Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

More Waffle about Spaceship Shields

Lets continue mulling over the space shields dilemma a little. I worry that my idea of concentrated fire taking down shields might be a bit too fiddly and non-intuitive.
I also worry that its too easy to just ‘uber shield’ a ship and laugh at your enemies.
So I conclude this (please let me have your feedback):

Shield penetration should be decoupled from actual shield strength.

What I mean by this, is a ship could have say 3 standard shield modules (for example). These modules would give the ship a shield strength of 60 (20 points per module). This means that ships blasting away would need to do 60 points of damage before they got through to the armour, and then the internals.

Right now, I take the shield strength and divide it by the size of the ship, and that gives me a shield penetration value, and and weapons attacking it with a lower shield pen value than this just bounce off. This means if I up the number of shield modules, the required shield penetration value rises.

What I’m considering is having the shields strength (hit points) be additive as now, but the shield penetration value is just the highest value of your shield modules. Or maybe their average.

So you could have configs like this:

  • Ship A has 3 type I shields with a total strength of 60 points and needs >5 shield penetration to actually damage the shields
  • Ship B has just a single type III shield. Its total strength is only 20 but it needs >8 shield penetration to do any damage.

Note, I’m talking about damaging the shields, not going through them. You can’t actually penetrate the shields until they are down (so far). My aim is to allow for some tactical flexibility. You could protect your ships against fighters just by having a single highly reflective shield module. But defence against bigger ships would mean you take penetration for granted (penetration is the wrong word really) and concentrate on brute strength of the shield itself. It also allows me to have small weapons that arent entirely useless against shields.

What do you think? Too complex? Thanks for your comments so far, I read all of them.

18 thoughts on More Waffle about Spaceship Shields

  1. well, during horrible, horrible space battles, some ships just gotta blow up right from the start from the horrors of initial barrages.

    and I thought fighters are supposed to kill each other or bombers, not for taking out ships?

  2. Just to added another possible variable into the mix, do you have any function in the game regarding where the shield modules are placed? So a enemy could bring just one down to break a hole in the shields leaving the affected ship desperate to manouvering that specific area away from the main enemy attack.

    An added gizmo could allow for redistribution of shield power put would added weight and take up space at the expense of extra weapons.

  3. Shields are all one lump, not split into sections. The game is horribly complex as it is :D
    Fighters generally will be unshielded, relying on speed to avoid slow turning big cruiser and frigate guns. So there will be scope for stuff to get blown to bits at the very start of battle…

  4. Why not change “Shield Penetration” to “Shield Resistance”? At least on the UI layer. This is less confusing and seems to me at least to be more accurate.

    I like your idea of having different Types of shields in order to tier their stats separately. Something along the lines of:

    Shield I Type I = Shield Points(20), Shield Resistance(1)
    Shield II Type I = Shield Points(30), Shield Resistance(1.5)
    Shield III Type I = Shield Points(40), Shield Resistance(2)
    Shield VI Type I = Shield Points(50), Shield Resistance(2.5)
    Shield V Type I = Shield Points(60), Shield Resistance(3)

    Shield I Type II = Shield Points(10), Shield Resistance(4)
    Shield II Type II = Shield Points(15), Shield Resistance(6)
    Shield III Type II = Shield Points(20), Shield Resistance(8)
    Shield IV Type II = Shield Points(25), Shield Resistance(10)
    Shield V Type II = Shield Points(30), Shield Resistance(12)

    Shield I Type III = Shield Points(0), Shield Resistance(5)
    Shield II Type III = Shield Points(2.5), Shield Resistance(12.5)
    Shield III Type III = Shield Points(5), Shield Resistance(25)
    Shield IV Type III = Shield Points(7.5), Shield Resistance(37.5)
    Shield V Type III = Shield Points(10), Shield Resistance(50)

    Different modules could then be mixed and matched to provide unique defensive capabilities for special role ships. The damage calculation would be something like this…

    shieldDamage = ship[x].Shield.ReceivedDamage – ship[x].Shield.Resistance;
    if (shieldDamage > 0)
    return ShieldDamage;

  5. I think this might be a good idea. If you still wanted to do concentrated fire you might consider the idea of breaking up the arcs of the ships shield into “zones” like if there are 3 shields then each shield is responsible for one-third of the ship. Then you could blow up individual shield generators. Then the other two generators would become responsible for each half of the ship. I do like the idea of the “stronger” shields having a higher “no damage” value. If you haven’t already you might consider a “power core” value as well. Like you have so many megawatts of power or something to divide between shields, engines, and weapons, maybe even sensors and miscellaneous stuff depending.

