Thursday, February 26, 2004

SWG: Jump to Lightspeed: Summary of Ideas

[2008/05/06 note: Although version 4 of this document was posted on February 26, 2004, the original version was posted on SOE’s official pre-launch forum in late 2002, and most changes were merely cosmetic. It’s sort of fascinating to see how many of the concepts described here made it into the Jump to Lightspeed expansion as actually implemented.]

I expect that "space" will be implemented as new areas that you can only reach either by taking off from a planet, or by emerging from hyperspace. Each planet will have a space area "around" it, and there may be other space areas that exist independently of planets. From a space area, you will be able to select a new destination from your ship's navigation system: either landing on a particular planet (if you are in a space area around that planet), or entering hyperspace to travel to a new space area. (Note: It is extremely unlikely that you will be able to travel through a planet's atmosphere to land "manually," due to the potential for griefing. Atmospheric flight remains a feature that most players want, however, so if it can be included it'll make a lot of people very happy.)

Some space areas should contain asteroid fields. It should be possible to land on sufficiently large asteroids (for mining, exploration, combat, etc.), and it might be intereting to permit houses to be placed on asteroids, although only special new "enclosed" types might be allowed. Allow gravity and sensor-jamming effects near stars (but also allow "burning up" if one gets too close to a star). Allow the "Kessel Run," and possibly something like "pod racing in space" where the goal is to navigate through an obstacle cource in the least time. Gas clouds, comets, and other stellar and interstellar objects should have appropriately entertaining effects on ships.

There should be a number of new skills added with the Space Expansion, possibly creating up to three new professions. The basic skills necessary for crafting ships, flying them, fighting in them, fixing them, and transporting cargo in them should be available as new starting professions. Appropriate skill trees (disciplines) within the new professions could include: Spacecraft Piloting, Spacecraft Navigation, Spacecraft Combat, Spacecraft Design, and Spacecraft Construction/Repair. (Please see my SWG: Jump to Lightspeed: Proposed Skilltrees essay for more details on one way to implement these new skills.)

You should be able to walk around inside ships (especially capital ships, if implemented) just as you can walk around inside a house. (This is probably the single most popular player request.) A wide mix of ship types from the movies and Expanded Universe (EU) should be available to players. Among the most requested types of ships are: X-wing, Y-wing, A-wing, B-wing, TIE Fighter, TIE Bomber, TIE Interceptor, Z-95 Headhunter, YT-1300 (Millenium Falcon), YT-2400, Firespray-class policecraft (Slave Zero), Naboo starfighter, and Lambda-class shuttle. (Note: I'm well aware that, following the Star Wars universe timeline, not all of these ships are available in the period during which SWG is set. I've chosen to list these ships along with the others in case the developers feel that perfect fidelity to continuity is less important than having a rich fleet of starships to choose from.)

Spacecraft should be complex structures composed of multiple subsystems. Each subsystem should be a named physical unit that has attributes (quality, condition, max speed, damage type, etc.), and with a few exceptions and limitations can: 1) take damage, 2) be repaired, 3) be replaced, and 4) be upgraded. The key systems are: hull, engines (hyperdrive and sub-lightspeed engines, as well as power and fuel systems), weapons (lasers, ion guns, missiles/torpedoes, mines), and defenses (deflector shields and armor). Other possible starship systems could include: computers (including navicomp), sensors (and sensor-jamming or -faking devices), communications (and communications jammers), accomodations (crew berths and passenger staterooms), security (if ships can be boarded), cargo bays, and escape pods. Ships, like other in-game structures, will require regular maintenance payments in addition to repair, refit, and refueling costs. Speaking of refueling, some appropriate method of fueling starships will need to be devised that takes numerous points into account: refueling costs should be a near-constant price of engaging in spaceflight, but should also recognize that Star Wars is a high-tech universe (and thus presumably has high-tech energy energy sources); what happens if you "run out of gas" in space?; can you find fuel somewhere other than planets?; should there be different types of fuels with different effects?; and so on.

Normal space flight maneuvering and weapon firing will be controlled by mouse, probably with some keyboard controls as well (such as for thrust/braking). Joystick support would be welcome. The default button and key action assignments should be consistent with those provided for vehicle control (once that feature is implemented), but all keys and buttons used in the Space Expansion should be fully remappable. Displays should be uncluttered and easy to understand at a glance, with an audiovisual look-and-feel appropriate to the origin of the ship's electronics (in other words, a TIE fighter's HUD should look and sound different from that of an X-wing). Icons for ship-related functions and commands should be added to the existing list in the Actions screen. A ship's radar display should use appropriate color-coding and symbology to indicate the relative positionl, facing, lockon status, and faction of nearby ships.

A way to communicate with other ships that fits within continuity is vital. Players must be able to transmit nav coordinates (as waypoints) to each other's flight computers so that they can remain in formation after flight through hyperspace. It should be possible to target other ships or groups of ships on specific comm channels and send short pre-composed commands ("cover me!", "he's on your six!", etc.) through a hotkey. For players with sufficient connection bandwidth, voice communication would be appreciated.

