September 12th 2014

Design: Updating Ship Stats for Gameplay

Design: Updating Ship Stats for Gameplay

Or: Holy @#$*! What did you do to my (insert ship name here)?!

You might have noticed that as more ships are becoming battle-ready, some of their stats are changing. Sometimes, these changes look very dramatic. The important thing to remember as you see these numbers changing is that no matter what the changes are, we are not changing the purpose of any ship. What you see in that brief paragraph of description is precisely what we’re attempting to reach with each and every stat change.

An ongoing game balancing

Most of the numbers that appeared early in Star Citizen’s development were the conceptualizations by the design staff of what these ships might be relative to one another. As you’ve seen over the years, many of our original ideas on how the game would work have evolved (and improved!) during the process of developing the game. This is the inevitable result of taking design concepts and bringing them to life in code and art. Each department adds its own insight to the process, and the resulting hybrid is pretty much always something markedly different from the original words on paper (or Confluence, or bar napkins, or what have you). That’s just the way these projects grow.

Often, numbers were envisioned before the systems that would support them were fully fleshed out, and those systems also were changing and evolving over the course of development. So what we initially thought would define (as much as a handful of numbers can define anything) a ship that served a particular purpose wasn’t always the same as what that ship would end up actually being. Once artists start conceptualizing these visually, things change even more. We might have thought initially that the M50 would be about the same size as the Hornet, but it turned out much smaller (and really awesome looking, to boot). The Idris doubled in size during construction (that’s one reason why it’s a frigate now). The Starfarer tripled just because the concept art looked so cool at that larger size!

Re: Jump Drives

To address the current hot topic of jump drives: not every ship will include one. Our philosophy is that sometimes small craft (especially ones that are carrier based) won’t start out with a jump drive … but jump drives will be available, inexpensive and able to be mounted to any ship larger than the parasite fighters (Merlin-class). We don’t see the lack of jump drive on, say, the M50 as limiting gameplay in any way; if players want to take their interceptor off to explore another system they’ll be able to configure it for that mission almost immediately! (Think back to Chris Roberts’ Privateer, which began without a jump point, and offered a true thrill once the ability to go beyond a home system was earned.)

How Stats Change

Each time stats change, it’s because the team feels like we’re making that ship better – and a better representation of its specific role. That, after all, is our most important goal in building this game. (But let us stress once again: each ship will be what you make it; because we present the M50 as a racer in one example and an interceptor in another does not mean it can’t be kitted out as an info runner, a dogfighter or a fast personal transport!)

The impact of Physics

One of the systems that the engineering team has spent the most time and effort on is the physics model for our ships. What that model allows us to do with Star Citizen’s ships is downright amazing. But it also sets certain realistic constraints on what will really work for each ship. As you’ve seen, the feel of each individual ship has already changed multiple times, just in the time since Arena Commander released. That’s because getting the numbers just right for the physics system is a very painstaking process. If the engines on a ship are too big, stopping becomes too difficult, and that makes turning sloppier. If there aren’t enough maneuvering thrusters, or they’re too small, the ship turns like a whale, but if they’re too big, then flying the ship becomes a white-knuckled, vomit-inducing terror ride.

Cargo and Freight

Cargo is the same way: we estimate rough numbers based on our initial conception of the size of a ship, but once that ship is built out in all of its glory, those numbers can turn out to be pretty far off. You won’t see “real” numbers for cargo until we have a real ship built and in the game, carrying cargo.

One thing to remember is that the number of freight units isn’t the same thing as the sum value of a ship’s cargo hold. There are many other factors to consider, including how well protected cargo is against damage, whether it can be identified with various types of scans, and even how attractive the ship is to those wishing to ship goods. (A VIP would likely rather travel on a luxury Phoenix than a bare-bones Freelancer!)

Extremely small ships like the M50 and the 350r don’t have any measurable ‘freight units’ … but they do have room for passengers and personal cargo, and they do a better job than a massive transport or frigate of keeping that cargo safe. So if you’re looking to move a spy across Vanduul lines or transport a briefcase full of diamonds, one of the racers might be a great choice! (For those interested in shipping bulk goods with a speedy ship, cargo drop pods will be available; ORIGIN doesn’t include them as standard because they aren’t very sexy!)

What is not shown

And then there are a lot of numbers that you can’t see yet, as well. Given some of the reactions to just the few that we have published and changed (and changed some more), adding more theoretical numbers that we’ll inevitably also have to change once they’re implemented in the game just seems unfair. Wondering why the Freelancer seems light on cargo space compared to other cargo ships? Maybe that’s because it has the best cargo shielding in the business. What does that mean? Your cargo is harder to scan, and it’s also better protected against being damaged when things get a little rough out there. Likewise, the new, smaller values for the M50 engines don’t change the fact that it has one of the best top speeds in the ’verse, and it also has the snappiest maneuvering of the racers. We just realized that slapping TR4 engines on that now-much-more-compact baby would turn its poor driver into mush the first time you cranked up the throttle! Meanwhile, the M50 becomes the first small ship with redundant power plants. The guns got smaller, because bigger guns looked silly on a ship that size – but it got a few missiles!


That’s the important takeaway from this letter : there is no need to panic and melt your favorite ship when its stats are updated. Just keep in mind that your baby just got better at its job.

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