Creativity - techniques

We've had a couple of threads recently where people have expressed difficulties about making planets original and unique, or, at least, different from each other.

I would like this thread to be a thread of people giving their advice about techniques they use to boost creativity. In other words, this should not be a 'I use Bryce and it is better than xxx for planets' thread.

I should begin by saying that I am an unshamed user of Edward de Bono's techniques outlined in 'Lateral Thinking' and Tony Buzan's technique of Mind Mapping.

Edit: To clarify, we're looking for any and all techniques that lead to the widest variety of original, striking and unique ideas. They can be your techniques, or techniques you've learned from someone else, or even techniques you've just read about which sound like they're worth giving a try. Probably best if we keep the items short with a single example to help make it all make sense.

Creativity techniques

#1 Random Word
This is an old technique where you take a pin, open a dictionary (or any book) at random and stick it in a word. This word then becomes your seed word. For example, just taking a word from this website, 'Quickly'. I can then start churning ideas based on a planet for which 'quickly' is the key word. A planet where all the crops grow quickly, where people mature quickly and grow old quickly, where speed fascinates. Or, a random word from something else on my screen 'Standing'. I imagine a world where everything possible is done standing up. Where did this world's custom originate from? Is it a religious thing? Or a memory of some terrible event?

Variation: random object. Pick up a random object, or walk into a toy shop and find something. Use it in the same way.

#2 Splitting
This is another de Bono technique where you split up ideas. Important - this is not about dividing up your planets, but about dividing up the ideas. Take the idea of inhabited planets. How can I divide the idea of inhabited planets? Perhaps into planets where they have holovision and planets where they don't. Split it again. Planets which refuse to pay the line rental on holovision, planets which refuse to allow the holovision satellite to orbit for security reasons, planets which have a rival system, planets which object to technology altogether, and planets which holovision has blacklisted for previous infringements. Dividing up the blacklisted planets, planets which just didn't pay their bills, planets which previously shot down the holovision satellites, planets which tried to nationalise holovision facilities, and planets which wanted to tolerate holovision and a rival company.

important: this is a technique for making just one planet, not for arranging the universe. As with all lateral thinking, the process is to get you to a single, original idea, not to analytically create a system of ideas.

#3 Brainstorming
This is a technique most often used in groups, but you can use it on your own. First, define the parameters, which can be anything you want. Say, for example, you want a technological planet which is unlike all the other planets and yet in alliance with some of them. You then try to write down fifty different creative ideas for this planet. Eg: planet that built its biotechnology revolution on milk. Planet with no minerals except copper and silicon - all its technology uses just these two minerals, plus whatever they can get by trading them. Planet with a single technological secret that they won't share. Planet that is a centre of technological espionage, knocking off everyone else's design. Planet founded when technological designers fled from anti-technology persecution in a nearby system. Planet where designing a new gadget is a requisite rite of passage into adulthood. Planet where government imposes a 'size' tax, meaning that everything is miniturised.

Again, the idea of brainstorming is that one idea leads to another, rather than that you come up with fifty ideas you actually use.

#4 What if?
Play the 'What if?' game. What if the moon was made of good cream cheese? What if a planet was inside a star (obviously it would have to be an enormously diffuse star - but what if?) What if there was a world on a comet? What if an artificial planet was formed? What if a planet was incredibly dense so that it had gravity like Earth but was only the size of France?

#5 Opposites and paradoxes
Make some sensible statement about something, and then imagine the opposite. Instead of 'how can I make my planet more realistic', ask 'how can I make my planet as unrealistic as possible?' Instead of 'planets float through space' try 'space floats through planets'. Then work out a practical way to do a planet based on that idea.

#6 Remove the middle
Come up with a planet and develop the idea. Then ditch the central idea and make one of the auxilliary ideas the central one. For example, you have a planet which is preparing for a war with a nearby planet. All of its industry, technology, politics and art are focussed on this. Now remove the central idea, and imagine a planet which is centred around art which celebrates everything except war. 'Make art not war' becomes one of the planet's key ideas.

Anyway, these are just six techniques I use.

Can we get the list up to 36 techniques? See what you all can do.



