Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Solving Starship Computer Battles For Dummies...

...or, why you shouldn't let me be stuck watching Banner Of The Stars and the "Day Of Sagittarius" episode of Haruhi Suzumiya, and having lots and lots and lots of time to think about things...

(Special Thanks To Steven DenBeste, who worked out a lot of the stuff I'm starting from.)

In the episode of "The Day of Sagittarius", the Computer Society has created a new game called "The Day Of Sagittarius III"(with the inevetable deadpan snark from Kyon of where No 1 and 2 are...), and the SOS Club are now challenged into a duel between the two groups.

One of the key inspirations for the game's (hereafter called Day III) combat system seems to be the way Plane Space is handled in Crest Of The Stars-ships move on a two-dimensional space, and are dependent upon long-range scouting to fully use their weapons. Literally, the side that knows where the other side is-and can engage them first without being detected in turn will win or at least hold their own.

A factor involved is the use of recon drones to extend a fleet's ability to see. While the Computer Society cheats throughout most of the game with the Fog of War option disengaged, Yuki counters with an option built into the game. This option is a micro-management option of splitting up fleets and (presumably) drones to spread out and perform multiple scouting options. This, combined with the understanding of how the Computer Society is cheating and disabling it at the right time, gives the SOS Club the win against the Computer Society.

Now, there are a few Java/Visual Basic games out there that cover this game, but I'm could it be done better? And, in a way-more fun.

Peel it down to the basics-flat space, "fog of war" and the need for scouting, and "fleets of thousands" that some people and games like. From that, we can perhaps assume some things-
  • The smaller the fleet, and the smaller the ships in the fleet, the faster they can go. This allows for "hit and run" attacks by smaller warships, scouting fleets, and such.
  • Bigger ships are more deadly-they can carry torpedoes and the truly huge batteries of energy weapons needed to smash the largest enemy warships around.
  • Resupply in the Day III's combat system is assumed-Asahina is put in charge of the SOS-dan's supply ships. This may mean that it's possible for a fast reloading of torpedoes and such-but both the supply and resuppling ships are vulnerable to attack.
  • The light novel indicates that there are at least three customization options and a number of points you can use. Expand it a bit further...perhaps you can buy your ships by type and fittings, then expand them to form a fleet of ships.
The game starts to coalesce-we have about four major hull types that will show up (with some variations on size, and overlapping concept hulls)-
  • Scout Ships are small. Not tiny, but small (the smallest "ship" is the drones used for recon by ships). Their major job is to find enemy fleet, and hit and run if a fleet operates in smaller components. Or, to engage supply ships. They don't carry torpedoes, but do have defenses against them.
  • Patrol Ships are faster than battleships and supply ships, and slower than scout ships. Think of them as "flankers" for the most part-scout ships can't take out a patrol ship without swarming them with huge numbers, and patrol ships can't chase down scout ships-but they can deny a scout ship the ability to do recon. Patrol ships carry torpedoes, but mostly use them to stop scout ships.
  • Battleships are the huge bruisers. Slower than everything else, but they carry enough armor and defenses that trying to swarm them under with anything other than hordes of patrol ships is suicide. They carry huge numbers of torpedoes, to serve as an opening attack against other battleships. They're the "anvil" in a "hammer and anvil" combat strategy.
  • Supply ships are there to do field repairs to warships, reload torpedo and recon drones, and a few hulls might be of a "Carrier"-type platform, carrying huge numbers of torpedoes, but slow and very vulnerable. This would dictate that torpedoes have a long range but are fairly "dumb"-they need to know where to engage a target to enter their sensor range and engage it.
A few "odd ball" ship types might exist (a "heavy scout" that would be pretty much a "light patrol ship"-armed enough that a fleet of them would be a threat to an equivalent sized fleet of scouts, but not "true" patrol ships or a heavy patrol ship hull that could be considered a small battleship), but those are the four major types. Then, we get into weapons-
  • Torpedoes are the very long ranged weapon of the fleets. Presumably, they are fairly "dumb" in the sense that they need somebody to "spot" for their launching ship, to be able to provide directions in where they should be. A large torpedo salvo is a dangerous threat-presumably they would carry powerful warheads and ships would be in serious danger from them.
  • Energy weapons are the other major weapon. It seems that there are two types-weapons mounted along a ship's long axis (as a part of or along the ship's spine), and "side" cannons similar to the weapon arrays of Exelion-class. Presumably, the main spinal weapons are the main ship-killers, while the side weapons are their for anti-scoutship, anti-torpedo, and "we need to fire something at them!" role.
Suddenly, the concept starts to make sense, and we now have a much more...dynamic game to play in.

