Thursday, November 25, 2010

Space Combat in The Black Desert IV: Weapons!

I was going to put out a post yesterday, but my wife had a better idea.  Best laid plans of mice, right?

     Anyway, since last post was about IPVs and why they are so hard to destroy, this post is about the weapons used to destroy them - and rockets and pretty much anything else in space.  We'll start with the basics:

     Spacecraft weapons come in three flavors in The Black Desert: Beam, Fusion, and Kinetic. Beam weapons means lasers.  This is pretty much it; plasma is a crappy weapon in realistic space combat because it expands into a cloud and dissipates too quickly to be of use except in some Character-scale melee combat (that is so another post), and particle beams, while both looking and behaving like phasers and turbolasers and whatnot are a little out of our technical league. But lasers are just fine; we have lasers that can vaporize a tank in three seconds now.  Granted, with silica aerogel insulation rockets will be harder nuts to crack,  nevertheless lasers can fulfill the requirements of a Hard SF RPG combat system.
     Lasers have, like everything else, advantages and disadvantages.  The advantages of lasers are their theoretically infinite range and instantaneous strike capability.  In other words, you can't dodge and you can't outrun something that hits you going at light speed.  Lasers can miss; and targeting was the bane that killed the YAL-1 airborn laser system in the first place.  The major disadvantages are that lasers generate a lot waste heat, and the laser itself is the best target of an attacker's laser.
      What this means, in practical terms, is that lasers engage in "staring contests" in an attempt to burn each other out.  Since lasers power virtually all spacecraft propulsion systems, this is roughly the same as shooting the tires in a car chase and shooting the bad guy's gun out of his hand at the same time.
     The obvious solution, of course, is to shoot first.  The next best thing is to have more guns, or lasers that don't hook into your engines.  You can kill two birds with one stone (pun intentional) by stocking cheap, autonomous Laser Missiles/Satellites that fly in formation around your rockets and try to fry the other side's lasers while yours are safe.  Assume that the other side ain't stupid either, and you have wings of Heinleins carrying L-sats in their primary payload bays on both sides.

     Such is the nature of arms races.

     The next category of space weapon we will discuss is Fusion weapons.  These do not include nukes of any kind for reasons that will become obvious in the following section.  The major Fusion weapons in The Black Desert are the Fusion Torches on the rockets themselves.  I realize that this is the second time that a space weapon is also a propulsion system and I can't help that.  When physics hands you a Massively-Powerful-Weapon-O-Massive-Destruction, real life economics dictates that you don't waste billions on R&D trying to outdo it.  The economics of an indie game designer dictate that you don't either, so there you have it; Fusion Engine=Kill-O-Zap.
     I mentioned in a previous post, when you has such a powerful weapon in your Character's arsenal, you must limit it or face breaking the game.  Fortunately, Fusion Torches are pretty limited; in addition to having short ranges, the Torch uses up so much propellant that it's only good for a few shots before you run out of gas.  Therefore, you will want to save its ten-million-degree plume of radioactive death for the most expensive and heavily defended targets.  Targets like the nigh-invulnerable IPVs, that can stand up to almost anything but not to a Fusion Torch.  At least, not for very long.

     Thus, balanced in maintained in the Universe.

     The final type of space-borne weapon in The Black Desert is the Kinetic weapon.  This is basically Mass+Speed=Ka-Boom.  As Rick Robinson pointed out, anything moving at 3 kps will hit you with a force equal to its own mass in TNT.  Doesn't matter if its lead, lunch or laundry- at orbital speeds it's all deadly.
    This is why nukes are impractical. The added expense of an atomic warhead is wasted because the radiation is not especially higher than the rocket can tolerate and the heat storm you get in atmosphere has no medium to travel through in vacuum.  It is much cheaper to make a missile with no payload that is designed to explode in to a cloud of tiny particles in an enemy's vector.  Think about it; a ten- ton solid projectile and a huge cloud filled with ten tons of coin-sized debris is still ten tons. The physics does not care about form or composition, only mass.  And you have to admit that a ten-ton cloud of debris is a lot harder to dodge than a projectile.
     In the Heinlein PDF, I mention that the eponymous rocket's military version is equipped with twelve Piranha Kinetic Missiles.  They follow the example above; once launched, they approach the oncoming Space Wing's vector and explode into choking clouds of debris that rapidly spread out.  The clouds spread out and are almost impossible to avoid, especially at high speed.  Even with diffusion as the clouds spread, having a dozen of these missile-clouds in front of you will pretty much ruin your day.  And your ship.

     Piranha indeed.

     Now, there are tried and true tactics for avoiding the ghastly fates promised by my arsenal of space weapons.  They will be discussed in the next installment of Space Combat in The Black Desert.

    By the way, if you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you have a safe and happy one.  If you don't, have a safe and happy one anyway.  If you protest the celebration of Thanksgiving as glorifying the beginning of the end of Native American culture...In The Black Desert universe, the American Middle West is part of the Union of the Americas, and is under the leadership and cultural mores of the remainder of North America's native population.  This is one of the first things I decided to do with the campaign setting, a decision I made over two years ago now.  Granted, giving fictitious land back to the natives two hundred years from now is not much, but it's the best I can personally do right now.

    So everybody have a happy and safe whatever. 

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