I’ve played and enjoyed great games in the space combat sim genre – including the Wing Commander Series, TIE Fighter, X-3, and FreeSpace. But deep down I think we all know that these games aren’t really simulations of space combat – they’re much closer to flight simulators in the way the combat is handled. Most are based on first person views and flying craft that maneuver like airplanes in an atmosphere. We can all probably blame George Lucas for this – Star Wars has taught us that space fighters are cool and they fly like WW2 bombers – by all accounts he in turn was heavily influenced by the film Dam Busters.
The sequels to Elite used vector based Newtonian physics for motion, but hid a lot of the complexity and available tactics behind the ‘out of cockpit’ UI. I think that Independence War came the the closest to giving us a good idea of what space combat could really be like.
There has been a lot of debate (usually involving heavy amounts of math and physics) online about what real space combat will be like (sadly there’s less debate on whether or not we’ll actually have space combat). I’ve used several amazing resources to make sure the physics and system models are as realistic as possible for TorchShips.
Atomic Rockets – every resource an aspiring ship / game designer needs to create rocket ships with realistic maneuvering, weapons, and resource limits – highly recommended
Rocketpunk Manifesto – another great resource and one of the original inspirations for the game. The author has thought a lot about what space combat will look like and what plausible situations and scenarios could still include humans in the combat ‘loop’.
re.arts.sf.science – very active and informative group posting on real and speculative aspects of SF science – home to to the earliest great debates about the physics of space combat
thoughts on space battles - a great series of posts from Joseph Shoer on the physics of space combat
There’s been a lot of discussion as well that a realistic space combat game just can’t be fun – either because in the future humans will be completely out of the loop (robots battling robots) or that the weapon ranges versus maneuvering and lack of stealth will remove any options or decisions for the player. I’ll talk about that in my next post but for now I’ll leave you with my list of design assumptions for TorchShips.
- 3-D combat & UI – space is not flat, and neither is TorchShips.
- Newtonian physics – your ship maneuvers in 3-D space using a reaction drive.
- Damage & Systems control – detailed damage model and systems control – you’ll have to manage heat build up, fuel, and reaction mass levels.
- Weapons include your own reaction drive, kinetic lance, missiles/mines, and laser cannons.
- Procedurally generated single and multi-player campaigns against human and non-human opponents.
- Fast set up skirmish modes.
- Crew development
- Customize your ship, name and weapon/system load-out.
- FTL is used to link scenarios and battles. (Faster-than-light travel is probably the only handwavium we’re using in TorchShips, other than the cultural background assumptions and time scales. FTL won’t be a factor in combat – it is used to link a larger variety of combat environments and cause ‘chokepoints’ that enable more conventional battle scenarios)
- A rich background with hundreds of human cultures and dozens of alien races in conflict.