A mainframe computer is a sophisticated electronic machine that can receive and analyze information, as well as to operate mechanical systems like factories and even spaceships. A "computer" goes beyond a simple computer tower with basic peripherals (monitor, keyboard, etc.): they are a complex network of sub-systems — called "programs" — with supporting equipment needed to run and operate them, that are capable of large-scale functions. "Programs" are much more than simple software and applications: a single program includes an assembly of hardware, equipment and secondary systems needed to perform its functions, given its level. Every program is available in six levels; the higher levels are more complex and therefore are capable of handling more information and complex operations. Each program requires a certain number of computer "function points" in order to operate. A function point is a measurement of a computer's ability to process information. Higher level programs have a higher function point requirement. The Computer Program list shows the number of function points a program needs; the more function points a computer has, the more the whole system weighs.
Unlike some other computer types, there is no computer level requirement to run a particular level program; for example, a Level 1 computer can run a Level 4 Type 1 program (such as Analysis), a Level 3 Type 2 program or a level 2 Type 3 or 4 program.
|A level 5 computer system
The cost of programs, in credits, is equal to the total number of function points within a system multiplied by 1,000.
Structure Points: A computer's weight in kilograms also is its number of structural points. Thus a level 4 computer that weighs 100 kg could take 100 points of damage before it stopped working.
Power Sources: Level 1 to level 4 computers are powered by parabatteries of the same type as the computer's level. Level 5 and 6 computers use power generators type 1 and 2, respectively. Computers will operate for at least one year before their batteries must be recharged. Power sources must be bought separately.
Standard Computer Programs
The standard computer programs listed below can be purchased by anyone in any store that sells computers or computer parts and equipment. Level 5-6 programs are generally available only in major cities or facilities.
Regardless of their level, programs are classified as one of four categories, based on their overall complexity and resource requirements; this Type helps determine the function points at any given level.
Analysis: (Type 1) An Analysis program allows a computer to perform mathematic calculations and computations. Level 1 is basically a sophisticated calculator. At level 3 the program can do advanced algebra and calculus. At level 6 it can do all known mathematical calculations, including theoretical math.
Analysis programs are significantly more complex than a “sophisticated calculator”; the Level 1 program would be the equivalent of a fairly advanced modern scientific calculator with limited graphing functions. At Level 3, the program is the equivalent of a sophisticated full-color advanced graphing handheld scientific calculator available today. At level 6, Pure (Theoretical) math calculations are relatively simple. It should be noted that most other programs include simple calculator functions; the Analysis program on its own is useful only for purely scientific purposes, though it can be extremely useful as a co-processor for other programs.
Why would a PC need it? Computer and Robotics specialists, as well as environmental specialists can use the number-crunching power of the program to aid them in research and programming, as can navigators, but the program becomes truly useful when combined with other programs, where it can serve as a co-processor and lend synergy bonuses to other programs, such as Computer Security.
Bureaucracy: (Type 2) A Bureaucracy program coordinates other programs. For example, a city could use the Bureaucracy program to coordinate Commerce, Communication, Industry, Law Enforcement, Life Support, Maintenance and Transportation programs. A Bureaucracy program can coordinate a number of programs equal to its level x 3. It is not needed unless the programs being coordinated are level 3 or higher.
Bureaucracy programs are often misunderstood by players; it is only required if two or more programs are level 3 or higher, and it is required ONLY for those programs. It is required even if the level 3+ programs would not logically work together; this is because the Bureaucracy program coordinates resources in the computer, not the actual output of the programs.
- Example: a computer with a level 2 Analysis, level 6 Commerce, level 3 Industry, and a level 3 Computer Security program would require a level 1 Bureaucracy program to manage the three programs level 3 or higher. If the Industry and Computer Security programs were reduced to level 2, no bureaucracy program would be needed.
Why would a PC need it? The need is self-evident by its use. The program can also be used to link two or more computers to function together. In this case ALL the programs in each computer (regardless of level) count against the capacity of the Bureaucracy program.
Commerce: (Type 3) A Commerce program enables a computer to handle business transactions. Commerce covers such areas as banking, stocks, market trends, bookkeeping, imports and exports. A level 1 program could be used by starship computers to record the cargo manifest, passenger records and ship's books. A level 6 program could be used to coordinate all commerce in a city.
