Railguns vs Cartridge Weapons

Continuing the discussion from Meeting Notes 3/6/2016:

Considering the wide range of opinions that came up on the matter on the Backer forum, I think a separate thread is in order to discuss this.

This is about the idea that all kinetic weapons in Infinity should just be called and referred to as railguns instead of resembling modern day guns that use cartridges.

I think we have to look into the possible future here. The people proposing against just having railguns seem to consider the technological and engineering state we have today or in the near future while the people proposing for replacing cartridge guns say that railguns would have gained all the advantages cartridge weapons have today by the time of the Infinity Universe.

I think the main reason railguns aren’t used nowadays is the huge amount of current needed, only generatable by big generators you find on a ship and the huge size of the guns.
I think railguns will pretty much follow the same path canons did in the past. Going from big, heavy things that can be only supported by ships or heavy “machinery” (horses) to things weighing half a kilo and wieldable by kids. As well as being only able to shoot once then being reloaded for several minutes to firing several thousands of times a minute.


Is it so far-fetched to imagine that by the point of Battlescape railguns have become the standard projectile weapon replacing all gas operated weapons? I don’t see why we can’t just have high-powered single-shot railguns with a short cooldown and then rotary railguns which have lower velocity but higher rounds per minute.

Given just how powerful and technologically advanced ships are in IBS, I see no reason why we can’t have a machine rail gun.

And why wouldn’t they? Rail guns are faster, which is the main thing you want in a kinetic energy weapon. KE = 1/2*m*v^2 and all that. And with IBS tech, why wouldn’t they have the ability to fire at the same rate as their conventional counterparts?

But I’m going to think of some reasons of why they should be included. Biggest one is the last one. :stuck_out_tongue:

One other advantage of conventional weapons is obviously the lack of energy required to fire. And with IBS tech, why have cool downs or reloads? Just hold the trigger button until the object is destroyed. The only limit is how many bullets you have. If that energy is needed elsewhere, or if you are trying to maintain a low profile (assuming that increased energy usage = higher detection chance), this could be a good attribute to have.

That said, if done correctly audio-wise, I would like to see a Gatling gun or a chemical-based weapon of similar effect enter the scene. Using the same reasoning as the rail guns, they probably also would have advanced in technological capabilities. Why not make them the fastest firing weapons in the game, because METAL STORM EXPLOSIONS MORE BULLETS MWA HA HA HA HAAAAAAA!!!

@xamino You mentioned that a rail gun could fire theoretically fire multiple slugs at the same time.

This is actually in development for conventional weapons: http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/a3226/1281426/

Basically, multiple bullets fired in the same barrel almost simultaneously. There’s a short vid somewhere of someone firing 3 bullets in a modified AR, and the advantage is that the bullets could be fired before the recoil could hit the user. So three bullets with extreme precision.

In other words, development of propellant based weapons aren’t a closed book by any means.

Combine this with a Gatling gun? This is one awesome weapon. Were talking about 1.5 MILLION + ROUNDS PER MINUTE. Getting close and unloading that beast should be worth any misgivings of whether they should exist or not.

Remember, rule of c00l. :wink:


A vid I found on the multiple bullet thing:

True, but another reason is that after a few shots, the rails have to be replaced because they have bent themselves out of shape. IDK about the ones the US Navy is testing, they might have found a solution. Of course, with IBS tech, this shouldn’t be an issue with it’s level of material science.


On the Mikoyan MiG-27 the GSh-6-30 had to be mounted obliquely to absorb recoil. The gun was noted for its high (often uncomfortable) vibration and extreme noise. The airframe vibration led to fatigue cracks in fuel tanks, numerous radio and avionics failures, the necessity of using runways with floodlights for night flights (as the landing lights would often be destroyed), tearing or jamming of the forward landing gear doors (leading to at least three crash landings), cracking of the reflector gunsight, an accidental jettisoning of the cockpit canopy and at least one case of the instrument panel falling off in flight. The weapons also dealt extensive collateral damage, as the sheer numbers of fragments from detonating shells was sufficient to damage aircraft flying within a 200 meter radius from the impact center, including the aircraft firing.


