Balancing flight mechanics

Continuing the discussion from Date of the kickstarter?:

Okay, people seemed quite vocal about this topic, so I did as you said since the last thread got severely off-topic!

First off: I should explain that my example was based around a local frame of reference (e.g. the nearest sphere of influence). Any speeds would be relative to that body. The point I was attempting to make - perhaps not very well! - was that in terms of in-game combat it should be the acceleration a ship is capable of that matters. This affects everything: its ability to speed up, slow down, turn…

Probably, there would have to be limits in place for the sake of gameplay, but allowing a player to actively manage their speed relative to their target (by keeping in mind what acceleration their ship can achieve) could keep space combat unique.

The great thing is, the human brain is usually quite good at this sort of calculation. How else can you cross a road before a car squishes you?

So the question I ask is this (and it’s similar to the discussion about Newtonian flight): how could acceleration be taken into account for the flight mechanics? Is there a way to make it seem fresh and interesting from any other space sim out there? They all seem to operate on the assumption spaceships must fly like aircraft or players won’t cope. I disagree.

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I would argue that using Newtonian flight mechanics (when in space, obviously) would be enough to make it interesting. While Newtonian flight mechanics are literally decades old with Asteroid and the like, it has been rarely used in space shooters.

In addition to that, the ICP had some massive acceleration values, about 50g IIRC. It gave it a fluid, dynamic feel, and the greater distances between dogfighters were offset by fast projectiles and a nice FPS-like zoom feature.
Compare to, say, Allegiance, where ships are slow, clumsy and have to go up close and personal. It works for the harshest gameplay Allegiance is going for, mind you, but for a more mainstream game, the ICP approach is better : it feels better, looks better and is easier to learn.

Now, a divisive question is whether there should be different thrust levels for each side : should the rear thrusters be more powerful than the front ones? What about vertical or side thrusters?

On one hand, the rear thruster is bigger, so people naturally assume that it is stronger - and we are more familiar with airplanes and rockets. It also potentially adds an interesting twist, with choosing between using spinal weapons and reorienting to use the more efficient thrusters.

On the other hand, it may make the gameplay more complex with little depth added, and having equal strength thrusters may make the gameplay more fluid and fun.
Also, more efficient designs may be less intuitive, for example with the strong thrusters being front (as defined by the directing faced by the spinal weapons), side, down or even at an angle. But then, such designs may be ill-adapted for atmospheric operations, meaning that the winning move would be less fun (with ships who shouldn’t enter or leave atmosphere).

A possible compromise is to have equal-strength thrusters, but a limited boost using the main thrusters.

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Why not make it part of ship management?

Instead of simply being able to make your engines as a whole more powerful, what if you could choose where that power went to? Such as taking power from your RCS and shunting it into your main thrusters in order to close a gap, shunting everything into your reverse thrusters to make an emergency “stop”, or taking power from main engine and putting it in your RCS to strafe more effectively?

I’m not sure that’s been done before.

The X-wing games certainly showed that power management can be part of a flight combat game and still be fun. So I certainly like the idea of managing thrusters in this way. More straight-line acceleration? Power to main thrusters! More turning needed? Spread it out a bit!

Or another alternative - ship builds. Different equipment builds that can be switched out from a hanger. This would simplify (dumb down?) in-flight management but maybe unnecessarily loses complexity.

This is an opinion… but one I happen to agree with. The game is in space, so make it feel like space (as well as looking like it)!

I’m leaning toward in-flight customization of power distribution, as long as the UI is easily accessible to change stuff on the fly.

with no speed limits we have a problem of 2 ships that have so big relative speed that they cant interact properly. reasonable solution is to postulate max relative speed for dogfight.

Well you could have a more complex UI for fine-tweaking thruster values in advance and then have them mapped to presets of a way more basic in-flight UI (like, a number on the number pad level of basic). That way you’d have full control over your setups and have the ability to swap them out instantly depending on the situation.

Something like this could only be proven one way of the other by play testing. Still, I’d favour some form of interception assistance for players who want to close in and fight than an outright (relative) speed cap.