  6. Please pardon the comparison, but Battleships Forever utilized a hitpoint system that deducted from the duration of the shields, which seemed to result in near invulnerability of the shielded sections for the duration of the shield. For that game, it seemed fine since a shield could only cover one section at a time, necessitating flanking manuevers or surgical strikes. I’m not suggesting that you should therefore use a hitpoint system yourself, but it might be interesting to test both shield systems (albeit without the sectional coverage) against one another to see which one appears more balanced for gameplay, or whether both could be incorporated as a strategic decision. You could always prevent spamming of shields by making the power or space requirements of multiple shield systems grow exponentially, either through increasingly inefficient energy transfer or added heat sinks…

    On the hard to implement side, it would be interesting if the only shots that could pierce a shield (similar to real life bullets and vests) were those that struck the shield perpendicular to the tangent (a direct shot). More glancing shots would deflect at the angle of incidence or sap shield power. This would allow a ship to fire directly upon the part of the enemy beneath the nearest point of its shields, but completely prevent more surgical fire against turrets or weakened sections of the hull. It would also prevent multiple ships from concentrating their fire upon a single point of an adversary, preventing quick kills of shielded vessels. A crippled ship could then manuever to avoid putting its weak or damaged spots directly in line with its opponents.

  7. Breaking up the shields into zones would be complicated if each shield module was responsible for its own segment. However, I think that the segmenting of shields would be primarily for actual penetration (passing through the active shields and hitting the hull) of the shields in the quadrant that it was overloaded in.

    If I were to implement this, here’s how I would do it:

    The shield overlay on a ship would be broken up into X number of segments where X is the number of shield modules equipped. Each segment would have an equal slice of the pie, but those slices wouldn’t necessary relate to the physical location of the modules. When an overwhelming amount of enemy fire hits the SAME quadrant, then that quadrant would fail/buckle and allow enemy fire to penetrate for a short duration.

    I believe this method would allow a tangible sense of more shields are better, not just because the numbers say so.

  8. I think you’re overthinking it, Cliff, and that’ll result in an overdesign. Put it all in, then start regression testing to see how fast the computer can breed an unbeatable combo, then fix the unbeatable combo.

    Two ways I haven’t seen discussed…

    One, the shield generators in your universe can only cover one arc at a time (like a shield in a swordfight, there is no such thing as a 360 degree shield!)

    Two, the shield generators can work like the capital shields in David Weber’s “Path of the Fury” universe — while it’s on, nothing gets in, but nothing gets out including information and communications and weapons firing.

  9. I have considered the idea of uber shields which are very strong but you can’t fire when they are active, although that would require some ai decision making as to when to prioritise firing out over defending against incoming fire.
    Or mega weapons which effectively turn off your shields when you fire them.
    I’m thinking just keeping it as it is, but separating shield resistance from strength should get what I need.

  10. I thought on this, and I’m really liking the idea I came up with. If it’s compatible with your system, it’s yours, gratis! I’m not sure if it’s too complicated.

    Among games, there are typically three ways of handling an incoming attack: Evasion, mitigation and absorption. Evasion/deflection causes an immediate zero. Mitigation removes a certain percentage of an attack. Absorption removes a certain flat amount. Your shields are comprised of three components: Deflector dishes, arc batteries and shield buffers. Each is available in various qualities. Typically each component type will take up a separate slot on your ship (but at intermediate levels and higher you start encountering single-slot multipurpose options (which of course are more expensive and have a poorer cash-to-stats ratio)). You can have multiple slots of any shield component type and they will have cumulative effect. Heck, you can even go completely without any one or more of the shield component types as each ship has an automatic “on motherboard” unit which is typically meager and may not be cumulative, so you’ll at least have a little. Each shield component type is better or worse against different damage sources. Lets say: missiles don’t deflect well, lasers are hard to absorb, and mass drivers don’t get mitigated much.

    Fighters are an additional complicating factor in this, because they get to fly through the shields (think knives in Dune). They don’t escape the effects of all shield component types though. They only bypass one of the rock/paper/scissors elements. This can be explained as some factors come into effect at the ‘hard’ shield boundary, while others occur in the field inside of it. Fighters system-breaking effects are mitigated by their relatively weak weapons, and how each is relatively easy to take out, thereby diminishing the overall damage done by the wing.

    Viper34j has a good idea for handling overwhelming fire, based on a fraction of radius proportional to units. Shield breaking can also be the way that you can prevent someone from being a complete turtle. Each shield component type primarily stops one damage type, but if it tries stopping too much at one time and/or one small place… well, one of your nice slotted components just blew up.

    Of course you can make things fun by introducing mega-weapons that ‘cheat’. Have a Death Star ray that ignores typical laser mitigation. Of course firing it causes the launcher’s shields to go out for a while though…

    If this gets overly complicated (or if you don’t have mass drivers*), this concept could be shorn down to just two options: Deflectors and umm, ‘arc buffers’. You lose the rock/paper/scissors option though, and I like it.

    So yeah, this was a bit involved. I think it’s a good system, but there’s a very likely possibility that it’s too much to retrofit into what looks like a well-along system at this point. I hope at least my two bits inspires someone’s interesting thoughts of their own.

    * Mass drivers? They were fun in MoO2.

  11. Another dynamic you might consider is the idea of “leakage” through a shield. This would be some small amount (or small percentage) of each attack that would go through the shield regardless of the shield’s strenght.

    This would allow even a ship with an Ultra-Mega shield that might not overload from simultaneous hits from a dozen battleships to be defeated by a lot of fighters, since a few points of damage would be done by each attack leaking through the shield.

