February 2, 2009

The Logic of Space Battles

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chungkingespresso said...

Linked here off of Academy of Doctor X's blog. Instantly consumed a number of posts because my best XBLive friends are always German, Italian, or Scandinavian.

Anyhow, since you're the owner of a beautiful new 360, you should probably take a look at Project Slypheed at some point. You can probably get it for 10 Euro or less considering nobody likes it. Why?

Because they actually try to make realistic "space dogfighting" controls.

I'm not even good at the simplified classics like Star Wars: Tie Fighter. In this one, you have to manage all these weird thrusts and rotations so that you can basically fly alongside a larger ship, spin to face it, and then sustain a sideward thrust long enough to strafe alongside it and do enough damage before you end up in its firing solution and get toasted.

I'm sure I could play it on easy and just fly straight into things shooting missiles all over the place, but the "advanced control" setup and harder difficulties entice me to try to figure out the controls. I'll probably need to wait for the semester to end before I'll have time to dedicate time to it.

Anyhow, if you can get past the cut scenes and the Japanime style (it's a Squeenix game), I think you'll find something really worth digging.

Tell me if I'm totally wrong about this!

chungkingespresso said...

Was thinking some more about this; mostly in regards to your arguments from the standpoint of realism.

Okay, so because these are science fiction games that already take as given colonization and faster space travel, what are some reasons we might see ships attacking each other?

The answer to "why not just shoot from your planet to the planet you want to attack?" would be that the planet would be able to see exactly what was coming at them and throw up an obstruction (like a flak cannon that just spreads enough crap in the way of your firing to nullify the effects). Flying ships in close to bombard the planet from different angles would be more effective than this. Not to mention the fact that a straight shot from one planet to a target on another seems somewhat impossible (you'd have to calculate the exact location of each body in between as the shot passes, their gravitational pull, etc - you could use a piloted missile, but then that has the same problems that a ship has, namely that it could be easily intercepted).

There's also the issue of transport. The taxi mission is such a cliche in these games, but it makes sense. Even assuming all the absurdities of sending ships to fighter each other in space, you still have the problem of keeping transports safe. You could shoot from a stationary position at a transport, but all it would have to do is navigate around the firing solution. Sending other ships to destroy it would make more sense. So you'd have to defend your transport with other ships, and you'd have to figure some way of engaging other ships.

So sure there are obvious realism problems, but there are certain situations that make more sense than others - those would be the ones you'd want to include in a "space opera" game, right?

Krystian Majewski said...

Thanks for the great comments! I noticed Project Selpheed before, but haven't tried it until you recommended it. I've downloaded the demo but couldn't find the functions you were talking about. I haven't heard about them in any review either. Are you sure they are there? Looks like pretty standard Airplane-based physics to me. Even what you described it doesn't sound too realistic either: why would you need to "sustain a sideward thurst"? There is nothing in space that would slow you down if you cut the thrust - you will just continue flying.

More realistic space physics have been done before in space sims. I think the most famous example is Elite 2. I haven't played it but it seems like many players disliked the "realistic" combat as it is very unintuitive and complex.

As for firing from one planet onto another:

- No, the victim wouldn't be able to react if we are talking about lasers, other kind of radiation or near-lightspeed projectiles. The light (and essentially all information) of a cannon being fired would arrive at the same time (or nearly at the same time) as the shot itself.

- Shooting from one planet to another is not impossible. Calculating the physics is actually pretty straight forward as we have all the necessary data. In fact, it is being done all the time even with today's technology. It is basically what spaceflight is about: you shoot projectiles from one planet to another. You want to be as precise as possible because you don't want to accelerate fuel in order to make corrections later on. Out of necessity, we are already pretty good at it.

- As for keeping a transport safe: Well, shooting a spaceship at a distance is more difficult than a city. The biggest difficulty is to actually SPOT the spaceship because space is huge and the ship is tiny. There is no radar in space so you have to rely on optical observations. With today's technology even the most powerful telescopes on earth aren't powerful enough to see the stuff we left back on our very own moon - which is pretty nearby. And in this case we know exactly where we need to look. So spotting spaceships might be a problem but one that isn't solved by having you own spaceships flying around in space searching for enemies. Space is just too big.
Once you know the location and trajectory of an incoming spaceship, the same applies as for planets. You can easily shoot it, they won't see it coming. Having other spaceships as an escort won't help them. The only remedy would be for the transport to erratically change the course over the entire span of the flight but that would be economically not feasible.

chungkingespresso said...

Good points! Oh well; I tried. So I looked at the Slypheed manual. The move I was referring to was the Power Cut: "reduce engine output to zero and fly on inertia alone. Your shields deplete during a Power Cut and you cannot change course, but you can change the direction your aircraft is facing."

When I worded it I said thrust instead of inertia. Anyhow, yeah, looking at the book again there aren't as many neat controls as I remember there being. I guess I sucked at it because I just suck at these space shooters.

Krystian Majewski said...

Yeah I noticed that inertia comment and it confused me as well.

Actually, the reason why you might not be satisfied with your skills in the game might be simply the convoluted controls. They have been criticized in reviews of the game and I certainly see why. Having both, roll and yaw on the same stick depending on how far you move it is pretty silly, I can't see getting used to that - it would interfere with my reflexes from other games. Also, what do I need 4 different weapons for? To add insult to injury, they even have a mode-based switch to map the many weapons onto buttons. And what exactly is the advantage of using guns if missiles have a longer range and are easier to use?

I was pretty happy with the recent Hawx demo. It features maneuvers comparable to what you've described (flying sideways etc...). You might want to check it out, the controls were quite alright.

Simon said...

Wordpress kept refusing to show my name despite numerous preference changes.

I need to finish Call of Duty: World at War and then kill off my rental subscription... then I'm playing the Hawx and Halo Wars demos, settling in for midterms, and then seeing where I'm at in three weeks. I definitely wasn't going to try Hawx until I came here and read your post on it.

Finally, what all your debunking of the fantasy of space travel has implied to me is this: in the future our poor great*n grandchildren are going to frequently run into arms-fueled wars that not even mutually assured destruction can provide a solace from.

If you could fire from across a solar system (I guess you would just have to avoid points where two gravitational bodies had a numerically significant pull?) without detection - that sounds like the ultimate in first strike capability. Sounds like we need to make a bland geopolitical game where all one does is try to negotiate between space powers so that nobody ever develops one of these laser cannons.