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Rob Zacny

Episode 290: Odds and Ends

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Just in time for the weekend, it's Rob and Troy "Miscellaneous is my Middle Name" Goodfellow back together to talk about some of the smaller games that fell through the cracks during this holiday season.

 

Listen here.

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I appreciate you guys sharing some of smaller but still cool games through podcast like this :)

 

Interesting note about naval battles because I concur that it's not the easiest topic to create deep game out of and has been wrestling with this 'problem' for a while on my own...

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MikeO   

I know it wasn't really the point of your topic for this episode, but thanks so much for bringing up Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Star. This game is fantastic, and I don't think I would have bought it if you hadn't talked about it and mentioned that it was $30 right now. (qualifies as ultra cheap for Matrix) It's similar in some respects to the Panther Games sims, but seems much more engaging to me. 

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hexgrid   

Interesting note about naval battles because I concur that it's not the easiest topic to create deep game out of and has been wrestling with this 'problem' for a while on my own...

 

    Read Garret Mattingly's "Defeat of the Spanish Armada".  There's your game right there; it has everything you need for a truly great naval wargame.

 

    Terrain!  You have sailing ships, so the winds matter and knowing the local wind patterns is important.  You have strong currents, dangerous rocky shallows, and plenty of real, important terrain which can be played to advantage.  The English force is local, and so would know all of the terrain by heart.  The Spanish force would have maps and scouting information, but would lack the intimate knowledge the English force has.  Currents that changed with the tides, for instance, would probably not be well documented in the Spanish maps, while the local English forces would understand them well due to familiarity.

 

    A huge, disciplined but ponderous Spanish force far from home against a smaller, looser nimble force with (limited!) nearby supply.  A quote from Mattingly's book, regarding a conversation the papal representative of Lisbon's emissary had before the Armada's launch:

 

    He was talking privately, he said, to one of the highest and most experienced officers in the Spanish fleet (can it have been Juan Martinez de Recalde?) and found the courage to ask him bluntly: `And if you meet the English Armada in the Channel, do you expect to win the battle?'

    `Of course', replied the Spaniard.

    `How can you be sure?'

    `It's very simple. It is well known that we fight in God's cause. So, when we meet the English, God will surely arrange matters so that we can grapple and board them, either by sending some strange freak of weather, or, more likely, just by depriving the English of their wits. If we can come to close quarters, Spanish valour and Spanish steel (and the masses of soldiers we shall have on board) will make our victory certain. But unless God helps us by a miracle, the English, who have faster and handier ships than ours, and many more long-range guns, and who know their advantage just as well as we do, will never close with us at all, but will stand aloof and knock us to pieces with their culverins, without our being able to do them any serious hurt.  So,' concluded the captain, and one fancies a grim smile, `we are sailing against England in the confident hope of a miracle.'

 

    Mark out all the terrain visibly for the English player, allow the Spanish player to discover it, and you have an excellent scenario for an asymmetric naval wargame.

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hexgrid   

With respect to sandbox games, I'd say in general they are toys or virtual playgrounds rather than games.  You can make them into games by setting goals for yourself (the classic Minecraft "I'm going to strip-mine this continent and build a diamond castle on that island!"), but unless you do, they aren't games. They can be fun, they can be well made, but they are a different category of thing from games.

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Well stated hexgrid, that's a fine example for naval wargame but I wonder if it's limited to age of sails and once we get proper self powered ships, lot of those distinctions just sort of melt away?

 

To clarify my position, I'm working with space (near future sci fi so everything is within the solar system) as theme and it's running into this trouble of 'not enough terrain' as I think modern naval warfare suffers from.  Tried prototyping both arcade like rules and more hardcore simulation... arcade one fell into the trap of not enough tactical variety (all about focus firing) and sim version was just straight up weird because I ended up having really strange sense of distance as everything shoots forever (at least within the game room, so distance doesn't really mean squat unlike in every other strategy games) and it took forever to countermand any previous movement... pretty sure I don't have the skills necessary to make a good game out of more simulation-like space combat yet.

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hexgrid   

Well stated hexgrid, that's a fine example for naval wargame but I wonder if it's limited to age of sails and once we get proper self powered ships, lot of those distinctions just sort of melt away?

Yes and no. I think the age of sail is probably the best naval setting for an interesting wargame, simply because it does have terrain and there are some interesting asymmetries, along with significant logistical considerations.

That said, one can find similar in naval combat from later eras. On the scale that modern navies operate on, weather becomes a form of terrain, and there's the whole matter of submarines. Detection becomes more of an issue as well, as discussed in the podcast.

o clarify my position, I'm working with space (near future sci fi so everything is within the solar system) as theme and it's running into this trouble of 'not enough terrain' as I think modern naval warfare suffers from. Tried prototyping both arcade like rules and more hardcore simulation... arcade one fell into the trap of not enough tactical variety (all about focus firing) and sim version was just straight up weird because I ended up having really strange sense of distance as everything shoots forever (at least within the game room, so distance doesn't really mean squat unlike in every other strategy games) and it took forever to countermand any previous movement... pretty sure I don't have the skills necessary to make a good game out of more simulation-like space combat yet.