Way I figure it, players are going to want to close the distance and shoot each other. As long as you give people the tools to do that, you won’t have as bad an issue as you’re worrying about. There does need to be a good way to close the distance and lower the relative speeds to something reasonable for the start of the engagement for it to work, mind you.

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i mean relative speeds that results situation when combat range continues for less than 0.1-0.2 sec. so you cant physically as a pilot react so fast.

speed cup only means that this 2 hips cant hit each other or even see if sensor range also pass this rule.

Has anyone ever heard of or played Evochron Mercenary? Evo is one of the only games(probably the only) that I can think that currently has newtonian flight mechanics and seamless planetary transitions. The ships in evo have something called an IDS which is basically a computer that expects as you would expect it to.

You set your velocity and the ship will accelerate to that speed in the direction you’re facing. Turn, and it will adjust using the side thrusters and main to accelerate to that direction(This is space so moving in a curved path is accelerating). Evo also gives pilots the option to turn it off and, as you can imagine, someone flying fully newtonian has a lot more control over their movements and can fight better.

I liked this sort of method of flying and it was very similar to the ICP. The ships also had an “Afterburner” that could be turned on to accelerate quicker but only in the direction you are facing so it would be beneficial to have to turn 180 to AB to slow down quicker for an intercept.

This is just my 2 cents but I really enjoy newtonian physics and I would personally be very disappointed if a flight model like this wasn’t at least an option. You can have your fly by wire computers, but I’ll take manual translation and speed control over a computer any day. The balance here to moving “too fast to fight” is the fa ct that this is an arena shooter. The goal of the game IS to fight…if someone wants to accelerate and try and get away I say let them. A chase just adds to the fun…and at any rate they have to run somewhere. This is how it was in evo with in-system jump mechanics that only made it possible to fight if both ships wanted to fight. In an arena shooter where fighting is the focus, I don’t think this would be too much of a problem and also adds the possibility of interesting game strategies.

What really matters here is what kind of gameplay would be best. How strong the thrusters and the speed limit would have to be is a balancing issue, not a brainstorming issue, and discussing it makes no sense.

Also please remember that there would have to be multple “modes” of flight.

One “mode” would allow you to quickly speed up to thousands of kilometers per second, in order to allow ships to accelerate to attain orbits and to travel between celestial bodies.

The other “mode” would be the one used by the ships during dogfights, which would only allow a few Gs of acceleration in order to allow humans to hit each other without using lasers and some form of computer auto-aim.

There was this explanation proposed in the old forums(not sure if it still applies) where ships could dogfight in orbit(high speeds in relation to planets) or intercept each other between planets because you could use a separate warp drive to approach another ship and match it’s speed. After that, only convencional thrusters could be used to accelerate in relation to the other ship, which is what would allow “ww2 like” dogfights.

Im saying this to make the point that the explanation, or how much Gs or m/s top speeds would be required, doesn’t really matter. The only thing that should be discussed is what type of gameplay would be most fun for the game.

Is jousting ok? And by jousting I mean parameters that would result in battles where players keep passing each other while firing, like in a medieval joust. This happens when your main thruster is much stronger, among other things.

Would it be better to have fights resembling two helicopters shooting at each other? With dogfights basically being both ships always facing each other and shooting while trying to dodge? This would happen if accelerations would be similar in all axis, and turning speeds were big enough.

Should it be hard to “shake” someone from your “tail”, like in most airplane dogfights? Or should it be easy for you to just turn 180º and enter a situation like the two helicopter fight described above?

IMO those are the questions, not “how many Gs” this, or that. This is a problem for the devs during balancing passes.

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I mentioned evochron because in evo less skilled pilots would “joust” as you say. The mechanics and strategy themselves will naturally evolve with the game and pilots as they become more skilled. A skilled pilot could easily keep up with and dance around a less skilled pilot. The questions that you end your post with are all answered if you take into account the effects of newtonian flight. Even when your main thruster is much stronger it is still possible to do this dance. I can tell you from experience.

