Technology - Realism - And Player Roles in Space Combat

Continuing the discussion from How much realism in the Infinity Universe?:

The aforementioned thread has taken a turn towards combat gameplay and targeting computers. While this discussion is definitely relevant to the topic of "Realism in the infinity universe, I’d like to expand the subject and discuss a different aspect of Space Combat “Realism.”

A while back I read an article on “Aircraft Carriers in Space” on the Foreign Policy news site, (This link made the rounds on I-Novae Twitter feeds) and found it to be a very interesting read. The comments section is particularly interesting, as many defend the purpose / roles fighters and support aircraft could take in Space combat scenarios. (definitely with sci fi tech flair)

Link to the original Article here. You’ll probably need to create a free account to read it, but I’d say it’s worth a read.

Besides the article being an interesting and enlightening read… the interviewee makes some points against Aircraft Carriers in Space, as well as the roles traditional fighters would play in space combat.

After reading the interview I have some questions for discussion:

Do you see a unique role that fighters could provide, that capital ships / battleships could not?

“In Defense of Carriers” (which I assume we want) What practical roles (given the Infinity universe) could they serve in addition to carrying smaller ships for deployment? Given the previous question, how do the fighters and carriers work together to support a larger fleet?

We definitely want first person fighter combat in Battlescape, (of course) so what are some possible roles that various craft could play…

  • Fighters (payload delivery sysetms), carrier defense, high mobility fleet defense.
  • Carriers (medic/engineer roles, as well as distance transport roles),
  • Battleships (heavy support, “tank”),
  • more?

This thread has also begun a discussion on Large scale fleet battles. I’d consider it relevant to this discussion as well, since our goal is to create the Massive fleet battles we see in many Sci-Fi movies and TV series.

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One thing that immediately comes to my mind when I think about fighters and their role is that they are very mobile unlike large ships.
Fighters can attack large ships/structures on “weak points” (like Luke Skywalker did when he attacked the death star).

Fighters can still be relevant in space, I think. They could be cloaky sneak attack ships that could get away quickly with their small size. Carriers could maybe have scouts aboard. Fighters could be a swarm shot out of a carrier to disable a ship before it could fight back. What fighters would really be good for are electronic warfare roles. Maybe draining power, slowing ships down, disabling targeting, etc. It is scifi, some creativity is needed. Carriers, being the big and bulky ships they are, could serve as a sort of mobile base of operations for the whole fleet.

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No need for a free account:

  1. Hit F12
  2. Find the body tag
  3. Delete ‘overlay-no-scroll’ from the class attribute
  4. Scroll down until you find a div with id=“TB_window”
  5. Select that div and hit your delete key.

Or paste this JS into the console:


an easier way is to reload the page until the text appears and then stop the reload, this way the javascript that creates the overlay wont be executed but I guess some people like it complicated :wink:

If you really want to go for realism in SF, you first need to read the Atomic Rockets website. Yes, all of it.

The bad news is, there can be no such thing as a “conventional” space fighter. You could have light, one-person craft for specialized roles in some edge cases, but even then it’s stretching the definition of space fighter thin.

As I assume that we want twitch-controlled space fighters anyway for Infinity, we have to use some very heavy handwaving anyway. So the important thing to keep is not exactly realism, but believability.
We can already see that with ship design. Infinity ships look great, but absolutely not realistic - to begin with, they are boats-in-space, while “behind” should be “below” instead (like for rockets). Similarly, fuel-less engines and warp drive aren’t realistic either. What those are, though, is believable. They are (or at least have to be) self-consistent and differ from our reality by controlled changes. For example, ship design follow consistent guidelines, and ships have to be slowed down when closing on planets (or fuel-less drives would be absolute, unstoppable planet-busters - conveniently, it’s also necessary due to the engine needing time to generate the landscape).

It’s probably to have more of a bottom-up approach, going for what gameplay elements we want and work the rules that enforce it from there.
This is actually how Infinity’s FTL was designed (even if the details are not set in stone yet): a jump drive for interstellar travel, probably not present in I:B but necessary for the future MMO, and a warp drive so we actually travel around worlds and enjoy the full-scale star system without needing hours of travel to do so.

So we have space fighters. Which means human pilots, and close-range combat.
Close-range combat can be explained by how the warp works: to interact with another spaceship, you need to be close enough to see it; and it also set a max relative speed limit in the warp interaction “arena”. This way, no light-second lasers and other interplanetary artillery.

