Core slots balancing 2

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This article outlines balancing steps that will be taken prior to the 0.6.0 release, to hopefully narrow the performance range and give ships better-defined roles.

Ships have been divided into a total of six classes: Light Fighters, Heavy Fighters, Corvettes, Destroyers, Light Cruisers, Heavy Cruisers. Other classes such as freighters, bombers and carriers are lumped into these and will be distinguished via ship stats.

Aside from pure balance, a goal of this effort is to reduce the on-paper variety while increasing the number of viable player choices. There are presently a total of 120 core outfits, most of which are wholly superseded by another outfit that's better in all respects. In addition to the inventory management issues, I'd prefer to provide alternatives, where possible, rather than direct upgrades.

Engines

Each ship class should have a family of engines that target common mass limits. So, a high-end engine may be markedly superior to a basic engine, but both engines will still have mass limits very close to each other.

To gather some data, I fired up 0.5.3 and outfitted a ship from each class in a typical manner, and my builds weighed in at the following:

Empire Shark Empire Lancelot Empire Admonisher Empire Pacifier Pirate Kestrel Empire Peacemaker
Initial Mass 86 180 323 730 2725 6200
Final Mass 117 246 453 1040 3277 7316
Increase 31 66 130 310 552 1116

Each ship class should be able to equip a typical, medium loadout without incurring handling penalties, while particularly heavy loadouts (involving many shield capacitors and batteries, etc.) should result in reduced engine performance.

The following table has approximate mean values for each statistic, circa 0.5.3 (the last major rebalancing prior to the introduction of core slots).

Class Thrust Turn Speed Mass
Light Fighters 260 145 300 85
Heavy Fighters 220 130 245 180
Corvettes 170 110 170 320
Destroyers 140 85 150 750
Light Cruisers 85 65 90 3200
Heavy Cruisers 55 50 70 4500

I was fairly happy with how ships handled in 0.5.3, so I've used these figures along with my loadout testing to determine the performance stats of the middle-of-the-road engine for each ship class, shown below:

Class Thrust Turn Speed Mass Limit
Light Fighters 250 140 300 150
Heavy Fighters 210 120 250 300
Corvettes 170 100 200 550
Destroyers 130 80 150 1200
Light Cruisers 85 65 100 4500
Heavy Cruisers 65 55 75 6500

In essence, I aim to create something similar to 0.5.3's ship handling, with some tweaks: Cruisers will be more manoeuvrable overall, and I intend to nerf a number of the circa-0.5.3 modifier outfits such as the Improved Stabilizer and Steering Thrusters, which are able to majorly affect handling.

Each class will have at least 3 engines: The basic engine that's installed on newly-bought ships (~15% worse than the above table), a premium engine (matching the above table), and a top-tier engine found on certain military ships, which would be ~15% better than the table stats. This would allow, for example, a military heavy fighter to overtake a civilian light fighter with a stock engine.

The existing free (trash-tier) engines will also be kept (and be 25-30% worse than the above table) to avoid stranding players. Additionally, there may be a small number of specialist engines geared towards non-military ships, such as a high-fuel, high-mass-limit engine for cargo hauling.

The non-movement balance of engines is currently decent, in that higher-tier engines tend to consume more energy, thereby requiring a superior core system, or a lighter weapons load.

Proposed Naming Scheme

Size Class Free Stock Better Best Trader
Small Light Fighter Unicorp Hawk 150 Nexus Dart 150 Tricon Zephyr Melendez Ox
Heavy Fighter Beat Up Small Engine Unicorp Hawk 300 Nexus Dart 300 Tricon Zephyr II Melendez Ox XL
Medium Corvette Unicorp Falcon 550 Nexus Arrow 550 Tricon Cyclone Melendez Buffalo
Destroyer Beat Up Medium Engine Unicorp Falcon 1200 Nexus Arrow 1200 Tricon Cyclone II Melendez Buffalo XL
Large Light Cruiser Unicorp Eagle 4500 Nexus Bolt 4500 Tricon Typhoon Melendez Mammoth
Heavy Cruiser Beat Up Large Engine Unicorp Eagle 6500 Nexus Bolt 6500 Tricon Typhoon II Melendez Mammoth XL

Balancing strategy

The Nexus engines were balanced by hand to match the above performance table for each class. From there, Tricon engines were made 15% better than the Nexus models in all respects, while Unicorp and Beat Up engines were made 15% and 30% worse, respectively. Some manual rounding was done, but in general, all engines are within a few percent of their intended performance in each stat. Melendez engines have 20% less thrust and turn rate than Nexus engines, but only have a 10% speed penalty and generally have a ⅓ higher mass limit (except for the Ox, which is only 0.22… higher).

In the near future, fuel consumption will be engine-dependent, not ship. When that happens, Melendez engines will have superior fuel economy.

Engine masses increase somewhat linearly, but are essentially flavour, not a strong balancing factor. Most engines have a mass equivalent to 2-5% of their mass limit.

Pricing

Within each class, the basic Unicorp engine is worth roughly 5-10% of an average ship's price. Relative to the Unicorp engines, Nexus engines are 3 times as expensive, Melendez 3.5-4 times, and Tricon 9 times.

Core Systems

By virtue of providing so many attributes, core systems are very difficult to balance. My preferred method is to avoid creating be-all, end-all systems, and instead create good (but not great) all-rounder systems, as well as specialized systems that exceed them in one or more respects.

