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Balancing Ship Design and Faction Diversity

#1
Starting around here my concept won some approval so all that remains is to flesh it out a bit, eh?
Given the sheer number of different moving parts, this is going to be... interesting.
Some structure is required to avoid making it too easy to game the system and create super ships.

I'm using a lot of existing suggestions for this but instead of posting a Wall of References, I'll run-down the general concepts first.
Yes, there is considerable disagreement on several of those but you can always rip it apart afterwards. =)
  1. General construction (Concepts)
  2. Ships (Concepts)
  3. Stations (Concepts)
  4. Factions (Concepts)
  5. Combat / Weapons (Concepts)
  6. Core Modules
  7. Internal Modules
  8. External Modules
  9. UI Stuff - as far as it's construction / system related
  10. Armour
  11. Loose and tight fitting shields
  12. Power Distribution (engines, shields, weapons)
  13. Missile Research, Production, and Storage
  14. The computer / AI designing your ships
There is no "I" in Tea. That would be gross.
Post

Re: Balancing Ship Design and Faction Diversity

#2
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1. General construction (Concepts)
  • I'll use construction points CP as the currency for stuff.
  • The wares / resources required to build a ship can but do not have to vary for different factions.
    Blank space until I have a clue of what kind of bits the game economy consists of.
  • Hull Sections HS are pieces in the ship designer that you use to increase the CP of a ship.
    The volume of a HS generally corresponds to the CP they add to the design.
    Some HS could add few to no CP if they are wings or connectors that are mainly used as a means to arrange weapons in a visually pleasing manner.
  • Physical size.
    Either the size of individual HS (more complex to code, I presume) or of the entire ship can be modified with a sliding scale.

    Some players may not want to add 500 HS just to get enough CP together to build their battleship.
    Instead, they build a simpler model from fewer parts (which probably is A Big Deal™ for performance), then up-scale both physical size and CP.
    On the reverse, someone who wants to construct a more complex fighter model would downscale it to stay within the core module's CP restriction.

    Physical ship size increases linearly, as in 200% scale is 2x as long and wide.
    CP increase by scale^3.
    That's a lot but it's simply the logical consequence of (generally) volume-based CP.

    It may be necessary to disable shrinking a design after EXT have been added if there are rules for how densely they can be placed.
  • Mass.
    Equal to the CP of your ship. (volume based)
    Whether you use all the CP of your ship is up to you.
  • Core Modules CM
    This is a small, indestructible module which is the first thing you place in the designer.
  • Internal Modules INT
    Invisible and can not be targeted as a subsystem.
  • External Modules EXT
    Includes hangars and engines.

    Physical size does not change if the scale of the ship is altered.
    This could be a problem with hangars and engines. Not sure if the concept is sound.

    Generally stuff that is mounted on the hull and therefore can be damaged. Not all of it is necessarily a "targetable subsystem".
  • Placing engines in the ship designer.
    I imagine that a round engine (for example) has an invisible and very very long tube pointing rearward.
    This tube must not collide with anything for the construction to be valid.

    That way you cannot place engines in a row, one behind the other.
    If engines are based on any kind of recoil, the space behind them must be empty for them to function.
    That means you cannot protect your engines by walling them in with "hull". And neither can the AI. =)

    Also, this automatically limits the "normal" space you can fill with engines unless you add extra struts just for holding engines. If you do that, they will be extremely exposed... but that's your problem.
    This is another 2D vs 3D issue where ship speeds can be balanced. If that limitation proves to be too much, which is definitely possible, it's easy enough to up-scale bigger engine types that are more efficient but require power levels that only capital ships can provide.
  • Cargo / fuel capacity.
    This could be as simple as automatically allocating the unused CP.
    Depends on the mechanics of cargo handling that are used in the game. With ships that can attach external cargo containers you would only add hardpoints to the actual ship. Doesn't sound very combat-worthy, though.
  • UNODIR, ships and stations use the same rules.
Post

Re: Balancing Ship Design and Faction Diversity

#3
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2. Ships (Concepts)
  • Speed / acceleration (however it is modeled) is a function of diminishing returns.
    Every added engine increases speed by X but the mass of a ship increases by it's volume, so ^3.
    The bigger the ship, the slower it gets.
    Will have to see how the values turn out but that's the general idea.
  • Fuel.
    Fuel is a tricky resource because if you make it required for any movement, players (and AI ships!) can get dead-locked, only waiting for the finishing blow. That's no fun and it requires too much supporting AI to fix that state.
    That's why I'm arguing for fuel as a resource for "bonus movement".

    Use of an afterburner, intra-system jumpdrive, these sort of things. You can always get there without expending any bonus movement - but it's not as much fun.
    An alternative for the afterburner would be that it generates heat instead. You fly faster but you become more visible. No need to bother with fuel management that way. Elaborated in the Combat post where I brought up heat as a feature.

    Auto-regeneration is a possibility (and ties in neatly with the energy distribution system). Then you'd just call it a charge instead of fuel. Semantics.
    All it means is that you're implementing a tactical limitation without creating strategic micromanagement.

    Either way enlarged fuel capacity can be used in the ship design and it stops right there.
    No exponential consequences like building fuel refineries and keeping an entire fleet of fuel tankers going back and forth just to keep the fleets in motion. That's a job for underlings, not the player who commands stuff.
  • Stealth / Detection.
    • The system I propose is generic enough that it could apply to stations if you build very small stations as listening posts / satellites but when I hear "station" I'm thinking of large docking facilities and production plants. Not easily hidden and once found, doesn't move away.
      Therefore I expect that most detection gameplay will happen between ships.
    • Again, this is where the principle of volume vs surface comes handy. If you base the detection range on mass (CP), you get near-infinite scaling.
      If you use surface, scanner range hits diminishing returns because volume increases by one less power.
      This way you can limit scanner ranges procedurally without imposing stupid limits like "this scanner can detect you perfectly at 50 km but if you're at 50.2 km, you're completely invisible".
    • Amount of detail should ideally change with scanner range.
      Doesn't have to be complicated.
      Beyond 66% for this target I get a blip. If I detect something at 300km, I can guess that it must be big.
      At 33-66% I can see generic detail like owner, ship type, size.
      Under 33% I get whatever detail is available.

