Spherical ships


Love how you think armor would play any part in any post FTL engagement, today’s tanks are capable of shooting through nearly half a meter of solid composite armor with reactive armor on top of that half a meter.

Nukes even today are basically unstoppable once they hit the target and some thermobaric weapons chew through meters of reinforced concrete. Defense in such a high energy offensive environment would be shields and mobility, if you can pump a few GW of power into a shield you can probably survive a direct nuke hit, armor just has no place in future of space.


There actually are interesting space armour designs - for an extended definition of armour, in some cases.

You’ll have to handwave detections levels at what you want anyway, as high-thrust propellantless drives are space magic, and high-thrust propellantless drives that can’t be trivially used as mass-destruction weapons requires divine intervention.

And yet today’s tanks are able to withstand a direct hit from another tank in their front armour. In fact, recently, a video from Syria caught the attention of military analysts by showing a modern T-90 tank getting hit by an equally modern TOW anti-tank missile. The result was a mission kill, but the tank was not destroyed, neither the crew killed: the tank was still repairable - and that’s after getting hit by a modern weapon dedicated to destroy it.
So don’t give armour for dead yet.

For space, it depends too much on assumptions to give a definitive answer, but as the above link shows, there are working design ideas for space armour.

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So here’s the real question: if we have propellant-less drives and relativistic speeds, what is the point of this game? A baseball becomes a moon-ender, a bowling ball a planet-ender.

If we’re talking games (which was my interpretation) and you don’t want it to be Counter Strike In Space (one shot kills, super twitchy and boring as fuck), you’re going to need armor and weapons that can’t just be evaded.

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There are fictions that permit the two to coexist. They remain magic (e.g. Planck-length teleportation that requires vacuum), but don’t require divine intervention.


Well in that case it would be because nobody actually wants to destroy moons or planets. Just look at settings where they have that capability. It doesn’t come up very much.


Shields is the key word here, armour is heavy and restricted to energy values based on its composition, right now mass is a huge no-no for space travel and that should carry over into the future, shields on the other hand are basically free, if we had them now you could send the current spacecraft into battle against IBS spaceships.

Also since we hand wave heat dissipation and energy generation, shields could have energy values many times more than any armour material could produce, armour is basically just for structural integrity.


This might be the case when both sides are fighting for control of an infinite vacuum. However keep in mind that the three factions are vying for control for the use of a solar system and it’s planetary bodies. Blowing them up isn’t in anybody’s interest. Also, Newton’s second law and all that (inset ME reference here). For this reason, the velocity of the projectiles may be limited due to some treaty, just to eliminate the chance that something might be accidentally destroyed other than the target.

So I would say that I’m against relativistic weapons, not because it’s unrealistic in the game universe, just unpractical.

If keeping with the relativistic weapons and everybody wants to keep the planets intact, the battles become instantly stupid. All anybody would do is to try to position themselves between the enemy and a planet, and the enemy would try to do the same, as nobody would risk destroying the planet.

In the game universe, material science would be far, far beyond today’s understanding or imagination. The lore states that ships hulls are made from some super-hard super-dense material, and there’s no reason to say 10,000+ years into the future that even relativistic weaponry have trouble breaching it’s hull. But with the velocity of the weapon being limited, then there’s even more reason to believe that armour has a role in ship defense. Obviously as a last defense, but a defense none the less.