I do agree G’s are irrelevent. But trying to balance around theoretical flight styles before the mechanics have been implemented is also pointless. In space, the dogfights should not be like dogfights, there are plenty of games that mimic that already. In atmo, sure, but not outside the atmosphere.

I agree with Angrymarine and with Skyentist.

First of all I would suggest only talking about the dogfighting range. Interplanetary travel is another discussion and should be seperated to make it easier to communicate ideas.

The idea of tweakable thruster power (Main vs. Maneuver) is a great idea to bring in as many scenarios as possible. As AnrgryMarine said: Several fighting stiles are possible and depend on the balance of maneuver and main thrusters. Skill is also a significant idea of that, as Skyentist pointed out.
A skilled player could adjust his trajectory in such a way that he could intercept a jousting player even if he has the exact same ship and setup and suprise him by suddenly “dancing” around him.

Strike Suite Zero had two different modes for the main fighter in the game, the Strike Suite. One was a traditional setup with big engines in the back and the “mecha” form behaved more like a helicopter.

I’m not sure if implementing the possibility of changing engine power on the fly or before a fight would help add more fight scenarios. It could result in giving skilled players even more of an edge then just a default setup.

In my head, it also potentially allows some drastically different fighting styles. In space, of course, the ability to turn your ship depends on the ratio of mass to thrust - air resistance isn’t a factor like it is on Earth. This results in that feature we all recognise from Newtonian flight: the ability to turn in any direction without changing the travel vector.

Large ships would take a while to do this because of their increased mass, but smaller fighters could do it much more quickly.

So if flying with “power to main thrusters”, redirecting the ship would involve turning to bring those thrusters to face in the right direction. This provides plenty of opportunity to build up speed and fire in unexpected directions (as opposed to the manoeuvring option which presumably would fly more like a normal aircraft).

The idea of allowing players to adjust how much they want this effect would introduce a level of challenge and encourage them to continue playing in order to master more advanced flight tricks. Or possibly make them ragequit. But we might see an interesting difference between fighters and capital ships here; there is a legitimate reason for the big ones to use manoeuvring thrusters because they turn more slowly. "Jousting " and dogfighting would be left for the little guys. A good contrast?

I disagree with that. There are multiple balance points attainable, and brainstorming can help identifying them and thinking about their pros and cons. Case in point, you can have an Allegiance-like ‘slow and close’ balance, or an ICP-like ‘fast and far’ one.
Of course, testing will be mandatory later anyways.

There is also Pioneer, an open-source fan remake of Frontier - bonus points for full-sized planets. However, last time I tried, dogfights were pretty clunky and the AI not very bright. Good players do tend to ‘orbit’ an opponent instead of jousting here as well, though.

About in-game thruster power management, I can’t see that working. If you have a given energy per second to distribute between all thrusters (in opposition to having each thruster always at its nominal strength), then it should balance it automatically : it is obvious that the optimal result is “everything on the thrusters currently firing”, so there is no actual decision to make.
That would be like having to manually reaffect energy to weapons after each shot.

About pre-flight thruster power management, you have to expect people to come up with “rear”-accelerating fighters (so you can decelerate and fire at a target at the same time), which will look bizarre in atmosphere. Complexity, but probably little depth there.

Better to keep the tried and tested thrusters/weapons/shields power management triangle.

I sure hope not, that’s always a sign of a bad game design.

It is also obvious that there is a straightforward gameplay solution to this: that it takes time to shift energy around. Yes, if there was an ability to instantly apply full power to a particular thruster, that would be optimal, but if not… well you’re going to have to decide in advance, which involves predicting how you might want to fly.

Mmm… no. While it’s certainly tried and tested, I would rather see something new than stealing something old like that. Unless they had a fresh way of implementing it.

Back to topic about flying, the user interface is clearly going to be very important if there is going to be any kind of drifting possible. Indicators to show which way you are flying being one - which could be again related to a reference of choice. For example, if you are travelling from a base to a planet towards a battle, your reference might be the planet. Then during a fight, you might target an enemy and use them as reference.

