Roberts Space Industries








June 17th 2020

Flight & Fight - Upcoming Improvements

In Star Citizen Alpha 3.10, we’re introducing numerous changes as part of our plan to improve the overall flight and combat experience.

As mentioned on Inside Star Citizen in February, we’ve assembled a vehicle experience team to overhaul flight and fight mechanics and introduce many quality-of-life improvements to make the experience more immersive and exciting.

Today we’re letting you know what to expect in our upcoming patch, which is currently in the hands of our Evocati test group (ETF) and will soon be available to a wider audience on our Public Test Server (PTU).

Making Flying More Dynamic

Thruster Efficiency Curves, Aerodynamics, and Jerk

What will change in Alpha 3.10?

We’ve made critical updates to flight performance for all ships, with thruster efficiency curves drastically changing the way thrusters work. In atmosphere, thrusters now lose efficiency and become much weaker. This is dependent on the ship and the thruster type to some degree, but ships in general will have much weaker thrusters in atmosphere and will behave differently.

Ships now also have individually simulated aerodynamic surfaces that contribute various small forces to the motion of the ship. Each force is dynamic and bespoke, allowing us to simulate wings of various kinds as well as flat plates and lifting body forces. Ships with wings are now able to stall, make level turns, lose speed in tight turns, and benefit from various aerodynamic features.

The aerodynamic interaction with wind is now more detailed, and you can expect the wind to push and pull ships in more complex ways. Breakable parts now affect aerodynamics, so a ship with a broken wing will no longer fly straight.

We’ve also increased the complexity of the thruster system for ships. Taking damage, powering down, or losing a thruster will now put the ship out of balance. You will experience unwanted rotations and instabilities in the ship’s control until you repair the damage.

Jerk is a core change to how ships move, both in space and within atmosphere, and is a measure of how quickly a ship’s acceleration changes. Previously, it was an infinite quantity. Now it’s finite, which means thrusters do not respond immediately to changes in acceleration. You can expect “weightier” feeling ships but with similar levels of maneuverability.

How will this impact the game experience?

By drastically reducing thruster efficiency in atmosphere, you’ll see a dramatic difference between flying and fighting around planetary bodies with atmosphere compared to battles in space. Since the aerodynamic forces are stronger in Alpha 3.10, flight is much less defined by a ship’s thrusters and more by its aerodynamics. This will really push the difference between space and atmospheric flight and add more depth and variety to Star Citizen.

Expect EVERY ship to behave differently and with a lot more character. For example, each ship has its own aerodynamic stability, so the Gladius will feel more stable when compared to the Hawk, which can turn faster but is much harder to control. Most ships are stable when flying forward, though strafing in atmosphere will cause various instabilities.

The new aerodynamic system also supports animating wings and parts, which we’ve not been able to do before. Ships like the Reliant, Hawk, and others that have moving wings will have a completely different aerodynamic feel after their parts have been animated.

One aim of this is to enable more engaging dogfighting. As we reduce the combat efficiency of a ship at high velocity, we encourage combat engagements at a lower speed, providing you with more time to launch a flight-maneuver or counter an opponent.

What’s coming next?

Our goal is to improve the vehicle experience further as we continue to work on the flight characteristics in atmosphere and space. Supporting animated aerodynamic surfaces also paves the way for working control surfaces, which will come in a future patch. Alpha 3.10 brings the very first changes, setting the stage for upcoming releases and further enhancements to the overall flight experience.

We are also going to further refine the difference between maneuvering thrusters and main engines. The concept is that maneuvering thrusters are built for quick pulses of high thrust for directional changes, while the main and VTOL engines are built for sustained thrust. This means that if you use maneuvering thrusters for sustained thrust, such as hovering for a prolonged time in gravity, they will have a lower thrust output and could overheat or misfire if used too long. This will further differentiate between ships in terms of space and atmosphere. Aerodynamic ships like the Gladius will be better suited to flying in atmosphere as the lift generated by their wings negate the need for maneuvering thruster to keep them aloft. But, if a pilot wanted to treat a Gladius like a helicopter gunship, they could only do this for a limited time before straining the thrusters, whereas a Valkyrie with four large VTOL engines would have no problem.

Once we’re happy with how atmospheric flight, thruster efficiency and jerk works, we will also look at the g-forces applied to the pilot to increase the sense of thrill and speed. Then, you can try to fly at your ship’s limit while taking fire or outmaneuvering attacks without falling unconscious.

For now, you should familiarize yourself with the new mechanics and test them excessively. We will then take a close look at your feedback and take your suggestions into account for further iterations of the new ship behaviors.

Tactics Without Strategy = Defeat

Turret, Gunnery Improvements, Targeting Methodology, and High-Speed Combat

What will change in Alpha 3.10?

Fixed weapons and turrets, both manned and remote-controlled, now have a fixed assist system. This fixed assist will still reward precise aim and area targeting but will also use weapon convergence to nudge bullets toward the target and aid players hitting with fixed weapons. We have also revised how the Predicted Impact Point (PIP) will be calculated. The PIP will now be updated purely on velocity, which gives us a much more stable firing solution and decreases the effects of network jitters and excessive juke behavior.

