March 14th 2015
Simple to play, difficult to master: it’s a well-accepted philosophy that forms the core of great game design. And with Star Citizen’s ships and their components, it’s a mission statement. The ultimate goal for Arena Commander (and ultimately a persistent universe) is that it will be simple for a player to pick up a ship, launch off into space and enjoy the experience. At the same time, we are building a customization system that allows for near-infinite complexity and a constant sense of progression. You don’t HAVE to drill down to specifics like weapons mounts or technology overclocking… but you can, and the game will reward you for it.
Balance is also a massively important issue in a skill-based combat scenario like Arena Commander. You need an experience with progression—players striving to earn a better ship, gun, reward—alongside the desire never to have a single ‘best’ endgame. Everyone should want to continue developing their ships, but no one should ever have a universal advantage for doing so. Over the past months, we’ve been studying the results of early iterations of Arena Commander, we’ve been observing matches, reading backer comments, following the endless ‘input type’ battles and more.
As the next stage in space combat evolution, in Star Citizen 1.1, you can expect to see changes on how weapons and hardpoints will function. The idea of balancing gimbaled hardpoints has been in the plans since the beginning, and with 1.1 we’re introducing it into the wild. The end result is that players will have more choice over what weapons they can attach… but with more of an impact on gameplay resulting from those choices.
Why? Increased granularity in weapons makes for the best possible experience and a system that rewards skilled pilots for forgoing certain creature comforts is good for balance all around. We want to see players forced to make meaningful decisions about their loadouts in relation to their personal play style rather than simply having them pick the ‘best’ gun or missile. Expect to see further changes to this balance as other aspects of Arena Commander’s flight model come online; for example, gun functionality will be defined not only by size, but by aspects like their power requirements, electromagnetic signature and more.
The first, simpler change relates to weapon size. In the past, weapons have been defined by a type (class 1, class 2, etc.) and a size (size 1, size 2.) This allowed us a certain amount of control over the base loadouts: you can’t put a huge gun on a tiny ship, you can’t put a missile where a gun is intended to go and so on. But this system has some issues, chief among them the fact that in addition to confusing new pilots, it doesn’t make natural sense; why is a missile rack class 3 or a turret class 4? Or even worse some weapon hardpoint classes were really for different sizes of the same type of item – class 5, 6 and 7 hardpoints were all for different sized manned turrets (from the Constellation to a Capital ship turret that you may see on a Bengal Carrier)
The old system of weapon hardpoint “classes” was invented before we had implemented the actual hardpoint system in the game code. The system implemented in the game, which everyone has been using since Arena Commander v0.8, is called the itemport system and classifies what can accepted on the port by a “type” (an itemport is able to have multiple types it can accept) and “size”. Every item in the game has a type and a size in its item definition. If the item type and size match what the itemport has for its allowed type and size then you can mount the item onto your ship at that itemport. This is universal for all items you can attach to your ship – not just weapons and turrets but thrusters, power plants, fuel tanks, scanners, coolers, avionics and so on. Internally there is no class X weapon hardpoint, so starting today we’re retiring the obsolete naming convention for weapon hardpoints!
Instead it will be a Size 1 Gun or a Size 3 Unmanned Turret, or a Size 2 Pylon or a Size 4 Manned Turret and so on.
So to clarify all items and itemports (think of this like a socket you plug the item into) are defined by three key pieces of information –
We’ve talked about the concept of Pipes before – these are the connections between items and the ship that carry things like Heat, Data, Power, Fuel and so on. So for an item to be compatible with an itemport beside the size and type needing to match up the Pipe(s) need to match up – so if a Turret has an input for “Power” and “Data” (say for auto targeting) and output of “Heat”, the itemport will also need to have hookups for these three pipes.
One other interesting point is that going forward the size value for all weapons will be uniform, and scale to every ship in the galaxy. The new system will handle everything from the smallest possible weapon, Size 1 (1 meter) to the largest, Size 10 (40 meters) and gives us much more room to scale between the Merlin and the Bengal. The system is also expandable; if we ever need a gun that’s more than forty meters long, we have the ability to generate it in Star Citizen!
Simply reorganizing how weapons are sized is more of an internal change; players will take note of it and it unifies the language and makes things simpler to understand but it doesn’t immediately impact gameplay.
What DOES change is how you set your loadouts are the changes we are making to ships’ weapons itemports for 1.1.
We are changing most Size 2 and up weapon itemports to be able to accept either a gun OR an Unmanned Turret (sometimes called a gimbal). Not all Size 2+ weapon itemports will be this way due to either Pipe requirements or logical ones (a fixed size 3 gun built into a spaceship’s nose would not be suitable for a Turret) but most will.
Every joystick user is probably going; “Oh, no! Even more gimbaled weapons :-(” as they read this… But this is where the balance comes in!
