Fleet Control

One of the goals for the next version of is to improve the way you give orders to your fleet. It’s a delicate balance – the orders you give should shape the battle, but spending too much time looking at the map and giving orders detracts from the experience of flying your flagship.

The original (and as of the latest release, 0.34a, current) version of the fleet control interface was very RTS-like. At first glance, it seemed like a good idea – why reinvent the wheel, if there’s an already widely-known way to control multiple units? Unfortunately, as the combat gameplay took shape, it became more and more clear that the RTS model is a bad fit for Starfarer.

Why, you ask? There are two main reasons.

One, it set the wrong expectations for the level of control you have over your ships. RTS units are typically instantly obedient drones. Starfarer ships, on the other hand, have to be smarter than that to make interesting opponents in direct combat. The trouble is, it’s hard to make them obey orders to the degree that’s suggested by the RTS control scheme. Either they obey immediately and possibly get killed for their efforts, or they take their time and carry out orders when the tactical situation allows – and appear to be ignoring your commands in the meanwhile.

Two, it allows – and sometimes requires – too much micromanagement. You can keep track of every fighter wing and order it to go to a carrier for repairs any time it takes too much damage (they do so on their own, but sometimes an earlier, explicit order ensures a wing will survive). You can manage the composition of groups in detail – possibly getting a little more efficiency in the process. You have to manage the groups to begin with, when you deploy the fleet. To play optimally, you have to keep going to the map to evaluate the situation and give orders here and there several times a minute.

You can do well just giving a few general orders, but knowing that optimal play requires more micro than enjoyable is hardly ideal.

So what’s the solution? First, let’s rephrase the problem – in the RTS control scheme, you tell your units how to do things. Go here, shoot this, group with these other units. The units have no concept of your larger goals. Instead, why not tell your ships what to do, and let them figure out the details? If you were the commander of a fleet, that’s exactly what you’d be doing – delegating, and reserving your attention for the things that matter.

Now, let’s dive into the gory details.
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Weapon Lore & Roles

The next major release is going to let you create custom ship loadouts. These include picking from a large variety of weapons – 47 and counting, as of this writing. But if you’re going to pick weapons intelligently, you need to know what they do.

Weapon Lore

Cold, hard numbers are great when you’re comparing the finer points, but for an initial “just what is this” moment, you need a description. Therefore our resident lore master, Ivaylo, has been working night and day (or so he tells me) writing them. I thought I’d share a couple.

Heavy Machine Gun
Primary role: point defense
Mount size: medium

A workhorse of patrol craft across the sector, this weapons system features a reliable, centuries-old blowback firing mechanism. Safety features include a positive cook-off safety for open bolt clearing and double ram prevention. The weapon is typically mounted on a relatively heavy base to help absorb recoil during prolonged bursts of fire.  Calibers vary, but are usually in the 17-20mm range. The heavier projectiles do not shatter upon impact like lighter ammunition and present a credible threat to frigate-class vessels. Extremely accurate, though slower-firing than a vulcan cannon.

Sabot SRM (Short Range Missile)
Primary role: close support
Mount size: small

Sabot-class class missiles are short-range, two-stage KE weapons. A guided missile first stage projects a secondary assembly to within striking distance of a shielded target. A targeting computer then ignites the propellant for the KE penetrator. This “sabot,” as it is commonly called, is typically a narrow, laterally stabilized projectile manufactured from an ultra dense material such as depleted infernium. ¬†Excellent at bringing down enemy shields and causing an overload. Standard ship armor is spaced and thus the damage the sabot causes is largely contained if it gets through the shields.

“Mjolnir” Micro-singularity Cannon
Primary role: assault
Mount size: large
A very advanced design, the Mjolnir is technically a magneto-gravitic shell projector, not a standard cannon. The micro capacitors within each shell are able to deliver enough energy to create a localized singularity with a Schwarzschild radius of 1.8 millimeters. The built-in gravitic lens devastates all nearby matter, especially dense objects.

Weapon Roles

A key bit of information when checking out a new weapon is its primary role. Most weapons are useful in a variety of situations, but the primary role reflects the weapon’s intended design and ideal circumstances for its use.

The weapon has a high damage output, but limited range. Assault weapons are usually good on well-armored ships that can afford to take a beating to dish one out – or on faster ships that are hard to hit.

Close Support
The weapon has a good range (generally, up to 2x that of assault weapons), but is limited in some way – overall damage output, ammunition, rate of fire, etc. Depending on the specific limitations, close support weapons excel in many situations ranging from harassment to delivering a killing blow against an exposed enemy.

Point Defense
The weapon has a sophisticated targeting system that allows it to automatically target enemy missiles. Other common characteristics (such as a high turret slew rate) make point defense weapons good against fighters as well.

There are several other roles – strike and fire support, to name two – but I’ll let you guess what they are. The first person to guess correctly wins a prize, which is the satisfaction of being the first to guess correctly and winning a prize.

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