Ever since i first seen a space battle on screen i dreamed of being in charge of warships in epic engagements. The pursuit of this feeling being in command the responsibility and consequences that comes with it, is what drove the design of Stellar Sovereigns space battle system. In case you were wondering, that first epic space battle i saw was in Babylon 5's two part episode "A Voice in the Wilderness", when i fallen in love with the EAS Hyperion. This article will go over the mechanisms and dynamics of space combat in Stellar Sovereigns but first let me show you what awaits you.
Let's start with maneuvering, i know it is not the most exciting aspect, nevertheless it is an integral part of commanding your space forces. Since Stellar Sovereigns' solar system scene is a semi 3D environment, also known as a 2.5D, it restricts movement onto a plane in level with all the celestial objects that makes up a solar system. This setup naturally lends itself for your ships to hide behind planets, moons or to dodge weapon fire flying through asteroid fields. However it also means these objects serve as obstacles, that either needs to be maneuvered around or through, breaking the cohesion of your battle group.
Controlling your units as a group allows you to set destination or waypoints along a path, as well as you to set the orientation the ships will rotate toward after arriving. Ship orientation in Stellar Sovereigns is a crucial aspect of combat, for example orienting away with damaged ship section from incoming weapon fire, can considerably increase the time a ship can stay in the fight. For this, easy control of ship orientation was an important design decision, to that end each ships individual orientation can be set via a virtual compass activated by a middle mouse click on the ship and setting its orientation pin to the desired direction.
Stellar Sovereigns' approach regarding fog of war or more generally just detection is based of the ship sensor's ability to pick up on the total power signature emanating from enemy ships, a powesignature that represents the current power consumption level of ships, stations, missiles etc. Sensors have a base power signature detection sensitivity and a base sensor range which is then picks up on enemy signatures within range when their power signature exceeds the sensor's detection sensitivity. The 3 phase of detection represents how much information is know about the target, at the highest resolution provides all the telemetry about a ship including pinpoint turret targeting accuracy, the silhouette resolution only provides classification and basic targeting information, and the lowest power signature resolution only provides positional data. Detection has a linear relation between distance and the level of power signature emanating from a ship, meaning that ships with high powersignature are detected from further than those that has a lower signature, for example ships with their shield being activated are detected from much further than those that hasn't, since shields are like energy buffers with no insulation hence they lit up like a christmas three on enemy sensors.
Before moving onto the cool offensive and defensive aspects of Stellar Sovereigns space battle system, i wanted to describe how ships power management satisfies an often overlooked aspect of space ship combat, which is engineering. Engineering comes in the form of setting the desired output percentage of ship systems, where each subsystem such as engine, sensor, shield and jammer has a variable output, which is determined by the base output of a system multiplied by the set percentage from 0-150%. For example ship's acceleration and max speed as well as ship sensor range and its sensitivity are determined based of what percentage their system is operating on. Ship's reactor has a constant generated output into a power reserve buffer, from where each system drains their power according their power requirement determined by the set desired output. The subsystems drain power in the order of engine, followed by sensor, shield, jammer, modules and weapons, meaning that a decision often needs to be made in regards to what percentage each of these systems are operating on, in order to have enough power to accomplish a task. For example ship engine on a 150% desired output leaves very little if nothing for its weapon turrets to charge, therefore if the desired action is to move and shoot at the same time a compromise must be made and operating the engine on a lower setting is needed for weapons to get any power to charge for a salvo.
Emergency crews is also an engineering related ship management system, which deals with assigning the number of crews to any ship section to perform repairs if it is damaged. This self repair system is a cyclic design, where the length of a cycle is determined by the number of crews working on the section and upon the completion of a cycle every part of the section gets repaired by a flat amount, this cycle continues till the section's and all of its turrets' integrity is restored.
Stellar Sovereigns' space combat has a number of defensive systems that the players can make use of, with each systems countering different threats with different efficiency. These systems' goal is to protect the ship's internal integrity, that represents the health of the ship which causes the ships destruction if it falls to 0%. The first line of defense of the ship's internal integrity is the individual ship sections in case of a capital sized vessel are the bow, midship and aft sections on both starboard and port side, that acts as a buffer around the internal integrity of the ship. The ship's internal integrity can only be damaged if weapon fire hits a section that itself is critically damaged, hence the importance on the previously mentioned ability to reorient a ship to shield a damaged section with another. The sections individual ability to withstand damage depends on its hull points and armor rating and the impacting weapon fire's effectiveness to cause hull damage.
