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Interstellar Travel, Wormholes, and Jump Drives

#1
While Time acceleration vs. super cruise / in-system jumps discusses intra-system travel, interstellar travel has it's own issues.
  • Space is big. It should feel big.
    In X3, flying my trusty Shrike, every sector in the game is 10 seconds away. That's how long it takes to charge up the jump drive and pop over there. The ship has a huge cargo bay so carrying enormous amounts of jump fuel is no issue at all.

    If interstellar travel is instantaneous (beyond a loading screen), you are hurting the perception of "big space".
    On long distance traveling, refilling a small fuel tank (Frontier) is more a chore than interesting.
    Depends on the implementation, though.

    Instantaneous long distance travel makes military strategy a joke.

    Several of the largest X3 mod projects tried to limit the use of the jump drive, either by altering it's cargo class so that only the largest ships could carry it, or by taking it out completely.
    There was no way to scale or balance it. It was all or nothing. You can't work with such a feature!
  • Different travel times for different methods of travel
  • Static interstellar wormholes / gates would be the fastest method. Near instantaneous.
    Instead, the player spends time traveling between these specific locations.
    Such choke points can also be defended quite easily, which can be a pro or con, depending on your intention.
  • Point-To-Point jumpdrive.
    Definitely a possibility.
    • Space constraints should limit this to big ships, also giving carriers a better-defined role.
    • Travel time should be substantial.
    • There may have to be no-jump zones around planets, arguably around large space stations.
      The larger your orbital / deep space structures, the larger the no-jump zone.
      That way potential aggressors give the defenders more time to redeploy and actually protect the structure.
    • In Star Wars (and other universes) capital ships can be equipped with a Gravity Well Projector, which simulates the no-jump zone around a planet, allowing ships to prevent everyone else from escaping.
      This works well... until the player acquires such a system.
      Then there is a gigantic shift in tactical control that would be terribly hard to balance. Better to stay away from such potential cheesiness.
  • How do you arrive in the target system?
    I imagine that in the target system, a widely visible jump anomaly pops up, telling everyone about when something will arrive there - maybe with a rough guesstimate on the size of the arriving total mass of ships.

    Not only does this avoid needless collisions because local ships can evade this location in advance, it also gives potential defenders advance warning that something is coming.
    Instantly popping attackers into the destination system is just lame.

    For fixed travel locations like wormholes, the arrival point would be "close" to the entry point but far enough away not to create the huge mess such jump gates are in X3.

    If travel is "near instantaneous", ships wouldn't have a chance to get out of the way in time.
    Alternative: The arrival anomaly finds a "safe and empty" space to appear in. Other ships would then only have to avoid pathing into the newly created anomaly.

    For formations, the arrival anomaly would last until they have all exited.

    The "advance warning" mechanic could be applied to static jump points as well. You may not have the coverage to patrol your entire system in depth but if you detect a jump "flare", you still have a chance to react. Send a ship to find out who came a-calling.
  • Travel time and the player.

    Sitting around, doing nothing, is never fun.
    How do we keep the player engaged while his personal ship is traveling the space between systems - that doesn't actually exist ingame?
    • The easy way out: let the player manage his other ships and assets while in flight, displaying an easily visible "travel countdown" in some corner of the screen.
    • A mini game like Audiosurf, where the player can greatly speed up travel time by not just flying on autopilot.
      This should affect the entire formation the player is part of.
      • How exactly this could look? I'm thinking a tunnel where the player can use "gravity wells" to get a speed boost or has to evade nebulas that would slow him down.
        Doesn't have to be super complicated since he will eventually arrive whatever he does.
      • This could also introduce a degree of uncertainty into the very powerful PTP jump concept. While flying through this tunnel, the occasional navigation hazard can pop up and damage the ship(s) if not evaded.
      • You could even expand this into some sort of racing game and/or make timed delivery missions skill-based instead of flat out impossible.
        "You've never heard of the Millennium Falcon?…It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs!"
      • I call it "G-Space", short for Guitar Hero Space.
      • Once you fly a "record" time through a fixed anomaly, you could sell this "mapped path" to NPC, speeding up their travel time, or have your own ships travel faster through these specific anomalies.
    • Time compression.
      Josh already pointed out that he knows about Doing It Right™ so time compression is not going to be a tactical combat exploit that benefits the player.
      • Travel time that the player is being forced to spend idle obviously needs to be shortened.
        For gate / wormhole / whatever travel, I imagine a special setting that is independent of the "tactical" time compression and goes aaaaaall the way up.
      • The control for it is only displayed during such travels and the selected setting is remembered.
        These settings include a MAX setting, which means the game speeds up as much as the CPU can handle while still computing the rest of the "active" universe.
      • To allow for player control, time compression cannot just start at the max setting the next time the player uses this travel method.
        Instead, the acceleration always starts at 1x and keeps ticking up... and the player can interrupt this process if he has some empire management to do.
      This would allow travel time to be strategically meaningful while not bothering the player - personally - all that much.
  • Average travel speed could vary.

