New Feature – Damageable Ship Modules

We’ve got a planned set of features for next release, but every so often I like to take a couple of days and work on some lower-priority features that just wouldn’t get any attention otherwise. Of course, the feature has to be cool enough to justify the time spent! It is my pleasure to now introduce one such feature – damageable ship modules. Now when you shoot a ship, you can gradually disable its weapons and engines – more on the details in a bit.

For those with a shorter attention span – or simply less time – here’s a video showing the end result in action.  I’d suggest reading on about how it works to help it all make sense, though. By the way, if you haven’t kept up with the latest changes in the development build, this thread on our forum has the full patch notes for everything that’s been done since the last release.

Read on for the reasoning behind this mechanic and the details of how it works.

The idea of damageable ship components has potential – weapons are modular already, so you might expect them to get damaged individually simply based on how things look, and it’s just a fun concept. It’s the kind of detail that makes a ship feel a little more real, and the game a little more immersive. The problem is letting you disable weapons without running afoul of slippery slope. Briefly, “slippery slope” means is once a side starts winning, they’re likely to keep winning. Thus, the outcome can be decided by the first slight advantage gained, which then balloons over the course of a fight. This is bad – why make you play out a scenario where you know what the outcome is going to be well ahead of time?

Destructible weapons certainly introduce the potential for slippery slope. If a ship loses its main guns, it’s unlikely to be of much further use. Even losing a measly point defense turret can make a ship qualitatively more vulnerable against missiles – often, one turret is the difference between being able to shoot down incoming missiles in time and suffering repeated hits (which can knock out more weapons!). Losing engines is similar – a ship that can’t move, or is severely slowed, is not only disadvantaged – but worse, frustrating to fly.

So, destructible weapons and engines are out. But what if they’re simply disabled, and come back online after the crew spends some time repairing them? That’s better, since at least you’ll get restored to full capacity eventually – but what if the enemy keeps firing at the same spot over and over, keeping your guns or engines from coming back online while they keep doing damage? A small tweak will take care of this – making it so that ship modules don’t take further damage while disabled, and are guaranteed to come back online even under fire.

Now, let’s take a look at all the juicy details.

  • Weapons take damage when the hull is hit near their location. Some weapons can’t be damaged due to being set very far from the edges – for example, some middle turrets of the Onslaught, but by far the most weapons can be.
  • Disabled weapons (or engines) can’t be damaged further and come back online after ~10-20 seconds, depending on weapon size and relevant ship hull mods
  • Hardpoint weapons are much more durable than turrets
  • Flux-inducing weapons such as the Ion Cannon are particularly effective at disabling weapons and engines as the flux damage component ignores armor
  • Engines are disabled individually, gradually reducing ship maneuverability and speed
  • Disabling larger engines has a proportionally larger effect
  • Disabling engines can also cause the ship’s facing to drift in one direction or another, depending on the location of the disabled engine
  • When over half the engines are down, a complete “flameout” occurs and the ship loses all ability to maneuver for ~5-20 seconds, depending on size
  • Several new hull mods that let you change various related properties – Insulated Engine Compartment, Armored Weapon Emplacements, Flux Breakers, Automated Repair Unit
  • Fighters with disabled engines can crash into ships. Admiral Piett seemed indisposed and could not be reached for comment.

I want to stay away from adding any extra UI elements – for example, ones showing you the exact status of every weapon and engine. It’s just too much information to keep track of in the heat of combat. Instead, there are distinct animations and floating text to let you know what’s happening, right there on the combat screen. We’ll also have some specific sound cues for the various events (“weapon disabled”, “flameout”, “repairs in progress”, etc) to make it as clear as possible what’s happening.

The goal is to give you more varied situations to respond to (“Oh no! Forward battery is down – let me pull back out of range” or “Point-Defense on the port side is disabled, make sure to use shields there, or turn that side away”). The way to do that is provide all the information on the battlefield, right where you’re looking – and not in the form of some status bars tucked away in a corner.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, September 17th, 2011 at 8:00 pm and is filed under Development, Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. This is completely tits. I cannot WAIT to play with it!!!

    And might I add, what an excellent movie. I was gripping my armchair in suspense not knowing who the victor would be!

    by Trylobot
  2. Nice
    might want to add something like a detailed damage display for the piloted ship
    On keypress change normal ship with outline displaying components and weapon color coded to display damage and status
    green all ok
    yellow turning to red damage amount
    bright red system out of order (maybe small timer to restoration of function)

    regarding “but what if the enemy keeps firing at the same spot over and over, keeping your guns or engines from coming back online while they keep doing damage?”
    if portion keeps getting hit slightly increase time to restoration of function (hard to do repairs in a section that is getting hit all the time)

    by Letsparty
  3. Really like it! Keep up the great work!

    by Projekt2501
  4. Just to add a little additional visual clarity, I’d just like to suggest a small addition to the player-ship diagram in the bottom left. Just had a small dot represent each major external subsystem, and have them blue when fine, blinking red when more than 30-40% damaged, and black when knocked out. It wouldn’t clutter up the screen, but it’d convey a little more detail.

    by Dominic Tarason
  5. Can we modify the recovery time of the weapons and engines to simulate them being destroyed if we wanted to?

    by Horrigan
  6. @Trylobot: Hah, I hadn’t realized how close that was! At the end, a sure Hellbore killshot just misses off the port side of the Apogee, after the Dominator is down.