There's more options available "under the hood", if we want-do we build our battleships with a few huge guns, or a lot of guns (and the damage model may have to reflect this-huge guns will punch deep into a ship, while lots of guns will "peel" the surface of a ship)? Do we emphasize with our scout ships speed and sensors, or do we sacrifice for the ability of scout ships to be able to hold their own in a fight? Do we allow modifiers to each side-in the sense that one side might be strong in armor, but weak in speed across the board for their ships?

The new version of Day III starts looking like this-
  • Dynamic ship design and ship operations concept. Combine that with the micro-management option of splitting fleets (presumably around a "command ship"), and rather than having to command each fleet, assign sub-fleets a formation (of them and their drones), based upon control groups.
  • Fog of War becomes important. Recon drones either have to be fairly "close" to their ships, or become a "use or lose" when they run out of fuel.
  • Teamwork becomes a key. Fleet vs. fleet can quickly become fratricide. But, two fleets versus one? Much more dangerous for the one fleet...especially if they are vulnerable to attacks on the sides or aft.
  • Play options for everyone. Maybe when fleet-vs-fleet combat starts, a setup like Dynasty Warriors happens-players command a single ship and issue commands to the rest of their fleet, while they get to blow away their enemies.
The Battle of the SOS-Dan

But, what does this have to do with the price of Tea in China?

With our new, dynamic combat system under the hood, we can see a much more...interesting fight between the Computer Society and the SOS.

Both sides have five players, and five fleets. Since the Computer Society is cheating with a disabled fog of war effect, their fleets are pretty much all battleships, with a single supply fleet to reload their torpedoes. On the other hand, the SOS has to be a bit more "balanced", and that leads us to how the fleets are set up.
  • Haruhi, without a doubt, is entirely packed to the gills with battleships. She wants to get close and blow them up with lasers and torpedos and such. She has the weakest scouting ability of all the fleets, and is probably entirely dependent upon drones.
  • Kyon, on the other hand, seems to be a bit more "balanced". Personally, I suspect his fleet is mostly patrol craft, with enough scouts to spot for him and a few battleships to "put the boot in" as needed. Kyon wants to flank the enemy, know where they are, and engage them on the sides-he doesn't want a battleship-to-battleship duel head on.
  • Itsuki is probably the other battleship fleet, but less maniacal about it than Haruhi. He probably has enough scouts to fill out his flanks and serve as early warning for torpedo attack. His strategy is going to probably be as much misdirection and being where people don't expect him to be.
  • Yuki is the commander of the fleet's scout forces. She uses her abilities to multi-task to command multiple small squadrons of scout ships and drones. Like Kyon, her fleet has a small battleship "core" to keep things interesting, but most of her elements are scout ships. Mid-way through the game, she probably has all the Computer Society fleets bracketed with scout ships and drones.
  • Mikuru commands the support fleet the ship has. Since Haruhi hasn't thought of it, her fleet probably is just supply ships and enough patrol ships to keep scouts off with maybe a few battleships. Unlike the Computer Society, she probably has no torpedo bombardment ships/carriers to use.
Without the high weirdness that Haruhi can generate, the battle works out like this-
  1. The SOS fleet tries to find the Computer Society fleet-but because of the disabled Fog of War effect, the Computer Society begins to use flanking attacks to wear down the SOS forces.
  2. Yuki splits up her forces to scout for the Computer Society. Meanwhile, she is also analyzing the code and setups used by the game.
  3. As her scout fleets have most of the Computer Society fleets bracketed, she discovers that the Fog of War effect is disabled and informs Kyon. By this time, Mikuru's fleet has bee badly damaged if not destroyed.
  4. Kyon tells Yuki to re-enable the Fog of War. Since the Computer Society is now dependent upon their own (non-existent) scouting, the SOS fleet has the advantage since Yuki's scouts have the Computer Society under observation.
  5. The battle now changes. The Computer Society is trying to find the enemy, meanwhile the SOS knows where they are and the three main fleets attack. The strategy is probably one of one fleet (Kyon or Itsuki) engages the Computer Society on a flank. As the Computer Society fleet turns, the other and Haruhi attack from the other side. Caught between three fleets, the enemy ships are rapidly destroyed for little damage on both sides.
  6. The last fleet is destroyed, and Yuki fires the shot that kills the last command ship.
Now, that would be good entertainment. And, I'd love to play that game. It's exciting, to say the very least.