This is part of why the style in ANH is so tentative. The actors are trying not to break their props. Also, fun trivia, you can see them knocking dust off their blades when they come into contact in ANH.

Some of this logic carried over into Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I’m not sure exactly how much, but you can look at all three as a coherent unit. One of the few big changes was much more durable lightsaber props.

In going back to do Phantom Menace, the stunt choreographers came to Lucas and said, something to the effect of, “look what we can do, if we one hand these things.” The result is much faster and flashier combat, which you can see in the prequels. As I recall, the specific justification from Lucas was that the Jedi were at the height of their martial training before the purge, so you’re seeing the best lightsaber practitioners in history.

To be fair, I don’t know what the thought process is for the lightsaber use in Awakenings.

The important takeaway is, that how lightsabers function has changed to fit the capabilities of the film production staff. So, trying to extrapolate something coherent out of that is going to be kinda tricky. Still, kudos to the EU writers who made a genuine attempt, and kept at it as the entire approach was reworked as the prequels released.

-Starke

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Incidentally, TIL there’s a quick post keybind that I hit with my pinky when I went to hit backspace. I still don’t know what that keybind is, but at least I know it exists now.

How DARE you say that about Sam Fisher! It’s made clear in Pandora Tomorrow that he uses Subsonic Ammunition, and his FN2000 and FN5.7 Suppressors are custom made too!

muesliforbreakfast

I realize this was probably a joke, (and also that it’s now been several
months since it was posted; I’m working on clearing out the draft pile), but
it’s probably worth fleshing this out a little. Also, if it sounds like I’m
being a little harsh on Splinter Cell
here… there’s actually a reason.

Tom Clancy was an American novelist who died in 2013. He wrote thrillers
focused on the US intelligence community, starting in the early 80s, and on
through the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the rise of
terrorism. Politically, his material leaned hard conservative, with an almost
fetishistic obsession on the American Military Industrial Complex.

I’m just going to say it; I don’t like Tom Clancy’s writing, on an aesthetic
level. It’s not to my taste at all. However, if you’re writing about the US
special forces (and can get past his politics), he is a fantastic place to
start. Just, be careful, even before his death, his name was slapped on a lot
of books he wasn’t involved with. This includes almost all of the tie in series
like Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell, Netforce, and a bunch of others I’ve
forgotten.

The games? …not so much. The first game based on Clancy’s novels (that I’m
aware of) was Red Storm Rising, a detailed strategic simulator of a potential
Third World War between the US/NATO and the Soviet Union.

The second (again, that I’m aware of) was Rainbow Six, a first person
shooter that focused on controlling an entire team of hostage rescue/counter
terrorist operators, and featured combat with (in the context of contemporary
games) very fragile combatants. (One or two shots was enough to down any
combatant.)

Splinter Cell was probably the first game that really started wandering off
the reservation, and the second that wasn’t based on one of Clancy’s novels
(Ghost Recon was the first).

By 2002, Tom Clancy’s name had become a brand which expanded beyond just his
novels. There were multiple video games, a TV movie that failed to launch a
show, and multiple adaptations of the original novels to film.

Almost immediately, Splinter Cell gets into the exact kind of world building
problems that Clancy’s work tried to avoid.

While I like Fisher as a character, he does not fit within the flavor of
Clancy’s setting. His personality is right, having someone who engages in that
kind of ghosting infiltration isn’t the problem (not really). It’s the
skin-tight wetsuit, the thermal goggles, a pistol and rifle that weren’t
available to civilian purchasers (at the time). All of this screams,
“government sponsored,” which is the last thing you want when you’re sending a
cyberninja into a foreign country.

As I’ve said before, the idea of sending someone in, to sneak around and
hang from ceilings isn’t exactly how infiltration actually works. Being
invisible 100% of the time is an unrealistic goal. Dressing up in a black
bodysuit, with a massive array of high end hardware means that when someone
does notice you, they’ll notice, and remember. Once spotted, there’s no option
to escape, no way to blend into a crowd, no way to disappear. Aside from
leaving a huge trail of bodies in your wake.

Also, the Five-Seven really is the wrong gun to give him. It’s a neat,
high-tech pistol, but for what Fisher is doing, it’s the wrong tool for the
job.

The FN Five-Seven is a modern semi-auto pistol. It entered production in
2000, and is one weird handgun. The strange part is the 5.7mm round that gives
it its name. These were originally developed for the FN P90, and are much
closer to a rifle round than something you’d usually consider loading into a
pistol.

