Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Environment-Based Tactics in a Star Trek MMORPG +

An important point to make about having a rich environment to operate in is that we also need ways to perceive the various realms in which those phenomena generate effects. (By that I mean physical objects having mass, energy sources emitting radiation at various points on the electromagnetic spectrum, and so on.)

In Star Trek, where starships are such an enormous part of most stories, perception means sensors. So what happens in a rich environment when -- due either to combat or environmental effects -- you lose your sensors?

A review of Trek lore suggests that "sensors" aren't just one big eyeball on a ship, and when you poke it out the ship is immediately and utterly blind. Instead, it seems to me that ships in Star Trek are typically encrusted with multiple sensors (including multiple targeting sensors) of various shapes, sizes, functions, and vulnerabilities. (Remember how various shows say things like, "We've lost the lateral sensor array," suggesting that there are other arrays?) So Star Trek ships have multiple sensors, which means there is some redundancy built into them.

(If you're interested in other ideas regarding how sensor operations might be implemented in a Star Trek MMORPG, you might enjoy my Sensors and Star Trek Online essay.)

Furthermore, among its other functions the ship's computer takes in raw data from sensors and integrates all these inputs to form a relatively complete view of whatever is being scanned:

  • the ship (internal and external)

  • the ship's local environment

  • any object under particular study

  • short-range (active and/or passive) scans

  • long-range (passive) scans
Although individual sensors usually detect different things, there's some overlap. So as a ship takes damage and some of its sensors are damaged or destroyed, its ability to perceive and make sense of its surroundings is degraded but not extinguished outright since that information comes from multiple sources.

At some point -- after enough sensors are knocked out -- a ship will become unable to perform automatic target locking. But that's unlikely to happen right away. Usually serious damage is required before needing to revert to manual targeting: the enemy destroys most or all of the targeting sensors, or disables a significant portion of the ship's computer (and the redundant backups usually carried on a ship of any size), or severs the ODN interface between the main computer(s) and the current fire control station.

Of course, a ship that's had so many of its systems so seriously compromised is very quickly going to have more pressing concerns than being able to shoot somebody else. :)

So from a lore POV there's some reason to think that a typical starship has so many "eyes" that it's practically impossible to blind it completely without also destroying it.