Wednesday, June 30, 2004

SWG: Jump to Lightspeed: Advanced Sensor Ops

I'd like to see a detailed physics model that allows ships in Jump to Lightspeed to use stealth and disguise.

Consider the ways a spaceship could be detected or identified (these are just some examples I dreamed up):

  • Active scan
    • Physical
      • radar
      • laser reflection (ladar)
    • Nuclear
      • meson deflection
      • pion absorption (think of this as the Star Wars "scanning" technology)
  • Passive scan
    • Nuclear
      • neutrino emission
    • Gravitic
      • mass displacement
    • Electromagnetic
      • infrared (heat)
      • visual
      • size
      • shape
      • color/decals
      • ultraviolet
      • X-ray
      • magnetic field
    • Chemical
      • ion trail
    • Broadcast
      • Identification-Friend-or-Foe (IFF) code (military only)
      • ID transponder
Note that "active scans" are detection-and-identification technologies that send out some kind of signal and then read the signal that bounces back (or not). (Think of these as like the sonar "pings" in movies about submarine warfare.) Active scanning is good for resolving details about other vessels, but it has the drawback of letting other ships know exactly where you are and what you're doing. They use up a lot of power, too.

Passive scans, by contrast, just take in information about other ships that they give off or deliberately broadcast. These don't always give you a lot of detail, and you need to be fairly close to the other ship for certain types of passive scans to work, but they're good for detecting other ships when you don't want to be detected yourself.

So -- given all these ways that we can detect objects in space, and, once detected, learn specific information about them, wouldn't it be interesting if JtL allowed us to explore all these phenomena as sensor options?

You're a Imperial frigate patrolling the spacelanes to control the piracy that's been reported in this sector of space. Your active radar scan is always on, "pinging" the space around you. This has the double effect of letting you "see" any ships in range of your radar, but also of warning off any Bad Guys (because they can detect your active scan).

Today you're cruising along near a "hot" star (one that puts out a lot of junk radiation that makes scans difficult) when your radar picks up a ship far ahead. You move in close enough to run an ID scan (passively reading the ID transponder code broadcast by all ships except pirates). The ID scan says it's the Ghazal, a YT-1300 bulk freighter registered out of Corellia, but you order your sensor operator to run a neutrino emission scan [to roughly determine the ship's power output] and a gravitic displacement scan [to measure the ship's tonnage] just in case. Given the recent outbreak of piracy, you want to make sure this ship really is who she claims to be.

The passive scans report that the Ghazal is a little bigger than expected, but within the upper boundary for freighters. Still, something in your gut is nagging you. Your sensor technician is pretty good, so you order your ship in a little closer and send to the Ghazal to submit to a routine cargo scan. (You're an officer of the Empire; you don't ask for permission.) Another ship shows up on the radar in the distance (too far for ID transmission), but you want to finish with the Ghazal first.

As you close to visual (and cargo scanning) range of the Ghazal, your sensor tech completes a set of active electromagnetic (EM) scans, and you can now see the ship for yourself visually. She appears to have more gun turrets than the typical bulk freighter... and the turrets appear to be sporting quad turbolaser cannons, which are rather more powerful than the typical freighter's defensive armament....

Suddenly your sensor tech looks sharply up at you and says, "Sir, infrared emissions suggest that this ship is masking its real power signature!" The readings on the neutrino scan spike upward abruptly as the Ghazal feeds power from its shielded (and hacked) engines to its weapons systems -- all of which suddenly lock on to you. It's a pirate! She's been using illegal technology to mask her power signature from other ships, and more illegal technology to change her ID transponder code to that of a ship with no outstanding warrants. This must be the ship that's been attacking the honest merchants in this sector!

You order your ship to power up its weapons, but the fake Ghazal is already firing on you. Normally your frigate would be more than a match for a freighter, but this is obviously no ordinary freighter... and that's when you notice that the ship you had seen just at the edge of your radar is running toward you. And so is the ship that has just appeared from out of the photosphere of that nearby "hot" star, where it was using the noise of the star to mask its emissions from passive scans.

Are these ships friends coming to your rescue? Or are they more pirates, which could put you in real jeopardy?

Better run your sensor scans!

So would anyone else like to see this kind of thing in Jump to Lightspeed? Or is it too complicated, and we should just stick to quick-and-dirty fights that are over in ten seconds or less?

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