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One thing that has been bugging me lately, is how shields would work on energy-based weapons.
If we are talking about rockets and bullets, a shield could work as a kind of force field, that significantly slows down the projectile, thus lowering the impact damage dealt (Could also be a way to justify armor in the game ‘the shield slows down the projectile, but it is still going to hit the hull - better plate it’). The force-field type of shield approach wouldn’t really work on energy weapons, as those don’t really have any mass that can be forced back.
We could explain shields as a way to scatter the laser, making it less effective (by basically firing a laser at the laser thats shooting at us. This wouldn’t stop the laser completely, but would probably make it less effective - oh hey, suddenly armor gets relevant again.
We could also try to explain shields as a way that absorbs the energy transmitted by the laser. But what to do with the energy? Fuel your own laser with it and shoot it back towards the enemy who’s attacking you? That would probably make lasers a bit useless, if both ships keep sending the energy back to each other, with only relatively little amount of energy lost in the transmission process… That would make for some boring ass fight.
You could try to waste the energy of the enemies ship by just firing the energy off to any direction.
Another question would be: How do you break such a shield? The first thing that comes to mind is by sending more energy through the laser than the shield is able to absorb, overloading the important components, frying them, and effectively destroying the shield. That would however lead to a situation where you can either instantly destroy a ship’s shields, or never destroy them at all. So you’d have to introduce wear and tear on the components, Basically a capacitor wearing out due to the high stress, which then needs to be replaced. This could add a potentially interesting management aspect to the fight, and would give a meaning to support ships, where the fighters can dock and refill their fried equipment.

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What a shield would work on and what it wouldn’t is completely dependant on what you want it to be in IBS. There is no rule in reality that forbids asymmetric warfare, asymmetric warfare is what every military actually wants, destroy the enemy without them having an ability to fight back. Just look at the current world situation, there are probably less than a dozen countries on Earth that can defend themselves in warfare with the US, for most going against their weapons is not even an option, not to mention the nuclear arsenal that is restricted to very few.

As for some small scale skirmishes where everyone is equal, like it’s supposed to be in IBS and it being a game, a conversation from the old forums comes to mind, shields-armour-structure, that’s supposed to give the most elaborate gameplay choices.

As for relativistic weapons problem, we have a very similar problem with nukes today and that problem is nearly non existent because of laws rather than ability. It’s the same as fearing guns before they are invented and saying but you can just walk up to a person and kill them, this can’t be allowed, or saying that nukes are not allowed to exist because they can destroy whole cities, we make the rules and systems that mitigate problems like these, as there is no one to stop a terrifying technology from existing.


I think you might’ve missed my point. It’s not about limiting asymmetric gameplay, but about finding a way to define the rules of how a shield works in the game world and tie it to traits and stats of the shield in a believable way. It is possible that absorb type, forcefield type and scatter type shields exist at the same time, but it should be made clear, what the difference between those is. Not just stat-wise, but also lore-wise.

Just saying ‘it’s a magical shield with x hp’ just doesn’t cut it any more. You need to explain why it has x hp and why it magically blocks energy, plasma and projectile-based weapons at the same time.


I would rate it in energy per cm2 or something similar, everything with higher energy rates goes through with it’s energy reduced proportionally.

Also I didn’t miss your point, my point was that we are a bunch of geeks dreaming of space combat and trying very hard to balance everything so that it’s fair while justifying it as perfectly reasonable and logical, in reality combat is not fair, you will get killed without warning just because a ship has that XX flag on it.


I don’t know of any fiction that allows for torchship-level drives that aren’t usable as mass-destruction weapon. Plank-length teleportation in vacuum, for example, can be used to harvest gravitational potential energy again and again until you get enough for relativistic planet busters. And even if we handwave it as not working well enough in gravitational wells, you can still harvest magnetic potential energy and so on. That is, assuming the teleportation conserves momentum - if not, we’re back at divine intervention needed.
I mean, sure, we could come up with a contrived set of rules that would prevent using it as a MDW in any way, but there would be so much handwave that you would need God’s hand for it (what I mean by divine intervention).

That would be Joule per m² or Watt per m².
But before going there, we should have gameplay in mind. It’ll be easier to come up with good gameplay and a believable fiction that is coherent with it than the opposite.

Also, I wouldn’t handwave heat dissipation away, as it could make for a great gameplay element as well as great visuals.


I’m aware of what energy is measured in…

Didn’t we go through the heat management issue a long time ago, you have to nerf it to the point of insignificance for it to be represented in a game, you would need heat sinks larger than ships to dissipate MW or GW of heat generated by the ship cores.