No, near-future space combat is potentially *fascinating*, and full of all sorts of interesting tactical meat. You need to go more in the Harpoon model, but there is a brilliant game there waiting to be made. I've already partly made it myself, but it's shelved while I work on other projects and I don't know when I'll get back to it...

The first thing you need to think about is distance, and you need to think about it in terms of the speed of light. If you're going for near-future and relatively realistic, let's say you're considering a classic near future scenario; an asteroid colony rebellion, which was the sort of scenario I was building around. Most of the interesting stuff is on the plane of the ecliptic. The orbit of Jupiter is roughly (average) 778 gigameters (about 43 light minutes) away from the sun, so you're talking about a combat theater that's a thin cylinder that is 43 light minutes in radius. That means if you're on one side and send a message to the other, you'll get a response back in just shy of three hours. Assuming they didn't die in battle somewhere in the first hour and a half.

The implications of communication and *sensor* lag are fodder for an awesome wargame that as far as I know nobody has yet made (except for my shelved project, but it's not playable yet). The major thing is, unlike most wargames, "you" need to be at a known, specific location because everything you see is going to have time lag due to the speed of light. If you're trying to command a battle from ten light minutes away, all of your information (where ships are, who is still alive...) is ten minutes stale, and your orders are going to reach the battle ten minutes later than you send them (so they'll be 20 minutes stale when they arrive), and then it's going to be another ten minutes before you see the result. There's immense lag on your orders.

Even inter-ship coordination is a problem if the ships are fighting across a large area, so I think doctrine will play a major role; there would need to be doctrine for things like target selection and trap shooting so that fleet elements separated by vast distances can coordinate attacks without being hampered by communications and sensor lag.

Space-based weapons are lethal enough that unless we're going to posit "deflector shields" or "warping" or something dubious like that, we're in a world where a single good hit can take out the largest ships. Weapons are likely to be optical; the combat distances are going to be unfriendly to kinetic weapons and missiles. The only use for non-optical weaponry would likely be for area denial as minefields. A missile coming from several light seconds away is going to be an easy target for optical weapons, and is unlikely to be moving a significant fraction of the speed of light, so the target can swat it down or dodge it at leisure.

For similar reasons, the whole "space fighter" idea is perhaps romantic, but completely impractical, and I say that as someone who is working on a space fighter game. Game-wise and fiction-wise it's a fun idea, but a space analog of the F15 or the Spitfire would be useless in a realistic battle; between the distances involved and the limits of human physiology, fighters would be liabilities. Practically speaking, we're talking about light cruisers equipped with ship killing lasers.

So, you don't want to be seen, because as soon as someone sees you, they're pointing single-hit kill weapons at you. So, what do you do?

Well, first of all, if they're more than a few light-seconds away and you're moving with any kind of speed, dodging might keep you out of harm's way; they can't predict where you're going to be when the attack arrives. Of course, if the first inkling you have that you've been seen is the laser hitting the hull, that doesn't work out so well. Or if there are a group of enemy ships and they've got a trap-shooting doctrine set up, they may be able to box you in so that no matter where you dodge you're still taking a fatal hit.

So the big thing is, you don't want to be seen. A low albedo hull, passive electromagnetic sensors (radio, optical, IR...) with the option for active sensing used like sonar pings; useful for gathering information, but everyone else can see them too, and it's basically a giant "HERE I AM!" to any hostiles. So is opening fire.

So, how do you avoid being seen in space? Well, the fun thing about operating in our solar system is that there are *billions* of asteroids, meteoroids, comets, and other assorted space objects out there in orbit. Too many to track. So the way you spot a ship is by looking for non-asteroid behavior; shifting orbits, engine thrust, electromagnetic emissions, firing weapons, maneuvering... Even quite a large ship operating in silent running mode (engines off, radio silence, passive sensors, in a solar orbit) would be nigh indistinguishable from all the other stuff floating around up there until it did something suspicious.

So, your detection systems are passive sensors hooked up to massive computers, madly scanning the incoming data for behavioral anomalies. Anything that looks like an anomaly would be flagged as a potential hostile and carefully kept track of, so once you've been spotted there's no hiding again unless you're somewhere unusual like close to a planet you can duck behind. While you might possibly get away with one minor course correction without being detected, it probably still flagged you as suspicious, and everything you do pushes you towards being flagged a threat. That said, the further an object is from a sensor, the harder it is for that sensor to detect anomalous behavior; the inverse square law comes into play here. You might even be able to get completely out of sensor range, depending on the acuity of the sensors and the albedo of your ship.

In an invasion scenario, then, the attacker wants to sneak their ships far away from the target, and then set them all up in natural looking orbits that will place them all in good firing positions at a coordinated time, while perhaps also orbiting in sacrificial drones to emit active sensor pings until they are destroyed. They might even try to orbit in some large mass to hit a known target, or possibly a hail of tiny masses to make it less obvious. All of the orders would need to be in place before the attack, both to maintain silent running and because the communications lag makes micromanagement impossible.

The defender, meanwhile, wants to concentrate on detection, and positions of strategic advantage; near large bodies, perhaps, or in unexpected locations like high above the plane of the ecliptic.

