We purposely spent the minimum amount of time and effort on our placeholder lasers... we're talking about a half day for all of our temporary weapon effects. I feel like it's better to throw ugly placeholders in so you can play the game sooner. If you put the time into making the effects incredible first, you may not have the time to focus on the gameplay. Also these placeholder effects annoy the hell out of us and kept us motivated to create something great to replace them.
As we've mentioned before, we're thinking about hard sci-fi for XO – we want the game to be as realistic and true to form as possible. However, lasers are invisible in space which doesn't make for great player feedback. Since the visuals in XO represent a tactical command interface, I feel that we're not betraying science with the effect we have. It's not like you're looking out of a porthole, and we've already covered how silly that would be.
Lasers, of course, take an enormous amount of energy, most of which is waste heat. So the laser cannons are mounted on the big radiating fins that dump heat. We're still working on getting this looking just right in-game. We're also modeling an approximation of how much fuel your fusion reactor will need to fire such a weapon, and the effective firing range and damage that a laser of that magnitude would most likely have.
In addition, lasers move at the speed of light. Were we to model this it'd be impossible to tell if a ship was getting shot or doing the shooting, so we added a delay and made the lasers trace a path. Not only is this effect easier on the eye, we think it looks much cooler.
Right now we're working on how lasers appear when fired from the battleship's turrets – making sure that the ship doesn't fire through itself, that the lasers aren't clipped or obscured by the wrong objects... things like this. It's a delicate balancing act. We want the visuals to look beautiful but not bog down the computer with too many calculations.
We'll continue to tweak the lasers as development continues, but we're pretty excited with how they're shaping up so we had to share. Moving forward, we'll be working on damage effects, and we have some interesting ideas for how that's going to look!