Also, since nearly every space combat game is essentially WW2 in space and so is IBS, looking at that period should provide the best guide to gameplay.


Yes. A thousand times, yes.

So you assert. Good science fiction is defined by being able to present those contrived rules in a palatable way. Essentially all science fiction is rubbish when examined in detail because various consequences are always handwaved so that the entertaining consequences can be explored.

[quote=“cybercritic, post:50, topic:3269”]
Didn’t we go through the heat management issue a long time ago, you have to nerf it to the point of insignificance for it to be represented in a game, you would need heat sinks larger than ships to dissipate MW or GW of heat generated by the ship cores.[/quote]

If the ships have magic drives, they can have magic heat dissipation systems that work off essentially the same basic technology. As ThornEel said, look to gameplay first, then fiddle with the fiction. Heat management is a good gameplay construct because it has to do with creating consequences for intensive ship operations.

If not heat management, then mechanical stress on structures, conduits, launchers and so forth. Such stresses are self-healing because of the material that the systems are built from (or there are nanobots or whatever constantly trying to repair stress fractures), but particularly heavy use requires action by the player.

The point is to come up with the gameplay statements:

Statement: Intense, sustained use of ship systems produces a problem that the player must manually address. The player’s options in addressing the problem will negatively influence their ability to use ship systems. The negative influence should be on systems other than the systems that produced the problem.

This means that firing your weapons a lot will eventually cause your sensors to go wonky, requiring recalibration (which requires you to pump out a massive sensor ping while close to a massive body). Or that running your drive at high power for a long time will eventually cause your jump drive to take longer to cycle, requiring a reset (which involves a zero-length jump). And so on. The heat problem says that doing intensive stuff will generate heat which can alter the ship’s visibility on sensors, requiring a heat dump.

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I feel that is a spaghetti bowl of ideas that would require a lot of fiction and handwavium in the long run also the idea itself is very circumstantial and equally spaghetti like, you want micromanagement of modules based on circumstances and then consequences that come from the actions you take based on more circumstances.

It’s a logical nightmare and that is only for a small gameplay segment, if they follow this design method, every other aspect of the game would be an equal spaghetti bowl, I’m shivering at the thought of implementation and balancing…

Do I even need to point out the subjective nature of the method, we can hardy agree on definitions on this forum, why should a weapon cause the sensor to malfunction instead of the engine or targeting, why should you need to send a pulse instead of having to enter the atmosphere, why should you…

Sure if it was one guy deciding everything, it might work, in a somewhat democratic setting it’s a nightmare.


I feel like we’ve long departed the realm of spaghetti bowl. It started as a thread of “I think this would be practical because XYZ” and has become a list of impractical theories to try and shoehorn it into working, to include shields that somehow absorb more energy than physical matter can.

I won’t say spheres are bad per se, I just don’t understand the why. As a cargo carrier, yes, they make sense. As a warship, I think we’ve already mentioned plenty of reasons as to why they are impractical. If you’re going to introduce non-reality, you have to sell your own non-reality as the one with the greatest appeal, and to a crowd such as Infinity’s, things are going to have to be as realistically explained as possible to be desirable.


A tangent that somebody brought up in the thread. It has nothing to do with spherical ships. Nor do discussions about propellant-less ships, relativistic ships smacking planets and so forth.

I’m sorry, but I missed that bit. Could you list one? One that doesn’t also apply to Battlescape ships?


Actually, the propellant-less ship is relevant, because you used it as the excuse to avoid having exhaust ports, which would have to be simultaneously facing every direction and a glaring weakness.

