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

The Fighter Spam Issue

I have a slight problem with the balancing of the GSB campaign. The problem is that swarms of fighters are just *too good*. The main game prevents this because each battle has pilot limits. The campaign battles do not. It’s not a total game killer, because spatial anomalies act as ‘chokepoints’ preventing fighters roaming everywhere. It’s annoying though.

One solution is to increase the maintenance costs of fighters. The downside to this would be that it’s hard to explain to the player, doesn’t make *that* much sense and may not be effective enough.

Another is to make them more difficult to build, maybe using twice the resources per CR in a shipyard, thus making shipyards more efficient when building cruisers etc. This maybe just delays the inevitable, and is also hard to justify.

Another is to introduce the idea of needing carriers. This is tons of work and testing, plus it breaks the link with the main game, where they are not needed, and means the player will fight AI fleets designed by players operating under different rules.

Another is to introduce flight schools, and pilots as a new resource. This is adding even more complexity, although to be fair, I could make academies churn out pilots too, so its just a resource, not a new facility too…

Another is to add more anomalies that block fighters, or set hard limits of the number of fighters in a particular fleet or battle. That involves real chaos, as I’d have to handle it when merging fleets yada yada.

I can see whatever I do will involve lots of work won’t it :(


34 thoughts on The Fighter Spam Issue

  1. Instead of limiting fighters by requiring them to adopt carriers, another possibility might be to limit their size via a story mechanic. You could say something like the Space Admiralty views fighter pilots as no-good rabble-rousers, and too-large fighter groups are restricted in size by the Supreme Space Commission to reduce rogue groups from developing.

    Perhaps not the best example, but one that may not involve large amounts of programming.

  2. Finally balance fighters? We’ve long established that maxing out pilot limit by spamming fighters is the best thing to do, since they are nearly invincible against cruisers.

  3. Add specialized anti-fighter weapons to the game (assuming there isn’t something similar already).

    Something like an area weapon that deals no damage to bigger targets (or less damage the bigger the target is), but that deals decent damage to fighters. Key is being area of effect, IMO.

  4. I think you should limit the pilot number by story mechanic. Like in singleplayer missions and in online challenges, every map should have its own (pilot) limits.

  5. well one thing that could maybe be changed is that splash damage from exploding cruisers and frigates currently does not damage fighters at all. That could easily be changed.

  6. Fighters can only repair in-combat, or when fleeted with carriers?

    Or does that make no odds? (as a damaged fighter is normally an expanding cloud of gas anyway)

  7. There already are anti-fighter weapons in there, and limiting fighters to only repairing on carriers is a impossible justification within a war…

    I like the idea of ships damaging fighters when they blow, (after all fighter’s are such frail things).

    I also would like to point out that I think it makes a lot of sense for fighters to be more expensive to maintain then crusiers are incomparision. When you add a module (say engine) it has a crew requirement to operate it, but this same crew is also performing routine matenince, given the size of a screw a lot of matenince is offloaded directly to the already enlisted crew members, but in the ase of a fighter a single crew member can not handle all the repair, and matenince by themselves and need a whole support crew. This would actually mimic real life in a lot of ways as well. :) So I’m actually in favor of this change.

  8. I like handling it through the maintenance cost of the fighters. That many fighters has to be a drain on resources, time, and energy. If anything, the HR costs alone. :) But, I also think just telling them, fighters cost more money over time might be enough.

  9. Kinda impressed the tactic i made is THIS game breaking! Cliff, PLEASE re-balance FT! I’d much rather make a fleet requiring skill. Increasing the maintenance costs of the fighters might work. It can make sense ingame. Fighters require an extended maintenance crew, requiring specialists in the miniaturization technology that effective fighters rely on.

    If you mix this with the pilot count idea, It could work well to prevent FT spam from being as prevalent. Although honestly it will STILL happen, as credit-for-credit they’re the most effective in combat itself

  10. Instead of having straight up carriers, why not just limit the number of fighters in a fleet to be X per capital ship, implying that they don’t have the facilities to go into warp themselves and that they usually hitch a ride on larger ships?