      A "stealthy" ship would simply reduce it's sensor-effective surface by x %.
      A scout fighter would be a dedicated design and much better at detecting things without being seen.
    • Cost of stealth.
      Making a ship stealthy isn't an item you weld on the surface. You have to change many ship systems for that to work out!
      So during ship construction, increasing the stealth factor also increases the CP cost of engines, all surface modules... whatever makes sense. There may be stealthy ships but there won't be stealthy super ships. =)

      An F-117 is cool but it's not an F-15 carrying over 12 tons of armament.
    • Sensor packages can come in various sizes so a fleet carrier with strong sensors would detect fighters at much longer range than some dinky merchant vessel.

      If the sensor package can be turned off / passive, that's easy to calculate, too.
      Say, passive sensors get you 50% of the "active" range.
      Active sensors increase the sensor-effective surface (the "size" other ships see) by a fixed additional area... depending on their type.

      This is a fixed amount for a reason. Say you have an 8 m² scout. It's a very stealthy design so it's really 3 m². The sensors add 12 m² when active.
      For a heavy 20 m² fighter with the same sensor system, active sensors (+ 12 m²) do make a difference but for our specialised scout at 3 m² it's a deal breaker to be visible at 5x the distance.
      With this setup it would not make sense to fiddle with sensors all the time - only occasionally when it has a noticeable effect with a particular ship's mission.
      For a big ship it would hardly ever make sense.
    • With heat being used, this would greatly increase the ship's signature, making it easier to detect it from farther away and lock heat-seekers more quickly.
      A way to point out "action" to the player without making it a tacked-on concept. Space is really big so finding out where something interesting is happening is A Big Deal™.
    • When detection range is surface-based this would be a very good handle to make fighters useful.
      Both for sneak attacks as well as preventing them by having your own fighters on patrol.
  • Jamming / ECM

    Getting a bit off-topic but it's part and parcel with stealth / detection...

    Jamming reduces the sensor strength of everyone in the affected area but it is guaranteed to light up the jamming ship like a christmas tree... also to everyone in the area.

    It might throw off long range missiles or the lock-on timer of ships targeting you with such.
    If it reduces everyone's sensor strength enough, enemies may have to get much closer before they can target subsystems or accurately determine who you are and what ships you have.
  • Detection and formations.

    Formations would have the detection area of the biggest ship plus a certain fraction of every other ship in it.
    Depending on the formation being "wide" or "dense" (How to define this? Minimum distances?) the fraction changes.
    A dense formation gives a much better sensor return. A dispersed one is harder to detect... but it's nowhere near as safe.

    Once calculated, a formation can be handled as one item at a lower LOD.
Post

Re: Balancing Ship Design and Faction Diversity

#5
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4. Factions (Concepts)
  • Only as far as they are relevant to ship design / construction. There are plenty of other threads on factions.
  • Either every faction uses it's own set of core modules, giving the full effect of "their" special customisation into the player's hands, or faction designs add their own bonuses on top of that.
  • I'm in favour of not letting the player have this power.
    If you want to use the special set of abilities that Minbari battleships have, you have to buy a complete ship from them. And you can't edit it afterwards.

    This way AI ships have an easier time competing with the no doubt optimised-as-hell designs of players and acquiring the ships of other factions remains desirable.
  • If factions have personality traits, these can but may not have to directly influence the faction's ship bonuses.
    • Defensive / isolationist:
      Speed -10%
      Hull or shield strength (random) +15%
    • Honour and glory:
      All fighters +15% CP
    • Aggressive:
      Speed +10%
    • Militaristic:
      Weapon damage +5%
    • Traders:
      All cargo module hardpoints or internal cargo bays cost 25% fewer CP.
    • High Tech:
      Energy weapons generate -15% heat
Post

Re: Balancing Ship Design and Faction Diversity

#6
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5. Combat / Weapons (Concepts)

The kind of dials I might like to turn to balance stuff.
  • Energy weapons generate heat.
    • As the ship's hull is heated up, this decreases the rate of fire or accuracy of all energy weapons / all weapons.
      Magnitude of effect to be determined. Could be a low cap of 50% ROF or whatever ends up working.
    • Heat also increases the range at which the ship shows up on sensors and how quickly heat seeking missiles acquire a target lock.
    • The heat capacity of a ship is it's mass. (CP)
    • The rate at which a ship automatically cools is the outer surface.
      Basically, render the ship and view it from 3 directions. Count pixels.
      This way the player can not cheat by using densely packed but thin "wings" that don't do anything but artificially increase surface.
      This value only needs to be determined once - at the time of construction.
    • Energy weapons could also induce heat to the target. Only a fraction of what they generate on the firing ship but more than zero.
      This would be another handle to increase the usefulness of fighters. While individually they they do not have the punch of a battleship, simple geometry gives them a dramatically lager surface area. Their fire may not destroy the enemy but they could give your own capital ships an edge.
    • Since the volume increases ^3 and surface ^2, bigger ships will require heat sinks if they want to remain active.
      This should limit the size of ships that players do build.
      Either they are littered with vulnerable heat sinks or they require gigantic quantities of supplies to feed their ammo magazines. Sneaky math. =)
    • Heat sinks do not necessarily have to be modeled on the surface.
      "Heat sink damaged" can be a random result of taking a hit to the hull.
      Since they are necessarily large structures, this is fair enough.
      It's never fun to place a lot of required parts on a ship model.
    • Without such a mechanic it would be exponentially more effective to build huge ships that never require ammo and are impossible to defeat.
      The entire cool factor of fighters / carriers would be wasted by fighters simply being outclassed by the numbers.
  • Use of an afterburner could also generate heat... just like a real world afterburner increases a jet's IR signature.
    That way the fuel requirement can be skipped entirely, simplifying the resource management for carrier fleets.
    Then you'd have an interesting tactical problem.
    Do I have to arrive there quickly? Can I afford to be detected from much farther out? Can I afford going into that fight with extra heat?
    For a short burst of speed the benefit would always outweigh the cost but beyond that you'd have to decide which problem you'd rather have.
  • Projectile weapons and missile / rocket launchers... do not generate heat. (I'll roll them all into "Physical Weapons" or PW)
    • You just have to feed them.
    • Every PW you install has a fixed magazine included.
      Magazine size depends on the weapon type / make.
      If you come across an "extended magazine" version, it simply requires more CP but can fire longer before requiring a reload.
    • All PW in the game use the same resource to reload magazines: Military Supplies.
    • To reload in space the ship has to be equipped with an internal loading system.
      Fighters will generally be too small to have one so they need a homebase to rearm.
    • Reloading speed (time to completely refill the magazine) is weapon-dependent.
      A point defense Gatling gun would reload quickly, a capital ship missile launcher... not.
      De-coupling the rate of fire and reloading speed is important.
    • Balancing missile spam.
      This is one of the most broken features in X3. Don't do what they did. =)
      A ship launching guided missiles from far beyond the enemy's weapon / acquisition range is an I Win ship.

