Friday, June 22, 2012

Project Myrmidon: Part 1

(The following batrep/playtest uses the Standard Vector Movement rules, a simplified form of the Flight Simulator Vector Movement rules. As can be seen, they allow larger skirmishes to be played with greater ease.)
Two weeks ago Project Myrmidon had its first live fire trial. The opfor was played by Task Force Ada, a small Star Navy fleet tasked with patrolling and policing the Second Ring. This force was not aware of Project Myrmidon, and every precaution was taken to ensure that no crewmen could reveal anything with regards to Project Myrmidon's nature or existence after the fact.

This report gives a brief summary of the trial, as revealed through transcripts of Task Force Ada's communications and

*Task Force Ada, this is Star Navy Command, Ring 2. The secrecy of this mission is of the upmost importance. A fleet of modified Star Navy ships have been harassing colonies in the area with electronic warfare. Eliminate the fleet at all costs-- we don't know what it is, but for all we know this is the vector for the next big computer virus.*

Project Myrmidon Prototype RIEApC-2 ("Reaper" as the programming experts have started to call it).

Reaper chose to stay in a slow moving, tight formation in order for its defense platforms to be able to protect the entire fleet from enemy missiles.

*Action in the Second Ring? Never thought  we'd have to use maneuvers of this scale her-* *-Cut the chatter, Outlaw. Launching all Interceptors.* *All pilots, make sure to not veer too far off formation at this point. It is important that you stay within the Interceptor protected zone.*

*Keep accelerating, Task Force.* *Kingmaker this is Deadwood, I'm picking up a dense mass of  IR signatures.* *Can you designate, Deadwood?* *Negative, Kingmaker. Don't seem to have life support but it could just be relatively stealthy engineer.*

*Deadwood, this is Outlaw. Look at how those ships are flying!* *Yeah! Perfectly synced. Almost as if...* *Its one animal.* *Whoa, just noticed a battleship's signature in that clump.* *Forget that, Kingmaker, those fighters just launched too many missiles for our targeting computers to track* *STATIC* *Kingmaker?*
 Reaper managed to see a hole in the interceptors... blocked only by the lone Star Navy battleship. Reaper managed to hack into the battleship and turn off all the PDS, allowing a salvo of missiles, fired from attack platforms, to severely damage the battleship and destroy a frigate.
*Disable those PDS frigates, Deadly. We'll hit them with our missiles once their defenses are down.* *Aye aye!*

This was possibly Reaper's first tactical mistake, though the resourcefulness and skill of the Electronic Warfare specialists of Task Force Ada are also to blame. Losing two thirds of the PDS platforms before making contact with the Interceptors left much of Reaper's fleet useless against the high number of small targets and the heavily armored large targets. That said, Reaper had no way of knowing that Task Force Ada had so few torpedoes and such a high number of PDS, guided cannon, and laser weapons. Making Reaper more adaptable and able to predict such details will be a big step towards taking Reaper out of the prototype phase and into regular use. The programming specialists are right now looking at updating Reaper to not only think tactically but to be able to predict the sort of weapons needed on a given mission and even design systems to produce them autonomously.

*Outlaw, we're going in for our assault.*

*Watch out, Deadly, they're coming out to meet you!* *Those missile buses are going to ram us if we don't stop 'em!*

*Savage, watch out for that PD-- STATIC* *This is Deadly, we just evaded one drone but three others are closing in fast... we can't escape! They've got us! Shi--STATIC* *Alright, we're hightailing.* *Same here. Good luck Ada, Interceptors are outta here.* *This is Outlaw, watch out Interceptors. One PDS Frigate left. Engaging with all weapons.* *You got him! Thanks for the assist!*
 Those Interceptors had their comms cut soon after and were marked as potentially dangerous meteorites. All were incinerated when they reached their fall back planet.

*Whoa, Kingmaker just incinerated!* *Outlaw, this is Overseer. Do not engage that battleship, we just took control of it.* *Then why did it just explode?!?* *Must be a fail-safe against computer take over.* *Thats it! Everyone focus on hacking that carrier. Its the only ship in the position to command these two cruisers, if they're drones.* *Why else would they kamikaze?* *Aye.*

Sure enough, the cruisers hacked into the carrier, the back up after the main Reaper platform self destructed. The rest of the fleet was self destructed, while the remnants of Task Force Ada were given falsified starcharts and redirected into the nearest star. 

