Thursday, October 15, 2009

In Harm's Way: StarCluster

I'm currently on vacation - my big project at Real Life work has been released, and I am free to take time off I have not been able to since this summer. That means 4+ weeks in the next four months.

The project I am workig on for Flying Mice is In Harm's Way: StarCluster, a marriage of the In Harm's Way military series and the StarCluster setting. It's also a preview of StarCluster 3, which I am in no hurry to release. I worked this game up to Beta test status earlier in the year, but ran into a snag with Fighter combat. Big Ship to Big Ship combat worked very well, but Fighters and Strike Craft were... well... boring. StarCluster is Firm SF - I try to keep to known physics as much as possible within the contraints of the setting. Therefore treating Fighter combat like air-to-air combat would be wrong. I kept hitting a brick wall whenever I thought about it, and shelved the project to concentrate on first Commonwealth Space, then Created Creatures for StarCluster, and finally On Her Majesty's Arcane Service.

The time off has done me a world of good. I came back to the game with fresh eyes and things just leapt into place. I was fighting what I had to work with because I had the cool air combat of IHW: Aces In Spades, Aces And Angels, Wild Blue, and even Dragons! in the back of my mind, and kept trying to fit realistic space combat into that. It would not work. This time I approached it from the standpoint of "what can you do in space that you can't do in atmosphere?" and was rewarded with new and very different maneuvers. I also took the perspective of the ship maneuvers in the original IHW: A Napoleonic Naval RPG, and kept to an abstract prose description, with consequences for failure and success.

Basically, in space, the entire ship can be treated as a turret, turing to face in any direction without affecting the flight path so long as thrust is cut off. Turning the ship to face another direction while thrusting results in a curve to the flight path with some slowdown. The slower you go, the more maneuverable you are, but the easier you are to hit. Targeting computers would display the target not as a point, but as a trumpet-shaped probability cone, with the point at the last known position, with light speed lag. The faster the target is moving, the deeper and sharper the cone. The slower the target is going, the more flared and shorter the cone. The person operating the weapon must put the weapon in the most likely place in that cone for the target to be, given demonstrated past behavior and known flight characteristics. In other words, pattern recognition. Humans are awesome at pattern recognition.

I'll be posting more as I work on it!



  1. *Twitches grubby paws*

    I... seeeeeeeeeeeeee....

  2. Awesome.

    The problem I have always had with space fighters has been; why not just build a proper warship. A larger hull means more power generation, more engines for more thrust, more weapons, more armor, and more heat sinks (waste heat being a huge issue for space craft).

    Solve those issues and fighter-craft begin to make sense again.

  3. Hi Doc:

    One thing above all - Maneuverability. There's a lot less inertia to move a fighter than a big ship.

    As far as heat sinks go, with Cluster military ships, waste heat is dumped into the zero point fluctuation. It's a lot easier to dump energy in than to extract energy out. It's expensive, but makes stealth possible.


  4. Hi Levi!

    I am not a physiscist, but I played one on the internet! I wrote a physics humor - yes, physics humor. There is such a thing! - web column called Ask Dr. Beeker for several years. Zoom-and-bank Star Wars type SF is fun, but trying to be rigorous is fun in a different way. :D

    By the way, Ask Dr. Beeker is preserved in Amber and may be found at