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There's Too Much Space In Space (Cover/strategic Depth In Turn-Based 4X Ship Battles)

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There is a thing that bothers me about turn-based ship to ship combat in 4X games. While squad games like XCOM have a whole range of level architecture at their disposal to create choke points and personal cover, space combat seems a bit like group jousting to me - two parties line up at their respective side of the map and charge upon each other until one of them gets in shooting range.

 

I do realize that the thing about space is that it's usually empty and therefore (imho) doesn't offer too much strategic depth, but I am sure there are some ways around this.

 

"Natural" obstacles like asteroid fields and nebulae as well as debris from previous battles could offer cover to units inside/behind while also offering further tactical options - asteroid fields and debris might be impossible for larger ships to enter (or only at the risk of severe hull damage) while a nebula might create a scanner shadow, therefore not revealing units to enemies on the other side.

 

Scanners might become much more viable once you have to actually spot units at long range, and a clever player could actually flank his enemy and get behind enemy lines. This could be similar to XCOM's concealment system.

 

Can you think of some more things to make space combat more interesting? Is ship/weapon/shield orientation a good or a bad thing in your opinion?

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Can you think of some more things to make space combat more interesting?


Battles could take place near a planet, within its gravitational field.

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Is ship/weapon/shield orientation a good or a bad thing in your opinion?

 

I think these are good things for a space tactics game as they allow more room for strategies through positioning and ship design.

 

Can you think of some more things to make space combat more interesting?
  • Ship speed should actually allow for flanking etc. not just as a determination or what weapons can hit the ship.
  • Engineer ships that can deploy minefields, walls, turrets
  • Planet based weapons
  • Planetary bombardment
  • Multi-fleet combat (so reinforcements can arrive from different places on the battle map or even warp in)
  • Obstacles that hide smaller ships for ambushes
  • Gas pockets that can be ignited by weapons
  • Ships able to fire multiple weapons in one turn
  • Command and Control limitations (actually form viable fleets rather than super fleets of 20 super battleships) 

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Space is full of happening it is not "empty" as you thought of it but to know that you need to dig deeper into astro physics. Our solar system is way protected by the astroid chain arround us catching most objects but that isnt everywhere. You could have

 

Environment

  • floating astroids
  • floating parts of wrecked ships
  • magnetic radiation
  • ion radiation (solar storm)
  • gamma radiation (pulsar eruption)
  • different gravity levels (sun, neutron star, black hole)
  • clouds of gas
  • playing with the cold/heat (giantic frozen cristal structrues, plasma)

Ships

  • Different Weapons (like Laser, Plasma or Anty Matter)
  • Different Technology
  • Different kinds of engine (like a short range jump or subspace traveling)
  • Shield Technology
  • Hijaking Ships
  • Space Stations
  • Outposts
  • Mines
  • Drones

There are a lot of old series like Stargate, Start Treck or Films as Independence Day (1995) to take a look at for there ideas of space battles.

Stargate Universe as a kind of Stargate also played completely inside one and the same Spaceship always traveling along the space so it would worth a look to take on

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While squad games like XCOM have a whole range of level architecture at their disposal to create choke points and personal cover, space combat seems a bit like group jousting to me - two parties line up at their respective side of the map and charge upon each other until one of them gets in shooting range.
This contains an assumption: that there are parties and that they have a chance to "line up" before a deliberate assault. Many other types of military interaction are possible, and with the appropriate choices of technology, and game scale and rules they can be prevalent. For example:

 

Fleets detect other fleets at very long range, well before weapons can be used. All you know of the enemy is a number of blips on the map, who knows where they are now. When fleets come into weapon range, shooting everything as efficiently as possible or sneaking away with stealth technology are the only reasonable options, and the latter can be impossible if unwanted; no need for tactical battle management.

Large forces try to surround small ones, small forces try to guess holes in the enemy battle lines, many campaigns have the purpose of merely steering the enemy away from where they want to go. In a typical turn-based 4X the usual kinds of locations would provide a sufficiently dense environment of objectives and obstacles (e.g. how could the enemy reach a certain planet before my forces?), strategic-scale fleet positioning is decisive, a simultaneous movement system is probably more intuitive.

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Ship graveyards and debris/asteroids.

Also, if you want to go crazy, have some SUPER BIG ships (like MASSIVE) that are so big they shape the battlefield

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The thing about space that makes it interesting, and that the normal squad-tactics combat doesn't really express well, is that you're not really standing still with respect to everyone and everything until something moves.  

 

Like if you picture moving a squaddie around a field, they're at square B17 and they move to B21.  Now their default state is to be at B21 unless you make them do something.  And it's no harder to go back to B17 than it is to move on to B25.

 

But picture a spaceship, initially "at rest" in our frame of reference at B17.  If they move the maximum distance possible (that is, if they perform as much acceleration as they can muster) they can move (say) four squares to B21, their next turn's "no effort" action is to move on to B25.  (Ish.  I'm fudging to keep us boardgamey.)  The ship's options in its next turn aren't "move four squares in any direction", they can't move backwards at this point because it would exceed their maximum acceleration.  Maximum acceleration can only get them back to rest in our frame of reference.  They can, however, get to B29 in this turn (because they're going four squares/turn in that direction, and can accelerate further).  And on the next turn, they'd have a velocity of eight squares/turn, and not have the option to return to rest at all.  Returning to four squares/turn would be the best they could do.