So, you have terrain! Orbital mechanics and the larger stellar bodies are your terrain; you want to give the player mechanisms for saying "If I want to be *here* at this time, what orbits will get me there, and from where?". "Minefields" (that is, orbiting fields of armed drones in silent running mode or an orbiting hail of buckshot), areas where detection is difficult (close to large bodies), and so forth.

Communications are also potentially a point of interest; you could try to keep private communications by sending tight-beam messages rather than broadcast messages, but because of the distances involved you need to be pretty sure where the receiver is going to be when the message arrives. You can reduce the risk of missing the receiver by expanding the message beam to a cone, but that also increases the chance that an undetected enemy will be within the cone and spot you. Even if the receiver is in a known position and a beam is used, some reflection of the beam will scatter and may wind up being detected by enemy sensors, so even the most "quiet" of communications runs the risk of betraying the receiver's position.

It also means (back to the lag again) that while one of your picket ships might have spotted an enemy, they still have to communicate it to all the other ships somehow, and that takes time. Do they break radio silence, broadcast the location of the enemy and at the same time fire at its anticipated position? Do they try to tight-beam the information back to a relay drone that broadcasts the information?

If you take that basic (and, I think, realistic) scenario for space warfare in 2130ad or so, there's plenty of material to build an excellent space wargame.

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My understanding was that detection in space is much simpler due to heat emission, and going stealth would involve hurling (no self propulsion) an object after freezing it so that it doesn't have to emit heat while getting to its destination.

 

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/StealthInSpace

 

Also not just fighters, I think space warships in general is romantic.  Like what would be the point of one?  You could just have loads of missiles orbiting around points of interest.  And I think kinetic weapons are actually right at home in space so long as most important targets remain largely stationary (being near future, I think this is likely to remain true).  When you say optical weapons, I assume you mean lasers?  Could laser weapons effectively intercept kinetic weapons?  I mean it would take a lot of time and energy to completely evaporate a large mass.

 

Combine the two and it just turns into... very awful un-game like calculation when I tried to gamify it.  Hence I'm going with far more arcade route where I can just add whatever, including interesting terrain.

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hexgrid   

My understanding was that detection in space is much simpler due to heat emission, and going stealth would involve hurling (no self propulsion) an object after freezing it so that it doesn't have to emit heat while getting to its destination.

 

    I don't really buy that.  If you're operating in silent running with basic life support (assuming you even have a crew) and little else, what's generating the heat?  Space travel isn't like atmospheric travel; once you get going in the right direction at the right velocity you can cut engines and Newtonian physics does the rest.

 

 

    If you look at the argument here, they assume ships whose drives are always active which, amusingly, is a fairly silly trope.  So yes, if the engine is on, stealth is out the window.  And you're burning reaction mass, which means you're burning through your endurance.  Fast.  The F1 engines on the Saturn V, for instance, had less than 3 minutes of total burn time available, though admittedly that's because it's an absolute bastard getting out of a gravity well.

 

    Practically speaking, that's not how space travel is going to work for the next couple of centuries unless there's a fairly impressive physics breakthrough. Spacecraft in the reasonable near future travel by using their engines as little as they can get away with in order to shift to an orbit that takes them where they want to go.  Then they shut the engines down to conserve fuel and, yes, to make heat dissipation less of a problem.  And they "coast" to the destination.

 

Also not just fighters, I think space warships in general is romantic.  Like what would be the point of one?  You could just have loads of missiles orbiting around points of interest.  And I think kinetic weapons are actually right at home in space so long as most important targets remain largely stationary (being near future, I think this is likely to remain true).  When you say optical weapons, I assume you mean lasers?  Could laser weapons effectively intercept kinetic weapons?  I mean it would take a lot of time and energy to completely evaporate a large mass.

 

    Well, yes, if you're going to have a space wargame in the solar system, you do need to explain why it isn't just one or both sides hurling heavy inert masses at high speed into each other's population centers.  Which means you wind up where NATO and the Warsaw Pact were in the Cold War, coming up with the idea of "limited warfare" and "conventional warfare" to try to explain why having large armies facing each other in Europe was relevant when both sides had enough nukes to obliterate each other.  But (clearly) there's historical precedent you can work with here. :)

 

    So, if we accept that there will be some sort of space naval conflict by handwaving away the Death by Near-Lightspeed Girders scenario, we're probably looking at things that would be roughly equivalent to cruisers, even if they look nothing like a terrestrial cruiser.  You'd want something big enough to carry a power plant (or at least capacitors) to fire a very high powered laser weapon, carry a decent amount of reaction mass, have some internal storage to allow for some heat management, and have some physical size so you can get decent surface area and parallax on the passive sensor arrays.

 

    It wouldn't need much crew; most or all of the fleet could be unmanned, really, and even the manned ships could probably get away with having a single "captain/engineer" and no other crew.  Life support requirements would be minimal with a single person on a fairly large ship, and the heat generated in silent running (which would be almost all of the operational life of the vessel, in practice) would be small enough that it would be difficult to tell the difference between that and natural heat emission due to energy from the sun.