      I suggest that the lock-on time of guided missile launchers should be dynamic.
      The more guided missiles are currently incoming to the target, the longer it takes for additional missiles to gain a lock.

      A "missile frigate" has a distinct advantage because it's first salvo would launch 12 or 20 missiles without delay. (they are all locked-on before being summarily fired)
      Only then does the ship become subject to the lock-on time penalty.
      It's a big advantage... but it does not scale! You can't bring 20 missile frigates and have a guarantee of eliminating all opposition before they ever get in range.
      You have to get your hands dirty. =)
    • Boosting the overall lock-on time for a ship would be a Big Deal, maybe require a bulky system or a fundamental design choice like a core module.
    • Missiles with hull points.
      In X3:AP all missiles got adjustable hull point values. A dinky anti-fighter missile is easy to dispatch but a heavy torpedo (generally slow and easy to hit) takes some concentrated fire to shoot down.
      That made it more useful for big ships to mount "serious" lasers instead of the smallest and fastest firing ones... which were the best missile defense lasers in previous games.
  • All weapons have an internal magazine.
    Missile/rocket launchers and slug-throwers have magazines, ray guns have capacitors - whatever you want to call it.
    One unified system for all weapons.
    All ammo-based weapons reload from some sort of "military supply" ware while ray guns require more or less energy allocation. Less energy, less reloading.

    As a result there is an interesting way to set weapons apart: The reload time.
    Pew pew guns may reload quickly. While you might launch a 20-pod of anti-capital ship rockets in 10 seconds, it might take 5 minutes to fully reload.
    This way "bursty" weapons can be designed. The rate of fire alone does not allow that.
  • Balancing Magazine Size
    I'm assuming that every weapon requires CP so their relative goodness can be scaled to how much space they require on the ship.

    Energy weapons would require the most CP but are basically care-free afterwards.
    Projectile weapons would require few CP but they do require an ammo supply... or create a dependency on another ship to do the reloading.

    Base magazine sizes to not take this into account.

    Except... that you can install a weapon with an "extended magazine".
    This would make a lot of sense for ships that are expected to get into slugging matches or operate far from a carrier for extended periods.
    Now we come back to CP. The magazine extension scales from 100% (no extension) to some 200-300%. The base cost is a fixed % of the weapon's CP so for an energy weapon, the extended bang is a lot more costly overall.
  • Anti-capital weapons clearly distinct from anti-fighter weapons.
    The continuous beam lasers from here or something else with a clear, conceptual difference.

    My core concept is that anti-capital lasers require oodles of energy to reload. That makes them viable for ships with volumes well into the realm of r^3.
    You can reload them with an undersized generator but it would be a dangerous gamble because you only get one salvo... and then you wait.
    Their heat output would be moderate - compared to the damage they do.

    Anti-fighter weapons work the other way around. Require little energy to reload because you simply can't put a massive generator into a fighter - but generate more heat / damage done.
    That makes them more effective on small ships that have several times the relative surface of a big ship.
    On big ships that "inefficiency" only becomes noticeable when you mount a boatload of anti-fighter guns on something like a battleship.
  • Anti-capital weapons... alternative (which I like better =)
    Also going with continuous beam lasers for visual distinction.
    Unlike any other weapon, these do not have an internal magazine.
    While such a laser fires, it's energy consumption increases... but so does it's energy efficiency. So the longer it fires, the better bang you get for the used energy.
    These lasers only fire if there is "free", unallocated weapons energy.
    Since their energy consumption ramps up while they fire, they eventually hit the ceiling of unallocated energy. Then they shut down and enter cooldown. (for a regular laser that would be the reload speed)

    Effect: These lasers work best on ships with monstrous energy generators. Built to crack the massive shields and hulls of other capital ships.
    You can stick one on a generic trader hull but it wouldn't do much good without a battleship-sized reactor...
  • Shields... have their own post below.
  • Supplying other ships.
    • If a fighter or other ship has no an internal loading system and can not reload it's own weapons, someone else has to.
    • Any landing bay automatically includes facilities to reload / resupply docked ships.
    • Ships equipped for cargo handling can reload / resupply ships that have docked on their outer hull.
      This way practically every friendly freighter can be approached for a reload.
      A convoy escort at the start of the game does not have to be frustrating.
    • The more expensive cargo handling system doubles as an internal loading system. Being able to reload other ships but not itself would be dumb.
  • Energy distribution.
    • Delayed energy settings can further differentiate small and large ships.
      That you increased energy to weapons by 20% does not mean that they now get 20% more energy. The "current level" dial will slowly creep towards the new value as energy is rerouted.
    • Energy weapons don't "use up" a pool that eventually runs dry. The current energy level directly affects damage or rate of fire up to x % of designed max.
Post

Re: Balancing Ship Design and Faction Diversity

#7
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6. Core Modules CM
  • Every ship or station will have one core module, even if it's only the General CM without special stats.
    As you acquire more CM (how?), you open up more possibilities of specialising your constructions.
  • A CM greatly alters abilities or installable parts of a ship, such as increasing shield strength but reducing speed.
  • CM can also add powerful qualitative abilities (clickies with cooldowns =) if we want to limit them to very specific ship types / classes.
  • Effectively these create ship classes but they do not have to be strictly limited to a particular size of ship.
  • Possibility:
    The first positive modifier of such a module is free - but possibly halved in magnitude.
    For every additional positive modifier, one negative modifier is added.
    That way the quality of modifications scales and the balancing isn't entirely quantitative. With quantitative scaling, 3 negative modifiers may have to be balanced by one positive modifier of potentially game-breaking scale.

