There’s so many balance directions fighters/gunships can be taken to, but it all hinges on this fundamental question. How fast should fighters be, both as a minimum and a maximum?
I’m just going to call everything a fighter, but obviously gunships are included.
Fighters fall into several speed categories:
A fighter that is 3.0 speed or greater:
- Gets hit 2% of the time by rapid fire weapons
- Only feasibly gets hit by missiles when painted/limpeted
A fighter that is less than 3.0:
- Gets hit at increasing rates by rapid fire fighter pulse weapons. The ramp up as you get slower is VERY HIGH, which I can’t stress enough. Weapon balance here comes down to tenths of a speed unit.
A fighter that is less than 2.0:
- Starts getting hit by cruiser level weaponry.
- Gets hit by fighter pulse weapons upwards of 33%, which may be several times a second in a squad fight.
- Might actually get hit by the flak cannon
The problem now, I think - many players are trying to make a fighter, ending up with a 1.6 speed foray, and are subsequently getting trashed. It doesn’t help that I’m casually swatting aside the example opponents in the stock missions with 1.7 speed weapons. Against competent opponents, the successful fighter speeds right now are multi-engine and prohibitive configurations; frills like targeting modules or multiple armor slots are just not possible. This is unintuitive to a new player - why is all of that extra stuff there?
The existence of 3.0+ class of fighter is also why you simply can’t have untethered interceptor fighters in GSB without support from the rest of the fleet. Your units will end up chasing armored 3.27 speed rocket fighters in some corner for half the match (or to their deaths) before you kill any significant number of them.
Having more of 3.0+ fighters than normal is the Yootani bonus - they can even pull off torpedo fighters at 3.0 speeds. This is through stacking low power use engines on top of hull speed bonuses.
It seems engines just aren’t significant enough, with reasonably fast single-engine designs an absolute rarity. Could it be agreed on that fighters shouldn’t be going below 2.0 unless you mishandle their design greatly?
It’s possible by manipulating thrust/weight values and ratios that we can make a single engine give a better return. In fact, this might be preferred, as this doesn’t completely invalidate existing designs. Thrust is obvious to increase, but I would actually recommend increasing weight on engines to some degree as well. Heavy engines with poorer thrust/weight ratios don’t overstack as well and are less prone to abuse. Additionally, when engine proportional weight is higher to the rest of the craft, it can be used as a means to keep the speed floor higher.
Nonfighter things that kill fighters (listed for reference):
-Tractors. They don’t have any other purpose but they’re really cheap and will often pay for themselves after a single shot. I would like to discourage these.
-Painter/missile setup. These require some fleet coordination, and the use of frigates, cruisers, or destroyers for the first step.
-Limpets. Functionality similar to above two points.
-Sudden unplanned carrier disassembly.
-Massed fire. Some of the faster firing weapons or volley weapons can become a significant source of attrition.
-Tracking boosts. You can pull off some disturbingly high accuracy with the use of target boost modules, which appear to stack forever with no penalty, and can be further augmented with destroyer recon beams. I’m not aware of a fleet that uses this seriously, but it’s possible to boost weapons like the cruiser pulse laser or the cruiser pulse cannon to the point where they’ll hit 3+ speed fighters at nontrivial rates. Cruiser defense laser can exceed 50%.
Concerns and frustrations of a fighter admiral:
-Units don’t “cautious” retreat on armor damage, only on hull loss.
-Units cannot be expected to behave intelligently if given single orders (like “attack destroyers”, only) after their target is dead.
-Units are at great risk at the most miniscule damage to engines without armor. A single hit has a chance of dooming the fighter.
-Gunners prefer slower, larger units. It’s very difficult to provide orders for multirole units, like a missile gunship with a pulse sidearm, that may want to attack large and small targets alike.
-Module space is at an absolute premium, and utility like targeters, extra fuel tanks or turn-rate engines are forced to take a back seat as a matter of survivability.
-Fighter discipline is hard to maintain. Larger squad sizes may alleviate this with ‘stick together’ orders. Is there a reason 16/10 is the max?
-Resistance armoring is impossible due to existing weapon types. Armor is used as a second health bar.
Shield support beams put destroyers on the map and are keeping them in the present metagame for the foreseeable future, with whole fleets being designed around them. I think fighters need something like this. The ideal candidate is the torpedo - it is a mighty weapon even in it’s current state, but it has difficult logistics. My favorite torpedo bomber at the moment is actually a yootani gunship with four of the best engines in the game and two maximum fuel tanks - that’s what it currently takes to get this monster weapon system going.
Most other races will struggle to get torpedo fighters above 2.0 speed with a full fuel tank, and most likely a with very poor maneuverability. This can be pushed slightly faster using the additional power of single-weapon gunship hulls, but not much. The other problem is fuel consumption - I have no idea how fuel is calculated (a function of weight?), but it certainly hits torpedo units the hardest. Target uptime is very, very poor.
The light pulse gun would be fantastic as a sidearm option for gunships. You might not want to do this, as it might be too fantastic.
The dogfight missile might be going so fast that it’s missing targets. I’m noticing an unusually low hitrate with this weapon for its 3.0 tracking.
The sniper laser with it’s 2.6 tracking, 100% armor damage, and 8 armor penetration - completely removes any reason to take the beam weapons. This is a shame, because the beams look neat. Bring back the beams!
The gunship disruptor bomb has the same difficulties of the torpedo, with the added unfortunate distinction of being a disruption weapon. This weapon might be better if torpedoes get better, it might not.
Anti-shield bomb has no discernible use.
And finally: Flak.
The frigate/destroyer flak cannon is one of the stranger interpretations of flak that I’ve seen; luckily this weapon has such an abysmal performance that changing it around will ruffle very few feathers.
For starters, it only explodes if it strikes a unit. This is compounded by the very poor 1.6 tracking; this weapon often requires a tractor beam to hold a host fighter down to even start the madness. The strange explosions appear to damage frigates and destroyers underneath shields, making them a friendly fire liability. My test frigates need armor and repair mods to survive trials.
I don’t think this weapon should continue its present state; Furthermore I am uncomfortable with unconstrained AOE mechanics in this type of game.
Let’s instead re-purpose this weapon as a suppressive one. My initial thought is something that does a very small amount of guaranteed damage to up to 3 targets at a time, regardless of speed. The idea here is to do just enough damage to fighters to trigger cautious orders to force them to flee back to the carrier. This is a soft countermeasure, and not a hard, attritional one - I get to ultimately keep my fighters and you get to lessen their influence in a quick manner. There’s some counterplay if I decide to armor significantly or set orders to ignore damage.
I don’t know if GSB can do fractional amounts of damage - fighter engines range from 3-17 hitpoints, so we need a gentle amount - it may also have to have something like 1 damage on a 50% innate miss-rate if not. We want to avoid a situation where it can be stacked into something vicious.
We could also go for something gamier with the same intended goal, like a fuel sucking explosion or accuracy debuffing clouds.