Fishbreath Plays: Starsector, Part II

I talked some about logistics in my last post about Starsector. Now, I’d like to touch on what I think is its best feature: its combat engine.

This video depicts a quick 1v2 battle I set up in the game’s combat simulator. HSS Daring, my cruiser from my previous Starsector post, faces off against a Venture-type cruiser and a Buffalo destroyer.

Have a watch, preferably on Youtube proper in high definition, and feast your eyes and ears upon the visuals and sounds. It’s in the running for the best-looking two-dimensional game of all time, I would say.

Okay. There is one major, overriding concern in Starsector combat, and that is ‘flux’. Flux is the generic resource which runs just about everything. Firing weapons takes it, and crucially, having your shields up and taking damage to your shields increases flux. You can choose to vent flux, which shuts down your shields and weapon systems, but quickly drains your flux. If you wait too long and your flux bar overflows, your ship overloads. (It happens to the enemy cruiser toward the end of the video above.) When overloading, it drains flux more slowly than normal, and much more slowly than venting, while sitll rendering you vulnerable and helpless to respond. Once you get through the shields, there’s armor (represented by yellow damage numbers in the video) and hull (orange ones).

Besides some caveats about beam weapons impacts and weapons fire generating ‘soft flux’, which goes away when the shields are up, and other weapons impacts generating ‘hard flux’, which only drops when the shields are down, that’s all there is to it, and it’s a brilliant piece of game design. It solves a few problems all at once. First, it allows for very easy tuning of relative ship performance. High-tech destroyer underperforming? Give it a better shield damage-to-flux ratio. Old-fashioned heavy cruiser too easy to pack with high-cost modern weapons? Give it a lower flux dissipation rate, and it’ll be able to unload a few powerful volleys to start a fight, but will have to fall back to recover afterward. Battleship failing to absorb damage like it should? Give it more flux capacity.

Beyond that, it also forces the player to think about a ship’s weaknesses in fitting, and to think on his feet when the fight is on. Absorbing damage from a lot of enemies requires most of an ordinary ship’s flux capacity, and captains have to be able to choose their moments well to put an enemy ship out of commission in such circumstances as that.

Anyway, I have one more video for you, which shows the command system and a much larger battle. In the main, ships are autonomous vessels controlled by NPC captains. (Eventually, this will be even more true: NPC captains will be characters, requiring pay, who have personality traits. Worried about your fancy carrier getting too close to the fighting? Put a captain with a lot of caution in command. Want your attack cruiser to get stuck in more? Look for an aggressive guy.) You put orders markers down on the map, and the number of orders you can give per battle is limited. (Spend a command point, and you can give orders for free as long as the command interface is open.) You have to decide which tasks are important enough to request your subordinates carry out specifically, and rely on them not to get in too deep on their own. So far, I’ve found this system to be more than sufficient. Again, it pushes the player into tradeoffs—is it more important to me to have a frigate protect my flagship against incoming fighters, or to have a frigate run down an enemy freighter at the far end of the field of battle? It also frees the player to get on with the business of actually fighting. There’s no benefit, and indeed there is active harm in, attempting to micromanage, so you’re best off setting up your orders, charging into the fray yourself, and checking on the state of things every now and then.