Commerce programs are among the most ubiquitous in the Frontier; practically every merchant in the Frontier needs one to read and transfer funds through an ID Card, either as receipt of payment or as payroll for employees; It does far more than just bookkeeping and inventory; it can track when supplies are running low and, if combined with a Communications program, can automatically contact a supplier, arrange payment and delivery.
Communication: (Type 3) A Communication program deals with all aspects of communication, including news, entertainment and public service announcements (PSA’s). It can control radio, holophones and holovision communication devices. Higher program levels can handle more complex systems. A level 1 communications program might be used to handle communication and to provide packaged entertainment on a starship. A level 6 program could monitor all communication in an entire city.
Communication programs are much more than data providers; they can relay chronocom signals, convert them to radiophone or even subspace radio (provided the needed equipment is available). The program automatically monitors all registered bands and makes note of incoming signals or Emergency PSA’s. Within a ship, it can register all chronocoms and mark the relative position of each, with higher levels providing more capacity and range.
Why would a PC need it? If they own a ship, they need it. The ability to monitor a new world for artificial radio signals is useful, as is its overall usefulness in exploration.
Computer Security: (Type 2) Computer Security programs protect a computer against both physical and program tampering. A Computer Security program must be defeated or bypassed before a computer specialist can change any programs or interface two computers. Computer Security programs can also control physical defenses guarding the computer. A level 1 Computer Security program is simple code words that lock other programs, plus a simple recognition code such as a fingerprint reader. A level 6 security program sets up a complex system of codes and special directions, and guards the computer with robots or remote guns.
Computer Security programs are widely varied, even within the same program level; each company promising that its security features are better than anyone else’s, with unique encrypted combinations of biometrics and password security. A natural synergy exists between Computer Security and Analysis programs, which are capable of generating extremely complex passwords and encryption keys.
Why would a PC need it? Nobody wants to have an opponent take his computer and use it against him!
Industry: (Type 3) An Industry program deals with turning raw materials into products. It can be used for both agriculture and manufacturing. At level 1 an Industry program could run a starship's hydroponics system and machine shop. At level 6 the program could coordinate many large factories and farms.
Industry programs are used at all levels of the economy, from simple, level-1 programs that monitor the ovens of a local bakery to massive level 6 programs that coordinate starship production from scratch.
Why would a PC need it? Unless the PC has a large ship, is a tech, or a biospec, this program is NPC territory.
Infiltration: (Type 2) Infiltration programs are designed to help a person with computer skill defeat the security on other computers and detect security overrides. There are six levels of infiltration programs. Each level will add 5% to the character's chance of success. The amount of time needed to defeat security or perform a security override when using an infiltration program is changed to 10-100 minutes. To be used, the computer with the infiltration program must be successfully interfaced to the other computer. Defeat Security is not required to make this interface. Infiltration programs require the same amount of function points as computer security programs.
Why would a PC need it? The use is self-evident; if the PC regularly faces secured computers, she might consider finding one in the black market.
Information Storage: (Type 2) The Information Storage program is passive. It is simply a record-keeping system. A level 1 Information Storage program could be used by a business to record its yearly sales data. A level 6 program could store an entire university library.
Information Storage programs are more than just storage media attached to the computer; as Type 2 programs, they have sophisticated search & sort capabilities that enable information to be quickly accessed for use.
Why would a PC need it? To store data, information, scanner readings, film, pics and sound. Journals, logs… even other (inactive) programs.
Installation Security: (Type 3) An Installation Security program coordinates the defense of an area. Higher level programs can defend larger areas. A level 1 Installation Security program could lock a building's doors at a certain time and call the police if an alarm sets off in the building. A level 3 installation Security program would not only lock the doors and call the police, but could control pressure plate sensors, I-R scanners, holovision cameras, special weapons, etc. At level 6, the program could defend an entire city or starport.
Installation Security programs can work on everything from a single room to an entire city; they can monitor security cameras or other sensors, control doors, windows, lights and other defenses and (if a Robot Management program is present) control all security robots in the area.
Why would a PC need it? Ships are expensive and need to be protected. The program is also useful to monitor and control remote cameras and sensors placed by the user, without actually being part of any “installation”, such as on rooftops, trees, room corners, etc. This is the go-to surveillance program of the Frontier.
Language: (Type 1) The language program enables a computer to translate known languages into each other and, at higher levels, to translate unknown languages into known languages. Higher level programs can translate more languages. Translating an unknown language requires at least a level 3 program.
