Inspiration and why ‘Real’ Space Combat

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.
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7 Responses to Inspiration and why ‘Real’ Space Combat

  1. Pingback: TorchShips Launch | Product7

  2. David Perry says:

    Very glad to see a game like this happening – it’s about time. Aliens are kind of an immersion-breaker for me though. Will they use other types of technology, or will they all have roughly the same capabilities?

    • they will have roughly the same capabilities…

      • David Perry says:

        In that case I’d gently encourage you to leave the conflicts between humans, and explore Fermi’s Paradox in the campaign. If we meet alien life, it will either be unicellular, or far beyond our technologies – the chance of meeting another species at roughly the same level of technology seems spectacularly low. Unless you cover this in the story – AI being too unsafe for any culture, or somesuch. But if unfriendly AI is so likely, we’d probably run into THEM, and it would not be a fair fight.

  3. Anyone remember the ancient “battlefleet mars” simulation (board) game from SPI, 1970’s? This reminds me quite a lot of the spirit of that game with realistic flight mechanics and miners fighting it out in space. One key (central!) difference here is the gravitational effects which they weren’t able to include back then. I can’t wait for this. I’ll be watching for the next kickstarter opportunity to help out.

  4. Istvan says:

    I agree with David Perry – no point in adding time and content development to distinguish aliens when you can build a playable product using humans and human ship designs alone. Add an alien species post-release if you must add one.

    I wanted to ask if you were committed solely to a fusion drive system, or if you had considered exploring the military applications of an Orion (1960-era, not Constellation program capsules) as an alternative type. A ship that uses nuclear detonations as its motive force could likely adapt the drive bombs for sundry purposes, as described in Niven and Pournelle’s _Footfall_.

  5. Sabreur says:

    Have you tried Babylon 5 IFH? The site is currently down but my experiences with it have been pretty good, the team is working on new iterations of it, and it is freeware.

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