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(This message has been edited by Martin Turner (edited 03-27-2004).)

I don't find that I need to use techniques for creativity but in case people do, I'll write a few techniques.

#7 Pragmatic Analysis
Interstellar civilizations need several things to survive: food, money, military power, control, and transportation. Knowing that, we know that every interstellar government will have a source for each of those things, and most would prefer to keep the production of essential goods domestic. Let's say we have a large hundred planet government. It has an agricultural core group of worlds that is about ten planets large. How do you vary the qualities of those planets? The people on those worlds should be imagined as real human beings: how has human agriculture varied? There are places that practice terrace farming in the Andes, an amazing feat of knowledge. In Europe during the Industrial revolution or so, we introduced crop rotation. In our time, we have a conflict between large farming corporations and small farms. Using those examples, we can formulate several ideas: perhaps the civilization is undergoing an era of change with their farming techniques. People debate the usage of mass-produced robots for all the farming, which would ruin many smaller companies. That's pretty interesting and realistic but can we make it more enticing? Perhaps, instead of robots, they've decided to use cyborgs. Millions of pro-Cyborg Rights activists now come to the world to protest. The military is called in and the entire region is de-stabilized.

What is the process for this method? Analyze the needs of a government, civilization or group. What are essential to their survival? What do they need in order to thrive or even survive? There you have a core group of worlds already. Now look into personal or historical experiences on how its varied. Think about different cultural implementations of it, techniques for doing it, etc. Finally, find a way to add conflict and chaos. Much as I hate to say it, conflict and chaos is what is interesting. No one wants to hear about how a planet is full of peaceful, agrarian-minded farmers who just farm everyday. Now if they were farmers who still used 20th century farming methods, it'd get more interesting. If we have government officials coming to force modernization, we have the origins of a side plot. In this case, conflict == good. (It's a computer science to write.) I emphasize the need for relative realism. Don't have a planet full of clowns in revolt because they lost a clown spaceship or something. Unless you have a really good explanation for it.

Variant: Simply decide on the core worlds your civilization needs, and then proceed to just explain the differences in what they produce. Even if you have ten agricultural worlds, the techniques, culture, and wealth disparities are all different and therefore each world has a distinct favor to it. Try to create that flavor.

#8 Historical "Plagarism"
No, I am not advocating the stealing of others' intellectual property. Certain buzzwords have a way of gaining people's attention more often than not. With this method, one should take a look at the historical diversity of human culture. What makes us different? Religion. Politics. Technology. Values. Media. Philosophy. In those aspects that make us different, think of what sort of conflict there has been. An example would be between Chinese values and American liberalism here today in the United States for first-generation Chinese-Americans. Once you have a list of sorts of the differences and conflicts in those aspects, pick a few to use. For each of those planets, make one of those differences the emphasis of the planet description. Let's say I pick "During the Crusades, there was much conflict between the Christians and Muslims." How do I turn that into an interesting planet? In any interstellar government, there is bound to be at least one radical, fundamentalist religious group.

Example: "The centuries may have passed after the Crusades but the concept of a holy war has never quite gone out of style. Contested by two groups as a celestial example of heaven, Polaris is the center of much conflict as the (Religious group 1) and the more radical (Religious group 2) wage their respective jihads and crusades for the sake of this arid piece of rock in the middle of the Void."

That isn't a complete description but it illustrates the usage of a historical example applied to a planet in order to vary the planets. There are several caveats with this method though: if you use it too much, your plug-in will seem too derived unless you have an extensive historical background on which you can draw obscure references from. Again, this is also artificial creativity. True creativity comes from original thoughts. Brainstorming always works.

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#9 Mind Mapping
Mind Mapping is tricky to explain using text only.

This is from Tony Buzan's own site, and can be found here: (url="http://"")http://www.mind-map....dmaps_howto.htm(/url)
There's also pictures on the site, which is important, because it's a pictorial method.

How To Mind Map

Turn a large A4 (11.7" x 8.3") or preferably A3 (16.7" x 11.7"), white sheet of paper on it's side (landscape), or use a Mind Map pad.