Honestly though. I’m really inbetween when it comes to Gatling Guns. Can someone please describe why exactly they are used even in modern high firerate weapons?
Why and why not would it work in space?

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Yup. Railguns have a heating problem currently too, admittedly, but coilguns could actually benefit from firing in a vacuum. My main point here is that electromagnetic acceleration is vastly superior to today’s weapons: extremely high acceleration of the slug within centimeters, no moving mechanical parts, and reliance only on ammunition and electricity (which would be readily available on a spaceship, although the amount of power draw is significant (which could be used as a reason for diverting power to the various systems to increase rate of fire)).

However the initial point is that weapons used in space will rely on mass-less propulsion wherever possible, thus precluding the use of gunpowder (or any other combustion material). I don’t think anyone would argue against this? I’d be interested to hear a case for it however in case I’m missing some facts (would gunpowder even fire in a vacuum, or would the firing chamber need to be “inside” the pressure vessel?).

On the use of Kinetic Weapons

To make my case against (admittedly cool) rotary canons I’ll start by looking at why we’d use a kinetic energy delivery system as a weapon in space and why railguns / coilguns are better suited to it. I’ll then briefly highlight why I think rotary canons (even as railguns or coilguns) make little sense in my opinion.

Kinetic weapons work by accelerating a mass to high speed and pointing it at someone we have a disagreement with. On impact Newton makes sure that a whole lot of energy is transferred. There are two parameters that I’ll look at that are mainly important to make a kinetic weapon deadly: speed of the projectile and the mass of the same. The goal is to have as heavy a projectile impacting at a as high of a speed as possible. The higher the speed the better the chance we actually hit something: modern weapons are good for a few kilometers; but combat in space will start at thousands of kilometers (beyond kinetic weapons we need self guiding weapons, so torpedoes / missiles). The faster the projectile the less time for the target to evade.

And here we have the first arguments for magnetic acceleration: railguns / coilguns have a theoretical unlimited acceleration, limited chiefly by the amount of power you can put into it at a moments notice. Additionally the acceleration is created by the gun itself, removing the need for the cartridge. This in turn allows for more mass of the projectile to be used as simple mass (small footnote: I believe that future slugs would additionally be self steering, allowing continuous correction while in flight to increase effective range).

All right, so magnetic acceleration is the solution. But why are rotary canons unnecessary?

Rotary Canons

Rotary canons are a solution we use to increase the RPM of conventional weapons. But coilguns have non of the problems that rotary canons try to solve.

Heating, while still an issue, is not as much an issue for magnetic acceleration because the slug a) doesn’t even touch the barrel in the case of coilguns and b) the efficiency of electromagnetic acceleration is a lot higher than by explosive force, resulting in comparatively little waste heat. There still is waste heat, of course, but it should be way more manageable.

Rapid automatic reloading is a non issue for magnetic acceleration: the slug must simple be fed into the back of the acceleration structure. This can be as simple as pushing it into the barrel continuously. Since the recoil doesn’t need to be transferred from the cartridge to the gun, the cap of the barrel in the back that conventional weapons require is unneeded. The acceleration structure is thus a simple open ended cylinder, where slugs are pushed into the barrel from one side and exit it very quickly on the other side. And since we need no time to physically reload a railgun / coilgun (note that energy must be available, but that does not hinder the speed at which slugs could be loaded into the barrel) we can theoretically shoot as many slugs from a single barrel as physically fit inside of it at the same time, safe for the spacing we require to account for the acceleration of following slugs.

And that is, I think, the actual RPM limit that railguns / coilguns will be constrained by in the future. But this issue is solved a lot simpler by having multiple barrels next to each other without them rotating.

To top this off the problem with a kinetic weapon that has a high RPM fire rate will in the end always be determined by something else: the capacity of the slugs you can carry with you to shoot with. Once you have a solid firing solution you want to accelerate a large amount of projectiles at it in as short of a time as you can – but you’ll never hold down the trigger and empty your magazine at once because then you’ll have nothing for the next target. Realistically the gun would only fire a short burst, containing enough slugs travelling at a sufficiently high speed that they’ll hit with enough kinetic force to punch a hole in the other parties spaceship.


