I have been designing the combat for my new game and so I have been thinking about space combat ... a lot.
I thought it would be a good discussion to while away the down time when technical support for everything is not available.
When it comes to space combat, we seem to have two models. One based on Star Wars, lot's of small agile ships dogfighting, and one based on Star Trek. Large powerful ships where the technology is king.
I don't think either is 100% correct.
Issues of scale
Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.
A spacecraft passing Pluto gets detected by Earth's defenses. Travelling at the speed of light, it is still over 5 hours away from Earth. A laser fired at it would take over 5 hours to get there. So you would have to aim at an intercept point 2.5 hours away from the targets current position, you can do a hell of a lot of maneuvering in 2.5 hours.
So does that mean that space combat can only work at short ranges?
Well possibly, or it might just mean that lasers are only useful at short ranges. Guided missiles could easily be used at long ranges. It depends on the next issue.
***Spock: Have you disengaged the external inertial dampener?
Hikaru Sulu**: [[/font][i]Embarrassed. Without looking at anyone, he punches in the correct sequence[/i][font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]] Ready for warp, sir.*
F=Ma is a bitch. You have a huge space craft, you need a huge force to move it. In space you have nothing to push against. A modern plane uses the atmosphere around it, without an atmosphere, it's useless.
NASA's Dawn spacecraft has just set a new record for acceleration of a space craft, it only took it's ion drives four days to go from 0-60 miles per hour.
Star Trek got around this issue by inventing inertial dampers, originally they where invented to explain how the crew of a spacecraft could survive the acceleration to warp speed, but they also help with acceleration issues while at sub-light speeds.
So if our game has this issue, then we need inertial dampers. However if we have inertial dampers, then it implies that our space craft can be incredibly agile. Firing a laser at short range now has no guarantee of hitting as the ship can dodge at the speed of light.
It also makes the idea of dogfighting redundant. What is the point of performing an immelman turn if the enemy can just move vertically up without taking it's nose off you.
"Forty-two," said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm."
So if we now have space craft whizzing around like flees on steroids, how the hell can we shoot them?
Well it's time to bring in computers. A computer can react a lot faster than a human. A computer could predict the position of a rapidly moving object and plot an intercept. However the target also has a computer, and it's trying to avoid being shot.
So does space combat come down to a decryption issue? If my computer works out which random number generator your computer is using in the evade sub-routine, can it negate that sub-routine and turn your shiny new ship into space debris?
So does space combat reduce to the player with the most powerful computer wins?
So this is it," said Arthur, "We are going to die."
"Yes," said Ford, "except... no! Wait a minute!" He suddenly lunged across the chamber at something behind Arthur's line of vision. "What's this switch?" he cried.
"What? Where?" cried Arthur, twisting round.
"No, I was only fooling," said Ford, "we are going to die after all."
A spacecraft is a tiny bubble of life support in a vast ocean of nothing. A tiny failure nearly killed the crew of Apollo 13. What would a missile hit have done?
This issue is not just a problem for space games, how much fun would modern warfare 3 be if a single bullet killed you?
So we have deflector shields and hull plating and men who can heal themselves just by not being shot for a few seconds.
Realistic? Hell no, but it solves the problem. Is it enough?
I don't think so. I think we need to model some kind of intelligent damage allocation, response, and effect system.
Your shield emitter may be destroyed, but you can reconfigure the sensor grid to project a defensive shield, or something like that.
A naval vessel is probably our best model to use. Redundant systems, backups, damage control.
I hope this has given you something to think about while digesting huge quantities of Meleagris gallopavo.
Ok well I better go now, there's an infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk to me about this script for Hamlet they've worked out.