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Making Newtonian Spaceflight Accessable


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#1 ShawnCowles   Members   -  Reputation: 295

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:52 AM

There's an idea that's been floating around my head, one that I really hope to be able to do one day (but it's far beyond my present experience and abilities). I short it's a Newtonian space trading game with large scale ships. If you imagine Star Trek Online's space combat and ship scale cross-bred with Freelancer's open gameplay you won't be too far off.

I'm from a rather physics heavy background and as such I'm a big fan of Newtonian spaceflight. The problem, of course, is that most people don't have such a background. The learning curve for such a system of flight can be rather steep, making games that utilize it not very accessible to the layperson.

The solution I came up with is to have the AI do the driving (with the player optionally taking direct control). That's fine if you're flying from place to place, but it doesn't work so well in combat. A thought just popped into my head to address that shortfall.

Often in Star Trek the captain will order a particular evasive or attack pattern. ("Attack Pattern Delta Two" or such). Similarly a row of buttons could be added to the UI (next to the buttons to fire weapons and use abilities) that would trigger preset maneuvers. When these are activated the AI would take control of ship navigation and move it according to the pattern.

Some Examples:
Attack Pattern Omega - Keep the ship pointed at the enemy and keep close.
Attack Pattern Alpha - Keep distance from the enemy and fly evasively.
Evasive Pattern Alpha - Run directly away from the enemy.
Evasive Pattern Beta - A zig-zag run from enemy.

The player would have the option for direct control, of course. But the attack patterns would let the player focus on using abilities and targeting weapons.

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#2 Stormynature   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3417

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 09:22 AM

Attack Pattern Alpha - Keep distance from the enemy and fly evasively.
Evasive Pattern Alpha - Run directly away from the enemy.
Evasive Pattern Beta - A zig-zag run from enemy.


Automated moves work well until something happens to be in the way like a hunk of rock - You would need a safety override built in.

That said, a hunk of rock between you and the other guy can also be a nice thing to have in space combat.

#3 jefferytitan   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2243

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 02:06 PM

I think that's a good start. Various patterns come to mind, such as hiding behind the nearest asteroid, using gravitational slingshot to escape, flying backwards while firing, etc. More patterns become available if you have fighters available. I recall the book series "The Lost Fleet" by Jack Campbell had a lot about coordinating 3D fleet formations at near light speed.

Another possibility is you ask the "crew" to plot a course to a particular point, and the optimum course is shown on-screen like a racing line which you can follow, or ignore at your peril.

#4 Dubious-Tony   Members   -  Reputation: 103

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 01:32 AM

Are you planning for true Newtonian physics - that is, if I keep thrusting forward, will my velocity keep increasing? If so, then I can imagine these defined manoeuvres having less and less affect the faster the ship is going (as force applied by the thrusters relative to the velocity of the ship could become insignificant).

I've always disliked a "cap" on velocity in space games (see all space games made ever..) but as I've dabbled in making them, I find it's a necessary evil, along with velocity dampening, which makes small manoeuvres a little easier to handle.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand! The main problem I see with these defined manoeuvres is that they could quickly become obsolete if players find they are much more successful just using manual control - something you put a lot of time and love into may hardly be used.

Something that may be useful I think would be a series of "Tools" to make the flight a bit easier to handle. For example, a "lock on" tool that accelerates your ship to the velocity of the target ship and sets the target ship as the new frame of reference, essentially making it appear to stop while you control your ship around it.

Or, if you do create these manoeuvres, allowing inputs to still affect the ship - so if you start an "Orbit" manoeuvre, you can still dodge and weave but overall, you are still orbiting.
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#5 LorenzoGatti   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2764