  11. IMO if you simply add limits, people will assume the limit is how many fighters they should build, especially if fighters are significantly better on a per-credit basis. Fighters have to be brought in line with ships for combat efficiency.

    I think adding crew as a resource makes sense, but make them based on how many worlds you own and the population of their worlds. Larger ships use fewer crew per ton than fighters, so it isn’t all about the credits anymore.

  12. If you balance out fighters now you’re just going to have more headaches when you add in the area-effect weapons folks have been suggesting for awhile…

  13. I like Arctem’s idea of fighters needing to hitch a lift with larger ships (and maybe ships with fighter bays allow you to transport more), although this doesn’t help prevent enormous fighter swarms simply being built in situ.

    Here are a few more half-formed ideas – mostly fairly complex and not likely to be implemented at this late stage, but thought I’d share anyway…

    Gratuitous Space Officers. Could have officer training camps on planets, or simply have academies create them occasionally. Could assign officers to fleets or ships, but I don’t think that’s necessary – assume they’re all participating each time you battle, either gathered in a meeting room somewhere or on a conference call. Each officer is capable of commanding a certain number of ships or squads. Maybe associate officers with fleets or ships, but simpler to assign a random chance that officers are captured/killed when a battle is lost. Maybe add a chance to capture enemy officers if you capture a frigate or cruiser – subsequent interrogation allows a sneak peek at another planet’s fleet. In the case where a fleet gets larger than the number of available officers, ships or squads will fail to follow their orders correctly and may automatically retreat until the balance is correct again.
    Chance of officers joining you each turn increases with number of planets/academies owned, decreases with number of officers you already have.
    A fun addition to this would be to flesh out the officer with a name and ridiculous-sounding nonsense rank (Arch-Commanding Field Officer, Third Class, etc). Give each one a little fluff page, showing the medals they’ve gained for participation in a particular battle (Gold Star for Effort, Siege of Sullgobah T59, etc). Maybe gaining more medals allows them to command more ships.

    Add more planet-based stuff to interfere with fighters – don’t explicitly ban them from a world, but mess with them. Magnetic fields or snares, which interfere with their flight patterns or trap them. Minefields. Off-screen planetary defenses which create area effect explosions.

    Make fighters unreliable – prone to wear and tear, regardless of actual combat damage. Have them randomly develop engine trouble or gun rot after a battle, so they need to take time out for inspection and repair between sorties.

    Add fuel as a resource, with fuel refineries on certain worlds, and make fighters guzzle it more than cruisers / frigates. This seems backwards though!

    And speaking of realism, you could make ammo cost money, thereby dealing with missile spammers at the same time. :o

  14. Hi Cliff,

    Just wanted to let you know that I love the game and the new campaign mode. I do have a suggestion that might help in regards to the fighters situation. Why not limit the amount of fighters by making it so that each ship type can only support a limited amount of fighters. Here’s an example, a Fed Cruiser can only support (and house or hold) 10 fighters, while a Fed Frigate can only hold 4 fighters. Limiting them in this way might be a viable solution in the long run… and if you think about it, it sort of makes sense based on the size of the ships that fighters can actually dock at (and get repairs at).

    Just a thought.

    Keep up the great work!

  15. I like the idea of flak guns. These would be AoE type attacks, where the projectile would fly to nearish the target and explode. Everything within a radius would be damaged.

    The flak would have a low armor penetration so against frigates and cruisers with even light armor the flak would be entirely useless, but walls of flak could devastate swarms of fighters. Each flak blast could hurt everything in the vicinity, so tight groups of fighters would be dropped very quickly.

    So, sure, you could still spam fighters. But what if you run into flak guns? When a single flak blast hits 20+ fighters at once, and the cruisers are launching walls of flak, your fighters will be vaporized within seconds.

  16. To paraphrase a wanker, you go to war with the fleet you have, not the one you want. Fighters are a big part of having a “general purpose” fleet, as opposed to the classic GSB situation of building a fleet specifically to counter another one. If you reduce the viability of fighter swarms, please also make it possible for players to see what fleets are coming their way, with plenty of lead time. I’m not sure if that is possible with limiting coding resources, but in the meantime, please don’t take away the only winning strategy many of us have found – a hard campaign is one thing, a frustratingly unbeatable one is something else.