 

    As for kinetic weapons, the problem with them is two things: They travel slowly (relative to the distances involved; space is *big*), and you don't have to evaporate them.  You just have to get out of the way, or deflect them.  If you can tag them even briefly with a high powered optical weapon, you'll evaporate part of them, and the off-gassing of the evaporated material will change the vector (and thus the orbit) of the kinetic weapon.  If it's a significant chunk of a light second away when you tag it, a deflection of a fraction of a degree will make it miss you by kilometers if not more.

 

    Let's say you're in a ship that's 10 light seconds away from me, and we've detected each other and start firing.  I have a space machine gun and space missiles, you have a laser.  We fire at the same time.  What happens?

 

    Well, we both start dodging.  Unless you're a terrible shot, some time in the next 30 seconds you manage to tag me with the laser, and that's it for me, I'm dead.  As for you, well, my space machine gun bullets and missiles are super advanced, and travel an insanely unrealistic speed of 10% C (that is, 10% of the speed of light, which is probably on the wrong side of the "implausibly fast" line).  So you've got 100 seconds to deal with the kinetics and missiles, and really 90 seconds by the time you know they're definitely in flight (since you'd have seen them launch 10 seconds after I fired them).

 

    Now, 10 light seconds is about 3 billion meters.  Unless I put out a truly insane number of projectiles, you can almost certainly adjust the position of your ship slightly and let them all pass harmlessly by, since they're all traveling on known vectors.  The exception would be the missiles, which presumably would be dead Newtonian projectiles until they got "nearby" and would then fire up engines and try to correct their course to get an actual hit.  But with the speed they'd be traveling, they'd need a lot of thrust to manage the course correction, and they'd light up your sensors like fireworks.  So, you just train the laser on anything that's generating thrust, or fire up the drives and move the ship laterally far enough that the missiles can't course correct enough to hit you.

 

    Realistically, though, I'd expect that kinetic weapons would be lucky to hit 0.01% C (the NASA moon missions traveled at 11200 meters per second, roughly, which is less than 0.004% C), so you'd have more than a day (probably way more, perhaps even weeks!) before they arrived to pick them off or dodge their path.  Did I mention space is big?

 

Combine the two and it just turns into... very awful un-game like calculation when I tried to gamify it.  Hence I'm going with far more arcade route where I can just add whatever, including interesting terrain.

 

    Have a look at the Legend of Galactic Heroes game, then.  They're space-opera combat based on a Japanese series of stories, and they have some tricky things they did to make space combat interesting.  One of them is postulating faster than light travel via a sort of "hyperspace" scheme, but the hyperspace has physical terrain that constrains it.  One part of the setting is that the two powers that are at war have only two narrow hyperspace channels between them, one of which one side controls at a choke point via a mad death-star-esque space fortress covered with liquid metal.

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    I don't really buy that.  If you're operating in silent running with basic life support (assuming you even have a crew) and little else, what's generating the heat?  Space travel isn't like atmospheric travel; once you get going in the right direction at the right velocity you can cut engines and Newtonian physics does the rest.

 

 

    If you look at the argument here, they assume ships whose drives are always active which, amusingly, is a fairly silly trope.

 

No you are thinking of wrong source of heat.  Once you activate your propulsion system to give that initial push, that generates the heat they are talking about.  That has to be dumped out of the ship somehow, and that's the heat that can be used to detect you.  Hence how I was describing that in order to get a true stealth launch, something else has to perform that initial push for you and prevent that heat energy from being transfered to you, hence the freezing part.  But soon as you try to change course, bam you are detectable again.

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How much guts does it take to make episode that requires you to listen to episode recorder a year ago?

 

Seriously, Flashpoint Campaigns is wargame about chain of command I've always forgotten by now cause I've never tried it. I'll probably won't try it cause I'm not a big fun of cold war stuff but I appriciate Rob & Troy delving into obscure titles like this one. They still have to give some sort of introduction.

 

My understanding was that detection in space is much simpler due to heat emission, and going stealth would involve hurling (no self propulsion) an object after freezing it so that it doesn't have to emit heat while getting to its destination.

I suspect most space sim would only have active detection system (so you have to look for someone in a specific place before you can see him) or very limited range of detection.

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hexgrid   

No you are thinking of wrong source of heat.  Once you activate your propulsion system to give that initial push, that generates the heat they are talking about.  That has to be dumped out of the ship somehow, and that's the heat that can be used to detect you.  Hence how I was describing that in order to get a true stealth launch, something else has to perform that initial push for you and prevent that heat energy from being transfered to you, hence the freezing part.  But soon as you try to change course, bam you are detectable again.

 

    Right.  Which is why you don't change course until you're actually fighting.

 

    That's the thing.  It's very like Harpoon; once you show up on the enemy sensors, you're dead. So any battle scenario is going to involve the attacker trying to get all their forces into place via passive orbits.  Presumably with small, hard to detect burns, and perhaps even with cold pressurized gas thrusters or other long, low-wattage techniques used far from enemy eyes, maybe even from the far side of the sun or from beyond the orbit of Jupiter.

 

    If you're willing to take your time, you can get just about anywhere in the solar system with fairly little power.

 

    So, if you know (for instance) that your enemy is mostly at the L4 point of Jupiter and the Sun, you send your ships off behind the Sun via a slingshot orbit from Earth, and then have them do their serious thrusting when they're occluded.  Or find a slingshot orbit that will put you where you want to be without any visible thrusting and just the occasional small burn for minor course correction.