Gather a selection of coloured pens, ranging from fine nib to medium and highlighters.

Select the topic, problem or subject to be Mind Mapped.

Gather any materials or research or additional information.

Start in the centre with an unframed image – approximately 6cm high and wide for an A4 and 10cm for an A3.

Use dimension, expression and at least three colours in the central image in order to attract attention and aid memory.

Make the branches closest to the centre thicker, attached to the image and ‘wavy’ (organic). Place the Basic Ordering Ideas (BOIs) or the 'chapter heading' equivalents on the branches.

Branch thinner lines off the end of the appropriate BOIs to hold supporting data (most important closest).

Use images wherever possible.

The image or word should always sit on a line of the same length.

Use colours as your own special code to show people, topics, themes or dates and to make the Mind Map more beautiful.

Capture all ideas (your own or others’), then edit, re-organise, make more beautiful, elaborate or clarify as a second stage of thinking.

Mind Map Laws

These are the brain-reflecting foundation structures of a Mind Map.
The more of them you follow, the more effective your Mind Map.

Start in the centre with an image of the topic, using at least 3 colours.

Use images, symbols, codes and dimensions throughout your
Mind Map.

Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters.

Each word word/image must be alone and sitting on its own line.

The lines must be connected, starting from the central image. The central lines are thicker, organic and flowing, becoming thinner as they radiate out from the centre.

Make the lines the same length as the word/image.

Use colours – your own code – throughout the Mind Map.

Develop your own personal style of Mind Mapping.

Use emphasis and show associations in your Mind Map.

Keep the Mind Map clear by using Radiant hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches.

- - -

I have to say I've been using Mind Maps since 1995 and they have revolutionised my thinking processes.

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#10 Role Playing

Try to imagine how someone else might approach the problem/task. It could be anyone; younger brother, the old lady next door, the burnout who works the counter at your local bodega, garbage man, that bully from the third grade... whatever. Sometimes simply picking a random occupation can be helpful.

In the case of defining characteristics of planets/civilizations/nations, it may help you to consider traits that might normally seem unimportant or arbitrary.


(This message has been edited by slouch (edited 03-27-2004).)

Method 11: Downwards Diversification.

Start with a government or faction.- Give it a basic ambience- technologically-advanced but morally-depraved socialist empire, for example. A basic feeling that one can relate to personally, in other words. As an internal tool, it should be whatever is necessary to allow you to expand upon your thoughts.

Take that, and expand upon it. Think...what does the government espouse? How was the government founded? What do the people of the government value? Are there historial events that would impact the collective psyche to such an extent that you would have to consider them? What is the environment of the government? What do they think of foreign governments? What do the leaders feel about different issues? How did the leaders come to power? Is the government in decline or ascending to prominence? Get a basic structure down that you can build off of.

(Not so wonderful) Example: Government has banned philosophy, religion, abstract thought, etc. A war that occurred fifty years ago is still used by the government as an excuse for drafting increasing numbers of people into the nation's navy. Nobody knows more than they need to know- especially how the leaders or government came to power. A significant tool worthy of mention is a brain-frequency reader that government secret police use to rapidly brainwash those guilty of crimes involving thought. Industry and technology are emphasized.

Take that, and diversify these ideas. What worlds would best characterize these particular ideals? How would these people dress, act, treat others, etc. based on these ideals? What would their worlds emphasize? How would they be organized? What would be major industries? How would their navy or armed forces function? Would there be any particular social or political concerns leading to major change? How would their vessels and outfits look? Believe it or not, even the appearance of a government's vessels can affect one's perception of the government (for example, hand-crafted versus mass-produced versus biologically-grown). Do that until you feel that every necessary aspect has been at least adequately covered.

(Not so wonderful) Example: Many worlds are metal-lined and filled with large, angular structures. (I'm thinking yellowish hazy skies). Below the metal-covered habitation areas major industrial and transportation functions take place. Massive orbital shipyards mass-produce thousands of military vessels each year, which are often shown in propaganda clips shown upon public holo-projectors. The current governmental leader, Major Gnneck, who has shown an interest in renewing foreign contacts, has recently converted to Catholicism and now is beginning to disband the secret police. Internal turmoil is likely, as the fanatically jingoistic police greatly resent this turn of events and are plotting to assassinate the governmental leader soon.