All this depends on how open the world of Battlescape is. How much do you let the computer control and how much do you let the player control?

Sounds like overcomplexifying the gameplay for little depth gain. Maybe you’re right, though, so I would be curious to test that in game.

Novelty for novelty’s sake is never good. This is true for videogames as well as for any form of art. When you are doing something new, there should always be another reason than simply ‘Because it’s new!’
Power triangle has been there for maybe two decades, and it stuck because it works well. Now, maybe it wouldn’t add much to I:B’s gameplay and should be cut. Maybe another system would work better instead (or in addition) like this thruster redirection, or shield redirection. Or maybe it should be all be cut altogether. But those should be considered independently from the fact that others did or didn’t use them.

The reference point is a problem that will need to be adressed indeed.
The simplest way to avoid dogfighters zipping past each-other at 100 km/s is to limit the maximum speed relative to the reference point.
In atmosphere, said atmosphere does that - the reference point is the air, and by extension the surface. Near the surface of an airless body, speed is limited for technical reasons (stuff needs time to be generated and drawn by the engine).
In space, the concept of “warp bubble” seems to work pretty well : when ships are nearby, the warp interference, in addition to allow interaction between ships, prevents anyone from going further than a given speed relative to the barycentre of the battling ships.
A problem arises when one is leaving the atmosphere : how does it manage the transition?

I would be wary of any limitation of this kind by way of computer : at some skill level people will wonder why the hell is this -expletive- computer preventing them to do it their way - kind of like a growing child would feel if they can’t remove the training wheels on their bicycle.
I’m not saying that it can’t be done, but it would be quite harder to pull off.

I wonder if this could provide a useful mechanic.

Obviously, crossing a line and immediately switching from atmospheric to warp-style flight interaction would be a bit rubbish. It just occurred to me that if there was a gradual boundary, perhaps it could cause difficulties. Reentry in real life is quite a dodgy process and even though we would probably perform powered entry to atmospheres, why not use that fact?

For example (bear with me here - I’m making this up as I type): two fighters are circling and trading shots in orbit. They are staying close because of warp interference, making it hard to accelerate away. One does eventually put power to thrusters and dive towards the planet, followed by their opponent.
Upon coming into contact with the atmosphere, the ship’s systems need to go through a transition to planetary flight mode. When at speed, this could perhaps cause instability as it crosses the boundary.
During this transition phase, the ship being chased could use that instability as an opportunity to lose their pursuer, or perhaps turn the tables on him/her.
(And vice versa for leaving an atmosphere)

Might something along these lines provide an incentive to use planetary atmospheres during a fight? Not just as a different location, but as an obstacle itself?

Yes, I think the transition is one of the greatest opportunity for I-Novae and most of the cool scenarios I personally envision centre around transitions, may they be from atmosphere to space, from planetary to interplanetary or whatever.

Throwing all the warp discussion away and concentration on the actual transition from orbit into the atmosphere I envision several effects that could be interesting, challenging, action packed and not that far from unrealistic.

First off could be the atmospheric drag starting to affect the spacecraft. The direction of the craft could determine the amount of drag the craft experiences. Like skydiving! In case of a long ship pointing the nose towards the ground or pulling it up could control the descend.

If a heat system is implemented the shock heating could start making heat managment dificult and using all the power of the internal systems dangerous to the craft itself. So for instance a fighter who uses the air to guide his movement could save power/heat for one or two more shots from his weapons before overheating.

Supersonic speeds make crafts behave strangely … especially if they aren’t designed for it. So spacecraft could be unstable in higher atmospheres and flip out if over-steered. This could make pursuit or evading a game of going to limits and not crossing them. A sharp manoeuvre could land that last hit needed or get you out of enemy fire … but it also could destabilize your craft and make you loose control.

And finally … somewhat atmospheric flight. With drag and some lift. Not airplane like lift but some.

Clouds … talks for itself …

Now deep inside the atmosphere the transition is completed.