 

(This can be fairly intuitive if your interface makes it so.  You just have to indicate to the player where each ship *would* end up next turn, and show them the choices of where they could end up instead.  It's no more complicated than showing a movement region around a squaddie, it's just that this region isn't always around the ship.)

 

So in this kind of situation, any terrain at all can be deadly -- if a ship drops mines in a region of space, you might not be able to change course quickly enough to avoid it.  (And if you're thinking of doing this at relativistic speeds, it doesn't have to be "mines" -- just letting out a cloud of gravel would be devastating to any ship that passes through.)  And don't just think of the strategic possibilities of terrain at rest in the frame of reference, because the terrain might be in motion as well.  Mines released from a ship will have the velocity of that ship when they were released.  The entire battle might be traveling six squares/second through an asteroid field.  

 

So anyway, doing ground-based squad tactics in a completely empty black field, yeah, that's kind of boring and the more terrain you have the more interesting it gets.  But doing spaceship combat with a lot of terrain would be prohibitively complex for the player to keep track of.  (In X-COM, you can at least be assured that if you have a squaddie run at a house, he's not going to be unable to stop in time and hit the wall and die.)  In space, even a little bit of terrain might be enough interesting and difficult complexity when everything's in motion with respect to everything else.

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Environment

  • ...
Ships
  • ...

Some great suggestions there! On the topic of technology and engines, ship design should certainly be more engaging than trying to cram everything into a blueprint to make some bars fill up.
 
 

This contains an assumption: that there are parties and that they have a chance to "line up" before a deliberate assault. Many other types of military interaction are possible, and with the appropriate choices of technology, and game scale and rules they can be prevalent. For example:


In the context of the game I could imagine the attacking player being able to spend a number of "Admiral Points" to split his forces and choose which side of the battlefield he wants to attack them from so a defender can't just point all his scanners into one direction and wait for the first radar blip to pop up on his screen.
 

Fleets detect other fleets at very long range, well before weapons can be used. All you know of the enemy is a number of blips on the map, who knows where they are now. When fleets come into weapon range, shooting everything as efficiently as possible or sneaking away with stealth technology are the only reasonable options, and the latter can be impossible if unwanted; no need for tactical battle management.
 
Large forces try to surround small ones, small forces try to guess holes in the enemy battle lines, many campaigns have the purpose of merely steering the enemy away from where they want to go. In a typical turn-based 4X the usual kinds of locations would provide a sufficiently dense environment of objectives and obstacles (e.g. how could the enemy reach a certain planet before my forces?), strategic-scale fleet positioning is decisive, a simultaneous movement system is probably more intuitive.


Actually I would love to do a simultaneous movement system like it was used in Frozen Synapse for example, both for it's tactical possibilities and entertaining replays. ;)
 
 

Ship graveyards and debris/asteroids.
Also, if you want to go crazy, have some SUPER BIG ships (like MASSIVE) that are so big they shape the battlefield


Something like the Citadel from Mass Effect which was clearly larger than anything else on the battlefield? Yeah, I like that.
 
 

The thing about space that makes it interesting, and that the normal squad-tactics combat doesn't really express well, is that you're not really standing still with respect to everyone and everything until something moves.


Introducing a newtonian movement system might make things too complicated for most players, though I like the idea that at least smaller spacecraft doesn't have the thruster power to simply "stop" in space. One possible middle ground would be raising movement costs for sharp turns, though. Edited by c-Row

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Actually I would love to do a simultaneous movement system like it was used in Frozen Synapse for example, both for it's tactical possibilities and entertaining replays. ;)

The point of my suggestion (and others) is eliminating tactical movement in a boring "arena" of empty space and focusing instead on strategic movement around interesting and important places. Using large enough battlefields that contain interesting features is a valid but completely different approach.

 

There are many possibilities; for example, a technological setup that leads to building carefully designed fortresses and not fighting anywhere else could be

  • All ships have an instantaneous jump drive, cheap enough for private vehicles, escape pods, drones and missiles, etc. fast to use (a few seconds between jumps), and long range (at least a whole galaxy). 
  • The jump drive cannot be used around reasonably affordable emitters of special forcefields, that can cover whole planets with a handful of devices.
  • Planets, mining operations, space stations, spaceships themselves, sometimes even stars are protected against invasions by jump drive using this technology. Any attacker has to jump at a significant distance from their objective and use good old thrusters.to charge in. 
  • Everything of importance is surrounded by fixed fortifications.(including flying defense fleets). Keeping fleets in reserve to jump into the battlefield when an attack begins is usually too slow to be an effective strategy.
  • Ships can easily escape from battle by jumping to random places or back home. Very good defense systems are needed to turn hit and run assaults into hit, get hit and run.
  • Strategy would consist of keeping on top of the arms race, not leaving weak spots in fortresses, exploiting weaknesses in enemy fortresses, and choosing what deserves to be attacked or defended.
Edited by LorenzoGatti

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The point of my suggestion (and others) is eliminating tactical movement in a boring "arena" of empty space and focusing instead on strategic movement around interesting and important places.


The point of this thread is to find ideas on how to make that "boring arena of empty space" interesting, though.  :wink:  Spicing up the grand strategy side of it is a welcome bonus of course.

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