Are Ginormous Ships Necessary?

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Geoff the Medio
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Are Ginormous Ships Necessary?

#1 Post by Geoff the Medio » Tue Feb 21, 2006 1:12 pm

It's generally been assumed that there will be a fairly wide range of sizes of ships in FO.

Some refer to these as "destroyers", "cruisers", "battlecruisers", "titans" etc. Others (me) prefer "tiny", "small", "medium", "large", etc. for various reasons.

More important is that the biggest size is much much bigger than the smallest size. If you were to make groups of each size of ship such that all the groups were about equal in combat power, call them a "unit" of ships, then you'd have hundreds or thousands of the smallest ships in a unit, and only a single ship of the largest size in a unit. The scale might vary a bit... say hundreds instead of thousands of the smallest per one of the largest, but it's still a big difference... a few orders of magnitude.

Is this really necessary?

It creates some problems. It's much harder to make a UI that works for both single ships being important entities in of themselves, and for only units of tens or hundreds of identical ships being what you care about. There are also various design issues that pop up... particularly relating to how detailed to make ships in terms of the design process, and what information about them to store and whether and how to make individual ships have special traits or other unique identifiers.

It's sort of a tradition in MOO games to have a large range of ship sizes. Many people seem to equate lots of ships with "epic" feel. It provides a nice sense of massive scale if a single ship can be so large and powerful as to be equal to a thousdand smaller ones like you could only build at the start of the game.

Is it really worth it though? Could we instead have a much smaller range of ship sizes... small enough so that in all cases, a single ship is a notable and interesting item for the player to be concerned with? And spend lots of time designing many details of that end up actually being relevant since the ship in-game can be recorded with enough detail?

Strategically (in a design sense) there probably isn't much of an issue. Size is presumably a matter of technology and having sufficient infrastructure or production capacity to make big ships... but the extra costs could be equally explained as other things you have to do to make powerful high-tech ships, even if they're not really really big. Or we could perhaps even do without a huge range in ship costs, depending how things are balanced.

What would be a good scale of cost and power between the largest ships buildable and the smallest at equal tech levels? Why?

For example, consider Advance Wars II, where the infantry unit costs 1000, and the biggest tank 22000, and the biggest ship 28000. You still deal with individual infantry in this game, and there's a cost difference of 28 times. There is no concept of tech level in this game, but for FO, assuming the scale is about 30 at the most, and that you still need some of the smallest / cheapest ships for a balanced fleet, as you do in AWII, could that work?

Any other examples? How does your other favourite space empire game do things? Thoughts?

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#2 Post by Magus » Tue Feb 21, 2006 10:02 pm

Well, MOO 1 went with a 125:25:5:1 ratio.

In the Honor Harrington universe, a SD(Superdreadnought) masses up to 8.5 million tons, while a DD(Destroyer) averages 85,000 tons, so a 1:100 mass difference. There, however, Destroyers, Light Cruisers (125,000 avg.), and Heavy Cruisers (300,000 avg.) are meant to be near worthless before the power of a "Ship of the Wall" in outright combat, so a fleet may have only as many DDs as it has SDs, unless its on a raiding mission. Upper tier Battlecruisers, the smallest "Capital Ship" are around 850,000 tons, so only a 1:10 ratio between them and SDs, which is fine if you can adequately explain to players, and accept as designers, that small ships are not meant to fight large ships, even with a tonnage equivalence or even an advantage.

In Homeworld, a Heavy Cruiser costs 3700 RUs, whereas a Scout costs 35. Again an approximate 1:100 ratio, but if you ignore fighters you start with 150Rus for a Light Corvette, and 700 for an Assault Frigate (the smallest combat Capital Ship), a 1:~5.25 ratio in cost.

Edit: On another note, I have no problems with having many, many smaller ships in play to be equivalent to each supership, so these may not be the best examples.

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#3 Post by utilae » Tue Feb 21, 2006 11:50 pm

Doesn't even matter what scale we have or how many ship sizes?

For example, if we just had one variable, ship size (mass units) we could have the ship size either fit around its weapons/equipment
eg choose 10x lasers = 1000 for ship size

or choose the ship size
eg choose 1000 for ship size, then see what you can fit inside.

The player might look at '1000' and think is that big or small. Well, that can only be determined if you have other ship sizes to compare it to, eg '6000', so that ship is small.

When you look at your fleet and it is made up of different sized ships, eg 10 ships of size 1000 and 5 ships of size 6000. You will visually see the difference. Things like planets might need a size as well, so that a ship can visually be the right size to a planet. So we might make a planet 10,000. So the largest ships size (6000) is 60% the size of a planet.

So, there you go. Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe we don't need ship size labels, and just numbers will do.