How much I-Novae wants to invest into their atmospheric model will determine what of those will pretty much be a given or feel much more “pinned on”.

This whole area was discussed at great length in the old forums. Multiple times. The discussions even went so far as my building a multiplayer 2D full-size solar system environment that explored a couple ways that seamless warp travel might work, based on all those discussions. It was ‘seamless’ in that you could fly between any two destinations in the environment and have a Newtonian experience the whole way.

There were two approaches to warp. Both of them assume that the closer you get to something that disrupts your warp, the slower you moved.


ONE. The original system was structured such that ships were on warp frequencies. Ships on the same warp frequency did not disrupt each other’s warp drives. When two ships on different warp frequencies encountered each other, they would slowly come to a stop wherever they were, and then have to interact with each other.

This system had a couple problems:

A. Smaller ships could intercept larger ships and pin them down. It was EVE Online’s warp disruptors system, but everyone had a perfect warp disruptor. All you had to do was change warp frequencies and go after someone.

B. Interactions between friendlies required either that the friendlies stop and interact, or that they rely on some automated system that allows them to get near each other while still moving at speed. For example, my recollection was that Crayfish, at least, favored automated intercepts.

C. Combat was always stationary when considered from the scale of a solar system. If the fight started halfway between Earth and Mars, that’s where it was going to finish.


TWO. The modified system was one where the original system’s “automated system that allows friendlies to get near each other” became the full time treatment of all ship interactions. There are no warp frequencies. When you are flying in a fighter and approach a battleship, you automatically start to match velocities with it, while it (being the vastly-larger ship) continues to fly around unaffected. It doesn’t matter if it is friend or foe. If it’s a friend, you fly into the hangar. If it’s a foe, you blow up the hangar.

Ships can fly in formation with each other as they fly around a star system. If you want to fly in your shuttle between Star Destroyers as they zip along 1km away from each other at a speed of 0.1AU/s, go for it. It’ll be a trivial task, just like flying between them as if they were stationary.

Intercepting a ship from a distance requires a bit of skill. You’ll have to manage not only your approach vector, but your power level as well. Realize that you can leave your power at 100% and as you approach a ship, your velocity relative to that ship will drop and drop until you are moving at 3km/s relative to it. But if you want to intercept it and stay with it, you’ll want to get your relative velocity down to perhaps 200m/s at time of closure. That’ll be a touchy maneuver, but the warp prototype demonstrated that it’s practical.

Because the modified system lacked warp frequencies to give friendlies free flight when anywhere near each other, there was a rough edge to it where if you were in a busy system, with lots of ships flying between two planets, you would encounter a bit of congestion as ships moving in the opposite direction tried to push you back. Because space is so large and because warp disruption only really kicks in at close distances, any such headwinds tended to be pretty minor. Most of the time, almost nothing at all. Occasionally a momentary pause - and only in congested areas. Smaller ships would just know to stay clear of shipping lanes. Unless they were pirates.

There are piles more scenarios that I could go through, including running fights. The original system precluded the idea of fights that ranged across a star system, while they are standard fare in the modified system. In general, the modified system just worked. Whatever you would do in a small scale Newtonian environment, you could do at the star system scale.

I very much wanted to get my hands on the I-Novae engine so that I could implement the modified warp system in the full engine, but I just lost patience and wasn’t going to invest any more of my time and energy. So now I check back here and watch for interesting gameplay discussions. Sadly, these are not the forums of old.

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Yes I remember that test program and how well it worked. It’s certainly a possibility. Unfortunatley, I guess a lot of us long-timers simply don’t have the energy to recreate some of those discussions! Most of them are probably redundant now anyway.

The point still stands though, as it could get extremely complicated once many ships are introduced like I-Novae is planning. In principle, this warping interaction would still work, but might be hard for the average player to understand what is going on. I have a feeling it would work better for the MMO than I:B.

I-Novae are going to have an interesting challenge: creating a flight combat system that’s reasonably easy to pick up and play (to grab customers), but also one that is innovative and exciting (not just an existing game with a reskin).