    That system would be more useful for very random generation. If that would produce meaningful results? No idea.
  • Another option for "very random generation":
    One stat is selected at random.
    This stat can then branch into one of several related stats.
    Then you have 2 stats on the module. If the random number generator says that there are 3, the number of choices for number 3 is what both stats can branch to.

    By setting up a "skill tree", you can make sure the RNG creates themed modules and no "Tower Shield of True Flight" that increases arrow range.
  • I expect that a lot of my combat-related CM will refer to Weapon Statistics / Mechanics.
  • One possibility would be "free" weapons.
    For the space superiority fighter, a specific missile launcher (which automatically shows up when using this particular CM) could be added without any cost.
    This way ships can have a non-scaling bonus. "Normal" CM abilities would scale all installed equipment.
Core Modules List
  • General Purpose. (1 - 1000000 CP)
    Anything goes. No built-in advantages.
  • Scout / Stealth Fighter (1 - 150 CP) (a design that exceeds this can be saved (if you just want to tinker with it) but cannot be built)
    Projectile weapon loading speed +100 to +200% (so that a fighter that lands on a carrier doesn't take all day to get ready)
    Speed +110%
    Stealth rating +30%
    Sensor range +30%
    All weapons +30% CP

    You could also use this to create a tiny almost-satellite.
    Being stealthy it could creep towards a hostile installation but being a ship, you wouldn't need an extra feature to collect your "satellite" after use. It's a ship. It can dock.
  • Space Superiority Fighter (1 - 200 CP)
    Projectile weapon loading speed +100 to +200%
    Speed +100%
    Energy weapons -20% CP
  • Fighter/Bomber (30 - 200 CP)
    Projectile weapon loading speed +100 to +200%
    Speed +75%
    Energy weapons -10% CP
    Projectile weapons -15% CP
  • Bomber (80 - 300 CP)
    Projectile weapon loading speed +100 to +200%
    Speed +50%
    Energy weapons +10% CP
    Projectile weapons -15% CP
    Missile / rocket launchers -25% CP
    Subsystem armour +15%
  • Corvette (500 - 1000 CP)
    Speed +25%
    Sensor range +10%
    Anti-fighter weapons -15% CP
    Anti-capital weapons -15% CP
    Subsystem armour +30%
  • Destroyer (800 - 3000 CP)
    Speed +10%
    Anti-fighter weapons -15% CP
    Anti-capital weapons -15% CP
    Shield damage mitigation 5 points (we're in a vacuum where weapon damages are concerned)
    Subsystem armour +50%
  • Cruiser (4000 - 6000 CP)
    Speed -15%
    Sensor range -15%
    Anti-capital weapons -10% CP
    Shield damage mitigation 10 points
    Subsystem armour +100%
    All weapon magazine sizes + 30%
    • Real capital ships should not run out of ammo that quickly. While a corvette or armed merchant may be able to bolt a capital ship gun to the hull, a CC/BB is purpose-built around those and can so fire longer salvos.
  • Battleship (5000 - 8000 CP)
    Speed -25%
    Sensor range -15%
    Anti-fighter weapons +20% CP (may need to be much higher to be noticeably inefficient on big ships)
    Anti-capital weapons -25% CP
    Shield damage mitigation 20 points
    Subsystem armour +100%
    All weapon magazine sizes +60%
  • Escort Carrier (1500 - 3000 CP)
    Speed +10%
    Sensor range +10%
    All weapons +10% CP
    Hangar CP -25%
    Shield damage mitigation 5 points
    Subsystem armour +40%
  • Carrier (4000 - 7000 CP)
    Speed -10%
    Sensor range +20%
    All weapons +30% CP
    Hangar CP -40%
    Subsystem armour +30%
  • Merchant (1000 - ? CP)
    Speed -20%
    Stealth rating -30%
    Sensor range -20%
    All weapons +30% CP
    Leftover CP for cargo space +50%
  • Fleet Tender (2000 - ? CP)
    Speed -20%
    Stealth rating -30%
    Sensor range -20%
    All weapons +30% CP
    Leftover CP for cargo space +20%
    Ammunition / drones only use 50% of the cargo space they normally do.
    Bonus to repair drones. Can use better ones or boost their efficiency.
Yes, I could go on and add 3 variations for every design with more or less weight put on projectile weapons and such but that's too much detail for a design concept.
I did some basic variants for the fighters .
Post

Re: Balancing Ship Design and Faction Diversity

#8
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7. Internal Modules INT

(topic about hardpoints in general)

Invisible on the ship's model and can not be targeted as a subsystem.

Anyway, each hardpoint would have a "cargo space" and be able to hold a system of "this size".
Easier on the user would be size classes, like from 1 to 10 or 1 to 20.
Then a Bomber CM could have a modifier to allow +2 size of missile systems to be installed in all weapon hardpoints.
A large cargo ship could have a bunch of small weapon hardpoints - just to defend against the odd fighter or two - but it would never be a powerful warship.
  • Internal Loading System.
    Reloads the magazines of projectile weapons from military supplies in the cargo hold.
    CP have a minimum value (to make it undesirable on small ships) plus a percentage of the CP of all projectile weapons on the ship.
  • Cargo Handling System.
    Allows cargo transfer between ships in space if one of the ships is equipped with a CHS.
    This could be visualised by some sort of tractor beam along which containers float from one ship to the other.
    Includes the full functionality of an Internal Loading System.
    Ships that land on the surface of a CHS equipped ship (or the other way around) can get their weapons reloaded.

    Requires considerably more CP than an ILS.
    CP have a minimum value (to make it undesirable on small ships) plus a percentage of the CP of all projectile weapons or cargo bays on the ship.

    Potential problem because an unarmed but heavily shielded freighter would have a tiny CHS but be able to supply a huge battleship.
    Do we care? It's unlikely to matter with big ships where this would become an issue.
  • Hardened Shields. (limit of 2 modules)
    Shield damage mitigation +2 points
    Shield total strength -20%
  • Heat sinks.
    HS as an internal module would scale geometrically which is suboptimal.

