If you’ve been following Starfarer for a while, you’ve probably seen some references and hints about phase cloaking crop up here and there – but there’s been nothing concrete, and with good reason. It’s only about two weeks ago I sat down to definitively answer the question, “what exactly is phase cloaking, and how does it fit into the game?”.
The combat in Starfarer is loosely based on 20th century naval engagements. There are many differences – the goal isn’t to reproduce naval battles in space, but to have a relatable starting point for someone learning the game (and for us, while designing it). If you see something is labeled as a battleship or a carrier, you immediately have a good idea about what you’re going to get. In the naval model, phase ships were originally envisioned as submarines – able to hide in another dimension and pop out for surprise attacks. Anti-phase measures could be modeled on depth charges for attacks and sonar for detection.
That concept sat unchanged (and therefore, untouched – no design survives contact with implementation!) for a long time. But now, finally, David had created some great-looking art for phase ships, and with me already working on ship systems, it was a good time to tackle it.
As envisioned, phase ships would be central to almost any engagement they were in – the threat of a ship coming into being behind your ship and firing a salvo of torpedoes at your engines is enough to make it the focus of your strategy. The problem is, adding this now would be a very disruptive change. Combat has been refined over many iterations – the mechanics, the AI, the balance of weapons – and adding this mechanic into the mix would wreck most of that work. I don’t mind throwing away things when it’s for the good of the game, but throwing away something that already works well – in the name of an unproven concept? Much better to throw away the concept that no longer fits, and start fresh.
This left me trying to figure out just what phase cloaking could be – in a way that fits nicely into the existing game.
Full invisibility is the most disruptive aspect – managing the uncertainty of where a phase ship could be, and making guesses to counter it, is where most of the problems would come from – that has to go. So, conceptually, let’s say the ship is still in an alternate dimension, but it’s got energy anchors in this one, so it can be detected – call them “phase coils” to build on the art, and we’ve got something that looks like this: