Friday, May 8, 2015

Ship Design

Had a friend say that she wanted to hear something a bit more cheerful this week, so I'm going to talk about how ship design works.  I've always enjoyed making my own designs for ships when playing similar games, and I'd like to bring that to SEAC.  Even if my designs aren't exactly optimized, it's usually nice to give them your own personal flair.  (For reference, I'm a fan of lasers, quirkiness, and defenses)  Hopefully, I'm able to give enough options for players that they're able to make their own fleet that varies enough from others to really be called their own.

Basic idea for ship design (at least for my game) consists of four main topics: the mission, propulsion, consumables, and the miscellaneous options that mostly deal with morale.  Each ship is made up of a hull and a set of components.  Hulls have an available volume, radius (or alternatively diameter, whichever is easier for people to understand), mass, and length.  Components are the objects that do things - lasers or cargo containers, and can be scaled up or down in size depending on how much of the component you need.

The first thing I try to pin down when designing a new vessel is to determine it's mission.  What is this ship's purpose?  Is it a tanker, perhaps a cargo ship?  Maybe it's a combat ship, one built to slug i t out with the opponent's ships, or maybe one designed to maintain a longer range and let the tougher ships in front take all the beatings.  Whatever the mission, deciding it is where I start my design process.

Let's give an example.  I want to design a Cruiser, a type of ship designed to be good at combat and operate independently if the need arises.  I start the design by selecting a medium sized hull, and add some weapons (lasers of course!) and decent shielding.  As I add on components, the program will continually update the side variables to keep up with the new additions.  I don't care how many crew the cruiser has, but I do care if the cruiser has enough crew, and like any good program the easy stuff will be taken care of.  So, the crew and all components keeping them functioning will update, along with other components like power generation and structure.  The player will always have the option of overriding, but ideally these non-decisions should be handled by the base program.

Next up, I need to worry about the propulsion of my cruiser.  I select the engine that best fits my thrust and efficiency needs, and scale it up to fit my cruiser.  For this mission, I'm leaning towards efficiency, to save on propellant mass.  Next, I adjust how long my cruiser thrusts for during transit. (Given as a percentage) The larger the percentage that I thrust, the quicker the ship will reach its destination, but expend more propellant.  I expect most journeys to be made primarily of drifting, rather than accelerating.  Given all this information, I then add on propellant tanks, with helpful bits of data showing how much time the cruiser can thrust, average distance the ship can travel at cruising speeds, and how fast the ship accelerates.

Now for the rest of the consumables; mostly food, water, oxygen, fuel, and ammo.  For now, anything not listed there is labelled a generic "supplies".  The player will set the how long the ship is supposed to last before refueling, along with an acceptable margin of error.  How much material is required is then a simple calculation, given the rest of the design.  Except, depending on your completed research, there's also the option of using regenerative systems.  Why carry food for the entire trip if we can make it ourselves?  In practice, it doesn't provide that much of an increase in space unless we have long trips, and the technology doesn't really exist even now.  About all we currently reuse is water, and even some of that is wasted.

Lastly, the player decides on some miscellaneous options for his ship.  These can vary from which material to use for the structure, to which amenities to use for the crew.  Do you want your crew to have a mess hall with appropriate cooking facilities to boost morale, or would you rather not waste the extra mass and space on useless frivolities?  How sparse are the crew quarters?  Is it a tin can? Cramped like a submarine, or does it have ample room like a modern boat might?  Morale is always important, but it does mean wasting a lot of space and propellant to keep the men happy.

After all that, you've finally got your cruiser design ready for the factories to construct.  Hopefully it performs in a way that's similar to what you planned for.  If you find you're not really interested in all that design work and want to skip to something that's useful, there will always be pre-made designs built.  Each design is also tweakable, able to be upgraded as new components become available, or to change an existing design without starting from scratch if, say, you don't like lasers and would prefer a ship based off of missiles.  Even though we all know lasers are better.

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