Celestial Patrol is a Free Culture () science fiction series loosely inspired by the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek and liberally adapted primarily from the public domain installments of the “Terro-Human Future History” stories of H. Beam Piper and assorted works of E.E. “Doc” Smith, among others. The series follows the voyages and adventures of the Challenger, flagship of the Interstellar Commonwealth’s Exploratory Command. It straddles the line (or tries to) between the big ideas and social satire of the 1960s and the openness and long-term arcs of the modern day.
A key aspect of Celestial Patrol is that—more like software than art, usually—the production of an episode is reproducible. That is, versions of the episode can be created (almost) automatically from the script and a handful of assets. When an episode evolves, such as editing the script or recording dialog with human actors, the process doesn’t change significantly. In some ways, this may also make Celestial Patrol the first “open source series,” since the sources will all actually be available and meaningful.
Lastly, Celestial Patrol is produced entirely with Free Software. At least to produce the “prototype” episodes, three standard tools are used:
- Mimic, based (via FLITE) on parts of Festival, generates the spoken audio from lines in the script.
- SoX, the Sound Exchange, mixes the episodes incrementally.
- CSound turns generated music notation into actual audio.
They’re tied together with BASH shell scripts for small tasks and Node.js scripts for larger tasks, which I've released under the GNU GPLv3.
So far, Celestial Patrol has been exclusively a one-person show, ignoring the software used, and the script and production absolutely reflect that. Armageddon, the pilot, is an acceptable prototype of what the series can be, but is certainly flawed in many obvious ways that contributors can improve, such as…
- The mixing does bad things for the levels and adds some strange clipping. Presumably, this is just a matter of learning the correct SoX compand parameters.
- The voice actors aren’t great, sounding like computers. That’s because they are computer voices, obviously, but more work could go into making them sound more human, like better voice models or a re-recording with a human cast. Speaking of voice models…
- There aren’t nearly enough free voices. Armageddon ignores the medical and engineering staff, recycles occasional voices for characters who aren’t in the same scenes, and barely has enough clear voices to go around. The free software community can definitely use more and better voices, especially more female voices and different accents.
- It’s nearly impossible as-is to know that the scene or act has changed. Especially just audio, it seems advisable to have some sort of transition or distinctive background sounds.
- The generated Euphonian music isn’t at all good, just barely passable. It uses blindingly simple ideas and sounds it; the instruments are naïvely simple, as well. This isn’t a spectacular combination.
- While I think that the Holst portions of the score work well enough, they could probably be chosen more carefully to match the beats of the story. Ideally, they would even be revised and recorded specifically for the scenes in question.
- The script is undoubtedly clunky in places, as I'm not a professional or experienced writer, and it’s definitely heavy on exposition as it introduces many characters and ideas and ties together multiple old stories.
- Spread the word! The more people involved, the better chance there is that things get better.
In other words, a lot. Got a problem? Congratulations, you just volunteered!