Monday, January 30, 2017

Galactic Line's Battle System

I've been vague about the battle system in The Galactic Line for a few reasons. I knew what I wanted it to include, but not how I wanted the pieces to come together. I don't want the game to devolve into yet another space ship battler. But I have worked it out now, and here's a quick description from the point of view of a commander.

Your ship and an enemy are stuck out in an asteroid field somewhere. You don't know where they are. When you zoom out, you can see a hex grid around your ship: a hex for your ship and six more neighbors. Three are above the horizon, three are below. As you rotate, the hexes do not.

As your sensors scan the skies, they pick up traces of your enemy. A bit of leftover exhaust, a bit of radiation, a glint of light. Dunno where they are at the exact moment, but we know what general part of the sky they're in, and some of those hexes darken. "Not that way". Which of the remaining hexes is the right direction? Who can tell?

Eventually it's down to two, then just one. You accelerate in that direction, trying to close. You don't have a solid lock, just a general knowledge that they're in that part of the sky.

Then lasers come crashing in, immediately blowing apart your armor and tearing through your systems. Yeah, it came from that part of the sky, but what the hell?

The sim ends and your competitor asks why you didn't launch any sensors or drones or anything.

So you start over.

This time you realize that those hexes are destinations as well as directions. You launch sensor drones into a hex, and in a few moments they arrive and begin scanning. You launch some missiles and have them wait quietly in another hex. You fire a spray of water in a direction you think the enemy might be: it turns into a cloud of ice, preventing scans from that direction from picking up your heat signature, breaking up your profile. Later that hex goes dark - the enemy isn't that way. You replace it with a pack of missiles, patiently waiting for a chance to attack.

You realize you can zoom out again. All seven hexes shrink into a central hex, and you're faced with six new, bigger hexes. Three high, three low. You send a sensor drone out into one of them, and notice it'll take quite a bit longer to reach.

You zoom out again. Those seven hexes shrink into one central hex, and a new six appear. Now you're looking at a fair chunk of the asteroid field - there's actually an asteroid in one of those hexes. Deploying sensors to it looks like it'll take half a day, and you think about setting course, but get the warning that turning on your engines will more than triple your profile.

And then you notice there's a glowing red perimeter around those hexes. Mouseover: "Enemy scan warning". The enemy has figured out you're in this volume of space, although it's obviously a pretty weak lock given the scales involved.

Now you're starting to get a handle on this. You've deployed some offensive and defensive systems, you're winnowing down the enemy's direction. This time, you get a lock first. You have to decide whether to open fire or refine your firing solutions: if you open fire, the enemy's gonna detect you pretty much immediately.

Well, you fire those missiles you set aside. The enemy shoots most of them down, but you get a much better firing solution from them and fire your own laser barrage. This time you win.

The next fight begins to unfold the same way, but when you start to get a good lock-on, you realize the two of you are within the same hex space. Your systems overlap, things become a mess, and then there are bombers on top of you.

As you progress, you learn a lot more tactics. ECM drones specifically calculate enemy scan patterns and help you avoid detection. Anti-missile interceptors. "Buzzers" that draw off the enemy sensors and incoming missiles. Sensor drones arrayed in "shotgun" lines along different scales of hexes. Weapon drones. Moving drones to new locations, or retrieving them. Radiation storms or ice clouds to mask your profile and the profile of your drones.

All of this is on top of managing your own profile. The higher your profile, the quicker the enemy will narrow down their search. You have these fancy high-tech deflector shields, but if you use them, your profile spikes so high the enemy will immediately detect you. You find out through experimentation that you're better off actually leaving them off even while you're under fire, if the range is long. A low profile helps more than a barrier.

Then you get to fleet logistics, and begin to struggle with the idea of deploying a ship to a distant hex and then having them have local hexes within that hex... and you begin to work with noncombatants and fixed fortifications, requisitioning or hacking for sensor logs, resources, triangulation help.

And that's how The Galactic Line's battles work.

Even a one-on-one, ship-on-ship battle takes place at great ranges, on a strategic map. There are moments when someone warps in right on top of someone else and a slugfest starts, but no matter how epic that feels, ships are expensive. Hugely expensive. And the people who die? They're people. Your people.

You begin to appreciate the art of getting a hard lock and then pinging the target with targeting lasers, forcing them to surrender without firing a shot. You begin to appreciate the art of convincing a local politician to get the enemy fleet to stand down.


Anyway, the same system is used outside of combat, especially when scanning planets or assisting colonists.

... the same system is used for building colonies, actually. That's what gave me the idea.

I haven't settled on this 100%, but it plays well on paper. I can't really justify arcade-style action.

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