I’ve joked that the only reason for the Five-Seven to exist is to classify
the P90 as a submachine gun instead of an assault rifle. Though, I’m honestly
uncertain that’s not the real reason.

Unfortunately, the reality is, you really can’t silence a handgun by simply
attaching a suppressor to it. The gunshot you hear is caused by ignited gasses
expanding and escaping into the atmosphere. In order to fully silence a gunshot
you need to capture all (or nearly all) of the escaping gas. With most
semi-automatic pistols, one of the venues for that is when the slide cycles
open. You can deaden the gasses venting down the barrel, but you’ll still hear
a noticeable gunshot. A suppressed handgun will make, roughly, the same amount
of noise as an airsoft pistol. Something you’ll hear if you’re in the room with
it, but might not notice on the other side of the building. The gentle “fipping”
noise from Sam’s Five-Seven… and most media, really, it’s a standard sound
sample, just doesn’t occur. (If I remember correctly, the common sound sample
comes from a .22 with a locked bolt.)

There’s also a second problem with the Five-Seven that most pistols don’t
have to deal with, 5.7mm is a hypersonic round, though that’s something that
Splinter Cell directly addresses, it does make Fisher’s weapon choice a little
odd. Especially in a setting where .45s are easily available. (And, I want to
say Conviction defaults to giving him a USP an H&K Mk23 fairly
early in the campaign.)

Most rifles (and some pistols) fire rounds that are hypersonic. Meaning they
have a velocity above 343 meters per second. When you hear a rifle from a
significant distance, you’re not hearing the escaping gasses, the crack you
hear is actually a sonic boom created by the bullet. For most applications,
this isn’t really something anyone cares about. But, when you’re trying to
suppress a gun, you will want to find a way to remove that sound. The only way
(I’m aware of) to deal with this is by using what are called “subsonic rounds.”

These are low velocity cartridges designed to keep the speed of the round
under 343m/s. The problem with this is that you’re now trading a whole lot of
ballistic factors, including accuracy and flatness, to keep the gun quiet. On a
pistol, there’s really no reason to do this.

The reason being all .45 ammo is subsonic. This stuff has a muzzle velocity
of around 260 to 300 m/s.

When the first game came out, the Five-Seven was still new, the first game
is set in 2004. It’s (from what I know) a fairly solid service pistol. But it
is a bad gun to be giving to your NSA cyberninja. The Five-Seven is a
Government and Law Enforcement only item. Fabrique Nationale doesn’t sell to
private buyers or retailers. (There are a number of used guns on the market
now, but that wasn’t true 13 years ago.) So, if you’re writing a character
who’s supposed to be some kind of clandestine and deniable agent, giving them a
gun that says they work for a government somewhere is probably a bad idea.

Also, the entire “custom suppressors” line bugs me. I can’t remember if
that’s exactly what the games call them, but I think you’re remembering
correctly. The problem is, commercially produced suppressors exist for both
weapons. Again, a Five-Seven suppressor is going to be more traceable than an
aftermarket .45 one. A high end 5.56mm suppressor can run you over a grand,
but, it’s aftermarket, and easy enough to hide if you’re part of a clandestine
operation.

Incidentally, factory produced Five-Seven threaded barrels are exceedingly
rare on the secondary market. Not many of these were produced. Giving someone a
Five-Seven today wouldn’t say nearly as much as it did back then, but giving
them one designed to accept a suppressor would still be pretty suspicious. An
aftermarket modded one, with a replacement barrel would raise fewer eyebrows
(but that’s the kind of detail people wouldn’t catch until they were picking
over your character’s corpse.)

That said, pointing out that you’d need to use subsonic ammo for his weapons
is the kind of attention to detail that the Tom Clancy games (and Clancy’s
books) really nail. This is also really important if your character wants to
suppress a rifle. Arguably, if your character is a sniper, and intending to
fire from long ranges, subsonic ammo is actually more important than sticking a
suppressor on the gun. However, this isn’t a panacea, subsonic ammo suffers from
severe drop, to the point that it’s noticeable at medium range. For a sniper,
this is a really serious consideration. They need to decide between having far
less range and power, or having the bullet produce a massive cracking noise
when fired.