 

    While you're doing this, there's a vast array of stuff flying around, of vastly varying size, albedo, orbit... and all of it is absorbing, re-radiating and reflecting solar energy.

 

 

    And that ignores the possibility that there are commercial vessels further obscuring things.  Maybe when you launch and do your initial burns it happens inside something that looks like an ore hauler, but which is instead carrying your cruiser which it will quietly separate from at some point where it is difficult to see.  After all, if we're positing space combat, presumably it's because there's something commercially exploitable up there that's worth fighting over.

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hexgrid   

I suspect most space sim would only have active detection system (so you have to look for someone in a specific place before you can see him) or very limited range of detection.

 

    The thing is, though, if you do that, you're broadcasting "HERE I AM" to everyone.  The distance makes it worse, because of the whole speed of light thing.  If we're assuming laser weapons, your sensors move at the same speed as weapons fire.

 

    Say you're a light minute away and I send out a sensor ping at you; I'm lucky, I guessed where you are.  One minute later, the light from the ping hits your ship.  You now know where I am.  The light bounces off your ship, and some of it comes back towards my ship.  One minute later, I detect the bounced light and know where you are.

 

    Except that when you detected my ping, your automated systems went into "oh shit" mode, and as quickly as they could manage they brought the main laser to bear on my ship and fired, while throwing your ship into an evasive burn.  So there's a death ray coming at me at the speed of light a fraction of a second behind the returning sensor signal.  So, a minute later I know where you are, and just a hair after that I'm an expanding ball of plasma.  My automated systems fire back in the fraction of a second between the returning ping and the incoming laser, but you'll have had two minutes to evade by the time my laser reaches where you were.

 

    Upshot: Active sensors will kill you.

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   Upshot: Active sensors will kill you.

 

Well, didn't know we're going all the way into realism cause in this case it's much more interesting to simulate napoleonic warfare with couriers and limited vission.

 

Isn't this system similar to submarines? What doctrines are there to deal with active sensors and submarines? Do ships assume submarine always sees them first so you can use all the active system you can?

 

I understand passive detection looks more sane in a situation when light speed is no longer considered instant, but isn't it more boring and strategy defying? It all comes to a sensor and fire range just like in XX century warfare.

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    So, if you know (for instance) that your enemy is mostly at the L4 point of Jupiter and the Sun, you send your ships off behind the Sun via a slingshot orbit from Earth, and then have them do their serious thrusting when they're occluded.  Or find a slingshot orbit that will put you where you want to be without any visible thrusting and just the occasional small burn for minor course correction.

 

I think warS would be over by the time this maneuver is finished under passive motion achieved via a thrust that's too small to worth of note :P

 

Although your point about just spamming stuff makes sense and would probably be vital.  What I'm thinking is, there can be true stealth in space but it has to be achieved long before any fighting starts to get to any meaningful position (otherwise the stealth launch would be too slow to make any contribution to the war), so most active ways of dealing with detection is to spam aka flare style :)

 

And you are putting wayyy too much capabilities into laser while not giving kinetic weapons fair share of technological improvements here.... you are talking about laser weapons firing over light minute (18 million kilometers, thannks to google).  Now that's perhaps possible in the future but if you want to talk about how much they will burn down kinetic weapons, give kinetic weapons fair share of benefit of doubt in tech here because the scenarios you are describing is pitting a light year range laser beam vs kinetic weapons that can be built right now :P

 

I think better point defense system against kinetic weapons would be to again, spam the rough incoming direction with your own mass of insignificance to throw it off course (or at least force it to use fuel to adjust course).  That can be deployed long before lasers of equal tech are in range IMO.

 

Loving this nerd out talk and how we totally went completely off topic lol <3  But as much as I love the topic but it just sounds like awful game.

 

 

I understand passive detection looks more sane in a situation when light speed is no longer considered instant, but isn't it more boring and strategy defying? It all comes to a sensor and fire range just like in XX century warfare.

 

I certainly think it makes for an awful game without some heavy hand waving (which is moving away from sim-aspect(which is what I'm doing anyways)).

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hexgrid   

I understand passive detection looks more sane in a situation when light speed is no longer considered instant, but isn't it more boring and strategy defying? It all comes to a sensor and fire range just like in XX century warfare.

 

    What it means, especially when you factor in communications and sensor lag, is that the strategy becomes setting up a lethal clockwork and then setting it in motion.  Once things start, there's not much left to do.  By the time you're aware a battle has started, it has already long since ended unless you're right in the middle of it.

 

    So it wouldn't be a game about micromanaging your forces, clearly. :)

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hexgrid   

I think warS would be over by the time this maneuver is finished under passive motion achieved via a thrust that's too small to worth of note :P

 

    I'm not so sure, for two reasons.  First, I think this kind of scenario tends towards an extremely short war (on the order of tens of hours or less) preceded by months or years of preparation and deployment.  Some of that preparation and deployment might well be speculative ("It'd be nice to have forces in these locations if things go hot...").