For human pilots, it means that the degree of available automation is fairly low, something like the end of our XXe century with human-piloted fighters and limited auto-aim weapons/early drones if we want so for the gameplay. How we enforce this level of automation is a bit more complicated, but a mix of differently architectured computers (let’s say they use optical analogue computers), ubiquitous risks of hacking/disruption of all but the simplest military hardware and general distrust of high-end automation following a few nasty accidents (from rogue Von Newman dumb replicators to full-blown grey-gooed Skynet) to stop R&D in this direction and you should be able to explain any level of automation we want. It would also explain why a cockpit is still needed, if cameras suffer from the same limitations.

Why are ships belly-landers (even those who don’t land), I have no idea, though.

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I think it makes sense, to make the roles similar to modern military airplane and ship roles. I agree with ThornEel, they only have to be believable. Classic military roles are also very relatable.

I found some information on wikipedia regarding combat roles:

Regardless of the concept, in the end the challenge is making it work in the game…

Is air-to-ground/atmospheric combat planned, or will battles mostly take place in space?

I find it rather frustrating that after all the time and energy that went into the numerous discussions on the old forum, rather than make that available you are asking us to have those same discussions again from scratch, without even the old ones for reference.

Sorry for the little outburst but it’s very frustrating knowing the data is just sitting there.

Even if you are looking at it internally, there are so many posts and SMF’s search was so bad that I can’t imagine you’re able to extract much useful information from it.


A modern fighter’s value comes from speed and altitude. The speed gives them the ability to get around quickly, be where they’re needed, etc. The altitude gives them a better view of their surroundings. A surface ship can only see so far, while an aircraft can see a very long way from their altitude.

So if the smallest ship classes were much faster than the larger ship classes, you’d get a lot of the feel of aircraft vs surface ships.

In the warp prototype, all ships had the same top speed, but different acceleration rates. If fighters, corvettes and hunters were 10, 5, and 2 times faster than frigates, you’d make those classes of ship very useful for the roles that modern fighters and bombers have. Balance the firepower of the small classes against the large and you’d retain the usefulness of the larger classes. In WWII, aircraft simply outclassed surface ships, rendering them largely irrelevant.

As for altitude, it could be said that a ship moving at high speed has better sensor quality. Of course, the smaller the ship, the more primitive the sensors, but it makes for interesting possibilities. Want to know what’s going on in the system? Get your fighters ‘up’ and have them look around. They fly at speed and run their sensors. The sensors don’t see everything, but they’ll be configured to spot the most important stuff.

Note that small ships also offer the potential for quick field repairs. Sticking with the naval tradition, larger ships get repaired in dry dock while smaller ships can be reassembled, repaired, rebuilt and such onboard the larger ships. So if there’s a fight and your big ship is hit, it stays hit until it retires for repairs. But if your little stuff is beat up, you can repair it and send it back out again.

In short, small ships are different from large because you make them different. If they are different, they’ll be used differently.

I advise staying away from naval categories of ships, and especially trying to work in infantry roles. And certainly stay away from fantasy roles of tanks, healers and that stuff You’ve got a very different game world and you’re trying to show its uniqueness. You better create some unique gameplay for it.

One approach brought up on the old forums was that if you want to do anything interesting in the game, you need to stop somewhere specific to do it. Building stuff, invading stuff, trading stuff, etc. Those things all take some amount of time to complete. If you stop while hostiles are around, you’re going to get hammered. They can shoot you while moving but you can’t do your thing while moving. So you either have to fight or leave.

But the starting point here is not “What roles can different ships fill” but “What activities will players engage in”. From there, it’s “What is the gameplay surrounding those activities?”. Then we can figure out what ship roles can be created to tackle those activities.

A simple example of this chain is deciding that surface installations can be invaded and captured. That’s an activity. The gameplay is to send ground troops and supplies to the surface installation to capture it. Troops will be wounded, requiring evacuation to a medical facility. Supplies will be destroyed, requiring replacement. Enemy ships will arrive to defend. They’ll also want to resupply and evacuate their own troops. And so on. Fighter patrols? Frigate screens? Mine layers and mine sweepers? Electronic warfare? Build the gameplay for a basic activity, then play it a bit and embellish it as you go. The ship roles will jump out at you.

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My first thoughts are to go over the existing and proven systems and see if they conflict with the intended gameplay for IBS.