Language programs are ubiquitous throughout the Frontier; contrary to what Pan Gallactic says, there are many regions in the frontier that don’t speak Pan-Gal; with each race having multiple languages and each planet having multiple dialects of those languages, Language programs have long been part of life in the Frontier; new races are only the tip of the iceberg. The most common Language computer is the polyvox; a dedicated computer running a Level 3 Language program. Having the program in a computer allows the polyvox to be programmed with new languages, or even function through a chronocom, when a polyvox is unavailable.
Why would a PC need it? The program can be used to download languages learned by a polyvox and upload them into other polyvoxes. Higher level programs can give more nuances that enable users to make better impressions than can be achieved with a polyvox alone. Also, the program can be used to learn a new language (never higher in level than the program).
Law Enforcement: (Type 4) The law enforcement program is used to coordinate the efforts of all law enforcers in an area. Higher level programs can control a larger area. The program can handle police calls, schedule patrols, monitor trials, control riots and scan for developing crime trends. A level 1 program could monitor traffic flow and patrol routes in one precinct, while a level 6 program could run an entire city police department.
Law Enforcement (LE) programs are among the most sophisticated programs in existence, combining limited Communications, Information Storage, and Computer/Installation Security (though there is synergy between these programs and LE when actually installed). Each program includes an extensive legal database, updated hourly or daily (with the proper passkey), a list of wanted felons, warrants and other relevant court orders (such as orders of protection), it grants access to central government to confirm the ID of every citizen (and spot faked ID Cards) and keep law enforcement officers appraised of each other’s position and in communication with each other and central dispatch.
Of course, OFFICIAL LE programs are restricted to law enforcement agencies, but other programs with similar functionality exist for military/paramilitary forces, security companies (and corporate security divisions) and even non-LE versions for population census purposes. Each of these versions has a different purpose and is generally incompatible with others of the type.
Why would a PC need it? Unless part of a LE agency, PC’s are unlikely to ever need a LE program.
Life Support: (Type 4+) The life support program controls lighting, temperature control, weather prediction, heating, power plant control, food storage and preparation, and water, atmosphere and waste processing and disposal. A level 1 program can control the life support system on a starship. A level 6 program could handle all the life support functions of an enclosed city. (For how life support programs affect a spaceship, see the Ship-based programs section below.)
Life Support programs are, by far, the most complicated, resource-intensive programs available; sometimes with Level 1 programs running into hundreds of function points. Generally, these programs are unique to the environment in which they will function, though fundamentals still remain (for example: the LS program of a starship cannot be simply copied to an ag-station’s mainframe without extensive modification).
Why would a PC need it? If they need it, they need it… or they die. Without the non-computer peripheral equipment, the program is useless.
Maintenance: (Type 2) The Maintenance program handles standard janitorial functions such as cleaning, painting and basic repair. It can also coordinate services such as garbage collection, fire inspection and sewage removal. A level 1 program could maintain a starship. A level 6 program could coordinate maintenance for an entire city.
Maintenance programs, at the more basic levels, are simply pre-programmed with the parameters of the system they are to maintain and advise what maintenance is required and when it is due. The program truly shines when combined with a Robot Management program (allowing it to perform its own maintenance), Commerce (with Communications, to obtain and maintain basic supplies), Industry (to produce spare parts as needed) and Installation Security, to monitor itself fully.
Why would a PC need it? Because they are lazy and want more time to adventure.
Robot Management: (Type 2) The Robot Management program lets a computer control robots. Higher level programs can control more robots. This program often is used along with the Industry, Security, Law Enforcement and Maintenance programs. The Robot Management program must be a least as high a level as the robots it is controlling. The number of robots that a program can control equals its level multiplied by its number of function points.
Robot Management programs are absolutely necessary to make lower level robots useful. They have obvious synergy with most other programs and many players consider them essential for working with robots. It can be assumed that a level one program comes with two adapters for Level 1 Robots (which are not commonly controlled remotely).
Why would a PC need it? If there are robots under PC control, the sky is the limit.
Transportation: (Type 3) The transportation program allows a computer to control a mass transit system, including traffic control and distribution of products. A level 1 program could control mechanized sidewalks, elevators and escalators in a building. A level 6 program could run all of the monorails, buses, subways and traffic control signals in a city.