Overall, this was a success for Project Myrmidon. Though Task Force Ada ultimately prevailed, it was largely through unexpected resourcefulness and luck. Another view would be that Project Myrmidon lost only one intelligent life on this day, while Ada lost hundreds. With some adjustments to the Reaper program to allow Reaper to think more strategically and learn from mistakes, I think that some of the design mistakes that we humans made will no longer be issues during the next live fire trial.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

They're Going To Make A Big Star Outta Me

As noted in the post "Flight School," 5150 Fringe Space will ultimately include 3 different movement systems. These are tentatively called:
1) Flight Simulation Movement (as seen in Flight School and several playtests)
2) Standard Vector Movement (heavily simplified but same basic ideas)
3) Cinematic Movement

Today I wrote the Cinematic Movement and tested it.

Cinematic Movement is nothing new or particularly innovative (neither is Standard Vector Movement, to be honest-- its pretty straight forward vector movement like seen in most games that include  vector movement. It is the Flight Simulation Movement, with its various types of movement, that is most unique IMO). This is a good thing; it plays like someone would expect if they've ever seen Star Wars or played Battlefleet Gothic or similar games.

The goal of having these different movement systems is to reflect two variables. One, whether the player wants a setting where movement is cinematic or more realistic (Cinematic vs. Vector). Two, whether the player likes to focus a bit more on movement or to focus more on the other aspects of space combat (Standard Vector vs. Flight Simulation).

That said, everything else is kept the same-- activation, shooting, and non-movement actions are all identical. The purpose of this playtest was to see if everything translated, keeping the feel of Fringe Space while modifying the rules to better reflect a particular vision of the future (or the distant past, in this case).

There are a few places where some fundamentals outside of movement within an encounter have changed for different movement systems. In both vector movement systems, fuel is consumed pretty frequently. To better meet the expectations of a Cinematic game, fuel is only used in campaign turns and by Turboboosts in the cinematic movement system.

Here we have the Millenium Falcon (a fairly standard corvette with 2 Medium Cannons) facing off against two X Wings (Space Superiority Fighter, a fairly standard fighter with light armor and two light cannons) and a Y Wing (Heavy Fighter that is low on mobility and dogfighting ability but has fair armor and a Light Laser + 2 Missiles).

Why the odd match? These aren't Rebels, they're bounty hunters sent by Jabba who happen to have Rebel equipment. (Just play the game.)

The ships start off just at the edge of weapon range... the Millennium Falcon senses the fighters first, but its shots all miss and have no effect.

The fighters use Turboboost to zoom to the Millennium Falcon to initiate a Dogfight. The Millennium Falcon keeps up the fire on the X Wings, but the X Wings take Evasive Maneuvers and close on the Falcon unscathed. The Y Wing performs a Sensor Targeting action to steady its aim, and then releases its payload on the Falcon but the Falcon is able to dodge, as well, and the Laser fails to penetrate.

The X Wings initiate a dogfight. One of the X Wings is heavily damaged and the pilot is knocked out of the fight. This causes the other X Wing to be knocked, causing some negative effects next turn.

Dogfight begins.

Han Solo does some great piloting and is able to keep the smaller, more nimble X Wing from getting a good shot.

However, the X Wing is able to stay out of Chewie's fire as well.

Looks like neither of them is going to come out on top...

The next turn, the Millenium Falcon has a bad activation roll and chooses to drift forward-- better to use the one action for repairs or electronic warfare. The X Wing slows down and nearly turns on a dime to hit the Falcon from behind. The Y Wing zig-zags around the Falcon to hit it from the side.

The X Wing, due to the Knock from last turn, is unable to initiate its own dogfight, but can participate in the dogfight initiated by the Y Wing (at -2d6). The Millennium Falcon fails to successfully shoot down its pursuers as they close in.

Unfortunately for our heroes, Han is not very good at 5150 Wing Leader, and doesn't do too well on his dogfight rolls.

The Y Wing and X Wing poor accurate fire onto the Falcon's systems. Both Han and Chewie are knocked out as their ship is shaken by the torrent of fire. The engine is damaged, the computers are offline. The ship is Severely Damaged. Surely, our heroes will be captured and taken to Jabba... but, at least so far, Jabba has been forgiving... 

Conclusion: The game works well. Its interesting that the same stats, interpreted in different ways, still result in a playable system that actually felt more or less the same (excepting fuel and vector movement). Hopefully this will be good news for people who like the scale and style of Fringe Space but prefer cinematic movement.

The game does play pretty differently, though. In similar play tests under the Flight Simulation rules, the Millenium Falcon usually wins, or at least it is much closer in either direction. I think this is because normally the Antimatter Drives would have taken one more turn to reach the Millenium Falcon (in which the Falcon could have fired on the fighters) and then they would have just had one turn of passing Dogfighting before they had to spend a turn or two trying to turn around with conventional engines.