    An alternative would be to call it a different hull material. You only have one surface so stacking is prevented in a logical way.
    You install the Blahwhatever Hull / Armour and you get:
    Heat dissipation + 25%
    Stealth rating -25%
    Hull / subsystem armour -25%
Post

Re: Balancing Ship Design and Faction Diversity

#9
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8. External Modules EXT

Stuff that is mounted on the hull and therefore can be destroyed. Not all of it is necessarily a "targetable subsystem".
A serious exploit could be to "wall in" technically external modules so they cannot be attacked.
How to solve?

Some systems need a clear view of space to either see stuff or radiate stuff away. Potential raycasting overload.
Instead, make FOV a cone. Graphically display the cone while placing such an element in the designer. This way the ship designer only needs to check collisions with ship parts during construction.
For runtime use, all the module needs to remember is the alignment and angle of it's FOV cone.
  • Hangar
    Includes the full functionality of an Internal Loading System.

    Construction-wise, the hangar should be more than some space where a ship can land "in the open".
    The hangar we have seen in the early gameplay videos are more of a launch / landing bay.
    The actual hangar would be a closed-off space behind it.
    I imagine that when a ship "lands", it's flying through an opaque forcefield graphic that is placed only a small way into the launch bay.
    When the ship "has landed", it can be "taken out of the game", meaning that it can no longer be targeted... and does not need to be rendered.

    That's why a ship's hangar module is a good deal bigger than the launch bay, which only limits the size of vehicle that can land.
    The hangar module would have an appendage behind it where "ships are stored".
    This space could then be extended to create a carrier with even larger capacity.

    Also, this module would be huge if you want "decent" capacity. Since CP are volume-based, it would take one mother of a ship just to keep moving and leave not-quite-so-much for generators and weapons.
    As it should be. =)
  • Turret Control Node.
    Unfortunately they must peek out through the shield to track their targets without distortion. Or so my technobabble claims.
    By slaving several guns turrets to one node you reduce the number of surface structures that the player must cycle through before he finds the one he wants.
    Being able to target individual guns is just ugh on a large ship.

    These nodes could have different detection ranges. Some long range anti-capital battery may not be able to track anything below 500m.
    That way you can create more interdependency between ships.

    The number of nodes is also the number of targets that a ship can track / fire at simultaneously.
  • Weapon mount. Fixed or turret.

    IMO, literally fixed mounts are stupid because they make it too hard for AI ships to hit the exact target lead point.
    "Fixed" mounts should still be able to shoot within maybe 15-30°. No turning animation.

    Fixed mounts still require a Turret Control Node so they can be damaged.

    A turret can have any degree of movement but it's individual firing cone has to be determined the same way as for a Turret Control Node.
    If the control cannot see a target, it doesn't matter if the turret can bear or not.
    In X3 the Turret Control Nodes are called turret cameras and are invisible objects, usually floating in space near "their" turrets.
    The turrets themselves can fire through the ship model.
    The question is: Do we even care? If the turrets themselves cannot be targeted, the only effect is sub-optimal graphical representation.

    Possible stats of a weapon hardpoint:
    • Degree of freedom.
      Is it fixed forward, can it turn +/- 30°, can it turn 360°?
    • Capacity. How big a weapon can you install here?
    • Turning speed.
      This should be a property of the mount. A mount capable of moving a 50 ton gun won't be zipping around if you only install a BB gun.
  • Drone launch / control pod.
    The middle ground between a missile launcher and a ship hangar.
    A drone is generally re-usable but a loss is not a big deal compared to a fighter.
    As a drone control pod the system would have a limit on how many drones it can control simultaneously.
    It's loaded from the cargo bay. Long load time.
    As a launch pod, I would not limit the size of drone it can launch. The reasoning is that a cargo ship with "small" hardpoints would be able to launch large cargo hauler drones without requiring a fully developed ship hangar.
    A fighter is not going to be able to carry a lot of "big" drones because of their cargo space requirements.
    More on drones here... Drones for repair or attack
  • A heat sink is only effective if it can radiate out into space, not back at the ship. Same rules as above but the effectivity of the heat sink would decline if it's not mounted on a "real" outside.
    As outlined above, these could also be handled as internal systems, taking random damage on hull hits.
  • Hardpoints for external cargo containers.
    Unsuited for military ships because these containers wouldn't be protected by shields at all.
    .
  • Shield generators.
    Whether damage creates local weaknesses is up to what the engine can do.
  • Engines.
    Basically just there so they can be damaged.
  • Reactor exhaust shaft / cooling system. (Wait, what?)
    Again, just to have the possibility of damaging a ship's energy generation.
Post

Re: Balancing Ship Design and Faction Diversity

#10
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9. UI Stuff - as far as it's construction / system related
  • With weapons having magazine sizes and reload times being substantial, there will be many times when one wants to "hold back" a weapons for the right moment.
    The only non-fiddly way I know for that are preassigned weapon groups.
    Group 1 contains this, that, and the other weapon, Group 2...

    Obvious follow-up:
    By using something like Shift or Alt with the relevant group key, this group is recalled for all your ships in the sector.
    This way you can give "weapons free" for all of your fighter's rocket pods when they can see the while in the enemy's optics.
  • It's difficult for an AI ship to perfectly aim for a target lead point because computers are notoriously bad at doing things truly simultaneously.
    Therefore I suggest that the AI should always have some leeway in aiming fixed guns.
    If it makes sense to extend that functionality to the playership? To be determined.
  • How to handle the Target Lead Indicator when you have guns with different bullet speeds installed?
    What you can not do is to take the average bullet speed... and miss with all of them. =)

    IMO, the slowest bullet (most difficult to aim) should determine the TLI.