  12. I really like the idea of separate “shield health” and “shield resistance” values, one determining how much damage a shield needs to take before it deactivates, the other determining how powerful an attack has to be before it actually damages the shield (fighter’s small weapons will bounce of really powerful shields).

    But I think shields should be less cumulative and more wrapped on around each other. It may be difficult to represent visually but you could have a few stages of shields, the most basic being 3 identically shields each with 20 health and able to reflect small fighter ships fire only. This would mean that 20 damage would deactivate the first shield but leave the other 2 up, and each shield has it’s own independent recharge time (the shields don’t all turn off at once but instead the first one you destroyed might reactivate withing say 30 seconds). If the shields are good enough this could have a “rolling” effect where the last destroyed shield recharges before the next one is destroyed.

    The major difference this system creates is when you combine shields of difference resistance values. You could have you first layer be a relatively low health but highly resistant shield (it is only damaged by high powered lasers but will die quickly by them). Your next shield would have lower resistance but a higher health, meaning it would take longer for heavy weapons to destroy it but a wider range of weapons could damage it (this would stop someone just rushing a ship with lower powered ships since the first shield would reflect all the low power fire). This would lead to the strategy of using highly penetrating weapons to “overload” the primary shield and then using a mass of lower power weapons to take down the secondary shields and the ship.

    Obviously not all ships would have multiple shields and shield types should be restricted to ship classes (fighters shouldn’t really have shields, and low level ships shouldn’t be able to block fighter fire). Also small bomber ships and missiles should be able to negate shields entirely but be highly vulnerable to fighters, anti-fighter cannons and anti projectile cannons shooting them down meaning they either need other ships to draw fire for them so they don’t die instantly or have enough missile/bombers that they over whelm the anti-fighter/projectile defenses.

    I know this has been wordy but I don’t think this system is too complicated (easy enough to grasp the concept of a primary deflective shield, then a weaker shield to absorb more damage) and opens up interesting tactics such as the choice between high health, low resistance shields against powerful ships and low health, high resistance shields to block small ship attacks. This should force players to have a good fleet balance (strong ships for disabling shields, quantities of weaker ships to kill the lower resistance shields and kill the ship) and also forces them to constantly change targets (making sure the strong ships aren’t being wasted on weak (low resistance) shields, and making sure that weak ships are only striking when strong shields are down).

    Anyway, I hope you find some of these idea interesting/useful. The game is looking great, I can’t wait.

  13. I think having 2 shield values is a little complex. I could be wrong but it sounds like in the current situation 100 fighters with measley guns all firing on a cruiser at once would not damage and deactivate a shield. I think that is making shields way too powerful.

    I would propose a system where all incoming fire stresses the shields and eventually causes them to deactivate and recharge. If a cruiser has multiple shield modules than the shield recharge could be quicker…reactivating the shields at full power. Look at Halo’s Shield/Health system – It’s fantastic.

    Under this system, a pack of fighters would have a chance against the largest cruiser if they could concentrate their fire, bring down the shields, and then damage the ships internal shield systems.

    Just my 2 cents.

  14. I’m very intrigued by the idea of shield hits actually reducing the penetration threshold. that’s pretty cool. It means that if you blast away with a big gun, you could actually allow other, smaller weapons to break through.
    Or there could even be a special weapon which ONLY reduced shield penetration. Like the equiv of a target painter for missiles, that did no shield damage, but just reduced its reflectiveness and allowed every shot to do damage.

  15. I like the idea of shield regeneration, but shouldn’t the charging of the shields be constant unless the system is damaged. I remember back when i was playing Elite 2, when i had a large freighter with loads of shield generators, pirate ships couldn’t penetrate the hull because the shields regenerated too fast. You could consider recharge rate as a third stat.

  16. @ Cliffski: I guess I’ve been misreading the penetration idea. So when you say ‘penetration’, you mean like a damage threshhold? Any attacks below a shield’s ‘penetration’ rating are shrugged off and deflected completely? Then the rest is like the Halo setup, with a regenerating bank of hp. My previous post was completely misreading the penetration concept then.

    Maybe penetration levels could be instead handled like levels were in LOTRO. As disparity between the penetration levels increased, an exponential modifier to damage and to hit was applied. If the attacker’s below the penetration threshhold by a level or two, he could do piddling but non-zero damage against shields. If the attack’s below by a greater amount, it would do nothing. Equal penetration levels would be even. If you’re of higher penetration than the shields, you can do extra damage.

    @ Michael: Shield turtling could be handled by a progressive feedback system. If constantly under fire and constantly regenerating, the cost of regeneration for that turtling ship could steadily get more expensive. This cost would then regress back to normal when regeneration or incoming fire stopped. I don’t know if this overheating/cooldown progression would be better modelled as a single variable or as two variables for asymmetric.

  17. Master of Orion 3 (ironically) had a rather good ship defense modelling:

    Shields only absorb a certain amount of damage out of each shot (getting bigger the better the Shield of course), and can only absorb a certain maximum amount before failing completely.

    All the damage that bleeds through the shield absorbtion impact the armor, where they either penetrate and damage the ship’s hull or bounce off harmlessly because the power of the shot (minus the shield’s absorbtion) is too low relative to the armor strenght.

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