General Bullet Points
* Combat will be rendered in 3D. Ships will be represented with 3D models. This does not imply movement in 3D space; it only refers to representation on screen.
* Combat occurs only inside star systems, and is a system-wide affair; all combat assets in a system will be present on the tactical map.
* FO is a turn-based 4X strategy game (primarily) with a RTS-TBS hybrid battle system (secondarily). The pseudo-real-time battles should complement the TBS strategy, and strategically interrelate with it as much as possible. * Combat should be important, but other paths to victory should be just as viable. Other strategies than combat should prevail over combat in some cases, or work best in combination with combat.
* The player controls (at least) dozens of ships simultaneously. FO is not an arcade action space shooter where the player has control over a single, high customizable, fighter craft. The level of detail of the ships design system should reflect this distinction.
* The level or detail of player control of ships should minimize the need (or ability) to micromanage individual ships. Not requiring players to be concerned with single-ship facings or subsystem activation will eliminate a major potential source of the "clickfest" micromangement problem. Most interesting tactics can arise from the relative positions of groups of different kinds of ships, and do not depend on details such as the facing of an individual ship.
* Battles should not take excessively long to complete. A rough guesstimate is at most 5 or 10 minutes of combat (total) in one turn. Many turns may also have less combat than this, or none, likely depending on the degree of combat focus in a particular game.
* Strategic factors may exist in and out of battles that determine the value of a ship. A ship can be valuable to a player, even if it is not well-suited doing and receiving damage with other ships, if it has other advantages in or out of battles. These might include range or speed of movement on the galaxy map or in battle, undetectability on the map or in battle, or effects on other game systems such as empire or planet productivity.
Combat balance is organized primarily around different types of weapon delivery systems: Point Defense (PD), Short Range (SR), Long Range (LR), and Fighters.
* SR is short range, direct-fire weaponry that is good against ships, but bad against fighters.
* PD is short range, direct-fire weaponry that is good against fighters and incoming LR, but bad against ships.
* LR is long range, indirect-fire weaponry that is good against ships, but bad against fighters.
* Fighters move independently at long range from the ship that launches them to attack ships or other fighters. Fighters are divided into Interceptors (good against other Fighters), and Bombers (good against Ships).
The details of ship design, such as how many types of weapons ships may have are undecided.
The following are tentative and preliminary values, to be used for intial engine design and content creation, and are sure to need balancing and tweaking later:
* Ships move about 5 AU per combat turn
* Short Range (SR) ships can fire at targets within 5 AU
* Point Defence (PD) ships can shoot about 3 AU
* Fighters can shoot about 3 AU
* Long Range (LR) ships shoot about 15 AU
Reasons and Consequences
* SR ships can't shoot further than they can travel in one turn, giving a reasonable meaning for "short range".
* PD range should similar or smaller than SR range. This way, PD ships can't protect SR ships from LR missiles or fighters by sitting behind the SR. Rather, the PD has to be out front of its SR, giving the PD more time to shoot at LR missles as they go by (towards the SR). This leaves the PD vulnerable to attacking SR (since the friendly SR is behind the friendly PD).
* PD shouldn't have to chase after fighters due to its range being too small, and fighters shouldn't be able to fly around PD too easily, or else PD might be too difficult to use.
* Keeping fighter range and PD range roughly equal should ensure fighters can't shoot past PD to hit something behind the PD, but that fighters can get fairly close to the PD, and can shoot back at it without too much difficulty.
* LR range should be more than two turns travel (or twice SR range), but not much larger than this so that the LR needs to be kept within a reasonable distance of their targets to keep them vulnerable to counterattacks.
Planets in Combat
Planets appear in combat and take part in battles, and interact with ships over the course of a turn on the galaxy map. There are two main purposes to planets' offensive and defensive capabilities:
* Planets should not generally be completely defenseless, because it should not be necessary for players to keep a small defensive fleet at every system they control, in order to prevent their planets from being attacked and their colonies destroyed.
* Planets should be able to protect themselves against moderate to large enemy space fleets for several turns without being overwhelmed. This allows time for reinforcements or defensive response fleets to arrive in an invaded system. It could allow blockades to occur if attacking fleets are powerful enough to control system space, but not strong enough to capture or destroy planets immediately or at all. It may also have some use in making ground troops more useful, as well as other non-ship-weapon types of alternative warfare (biological, influence-based, or spy-dependent).
However, planets should not be invulnerable to enemy space fleets, particularly if those space fleets are quite large and powerful, or are specially equipped with planet-destroying or planet-capturing equipment.
To meet these goals, planets have two meters: Orbitals and Shields.
Orbitals are satellites that give a planet offensive capabilties.
Orbitals are tracked with a planet orbital meter. The current orbital meter value indicates the total strength of orbitals that a planet has, and the max meter values indicates the max level of orbital strength the planet can maintain. Like other meters, the current orbital value grows towards the max value over time, with a rate dependent on factor such as the planet's construction meter. It takes some time for a planet to fully develop its orbital constellation, or to recover from losing some of its orbitals during a battle.