At this point, you can either take these ideas and turn them into discrete products (spobs, misns, etc), or you can apply one of Martin Turner's ideas to further diversify these ideas.

(Not so wonderful) Example: The capital world of Gnneck Sa, the industrial capital of the Sakan Galactic Socialist Axis, is a menacing place, you think to yourself as your vessel is escorted down to a predesignated landing space through heavy security. Through the murky yellow skies, you can see the Sakan Gnneck Worker's Industrial Complex, and amidst the sharply silhouetted outlines of the enormous metal structures, the rising tower housing the Socialist Axis Party government. Armed troops guard every catwalk intersection and are perched on the roofs of each major structure; from what you have heard, the current Sakan leader is currently concerned about possible assasination cetera. (yes, it could be a lot better, but I'm already uncomfortable enough as it is, with a computer on my lap, that's not very facilitative to typing, you see?)

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#12 Taste, Touch, Smell, Sound, Sight

Take five sensations - one for each of the five senses - that have made an impression on you at sometime. Take them from five different experiences. Now combine them into one. This is now the first thing that hits your pilot as he steps onto the surface of the planet. Then extend so as to flesh out the planet that would make this.

For example:
Taste: the disappointing taste of flat Coke
Touch: the soaking sensation of heavy rain
Smell: the autumn smokey smell of bonfires
Sound: the tantalising sound of a radio playing in another room so that you just can't make out what's being said
Sight: the flashing lights of a big carnival

Put them all together - your pilot arrives in the middle of the falling rain (kind of like Cher in Memphis). It's a long walk across the space port out buildings to a grubby cafe where the food is cold and the drinks are old. But as you look out of the window you catch a faint sound - indistinct - from the other side of the canyon. In the distance you see a party town kicking off in the early evening. Just a tantalising whiff of steaks and wood smoke drifts across to you, and for one moment you want to abandon your wandering life to be part of this small town world, even if it's only for one night.

Or something like that. But you get the idea. This method is about your personal response to a place.

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#13 Consistent implementation/ Literal interpretation
Most ideas only get implemented partially, before being superseded by other ideas or changed until they're quite different.
Pick a current idea or an old idea that failed - maybe from an advertisement or something. Then imagine what a world would be like if that idea was taken literally and became the foundation of that world's way of life.

Example: if you watch advertisements for cleaning products, you'd imagine that happiness was about having a clean home. Extrapolate this idea to an entire civilisation based on a new orientation - not money, or health, or fame, or power, but cleanliness and neatness (hang on - sounds a lot like Holland). Imagine what people would be like brought up in that environment.

#14 What do they do next?
This is the classic Aristotelean approach to writing characters, but you can use it for an entire world. Start with the foundation of the planet. Something happens. What did the people do next? What was the result? What did they do next? Fairly soon you have a history, and a history means a culture and a situation.

Example: Planet was founded when a colony ship en route for somewhere else crash landed. Unfortunately the settlers were equipped for totally the wrong climate and environmental conditions. What did they do? They continued to live in the space ship and excavated their city round it, so they could survive the bitter cold. What happened next? They discovered mineral wealth in tiny particulates. What did they do next? Half of them wanted to trade the minerals to get off the planet and back to where they were going first, the other half wanted to use the money to improve the planet they were on. What happened next? Ruthless traders tried to exploit this dispute to get lower prices. What did they do next? etc etc.

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#15. Complete the imagination
For the lack of a better term. This is very hard for me to put into words because I never really think about describing this. I use this technique a lot in my sketching - we've only been talking about planet writing, and Martin, you never really qualified what sort of creative techniques you wanted. I'll start on a pad of paper with a ballpoint pen (this is important for me). I lightly touch the tip of the pen to the pad and I start drawing arcs and lines and things all around the page. The pen doesn't mark very much at all, but I keep doing it, not really thinking about what I'm drawing as much as what the drawing could look like if I were to take that particular stroke or shape and complete it. I never really make any concrete decisions on what's going to happen, just that if I like how a line looks, I fill it in. I use pen so that I can't erase and go back. Whatever happens, happens. I'll use white out if I latch onto a spectacular idea and want to take off just a section of what I did, but I almost never go back completely. Inevitably, my drawing runs off the side of the page, and often times, it's never even a complete ship. Maybe it's a cockpit, or an engine, or a wing, or something, but I'll use that drawing as a basis for a more complete ship.

