Fighter Redesign

Let’s begin by taking a look at how fighters started out, to see how they got to the point of needing a redesign.

The first playable release of the game only had combat missions, and the way fighters worked was heavily influenced by that. My understanding of how the campaign would work was at that point quite fuzzy, and so once the campaign did come about, fighters had to be adjusted to fit in. This led to some awkward mechanical interactions and obscure rules.

fighters_mora

For example, if you have any ships with flight decks in your fleet, then you can’t lose fighters permanently. However, you can still have fighters in your fleet if you don’t have any carriers, they just don’t get any replacements in combat, and if you lose all of them, you permanently lose the wing. And if you do have carriers deployed, and lose all the fighters in a wing in combat, they may get replacements or be lost for the duration of the battle, depending on whether any flight decks were available at the exact moment the last fighter was destroyed.

Very much a “good enough for now” state of affairs, and something that’s been gnawing at me for a while. It’s too much of a mess to continue ignoring indefinitely, but why clean it up now, seemingly when there’s exploration, salvage, and everything related to work on?

The answer is, of course, that fighters tie into those things. Can you recover fighters through salvage? Can automated defenders use fighters? What about the eventual/upcoming skill revamp? That certainly needs to include fighters. Despite being a relatively small part of combat, fighters are still a part of that foundation, and it’ll help moving forward to finally have it be solid.
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Developing the Mora-class Carrier

There’s no large low-tech carrier in Starsector; today we create one!

[HEGEMONY COMINT // RHYME AMBER // CONFIDENTIAL // communications intercept dated 12-2015]

David: [discussion of new ships] – a lowtech cruiser carrier, 

Alex: How is this going to be substantially different from the Heron? Could go with either 1 deck + heavy armament (more in line with Hegemony doctrine? but also kind of the Venture, but stronger and with less useful out-of-combat stats) or 3 decks and almost no armament (which could also fit in with the Hegemony doctrine, if looked at as greater specialization…)

D: Ooh, I’ve got this: So given that Hegemony doctrine inherits the ‘traditional’ doctrine of the Domain at the time of collapse – of heavy line battleships, though at the start of a transition back to cruiser/carrier doctrine – this specialized lowtech cruiser carrier could be a holdover from the previous wave of Domain doctrine that had a larger role for fighters.

So why are these in the field? The Domain navy decommissioned them from military service, so they were de-militarized and sold to budget-minded civilian enterprises in development on the Domain’s frontier, as having some former carriers with big handling/construction bays can be a very useful thing. Once the Collapse comes around, these former construction/mine drone handlers slash ersatz mobile drydocks are re-militarized (thus less useful out-of-combat stats than one might expect). Used perhaps more by pirates, independents, and the Luddic Church more than by the Hegemony or TriTachyon, so that the big carrier fleets of these guys can be supported by something better than Condors but not so good as the Heron or Gemini. 

A: That sounds good (especially the lowtech cruiser) – but it might make sense to do these later (either for this release [ed. 0.7.2.a ] or, uh, more later) – I’d like to change up how carriers work at some point [HEGEMONY COMINT :: REDACTED // MOST SECRET]


Decommissioned then recommissioned ships reminds me of shipbreaking, of which many dramatic images can be easily found. I pulled a few together for palette & aesthetic reference.
shipbreaking_images

Ships & Stories

When I was first drawing up spaceships for Starsector we determined what to make based mostly on what felt right according to the conceit of idealized WW2-era naval combat in space. Obviously we needed a big battleship (the Onslaught), cheap swarming fighters (the Talon), a nimble frigate (the Wolf), and a giant carrier (the Astral), etc. The roles and variations of ships pretty much suggest themselves, and the form follows their function. If it’s a battleship, it should look like its tough and packs a heck of a punch. I’ve certainly drawn a few ships without a hard plan upfront but even then I’m always thinking about what kind of role the ship in question is going to play in the game.

It’s just the way I work: Form necessarily reflects function, to my mind. The visual logic of a game should have internal consistency whether it has much relation to real-life realism or not, but it can at least point to real-life aesthetic references for the feeling or idea, if not actual function. So if you sit back and consider what a battleship would really look like in space, it’d probably look like nothing because the display scale would make it a dot that says “Space Battleship” next to it, or as soon as combat began it’d be immediately destroyed by lasers or relativistic kill vehicles or something because it’s a big dumb target — but all hope is not lost! Our game sprite can make visual reference to a 20th century naval warship because my goal is to convey the feeling of battleship to people who have been trained to believe that a battleship looks a certain way, not to create a hyper-realistic near-future space combat simulation. (More on this in the “Ship Design & The Onslaught” post from back in 2010.)

