Tag Archives: space

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.

Fishbreath Plays: Starsector, Part I

Starsector, once known as Starfarer, is a 2D top-down space combat sandbox game.

After a trading-based start to the game, I’ve traded in my freighters and moved up in the world, with a moderately large carrier, some destroyers, and a cruiser, and I’ve found that there is money to be made in pirate hunting, so long as you hunt the right kind of pirate. Let’s take a quick look at my fleet, and at some of the things I have to consider before and between combat.

HSS Daring is my new cruiser, purchased and fit with help from the Hegemony military. (I’ve been doing a lot of my trading and pirate hunting in Hegemony territory, which improves my standing with them. Eventually, factions that like you open up their internal markets to you.) It’s the core of the fleet now—surivable enough to shrug off multiple smaller ships, punchy enough to plaster other things its size. ISS Bounty II is my carrier, with a pair of flight decks. I think it’s actually the fastest non-fighter ship I can deploy. HSS Aquilo II and HSS Juturna III are my destroyers. Aquilo is fit to hunt bigger ships: it has a large-size hardpoint for a forward-firing energy weapon and two smaller hardpoints flanking, along with some missile racks. Juturna is primarily made to get in close, overload a frigate or destroyer’s shields, and tear it up before it can recover. ISS Helle was my starting ship, an exceedingly tough combat freighter frigate. It didn’t have shields until recently, but now it does.

The major limiter on using ships in combat is combat readiness, which represents how well-maintained a vessel is. It doesn’t play a role on the overworld map, the assumption being that simple travel doesn’t put too much stress on the duct tape and bailing wire school of starship engineering, but if you get into combat, low combat readiness will see your ships performing poorly or outright falling apart. You lose combat readiness by deploying ships in combat, and also by taking hull damage (or by supply and logistical failings, but that’s another story), and you get it back by an expenditure of supplies. The major expense in keeping a combat fleet active is spending on supplies to restore combat readiness, and so the question for a bounty-chasing mercenary such as myself ends up being, how little can I deploy without losing?

For the moment, the answer almost always includes Bounty II. It’s fast enough to catch most destroyers. So are the fighters, which usually make an appearance too. (Fighters without a carrier on the field are one and done. With a carrier in combat, they can dip into a replacement pool. With no carrier in the fleet, either in the combat or in reserve, if a fighter wing runs out of ships, it’s gone for good.) Next up are Juturna and Helle, if I need more punch. Daring comes next, as it’s not significantly more expensive than Aquilo to deploy, and vastly more capable, and Aquilo comes in last. (Although I usually bump Daring up in the order, because it’s just so much fun to fly.) For when I need it, I have a light carrier and fighter wing mothballed, and they add a good bit of missile-based punch to the fleet.

It’s proven to be a really neat logistical challenge—how long can I stay out and fight, how much can I commit to this combat when I’m far from a supply source, should I buy that freighter with a flight deck to add to my far-from-supply longevity and provide a cheap launch platform for small engagements (that one’s a yes)? Updates come infrequently, but so far, Starsector has never seen a change that isn’t well-thought out and engaging, and I haven’t even begun to gush about how trading is an improvement on the genre norm. I was a little leery about recommending it to people on the fence before, but nowadays, there’s a sandbox game there, and it’s probably worth the $15 as it is now, to say nothing of how it’s going to end up.

Fishbreath Plays: StarMade

I’ve been thinking about new sorts of content for the Fish Bowl, and hit upon this idea. I like games, you see, and I like writing—so maybe I should try writing about games? There’s no better place to start, I would say, than the game which has been consuming all of my time: StarMade, the block building game with spaceships.

I saw someone else say that ‘Minecraft with spaceships’ was too reductive, but it’s not inaccurate. StarMade is still in alpha, and the meat of the game right now is in the building. That part plays very much like Minecraft with extra spice: put blocks down to make ships, but some blocks have extra functionality. Power generator blocks make power, thruster blocks make you move, weapon blocks give you guns with which to blow stuff up. Putting blocks in contiguous groups makes them more effective than they’d be separately, so there are advantages to building, say, reactor rooms and engineering spaces. That leads to a natural progression from small ship to large ship in power and cost. It scratches the naval engineer itch I’ve always had—I find myself planning out a ship’s hull shape and interior spaces first, and the internals and hull from that plan in a way that isn’t entirely dissimilar to how ships are actually built.

Beyond building, the gameplay’s still being fleshed out. Crafting is more or less useless; the recipes are completely random, and you might find yourself with a block you can buy cheaply from the various space stations requiring a half-dozen of the most expensive components in the game, or you might have a 300,000-credit block recipe requiring two units of sand. The idea behind crafting is nifty, though. Factory blocks take a recipe and materials and turn them into outputs, and they can be linked together: some factory blocks could make intermediate materials from raw stuff, then be linked to a final production factory to produce usable blocks. Putting factory upgrade blocks next to factories makes them faster and more efficient. The potential for a really neat system is there, but it needs some refining to make the possible inputs to a recipe similar to the value of the outputs.

The flying and combat work reasonably well already. Flying I’d call semi-realistic; there’s drag and a speed limit, but you don’t change directions when you turn. I understand prettier competitor Space Engineers has more physics (you need reverse thrusters, for instance, and gravity is supposed to work like gravity), but StarMade gets by with what it has. Weapon construction has some interesting tradeoffs—while missiles are straight-up better the bigger they are, smaller blocks of guns do more damage over time, but at shorter ranges with slower projectile speeds. You can put AI-controlled turrets onto bigger ships, and although those could use some further development in terms of manual target selection and the like, capital ships with batteries of defensive guns and such are plenty exciting already. I find the death of ships compelling, too: weapons taking chunks out of the armor and the internal spaces, and capabilities slowly decreasing as the ship loses power, weapon, and engine blocks.

All told, it’s a delightful build-spaceships Lego set, and the AI-controlled pirates (which can use your designs if you allow it) and space stations provide some opportunities to try out your designs. Multiplayer seems solid so far, and there’s a lot of fun to be had in collaborative building and comparing designs (and eventually blowing them up). Even as an alpha, I give it a thumbs-up. I look forward to seeing how it develops as it gets closer to finished.