Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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Starfighter Inc – “Hard SF” Space Combat?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 17, 2017

Starfighter Inc is supposed to be a “Hard Science Fiction” space combat game. I’m intrigued, but for me, they will definitely going to have to jump through some hoops to rationalize it and make it fun. Hard science fiction can be extremely dramatic and interesting. But as a space-fighter combat setting, I see it being as far removed from modern air combat as modern BVR (Beyond Visual Range) air combat is from the early World War I dogfights. Highly incompatible with the pew-pew-pew.

“Hard SF” space combat … to me… sounds like: “Launch missile or spread of kinetic weapons. Wait six hours. Before you can confirm it’s killed, something blows you up that was launched at you hours ago.” Any kind of significant damage to your ship would either kill you immediately, or you’d die of cold or asphyxiation hours before rescue arrives. Although really, it’d be computers doing all the fighting, considering the distances and accuracy involved. Humans would just be targets.

Space is frickin’ harsh, even under optimal conditions, and human beings are poorly adapted to it. The distances are literally mind-boggling. They are so huge and beyond our frame of reference that we really only understand them on a mathematical level. Thus the speeds involved are astonishing. Unless they are actively working to match velocities, two objects passing each other in space will do so at “blink and you missed it” speeds.  Nothing like that slow pass in the Firefly pilot.

Anyway – so I’m a little hesitant about the “hard science fiction space combat” thing. Space combat WITH some hard science fiction mixed in? Hey, cool. I’m totally there. And that’s what I’m expecting this one to be.  I’m not saying it can’t happen. I’m just saying I expect them to bend some rules and make up some weird justifications to make it work. As a marketing  concept, “Hard SF realism” doesn’t really do it for me.

All that being said… they’ve got some people with some awesome industry experience behind them, who have worked on some science fiction combat games I’ve really been impressed with: The X-Wing / TIE-Fighter series, Mechwarrior 2, Crysis, etc.   So … I’m definitely giving them some credit for coming up with a cool, fun game, but that’s in spite of the premise, not because of it. I’m just trusting that when the push comes to shove, the realism will be sacrificed for fun. That’s not a big stretch – these guys ain’t newbs.

Of a bit more concern for me, personally, is that this is multiplayer only. They describe it as “Counterstrike meets World of Warships… in Space.”  Which is a cool concept, but I’ve played very little Counterstrike and none of World of Warships because I’m not really an online gamer.  Not anymore. No patience for it.

But I’m still going to be watching this project with interest, just to see how the “hard sf” angle pans out. I expect it to “soften up” a great deal before release, and I hope it’ll be fun. In the meantime… what are the best mission-based (a la Wing Commander, X-Wing, etc.)  out now? I’m tempted by House of the Dying Sun.

If you are interested in Starships Inc, the crowdfunding campaign can be found here.

Starships, Inc. Kickstarter Campaign




Filed Under: Game Announcements, Space Sims - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Felix said,

    Yeah, as a sci-fi writer my mind boggles at people thinking missiles would be the weapon of choice in space battles. Energy beams may be inefficient and soon scattered, but at least they’re going to make it across the battlefield before the battle is over.

    They say sci-fi writers have no sense of scale… but other people realize even less just how big space is even in low Earth orbit. Even fans of hard SF, who are often just snobs trying to show everyone how much they know about real-world physics… when in fac they don’t.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    So Felix, how would you translate hard SF to a space combat game, and make it fun? Or would you?

  • Maklak said,

    Missiles / drones are guided and can strike at a distance where those beams dissipate and / or miss, because the enemy keeps accelerating in random directions and it takes seconds for light to reach him. On top of that, there is a finite precision for pointing beams / guns with unguided ordnance in some direction (think about precession necessary to hit a fly at 1km, it is similar to hitting a 10m object at 1000 km) Besides, you can have hundreds to thousands of missiles and/or drones for the cost of a gunboat.

    Game “Children of a Dead Earth” was made as a realistic space combat simulator. While realistic, it is rather boring. Each ship is basically a cylinder with some stuff attached, because that is the best shape to build. Armaments consist of missiles, drones, railguns (artillery), lasers and point defence machineguns. Depending on what you have, you either:
    1) Launch a part of your drones / missiles as a swarm, set their intercept trajectory (where they go, how much fuel they uses, relative speed to target at intercept), then wait for a few hours and hope that they don’t miss, there are enough of them to overwhelm point defence, the rockets don’t blow each other up and that the enemy is disabled / destroyed as a result. Oh and that you survive the counter-swarm.
    2) Close the distance to below 100 km and use your ship’s weapons. Depending on what you have and what the enemy has, you either want to intercept slowly (and snipe from distance, while staying outside effective range of his weapons) or close in fast to where even your point defence fires at the enemy ship, because he has longer ranged weapons than you.
    You also want to not run out of fuel / deltav and do it fast enough to not run out of time.