Rotating coilguns / railguns are completely unnecessary from a realism point of view, adding unnecessary mechanical complexity for no gain.


This is a separate post because I don’t want to mix this with my long one.

Cool, but you still need to reload after firing all of the bullets within the barrel, and the reloading there is even more complex mechanically. While this is great for conventional weapons, they’d still lose against coilguns when it comes to RPM and the amount of projectiles a burst would fire, I think.

But cool nonetheless. :smiley:

I think they could be used in space, I just don’t think they’d stand a chance against railguns / coilguns. Heat dissipation would still be a large problem however. Yes, you can still cool the barrels somehow, but it would only make the weapon increasingly sophisticated, which in turn reduces its reliability and increases its complexity.

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Yeah, rail guns (how about Gauss Cannons?) have the edge admittingly in terms of prolonged use with higher RPMs. It would pretty much have to be a high caliber high explosive single burst beast of a gun to be useful in a way rails can’t.

But there’s nothing that says that it can’t be used as a last-measure missile interception system. We have lazers, but a secondary system would be cool. The missile probably won’t be doing much maneuvering right before it hits its target, so maybe lazers are the medium range defense, while metal storms are used for short range. Anti-missile-missiles for long range. Oh, and the original missiles can have anti-missile-missile-missiles attached to it. :stuck_out_tongue:

The only other reason to use conventional weapons is because they sound cooler. Maybe. :wink:

[quote=“xamino, post:5, topic:3075”]
would gunpowder even fire in a vacuum, or would the firing chamber need to be “inside” the pressure vessel?
[/quote] Yes, inside a cartridge is already air tight. Cartridges have both a powder and an oxidizer, there’s no way to get the oxygen needed otherwise.

That all being said, if Infinity is going with rail/coil guns that fire with ridiculous RoF and don’t have material failures (I don’t see anything ever overcoming the heat stress of loading and unloading capacitors that quickly, electricity is a fickle beast), then gatling is unnecessary. I would have to run the numbers (or if someone wants to do it who hasn’t been out of school for six years), but I’m guessing we don’t have rapid fire rails due to more than just power supply issues.

If it is going with chemical weapons, though, gatlings are not just cool, but very much practical.


Xamino mentioned the maximum speed and yes that’s true. Indeed the gasses created by a chemical explosion have a maximum speed capped at the speed of sound of that gas/material.

Gaus/Coil weapons are cool and all. But the magnetic field there is used a lot differently and which cause a lot more losses than it in rail guns. Rail guns are more efficient by desing.

Also I guess the main reason for rotating barrels is related to the main reason support machine guns have quick change barrels. To allow the firing team to switch the barrel and continue firing even if the first barrel overheats.
The rotating barrels help by distributing the heat and cooling the barrel in the split second it’s not in use.

We could also assume that Railguns have achieved supreme efficiency in the future and don’t generate a lot of waist heat at all. Using superconductors, the waist heat of the electrical support circuitry could also be reduced to minimal levels. The rest is fed into the ships heat capacity, like with blasters.

What I would like to see I something else from the art team. Maybe they can come up with something new and exciting that isn’t another gatling gun.

Anyone have some cool (anime) futuristic kinetic weaponry artwork?

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I have a question: What difference does it make, for the game, between railguns / coilguns / cartridge guns? They are just names, attached to statistics.

Infinity can have any gun whatsoever, the gun is, strictly speaking, a meaningless name attached to meaningful stats.

Maybe the first question in the debate should be: what performance parameters should guns have? Why does Infinity have guns and what should be used for?

I am a fan of the idea that guns and missiles are the preferred in-atmosphere weapon, while lasers / plasma weapons are space weapons. But that still doesn’t solve the question of gun gameplay.

