maneuvering for a shot

Combat in TorchShips will feel a lot different than the usual space combat simulation.There will be very few ‘turn and burn’ furballs during combat and most engagements will take place at very long ranges.

Two factors in the TorchShip universe definitely affect tactics. Combat is rarely to the death, especially early in the game, your goals are to drive off or cripple opposing ships, not destroy them. Secondly – AI and combat software is not very capable (in fact due to Earth’s Silence and subsequent AI backlash most human governments and religions ban even sub-sentient AIs and any type of sophisticated software). There are no autonomous drones that can fight without guidance – all combat takes place between human crewed spacecraft.

Combat is almost always triggered by Faster-Than-Light entry into a masspoint – a planet, a comet, or a group of asteroids. Your ship will enter realspace with a small residual velocity (about 5 km/sec) and positioned at the FTL mass limit of the body (about 3,000 km for a earth sized mass).

system entry

Phase 1 – Initial entry and meeting engagement

Initially you will need to find and identify your target (or targets) . Hostile ships can be hiding among neutral or civilian shipping and stations or masked by the planet or other bodies in orbit. Enemy ships can deliberately accelerate more slowly than they are actually capable of or reduce the output energy of sensors, beam weapons, or reaction engine exhaust (‘sandbagging’). They can confuse you and make you hesitate to shoot, but they can’t hide from you – remember there is no stealth in space! (point of huge debate but I think atomic rockets proves this unequivocally)

laser cannon shot

Phase 2 – Maneuvering for position and beam fire

At long ranges you will maneuver to stay ‘up-orbit’ of your target (so that you’re firing down the gravity well and getting the small benefit of the planet’s gravity) and using local terrain and neutral shipping and stations to mask your ship if that is possible.

If your opponent’s path is predictable you can attempt to seed the space ahead of them with time delayed missiles or kinetic rounds.

You can snipe with long range laser cannon fire, you have an unlimited number of shots, but the cannon does use energy and generates a lot of waste heat that will have to be dealt with.

When not maneuvering keep your fore or aft shield orientated toward any hostile ship firing beam weapons at you. If you take damage rotate your ship to minimize burn through.

missiles inbound

Phase 3 – Missile launch

As you enter missile range you have multiple options – you can fire at extreme range – or close and attempt to overwhelm your target’s point defense. Missiles can be timed to launch in a cluster, or used like mines and timed to drift in to the path of your target if positioned correctly. You can run out of missiles, but they have very low heat and energy costs to fire.

Phase 4 – Short range duel, railguns and reaction drive

Though rare – combat at shorter ranges can use the railgun (kinetic lance) to hammer your opponent. Even your reaction drive can be used as a weapon at extremely close ranges (<20 km).

If you are in combat around a neutral planet or defending your own system you must be very careful of the long term vectors of any ordinance you fire. It is all well and good to fire dozens of missiles and hundreds of kinetic rounds at a your target, but some will miss and some of those if not aimed and launched carefully could impact the planet or neutral/civilian shipping and stations and cause horrific damage and casualties.

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TorchShips Kickstarter!

We just launched our Kickstarter project. Please take a look and if you like what you see please sign up as a backer and tell your friends.

Went with a very basic video – but it felt silly to spend $10k of development funds on a video production effort to request $40k…

long haul freighter

Long haul freighter (North African Republic)

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Your first ship

These are some concept models of your first spacecraft in TorchShips. It is an armed freighter – rebuilt for light combat, scouting, and convoy raiding. Approximately 150 meters long. It is crewed by 5 people.

Here is a comparison shot alongside the USS Saratoga – a US Navy carrier launched in 1955 (the Saratoga is 324 meters long).

Corvette compared to USS Saratoga

(USS Saratoga model credit – WilliamT)

The frame is built around a central reinforced truss. The habitat ring is nestled  deep in the structure, very near to the center of center of mass to reduce crew stress when the ship changes orientation quickly.

Corvette frame - no tanks

Corvette (no fuel tanks attached)

From left to right we have the reaction drive (blue), aft armor shield, secondary fuel tank (gold), habitat ring (green), reactor (gray), 3 weapon mounts (dark grey cylinders), magazines (black), and the fore armor shield.

Corvette - with tanks

Corvette – with fuel tanks attached

We’ll write more about ship design in later posts – but it is safe to say that form definitely follows function in the TorchShips universe – you won’t see a lot of fins or wings on deep space capable ships. A good reference if you’re interested in realistic spacecraft design is Atomic Rockets – specifically basic design.

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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’. – 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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