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.

Let Me Draw You A Starsector Ship, Part 1

Due to popular demand I’m going to give a go at documenting the process of drawing a ship sprite for Starsector. Haven’t made many new ships lately as there are very interesting larger-scale developments going on, but I find that drawing spaceships is always nice to revisit. And about time I do this again since my methods have certainly changed since the early days.

So what kind of ship shall we draw today? Nothing too big as I ought to finish this post in a timely manner, so let’s go with a frigate. And lately I’ve been more excited about ships that blur the line between civilian and military which evoke a sort of post-apocalyptic can-do spirit so this one won’t be a sleek high-end Tritachyon thing. In fact, I’ve got a good weird idea in mind to fill an unfilled niche: a tiny frigate-sized carrier! This would fit nicely as well with some of the setting development we’ve been up to ( “very interesting larger-scale developments” ): one of the new systems going in — Magec — is composed largely of a giant ring of asteroids, dust, ice, and general chaos swirling around a young blue star. There’s a significant planet, but civilization has collapsed and no major faction has stepped in to take responsibility for what’s left. As one might imagine the place is lousy with pirates, profiteers, mercenaries, and adventurers. A combat-converted miner drone-tender would fit in perfectly!

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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.



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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Painting the Hound and the Hangar

With Alex’s dev computer in dry dock due to a flux overload*, he asked me to jump in and show off a bit of what I’ve been drawing for Starsector. Spoiler alert: It’s spaceships. But not as you know them.

* He actually got it sorted out pretty quick. No need to panic. I just have to express everything in terms of Starsector, eg. my first tech advice was “Transfer command!”. We have fun!

So yes: I’ve been digitally painting some large scale illustrations for use in Starsector, both as promo art and cropped down to little scenes to show for game event choices and so on.

Above: the final painting of the “Hound Hangar” faded into the first sketch.

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Post-Combat Mechanics

Given that New Year’s is coming up, it’s only appropriate to talk about how you acquire shiny new stuff in Starfarer. Oh, wait… Christmas is the “presents” holiday, New Year’s is the “get drunk” one. Never mind! But just the same, that’s what I want to talk about. Shinies, not getting drunk.

… now that my feeble attempts at humor are over and done with, let’s continue.

Battles are a key way to progress through the game. They’re not the only way – you’ll be able to build up an economic power base, for example – but that’s not what this post is about. Battles offer an opportunity to get stuff for free, even if you don’t fancy yourself a pirate, but something slightly more honorable-sounding. The flip side is you can easily lose some hard-earned assets, too – ships, crews, even cargo if the outcome is bad enough.

What I’d like to do is outline the mechanics as they stand, talk a bit about the motivations for doing it this way, and sprinkle in a couple of screenshots. For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume the player won the battle. If they lost, things happen slightly differently, but it’s more or less a mirror image.

Casualties, Boarding, and Repairs
If you’ve played the combat portion of the game, you already know that instead of simply blowing up when hull integrity reaches 0, ships become floating, disabled hulks. There’s a small chance for each of these to be repaired after battle (most likely, player skills will allow you to raise that chance).

So a friendly ship can emerge from battle in the following ways:

  • Completely unscathed or somewhat damaged
  • Disabled and subsequently repaired, with a minimal hull integrity and heavily damaged armor (non-fighters only)
  • Utterly destroyed (fighters and ships whose hulks are shot repeatedly until they blow up – unlikely for anything bigger than frigates)
  • Disabled and beyond repair, and subsequently scrapped for any supplies

The options for enemy ships are slightly different. Retreating ships have a chance to be captured after battle, and the player has a choice between boarding and scrapping these. Disabled ships that can potentially be repaired can also be boarded or scrapped, while ones beyond repair are scrapped automatically.

Also, if a ship takes hull (not armor) damage, then there’s a good chance that some crew will be killed, in rough proportion to how much damage the ship actually took. It’s possible to win a battle and end up losing enough crew that you can’t meet the skeleton crew requirements to deploy most of your ships – so it’s a good idea to carry enough extra crew for these kinds of emergencies. Outside of combat, it’s assumed that automated systems let you get by well enough to navigate the ships, so even extensive crew losses won’t stop you from being able to move around the Sector.

The Odyssey has taken some damage, but the pirate fleet has been eliminated as a combat threat

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