When you mount a Turret/Gimbal to an itemport, the size(s) of the weapon that the Turret/Gimbal are reduced. So if you mount a Size 2 Gimbal to the Size 2 weapon itemport, the weapon itemport on the Gimbal can only be a Size 1.
The rule on sizes for secondary itemports (these are itemports on an item plugged into another item port) is that they have to at least drop a size. So you can only plug a size 1 item into a size 2 item and so on. In the case of Turrets this is additive, so if you have a size 3 Turret it could mount two Size 1 guns or one Size 2 gun (note this doesn’t mean you have the choice on each Turret, its more that you may have the option of buying a Size 3 Turret with two Size 1 weapon itemports or a Size 3 Turret with one Size 2 weapon itemport.)
A Manned Turret loses one more Size point. So the smallest Manned Turret could be is Size 3 and it would have a Size 1 weapon item port). The Manned Turrets on the Retaliator are Size 4, allowing for 2 Size 1 guns on each Turret.
So you have a choice; Mount a bigger, more powerful gun or mount a smaller gun that has greater accuracy / gunnery control. Joystick players will probably stick more with fixed guns and have greater hitting power as it’s easier for them to maneuver their ship to get a bead on their target whereas a mouse user may opt for gimbaled weapons due to the aiming accuracy of the mouse but will be giving up the hitting power of a larger gun.
These aren’t the only limits we’ll be using to balance guns in Star Citizen! Things like Power and Data are required for Turrets and factor into your overall ship needs; you may not have enough CPU cycles on your ship’s computer to run the targeting computer and four gimbaled guns! There could be weapon itemports that allow you mount a Gun, a Missile Rack or a Turret. With this increased customization comes increased choice and increased tradeoffs!
It’s an intricate system, but all those parameters allow us to tune ships towards a specific purpose, while still allowing players to skew that purpose towards their own goals. We want players who are using their piloting skill to have the best advantage in terms of guns; if you’re a sharpshooter, you’ll be rewarded for choosing fixed guns. If you choose gimbaled or turreted mounts, you’ll have an easier time hitting your target… but your weapons won’t cause as much damage as an equivalent fixed set.
We know that many backers are curious about more than just how things work in Star Citizen, they want to know why they work. What follows is a more detailed dive into some of the background and more detailed requirements of the updated weapons system.
Weapon Size has been refactored to correlate to volume, which scales by a decreasing factor – by the time you get to the capital ship scale, jumps between sizes are enormous, but we still need to differentiate clearly between a Size 1 (0.25m^3) and a Size 2 (0.73m^3). That Size 10? A whopping 1394.5m^3! Volume is weird. The reason it’s correlated to volume is to allow our artists the freedom to define guns with their own distinctive forms, while still guaranteeing that weapons of the same size will always fit.
Now that infinite complexity has been added to these weapons (volume is preserved through ratios, which are capped at 7:1 and 2:1 – but there’s still every number in between), the system is returned to sanity by sitting down with the artists and enumerating the exact ratios that apply to each weapon type, providing those weapons with a particular personality and profile to aid visual identification. New weapon designs are thus provided a size and a ratio, defining an exact bounding box within which to generate the awesome visuals that define these items.
The weapon mounts scale up accordingly. With the attaching faces of weapons guaranteed to be a certain size, we can always be assured the gun will look right when placed on a mount. Since all attaching faces are now unified, all correctly sized mounts can be placed in hardpoints that accept that size – fixed, gimbal, manned turret, rocket pod, missile rack, fuel container, etc. Naturally, that’s not how ships are actually made. In the extreme example, a fuel container is pretty useless without a fuel pipe connected to that hardpoint, and a manned turret won’t accomplish much without a seat available to man it. Since the hardpoint still defines the high level restrictions, ships can still be balanced individually without messing too much with the item ecosystem.
Again, these hardpoints and mounts have limits to their performance – increased mass constraints at the cost of gimbal speed, for example. Particularly at the larger sizes, mass begins to be a real balancing act when trying to drag the most firepower around the universe. Some hardpoints won’t be able to accept certain mounts because of their nature – a fixed gun built into the hull of a ship won’t be swappable with a gimbal, no matter how much the numbers say it fits. Ultimately, getting the most out of your ship will come down to understanding your ship, and finding your style of flying to match.
You will start to see this system in place with Arena Commander 1.1. In fact, gimbaled weapons mounts will be available for backers to try in the Voyager Direct and Electronic Access stores soon. It’s not the complete system today, but it’s a good indication of the work we intend to introduce. Some of this is still being worked out (the design trade-offs between mounting a weapon or a missile, for example), but it marks the beginning of a unified system for weapons and mounts across all the ships in the game.
With that foundation, we can move forward on some of the deeper designs planned. Unique targeting behaviors, such as remote access or point defense solutions; attachments that augment the performance of weapons, or that alter their effects; retractable mounts that disappear into the hull of the ship; it’ll take some time to bring together all of these distinct elements under one roof, but doing so will bring a whole new level of meaningful choice to weapon loadouts.