Planet orbitals' attacking range should be fairly short, so that defended planets of multiple empires can coexist in the same system without attacking eachother.
Planetary shields are extremely strong defensive weapons that can protect a planet for several game turns, and render it nearly invulnerable to damage during a space battle.
Shields are tracked with a planet shield meter. The current shield meter indicates the "power" or "health" of the planet's shields, and the max meter value indicates the max shield strength the planet can maintain. Shields regenerate over time, like other meters.
While a shield is in place, a planet's surface is protected from orbital bombardment by fleets of enemy ships. The planet's building and meter levels are unaffected by enemy fleets in a system while the planet's shield is functioning. However, non-fleet warfare, such as dropping ground troops or using biological or psychologica/sociological attacks can penetrate a shield. These attacks can destroy a planet's defense or infrastructure even if the shield is up, necessitating having protection against them even if a planet is shielded.
Shields can be damaged by enemy fleets in their system, however a relatively large and powerful fleet is required to do this. Fleets have a shield damage rating, which is the amount of damage they do to each enemy planetary sheild in their system each turn. If this rating is higher than a given shield's regeneration rate, the shield is depleted each turn, until it is disabled. If the fleet's shield damage rating is less than a shield's regeenration rate, the fleet cannot damage or full prevent regeneration of the shield.
Some ship parts or weapons may be specially designed to weaken enemy planetary shields more effectively than other weapons.
Prior to battle, players must deploy their forces as they would like them to appear at the start of the battle. Players may or may not have knowledge of other players' deployments while deploying their own forces opportunity to deploy their forces.
Defending players are generally able to see attacking players' deployment while the defending player deploys. In future, the extent to which players are made aware of eachother's pre-battle deployments will depend on technology and other factors, such as espionage, providing this information or hiding it from other players. Surprise attacks by forces already in a system (hidden or previously-allied) will also be treated differently than forces seen by the in-system defender to be entereing the system via starlane.
Requested deployments may not correspond exactly to actual deployment at the start of a battle. Particularly for attackers entering a system at the start of a battle, ships may not arrive a) in the correct place, or b) all together, depending primarily on the attacker's technology.
Contested tactical objectives are generally achieved or resolved on the battle map. For example, invading a planet or traniting through an enemy-occupied system, from one starlane entrance to another, requires resolution on the battle map if there is an opposing fleet that would seek to prevent or interfere with these activities. Possible exceptions (ie. uncontestable objectives) include defenders retreating, from a system they occupy, through any starlane(s) other than the one(s) through which attackers are arriving, or allowing attackers to avoid battle by retreating via the starlane on which they arrive in a system the same turn.
Possible combat objectvies include:
* Destroying enemy ships
* Invading or evacuating a planet (attackers provide cover for transport/assault ships or else perform orbital bombardment; defenders either engage attackers or provide cover for evacuation ships)
* Transit (attackers attempt to get from point A to point B; defenders interdict attackers or else cause attrition)
* Reconaissance (maneuvering a stealth ship past sector defenses/scanners to drop or retrieve an agent)
* Surgical Strike (targeting a specific installation either in the system or planetside)
Combat on the battle map ends when one side's forces are all removed from the field. If players' combat assets do not engage eachother in combat for some (yet-to-be-determined) number of turns, combat results in a draw. (Also yet to be determined: does a draw force the attacker to retreat? Might there be technology to allow a vessel to remain in enemy space without engaging for a few turns?)
Pace, Timing and Orders
The combat engine will be hybrid real-time and turn-based. Individual turns will play out in real time, but player input, through orders, will only take effect once per turn. Orders may be given at any time (paused or not) and are queued to be processed in subsequent turns. During turns, between the times when orders take effect, the player(s) have no ability to alter the outcome of game events (other than orders given before the start of the present turn). Player(s) may request a pause at any time, but pauses only occur and the ends of turns. Current thinking is that a turn should be somewhere between 3 and 5 seconds. (Example: Knights of the Old Republic)
This system is chosen over a traditional RTS system because those generally turn into a clickfest, or a contest of who can more quickly and effectively manipulate one stack of numbers against the opponent's stack of numbers (Example: Empires at War). Conversely, a TBS system can be too slow and make be unable to capture any real sense of tactics (Example: Master of Orion 2).
* For v0.4, the smallest unit controllable by the player is a single ship. We will revisit for v0.5 the issue of whether or not ships should be able to (or always be) grouped with like vessels (and we will define what a 'like vessel' is).
* Orders must not be too detailed, but also not too generic. It is necessary to strike a balance that hits the sweet spot, so that interface and feed back are simple, but not too simple to be interesting and fun.
* Details of a ship's design are not represented on the 3D model of the hull. Instead, symbolic icons in the UI or textual indicators will convey this information.
Wow, that's a lot. But there is even more, you should also read through the stealth and detection and the fleet supply parts - I just didn't want to paste the entire design pad.
I think there are basicly 2 UIs needed here. One that appears at the very start and is used for placing your ships. Once this is done another UI is used to control the ships. Perhaps those 2 UIs can be switched throughout the combat, if the player decides to try another arrangement.
I'll be back with some sketches next year