Beyond hull and armor there is energy shield, which is a powerful defensive barrier that takes damage from impacts based on weapons' effectiveness against shield, that is often in contrast to its effectiveness against hull. Shield is a unique system, that draws power to charge its buffer and when active can use power to regenerate shield lose. It needs to be fully charged before it activates and drains power after the initial charge, only when damage is taken, as the cost of regeneration. If it collapses it must fully charge again before reactivating. It is a power hungry form of defence so its use is situational but can be very effective against kinematic weapons like auto cannons and missiles but can collapses quickly to energy based weapons.
A less power intensive defensive system is a form of a localized jamming field that misleads targeting sensors by chance, often just enough to have their salvo miss the ship entirely if the field strength is high enough.
Lastly but not the least, an excellent defensive weapon the interceptor cannon capable to target and take down not only missiles and alike, but interceptable projectiles. Interceptable projectiles are the ones that can be disrupted like of those the plasma blasts that gets cancelled out when hit by the interceptor cannon.
The offensive capability of ships depends on the loadout of turret weapon slots of ship sections, missile launchers, spinal mounted super weapons and any offensive ability gained from installed modules, from which all but the super weapon can be customized by the player at the design or the retrofit stage. As stated before there is an order of things when comes to powering active subsystems, modules and weapons alike, but not mentioned yet that there is also a limit to the amount of charge that is capable to be delivered to weapons and modules, meaning that the number of charging weapons and the amount of charge gets to each weapon is a fraction of that charge limit. In short as the number of charging weapons grows the slower their charge rate will get and that is similarly true for modules including missiles and super weapons. This limitation is the result of the ships power distribution specs, which may differ for various ships, some may have a faster weapon but a slower module charging property or vice versa.
By design it is up to the player to activate and deactivate weapons to decide which and what number of weapons to use at once, affecting the charge duration as well as the severity of each salvo. Weapon management has a number of interfaces for the player to activate or deactivate weapons, the most obvious is the ship power management interface where the player can individually turn on or off weapons, or the virtual compass that allows the player to toggle all weapons on a section by section bases. Important to note that deactivated weapons discharge their power back to the power reserve buffer as fast as possible wasting none of the built up power charge. Active and charged weapons automatically seek targets on their own, while favoring those that the ship been set to focus on, and if possible targets down the most threatening active weapons, disabling them if their integrity falls below 30% . The targeting ai of turrets determines the threat level of enemy weapons based on their power requirement and classifies high powered weapons to be a greater threat. The ordinance of weapons are simulated projectiles, damaging whatever their impact on, each carrying their own damage calculated from a base damage value and a impact type modifier (low, medium, average, moderate, high) for hull and shield impact respectively. As stated before damage propagates from section to internal integrity and in a similar fashion impact to disabled weapon turret the damage carries over to its section ensuring that no damage is lost accidently.
The thinking behind this hierarchical damage taking system was to give ships the opportunity to the aforementioned reorientation maneuver, to get out of harm's way and be able to fall back until the emergency crews can patch the ship back up, bringing disabled weapons back online and get back to the fight. This design approach created an interesting dynamics of push forward - fall back situations, keeping the battle line in a constant state of flux where with the right maneuver, an excellent counter, or with a well timed use of an ability, the player can turn the tide or fail trying. Whatever way it turns out, the ability system that encapsulates missiles, spinal mounted super weapons and module installed active abilities are designed to be used opportunistically. They are often power intensive slow charging actions with the promise of total annihilation but due existing counters their use could be seen as a gamble. Spinal mounted super weapons like mass drivers and phased cannons are designed to be manually aimed by the player setting the desired orientation to fire toward, while missiles and alike needs only the target to be painted by the player for the ordinance to homing onto.
In summary i am attempting to make space combat more tactical then what is usual for 4X titles and the results so far are promising, i am having a great deal of fun with delivering the killing blow with a well placed missile barrage and to watch the spectacle of weapons fire from a dozen fleets pounding on each other, which reminds me of certain wars among the stars in a place far far away. Let me end this article for now with the things still to come such as more on the UI, super weapons that are still under development, and strike crafts to complete the vessel roster.
Drop a comment anywhere you like, i would very much like to hear from you all.