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(This message has been edited by what_is_the_matrix (edited 03-27-2004).)


Originally posted by Martin Turner:
...What if a planet was incredibly dense so that it had gravity like Earth but was only the size of France?...

Why France? 'Cause we just beat you at rugby? 😛

Sorry, I couldn't resist making this quick reaction - I'll react more fully when I get the time to read everything and think about it.

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#16: History

If you have it in your head how everything in your galaxy works, then you should be able to come up with a complete history for it. List out wars, advances, whatever then list out the systems affected. I.E. a world near the galactic divide (2478) might be used as a tourist attraction and really be a decomissioned battlestation whereas a planet near the galactic barrier would never have been touched.

If you know your plugin's history, then you can make a truly "real" feeling to your plugin using relatively simple means. For example, if a planet had a rebellion that caused someone to decimate the world with a hyperdrive explosion causing a rift, the people on the far side of the galaxy aren't going to care. A pretty good technique: count how many times this catastrophe is mentioned in that planet's dësc, then remove 1 mention per every system you get away, give or take 5 system. This gives a very good feeling of "it's over there, why would we care?".

When viewing a Terrapin for the first time, I realized that anything flies-if you throw it hard enough!

A note to those joining this thread: we are looking for creativity techniques that help you come up with new, original ideas, aka lateral thinking techniques, rather than techniques that help you develop the ideas you already have, aka vertical thinking techniques.

Most schools and universities in the Western Hemisphere focus train students in vertical thinking - inductive and deductive logic, extrapolation, etc. Very few teach lateral thinking - 'creativity'.

#17 Use the mistakes
Use unexpected results based on what are usually regarded as 'mistakes' as a way of opening doors. This can be programming results, but it can just as easily be misspellings, or stuff that gets pasted into the wrong place. Before pressing 'undo' or going for the backup, have a look to see if there's something worth using.

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#18 Extreme Boredom
While sitting at school, always have a notebook and pen handy. Eventually a random thought will emerge as your brain's reaction to boredom. Catch that thought, write it, draw it, don't wait. It will be gone soon.
In my case, a similar thing happens at night when my mind wanders while I try to fall asleep.
It is at times of sensory deprivation that your mind can wander, to create a new, more interesting world. Don't let it slip away.

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#19 Apply a False Rule

The idea here is to take a random rule, and see if you can apply it to your problem. The rule itself may not (seemingly) have a direct correlation, but the process of trying to understand what the rule does, and why it exists may jog some new thoughts for your own task.

Example: Looking at the back of my latest losing lottery ticket, the first rule stated is "All cash prizes must be claimed within one year". Well, I suppose there could be any number of applications for this rule in an EV/O/N type scenario, but how about making the player land on dominated planets to collect their tribute? Could be a decent idea...


#20 Plagiarise books you've never read and films you've never seen

There's nothing creative, of course, about nicking stuff from books you've read or films you've seen. But the internet is full of reviews of perfectly good books you've not read and acceptable films that you haven't seen. Read a short review - not the kind that basically tells you everything - and dream up a world on which it could happen. It's a thousand to one against you come up with anything resembling what the reviewer was writing about, but it is a good way of challenging your imagination with an interesting task.

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#21 Negative space

Negative space is a technique artists use. Instead of drawing the thing, you draw the space around it. There's all kinds of reasons why this works — the most important is that we have a tendency to stereotype things we can name.