A few example configurations:

Name CPU Energy (Regen) Shield (Regen)
Stock (All-Rounder) 60% 60% (60%) 60% (60%)
High-End (All-Rounder) 80% 80% (80%) 80% (80%)
CPU Specialist 100% 70% (70%) 70% (70%)
Energy Specialist 70% 100% (100%) 70% (70%)
Shield Specialist 70% 70% (70%) 100% (100%)
Regen Specialist 70% 60% (100%) 60% (100%)

To avoid having too many core systems, I'd have the two all-rounders for each class plus a CPU-specialized system and 1-2 other specialized systems, depending on the class. For example, lighter classes might not have a regen-specialized system, while cruisers are unlikely to have an energy-specialized one (cannibalizing the shield on a slow-moving ship is a lousy idea). An average of four systems per class would yield 24 total, which seems manageable.

Creating ship diversity will be somewhat difficult, as ships will need bonuses and maluses to the amounts of CPU they receive to emphasize the intended roles of ships (e.g. the Lancelot has a few, high-tech weapons, whereas the Vendetta is meant to have a large number of low-tech weapons).

Intended stats for high-end, all-round cores

Class CPU Shield Shield Regen Energy Energy Regen
Cruiser 200 850 15 (57s) 3500 120 (29s)
Destroyer 110 550 11 (50s) 1800 70 (28s)
Corvette 75 450 10 (45s) 1300 55 (24s)
Heavy Fighter 55 250 8 (31s) 750 35 (21s)
Light Fighter 40 200 7 (28s) 550 28 (20s)

Balancing strategy

Using the high-end all-round system as the basis for each class, the stock systems are 30% worse in all respects, while the free systems are 45% worse. Relative to the high-end all-round system of their class, specialized core systems have a 25% bonus to their specialty and are 15% worse in all other respects.

All of the attributes don't improve in lockstep. CPU capacity tends to increase by 30-50% with each successive class, excepting Destroyer → Cruiser, which represents an 80% increase.

Shield capacity increases 20-25% when moving up in the same slot size (Light → Heavy Fighter, Corvette → Destroyer), but 50-80% when going from Small → Medium and Medium → Large core slots. Shield regeneration increases very slowly, with cruiser regeneration being little more than twice that of light fighters' — Shields are intended as a buffer, not a replacement for armour.

Energy behaves like shield capacity, in that it increases by moderate amounts within a slot size, and jumps markedly when increasing the slot size. Energy regeneration scales with capacity, though slightly more slowly — cruisers take 50% longer to fully recharge than fighters do.

The stock (Unicorp) core system in each class is roughly 15% of the mass of a circa-0.5.3 ship of that class. This compensates for the base ship masses being reduced by 50% with the introduction of the slot system. Tricon's all-rounder (Orion) systems are 30% higher in mass than the equivalent from Unicorp, and their specialist systems are 15% heavier. Beat Up (free) systems are 80% heavier, as yet another incentive to never equip them when there are any alternatives whatsoever.

Pricing

The pricing structure is similar to that of the engines, albeit roughly ⅓ more expensive, equating to roughly 12% of a ship's cost in the core system's class at the stock (Unicorp) tier. Since the Milspec specialized systems are intended as sidegrades between one another, they all share the same prices, four times that of the equivalent Unicorp system. The Milspec Orion is six times as expensive as a Unicorp system.

Hull

Hull plating is balanced to follow the following table, which is mostly derived from circa-0.5.3 figures.

Class Mass Armour Absorb Cargo
Cruiser 1800 2000 35 100
Light Cruiser 1150 1400 30 80
Destroyer 280 550 20 40
Corvette 120 200 14 20
Heavy Fighter 55 90 7 10
Light Fighter 30 50 4 5

Within each class, there are a variety of standard hull plating variants:

Name Price Mass Armour Absorb Cargo Special
S&K Combat Plating 8x +30% +15% +15% -20%
S&K Stealth Plating 6x Base +5% +5% -40% EW Hide (20-50% currently)
S&K Cargo Hull 4x -10% -10% -5% 3x One per slot size
Unicorp B Plating 2.5x Base Base Base Base
Unicorp D Plating Base -10% -15% -10% -10%
Patchwork (Free) Free -20% -30% -20% -40% One per slot size

While it's possible to equip a corvette with destroyer plating, it's difficult to do so without using a slower destroyer engine, more or less resulting in an extremely under-gunned destroyer. The inverse is easier to accomplish, though equally undesirable ­— There is no benefit to underutilizing the engine's mass limit, and now the ship has weak armour relative to other ships in its class.

The base mass for each class of hull plating is equivalent to 30-35% of a ship of that class, circa 0.5.3. Relative to engine mass limits, armour constitutes roughly 20-25% of the mass limit.

Final Notes

Core system masses are rather low, so it's often feasible to put a larger core system onto ships that are the smaller of the two in their slot size, namely light fighters and corvettes. This is counterbalanced by the mass of core systems increasing much faster than their provided attributes, so players wanting to use larger core systems may get 20-30% improvements in shielding, energy, etc., but they'll often end up sacrificing armour or weapons to avoid exceeding their engine's mass limit.

The bottom line is that it's very difficult to make a larger ship as fast as a smaller one without making major sacrifices, and that, even given a destroyer's core system, a corvette will still struggle to outgun a destroyer. The ability to equip core outfits intended for other classes allows players to experiment and come up with novel builds, but in general involves more sacrifices than benefits.