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Old 30/08/2013, 8:21 PM
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Sandro Sammarco Sandro Sammarco is offline
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Default “Hello, Bomb? Are you with me?” Ship Management in Elite: Dangerous

Hello Illustrious members of the DDF!

So, the second round for “Contacts” will be slightly delayed until next Monday/Tuesday. Please accept my apologies for this. Hopefully, today’s new topic will give you some conundrums to puzzle over: ship management.

What do we mean by this then? Basically, it’s the various ship functions that aren’t directly to do with piloting the vessel. They may, of course, have significant impact on piloting though.

I suspect this is going to be a topic that provokes a tsunami response. Why? Because our definition of ship management cannot but imply some of our thoughts on how we envision the core gameplay being; mainly that whilst we are using a skill-based flight model, the pace of the gameplay may not be quite so frantic as shown in the initial videos.

Though it has to be said that to a large degree this will vary by ship type (with smaller ships tending towards twitch and larger towards management) and by the amount of involvement the player puts into ship management; most of these systems can be left to run at default settings if that sort of thing doesn't float your boat.

First a quick summary of interface intent:

The Multi-Function Displays
  • A ship has multiple multi-function displays
    • These displays can show a variety of different interfaces
    • The commander can interact with these displays to employ ship management controls and generally decide what each is showing
    • The displays can dynamically alter their contents (and dimensions) based on trigger events
    • At any time a commander can use these screens to browse to view particular module options
And now, the systems:

Power Management
  • Each ship has a reactor in a power plant module
    • The reactor consumes fuel when active and converts it into energy used by ship modules and fixtures
    • The rate of fuel consumption is based on the current power draw
  • Some modules have power requirements
    • Such modules can be turned off and on manually, but will generally default to on when the ship’s reactor is activated
    • When turned on the modules increase the reactor’s power draw
  • All reactors are rated for a maximum power draw
    • It is not possible to turn on a powered module that would cause the reactor to exceed its maximum power draw
  • It is possible for malfunctions and effects to temporarily alter a reactor’s maximum power draw, potentially causing the current draw to exceed it
    • In such a case, powered modules are automatically turned off until the current draw does not exceed the maximum
    • The ship automatically maintains a priority list of powered modules so it can shut them down in order
    • The commander may manually adjust this list whilst docked
Reactor Safety Override
  • Most reactors are set up with a buffer zone of potential draw that is never used, to protect the reactor from damaging itself
    • The commander may manually disengage/engage the overrides and run the reactor at over 100%
      • Disengaging the override increases the maximum power draw capacity for the reactor at the expense of reactor damage over time and potential ship irradiation (reducing the effect of life support modules – see below)
The Power Distributer
  • All ships have a power distributer module (PD)
    • The PD when active takes a small amount of power for its own use and reserves a large chunk of power which it can call upon to fill four separate capacitors
  • The capacitors are:
    • Weapons: power available for energy weapon fire
    • Shields: power available to reconstruct and replenish shields
    • Engines: power available for engine boost capability (also, the higher the ratio here, the higher the ship’s top speed)
    • Utilities: power available for utility systems such as the hyperdrive and sensors
  • The commander can dynamically adjust the ratio of power fed into each capacitor using a cockpit interface, though the total amount of power available is always the same
    • The bigger the ratio for a particular capacitor, the faster it fills
    • Various modules draw power from an appropriate capacitor rather than from the reactor directly when they are “activated”
      • Activation is not the same as being powered (e.g. a beam laser has a nominal power draw directly from the reactor when it is turned on, but when fired drains the weapons capacitor)
  • The higher a ship’s power draw, the bigger its EM signature, making it easier to locate using EM sensors and easier to track with EM–tracking weapon platforms
  • Different versions of modules have different power requirements
Cooling Management
  • Powered modules including the reactor generate heat
  • Heat is transferred from a module to the ship’s cooling system when the module’s thermal limit is exceeded
  • Heat in the cooling system is radiated from the ship
  • If more heat is being generated than radiated the heat transfer may stop or even reverse, overheating modules
  • Most ships have articulated heat vanes which can be raised, significantly increasing heat dissipation from the ship
    • However, such activity normally affects the flight model of the ship and always increases the ship’s thermal signature whilst active (see below)
  • Systems can be fitted to flush the cooling system, instigating chemical reactions to dissipate heat
  • Heat sinks may modules can be fitted to hard points
    • When activated, a heat sink module flushes the cooling system’s heat into a heat sink which is then ejected from the ship
      • Ejected heat sinks can be used as a form of chaff to confuse heat tracking weapons
  • Heat stored in a ship’s cooling system generates a thermal signature for the ship
    • The higher the thermal signature, the easier it is to locate using heat-based sensors and the easier it is to track using heat-tracking weapon platforms
  • When heat levels exceed set thresholds some modules may automatically turn off/begin to suffer fatigue damage
    • Excessive heat puts a strain on the ship’s atmosphere control (reducing the capability of life support modules – see below)
      • Super excessive heat directly impacts the pilot and crew’s ability to function and will eventually kill them
Atmosphere Management
  • A ship maintains a habitable atmosphere using life support modules
  • Each module can support a volume of space – larger ships require multiple life support modules
    • A commander can fit redundant life support modules to deal with catastrophes
  • To function normally, all of a ship’s internal volume must be supported
    • If life support cannot support the ship’s internal volume, the atmosphere begins to degrade over time (the rate is based upon the difference)
    • Pilot and crew capability is reduced at set thresholds of atmospheric failure
    • Pilot and crew will automatically switch to personal life support if the atmosphere fails completely
      • Personal life support is limited but restocked automatically in a habitable atmosphere
    • The commander can fit and activate specific modules to remove some causes of atmospheric failure (contamination, irradiation, hull breach)
  • Future: when walking around the ship is possible, hermetic doors can be employed to cut off areas of the ship from the atmospheric control, reducing the strain on life support modules
Crisis Management
  • Most modules can be directly activated at any time using the cockpit interface – however some actions have a time frame for response which may make such intervention difficult
  • Most ships are fitted with a crisis management system which monitors the ship
    • When a particular crisis is detected a multifunction display is automatically and temporarily given to the crisis management system
      • Such displays show pertinent information about the crisis and offer a contextual quick command to initiate a response
      • When more than one crisis is detected the system cycles through them in a priority order
  • A ship can be fitted with repair modules
  • Repair modules are powered and can be activated (using the utilities capacitor)
  • Modules can be flagged for repair - they will be repaired at a rate based on the number of modules being repaired at the same time and the numkber of repair modules active
  • Repair modules come with a finite amount of resource - once this is used up (when repairing) the module cannot function until restocked at a dock
So there it is folks, quite crunchy with information, I think you'll agree. When going through these systems try to keep in mind the following points: we want the player to feel as though they are REALLY in a space ship, in space, but we want to give the feeling of simulation more than actually simulate total complexity; we want ship management to encompass a bit of thought and enable a lot of drama.