The entire Five-Seven thing probably bugs me more because this is a solved issue. Pistols designed for
clandestine use exist, including some of the weapons that show up in the series.
Hell, give Sam something like a Makarov PB while operating in Europe, and no
one would suspect that he’s an American if he was caught and killed.

In contrast to the pistol, the FN F2000 is a much better pick. It’s a solid
assault rifle that entered service in the 80s, though there’s not really that
much special about it except the appearance. It has a rubber seal in the
magazine well, which would help a little with suppressing it, but the benefit
is basically trivial. What it’s actually there to do is keep dust and debris
out of the action, but it also means that you might have issues loading
aftermarket magazines in it. (This is all second hand, by the way. I’ve never
handled a F2000 personally.) There may have been better choices available, but
it’s a legitimate choice. Unfortunately, as with the Five-Seven, there were no
civilian versions available, (a semi-auto only version hit the market in 2006),
so we’ve still got that, “my cyberninja is government sponsored,“ problem.

Ironically, I know the game doesn’t get a lot of love, but Conviction’s
approach to Sam’s loadout is probably more realistic. It’s (mostly) a mix of
commercially available weapons and street clothes.

If you’re writing a character who’s supposed to be this kind of a sneak in,
and hang from the ceiling kind of black ops agent. The best options are to put
them in locally purchased clothes (this will help them blend in, even if they’re
from a different ethnicity). Weapons that are readily available on the local
market (or black market). Hardware that can be easily adapted from commercial
products. If you absolutely need a PDA or something similar, use a smart phone.
For a hands free unit, get a bluetooth headset. If the phone needs custom
software, then that’s something your character’s agency can produce.
(Preferably with some kind of remote kill switch, because forensic analysis of
software can provide clues to its origin.) What you don’t want to do is gear
them up with a lot of very specialized equipment that says, “hey, this guy
worked for a foreign government.”

-Starke

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Hi I just read the post about knocking a friend out before they did something dangerous I was curious about your thought on a scene that is somewhat related to that but also different. Basically there is a group of bad guys in a burning building and the hero knocks out a fire fighter who enters the building, then brings them outside reasoning that they would safer out of the fight even with the risk of knocking them out.

<Redacted>

So, this
is a follow up to this post, and it’s going to be a bit harsh. Hence, why I’m
answering it as an unattributed quote, instead of the actual ask.

As we’ve
said many times before, knocking someone out is a cheat. It’s an easy out, to
move characters around, without including any of the consequences that you’d
associate with attacking another character. Particularly a friendly character,
or one with plot armor. Also, there’s some other major problems in this
scenario.

You have
characters burning a building. Okay, fine. You have your hero on the scene.
Again, that’s fine. If your character’s goal is to stop the antagonists, that
means they go where they’re needed. You have firefighters on the scene. Note
the plural. These guys travel in packs. They’re not the lone wolf type who will
rush into burning buildings alone. In most modern environments, this also means
the other first responders are going to be on the scene. That’s police and Emergency
Medical Services (EMS). So, the bad guys are here, the cops are here, the firefighters
and paramedics have arrived, and your character is bouncing around in the
middle. Still, this is fine, mostly.

But, this
is where problems start to catch up.

First,
it may be different for firefighters (though, I doubt it), but with EMS, if the
situation you’ve been called into isn’t secure, you do not go in.

EMT certification
quizzes include questions like, “you arrive at a bar, the bartender tells you
someone was shot out back. The police aren’t here yet. What do you do?” If you
answer with anything other than, “wait
for the police to arrive and secure the scene,” you’re done. Out. You failed
the test with one question.

In the
hypothetical and in real life, you are to sit there and let someone die, rather
than run into a situation you don’t have control over and risk getting yourself killed. That’s a job for the police. They go in, secure the place, then you get to go in and do your job.
Not the other way round.

Your bad
guys are still torching the place. Firefighters will not go in until the police have stopped them. The only way
around this is if your bad guys are hiding. Which is possible, but it’s very
likely the 911 call that got them on their way mentioned psychos torching the
place. That means it’s a police problem first, theirs as a distant second.
Evacuate nearby buildings, help contain the blaze, and keep it from spreading?
Sure. Stumbling into a combat zone? Not so much. Stumbling into a combat zone
is more SWAT’s purview.

Second, firefighters
are a team, not loners. (Really, this is true of all emergency services.) If
you’ve got one going into a building to search for survivors trapped by the flames,
they’re not going to be doing that alone.