Additionally, we want you to be able to react to fast-changing combat situations and adjust turret behavior accordingly. Thus, we’re implementing new options like virtual joystick deflection (VJoy) style controls, turret-ESP, changeable turret velocity limiters, and the ability to automatically re-center the turret with new default key-bindings for easier control.

We know that it’s not always easy to keep orientation as a turret gunner when you’re moving with the turret while the ship’s pilot is making wild maneuvers. Therefore, we implemented the first iteration of turret UI created with building blocks. This work-in-progress UI already shows specific status labels so that there’s no uncertainty what the turret is doing, including VJoy mode, turret rotation, gimbal borders, and aim quality.

For Alpha 3.10, we also worked on the targeting computer and reworked how you deal with an enemy under fire. By looking at a target (using freelook or any form of head tracking), the targeting system will provide you with basic information about your opponent’s ship. Only by manually locking this ship will the targeting computer start spending resources on tracking the enemy vehicle and enable aim assist and missile lock. But be warned, your opponent will receive a notification that they are target-locked, and their ship computer will offer them the option to lock you as a target in return.

In addition to locking, you can pin up to three extra targets, which enables you to switch the target-lock among those pinned ships quickly. Those pins are shared within the ship, so it can be used to coordinate between turrets! In the future, the number of targets your ship can track will be dependent on the targeting computer. Combat-centric ships will have the ability to target multiple targets, but a basic starter may only be able to track one until you upgrade its targeting computer to a more powerful unit.

Finally, we looked at high-speed combat as we felt that too often dogfighting devolved into battling fast-moving pixels that zoomed past you. Combat was losing the visceral dogfighting feel that Star Citizen promised. The idea with the changes is to incentivize players with increased accuracy and higher availability of power for things like weapons and shields if traveling at or below Space Combat Maneuver (SCM) speed. Above this threshold the ship must divert more power to the thrusters, and it’s harder for the targeting computer to quickly resolve a firing solution, and thus harder for you to hit. This correlates to real life as it’s much harder to land accurate hits while moving fast. In this first iteration, some of the options that players will have at maximum velocity have been restricted. When flying above SCM speeds, weapon slew rate will decrease, and the time it takes to lock on missiles will increase.

What do we want to achieve with these changes?

We want turrets to be a meaningful choice for players. Not climbing into the pilot seat but manning a turret instead should reward players by adding serious punch to the fight. Enemy pilots should get nervous if you point a turret at them because they are accurate and deadly. With this, we offer you more substantial options during ship combat and see it as an essential step towards a full multi-crew combat experience.

The new targeting change eases the actual target selection process and makes it work better in large space battles. It’s also the first step towards pinning and sending targeting data to your friends.

Looking into the future

Space combat is a topic too complex to be approached with a single patch release. So, while Alpha 3.10 is a solid step towards achieving our vision, it does not stand for the final state of how we imagine space combat in Star Citizen to look.

Plans include the addition of weapon and thruster capacitors, so you need to choose carefully when to engage in a fight and use your guns or try to break away using boost. The thruster capacitor concept directly ties into the idea of high impulse versus sustained thrust discussed above. We want pilots to commit to their decisions and actions taken in a combat situation to have meaningful consequences for the outcome of the fight.

We will be adding some additional nuance on the penalties for engaging in combat above SCM speeds, such as increased energy consumption and shields that recharge slower.

We’re also reviewing the radar and scanning systems, allowing smaller ships to hide inside bigger ship’s signatures by changing how signatures are generated and detected.

Besides being a key factor in being picked up on a scan or seen on radar, your ships signature will affect how other weapons can track you. If you have full power to your thrusters and shields, you’ll run hot and be much easier to detect and track. The stronger your signature the easier it will be for a missile to lock and track you or auto gimbals to get on target.

Ultimately, we do not want space combat to feel like an FPS in space or a DPS race, but rather want to reward pilots that employ tactical maneuvers and carefully play out individual strengths and weaknesses of their and their opponent’s ship. Running stealthily allows you to not be detected easily, and even when picked up on radar it takes longer for your enemy to determine a firing solution as your signature is low. But if they hit, you’ll be in trouble as you can’t pump the same kind of power to your shields as you could if you were tanking it. There should not be one all-powerful ship or play style; the idea is to have strategies and counter strategies for different ships and play styles.

Thus, in the future you’ll see a lot of changes in the weapons systems, ship balance, and combat UI. This does not just cover the primary combat systems, but also ways to more effectively communicate with your co-pilots, gunners, and wingmen, and therefore enhance your tactical options in multicrew and fleet gameplay.Alpha 3.10 is just the first step towards our vision and we will bring many more improvements and changes to the current flight and combat experience over the coming patch releases. From utilizing the physics system to calculate weapon damage based on properties and speed instead of a simple hit point approach, to exciting multicrew gameplay that includes things like putting out fires or re-routing power nodes to keep your ship running: The upcoming changes will make space battles in Star Citizen a unique and thrilling experience.

Our next update, Alpha 3.10 is targeted to release in July. You can see what is planned for the future of Star Citizen on our weekly updated Roadmap. Thursday next week will feature a flight-focused episode of Inside Star Citizen, where the vehicle experience team will provide further info on the Flight & Fight improvements coming with the next patch.

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