With a little imagination, I hope you will see the some of the potential we're trying to create here. Are we on course though, well let us know!

Are we going too complex or not complex enough? Are there systems and functions we're missing or do we have too many already? Are we harkening back to the good old days too much (power distributor I'm looking at YOU) or is the right level of options for the long term?

With the scale of stuff to talk about here, post headings will probably be very useful, like:

"New System"

Thanks for reading, now over to you, and as always, whether you love or hate what you see - have a fantastic weekend!

Last edited by Sandro Sammarco; 30/08/2013 at 8:31 PM. Reason: Missed repair out - OOPS!
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Old 30/08/2013, 8:47 PM
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Default Cooling

Okay, this is an almighty proposal to contend with, so I'll start with what's probably going to amount to a repeat of the proposal... Firstly though, I think that the spectrum going from twitchy fighters (I actually hope they're very twitchy as far as the flight model goes) to systems-based goliaths is the right way to go, and I basically give a thumbs up.

...Here goes:

Say I'm firing my lasers, I'd expect the heatsink attached to the laser module to rise fairly quickly, while dumping heat into the main heatsink system, thereby making the main system heat slowly. When the laser module heatsink reaches critical, lasers switch off until the heatsink has cooled down a bit. At first this 'cooldown' rate would be reasonably quick.

As the main heatsink heats up, the temperature differential between the laser module heatsink and the main heatsink system would diminish, so the 'cooldown' rate at which the laser recovers from overheating would decrease. If the main heatsink reaches critical, then the cooldown rate for the laser module would be very low indeed.

So basically the longer a combat situation goes on, the more the overall temperature rises, and the more and more dire the situation gets. The main heatsink almost becomes a secondary health bar, of near equal importance to shields/hull.

Last edited by Slawkenbergius; 30/08/2013 at 8:49 PM. Reason: clarifying
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Old 30/08/2013, 9:00 PM
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I'm loving the bulk of this. As long as the default settings give a reasonable chance of surviving the average mission in the average system without having to constantly tweak, I'm in. I don't mind having to reconfigure systems at the start of specific missions but I don't want to be constantly juggling capacitor energy every 30 seconds.

It would also be nice if some of the ship functions (especially cooling policies, crisis management and repair systems) could be delegated to suitably qualified NPC crewmembers on larger ships. Basically, if I'm going to be playing Picard I want a Riker to be issuing some of the orders to the computer and/or other NPCs. I don't think primary weapons control or piloting should ever be delegated to NPCs since that deviates too far from the "lone pilot" origins of Elite, but for handling the complex systems aboard larger ships some assistance would be cool.