So there are two major types of roles in current games, infantry based and fantasy based, and even those lines are somewhat blurred. For instance a medic role in BF is nearly the same as a healer in WOW. Anyway here are some roles adopted to Infinity.

I would also like to stress that any single role has a few sub-roles, this is there to make that role more engaging than just doing the same thing over and over. I will try to include two sub-roles for each role. Making the secondary role a team specific ability, further solidifies the intent for team-play. The actual proposed details of the roles are a bit raw and are debatable, open to personal preference.

  • Scout
    Scout is a fighter ship, it’s fast, it has good sensors. One of scout’s roles is to identify threats “beyond horizon”, “horizon” is basically invented by having other ships’ sensors not being able to sense at the same detail level over large distances. A capital ship might be aware that there is a enemy strike group at a specific place, but unable to get details of that enemy force, scouts are sent out to get these details. Team role being, “Target Painting”, this is an ability that interacts with other friendly ships, it could be anything from painting an enemy turret for a capital ship, to painting other fighters. Once the target is painted the friendly unit gets a bonus on that target. Some inherent basic properties could be, low hit-points and good engines.

  • Fighter
    The fighter is your basic infantry grunt, it’s average on hit-points and weapons. Fighter is designed to counter other small craft, if a scouts get careless and gets to near, it’s an easy kill. Bombers and Support Craft are also prime targets. You basically want your fighters making up the majority of the strike force, they are there to take care of other small craft, they are good general purpose craft. With such a diverse opponent match, I’m not too sure if the fighter should have a fixed secondary role, it could just be an “Equipment Role”, I will discuss those in a bit.

  • Support Craft
    This small class ship is there to help out the team. It has good hit-points and some heavier weapons, heavier weapons allow it engage components of enemy capital ships, but also makes it capable of engaging other small ships. It’s trade-off for the bigger weapons could be that it uses projectile weapons and as such requires rearming or has a long reload period. The secondary team role of the support craft is to fix things, it comes equipped with a repair beam, this allows it to repair components on friendly capital ships and other small craft.

  • Bomber
    This is a small craft, heavy and needs cover, it has very high hit-points, low engine power and some very heavy weapons. It’s primary weapon is slow firing, maybe even a slow projectile that takes a while to reach it’s target. It’s second weapon is a bomb or missile, these are there to take out components on enemy capitals. Secondary team role for this ship could be dropping an “Anchor”, an anchor is basically a hardened drone that gives bonuses to other craft or their specialties, it could also be a resource node of some sort.

  • Medium Craft
    Medium crafts, they are there to fend off the small craft and engage the large craft. Instead of these crafts having set roles and thus repeating the small craft role structure; I think it’s would be better that these crafts are heavily customizable, players of these crafts can specialize in any role and any combination of the small craft roles using equipment. You want a heavy scout to lead your scouts, or a gun boat to rip through the front? A good team role for this type of craft would be squad command, essentially small craft are assigned their medium craft and the medium craft receive their orders from the capitals.

  • Capitals
    I’m not sure if capitals will be RTS controlled or not, but capitals are basically territory projectors. They also fit well into a role of strategic command and control, giving orders to squads lead by the medium ships. They are there to repair and rearm small craft and medium craft, they are there to broad-side that shield-less enemy capital, they are the re-spawn points.

  • Equipment Roles
    Giving the option to small and medium craft to specialize and pick their sub-roles is probably a good idea. If a scout wants to repair something, give it inefficient equipment that can repair, if it wants to carry a bomb, give it a small bomb. Basically a small/less efficient version of the equipment of each specialized role can be made available to other roles.

I would encourage us having smaller subcategories in those. Much like eve online, we could have interceptors, basic frigates etc. What I’m curious about is your mention of hit points. I remember asking the Devs about a damage model for battlescape. I proposed a system like “Warthunder” where individual parts on a vehicle can be damaged, like crew and armour, as well as ammunition, engines, suspension, etc. I believe there was some kind of confirmation that this was going to happen.

Basically how this model works is that there are different penetration values, the caliber of projectile, the type (HE, AP etc) of projectile, and the strength of the vehicles parts. If the armour was thicker, it had a better chance of deflecting or slowing the projectile. If the projectile penetrated, then there would be internal damage, decreasing the effectiveness of the tank over time. For example, a penetrating shot may have hit the turret, and disabled firing for 10 seconds. A hit to the ammo rack would be game over. This would really work well for battlescape.