Because
they’re looking for people, they’ll find your bad guys, and then pull out. Again,
people actively torching the place is an issue for the police. As soon as they
realize they’re dealing with people trying to kill them, their place is
outside.

Third,
the moment your character attacks an emergency responder, they’re signing on
with the bad guys. Okay, the bad guys might not accept the job offer, but it’s
the thought that counts. Remember when I said emergency responders were a team?
Yeah, in attacking one, your character is not only committing a crime, in the moment,
they’re also making themselves an enemy of the police and the other responders
on scene. In the moment, the larger context doesn’t really matter.

Fourth,
there’s a couple practical consideration to knocking out a firefighter, they’re
wearing 75lbs of armor. Granted, their turnout gear might not do much against
gunfire, but it will do wonders against idealistic fools who attempt to
incapacitate them. (Actually, given that turnout gear is made from a Kevlar
variant, it might be bullet resistant; I’m not certain.) They also have the
least to worry about, in there, since they’re protected against the flames, and your firebugs will go
after anyone, anyway.

This is,
of course, entirely ignoring the issues associated with knocking someone out (which
is to say, you can’t really do that.) For those of you who haven’t read our Concussions tag, here’s a very short recap: Getting knocked out is a life
threatening injury. It involves inflicting a severe concussion on the victim. If
unconsciousness lasts for more than a few seconds (30 is the rule of thumb),
the victim will have, almost certainly, suffered severe, and irreparable, brain
damage. We also have a Knocked Out tag, if you started thinking about chloroform
or tranq guns.
(There’s also a “Concussion” tag. Oops.)

Clocking
someone upside the head, and having them rendered instantly, and harmlessly,
insentient until the power of plot compels them to rise is a fantasy. As a
writer, it may seem to be a convenient one, but it’s just cheap.

It’s a
buyout, to allow your character to freely remove characters from the current
scene, without facing the normal consequences of attacking them. In this case,
in an act of, “heroism,” that wouldn’t work.

So, you
have your bad guys torching the place. You have your hero, there to stop them.
Again, that’s all fine. You have your, “hero,” attack an armored bystander,
rather than, telling them that the people
responsible for the blaze are still there?

Wait, what?

Your character’s
first response, when presented with someone who is doing their job, is to
resort to serious violence to, “protect,” them?

I
understand the impulse, but this, really,
is one of those times where heroism is about not resorting to violence to achieve your character’s goals.

You cannot
safely knock someone out.

Your
character’s best option is to tell the firefighters that the guys responsible
are still in there, let the firefighters evacuate them, and send in SWAT. Even
failing that, immediately attacking a firefighter is, quite possibly, the worst
available option.

-Starke

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I love Starke’s answers so much x)   However, I think the anon asked if their super trained person would be “ok” with being that severely burned – I didn’t really understand they were burning them as a training.   Still as always, a very insightful answer.

nyaarr

We were both fighting off a cold while I was answering that one.
In retrospect, I think you’re right. It makes slightly more sense than having a character setting themselves on fire in an attempt to improve their pain tolerance.

-Starke

For the record, I’d like to say I wouldn’t appreciate anyone doing that example

““They’re not rounding up political opponents; those are just ‘the mentally ill,’ It’s for their own good, really, they’ll be sent to reeducation centers.””

I know it’s “supposed to” sound extremely ableist, but it’s still massively ableist. Also not far off from probably what happens today, somewhere, or something like it.

Especially the “it’s for their own good” part. It’s less a far off dystopia and more right here right now.

jemthecrystalgem

Yeah, that’s not a fictional example. The United States, China, North Korea, Nazis, Soviet Union and even the Russian Federation have all used that specific argument at one time or another. That’s also not an exhaustive list, by any means, before you say I forgot to mention a group you wanted. (Now, I was thinking specifically of Julie Musante’s dialog from Babylon 5 when I was typing it, but Straczynski was also fully aware of the real history there, and was pulling from a lot of different historical sources to make the character.)

In particular, in the US, it has been invoked against the Women’s Liberation movement, and again against Civil Rights activists. If this makes you uncomfortable, good. Embrace that. It is at the core of what a dystopia really is. Not the nightmare of some possible future; not an unpleasantly comfortable adventure world; not some tech illiterate cyberpunk setting. Dystopias are the unmasked horror of the world that exists right outside your door, that you’ve been desperately trying to ignore.