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 03:35 AM

I can see how planning a good interplanetary flight plan would be challenging, but space combat usually follows one of two simple patterns in which realism is not a problem:
  • Fly straight through as fast as possible and run away, either bombing as you pass or just defending (with well-timed deployment of anti-missile defenses, ECM, energy shields etc), and maybe turn back for another pass. The only thing you need, and AI can assist with that, is passing through appropriate waypoints with the desired bearing: AI assistance can easily tell if the kinks in your planned strafing run are too tight for your engines at the planned speed, and then execute it exactly without relying on slow and imprecise human pilots.
  • Slow down to a negligible speed to fight it out, spending horrible amounts of fuel for vectored thrust without actually going anywhere. This includes both slow "naval" battles, dogfights between agile craft, and the middle ground like the traditional Star Trek tactic of charges and ramming between medium size ships.
    AI assistance can easily translate 6DOF pilot inputs to igniting the appropriate engines to go there; Newtonian realism isn't compromised, but it remains behind the scenes as a constraint on how well the ship can be piloted in arbitrary ways.
Other jobs for the AI autopilot:
  • Dock with that space station or ship
  • Grab that object with our robotic arm
  • Land at that spaceport

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#6 typedef struct   Members   -  Reputation: 230

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 04:43 AM

Do you want pure Newtonian spaceflight because you think it'll be more fun, or just because it's more realistic? Starting with realistic and trying to make it more fun is not the way to go. Start with fun and add realism where it makes the game better.
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#7 ShawnCowles   Members   -  Reputation: 295

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 07:14 AM


Attack Pattern Alpha - Keep distance from the enemy and fly evasively.
Evasive Pattern Alpha - Run directly away from the enemy.
Evasive Pattern Beta - A zig-zag run from enemy.


Automated moves work well until something happens to be in the way like a hunk of rock - You would need a safety override built in.

That said, a hunk of rock between you and the other guy can also be a nice thing to have in space combat.


The enemy AI would have to account for collision avoidance, shouldn't be difficult to add that functionality to the autonavigation AI. I was planning on using the same logic for both of them.

Are you planning for true Newtonian physics - that is, if I keep thrusting forward, will my velocity keep increasing? If so, then I can imagine these defined manoeuvres having less and less affect the faster the ship is going (as force applied by the thrusters relative to the velocity of the ship could become insignificant).

I've always disliked a "cap" on velocity in space games (see all space games made ever..) but as I've dabbled in making them, I find it's a necessary evil, along with velocity dampening, which makes small manoeuvres a little easier to handle.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand! The main problem I see with these defined manoeuvres is that they could quickly become obsolete if players find they are much more successful just using manual control - something you put a lot of time and love into may hardly be used.

Something that may be useful I think would be a series of "Tools" to make the flight a bit easier to handle. For example, a "lock on" tool that accelerates your ship to the velocity of the target ship and sets the target ship as the new frame of reference, essentially making it appear to stop while you control your ship around it.

Or, if you do create these manoeuvres, allowing inputs to still affect the ship - so if you start an "Orbit" manoeuvre, you can still dodge and weave but overall, you are still orbiting.


I'm thinking more of a recommended cap on ship velocity based on ship acceleration. With the game giving some warning that if you go too fast it will be more difficult to manuver.
And I was thinking of incorporating many different flight tools, docking, stopping, following, etc in addition to the combat flight patterns.

I can see how planning a good interplanetary flight plan would be challenging, but space combat usually follows one of two simple patterns in which realism is not a problem:

  • Fly straight through as fast as possible and run away, either bombing as you pass or just defending (with well-timed deployment of anti-missile defenses, ECM, energy shields etc), and maybe turn back for another pass. The only thing you need, and AI can assist with that, is passing through appropriate waypoints with the desired bearing: AI assistance can easily tell if the kinks in your planned strafing run are too tight for your engines at the planned speed, and then execute it exactly without relying on slow and imprecise human pilots.
  • Slow down to a negligible speed to fight it out, spending horrible amounts of fuel for vectored thrust without actually going anywhere. This includes both slow "naval" battles, dogfights between agile craft, and the middle ground like the traditional Star Trek tactic of charges and ramming between medium size ships.
    AI assistance can easily translate 6DOF pilot inputs to igniting the appropriate engines to go there; Newtonian realism isn't compromised, but it remains behind the scenes as a constraint on how well the ship can be piloted in arbitrary ways.
Other jobs for the AI autopilot:
  • Dock with that space station or ship
  • Grab that object with our robotic arm
  • Land at that spaceport


I've played quite a few battles with Newtonian spaceflight (ignoring fuel). I've seen the first case a few times, but more often than not ships tend to spiral around each other. Each tries to get forward facing weapons to bear and thrusts keep within range. Combined with the initial velocity the ships had this tendency to form something of a double helix going off into space. The tangential velocity also has the benefit of making for a more difficult target, with player's randomly firing strafing thrusters to make targeting more difficult still.

