Moo Tang Clan: February 2010

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Warp travel & navigation - another take

Reading Down with Star Trek: Sector Space over at Bio Break and the bulk of solutions to the un-fun Sector Space navigation mechanic in STO is to simply present a list of destinations and then you'd warp there. The further away the longer it will take. And apparently without risk of plotting a warp through the centre of a star.

So, while the clumsy non-fun mechanics of Sector Space have been removed, nothing fun is suggested instead. It simply becomes a time-sink.

Here's my idea:

OK, start by selecting a destination from a list (squinting at a map to find a particular destination is one of Syp's complaints), and then asking your navigation officer to lay in a course. He will then select a heading, a speed, and a duration. You can adjust those settings if you want.

If your warp gets too close to any gravity well (stars, planets, massive comets, black holes, mysterious anomalies) you either fall out of warp or your heading gets a bit messed up (which could either deliver you well off course at the end of the warp or put you at greater risk of running too close to a subsequent gravity well).

The game now is to shoot the gaps, to adroitly navigate.

There is scope for RPG advancement too:

  • Your starter ship doesn't have a compass and gymbal which are accurate to 27 decimal places, so until you upgrade your equipment you'll have a greater chance of not heading exactly where you wanted (and risking warp drops or unwanted slingshots).
  • Your starter crew are not the greatest navigators, so of course they mess up too: if you ask them to auto-plot a multi-jump route they either don't find the most efficient route (like taking one small jump in the opposite direction to set up a long straight jump, vs many small hops dodging the mess directly ahead), or misjudge the safe radius for systems and risk a warp drop, or are overly conservative and keep a wide berth around gravity wells (and thus less efficient routings).
  • Your early maps would of course have all the major star systems plotted, and sufficient info on their planets to avoid their general orbits - but better maps would include precise orbital timings so you'd be able to skirt close to one side of a system because you know all the planets are on the other side.
  • The early maps might also be missing some black space gravity wells - rogue planets or comets or black holes, floating in the inky interstellar voids. Not all bad news of course - stumbling across stuff like that is all part of exploration.
All these provide scope for upgrades and advancement, and if the personality of your chief navigation officer is randomly selected everyone's experience could be different too (which impacts the usual gaming strategy of look up the optimal grinding pattern to upgrade and then whine endlessly about the boredom of grinding).

Of course, with this navigation system a player could instead forgo all the upgrades and do all the steering themselves - like I said, it's a game of shooting the gaps. Start the game with most players having better skills at navigating than the Navigation Officer to kick start this learning curve. Some players won't like doing the navigating and will spend their resources on upgrading their officers, ships, and maps; others won't mind and maybe even find it fun, and would prefer to spend hard earned credits on weapons systems instead.

To make it more fun, to make it more of a game, it would be necessary to provide feedback and scoring to players: have the game system report their best travel times across maps, and the shortest routes, even have it score the time it takes a player to lay in a course before hitting the warp button, and keep a leader-board for players to compete against (will anyone beat Han Solo's Kessel run record of 12 parsecs? [yes, different game, different universe, bite me])