 

    The other reason is that sensor acuity isn't nearly as good as I think you're assuming.  Have a look for Hubble images of solar system objects; it's one of the best optical sensors we have outside the atmosphere (though there's a better replacement in the works, admittedly), and it can't resolve surface features on the moons of Mars.  The distance involved combined with the inverse square law mean sensor acuity drops fast with range.  The IR wash from a burn that is brightly visible at 1 light second away is going to be nearly imperceptible at 100 or 1000 light seconds.

 

And you are putting wayyy too much capabilities into laser while not giving kinetic weapons fair share of technological improvements here.... you are talking about laser weapons firing over light minute (18 million kilometers, thannks to google).  Now that's perhaps possible in the future but if you want to talk about how much they will burn down kinetic weapons, give kinetic weapons fair share of benefit of doubt in tech here because the scenarios you are describing is pitting a light year range laser beam vs kinetic weapons that can be built right now :P

 

    Lasers are light.  They don't stop.  They might disperse if they aren't focused well enough, but I'm assuming that's a solvable enough problem.  Especially since you want to focus on a specific point (the target).

 

    Kinetic weapons are just too slow.  See the missiles/bullets vs. lasers scenario above.  At the ranges I'd expect ships to be engaging, the travel time for kinetic weapons would be days or weeks, while the laser's travel time would be seconds.

 

    Remember, the reason why the speed of light is the speed limit is because accelerating anything with mass has an energy cost that exponentially approaches infinity as you approach the speed of light.  Making lasers focus better is a far simpler problem to solve than making bullets move faster than a tiny fraction of C.

 

I think better point defense system against kinetic weapons would be to again, spam the rough incoming direction with your own mass of insignificance to throw it off course (or at least force it to use fuel to adjust course).  That can be deployed long before lasers of equal tech are in range IMO.

 

    The more I do the math, the more it looks like the best defense against kinetic weapons is to simply not be in their way, which you'd have plenty of time for.

 

Loving this nerd out talk and how we totally went completely off topic lol <3  But as much as I love the topic but it just sounds like awful game.

 

    Bikeshedding is fun.  :)

 

    I've put a fair amount of thought and effort into this because I was building it.

 

    Speaking of the which, do you know about the JPL Ephemerides stuff?  http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/?ephemerides  You can get it to spit out all sorts of orbital information on planets, moons, asteroids... I used it to build a clockwork solar system for my game.

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    I'm not so sure, for two reasons.  First, I think this kind of scenario tends towards an extremely short war (on the order of tens of hours or less) preceded by months or years of preparation and deployment.  Some of that preparation and deployment might well be speculative ("It'd be nice to have forces in these locations if things go hot...").

 

    The other reason is that sensor acuity isn't nearly as good as I think you're assuming.  Have a look for Hubble images of solar system objects; it's one of the best optical sensors we have outside the atmosphere (though there's a better replacement in the works, admittedly), and it can't resolve surface features on the moons of Mars.  The distance involved combined with the inverse square law mean sensor acuity drops fast with range.  The IR wash from a burn that is brightly visible at 1 light second away is going to be nearly imperceptible at 100 or 1000 light seconds.

 

 

    Lasers are light.  They don't stop.  They might disperse if they aren't focused well enough, but I'm assuming that's a solvable enough problem.  Especially since you want to focus on a specific point (the target).

 

Yes, and I already touched on that subject, that those maneuvers would be possible pre war long before the action :P

 

You can think of near future with dispersion free lasers but no improvements for visual sensors?

 

Again why give your arguments these super techs (which is fair given that we are discussing future tech) and give my side only the best of what we got today (which is unfair)?  Unless you think they have reached their physics based limits which I know very little of since I'm not good with science.

 

For example, solving dispersion problem.  Say they fix it so weapon grade laser can be focused at the lengths you are talking about.  Tech necessary to disperse (which is simple as carrying some gas or building outer material so that when it melts it creates the dispersing material) already exists.  Why couldn't they improve along or do you think laser just has that much headroom for feasible improvement in comparison?

 

 

    Kinetic weapons are just too slow.  See the missiles/bullets vs. lasers scenario above.  At the ranges I'd expect ships to be engaging, the travel time for kinetic weapons would be days or weeks, while the laser's travel time would be seconds.

 

    Remember, the reason why the speed of light is the speed limit is because accelerating anything with mass has an energy cost that exponentially approaches infinity as you approach the speed of light.  Making lasers focus better is a far simpler problem to solve than making bullets move faster than a tiny fraction of C.

 

 

    The more I do the math, the more it looks like the best defense against kinetic weapons is to simply not be in their way, which you'd have plenty of time for.

 

I'm expecting missiles just floating in space to start flying for kinetic weapons.  No need for ships there (or ships are the weapons?).  But that's not important distinction I suppose.

 

Yes but what happens after getting there is another issue.

 

And why restrict kinetic weapons to bullets that needs to be precise?

 

I haven't heard of that JPS stuff (although I checked out other parts of NASA).  I just googled what I needed :(  Much appreciated :)

 

So how did your project turn out BTW?  Or did you have to put a halt on it too early to get an accurate feel for it?

 

***Edit: Now I think about it there is a simple but definitely a game under your interpretation of future space war.

 

Since you go by 'if you can see it you can kill it', and shooting will almost certainly let you be seen.