    If you're traveling between systems "in a nebula", the average speed drops.
    In case of the mini game, you get a higher chance of "power-downs" popping up.

    "Hyper" travel speed could also be influenced by specific ship systems or a pilot skill.
There is no "I" in Tea. That would be gross.
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Re: Interstellar Travel, Wormholes, and Jump Drives

#4
One option here would be to implement "ferries" - giant transporter ships that jump from star to star. You'd pay to be carried, and park your ship in the hold. Then wait...

Like real-life ferries, it might be an excuse for an impressive walk-around ship where you can wander the passenger deck. Go shopping, chat to NPCs, make deals, be impressed by a close-up look at the other ships in the hold. Maybe pick up paying passengers who have no means to get from the ferry terminal to their destination station or planet, or a bit of cargo. An on-board maintenance service can fix up your ship if it needs it. Watch documentaries about the ferronium mines of Franj or the massed Wobblebeeste migrations across the plains of Ploot.

Ideally there should be a bunch of activities you can do while stuck on board so you don't get bored, but being stuck for an appropriate time would give a sense of long distance travel. There may be a view of space while travelling through, showing the positions of nearby stars changing slowly while en route. As it's hyperspace, it could be made to seem a bit surreal with strange hues, distortions and visual effects.

This service could exist as well as jump gates, and the differences should mean that both methods have attractions for different reasons.
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Re: Interstellar Travel, Wormholes, and Jump Drives

#5
Interesting.
Sounds like a useful application of this.

What would be the advantages?

Safety in numbers. How can we make this or other methods of travel unsafe? =)

Cheaper. You need an Anomaly Scanner to be able to use normal interplanetary jump gates.

Run your own ferry business. Create entirely new interstellar trade lanes.

Or twisted the other way, do trade runs "off the beaten path".
There is no "I" in Tea. That would be gross.
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Re: Interstellar Travel, Wormholes, and Jump Drives

#6
JabbleWok wrote:One option here would be to implement "ferries"
+1.

I believe the interior interactions would be easily handled in the same manner that stations and planets are, with the interaction menus. There would be no wandering around inside the ship as an avatar, of course.

Realistically, unless the ship has mega weapons & defenses, or substantial escort, a ferry is likely only operating in relatively safe, high-density population space. Safe being defined as low piracy rates and no animical factions.

You might even see different scales of service - ferries are relatively utilitarian but inexpensive, focused on fitting in as many people as possible per trip, while cruise lines provide high-end networking opportunities but cost more to ride along with and have an emphasis on providing quality services like ship maintenance, high-end shopping (better ship modules!), etc.

These trips would provide chances to pick up courier missions for people who need to get things past the end point of the ferry/cruise, exploration contracts to scout new ferry/cruise paths, escort duties if the owner expects trouble or is short on staff, and so on. All around, sounds like fun.
I am 42.
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Re: Interstellar Travel, Wormholes, and Jump Drives

#7
Yep, that all makes sense. Utilitarian ferries on well-travelled safe routes, luxury vessels on prestige routes, clapped-out clunkers operating in the fringes, etc. There may even be in-system equivalents, ferrying smaller ships between inner 'goldilocks' planets and outer planet settlements.

It may also be a way of getting in and out of hot zones - armoured vessels that deter pirates or run in convoys into war zones.

Similarly for military use there could be the equivalent of assault ships that act as a platform for helicopters and landing craft. Large tough vessels that spew forth assault teams and can defend themselves, though they'd usually be escorted by warships.
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Re: Interstellar Travel, Wormholes, and Jump Drives

#8
I think there must be better ways of making space "feel big" than needlessly limiting the player's ability to travel or even making you spend long periods of time in transit. The point of a fun space game is to fly around in space and actually do things, not sitting around and waiting to be allowed to do something. Throwing a minigame in just adds another annoying layer, making it even worse.

Or another issue: If interstellar travel requires jumpgates or "ferry routes", exploration will not a viable option until you actually have one of those ferries yourself, since logically, unexplored systems will have neither available. So the whole concept of "take your battered old freighter out to explore beyond the fringe of civilization and stumble across a mineral motherlode or cache of alien artifacts" goes out the window. I'm not sure that fits particularly well with the "be anything" theme of the game.
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Re: Interstellar Travel, Wormholes, and Jump Drives

#9
I'm not saying you'd be forced to take a ferry - you can always buy your own ship capable of deep-space travel and do it the long way, or use jump/acceleration gates as others have suggested. I'm just suggesting it's one way to add to an immersive atmosphere of sensing that space is big, and will add another facet to the game. Instead of spending time in an orbital station to replenish, catch up on news and look for contracts, do it all whilst in transit to a far system.

