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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Starfarer Manual

The alpha is coming, soon.  In preparation for this, ahem, momentous event, allow me to present the first official version of Starfarer’s manual.  Don’t worry, you don’t have to read the whole thing just to be able to start playing – the tutorial is supposed to take care of that.

There are a lot of mechanics in play though, and several missions are hard (and indeed, they’re supposed to be). So, if after playing for a while you keep losing horribly and tear out your hair screaming “WHY?!?” (or have some questions), the manual is a good place to find answers. It also features a handy 1-page summary of all the controls and shortcuts.

You can find it here.

Let me know what you guys think!

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