 

So how the game would work is simple.  However the combat initially starts, the idea is that every ship trades one to one (except for the very first ship getting shot at).

 

So what would be the game?  The game would simply be to setup your forces so that when fighting starts, you end up controlling more points of interest (control is simple, you exclusively have guns aiming at it).  The idea would be to fool the opponent into miscalculation so that they over spend on few points while you try to win more location by smallest margin possible.

 

Could make for good short multiplayer game.  Could be epitome of simultaneous turn game where you take few turns reconning the areas while setting up your forces, with ultimate climax being the final combat phase (yep, just one turn of shooting, true to the vision).

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hexgrid   

You can think of near future with dispersion free lasers but no improvements for visual sensors?

 

    They're different orders of problem.  Maintaining focus on a laser is a matter of finding a way to get all the photons you emit to converge on a target, which is in principle not that conceptually difficult.  Visual sensor improvements are another problem entirely; we're already pretty good at building visual sensors that can capture nearly every photon that hits them.  The problem is the inverse square law; it doesn't matter how good your sensors are if something happens far enough away that you only get a couple of stray photons from it that you can't distinguish from random background noise.

 

    The workaround is to build huge sensors to try to capture a wider cross-section of signal, but that has practical limits, especially on a warship you wanted to have some hope of concealing.

 

    You could build big sensor stations or something, but they still have communications lag problems, and one presumes they'd have plausibly deniable accidents with meteors just before the opposing side wanted to do some serious maneuvering.

 

Again why give your arguments these super techs (which is fair given that we are discussing future tech) and give my side only the best of what we got today (which is unfair)?  Unless you think they have reached their physics based limits which I know very little of since I'm not good with science.

 

    The kinetics have hard limits based on relativistic physics.  That's the problem.  If you handwave away the acceleration problem for kinetics, you might as well have faster than light drives, because they're the same problem.

 

    Likewise, the sensor acuity problem is a pure physics problem; the inverse square law is not something we can repeal.  The essence of it is, linear increase in the radius of a sphere produces exponential increase in the surface area.  If you think of a set of photons scattering from an event, they're distributed in some way on the surface of a sphere.  That sphere gets bigger and bigger as the light moves away from the emitter, and as it does those photons are scattered over exponentially more surface area.

 

    Your sensor gets a chunk of that area; whatever section of it hits the sensor aperture.  So, a quick example.  Let's say you've got an event that emits a bunch of photons.  Let's say a billion trillion (1021) of them, for convenience.  One meter away, those photons are scattered over a 12.56m2 area, so if you had a 1m2 aperture you'd get roughly 1020 of them.  Ten meters away, it's 1257m2,  you'd get about 1018 of them.  At a kilometer (1000m), you're at 12.5 million square meters, and you're getting 1014 (ten thousand billion) of them, roughly.

 

    A light second away it's 1129409083442712607m2, and you're now getting only about 885 of the photons in your meter aperture sensor.  Ten light seconds out, you're down to about 9 photons.  Around 30 light seconds away, the number of photons drops below 1; depending on how they're distributed across the spherical shell, you might get one photon, you might get ten, you might get none.

 

    If you go to a 10m2 sensor, you have a significantly larger aperture and so are taking a larger chunk, you're back up to ~10 photons at half a light minute, but at a full light minute you're down to ~3 photons.  The sun is more than eight light minutes away from the earth.

 

    And that's the problem.  There are lots of other things emitting and reflecting photons out there, and you're potentially trying to detect a suspicious event from which you may get a handful of photons in a sea of unrelated noise.

 

    By contrast, pressurized cold gas thrusters are in use on satellites today, and focusing lasers is something we already know how to do.

 

For example, solving dispersion problem.  Say they fix it so weapon grade laser can be focused at the lengths you are talking about.  Tech necessary to disperse (which is simple as carrying some gas or building outer material so that when it melts it creates the dispersing material) already exists.  Why couldn't they improve along or do you think laser just has that much headroom for feasible improvement in comparison?

 

    Ultimately, the problem here is distance.  If it takes a week for your missiles to reach me, I have a week to sit there baking you with my laser.  I'll get through your hull before the missiles get anywhere near me, even if you do have countermeasures.

 

I'm expecting missiles just floating in space to start flying for kinetic weapons.  No need for ships there (or ships are the weapons?).  But that's not important distinction I suppose.

 

    Missiles as mines is something that potentially works.  You have "inert" missiles in some orbit, waiting for an activation signal or an enemy ship, and when they sense something they launch from close range.  The only problem is, again, space is really big, so unless you're going to build billions of these things, you need some specific orbit to deploy them where you have reason to believe a target will be.

 

And why restrict kinetic weapons to bullets that needs to be precise?

 

    The problem there is fuel.  Say we have a missile that we fire as a projectile, and it simply coasts until it gets close to the target and then activates and guides itself in the rest of the way.  The problem is, when we fire it as a projectile it is presumably moving at quite a velocity, and we're not in an atmosphere where we can use airfoils to redirect it.  The only way we can change direction is with raw thrust.  The missile can start to push itself sideways, but it doesn't lose any of its forwards momentum unless it actually thrusts backwards to try to slow down.