Also, it doesn't take away from exploration as such ferries would only operate between population centres. If I take a ferry to France I can still explore France and beyond; I have no great desire to explore the sea on the way there. Same idea here. If anything, it can skip over what might otherwise be a boring journey to get to a more interesting area. There would be no ferries running to completely unexplored worlds - you'd have to do that journey all on your own. Ferries would be a useful convenience, much like 'fast travel' in some other games.
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Re: Interstellar Travel, Wormholes, and Jump Drives

#10
JabbleWok wrote:I'm not saying you'd be forced to take a ferry - you can always buy your own ship capable of deep-space travel and do it the long way, or use jump/acceleration gates as others have suggested.
Well, the point is that you can't *always* do that, if deep-space travel is limited to big ships and, presumably, bigger ships cost more money. So as a player just starting a new game, you'll be limited to those ferries and/or jump gates, which means exploration is barred to you as an option.
JabbleWok wrote:Instead of spending time in an orbital station to replenish, catch up on news and look for contracts, do it all whilst in transit to a far system.
Okay, but what if I'm just travelling to the next system to collect minerals from my auto-mining robot, deliver some cargo, or talk to a guy about a mission? I don't need to go to some station, I just want to get on with my business.

It all sounds interesting enough and well and good in theory, but imagine having to go through this station or (God help us) a minigame every single time you jump from one system to another? It would become unbearable after the first couple of times. Not to mention later in the game, once you have your own fleets, stations and planets to look after.
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Re: Interstellar Travel, Wormholes, and Jump Drives

#11
Lanfranc wrote:
JabbleWok wrote:I'm not saying you'd be forced to take a ferry - you can always buy your own ship capable of deep-space travel and do it the long way, or use jump/acceleration gates as others have suggested.
Well, the point is that you can't *always* do that, if deep-space travel is limited to big ships and, presumably, bigger ships cost more money. So as a player just starting a new game, you'll be limited to those ferries and/or jump gates, which means exploration is barred to you as an option.
Interstellar distances are huge. You cannot bridge those distances in anything less than years with the same flight capabilities as would be suitable for travelling inside a solar sytem. There are great big empty spaces of nothing between systems, especially as you get further out from 'galactic center' (wherever that is in a given universe!) and stars are more spread out. It isn't realistic to be able to simply fly from star to star on the same engines that you fly from planet to planey. Even at 10x lightspeed (which condenses a 5.5 hour trip at light speed, such as from our sun to Pluto, to about 30 minutes, and thus is probably much too fast for in-system travel to be safe), it would take more than five months to get from Earth to Alpha Centauri, our nearest solar neighbor (that's 4.3 light years or so). This makes some form of jump drive necessary to bridge these distances at super-fast speeds, which would by necessity be different from the drives used for in-system travel because of the differences in fuel/power requirements (jumps require more power to achieve higher speeds, and thus you need a very compact or efficient fuel that would be overkill for normal flight), so then you have to have room to house two sets of drives and their power/fuel systems, requiring a larger ship and more robust power management systems to utelize.
I am 42.
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Re: Interstellar Travel, Wormholes, and Jump Drives

#12
Lanfranc wrote: Well, the point is that you can't *always* do that, if deep-space travel is limited to big ships and, presumably, bigger ships cost more money. So as a player just starting a new game, you'll be limited to those ferries and/or jump gates, which means exploration is barred to you as an option.

Okay, but what if I'm just travelling to the next system to collect minerals from my auto-mining robot, deliver some cargo, or talk to a guy about a mission? I don't need to go to some station, I just want to get on with my business.
I'd like to think you can, at least to some extent.

This really comes down to the starting position - if you start with an orbital tug and 100 credits, then you won't be able to do very much at the beginning. Conversely if you have something that can do even shorter interstellar runs, then you can indeed start to travel through the galaxy. Different people may want different start positions (there's a thread about this).

It will also depend what stars are reachable from your initial system even if you can do interstellar hops in your own ship. Maybe there's a chain of stars that can take you to uncharted territory, or perhaps you can only get to populated worlds. Note I make the distinction between 'uncharted' = unexplored by everyone, and populated which may be unvisited by you, the player. This also brings out the idea that you start in a known area of stars connected by regular traffic, while outside that there are exotic populated areas still unknown to you (and most others in your start area).