Transportation Programs are usually static; established for one purpose and useless for everything else. Still, as Type 3 programs, they are very sophisticated; the level 1 program that runs escalators and elevators in one building can monitor traffic flow and control direction and speed, depending on traffic; it can use historic data to determine what floors should have an elevator waiting at odd hours. In synergy with Installation Security, it could open or close doors to manage the flow of people into or out of the building at peak hours.
Why would a PC need it? Outside of extraordinary circumstances, this is one program that is almost never seen in PC computers… unless they own a building.
Ship-based Computer Programs
Master Control Panel: On a spaceship, a Master Control Panel is needed to link the drive, life support, astrogation and other essential programs into an easily controlled panel for the pilot. The control panel, containing at least the speech and warning programs, will be located on the bridge or in the cockpit of a spaceship. The rest of the computer apparatus can be installed near the control panel, if space is available, or tucked away in the ship wherever room can be found for it. A master control panel costs 100 Credits.
The following programs are designed for spaceship and space station operation and their systems.
Agriculture: An agriculture program regulates the temperature, light and water in the hydroponics tanks of an Agriculture Ship. The Ag program is simply a modified Life Support program of level 1, with 3 function points. If a robot brain is used to supervise the farming robots, however, a level 6 robot management program is required. This program uses 64 function points, so it costs 64,000 Cr.
Alarm: This program will cause lights to flash, dials to flicker or even sirens to wail if a programmed system on the ship begins to malfunction. The program must contain at least one level for each of the ship's engines, with a maximum level of six. (Ships with seven or eight engines may use a 6th level program.)
Astrogation: A starship Astrogator needs special equipment in order to make the delicate course adjustments before an interstellar jump. Shuttles have the simplest astrogation requirements, involving only a gyroscope, radar, gravity detectors and some gauges. The complete package costs 1,000 Cr at any spaceship construction center. System ships can get by with much simpler equipment, since they need only to navigate around one star. The telescopes, Doppler scanners, electro-charts, acceleration meters and gauges needed to navigate a system ship cost a total of 5,000 Cr at any spaceship construction center. Navigators with skill level 3 or higher can purchase very sophisticated equipment that lets them plot a jump in less time with little risk. Starships require all of the astrogation equipment of a system ship as well as a high powered telescope for long-range sighting. The package costs 15,000 Cr in its basic form, but high level astrogators can purchase a more sophisticated version for 50,000 Cr. Starship astrogation equipment can be purchased at any class I or II construction center.
Computer programs for astrogation are listed on the Astrogation Program Table. The program needed by each type of ship is listed with its program level and the number of function points it uses.
|Ship Type||Program Level||Function Points||Cost of Equipment||Cost of Program|
Computer Lockout: A computer lockout program is designed to prevent unauthorized personnel from operating a space ship's controls. The lockout is a series of codewords which usually are committed to memory, although a written record of the codewords is sometimes left with a ship's first mate, in case the captain meets an unexpected and sudden demise. A lockout program must be of the same level as the ship's computer. A computer expert can get past the lockout by "Defeating Security" or "Bypassing Security."
Damage Control: This program coordinates the crew's and computer's efforts to repair damage that has been inflicted upon a ship. This program allows the ship to use its full Damage Control Rating (DCR); ships without this program can use only half of their DCR. As with the alarm program, it requires one level for each of the ship's engines.
Defensive Systems: Many types of defenses require a computer program to coordinate their activation and effectiveness. These defenses will not function without their program. The Defensive Computer Program Table lists the program level and function point requirements for each type of defense. Reflective Hulls and Masking Screens require no programs.
|Defense System||Program Level||Function Points||Cost|
Drive Programs: The delicate balancing of fuel, temperature and thrust required by all types of spaceship engines is beyond the abilities of any single individual. Consequently, a Drive Program must be purchased and used in the ship's computer. This program will respond to a pilot's instructions ("more speed!" or "turn left") and make the necessary adjustments in the engine to cause the desired effect.
Drive Programs vary in cost and complexity, based on the type and size of the engines being operated. The Drive Program Table shows the program level required for each type and size of engine. The number in parentheses following each program level is the number of function points the ship's computer needs to operate that program. Drive programs can be purchased at any construction center that carries the engines the program will operate.
|Drive||Size A||Size B||Size C|
|Chemical||1 (3)||2 (6)||3 (12)|
|Ion||3 (12)||4 (24)||4 (24)|
|Atomic||4 (32)||5 (64)||6 (128)|
Life Support (spaceship): Life support systems on spaceships provide all the elements necessary to keep creatures on board those ships alive. These include food storage and preparation, and water, atmosphere and waste processing and disposal.