    All faster weapons in the group should auto-adjust to "trail" the TLI.
    The direction of where it mis-aims is determined by the relative position of target and TLI.
    If weapon 2 has double the bullet speed of weapon 1 (which the TLI is aiming for), then the computer would take the middle point between target and TLI and connect the dots back to the target.
    This is how far the aiming location would be offset "backwards" from the cockpit boresight. The slower weapon 1 is firing along the center boresight as usual.
  • Rocket pods do need a Target Lead Designator because they work a lot like bullets!
    Few are the games that don't simply ignore that issue!
    While rockets probably have to be something other than bullets (because point defense would have to target them, no?), they do aim and fire like dumb bullets...
  • Can we have something like a generic polygon in the ship designer?
    Let's say my ship has some kind of hole and I want to cover it up with a 3-4 sided polygon.
    I connect the dots and click on a nearby object to use that texture.
    Hole closed. Hull looks nice and smooth.
Post

Re: Balancing Ship Design and Faction Diversity

#11
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10. Armour

Small ships need a purpose and capital ships need a purpose. These purposes should be so different that you can't simply bring 4x as many small ships and never bother with any capital ships.
  • Armour mitigation.
    If Obtanium Armour mitigates 400 and gets hit with a bullet doing 738 damage then the hull takes 338 damage. Simple.
  • Ships use increasingly heavy armor but there needs to be a considerable gap when it gets to capital ships.
    (for the record: Capital ship means carrier, battleship, battlecruiser, and the occasional oversized heavy cruiser)
  • Corvettes and frigates may shoot at a battleship but their regular weapons won't even dent the armour.
    They can score "critical hits", though. External hardpoints would not be armoured as well as the main hull.
    A lone X-Wing could fly an attack on the shield generators and damage them.
  • Stations or fixed fortifications (Orbital Defense Whatever) are one step up from capital ships.
    Bolting more armour on is efficient if the thing doesn't need to go anywhere.
    As a result, capital ships have a purpose.
    You need ships with frigate-sized guns (as in the size of a frigate) to get through the armour of these fixed assets. To destroy them instead of just damaging some of their external hardpoints... which would temporarily inconvenience them.
  • Individual hardpoints would have their own armour value.
    They will always have less armour than the ship's hull but the "less" can be variable.
    Adding armour makes the hardpoint cost more CP so you wouldn't want to cover everything.
    Maybe one point defense gun for each "sector" of the ship so fighters will have a hard time taking out all defenses.

11. Loose and tight fitting shields

From Blog: Computing Shield Shapes and Limit Theory Development Update #1 Video it is pretty clear that Josh intends to use with this feature. Somehow. =)

No issue at all when dealing with combatants of similar size. Overall shield power can be balanced for that.

It gets interesting when a fighter "creeps under the shields" of a capital ship.
The cap ship would have to have a gazillion point defense guns to secure it's entire surface against that case.
Barring that, lighter escorts such as destroyers or frigates would engage the fighter. Except that they cannot. It is behind the shields of a big fat battleship.

Yes, having your own fighters lets you defend against that but that's a binary solution set and terrible for game balance.


I still see a few possibilities there.
  • All anti-capital bullets are "penetrators", concentrating their energy in the smallest possible point of impact.
  • Anti-fighter weapons would come in two basic flavours.
    • "Flak" (short for Fliegerabwehrkanone =).
      Low rate of fire.
      A HE shell that explodes on impact or when "close" to a target.
      I suggest half the explosion radius for the detonation range. That way you can fire Flak into a swarm or fighters and may even get multiple hits.

      The AOE penetrates shields.
      That's how an escort can shoot at a fighter behind a capital ship's shields. The bullet will detonate with the shield but the AOE may just reach down far enough.
      Sure, the capital ship gets hit as well... but it's a big bully.
    • Rocket Flak.
      Quick to fire but once the rocket pod / magazine is empty, very slow to reload.
      Large AoE, high scatter, same proximity fuse as with Flak.
      This isn't an "always on" weapon but something more situational. Something to use when you have a large fighter / missile swarm incoming and want to soften it up. Then it's use it or lose it!
    • Phalanx CIWS.
      Basically a machine gun with a fancy name. And some fiddly bits.
      Short range, high rate of fire and bullet speed. The classic point defense gun.
  • Armour
    One potential loophole would be that players would build capital ships armed with nothing but Flak.
    They wouldn't directly destroy other capital ships... but AoE roast all their subsystems by penetrating the shields with their AoE.

    So ships can be built with various types of armour - or simply more armour.
    This can mean more mass, better/worse heat transfer, more or less hull points, or damage mitigation.
    Mitigation would be something like "absorbs 30 points of damage from every hit".

    AoE Flak would have low damage but fighters are unlikely to have super heavy armour so they are going to get hurt. Capital ships... pfft.
  • This leads us to fighter pilots complaining about their shields being useless because Flak always goes through them anyway.

    This is where shield density comes in.
    It's a function of physical size/surface.

    The smaller a shield, the denser, the better it protects against "soft" damage like AoE.
    The bigger you build a ship, the more important it becomes to use spend some serious mass on armour.
  • On the interaction of shields and power distribution... see the post below.
    Another of those cases where there is no ideal place to put it because the systems are connected.
Post

Re: Balancing Ship Design and Faction Diversity

#12
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12. Power Distribution (engines, shields, weapons)

Possible ways of how systems could interact with varying energy levels.


Delayed Energy Settings

As outlined here, each energy bar should have 2 values.
The bar "filling" for the currently active power level and a marker for "desired value".
The desired value can be adjusted anytime.
Then you get to watch as power is being distributed until the current values reach the desired levels.

The bigger the ship / generator, the slower this process.
This also serves to make capital ships feel more capital. =)

I foresee some seriously interesting tactical problems when coupled with the shield mechanics below in this post.


Energy Generation

The required space for a ship's reactor should have a fixed component, making reactors generally more effective on larger ships.

Fighters would generally be "underpowered".
Working with the internal magazines of their lasers (and slow reloading thereof) would add an obvious advantage to using "extended magazine" versions of standard lasers, further differentiating the concept of fighters from capital ships.
Fighters would be all about burst damage and maneuvering while their magazines reload.
Agile and aggressive. Fun stuff. Not sustained damage and slugging matches.

Also, ammo-based weapons look a lot more attractive if you cannot feed a large amount of lasers easily.
Chalk one up for the carrier / fighter combo!


Energy Consumption

With few exceptions, most systems do not "become better" by assigning more power to them.
They do become less effective by having too little power.
That makes power management and ship design easy to grasp and represent and keeps the game balanceable because systems have a clearly defined max capacity instead of scaling up the wazoo.


Turning systems on / off

I strongly disagree with that part for two reasons.
  • It is too fiddly to deal with multiple systems on many ships on a regular base.
  • It promotes the Monty Haul ship design, devaluing choices that would otherwise be made in the ship designer.
    There is no point in building specialised ship designs when you can "bring everything" and then only enable the bits that turn your ship into the optimal solution to the current tactical problem.
Instead I suggest...