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#4 Post by Geoff the Medio » Wed Feb 22, 2006 1:28 am

I think I shouldn't have mentioned the AWII costs... they've distracted from the important issue a bit (though Magus was somewhat on-topic).

The actual numbers for sizes, either in cost or kilotons or metres or whatever doesn't matter. Nor does the ratios between these numbers. Or whether we use sizes in numbers or abstract labels.

What's really important is how many of the smaller ships are needed to be equal in usefulness to the player as a single larger ship.

It's difficult to satisfyingly do things consistently in a game that has both groups of hundreds or thousdands of ships and single ships being about equal in value. You can't put in lots of detail about each ship if there can be thousands, since it's too much info to keep track of, and is irrelivant anyway since no player cares about the details about each of a thousand ships. You also don't want to omit all details, since players who use a few big ships will become attached to them and want to know more and control more about them than they would for each individual of the thousands.

So the question really is whether it is worth having a huge range in ship values? If the range of numbers of ships in a typical unit of a fixed total value to the player is only a range of a factor of 10 or 20, then you can narrow down the range of total number of ships in the game quite a bit better, and thus pick between lots of detail and few ships, or lots of ships with little detail about each.

Note that value of a ship doesn't necessarily mean value in combat for just shooting at and being shot at. If we could make it so that there are conceputally "tiny" ships that are actually completely useless in combat for just shooting, but have some other value to the player that's roughly equal to the strategic value of a "big" combat ship, then we're still fine. Maybe these other ships can do things in battle to support the big fighters, but not actually shoot for themselves if they can avoid it. Alternatively, the tiny ships could have no use in battle, but have some very important strategic role out of battle. The important thing is that the total number of the "tiny" ships that the player has a use for and wants to build is about the same magnitude as the number of "big" combat ships. That way there can be a consistent level of detail between the tiny and big ships, as discussed above.

However, not many people seem keen this sort of idea... or at least don't think it's possible, or don't seem to really consider it when talking about design of combat or other ships-related stuff. In general it's assumed that there will be tiny ships that are nearly useless in small numbers, and big ships that are worth hundreds or thousands of those small ships to the player... and that the reason why the big ships are worth so much more is primarily their effectiveness in combat.

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#5 Post by ewh02b » Wed Feb 22, 2006 2:26 am

I think a simple ratio could be used... perhaps 5:1?
5 destroyers take on a light crusier?
5 light cruisers (or 25 destroyers) take on a heavy cruiser?
5 heavy crusiers (or 25 light crusiers) take on a battleship?

I'd say that units would generally be ineffective against units two steps above them--a battleship should be able to blow away dozens of destroyers, given equal techs, and not take a scratch.

I suggest that the cost of the smaller units be a different ratio than the combat ratio, so that losing 4 destroyers to destroy a light cruiser is seen as being too expensive. After all, that's 4 crews destroyed, versus 1.

I don't think that having Superdreadnought sized ships would be out of the question, but I do think it would take a LOT of research to get them--say 200 turns of pretty serious research emphasis.

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#6 Post by Geoff the Medio » Wed Feb 22, 2006 3:47 am

ewh02b wrote:I think a simple ratio could be used... perhaps 5:1?
5 destroyers take on a light crusier?
5 light cruisers (or 25 destroyers) take on a heavy cruiser?
5 heavy crusiers (or 25 light crusiers) take on a battleship?
So thats 1:5:25:125 for DD:LC:HC:BB

1:125 is already a pretty big ratio... you probably couldn't have as much detail on the BB's as you'd want if you wanted to treat all the DD's similarly... and it's a rather inelegant kludge to have differing levels of detail. And if you wanted to add any more sizes above or below, you'd be into 1:625 or 1:3125

For this, and the rest of your post, is there any particular reason or justification? Why not 2:1 or 3:2 ratio of combat effectiveness between sizes?

--------

There's also the possibility of having ships becomes less effective in combat above a certain size. Really large ships could be more useful as troop transports or special equipment carriers (for in battle or map-scale effects). That could keep the numbers needed ratio down, while still having the appealing "really really big ships" in the game...

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#7 Post by ewh02b » Wed Feb 22, 2006 4:10 am

good questions...I thought it would be good to throw an arbitrary number out there.

from Wikipedia-Battleship: superdreanoughts have twice the 'throw' (damage) of dreadnoughts...

Would a 2:1 ratio be fair, though? the two ships would have to be more expensive than the one, but probably take less time to build. I'd also want tech upgrades to be more decisive.

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#8 Post by Geoff the Medio » Wed Feb 22, 2006 4:29 am

ewh02b wrote:Would a 2:1 ratio be fair, though?
Fair in what sense? Regardless of what scale of ship powers we end up using, we'll balance things accordingly...