Of course, we might start with hitpoints earlier on in development, but eventually, we might be able to fit ships with different plating, adding or taking away maneuverability. I think this is more important than having rigid roles set out. This way we can be creative.

What you are saying really reminds me of some discussions on the old forum. We covered all that quite extensively. I agree with what you are saying, at the end of the day, it’s a decent amount of work for the devs and they should see if it’s possible to get this amount of detail done within their budget and time constraints.

(We covered this before WoT existed ;))

Not sure how much back thought went into your comment, but a lot of this seems kind of arbitrary.

Planning the type of combat ships should be done after the available information and weapon platforms are already established. Anything you do will revolve around the ways you can find the enemy and then fight the enemy. For example, fast and agile ships make a lot of sense vs projectile or ordinance based weapons, but are absolutely terrible vs instant weapons (lasers, or anything that travels close to the speed your sensor information (with FTL, this is not necessarily the speed of light)).

We don’t have much official information available. I was responding to the OP for input on player roles in space combat.

I also don’t see a problem with designing your gameplay around roles, if roles are more important to your design strategy than specific equipment or weapons.

… hmmm you shouldn’t be that sure about that … I know this gets old but "back in the day :stuck_out_tongue: " I and others proposed to just make turret rotations slow for beam weapons.

What I was trying to point out is that with a top to bottom style discussion (this is the ship types we want -> what technologies result in this?), you can easily end up with a lot of arbitrary or unexplained stuff. It usually shows on the end product when thing are constructed in a “this is what happens, now let’s make up an explanation why” way. I’m not saying this can be or should be avoided altogether, but it definitely raises issues. :smile:

Like limiting the turn speed of information speed weapons (I like how this sounds ^-^). Our spaceships are highly mobile, and withstanding massive acceleration forces already. I don’t see how a particularly slow moving turret could be explained.

(It can also be worked around with ease, which leads to more arbitrary rules that lead to more workarounds:
Create a fighter craft that is a laser turret -> Instant weapon with regular aiming. -> Profit.
Then comes the part where “But you need a lot of power duh! So no small ships with lasers please.”
Create cruiser craft that is a laser turret -> Instant weapon with more firepower but a bit worse (albeit still perfectly fine aiming. -> Still profit.)

Without such knowledge, I’d say the division of ship types ends at support ships and combat ships. I also don’t necessarily see size as a defining factor in categorizing.

Then Battlefield should be a complete miss since it sure seems like they designed their gameplay around roles, what you call a top to bottom style, and yet it is one of the most popular and successful games out there. :wink:

TBH debating any gameplay feature in high detail is completely pointless without devs at least pointing us in the direction that they have in mind for their game.

Remember the laser hate on the old forums, such heated discussion, with half the participants believing that lasers should not be included because they are impossible to balance. Yet ED shows no such problem.

Someone should make an ED Feature comparison thread … They implemented a ton of features we talked about in the past. Even gravitational disrupted warp drives in a configuration I can swear I read on “the old” here!

Anyway. I’m all for non specialization of ships.

Dump a pile of ships in one corner.

Dump a pile of weapons in the other corner.

Dump a pile of gear in yet another corner.

Let the player have at it.

Creates an extremely difficult to balance situation for the devs … but maybe not for the players as, given enough posibility, may find a counter for everything.

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I have noticed that too, like Braben and his crew were lurkers on the old forums :wink:

I did not say say anything about success. Battlefield is not a believable game by any standard. It’s familiar because it uses things that look real life, and thus most people just assume things work because similar things work in real life. The mechanics don’t come close anything believable. :smile:

I completely understand if feasibility is not top rated on your priority list. As people also pointed it out, it’s probably also rather dumb to look for in a game set tens of thousand years in the future. Still I think we should at least try to achieve logical consistency in the design.

Did not meant to derail the discussion, I’m still interested in how you think combat should look like.

Regarding the balance of lasers, all you need is a slightly more complex system. If you assume that “being hit by any weapon = damage” then yes, they are hard to balance. But there are many ways you can dodge that. Just one example is the ability to outfit your ship to be practically immune to a specific damage type. You suddenly just added a huge amount of rock-paper-scissors style outfitting gameplay, and a whole branch of other interesting things that can make combat non-linear. You just need to discard the fundamental “if I shoot it it has to die eventually” mentality. (Which is perfectly in line with the proposed WT style damage model.)