Flying spacecraft will be "twitch"-based rather than purely RP. (Note: This has already been called "likely" by the developers, and is supported by existing video of game action.) In-flight maneuvering will be controlled by the player in normal space, while hyperspace flight plans will be pre-programmed into the navigation computer. Certain player skills or racial stats may affect some in-flight actions (turning speed, defensive bonuses, targeting bonuses, etc.). In particular, a Jedi player should receive bonuses to ship control and combat proportionate to his Jedi rank. For faster-than-light travel to another star system through hyperspace, the time required to correctly program a navigation computer should increase with distance to the target system and decrease based on the quality of the navigation computer and the Navigation skill of the player doing the programming. "Hasty" navigation should be possible, but should increase the chance of exiting from hyperspace in an unplanned location. There should always be some inaccuracy in where a ship exits hyperspace; this inaccuracy can be minimized (though never completely eliminated) by improving one's Navigation skills. Ships exiting hyperspace should never intersect an existing spacecraft, although a badly calculated (or unlucky) course may result in exiting hyperspace dangerously close to stellar objects such as asteroids and stars. (Question: should ships emerge from hyperspace with their facing and speed intact? Or should they emerge dead still and have to turn and speed up to go anywhere?)

Ship-mounted weapons should include those from the Star Wars movies; laser cannons and ion cannons in particular. Lasers should cause damage to other ships, while ion cannons should degrade the effectiveness of engines (and possibly other electronics). Various types of missiles (small, fast, variable accuracy), torpedoes (big, slow, highly accurate), and mines (contact, proximity, and time-delay) should be available to make tactics more interesting. Multiplayer ships larger than starfighters may have direct-fire turrets or batteries that can be controlled by a player. If it's possible to walk around on some ships, then let ships be able to dock with each other in space, and allow for boarding parties. Faction should determine whether a player-controlled ship can fire on or dock with another player-controlled ship without the targeted player's consent. (The rules for firing on or docking with NPC ships may vary slightly from this, but faction should still be considered.) The "lock-on" system currently used for ground combat should be sufficient for direct-fire weapons, but certain other weapons and commands should require "active" lock-ons in which it's not enough to merely target some object; your ship's targeting system must then acquire its own target lock. Once this is done, you should be able to use "fire-and-forget" weapons such as missiles and torpedoes, as well as attempt to break another ship's sensor jamming.

Ships should be made of standard sets of parts, which must be combined using schematics by someone with skills from the Spacecraft Construction discipline -- basically they're built using the same system by which architects build planetary structures. (They should also be able to build spacecraft-specific furnishings as architects do for houses. "Hey, where does this Nemoidian Birdcage go?") Some parts necessary for spacecraft should be relatively simple components that require Engineering skills from the Artisan profession (so they'll have a useful part to play in the Space Expansion). Spacecraft systems can be repaired and/or replaced, but you can't add new systems without a new design. A ship's owner should be allowed to place "decals" (selected from a very comprehensive pre-built list) on that ship to allow distinctiveness. (Or the owner might have to find a Spacecraft Constructor to do this in the same way that an Image Designer is necessary to change the appearance of player characters.) Ship hull types available should be those that can be purchased by players and PAs. Multiple configurations for certain hull types is a very popular player request -- players want to be able to have distinctive vehicles. Players might not be permitted to craft capital ships, such as Nebulon-B frigates, Mon Calamari cruisers, and Imperial Star Destroyers, but the rare inclusion of these ships in some way (possibly NPC-commanded, or controlled by Live Team members for special events) would be hugely entertaining in creating that "Star Wars" feeling. If capital ships can be constructed by players, require that construction take place in (probably orbital) spacecraft construction yards.

Freighters should be one of the available ship types that offer some number of "spaces" for carrying items (similar to item counts in houses). If being able to move around inside ships is not implemented, then there should be a communications subsystem that allows goods to be bought and sold electronically and "automatically" moved into and out of the cargo hold. It should be possible to carry passengers, although this system will need to be carefully constructed to minimize grief play (e.g., "kidnapping" other players instead of taking them where they want to go). If walking around on ships is implemented, it should be possible to craft starships with multiple staterooms of varying quality; NPCs and players could then require appropriate levels of accomodation when traveling (and pay accordingly). It should be possible to carry vehicles on board a ship, cargo space permitting. Finally, one of the most-requested features has been hidden cargo spaces (for smuggling).

The Space Expansion should open up many new missions that occur in space or require objects or skills specifically related to the Space Expansion. Missions that require space travel or space-related skills should be selectable at terminals related to space assets: starports, space stations, and communications terminals inside ships themselves. There should be a good mix of missions: escort, rescue, and straight faction-based combat for those who want to fly starfighters primarily, and delivery missions (including smuggling) of freight, cargo, and passengers. (Note that "freight" is merchandise you transport for someone else for a flat fee, while "cargo" is merchandise you speculatively buy on Planet A and sell on Planet B in the hope of making a profit.) Other missions should be available for those players who want to work in space but who either can't afford or don't want to own and operate their own spacecraft -- survey, salvage, and exploration missions, for example. Space Expansion missions should also be integrated into the "player missions" system when/if that's implemented.

The possibility of large and complex capital ships being available as places to adventure is broadly and strongly supported. Space stations would also be nice to have. Another concept with fairly vocal support (but some disagreement) is that military-class ships should only be available to overt faction players. Astromech droids (like R2-D2) should be allowed to improve the status of and enhance the effectiveness of ship systems. There should be minigames such as Dejarik (the game popularly known as "holochess") available for playing on multiplayer ships. Ships should be able to carry ore from asteroid mining operations. Ships should broadcast ID codes (possibly with IFF) from a "black box" transponder, but it might be possible to alter that ID code (for a high price, a short time, and with severe penalties if caught). Capital ships destroyed in space should leave behind some wreckage out of which a few useful items might be salvaged -- possibly a "/salvage" command similar to the "/forage"-type commands could be applied.

Other options not really expected but that would be nice to have include: atmospheric flight and manual landing (not likely given the programming effort required and opportunity for griefing), planetary bombardment (needs anti-griefing limits that may make it too unrealistic), mine-laying, PA ownership of capital ships, and commodore- or admiral-level control of multi-ship fleets.