A life support (LS) system consists of the machinery that performs the various functions and a level 1 computer program to control the machinery (see above). The complexity of a Life Support system varies with the number of creatures that must be supported, not with the size of the ship.
The Life Support System Rating Chart shows how many kilo grams of life support equipment is needed to support various numbers of creatures (including animals) on a spaceship. The number in parentheses following each weight is the number of computer function points required by the system's level 1 program.
|Number Supported||Mass (kg) and Function Points||Cost of Equipment||Cost of Program|
|1-2||3 (1)||300 Cr||1,000 Cr|
|3-6||5 (2)||500 Cr||2,000 Cr|
|7-12||9 (2)||900 Cr||2,000 Cr|
|13-20||15 (2)||1,500 Cr||2,000 Cr|
|21-35||25 (3)||2,500 Cr||3,000 Cr|
|36-60||50 (3)||5,000 Cr||3,000 Cr|
|61-100||90 (3)||9,000 Cr||3,000 Cr|
|101-200||180 (4)||18,000 Cr||4,000 Cr|
|201-500||300 (4)||30,000 Cr||4,000 Cr|
|501-1,000||600 (4)||60,000 Cr||4,000 Cr|
Mining Programs: A standard excavation program is needed for each robot or digger shuttle involved in a mining operation, and a processing program is needed to process the ore. Program levels and function points are shown on the Mining Program Table.
|Program Task||Program Level||Function Points||Cost|
Research Programs: Atmoprobes require a computer with level 2 program (4 function point) for each probe. A level 3 (9 function points) guidance/analysis program must be used on the ship launching the probes. A laboratory requires a level 3, 9 function point computer program to assist in analyses. A remote probe requires a level 2, 4 function point computer program to coordinate the analysis and relaying of data. The standard program used in a laboratory can be used to process and categorize the information sent to the ship from the probe.
Weapon Systems: Ship-mounted weapons must be connected to computers, which constantly feed updated information about a target's position to the weapon. Characters manning the guns choose the targets and decide when the weapons should be fired, but computers do most of the aiming.
Each weapon must have its own program. For example, a ship with two laser batteries needs two laser battery programs; one program cannot control both weapons. All of these computer programs are reusable, except the seeker missile program. Each seeker missile must have its own program, as the program and its circuitry are destroyed when the missile explodes.
|Weapon System||Program Level||Function Points||Cost|
|Proton Beam Battery||2||8||8,000Cr|
|Electron Beam Battery||2||6||6,000Cr|
|Disruptor Beam Cannon||2||8||8,000Cr|
- ↑ The term "tower" in this usage refers to the basic computer housing, which may come in many forms, not just what is recognized in the 20th and 21st centuries as "computer towers"; the most common forms in the Frontier being boxy cases or integrated units resembling briefcases or suitcases. Modular units often connect several of these "cases" together for the master unit.
- ↑ There are some exceptions to this: Starships often use programs that are of a fixed level with fixed or variable function points. In theory, even these programs are available in six different levels, but for all practical purposes, they are not.
- ↑ Alternative power sources may also be used; Parabatteries of larger or smaller size may be substituted, but unless programs are deactivated to reduce its computing needs to an appropriate level, endurance will greatly suffer. Power Beltpacks and Backpacks may also be used to power computers (not powerclips), with duration directly in proportion to the relation of SEU to maximum parabattery capacity.
- ↑ By the end of one Standard Year of near-continuous use at full power, the parabattery will be drained.
- ↑ And add their weight to the computer, meaning that a 3 kg Level 1 computer actually weighs 28 kg.
- ↑ Within the same price range, functionality and processing power requirements, this statement is in no way, manner or form, implying that the security system will or will not be defeated. Your mileage may vary. This statement is not intended for females who may or may not be pregnant. If you are allergic to this product, discontinue its use and consult a technician immediately. Non-locksmith, non-attorney spokesbeing.
- ↑ A computer with both a Computer Security and an Analysis program gets to add the levels of both programs to determine its effective Computer Security level.
- ↑ Previously developed material for Alpha Dawn not released before development of Zebulon's Guide. released in the article "A Fistful of Credits" by AD co-developer Zeb Cook in Dragon Magazine #112.
- ↑ Why the black market? Legal (registered) versions leave encrypted tags for evidentiary purposes; black market versions are "clean", not leaving user identifiers in the target system.