This effectively means that small maneuverable ships are a bit more effective in Cinematic play than in Flight Sim. That is a good thing, as it fits the Cinematic feel, though I did not expect it at first.

Of course, the good guys usually win in Cinema. It should be noted that I made all the sides have equally elite crews (5s for all crew stats). In "Real" Star Wars, Han Solo and Chewie are much better than some two bit bounty hunters, so they might have won. I did also roll poorly, and did not use any Star Advantages.

A batrep using the Standard Vector Movement will be posted later tonight or tomorrow. I'm going a bit bigger for that game... 61 Hull Points per side. This game had 3. Should be interesting... for me, the big reason to use the Standard Vector Movement is if you want to play a larger (still smaller than Star Navy) combat with several battleships and escort squads to a side, possibly with some of the more detailed special rules (AI ships, for example...) while keeping the game time down and the brain power required at a nice level. Of course, what is a big battle for me might be a MASSIVE battle for someone who's never played a space combat game, so Standard Vector Movement might be their go to even for one on one combats.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Flight School

This post is to explain the most advanced movement rules in 5150 Fringe Space. These rules are for those players who want to be put into the pilot's seat. There will also be a heavily simplified vector movement system (without different drive types, for example) for those who like vector movement but not being a pilot, and also a "cinematic" movement system that reflects the sort of movement seen in Star Wars and 5150: Wing Leader. This will allow players to pick the system most appropriate to their tastes and setting, while still  being able to use the RPG, combat, and campaign rules in Fringe Space.
"We're only 120,000km out from Base Delta-two four, BBnG," said Joss Sackbag, the pilot of the Nirvana (Speed 8 Mobility 4).
"That's good. I've been looking forward to Bob's Bar and Grill all day. Best darn sauce in the 3rd Ring,"said Ted Yew, owner and definitely-not-pilot of the Nirvana.
"Don't get too excited, its your turn to be designated driver."
"Drive? I don't know how to drive a space ship!"
"Its simple!"
"Simple? Its all vectors and fuel and engines! Why doesn't the computer just go where I tell it?"
"Hey now," Joss stood up and pushed Ted into the seat, "just sit down and I'll show you how its done."
Ted looked at the array of buttons, levers, and screens that lay before him. In the center was a large green button. "This is why only weirdos pilot ships."
"Hush, now. Alright, see that button over there? Thats the main drives..."
*NOTE: Where measurements are made in centimeters, they may also be made in inches. In Fringe Space they will be listed as inches but with a note that it is also possible to use centimeters for those who prefer it. I personally do, as it makes the games larger.*
There are 4 types of movement in Fringe Space:
1) Main Drives, which adds (up to) your Speed to your current velocity in the direction facing away from the main drives (in other words, forwards). Some of the main drives that really give you that extra kick can take awhile to accelerate, however, so this sort of movement has a delay-- you only add half of your speed on the first turn of movement. This is easily seen by using two markers (or just remembering for a half second), one to represent this turn's movement, the other to represent next turn's movement.
2) Turning. A ship may turn 45˚ for each Mobility. For simplicity, turning is not maintained across turns, unlike velocity.
3) Maneuver Thrusters. A ship may add one cm of speed in any direction per Mobility. As these are quick little bursts of energies and not a slow but steady acceleration, this is all applied at once, unlike the Main Drives.
4) Antimatter Drives, which work like Main Drives but are three times as fast. They cost 3x or more fuel, depending on the skill of your engineer. This makes them good for running away or surprising your opponent.

Where things get interesting is that, in a given turn, movement types 1-3 can be combined. 4 is a separate action that may not be combined with other movement types.
Here are the ways moves can be combined:
A) A ship may use Maneuver Thrusters and Main Drives at the same time. However, the Maneuver Thrusters facing forward are taken into account in Speed already, so when doing this combination, maneuver thrusters may only be applied sideways. Backwards is theoretically allowed, but you would never do it because it would have the same effect as just thrusting without using all speed.
B) A ship may Turn while using Main Drives at the same time. This is effectively the same as thrusting with 3/4 speed (rounded for simplicity) in the "middle" angle of the turn. For example, if I have Speed 8 and Mobility 4, I may turn my ship around and apply 6" of speed to the 90 degree angle between "forwards" and "backwards," AKA "sideways."
C) A ship may Turn and THEN use Maneuver Thrusters, or vice versa, but not both at the same time. If my ship is Mobility 4, then I may turn 45˚ and change my velocity by 3cm in any direction.
D) A ship may turn and THEN use Main Drives, or vice versa. This works similar to C. Instead of getting 1cm per Mobility not used for turning, you get the equivalent fraction of Speed. For example, with a Speed 8, Mobility 4 ship, I may turn 90˚ and then accelerate 4cm. This is because I have half of my Mobility unused, and so may use half of my speed.