Do you want pure Newtonian spaceflight because you think it'll be more fun, or just because it's more realistic? Starting with realistic and trying to make it more fun is not the way to go. Start with fun and add realism where it makes the game better.


Newtonian spaceflight is important for preserving the atmosphere I'm aiming for. A more plausible setting that's not shiny and clean like star trek nor fantastic like star wars. I think there's an unserved niche for a more realistic space game. I want the game to be fun, of course, hence the AI flight control to lower the barrier to entry.

Thanks for all the great feedback.

#8 kunos   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2207

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 10:33 AM

the problem with realistic space dog fight is that there is no real need to dog fight at all. With airplanes you try to get behind the bandit so you can shoot at him (you shoot where your nose points at) and, possibly, so he can't shoot at you.
In a realistic physics space dog fight you can just turn away from where you're going and shoot, same for your enemy, so there isn't a "behind" and "front" anymore.. there is no terrain, no altitude advantage, nothing .. it's just a matter of turning where your enemy is and shoot, most of the time he'll be doing the same thing.. and you both die.

I did implement a prototype of this stuff.. it was boring as hell...
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#9 sox   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 484

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 11:17 AM

I think that if combat-ready spaceships were widely available, some of the first technology upgrades would be making things fit the human brain.

For example, in space, nobody can hear the enemy ships exploding because there's no air. It would be supremely useful to a combat pilot if the EM/light signatures from any nearby explosions or weapons fire were converted into binaural sound. The pilot gets instant awareness of what's going on all around him, much more intuitively than a heads-up display. (I always assume that's why we hear the X-Wing blasters in Star Wars movies.)

As for Newtonian physics, an AI-based thruster system could easily interpret "no throttle" as "slow down at a pre-determined rate". I would think this would be the space combat equivalent of cruise control.

#10 ShawnCowles   Members   -  Reputation: 295

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Posted 10 March 2012 - 11:24 AM

the problem with realistic space dog fight is that there is no real need to dog fight at all. With airplanes you try to get behind the bandit so you can shoot at him (you shoot where your nose points at) and, possibly, so he can't shoot at you.
In a realistic physics space dog fight you can just turn away from where you're going and shoot, same for your enemy, so there isn't a "behind" and "front" anymore.. there is no terrain, no altitude advantage, nothing .. it's just a matter of turning where your enemy is and shoot, most of the time he'll be doing the same thing.. and you both die.

I did implement a prototype of this stuff.. it was boring as hell...



It seems like you're basing your argument on two rather major assumptions. A) that both ships have identically ranged weapons, and B) that the ships are 100% accurate.

There's no need for a traditional dogfight, but there is still much to be gained from maneuver. Ships with dissimilar weapons would want to stay in range of their own weapons while staying out of the range of their opponent's weapons. Moving targets are also more difficult to hit, so a ship would want to keep moving relative to their opponent. Changing direction, flying evasively, etc Even a laser will miss if it's aimed in the wrong direction.

A battle with multiple ships can benefit additionally. Ships would attempt to maneuver to isolate enemy ships from the rest of the enemy fleet and concentrate fire on the lone target while avoiding the concentrated fire of the enemy fleet.

As I mentioned in my previous post I've played games with these types of physics before, and they benefit greatly from some uncertainty in weapon hits.