We live in a world where the Chicago PD was just caught running an extra-judicial black site in Chicago’s West Side. Again, no space Nazis needed. Just ex-soldiers who took the Jack Bauer techniques they learned in the Military, brought them home, and are trying to maintain order as they see it.

You create a fictional world instead of using the real one, because you want to get your reader thinking about something without the inherent baggage of how the world should work. That’s everyone, from Ayn Rand to Warren Ellis. It works. You can talk about things that would massively piss off a reader if you just came straight at them preaching. You can bypass some prejudice, and get someone to think about an issue more objectively if it’s couched in a fictional world.

This is where things like the original Star Trek TV series become brilliant. (Granted, in that specific example, it’s a kind of mescaline soaked brilliance.) They bring up issues that are too touchy to address directly, and then talk about the subject, and leave you to sort out the meaning after the fact. (Also, if you’re into scholarly articles, Star Trek in all of its incarnations leads to some really interesting critical analysis. For both it’s successes and it’s failures.)

Dystopian fiction is at its best, when you can see the outline of the world you live in, and realize just how dangerously close you are to getting there.

Be disturbed, that really is the point.

-Starke

Aragorn tells Eowyn that she can’t come with him on The Paths of the Dead because her people need her and that renown isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. He’s not wrong, exactly, but he basically tells her it’s her duty to stay behind, something he would never say to her uncle or brother. And she calls him on it. Flat out. She tells him, “All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.” Think about that for a moment. Not only is she calling him out for sexism, she lays out why it’s sexist and does a pretty damn fine job of distilling down the lot of women in this culture. To whit: if there aren’t men around, you don’t really matter, and you definitely don’t get to decide for yourself how you live OR die if you’re a lady. That’s very powerful, especially in a series that deals a lot with the trappings of war and glory from a distinctly masculine point of view.

“I am No Man” Doesn’t Cut It: The Story of Eowyn | The Mary Sue (via themarysue)

Except to take all of the blood line of a ruling family into battle is stupid. To lose the entire power structure at once would be catastrophic. It was incredibly selfish and immature of her to do so.

(via skypig357)

I think we can waive that as the guy with the irreplaceable blood of Numenor and last hope of humanity is the one telling her no. If he dies, Gondor is screwed. In setting, Theodin, Eomer, and Eowyn are all replaceable. Aragorn himself? Not so much. This is the pot calling the kettle black. He’s already doing something incredibly stupid, taking her with him isn’t going to make it any worse or make it any worse for Rohan.

If we’re also going by real world rules then while Eomer fighting in the battle is understandable, it’s just as selfish, immature, and stupid.

Here:

“Behold! I go forth, and it seems like to be my last riding,” said Theoden. “I have no child. Theodred my son is slain. I name Eomer my sister-son to be my heir. If neither of us return, then choose a new lord as you will. But to some one I must now entrust my people that I leave behind, to rule them in my place. Which of you will stay?”

No man spoke.

“Is there none whom you would name? In whom do my people trust?”

“In the House of Eorl,” answered Hama.

“But Eomer I cannot spare, nor would he stay,” said the king; “and he is the last of that House.”

“I said not Eomer,” answered Hama. “And he is not the last. There is Eowyn, the daughter of Eomund, his sister. She is fearless and high-hearted. All love her. Let her be as lord to the Eorlingas, while we are gone.”

“It shall be so,” said Theoden. “Let the heralds announce to the folk that the Lady Eowen shall lead them.”

1) Theoden does not even remember she exists as a member of his House and viable candidate for leadership until Hama reminds him, even though that’s what she was doing when Theoden was under Wormtongue’s influence.

2) If someone is being stupid, it’s a family trait. Her uncle and her brother are guilty of the same flaw. The only reason she’s not allowed to go is because she is a girl, which Tolkien points out in the quote above.

Aragorn tells Eowyn that she can’t come with him on The Paths of the Dead because her people need her and that renown isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. He’s not wrong, exactly, but he basically tells her it’s her duty to stay behind, something he would never say to her uncle or brother. And she calls him on it. Flat out. She tells him, “All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.” Think about that for a moment. Not only is she calling him out for sexism, she lays out why it’s sexist and does a pretty damn fine job of distilling down the lot of women in this culture. To whit: if there aren’t men around, you don’t really matter, and you definitely don’t get to decide for yourself how you live OR die if you’re a lady. That’s very powerful, especially in a series that deals a lot with the trappings of war and glory from a distinctly masculine point of view.