    @Horrigan: Not at the moment. It’s not a weapon-specific stat, but determined by size, so changes to this setting would affect everything.

    @Dominic: That would bit of extra coolness (and usefulness) to that display, but would you really look at it in the heat of combat? When shooting that video, I found it hard to even glance at my health/flux bars due to needing to aim and dodge very carefully. It might be more useful during lulls to assess the state of your ship, though.

    I’m rethinking that display altogether, though don’t have anything concrete yet. Yeah, just about every game has one of those in the corner somewhere, but having to glance away from the action to look at it just isn’t great.

    by Alex
  7. Wow.. There is just something very cool about this game, as Trylobot said I was also waiting to see the outcome and wondering which ship would win. For awhile it looked like the Dominator had the upper hand! Great vid of a game with huge potential. I agree with Dominic that we need a display of subsystems and where they are at. Not so much for when we are in control but more for when we are just watching 🙂

    by Tubs
  8. Love this feature. Just a suggestion: maybe consider some kind of repair feature? That way, things will still come back online in time, but you as the pilot have to prioritize what gets repaired (could be as simple as Alt-click on the thing you want the repair crews to focus on; they work automatically if you don’t specify)

    by Vic
  9. @Alex

    If your eyes are on the action, then put some of the vital info in the action, too. Perhaps add a HUD element that activates to point to the disabled components, along with time in fractions of a second before they come online.

    by Phydeaux
  10. @Vic: Thanks! I think the action is a bit too fast-paced for stuff like prioritizing repairs to work well – a bit too fine-grained.

    @Phydeaux: That might get too busy-looking. Besides, I’d hate to add more bars for you to watch – that really takes away from being able to see the *actual* action.

    by Alex
  11. @Alex

    Maybe combine what Phydeaux and Dominic suggested. Have a small dot on each weapon that would indicate it’s status. Similar to what Empire at War did:

    Personally, i think that the large icons would really detract from the game, but having an overlay like that could be great for monitoring your status at a glance.

    by Enigma
  12. God that fight was so hot.

    by Adam Caverhill
  13. Oh. Sorry, forgot to add, request:Allow us to pit AI against AI and just watch fights.

    by Adam Caverhill
  14. @Adam Caverhill
    I second this!!

    by Glen
  15. Awesome news!! This game is quickly turning into exactly the kind of tactical starship battle sim I’ve always wanted.

    by DarkMecha
  16. @Enigma: Hmm. That’s a possibility. I want to spend a bit more time playtesting it before starting to “fix” it, though 🙂

    @Adam, Glen: Well, since that’s not the focus of the game, I don’t think it’ll happen any time soon. It’s a nice-to-have, for sure, but there are *many* of those!

    @DarkMecha: Thanks, glad you like this addition!

    by Alex
  17. This feature is neat, but having all that floating text pop up whenever anything on an enemies ship stop working might get a bit cluttery and obscure the fight. Perhaps make an option to disable the text for enemies subsystems? That way you can see the explosions better.

    by psychosociety
  18. Yeah, we’ll probably make that an option. Personally I find it useful, and not bothersome – it only shows up for your ship, or for ships you damage – but that’s a personal preference.

    Can’t promise it’ll be an option in the next build, but very likely at some point along the way.

    by Alex
  19. That fight was freakin sexy, but it doesn’t happen often in what I’ve played so far. Feels like you can’t get some focused one on one action without taking a half dozen torpedos up the butt… Yeah, yeah, that’s part of the tactical aspect of the game, but all I’m saying is a couple missions with just some one on one action would be awesome! (me likey “Sinking the Bis’mar”) LOVE the whole localized damage thing here, very nice.

    by Matt
  20. Alex,

    After watching the embedded video, I definitely like the way weapons appear grayed out and emit sparks when disabled. I’ve noticed a similar effect applied to damaged ships while playing the challenge missions — areas that have suffered heavy armor damage actually reveal flickering circuitry beneath the holes in their hulls. It always seemed strange how a torpedo could ruin the whole front half of my beautiful Apogee but leave all the delicate energy weapons miraculously unscathed, but this change should make the visual aspect of combat much more believable.

    Representing systems damage in this way should work well on smaller ships, but I fear that identifying which weapons are operational on a larger ship will be difficult in the heat of combat. Imagine piloting an Onslaught with close to 20 weapons mounts of varying sizes in a duel with the massive Paragon battleship with fighter craft and PD fire filling the screen. Your barrage forces the Paragon’s captain to lower his shields, so you switch to your Reaper launchers to finish off the behemoth. You click the left mouse button, but nothing happens – there were so many weapons firing onscreen that you couldn’t pick out the tiny, grayed out weapon models.

    Would it be possible to display the status of damaged weapons on the weapon group menu at the bottom of the screen? Maybe the names of destroyed weapons could turn orange to show that they were non-operational. You could use the same hue that marks enemies on the map and damaged hull sections on the ship model in the bottom-left of the game screen, since players are already associate green with “things that keep me warm and safe at night” and red with “things that will get me killed.”

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter when you get the chance. I love how this game is coming together – keep up the good work 😀

    by Rupert