Priority Energy Settings

Basically the same UI as for turning systems on/off but the choices you made in ship design really matter.

You can assign systems / modules a priority.
For instance, you want your point defense lasers running at peak efficiency. They would require 30 power for that.
Based on your current energy settings, all weapons get 100 power total and the PD lasers get a fair share of 20.

Now you set a priority check mark for them.
The PD lasers now get 30 energy out of those 100. The remaining 70 are shared between all non-priority weapons.

That way you can make trade-offs but you don't have to constantly fiddle with the settings to keep the "important" systems supplied.
You can still use the general E/S/W power distribution without un-setting your previous choice,


Engines

If there is an afterburner in the game:
  • Energy setting > nominal consumption:
    Speed increase of up to 30% at 200% power.
  • Afterburner "energy pool" reloading at 160% at 200% power.
If there is no afterburner in the game:
  • Energy setting > nominal consumption:
    Speed increase of up to 60% at 200% power.
"Internal" Ship Systems

Sensors come to mind, but this would also cover anything like countermeasures if such a thing exists.
I would roll all of those into engines... or make them an "always on" permanent withdrawal from the power generator.

If sensors are part of the "engines" setting, you create the perfect opening for a scout class.
You want to keep their engine energy setting at max because it increases their sensor range.

On the backswing, if you put power towards your weapons and shields instead, your sensor range drops, making you dependent on dedicated scouts.

That's an interesting mechanic right there.


Shields

Ideal point to attach the loose / tight fitting shields feature.

High power to shields: you get wide shields and high recharge speed. The max value for shield points may increase a bit but not by more than 20-30%.
Ideal setting when you have lots of damage incoming. Maybe for missiles that you're not going to evade anyway... but that you want detonating as far from your hull as possible.

Low power to shields: you get tight fitting shields, protecting the ship's soft bits from fighters.
Recharge speed is low .

This way the energy distribution settings are meaningful. There would be a point to lowering the shield power. A decision that you would have to weigh.


On fighters, the shield bubble could extend "considerably" so by assigning lots of shield energy, you are making yourself (your shield...) an easier target, catching more bullets.
You would have to find the sweet spot depending on what kind of damage is incoming. Every ship ship could go "tank mode" but become much easier to hit... or make itself a smaller target instead. Both ways could be useful so there would be no "always best" setting.


Without that interaction there would be no situation where I'd be thinking "Hey, it sounds like a good idea to assign less shield power!"

Visualisation:
While it would be cool to be able to see one's shields in all their glory, it would make ships look blurry and generally ugly if shields were always visible. Not so cool.
With this concept you could display shields in full while they are changing size. Fixed / animated texture, random sparks playing over the surface...? I'm not the graphics guy. =)
This would perfectly visualise the shield energy setting and what happens when you drag that slider.


Energy Weapons : Normal

Your everyday pew pew laser, known from a dozen space games.
Every such laser has an internal magazine (say 50 shots). These can always be fired with the lasers refire rate.
If the magazine is not full, it starts reloading. It has a built-in max speed for that, slower than the refire rate. (in some cases much slower but that's getting too detailed here)
If the laser has an energy consumption of 40 and it only "gets" a share of 20 energy based on the energy settings, it reloads at half speed.

Assigning extra energy would speed up reloading... with diminishing returns.

Energy setting does not directly affect damage, only the reload speed of the magazine. That keeps the weapon damage balance-able.


Energy Weapons : Continuous Beam (basically capital ship lasers)

Unlike other energy weapons, these do not have an internal magazine. They do not reload.
While such a laser fires, it's energy consumption increases... but so does it's energy efficiency. So the longer it fires, the better bang you get for the used energy.
These lasers can only fire if there is "free", unallocated weapons energy.
Since their energy consumption ramps up while they fire, they eventually cover all unallocated energy. Then they all shut down and enter cooldown. (for a regular laser that would be the reload speed)

While firing, all "regular" lasers do not get the benefit of additional reload speed. The energy is all eaten up by the beam lasers.
If you want to add more coolness to these lasers, make all regular lasers reload at half speed while they are firing, possibly leading to a visible reduction of secondary weapon fire while the ship's "main guns" are firing.
And / or automatically reduce the "shield" energy level.
Makes them look 100% more awesome... while freeing up some much needed energy. =)

Effect: These lasers work best on ships with monstrous energy generators. Built to crack the massive shields and hulls of other capital ships.
You can stick one on a generic trader hull but it wouldn't do much good without a battleship-sized reactor.

Energy setting does directly affect damage.
The more energy available, the higher damage the laser can ramp up to. Again, with diminishing returns to make it useful to install more than one laser. =)


Ammo-Based Weapons, slug throwers, rockets, missiles, thrown rocks

Their energy consumption - reloading or otherwise - would be so low as to be insignificant. So it's zero for all practical purposes.
Ammo-based weapons are limited by well... ammo.
They are unaffected by the energy settings.

While there are Military Supplies on board (and an Internal Loading System), they just keep reloading at their designed rate.

That is great on the tactical scale because you can assign zero energy to weapons.
It sucks on the strategic scale because if you don't secure your supply lines, your ships won't be doing any shooting.
It's also an issue with ship construction (need space for ammo and loading system) and you'll need to organize carriers to supply fighters...

There is something to be said for energy weapons. =)



The Gist Of It

By using different weapon concepts, you create a great variety of ship designs because different weapons have different requirements to a ship's infrastructure.

Ammo-based weapons require (ideally) a loading system and cargo space tied up with supplies plus a supply network.

"Small" energy weapons require some energy for their sustained rate of fire.
They temporarily do well in low-energy situations but their damage output is capped by their weapon design.

Capital ship energy weapons can never ever have too much energy. Give them that and they cut thine enemies to tiny bits.
If you can keep enough energy to maintain point defense to defend against missiles and fighters. Or keep enough extra space for ammo based point defense guns for that.
And keep up shield energy. And aaaargh!

It would simply be impossible to design a ship that is "best" at all 3 weapon types. The requirements are in direct conflict.
Limitations like that are what game balance is all about.