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#9 Post by ewh02b » Wed Feb 22, 2006 2:46 pm

Well, fair in the sense that one player took the time and effort to build a great big ship, while the other player only produced smaller ships. I'd like to see the bigger ship as a very difficult nut to crack, while the smaller ships are given a greater range/speed/agility/miss chance.

That way, smaller ships are used for raids/scouting, while the behemoths face each other and star bases.

Perhaps each ship class could be given a weapons focus, to make each one useful?

Destroyer-lasers, because they don't require much space
Crusier-Missile and Anti-missile systems
Battleship-Gauss Rifle/Mass Driver/Larger missiles
Dreadnought-Special Systems/Fighter Bays

It would be similar to the modern US navy, where the core of the fleet are the aircraft carriers, with cruisers providing missile defense and battleships providing artillery support for Marines (and possibly the carriers).

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#10 Post by marhawkman » Wed Feb 22, 2006 2:50 pm

I'm actually something of a fan of having even gradations.

1
2
3
4
5
6

etc... As cited in the Honor Harrington example, it's only when you compare the bigger ships with the smaller ships that you have a major size difference. I actually like the idea of making it so that one on one a size 1 ship would lose and lose bad to a size 2 ship of the same tech level. That's the entire point of having a bigger ship. But by the same token, a group of size one ships should be able to take out a size 2 ship. And theoretically at least, have a large enough fleet of Size 1 ships take out a size 6 ship. Of course the easiest way to make the smaller ships remain useful is the fact they're relatively cheap. If a ship is six times as big it costs six times as much, etc...
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#11 Post by skdiw » Wed Feb 22, 2006 4:37 pm

I hope not everyone forgot about ship size parallelism idea? in terms of traditional strategy game, more research = more stuff. traditionally, it is implemented such that bigger ships are better, by virtue that they cost more to research. we don't have to do this for FO, which why I suggested that we may chose to have small, medium, and large sizes ships researched in parallel, meaning you could have very powerful small size ships if you research into that branch a lot. each size can also have roles or rps if you like.

I need to dig up pros and cons on various designs... though i'm kinda busy these days. just food for though.

I like 2x the previous ship size in answering the ratio of power between each ship size under traditional design.
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#12 Post by tzlaine » Wed Feb 22, 2006 9:38 pm

Geoff the Medio wrote: For this, and the rest of your post, is there any particular reason or justification? Why not 2:1 or 3:2 ratio of combat effectiveness between sizes?
Well, based on your opening post, it seems you need to determine how many ship sizes to support, what your maximum allowable effectiveness ratio is between smallest and largest ships, and then do the math to come up with the scale factor between each size. If S is your number of sizes, M is your desired max effectiveness ratio, then the ratio in effectiveness between any two sizes at the same tech level R should be the (S - 1)th root of M. For instance, if you choose 5 sizes and M=10, then R=1.7782794100389228. R can be accomplished by adjusting standard things like to-hit modifiers, difference in room for weapons, etc., or by providing unique roles for ships of certain sizes, or whatever. The point is that it gives you a number to shoot for during playtesting/balancing.

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#13 Post by Magus » Wed Feb 22, 2006 9:53 pm

Well, you could do it like this:
Larger ships are better in straight up combat than smaller ships. Period. However, it is not a direct ratio, like 1:5:25:125. Instead, as ships get bigger, they become even better at turning lesser ships into paste. For example, you could have a ratio like this: 1:2:6:24:120:720 (thats n!), or something slightly easier like 1:2:8:32:128:512 (2^(2n-1) starting at the 2) or some other kind of exponential function. (Note that these are assuming arbitary ship of size A vs. arbitrary ship of size B. You could have smaller ships with something like missiles attacking a larger ship without point-defense or EW, and they would be more effective than this ratio shows)

However, their cost would closer approximate a direct 1:2:4:8:16:32. This would ensure that in the massive epic battles of uberness, there aren't thousands of ships because any outside the upper size tiers are going to get blasted to glowing debris really fast, so they won't be brought in large numbers.

So, what justifies the use of smaller ships at all? Speed and stealth. You may have a hulking Battledreadnought which could destroy my 8 Strike Cruisers 16 times over, but if you can't actually engage them any more than they could engage you, we're at an impasse. Except that I can go around you and start slagging planets. If you rely on your supercapitals to be a garrison, I'll just send mine in a force you can't handle since your capitals are so dispersed. Or perhaps, I have a small squadron of Battlecruisers with my capital force going up against your capital force. Even though you can butcher those cruisers, is it worth it letting up the fire on my capitals? In larger numbers, yes, but in small amounts?

Cuts down on number of ships in any battle, as "swarming" is not effective economically or tactically, makes a strategic split between the true battleships and lesser vessels, and hopefully makes battles more interesting. What do you guys think?