Perhaps it would be like the early days of the Age of Exploration where there is skimpy knowledge of far off places, but mostly inaccurate rumours. Anywhere directly reachable by ferries from your starting position would be known to you to some extent (or information is easily obtainable = known world), and crossing (mostly) untravelled gaps would be needed to get to the exotic areas.

It probably makes game sense that there would be vast and interesting areas to explore, but you may need to 'work your way up' a bit before you can reach them. The gaps would be too wide to start with. Again, maybe a fast-track start could skip past that necessity. Some places may be so far from the beaten track that you have to do your own fuel extracting and refining in each system just to be able to reach the next, which should take time and effort. Unless you hit lucky and find locals who sell it.

So at any one time there will be places you can reach with your own ship and others you cannot. I suggest that ferries would be useful to a) reach some populated places you cannot fly to (yet), and b) travel quickly and conveniently to places you can. If you're going along a route you've taken many times before, do you really want to fly it yourself each time? I don't think I would.

So flying to the next system may be entirely possible in your ship, but you may well choose to take the ferry for the interstellar jump to save time and effort, and then make a quick in-system hop to your rendezvous. It may also depend whether or not your ship can fly faster or more cheaply than the ferry!

Kayse wrote: Interstellar distances are huge. You cannot bridge those distances in anything less than years with the same flight capabilities as would be suitable for travelling inside a solar sytem. There are great big empty spaces of nothing between systems, especially as you get further out from 'galactic center' (wherever that is in a given universe!) and stars are more spread out. It isn't realistic to be able to simply fly from star to star on the same engines that you fly from planet to planey [...] you have to have room to house two sets of drives and their power/fuel systems, requiring a larger ship and more robust power management systems to utelize.
Bear in mind this is a game, not a simulation, and so it's legitimate to use some "artistic licence" for playability. I agree that one technology of engine may be useful for interplanetary runs and another for interstellar, though it may well be possible to have composite engines that do it all. Much like near-future spaceplanes will likely have engines that can transition from air-breathing take-off through hypersonic to rocket function for outside the atmosphere. There may be different technologies of engines that are appropriate for different types of ship.

There's also a thread where such ideas are mentioned.
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Re: Interstellar Travel, Wormholes, and Jump Drives

#13
JabbleWok wrote:I'd like to think you can, at least to some extent.

[snip stuff]
Well, those all sound like perfectly reasonable and interesting ideas. I just mostly have a problem with the idea of including some kind of process or obstacle that the player is forced to sit through on each jump (which is the way I at least interpreted Gazz's original post), because I don't think that would be fun.

On a related note, I remember that the StarDrive campaign setting for the old Alternity tabletop roleplaying game from TSR had a "jump ferry" called the Lighthouse, which was much like what you're talking about here - it was essentially a giant, jump-capable space station that followed a specific route around the region of space in which the game was set, and could carry a large number of ships along. The way jump technology works in the StarDrive setting, the larger a ship is, the longer the distance it can go on each jump, so even though most ships are independently jump-capable, there is still a considerable advantage to hitching a ride on a larger craft like the Lighthouse. Anyway, that's just a similar example that came to mind.
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Re: Interstellar Travel, Wormholes, and Jump Drives

#14
Gazz wrote:Space is big. It should feel big...
How?
Is lengthening the travel time between systems the only way?
Is introducing a minigame to keep the player engaged and active counteracting the purpose of waiting?

Why?
Is there not enough opportunity for military strategy within the bounds of a system? What does a reduced or instantaneous travel time remove from the strategy?
How does the feeling of scale inform the narrative for Limit Theory? Why should the player feel small? When should, if ever, the player feel big?
Gazz wrote:Sitting around, doing nothing, is never fun.
That's okay. Boredom might not compete well if there are other things you could be doing, granted, but there are a plethora of other feelings and experiences to evoke.
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Re: Interstellar Travel, Wormholes, and Jump Drives

#15
Okay, so what do you propose to do about it? At which point should the player feel bigger than the entire universe?

X3 may be an extreme example but it's a very good example of how to screw up with the best intentions. It's space isn't small at all. There are 200+ sectors! But when every point in the universe is maybe 30 seconds of travel (real)time away, the universe is tiny.

Lots of refueling stops, whether they be gas stations or gas giants, are an aggravating chore because that means a lot of work every single time. And as always, you have to consider that you may not have one ship doing the refueling but 200 with different jump ranges.
If you say "But the autopilot can do it for you!", you have simply replaced one time sink that scales with travel distance with another time sink that scales with travel distance. Just with more micromanagement than a single operation of flying from A to B.

The mini game I proposed puts some scale back into the universe. The autopilot gets you there if you have something better to do in the meantime but you do have the option of flying yourself if you're in a hurry like if you want to intercept or outrun a ship.
Of course it is simplistic but it scales well without up-scaling the involved micromanagement!
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