Applying negative space to planets, describe a planet (to yourself) by saying what it is not like. To do this you need to begin with a kind of notion about your planet — even something as vague as 'it's a planet where a lot of adventures happen'. Now 'not-ify' it. It's not a bureaucratic planet. It's not a planet where people like to stay at home. It's not a planet where there's a good education and career structure. It's not a planet where the business world is well organised. It's not a planet with free health care. It's not a planet where things happen the way you expect them. Take all the nots, and turn them into 'is's. It's a planet where government decisions are made by whim, it's a planet where almost the whole population is out on the streets every night. It's a planet where kids are streetwise but can barely read, and people drift from job to job from week to week. People barter goods because the currency is unreliable, and if you get sick you'd better have something good to bargain with. It's a place where people have fast reactions — the last thing you expect is generally the first to happen.

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#22 Write the tune first

Actually, this is a piece of advice they give to song-writers, on the grounds that it's a lot easier to craft compelling lyrics around a great tune, than to try to create a create tune to fit your lyrics.

The planet-writing version of this is to get a mood for a planet thoroughly in your mind first, and then create a planet to go with it. You think this sounds crazy? I use this one a lot.

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#23 Simple inversion

Just switching stuff backwards can open up a world of creative possibilities.

This example came to me as I was unlocking the door this evening - it's not a planet example, just an inversion. The idea of robbing someone's identity by changing all the locks on their house, cancelling all their credit cards and generally isolating them from their life is a staple of films like The Net. A bit cumbersome to do — you'd have to ask who would want to waste the time doing it rather than, say, just shooting the person.

But invert the idea, and see what you get. Instead of a government conspiracy involving all the powers of the state, imagine that a prankster gets ten minutes with someone's gear while they are in the shower. Instead of changing all the locks on his house, he simply swaps a key on the man's key ring. Instead of getting all his bank accounts cancelled, he just swaps the man's credit and bank cards for fake (non-working) ones. He also changes the man's home number on his mobile. Total cost: nothingtt. Total time: ten minutes. Total effect - devastating.

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#24 Google-Assisted Word List

Go to Google (or some other search engine) and type in anything. Go to a random page of the search results and click on a random link. Scroll down to a random spot on the page and make a list of the letters on the page, ignoring repeats. After a decent number of letters, pick a letter that isn't on the list and start listing words that start with that letter. Then see what interesting words you get and go from there. Either try to use them together or find inspiration from a single word.

Example: I searched for "apple" and got (url="http://"")this page(/url). I started with the letters undamericsoty, then picked a letter that isn't there, f. Then I list friend, foe, fat, far, fly, fist, fan, fit, fast, Friday, fickle, Frank, frost, farce, fierce, fight, frugal, fairy, first, front, etc.

Now I can create a remote icy world where a terrible event happened on a Friday. The date is easily remembered by the people living there, because it has altered the entire culture for generations. The government long ago was cheap and didn't want to pay a courier company. It quickly got out of hand and a series of attacks on both sides escalated to all out war with hired mercenaries and the government's troops. A large bomb was detonated in the capital city and destroyed the government, and much of the mercenaries. Nobody knows who did it, but nobody cares anymore. They now are a non-violent society and the people there generally live lives of peace and plenty without any real government intervention.

It's rough, but I don't think I would have come up with that idea in any other way.

Another way would be to use antonyms of your words, or when making the word list have the words end with the chosen letter. It might also be a good idea to disregard most of the first words on your list, since they'll tend to be cliche or common.

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(This message has been edited by mrxak (edited 04-04-2004).)

#25 A picture is worth a (thousand) world(s)

Well, ok, a picture is worth one world. Find a landscape (including cityscape) picture that is so good you have to keep looking at it. It's probably best not to do this in Bryce. Now imagine the hinterland - what is 'out of sight'. Write your world based only on the 'out of sight' information, rather than the picture.

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Great ideas, everyone; I'm bookmarking this page.

I've sorta used #7 in a plugin where I wanted a system controlled by platypi (platypuses?). Because this government was suffering from almost constant attacks from a marauder-type government (called Evil, no less), it needs ships. Therefore, all 4 spobs in the system are centered around the navy. The homeworld (besides being the main site of domestic farming) is the central shipyards, there's a station orbiting it which operates as an outfitting station and the base of the navy, and the other two worlds are mining and industrial worlds (one of each). It came out okay, but I'll definitely use some of these ideas to improve it.

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