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Eric: I called my Dad to check my facts for this.

Crimson Dark

(From Crimson Dark! Click on the thumbnail for today's full sized exciting adventures in polygonal SPACE!)

It is worth noting I missed Sunday and Monday. This was because... well, there were things. To do. In the background. Big heap things. So, yeah. Such is life.

I'm a relatively recent devotee to Crimson Dark, David C. Simon's star spanning comic strip. It's rapidly become one of my favorites, though. For one thing, I like well done 3D comics. I really do. And I think this counts as one. God knows Simon's insane when it comes to developing the pages. And the attention to detail and quality really, really shows.

(As a side note, he doesn't like this comic being called a "Poser" comic, which I can understand. For one thing, he uses Poser to do just that -- pose the figure -- but for the most part he works in other programs placing the figures, adjusting angles and lighting, importing the whole thing into Photoshop or illustrator to draw things like the costuming... seriously. The man is insane.

But it's the little details that stand out in a strip like this one. As we see by looking at one of these here StarSkippers. It's a cute enough ship, and it looks like it makes rational, logical sense as a designed ship -- consistent with other ship technology we've seen in the series so far, and very utilitarian.

But what I love are the red and green lights.

People who sail -- as my parents do -- know that you put a green light on the starboard side of your ship and a red light on the port side. These are the running lights, and they tell other boats and ships important things -- like what direction your boat is probably going in, and how large it is. Airplanes have maintained the running light tradition -- if you see a low flying jet overhead at night, you can sometimes make out the red and green running lights.

Other Science Fiction projects have played with this before, of course. The U.S.S. Enterprise-D very clearly has red and green running lights where they should be. But I'm still always tickled when I see it done. And it somehow fits perfectly in Crimson Dark. The starports and ships are very, very starship and spaceship like, but there is a sense of the traditions of the sea buried underneath them. It makes sense those come out in running lights which, to be honest, can't serve much of a practical purpose to begin with, but which are certainly what you'd expect human beings would put on one of their ships.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at March 13, 2007 5:07 PM


Comment from: roninkakuhito [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 13, 2007 6:54 PM

I think a space ship would probably need 4 colors, since top and bottom are also important, but running lights themselves seem like a good idea, especially around space stations and in heavily traveled areas. (Actually, make that 2 green, 2 red, and 1 each of two other colors.)

Comment from: Foolsfolly [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 13, 2007 7:57 PM

Actually, you only need 3 lights, which is the number of running lights on small aircraft. A green light on the right (or starboard), a red light on the left (or port), and a white light on the tail. If the green light appears to be on the left side, that means either you or them is upside down. White light is always behind the colored lights, so you've got direction indicated. If the white light is between the red and green, it's either coming right at you, or right away (green on the left, it's coming at you, red on the left, it's going away).

Oddly shaped ships may require extra lights just so the lights are visible from all directions.

Comment from: Megalomaniac2 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 13, 2007 8:27 PM

Holy frak this is a good-looking comic! I mean, shiny, shiny comic!

Dammit, now I'm going to have another websnark-induced webcomic addiction...

Comment from: DavidCSimon [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 13, 2007 8:50 PM

I've always been a big fan of old sea-fairing tales, and for Crimson Dark I deliberately set out to infuse the story with a healthy dose of Horatio Hornblower. It just strikes me as being more fun this way. I considered a more elaborate system for navigational lighting in space, but decided that for the most part it's not really necessary. All ships align themselves to the solar plane (or galactic plane, when in deep-space), so no visual aids are needed to recognise "up". Furthermore, a ship's vector can normally be tracked quite easily using sensors. They're important for utility ships though, since these little guys often work very closely together in hazardous situations, and visual feedback is as vital to survival as sensor feedback.

If anyone's interested, I talk a bit about this kind of thing in this week's episode of The Gigcast (it should go online later today): http://gigcast.nightgig.com/

Comment from: madscott [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 13, 2007 10:13 PM

I'm a big fan of the running lights as well. I wish I would have saved the first version with the lights backwards. We could have added it to the database listed under opps. I'm a former navy guy though so I love little navy details.
JT is finishing edits tonight he says. So we're looking at Wednesday in the US on that gigcast you sat in on David. Thanks

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 13, 2007 11:00 PM

Actually, for a layout like that, you would only need two. Presumably, the lights are on the top, so locating the color and orientation of either the green or the red would tell you which direction the ship in question is facing. Of course, this is presuming that the sensors are sufficiently strong as to be able to read those lights when you're looking at the underside of the vessel in question (which I think would be reasonable - that's just ambient light detection).

Comment from: Wistful Dreamer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 13, 2007 11:11 PM

Okay Eric, now give us a list of some of those other good 3-D comics. There are so many bad ones out there that I have some real inertia before giving any enough benefit of the doubt to trawl for goodness.