PS: New record. A thread that starts halfway down page 2. =)
There is no "I" in Tea. That would be gross.
Post

Re: Balancing Ship Design and Faction Diversity

#13
Energy weapons generate heat.
This stuff rubs me every kind of wrong in all the bad places. Allow me to elaborate:
As the ship's hull is heated up, this decreases the rate of fire of all energy weapons.
Heat also increases the range at which the ship shows up on sensors and how quickly heat seeking missiles acquire a target lock.
The heat capacity of a ship is it's mass. (CP)
So, yay, energy weapons just got unattractive for all the ships. The small ones can't really use them, since they lack the heat capacity in the first place (low volume) and would have one hell of a time shaking missiles, which are likely to be more lethal for them than for a larger ship with better passive defenses. The larger ones will constantly overheat unless installing excessive amounts of heat-sinks, which in themselves are a liability due to being easily damaged.
The rate at which a ship automatically cools is the outer surface.
Basically, render the ship and view it from 3 directions. Count pixels.
This way the player can not cheat by using densely packed but thin "wings" that don't do anything but artificially increase surface.
Well, increasing the radiating surface is what you would actually do to get rid of excess heat. But to be honest, between the fusion/AM generators and the shield emitters, I fail to see why beam weapons of all things would generate such a critical amount of excess heat - this smells like the old Battletech model of limiting player actions, and even back in the 80ies it smacked of "we needed a system to prevent the players from firing all the guns, all the time, screw physics and common sense".

This value only needs to be determined once - at the time of construction.
Heat sinks do not necessarily have to be modeled on the surface.
"Heat sink damaged" can be a random result of taking a hit to the hull.
Since they are necessarily large structures, this is fair enough.
It's never fun to place a lot of required parts on a ship model.
Then why the hell do it? Besides making your ship look like ass, they're a liability now as well. Not modeling them, but having them randomly take damage feels pretty arbitrary.
Since the volume increases ^3 and surface ^2, bigger ships will require heat sinks if they want to remain active.
This should limit the size of ships that players do build.
Either they are littered with vulnerable heat sinks or they require gigantic quantities of supplies to feed their ammo magazines. Sneaky math. =)
More like "unfun choice between a rock and a hard place". Takes away a lot of viability of energy weapons and adds the liability of near-constantly broken heatsinks, which on top of the misery are a required part in any larger ship (and, if you base the designs even fleetingly on reality, would look like ass to boot). The big idea on energy weapons in space games is that you don't have to worry about consumables, and I'd like to keep that trope.
Also keep in mind that combat ships are made for fighting, not for sitting around and waiting for the supply convoy. Us lone wolf captains would like some endurance and self-sufficience with our ship designs.

Counter suggestion:
Energy weapons require a capacitor module, which will serve as "magazine" for them. Like with regular projectile weapon magazines, the capacitor is an internal part. Contrary to them, it is constantly reloaded by the ship's generator. Increasing the power allocation to the weapons will increase the recharge rate, at the cost of shield regeneration and acceleration. Decreasing power will slow/halt recharge. An optional part/modification for the weapons or the core module would be a high-yield capacitor, similar to an extended magazine.
Loading speed is dependent on the power consumption of the gun - a point defense laser will recharge quicker than a spinal mount fusion lance.

This way, power allocation remains a useful element (and projectile weapons get the benefit of being less dependent on it). And if you really want to implement the heat/tracking shebang, I'd suggest keying it to engine power allocation and use.
Hardenberg was my name
And Terra was my nation
Deep space is my dwelling place
The stars my destination
Post

Re: Balancing Ship Design and Faction Diversity

#14
Well, increasing the radiating surface is what you would actually do to get rid of excess heat. But to be honest, between the fusion/AM generators and the shield emitters, I fail to see why beam weapons of all things would generate such a critical amount of excess heat
Hardenberg wrote:So, yay, energy weapons just got unattractive for all the ships. The small ones can't really use them, since they lack the heat capacity in the first place (low volume) and would have one hell of a time shaking missiles, which are likely to be more lethal for them than for a larger ship with better passive defenses.
It's the other way around. The smaller the ship, the better the surface-to-CP ratio.

1 spherical ship with 100000 CP (r= 28.78) has a surface of 10408,
10 spherical ships with a total 100000 CP (r= 13.36) get you a total surface of 22430,
200 fighters with a total CP of 100000 CP have a total surface of 60930.

The idea is to give ships a different feel.
Fighters overheat more quickly but are several times as effective as bigger ships at cooling off between bursts of fire.
A battleship can keep firing for a long time before it feels any negative effects but when it does...

This would allow me to limit ship sizes to "sensible" values.
Energy weapons do not become unattractive at all because they never run out of ammo.

Your hate against "vulnerable heat sinks" is just hyperbole. =)
It's not a critical aspect of the system to begin with - only a potential handle to introduce a weakness if that should be necessary for game balance.
Of course I didn't phrase it like that. It's implied that it's easier not to use an idea that is there than it is to use an idea that you don't have.

If energy weapons had no downside whatsoever then why would anyone bother with the supply issues inherent with projectile weapons?
In X3 energy lasers have no downside. An M2 can keep firing pretty much all day long without running out of laser energy. What good is a limitation that never actually limits anything?

Hardenberg wrote:Counter suggestion:
Energy weapons require a capacitor module, which will serve as "magazine" for them. Increasing the power allocation to the weapons will increase the recharge rate
That's one approach but it exponentially favours big ships without having any downsides.
It's easier to protect a single big ship because you get the highest density of surface weapons compared to target surface and CP.

It's actually very hard to find reasons why smaller ships are useful in a space game. So I created one. =)
There is no "I" in Tea. That would be gross.
Post

Re: Balancing Ship Design and Faction Diversity

#15
Gazz wrote:It's actually very hard to find reasons why smaller ships are useful in a space game. So I created one. =)
Mind you, there's nothing to stop a large ship having radiator fins to keep temperature below a threshold. Assuming sensible design of layout, surface area and conductivity from the heat sources, it should be able to keep overheating from happening and not impinge on other ship functions. As the fins are thin it would add little mass. Enough surface area, there will be a thermal equilibrium even if shooting is continuous. Sure, small ships could do it too, but they don't need to. The point is that the larger ships easily lose that disadvantage with a little bit of extra design.

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