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#14 Post by ewh02b » Wed Feb 22, 2006 10:16 pm

Magus wrote:Well, you could do it like this:
Larger ships are better in straight up combat than smaller ships. Period. However, it is not a direct ratio, like 1:5:25:125. Instead, as ships get bigger, they become even better at turning lesser ships into paste. For example, you could have a ratio like this: 1:2:6:24:120:720 (thats n!), or something slightly easier like 1:2:8:32:128:512 (2^(2n-1) starting at the 2) or some other kind of exponential function. (Note that these are assuming arbitary ship of size A vs. arbitrary ship of size B. You could have smaller ships with something like missiles attacking a larger ship without point-defense or EW, and they would be more effective than this ratio shows)
Why not use 1:2:3:5:8 for cost/size, and damage caused is size squared, so 1:4:9:25:64.
Magus wrote: So, what justifies the use of smaller ships at all? Speed and stealth. You may have a hulking Battledreadnought which could destroy my 8 Strike Cruisers 16 times over, but if you can't actually engage them any more than they could engage you, we're at an impasse. Except that I can go around you and start slagging planets. If you rely on your supercapitals to be a garrison, I'll just send mine in a force you can't handle since your capitals are so dispersed. Or perhaps, I have a small squadron of Battlecruisers with my capital force going up against your capital force. Even though you can butcher those cruisers, is it worth it letting up the fire on my capitals? In larger numbers, yes, but in small amounts?

Cuts down on number of ships in any battle, as "swarming" is not effective economically or tactically, makes a strategic split between the true battleships and lesser vessels, and hopefully makes battles more interesting. What do you guys think?
Yes, I like this. Smaller ships should have different uses, either as stealth ships, or ambushing, or something. A stealthed missile cruiser (size 3) with quickshot could wait until a battleship (size 5) came to point blank range, then fire off 18 missiles, overwhelming point defence systems. Three more stealthed cruisers boxing in that battleship should be able to finish the job.

Frigates (size 2) could be outfitted with sophisticated sensors to detect cloaked units. BB's would have to travel with frigates in order to prevent ambushes.

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#15 Post by Magus » Wed Feb 22, 2006 11:13 pm

Size squared is good, except for one thing: I want the 2nd best size category to be viable, which is why it was a 1:2 ratio in damage and cost. The reason for this is that when a new size class is researched and brought to bear by one side in a war, the other side's largest size ships are not so outclassed that the war ends there. Its still obviously an advantage, as 2nd tier, now 3rd tier, warships are now in trouble, but it is not the end. The gap will probably widen though, as both sides will make higher tech 1st tier ships while those older vessels fall further and further behind the technology curve.

One other note though ewh: while the tactical uses of smaller vessels speed and stealth are certainly meaningful as you had in your examples, they aren't enough to make up for the size disadvantage. Its the strategic uses that matter more, with star systems further behind the borders facing raids of 3rd-5th tier vessels with pickets of similar strength, while the 1st tier ships slug it out along the bleeding edge. If 1st tier ships are dispatched to guard the rear, that player probably can't afford to guard every world with them, and those are potent battleships fighting off raids instead of fighting in full scale fleet actions where they belong.

For those who have read the Honor Harrington books (which is where I am pulling alot of this from) it is alot like the use of Havenite Battleships. They can't fight in the wall, but they are a fair sight better than raiding Manticoran Battlecruisers, so they make excellent system security ships. But when Superdreadnoughts get involved (i.e. 4th Yeltsin), they cease to be meaningful. Battleships here would be third-tier, SDs as 1st, BCs as 4th or 5th...

Edit: I just realized I may not have been clear on a rather central point. Lets say the ratio of ships per supership is n!, so
1:2:6:24:120:720
However, the ratio for the "6" ship is not
[1/6]:[1/3]:1:4:20:120 (which is what you get if you divide it all by 6)
But instead it is:
[1/6]:[1/2]:1:2:6:24
Basically, the starting point for the ratio is for whatever ship you're considering. The entries before the "1" value don't become negative (as that makes no sense), but instead begin increasing in the denominator of the entry rather than the numerator.

The consequence of this is easy to do is if you compare first and second tiers to sixth tier. 1 1st tier is equivalent to 2 2nd tiers, and 720 6th tiers. But for two 2nd tiers, equivalent while fighting the 1st tier, only 240 6th tiers are needed to equal them. So while that 720 number may seem huge, its really just saying "don't screw with the big ships with these midgets, use them against things closer to their size"

How to do this in ingame mechanics? That's a bit harder, and will require a fair bit of work with weapons and defenses, and achieving a perfect ratio is unlikely to happen. But if we can get the general idea....
Last edited by Magus on Thu Feb 23, 2006 12:51 am, edited 1 time in total.

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