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FTL Travel: Warp, Jump, and Hyperspace

Written by John Buzdien

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Jump drive, sometimes called a “space fold” drive, and closely related to a wormhole drive, strives for a solution by a different means. Because one can not travel faster than light per se, the jump drive allows the ship to travel at normal speed, but compresses space. If we picture space as a large blanket, with our ship at one corner and our destination at an opposite corner, what the jump drive does is grabs the blanket and folds it over, until the two corners are touching. The ship then flies from one corner to the other, when they are in contact. In essence, the shortest distance between two points, is not a straight line, but one coherent point. The ship never exceeds light speed, but because space has been compressed, the resulting distance is farther then the ship could have gone below the light speed limit. Once the ship reaches its destination, the drive allows space to “relax” and the blanket unfurls back to its original form. Unfortunately, we do not at this time possess a device that would allow us to generate the necessary gravity fields to bend or fold space on such a large scale.

For the related wormhole drive, we can model space as a wrinkled blanket with the wormholes connecting “ridges” or “wrinkles” in the blanket. The ship passes through wormholes from “bump” to “bump” along the wrinkled blanket without having to travel the longer distance along the surface.


The hyperspace drive uses a different approach. The theory behind it follows this rough logic: If we cannot travel faster than light in our space, then perhaps there is an alternate dimension that allows for different laws of physics, or does not match up precisely with our dimension in regards to spatial orientation. When the ship engages its hyperdrive, it enters an alternate dimension. This dimension may be called “hyperspace”, “other space”, “subspace”, or “trans dimensional space”, depending on the author or specific game. The properties of hyperspace are far different from that of normal space, but the exact properties vary depending on the setting and author. The closest analogy to using hyperspace, albeit a thin one, would be a fishpond. Were the fish to jump out of the water, and fly though the air to the other side of the pond, and then return to the water - they would be able to travel faster than they could by swimming. Likewise, as they fly through the air, the properties of “sky” are far different from that of “the pond”. The fish might be able to travel faster because the laws of physics are different, or simply due to the special properties of “sky”.

Game Applications

A game will typically only have one available type of FTL travel available. The other forms will either not have been discovered, or fall out of use because they are less efficient. It is possible for a game to use more than one type, but there would need to be an explanation why one or other method should be preferred. Such reasons might include an advanced race is withholding the technology, or perhaps one form can only be used by certain types of aliens due to physiological limitations. The FTL form chosen will incorporate a different ambience into the game.

Warp drives lead to large space fleets patrolling borders so that enemy ships do not cross. In addition, ships equipped with warp drives will tend to face battles in the depths of space. Small ships will tend to have less capable warp engines, so that a game will need to be based on a larger organization - military, government, or trade union.

If the game uses jump drives, then battles will tend to occur near strategic “wormhole” gateways, or near vital star systems. Large defensive fleets will be dispersed throughout the Empire / Federation / Corporate Worlds, and will be summoned as soon as an alert is called. Then they will jump to the rescue like the US Cavalry in a western - or jump in to survey the wreckage. Often jump drives will not allow for a rapid second jump. Therefore, ships will need to be powerful enough to hold their own in a battle for up to several days. The power needed for a jump drive also leaves smaller ships without FTL capability. In many games using jump drives, the ships are more valuable than their cargo, and frequently savagely defended.

For games that use hyperspace, space fleets will tend to be stationed in task forces and strategically located near vital systems. The enemy may jump in at any time for a raid, and must be attacked before they can slip away into the safety of hyperspace. Once in hyperspace, it might not be possible to do battle. Smaller ships have a good chance to succeed in hit and run raids, or to slip through blockades and smuggle in vital or profitable commodities.


These are some of the more popular theories for faster than light travel. Most should be familiar to the readers as they recall the popular sci-fi television shows or movies that have been released over the past several years. Others are common in the books and short stories of the genre.

We can aspire to great accomplishments when we envision the future of our dreams. As has often been the case, the science fiction of the past has become the realities of the modern age. Perhaps FTL travel is not as large a leap of our imagination as people believe.

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