In theory, some very complex maneuvers can be performed by a high performance ship with an experienced player. In this way, Fringe Space is like a flight sim. That said, most of the time a player can get the same effect by using one of the basic moves, though it may mean that in subsequent turns the ship isn't faced quite the way a skilled pilot would have faced it. In that way, Fringe Space is a game that is accessible.

In my own experience, Main Drives are used to set the "flow" of your ships, Turning and Maneuvers are used to keep the enemy in sight of your weapons and adjust velocity for the changing shape of the battle, and Antimatter Drives are used in daring game changing moments-- be they a sudden retreat or a ship far off from the main battle suddenly zooming in to rescue its beleaguered allies.

(Note that in play I only use one marker per ship/group... I don't find the nickel to be necessary, as it is immediately replaced by a ship or moved itself, but it helps when explaining photographs).

Alright, we'll start with the basics... the main drive.

Our ship is Speed 8, so its velocity at the end of the turn will be 8 in front of the ship (the penny)... but, the ship will only move 4 of those in the turn of acceleration, as the Main Drives take awhile to build up the speed (the nickel). 

To show this, the penny is put 8 in front of the nickel, instead of 4, while the nickel remains only 4 in front of the ship. Move the ship to the nickel...

... and then the nickel to the penny.

Bob's Bar and Grill is still thousands of km out, so we're going to drift for awhile. put the penny 8 in front of the nickel-- the same distance between the ship and the nickel. The nickel marks where our ship will be after this movement phase, and the penny represents its velocity for subsequent turns. 

While we're drifting, turn the ship around... put the ship on the penny and turn it 45˚ for every mobility. Nirvana is pretty agile, so she'll be doing a 180˚ in this turn. Note that the penny doesn't move-- we did not change course, just facing. 
At the start of the next turn, we still have 8 velocity towards the Bar, but we're facing the opposite direction.

Now we're going to start doing some fancy stuff. Use the Maneuver Drives to change course--  up to 4 in any direction. 

This marks our new destination for the turn, after the adjustment.

Another view...

The ship is moved to its destination (the nickel), while the destination marker (the penny) is moved an equal distance in the same direction. 

See? You're already flying backwards and using two drive types! Now for something really crazy....

Spin the ship around while the main drive is thrusting! As you can see, the ship is flipped around again, but the destination marker will be moved 3 "up," the middle angle of our turn.

As the main drives were the cause of the change in destination, on subsequent turns the velocity will actually be adjusted by 6 up, not 3 (this is shown by the penny.

The ship is moved to the destination for this turn while the penny is moved  the same way, but keeping the extra 3 change. This means our ship moved almost exactly "right" this turn, but will in subsequent turns move on a slight diagonal, "up-right."

We're getting close to the Grill! I can almost taste that sauce! 
The Nickel decides it can't wait with the ship and charges towards the delicious BBQ.

Alright, now we're going to turn 45˚ to line our ship up with the dock (note that in the actual game you don't need to do this as all very close range movement is abstracted). We'll use our remaining 3 mobility to adjust our course to get closer to the dock.

After the course is adjusted, the ship is moved, as is the destination marker (from the penny to the nickel, switching things up a bit).

Nickel is confused-- he thought what Nirvana and he had was special.

Things are back to normal.

The next turn the ship uses mobility to slow down enough that, combined with the close proximity and proper facing, Nirvana may initiate docking procedures.

 "Okay, I think I get it!" Ted said.
"Good, I'm just looking forward to BBQ and Bourbon at this point..."
"Just one more question," Ted asked, "What does this big green button do?"
"Well that-"
"Initiates docking procedures, right? Boy, I'm picking this up fast!" Ted pressed the button.
"What?!? NO!!!"
Joss and Ted are pressed against their seats as the Antimatter Drives kick in, propelling the ship away from the Bar and Grill....
Here we see the ship being moved to the penny (12), while the velocity marker is placed at twice that distance from the  penny (the nickel). Note that in the actual game the ship can just be moved to a marker and then the marker can be moved twice that distance; two markers are not needed, even for Main/Antimatter Drives.

Joss sat, stunned, as the delicious BBQ of Bob's Bar and Grill, just a moment ago only meters away, suddenly was just a distance star behind his ship. 
Ted broke the silence, "... I guess I won't be designated driver, then."