The only thing from the initial list that concerns me is this:

Power Management
  • It is possible for malfunctions and effects to temporarily alter a reactor’s maximum power draw, potentially causing the current draw to exceed it
    • In such a case, powered modules are automatically turned off until the current draw does not exceed the maximum
    • The ship automatically maintains a priority list of powered modules so it can shut them down in order
    • The commander may manually adjust this list whilst docked (emphasis mine)
Is there a technical or gameplay reason why this adjustment can only be made while docked? I'm envisioning a scenario where the ship jumps into an unexpectedly enemy-rich environment and barely survives the first wave. If the combat led to a power draw exceeded event that might have been less catastrophic with a differently prioritised module list, shouldn't the commander have the ability to adjust this list before the next batch of bad guys is encountered?
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Old 30/08/2013, 9:04 PM
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Man. I think this is one of those things that will really need to be play-tested to get right. So right now I'd go for a complexity middle-ground we can shift a little on. So far... I like the sound of it and I'm curious as to how it will interact with the crew (in an upcoming DDF).

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Old 30/08/2013, 9:32 PM
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Default Cooling

Some Aircraft dump heat into fuel. This might be a possibility if fuel is stored in a manner which allows for it (and the fuel is able to absorb the heat).
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Old 30/08/2013, 10:01 PM
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Default Complexity

The proposal looks good to me, although obviously will need play testing to see how we'll the systems and interfaces are controlled in-game.

One thing I think could become an interesting role for a multiplayer scenario (as in multiple people running and operating a ship) would be a systems analyst(or co-pilot), so whilst the captain/pilot was in control of the flight and weapons controls, the co-pilot could monitor the other systems and manage energy distribution on the fly. In the heat of a battle it could make all the difference if you can manage the energy distribution well.
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Old 30/08/2013, 10:02 PM
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Love the sound of this on first reading

The complexity's there to play with, to really fine tune things, but a default setting will give you average performance that will do if you don't want to fiddle. Nice idea.

I'll read it carefully tomorrow when I'm more awake and probably think of some questions.
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Old 30/08/2013, 10:15 PM
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Default Wow

Going to have to think about this over the weekend, however, initial read leads me to the following thought:

This game is going to be AMAZING
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Old 30/08/2013, 10:32 PM
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On first look, this looks like a good proposal to me.

I feel as though there should be three levels of ship setup though - the top level being something you have to pay someone to do at an appropriate space dock with appropriate tech. Something like physically fitting a module or upgrading one in a specific way (it would be cool if modules were comprised of one or more components that had some interchangeability... so I could reconfigure a 1mw beam laser to draw less power, or emit less heat, or put out 1.2mw, etc). You can make this complicated as we have all the time in the world to carry out this work.

The second level should be something you can do at will, but only in a docked situation - essentially reprogramming existing modules and ship systems, like changing the power down priorities, or fixing min/max thresholds. This can be semi complicated as we do this between missions to suit what we think we're doing next - perhaps we need to make a particularly long jump into a dangerous system, but we're not hanging around, so we plan ahead by boosting the range on the hyperdrive at the cost of weapons power, and boosting the recharge on it at the cost of shields - hoping to jump back out before being attacked.

The third level should be in flight, stuff you can do at will to react to things. This should be incredibly simple like toggling recharge rates on weapons/shields/engines as per X-Wing - that game did it so right, all that time ago. This ties into the second tier stuff because I've already set the min/max thresholds for these systems in dock, and this is just toggling between them on a situational need. I've overpowered my hyperdrive to 120% perhaps, so taking its power back down in flight still only runs it at 100%, and the most I can still get out of my weapons is 80% because thats were I set the threshold.

My final thought is on repair. Can we not have complete auto repair systems in space? Aside from removing an important cash sink, this is the kind of mechanic that IMO, detracts from gameplay - the gratification of getting a half beat up rustbucket with a fuel leak, back home. It also plays into the hands of grief/gank types who can hang around indefinately waiting for the next weak prey. Without auto repair, these people would become weakened over time meaning eventually someone will destroy them, or they will have to leave their position to find repairs.
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Old 30/08/2013, 10:46 PM
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Default Complexity

looks over complicated for someone my age, but here is my opinion.

saved settings,

I would like to have the option to have 5 saved setups that can be reconfigured in flight or docked and switched at anytime during flight to handle given situations.

this means that on
pre-set 1: I can fly economically saving fuel/and other consumables
pre-set 2: max speed with increased warp warm up.
pre-set 3: Max shields/hull and weapons with loss of speed
pre-set 4: silent running, to avoid being detected
pre-set 5: max speed and weapons, sacrificing shields and hull.

you get the idea, this will keep things complicated enough for those who want to fly on the edge while those of us who like to be prepared can set up our ships to suit our desired gameplay.
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