#11 kunos   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2207

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 03:05 AM

why would a space weapon have a "range"? Weapons on earth have a range because they need to produce energy to overcome friction from elements and keep enough velocity to reach the target and generate a damage.. in space, once you shoot it, it'll keep going.
With today technology I could probably fire a bullet to a spaceship in orbit around mars from earth orbit and hit it without them even knowing somebody shoot at them.
I don't have the link around, but there is a nice document on the internet describing how boring real "star wars" would be.. it destroyed all my interest about a realistic space fighter years ago.. in space there is no real tactic.. you know exactly where the enemy is (ok you can hide behind a planet,but then what? you're pinned there anyway), where he is going and what his manoeuvres possibilities are .. you can shower your target with 1mm bullets and see them going (down? Posted Image) in flames 2 months later.
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#12 Acharis   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3988

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 04:36 AM

In short, first you want to make realistic physics because it is cool, then you want to hide that physics behind AI because it's too hard for players. What's the point in implementing that physics in the first place if you are going to "disable" it right away and make sure players do not notice it? Wouldn't it be simplier to just ignore that physics and make it "fake"?

Sure, you can do what you are asking for but... I'm not sure what you will get from such solution as a designer.

Are you targetting the game to players who love physics like you? Make them manually operate these ships then. Are you making a game for those who want just shoot in space, do not make ralistic physics. Right now you are targetting it to those who like to "watch" realistic physics of the ships while not enganging themselves with it, I'm not sure if it is a good target.

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#13 Stormynature   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3417

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 06:08 AM

I short it's a Newtonian space trading game with large scale ships.


The use of an A.I. to pilot the ship can also be argued as the use of an NPC to pilot the ship. The use of the player to do everything by themselves on the ship belies the idea of a "large scale ship" unless it was automated to a large degree. In approaching the idea that this would be done under Newtownian physics i.e. towards realism... why can't automated systems also be accepted as applying to all aspects of the ship. Does anyone honestly expect a player to run down to the lower hold to change an O ring of the number 2 waste disposal system?. Lets not forget being set in space, already makes that game reality technologically ahead of our own reality so the use of advanced technologies to make jobs easier is by all reasonability not without merit. Admittedly in any game that endeavours to match with reality there will always be a compromise between the enjoyability of gameplay Vs the fundamental sameness of repetitive tasks required to make a large scale set of systems operate, the trick is in finding it.

With today technology I could probably fire a bullet to a spaceship in orbit around mars from earth orbit and hit it without them even knowing somebody shoot at them.


Technically yes you could...good luck trying to do it though. Space combat for the most part is boring because at the end of the day until we get our asses out there...there is little incentive to design and implement new technologies that would make space combat a little more exciting by way of new things being thought up. Yes you might even argue that the science right now disproves that claim. My reply to that is "the development of technology and science driven by conventional war on Earth", if we take the same presssure out into space I have no doubt (based on the exceedingly large body of evidence existing) that war in outer space would develop new technologies faster than we would ever expect. Perhaps the most interesting part about boring though is going back to era of galleons and knowing that some battles lasted days merely due to both ships constantly repositioning themselves against each other, trying to obtain the advantage. There is enough literature that talks about the hours of boredom versus the minutes of terror in such circumstances.

#14 kunos   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2207

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 11:01 AM

Technically yes you could...good luck trying to do it though. Space combat for the most part is boring because at the end of the day until we get our asses out there...there is little incentive to design and implement new technologies that would make space combat a little more exciting by way of new things being thought up. Yes you might even argue that the science right now disproves that claim. My reply to that is "the development of technology and science driven by conventional war on Earth", if we take the same presssure out into space I have no doubt (based on the exceedingly large body of evidence existing) that war in outer space would develop new technologies faster than we would ever expect. Perhaps the most interesting part about boring though is going back to era of galleons and knowing that some battles lasted days merely due to both ships constantly repositioning themselves against each other, trying to obtain the advantage. There is enough literature that talks about the hours of boredom versus the minutes of terror in such circumstances.


uhm no.. again you are missing the main point: on earth vehicles (any, cars, boats, planes,submarines), attitude (ie orientation of the vehicle) is strictly related with the velocity vector of the vehicle.. ie, the boat will try to go where it's pointed at, the plane too and the car too. In space this is not the case, so the entire concept of "manoeuvring and positioning yourself for the kill" simply doesn't exist. Wherever you are and wherever you are going, you just turn your ship in whatever direction you want to shoot at your target... the future space war ship won't have a "broad side" with cannons, because it'd be stupid to do so.. it'll probably be just a cube, or a sphere, with no real "weak side"... the design won't have to obey fluid dynamics rules, the shape will be totally arbitrary.. space war ships will look more like the ISS than the space shuttle or a plane carrier.