As for the actual gun discussion, the reason railguns aren’t used today is because they are still being developed. Rail erosion, power generation, pulse-forming networks are all unsolved engineering problems which are under active development. This makes no difference for Infinity, where the gameplay exists outside the technology.


That’s the other side of the same coin. Each should be pursued. If the wrong fiction is chosen, players will dismiss the game as uninteresting, despite well-tuned gameplay.

To add to the debate, consider that combustion is not the only way to produce expansion. For all I know, there can be materials that can switch between two states very rapidly - one compressed and the other expanded - that can deliver stored energy in an extremely efficient way, without significant heating. So, as you say, it is the gameplay that really matters.

Here’s a video of a guy with an automatic coilgun capable of 720 rounds per minute. When firing on automatic, it sounds like an old WWI machine gun. The slugs are coins and the velocity is extremely low - required by the fact that he’s working off wall current. But it’s interesting to watch.

If there are kinetic weapons, my vote is for coilguns. The technology seems well-suited to the environment, it’s something that few people have experience with, and the parameters of the weapon can be controlled on the fly. It may be possible to have a variable-caliber coil gun. It’s a shame a coilgun doesn’t involve any interesting sights or sounds. The rounds just go. The gun will need tracer rounds of some sort. Obviously not the sort that rely on heating from passing through a gas.

Note that solid projectiles in space just keep going. There’s no fictional reason that you cannot work up to some ludicrous speed, point at an enemy space station and cut loose with your kinetic weapons. It may take hours for the rounds to arrive, but they’ll hit just as hard as if they were fired from 100 meters away.


Choose the name based upon the fiction and the gameplay based upon gameplay design. The two have absolutely no relation to each other right now.

(Assuming that the gun behaves within the normal spectrum of gun types)

That’s why this discussion is taking place.

I’m confused, though, what is the discussion? Is it about lore or gameplay? Trying to conflate the two right now is a mistake.

It’s about the lore and appearance.

Sometimes to have lore you have to imagine how it would work ingame. One doesn’t depend on the other though and believability can be achieved from little adjustment on both sides.

Ok, if lore is downstream of gameplay, which I agree, then why don’t we wait until the gameplay is solidified?

Railguns can take any behavior of chemical guns, it is just a different way of providing energy to the bullet.

Even raingun gatling guns make sense, as the purpose is to allow barrels time to cool off before another round is fired.

Because some of us aren’t sure or satisfied by the wording I-Novae put out. Let me quote “machine guns and cannons”.

I believe we have to talk about it and not just accept that. Maybe they are wrong, maybe we don’t want machine guns and canons. Maybe we do.

As you said, it has nothing to do with the actual gameplay. But it plays a role in how players perceive the gameplay, the weapons. And as such we should discuss them now before the art team has allready modeled, textured and finished “machine guns and cannons”.

Not that “machine guns and cannons” would be bad or that I want to hold them on every single word they say. They are just giving them names for now to give us an idea. But who knows if they stick or not if we don’t talk about it.


To be perfectly honest, I imagined kinetic weapon systems very similar to Elite’s cannons and multicannons, but with much higher velocity rounds that you might expect from railguns rather than slow moving, conventional rounds (but not so fast that there’s no need to lead the shot).

Elite’s cannons sound very mechanical, if that can be considered an appropriate description, so you can add a hint of “energy” to it to make it feel like the rounds are being accelerated by some magnetic force rather than a conventional firing mechanism.

heh, you guys are kind of missing my point. But I suppose that’s my fault for not actually saying what my point is :wink:

From a game’s perspective, people almost expect rail guns to be a sniper setup, and other types of kinetic/cartridge projectiles to be dog fighting up-close awesome combat with flight stick thing (or whatever).

If all the guns were rail guns and just different classes, some for sniping some for up-close combat, I suppose that would be alright too. I’m just saying from a usability perspective and what people expect to see the weapon trees break down as, then rail guns are for sniping and Gatling guns are for up-close.

That’s what I, and a couple of other people, have suggested. I think most people seem to have this impression of railgun projectiles as being infinitely fast thanks to games like Quake and Unreal, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have high power and low power (rotary) railguns.