Archive for the Uncategorized Category

The emptiness of space

Posted in Boardgames, Computer games, Films and TV, Science, Science fiction, Uncategorized on April 2, 2010 by Mr Backman

The Atomic rocket website deal with realistic space flight and combat in the most exhaustive manner possible. You can get tons of information on just about everything dealing with realistic spaceflight there and I consider it the best website on the net! There are however some assumptions they make which lead to the conclusion that space battles will have no ambushes, no role for stealth or sensors and little tactical decisions. The assumption is that space is empty and any approaching ship will be detected well before it come in harm’s way. There is no preferred direction in deep space so a space battles involving two ships could just as well be fought in one dimension, range only.

In air to air combat the two horizontal dimensions work the same but the vertical dimension works differently: The highest planes can dive for speed, lower planes run the risk of hitting the ground. As air pressure diminish with altitude each plane has ceilings above which they can no longer fly. Ship to ship combat in the age of sail had the weather gauge which gave the upwind ship advantages over the downwind ones and if the ships were close to shore there was also the consideration of how deep water each ship required to avoid running aground.

But space IS empty and equal in all directions so space battles WILL be predictable and leave no room for maneuver you may say, or you could grow pointy ears and say that space is filled with nebulae, dense asteroid fields, mysterious energy fields etc which give ample opportunity for ambushes, stealth and tactical maneuvering. I believe that we don’t need to go all Space Fantasy to have interesting space battles if we only change the our assumptions a little about where the battles take place.

In Traveller, the rpg I originally wrote Intercept for, ships use jump drives to travel between planets, you fly 100 planetary diameters away, jump to the next starsystem and fly the 100 planetary diameters to land or orbit. All space battles would take place near a planet or gas giant, more rarely near single asteroids or comets. Planets are huge, even as space combat ranges go and gas giants are even larger. If a ship is on the other side of a planet you have no way of knowing how it changes its vector, regardless of the amount of heat and light from its drive. When two ships moves so they have line of sight which each other again the ship that shoots first will certainly hit the other and probably take it out. The commander that is better at outguessing his opponent will spot him first and can get off the first shot, simply because surveying the sky takes time so where you start scanning is crucial. Ships in planetary shadow will be as dark as space itself and only visible on infrared. Ships near the direction of the Sun will be harder to spot, their weak signature drowning in the huge outpouring from the sun. The excellent Rocketpunk Manifesto website has an interesting article that also question the assumption that space battles will and should be fought in deep space.

All this allow us to make somewhat realistic space battles where ambushes are possible, maneuvering matter and sensors vs stealth plays a part, only if we assume that battles will take place near planets instead of in deep space. When we design space combat board games, computer games, books etc we should take planets, sun direction etc into account to make space battles more realistic while keeping the fun. Star Trek and other space fantasies are cop-outs, and there is no excuse to go there for whatever reason.

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