Comment from: Ununnilium [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 14, 2007 3:27 AM

Awesome! I needed another good SF webcomic now that A Miracle of Science has ended.

Comment from: Nentuaby [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 14, 2007 5:29 PM

The problem with aligning on the solar or galactic ecliptic is that it does NOT give a common "up"... It gives two indifferent "ups." Plus boundary conditions where one ship may be aligned to the galactic plane and another to the nearest solar plane, etc. It still leaves a lot of conditions where you have to figure out which way the other guy's facing.

Also, when you're using the three running light system... How do you tell between the white running light and any other incidental white lights that may be in use? For instance, if you were looking at that guy up there from a long distance you'd get him backwards, since his white headlights are fore of his running lights...

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 14, 2007 7:11 PM

Nentuaby - if I'm to understand how they position lights on a vessel correctly, you can tell the running light from the other lights because it doesn't have a match on the other side, laterally, of the vehicle in question. You wouldn't mistake a headlight for it because there would be a second headlight laterally symmetrical to the first.

Comment from: Alun Clewe [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 14, 2007 8:10 PM

Of course, this is presuming that the sensors are sufficiently strong as to be able to read those lights when you're looking at the underside of the vessel in question (which I think would be reasonable - that's just ambient light detection).

What ambient light?

The reason we see ambient light in our everyday experience--the reason why a flashlight beam, for example, doesn't light up only the objects directly in front of it, and leave everything else in complete and total darkness--is because the photons are being reflected off objects and diffracted by air molecules. In space, there's none of that; interstellar space isn't really completely empty, but the matter there is so very sparse that it's empty for all practical purposes; there's nothing there for the photons to hit. If the lights are on the top of the vessel and you're looking at the vessel's underside, there'd be no way to detect them. Any photons shot out by the lights that didn't hit the vessel itself would be moving away from you, and they'd just keep traveling in a straight line through space; there's no air to diffract them and no walls or other objects to reflect off of. And any photons that did hit the vessel itself would either be absorbed or reflect off away from its surface--and thus (unless the vessel is rather unusually shaped) away from you. (Diffraction at the ship's edges would bend the photons' paths very slightly, but not nearly enough to make a difference.) There are no photons coming in your direction to detect; there is no "ambient light". Regardless of how strong the sensors are, they can't detect what isn't there.

Comment from: Nentuaby [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 15, 2007 2:21 AM

Heh... For that matter, why ARE that thing's lights blooming? BAD PHYSICS! SHUN THE HERETIC! ;)

As for the running light question... Okay, but surely you can't restrict all white lights to being paired. What if he was using a single flood light? What if the pilot wanted to have a map light on in his cockpit? Heck, what if the observer is just too far away to perceive any angular resolution between the two white lights? That's still pretty much living in each others underpants, in outer space terms.

Comment from: roninkakuhito [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 15, 2007 1:26 PM

32 footsteps

Except traffic won't be oriented on a single plane, and at least with the design above, neither light will be visible in a fairly large arc of travel (that's why I had the red and green paired. With an airplane, a perpendicular intersection from below is unlikely to say the least. With a space ship, much easier.

On the other hand, you would only need one other light to determine orientation, not two like I was thinking (no light? bottom of the craft.)

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 15, 2007 4:38 PM

This may explain that episode in The Next Generation where Picard is captured by the Romulans and had to tell them whether he sees four or five lights...

Comment from: Alun Clewe [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 15, 2007 5:51 PM

For that matter, why ARE that thing's lights blooming? BAD PHYSICS! SHUN THE HERETIC! ;)

I'd considered bringing that up, but the "blooming" can be attributed to the observer. True, seen in a vacuum the lights wouldn't have that glow around them, but if we propose that we, the observer, are positioned within some imaginary air-filled glass bubble, or whatever, then the blooming can be blamed on that. Admittedly, it's a bit of a stretch, but I'm willing to give the cartoonist the benefit of the doubt here.

Comment from: madbaker [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 16, 2007 1:19 PM

Let's see... that makes ten webcomics that I've started reading solely based on your reviews.

Damn you, Mr. Burns! My trawl is big enough already!

Comment from: Nentuaby [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 16, 2007 3:52 PM

Heh, I was just kidding. :P

I strongly suspect that the real reason the light is blooming is that there's no other way to effectively convey in still-rendered digital 3d that a light is turned on. Something we have to live with. :)

Comment from: Tina S. [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2007 4:56 AM

I was thinking of trying to explain the bloom with some sort of babble about the venting of high-humidity air, but a) I can't think why a ship would vent such and b) Nentuaby's answer is no doubt correct.

madbaker: I was actually literally about to post very nearly the same thing, and then I saw yours.

Seriously, Eric. Cut that out. I just added this, Least I Could Do, and The Broken Mirror to my comics list. And now I'm all like, "I'm caught up, I want more, come on, don't leave me dangling", and I blame you.

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