Also, as you've said, it's very likely that technology will push towards the same direction it is pushing with modern warfare.. let's keep the men out of arms way as much as possible.. this turns into:

- long range missiles, in space they will simply be high speed bullets.
- unmanned vehicles.. these not only save lives, but allow for more xtreme manoeuvres exceeding human body's 9-10g limit
- generally speaking, "bad" videogame material Posted Image
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#15 jefferytitan   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2243

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 03:16 PM

Kunos, the points that you've mentioned don't make space combat easy. The tricky part is (a) distance (b) time for missiles to reach © sensor issues (d) manoeuvring limitations due to fuel and gravity, (e) ammunition limits and potentially (f) relativity issues.

The key question is whether those limitations are manageable for a player to understand and can actually make a fun game.

There are approaches for combat in space to minimise these issues. For example, mines to prevent others following, or mining common trajectories. For non-spherical vessels maximising their broadside while minimising yours. Aiming where they're likely to be based on minimising fuel consumption. Maybe make huge carbon fibre nets with explosives attached to the edge... if someone plows through it the net will wrap around them, bringing the explosives closer.

#16 Kaze   Members   -  Reputation: 948

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 03:24 PM

I have played with the idea of a realistic space combat game but am still working on how to get fun gameplay out of it.


orbitGame.jpg


Combat basics:

-Combat takes place in orbit around planets

-Effectively limits speed objects can travel at and remain in orbit

-Provides a obstacle for weapons fire

Ships:

-Heat capacity is a ships primary resource

-Firing weapons or using thrusters generate heat

-Radiators restore heat capacity over time.

-Being in a planets shadow (Black area) gives a heat regen bonus.

-Overheating a ship forces a reactor shutdown disabling it until heat can be brought under control.

Weapons:

-Laser, short range point defense system
+100% hit chance
-limited range

-Rail Gun, medium range kinetic projectile
+Unlimited range against target with no acceleration
-Difficult to hit agile targets at long range

-Missile, Long range kinetic kill vehicle
+Unlimited effective range
-Can be shot down with lasers
-Limited supply
-Evading will force missile to spend fuel on course corrections instead of accelerating to kill speed

Attached Thumbnails

  • orbitGame.jpg


#17 BLiTZWiNG   Members   -  Reputation: 349

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 10:35 PM

Elite 2 it did well, though dog fights came down to circle of death and trying to aim as accurately as you could.

#18 ShawnCowles   Members   -  Reputation: 295

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Posted 12 March 2012 - 07:55 AM

I think you may have a point Acharis. For right now, however, this is more of a mental exercise for me. As I'll lack the experience and resources to make it for quite a while.

As for maximum ranges, if you look at the numbers it makes sense for space weapons to have maximum ranges. More properly they would have maximum effective ranges. Lasers don't stay focused forever, they have a focal length determined by the focusing lens (or mirror), and beyond that the intensity rapidly dissipates.

Kinetic weapons have an effective range too. Any kinetic weapon powerful enough to deal a lot of damage will be quite hot when it fires. It's very easy to see any sort of heat against the background 3 K of space, so the shot will be detected the moment it leaves the barrel. The target ship can then proceed to change it's acceleration to dodge. If the ship can move out of the way in the time that it takes the projectile to reach the ship, then that's past the effective range of the weapon. You could define the effective maximum range as: the range at which the shot will hit the target before the target has a chance to move out of the way.

For 100% realism, I expect space combat to be similar to how Stormynature described galleons fighting, instead of days maneuvering though, years.

Based on the following assumptions:
a) There is no stealth in space. Anything of any power worth noticing puts out far more heat than any chunk of rock.
b) Weapons have an effective maximum range (as argued above).
c) Newtonian (or Einsteinian if you go fast enough) physics apply.
d) Orbits around the sun take months - decades to complete.
e) Weapons are powerful enough to be 1-hit kills to anything (even cities).