 

    If you want to experience the problem first-hand, play a space sim with Newtonian physics, but the practical effect is that there's a line the missile is following, and when it activates and starts thrusting that line turns into a cone of places it can potentially reach.  With the amount of fuel you can put on a missile, the cone is likely to be very narrow, and if the target can stay out of that cone, you can't hit it.

 

    You can solve the problem by making the missile travel slower, but then it takes longer to close the distance.

 

So how did your project turn out BTW?  Or did you have to put a halt on it too early to get an accurate feel for it?

 

    I shelved it when it was partly done, not enough there to be really playable yet.  It looks promising, but I'm currently working on something else that ate my attention. :)

 

***Edit: Now I think about it there is a simple but definitely a game under your interpretation of future space war.

 

Since you go by 'if you can see it you can kill it', and shooting will almost certainly let you be seen.

 

So how the game would work is simple.  However the combat initially starts, the idea is that every ship trades one to one (except for the very first ship getting shot at).

 

    Sort of; sensor acuity comes into it, as does comms lag.  A lot of the game is in the setup, though; once things start happening, there's little chance to intervene.

 

    Also, because of the speed of light, two ships can easily kill each other.  Or miss each other entirely.

 

    A lot of the game is setting up doctrine for the ships.  What to do if they spot an enemy.  When to use active sensors.  When to communicate.  How to coordinate with other ships without communicating with them.

 

So what would be the game?  The game would simply be to setup your forces so that when fighting starts, you end up controlling more points of interest (control is simple, you exclusively have guns aiming at it).  The idea would be to fool the opponent into miscalculation so that they over spend on few points while you try to win more location by smallest margin possible.

 

Could make for good short multiplayer game.  Could be epitome of simultaneous turn game where you take few turns reconning the areas while setting up your forces, with ultimate climax being the final combat phase (yep, just one turn of shooting, true to the vision).

 

    Something like that.  My scenarios tend to go towards wiping out enough of the other player that they concede, but the effect is much the same.  The one thing is, the one I've got is "real time" with the option for aggressive time compression, so it's definitely single-player only.

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What about laser based sensors (trying to tag every object with signal strength laser (yes, whoever that does this will be seen but the idea is that it would be sacrificial scout))?  I mean the problem with detection you raise is not that things are invisible, but that it's hard to tell what they are, so you could have cheap sacrificial 'scouts' just tagging everything to see how laser reflects back?  And if they can do this during peacetime (why not), even better?

 

About missile aiming yeah that's why you would spam and scatter them to create at least a triangular field of coverage which would then converge.  As for spamming billions, that's how I'm envisioning it.  Just spammed across every single points of interest passively, so the buildup should be easy.  Closest thing to warship would be the factory that makes them.

 

But otherwise clearly you know something more about this stuff so I'll take your word that lasers in space is highly scale-able weapon design and could dictate a whole lot.  An idea though, perhaps large bodies would, upon entering wartime, just emit and create dense miniature 'atmosphere' as a way to diffuse beams passively.  Doesn't have to completely, just enough so that baking it through all that diffusion, combined with irregular movement (it's already visible so pull out everything) would require lot of dedicated resources, creating opportunity for the other side.

 

    I shelved it when it was partly done, not enough there to be really playable yet.  It looks promising, but I'm currently working on something else that ate my attention. :)

 

Nice, wish you luck on that new thing! <3

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I remember reading a military SF novel based heavily around this idea before. Part of the Legion series by William C. Deitz, I think. It may have been By Blood Alone, but I'm looking at a description and it doesn't sound exactly right. And it may have had more to do with maneuvering than with sensors though they'd be important to know what positioning is needed. I remember it being all about being at just the right position at just the right moment.

 


The first thing you need to think about is distance, and you need to think about it in terms of the speed of light. If you're going for near-future and relatively realistic, let's say you're considering a classic near future scenario; an asteroid colony rebellion, which was the sort of scenario I was building around. Most of the interesting stuff is on the plane of the ecliptic. The orbit of Jupiter is roughly (average) 778 gigameters (about 43 light minutes) away from the sun, so you're talking about a combat theater that's a thin cylinder that is 43 light minutes in radius. That means if you're on one side and send a message to the other, you'll get a response back in just shy of three hours. Assuming they didn't die in battle somewhere in the first hour and a half.

The implications of communication and *sensor* lag are fodder for an awesome wargame that as far as I know nobody has yet made (except for my shelved project, but it's not playable yet). The major thing is, unlike most wargames, "you" need to be at a known, specific location because everything you see is going to have time lag due to the speed of light. If you're trying to command a battle from ten light minutes away, all of your information (where ships are, who is still alive...) is ten minutes stale, and your orders are going to reach the battle ten minutes later than you send them (so they'll be 20 minutes stale when they arrive), and then it's going to be another ten minutes before you see the result. There's immense lag on your orders.

Even inter-ship coordination is a problem if the ships are fighting across a large area, so I think doctrine will play a major role; there would need to be doctrine for things like target selection and trap shooting so that fleet elements separated by vast distances can coordinate attacks without being hampered by communications and sensor lag.

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