You claim that combat occurs in space from all directions, but it really doesn’t: if you don’t know where your enemy is in space, then you’re doing it wrong. It’s not hard to see objects in space. There are two ways this goes: super long range combat with physical or tightly focused energy weapons (in which case you know the general area attacks should be coming from) or short range combat…in which case, you know where the enemy is coming from. Let’s analyze these situations:

  1. Super Long Range Combat: weapons are either slow enough to dodge (i.e. useless) or will be impacting the ship with an acceptable degree of accuracy.
    1.a. In the first situation where weapons are useless, it doesn’t matter what shape your ship is. Since you should have some idea where they are, spinal mounted guns can be bigger than mobile guns on the surface, long and thing provides the smallest profile to the enemy while allowing the largest caliber of weaponry. Additionally, putting all your armor on “THIS SIDE TOWARDS ENEMY” will drastically reduce weight and/or allow thicker armor.
    1.b. Weaponry with an acceptable degree of accuracy means having half the diameter of the target being less than ideal in armor thickness is a huge disadvantage. Again, by making the shape a cube, you make it very easy to point the correct angle towards the enemy to maximize armor effectiveness. Even if you want to argue that you can move the sphere, you can rotate and move the cube to drastically increase armor thickness to near-infinite. Thirty degrees from parallel is twice as thick, and that’s without adding in a second slope (reference pike-nose armor from previously mentioned WoT).

  2. Close Range Combat: This goes two ways: ships are too slow to reliably flank you, and ships are fast enough to reliably flank you.
    2.a. If they are too slow to reliably flank you, reference situation 1.a.
    2.b. If they are fast enough to reliably flank you, reference situation 1.b, but add in that you can, with a cube, find an “ideal” angle (note: not bounce everything thrown your way angle, just the most threatening target) compared to the sphere that can bounce nothing extra than what a sphere will naturally bounce.

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In a 100v100 engagement, it does. If you disagree with that, then we just disagree because that’s the basic assumption behind the value of spherical ships.


In Battlespace possibly, but not in any sort of real space combat we can foresee today. Space engagements would be:

  • Between extremely distant opponents. For example Earth sending a drone constellation against Mars, engagement will be at maximum range (up to light seconds and more, depending on tech), where the swarm and the defence grid are far enough to be in one direction for each-other (probably in a very small angle). They are also most probably converging very fast toward each-other, at the very least with km/s of relative velocities.
  • In orbital space. For example, Space Brazil attacks Space Australia for the final showdown, winner takes Earth. Then, things are either at close range, at point-blank range or hidden behind the curvature of Earth. Anything that can take a hit is, for all intents and purposes, an orbital fortress, not a ship - even if they may have some thrusting capability outside of the scope of this engagement. Laser and particle weapons are near-instant, projectile weapons are guided and way faster than crafts. Manoeuvre and drunkwalking may help degrade targeting or force projectile to use more delta-v, but shapes will be dominated by function - for example a coilgun will be long and thin. There may be some interest to show the smallest cross-section at the enemy, too
  • A surprise attack. A Q-ship suddenly popping a railgun right before docking, a superlaser from the “science vessel” passing by, a surprise RKV barely outrun by its own light… Then the shape of your craft doesn’t matter much, because they are already under your main defence, information warfare. In other words, you’re already screwed anyway.

So apart from engineering advantage for some types of craft, in none of those cases does a spherical shape gives an edge (pun not intended).

If we go for fiction (other than battlescape), spherical shapes may make sense in some massive engagements, but not all.
In Legend of Galactic Heroes, for example, warfleets are often made of tens of thousands of battleships, but those are flying in wall formation, facing the enemy at long range. As such, they are shaped as giant gun batteries with a ship around and engines at the rear, giving a long shape with a smaller cross-section facing the enemy.
On the other hand, the Iselhorn Fortress (charged with guarding space in the middle of a strategic transit point) is spherical. It is a 60km sphere with its own gravity, a liquid metal ocean for armour and giant mobile weapon platforms as turrets. And it has an anti-fleet superlaser to punch a hole in battleship walls - which fires from behind the surface, so the enemy can’t see where it is aiming at.
Basically, it’s the Death Star but designed by an Empire that is actually competent at it. And it is spherical with mobile weapons precisely because at its massive scale and limited to non-existent manoeuvre capabilities, it will be encircled.
Here, your rationale for a spherical ship is indeed justified and used to great effect in combat.