It follows that
I) Everyone can see everyone else (a) and will able to easily avoid confrontation by making a slight orbit change months in advance (d).
II) Everyone's flight path is predictable (a, c, d)
III) You have to get close (on an astronomical scale) to hit a target (b) but once you hit something it's dead (e).

I would predict that space combat will be more in common with chess, with sides maneuvering ships (most likely unmanned ships) around the solar system trying to bring a strong force against an enemy's weak force, but not really accomplishing anything.


I don't know about you, but that sounds really boring to me. Unless you turned it into some form of space chess... That might be fun.

#19 Kekko   Members   -  Reputation: 504

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Posted 12 March 2012 - 01:30 PM

Based on the following assumptions:
a) There is no stealth in space. Anything of any power worth noticing puts out far more heat than any chunk of rock.
b) Weapons have an effective maximum range (as argued above).
c) Newtonian (or Einsteinian if you go fast enough) physics apply.
d) Orbits around the sun take months - decades to complete.
e) Weapons are powerful enough to be 1-hit kills to anything (even cities).

It follows that
I) Everyone can see everyone else (a) and will able to easily avoid confrontation by making a slight orbit change months in advance (d).
II) Everyone's flight path is predictable (a, c, d)
III) You have to get close (on an astronomical scale) to hit a target (b) but once you hit something it's dead (e).



Regarding (I), if a ship can dodge with a slight orbit change, a guided projectile can do a slight change too. If ships have plenty of energy, so have the projectiles. It might be possible to drain ship's energy by forcing him to keep dodging. Much like a dogfight I might add. :)

I don't see why (e) has to be true. Sure a projectile might be guaranteed to go straight through whatever it hits, but what if the ship is massively redundant? So what if the engine got taken out, we got another twenty. If it's an explosive projectile the warhead can be destroyed by counter fire. Energy beams are very dependent on your tech level, but you could easily say that whatever defensive measures you have (disruptive gas emissions, mirrors, whatever) takes less energy than it does to keep the beam firign.

(I) You might avoid confrontation in open space if you want, but what about protection of planets? This would become similar to medieval wars where most battles where sieges and pitched battles only occured when both sides thought they could win.

#20 ShawnCowles   Members   -  Reputation: 295

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Posted 14 March 2012 - 07:33 AM

Regarding (I), if a ship can dodge with a slight orbit change, a guided projectile can do a slight change too. If ships have plenty of energy, so have the projectiles. It might be possible to drain ship's energy by forcing him to keep dodging. Much like a dogfight I might add. Posted Image

I don't see why (e) has to be true. Sure a projectile might be guaranteed to go straight through whatever it hits, but what if the ship is massively redundant? So what if the engine got taken out, we got another twenty. If it's an explosive projectile the warhead can be destroyed by counter fire. Energy beams are very dependent on your tech level, but you could easily say that whatever defensive measures you have (disruptive gas emissions, mirrors, whatever) takes less energy than it does to keep the beam firign.

(I) You might avoid confrontation in open space if you want, but what about protection of planets? This would become similar to medieval wars where most battles where sieges and pitched battles only occured when both sides thought they could win.


Missiles can typically devote more of their mass to propellant than a space ship however, and could potentially cross the entire system. If they do that they would have performance on the scale of a space ship (i.e. not that fast) and so could be considered (strategically) as just another space ship. A fast missile would have much shorter range (burning through it's propellant faster). I see it as either missiles are short ranged weapons or they are space ships in themselves.

Space ships tend to be fragile things, as mass is very expensive (in terms of propellant) to accelerate. Even the most high performance rocket will tend to burn 2 (or more) kilograms of propellant for each kilogram of payload. Conversely, any weapon that can be effective over a thousand miles is going to be very powerful. Railgun shots will be flying a many kilometers per second, lasers will be measured in the megawatts, and there's no reason not to tip every missile with a nuclear warhead. (no environment to mess up). Put those two things together and (in my opinion) the first few shots will most likely disable the enemy, at least for their mission.

Propellant tanks are good targets. They're very large proportionally to the rest of the ship and destroying one will rid the enemy of a significant portion of the propellant they need for their mission.

As to your last point, I think that's exactly how it will go.




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