Right, so this is how development of Starsector’s ships has progressed and the big gaps in fleet lineup have been largely filled in. Again, this process largely took place without need for any kind of overarching plan, though occasionally Alex would say “hey, we need a frigate that does this“, or we might talk it over and try something experimental in terms of gameplay. Some experiments worked, some were modified a bit from what was first imagined– phase ships for example — and others never really took off at all, eg. munition ships. But that said, the large part of fleet combat roles is fleshed out; Now is a matter more of filling in small gaps that exist, diversifying existing roles to support the game’s setting and ‘landscape of player progression’. Still, the experiments are lots of fun! (More on this with the Monitor.)

Now I’m taking on more of a role in writing setting & backstory for Starsector. When drawing a ship I’ll think not only of the gameplay function but of the narrative role it fulfills; The possibilities are absolutely fascinating! A simple sprite can, given appropriate text, suggest an awful lot about the universe it exists within and it can draw connections to other ships, factions, places, history, and all of that to emotional responses from the player as they decide how they feel about the ships, factions, and places in the universe of Starsector. Each piece becomes something far greater than the sum of its parts when this all operates together (and I love this part of game development).

Okay, that’s enough rambling: I’ll show off some new ships, discuss their envisioned role in gameplay (which we recognize, dear players, is not necessarily how you’re going to use them), then a bit about how their backstory fits together with the rest of Starsector.

 

Cerberus

superhoundThis one is easy: Everyone loves the Hound so why not build a bigger Hound? And that about explains everything you need to know. (The working title for sprite was, naturally, “superhound.psd”. )

As for drawing, I’ve been tending toward more curved plating and slightly subtler shading. I’m trying to get away from having too much “greeble noise” covering ships so that the overall form doesn’t devolve into so much pixel noise, and so it gets more of a chance to make itself seen. This should result in a ship that’s more visibly identifiable at a glance and it ought to look better when scaled down or zoomed out rather than drawn at pixel-perfect resolution, as is often the case for ships in Starsector. You can still see the Hound parts used as a base for the image, however ( … and man is it ever just a brick of a ship!)

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Fighter Update

Did I mention that combat readiness (“CR” – briefly, a measure of how good a shape the ship is in, 0 to 100%) has lots of tendrils into other areas of the design? I think I did. That’s not a bad thing; in fact that’s rather the point. It does, however, mean that I end up adjusting a number of mechanics in the name of everything fitting in better.

One such set of mechanics is just about everything surrounding fighters. In the current release, they’re a bit rough around the edges, especially in the campaign – a few things don’t quite make sense lore-wise, and a few things combine to make them weaker than I’d like them to be.

So, changes!

In Combat
The first big one is that fighter wings no longer go back to a carrier as a single unit. Instead, individual fighters peel off when they need to repair or rearm, while carriers launch replacements for every wing that needs them. This does a couple of things.

First of all, having more flight decks is actually useful. An Astral’s three decks can crank out replacements at an alarming rate, one that a more modest carrier will be unable to match. This is particularly important because with more decks, fighters can regain their numbers more quickly – instead of being massacred piecemeal as replacements trickle in. (As it stands in the current release, the three decks on the Astral are overkill; hardly any fleet can make use of all of them.)
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Modern Ship Designs

There’s more to space combat in Starfarer than nearly-obsolete front-line sluggers like the Onslaught. Meet the Astral class capital-ship carrier: a modern, refined platform for supporting squadrons of small fighters and bombers such as the Dagger torpedo-bomber you can see below. Escorting the Astral is a nimble Wolf class frigate.

This Astral carrier has some top-of-the-line point defense systems on its starboard side while the port has some nasty repeating torpedo launchers. Once you get past the escorts and fighter-bomber cover, you’ll have to be sure to choose your approach carefully — and that’s before dealing with the full-coverage shield. Astral-class carriers should not be taken lightly.

What follows is a bit about how I went about designing the modern ship classes of Starfarer along with some concept sketches for the Astral and Wolf.

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