  17. Andrew, I’ve beat the campaign with the fighter swarm tactic (why i posted it on the forum!) AND without. Fighter swarms make it easier, but it’s still pretty easy with cruisers and frigates. Just don’t wait until turn 2-300 to start your attacks!

  18. Why not make the fighters one shot? You set the amount of fighters used pre battle and after battle all the fighters involved are destroyed.

  19. My vote is for something different. How about you make the fighters less effective against frigate armor/ sheilds, and give a substantial increase to frigate weapons tracking stats.

    Fighters kill cruisers

    Cruisers kill Frigates

    Frigates kill Fighters

    I think this solution while theoretically easy to do, also give much more usefulness to frigates which i find use only as cannon fodder, or EMP cruiser support.

  20. Another way to weaken fighters against frigates is to give fighter weapons a poor tracking stat.

    Ex: say lower their tracking so that any Frigates traveling faster than 0.25 or 0.3 has a 50% or better evade chance against most fighter weapons.

    I think the Fighter torpedo should be the exception so that fighters can have a weapon that can kill frigates.

  21. Haven’t played the campaign yet so this may not be relevant.

    Maybe fighters can’t take or hold systems/planets?
    If a fighter swarm is all that is left, they have to retreat to nearest owned system.

  22. You have run up against Lanchester’s Law (Squared Law), which basically says that increasing quantity of shooters is more effective than increasing quality of firepower. Adding more anomalies will help, but it won’t make the problem go away. Making pilots a valuable and scarce resource, maybe even an *irreplaceable* resource, will be the best you can do. You might consider a slider to control the availability of pilots as part of campaign setup, so players can decide what they want for themselves.

    This is a really tough problem, and one that military theorists have been kicking around for nearly a century. You don’t need to solve the problem though, just find a balance that keep the game interesting. I’ve written a bit about this:
    http://giantbattlingrobots.blogspot.com/2010/06/lanchesters-laws-and-attrition-modeling.html

  23. I like the idea of academies producing smaller numbers of pilots compared to ‘crew’. Find the right proportion of pilots to general crew and fighter spam becomes a viable strategy, but if you lose your fighters too quickly you can’t replace them quickly enough.

  24. The real world has this problem, i.e. war II FTR development, i.e. WWII pacific and Europe. a single FB (fighter-bomber) IF it could get close enough did destroy a very large ship. CAP (fighters to counter FTR/FB and AA (anti-aircraft) can stop this. Modern development has gotten to the point, that if a FTR can be seen it will be destroyed. The question is how close can it get. (using stand off weapons like Cruise missiles (i.e. Falklands war)
    Also sad to say WWI type pilots are no longer needed or a scarce resource.
    Suggestion.
    1. FTR guns should not really hurt a capital ships (CR & FG) ding up maybe, They are used against other FTRs.
    only rockets & torpedoes have a CHANCE of destroying capital ships.
    2. add AA missiles to FTR, improve capital ship’s anti-aircraft systems by making them
    a. faster or as fast as a FTR (?2.6?)
    b. have a 90+% kill ratio
    3. players need to improve tactics i.e. CAP and adding AA to fleet.

    There is still the problem of outside attacking fleet (carriers) vs system defending fleet (planet carrier ) i.e. Battle of Britain,air battle which will need to be address.

    Additional comments:
    The United States tried removing guns from aircraft and had to go back to them.
    FTR rockets/torpedo are cruise missiles (unguided/guided) like capital
    ship systems
    This problem is caused by reuse issue, Ftr has limited weapons and must
    return and rearm (? hanger addition ?)
    One must always struggle to keep the game simple, I have played many games who at first were great to play because they capture right balance between easy of play and essence of the game subject. but later lost that
    easy of play because the first user had learned to play over time and
    the game had a very large complexity factor and learning curve.

    For now, this is great, looking forward to gratuitous conquest

  25. correction 11-21-2010 additional comments
    but later lost that easy of play because the first users had learned to play over time and the added to game now had a very large complexity factor and learning curve.

  26. AOE Flak is a good idea. Would chew though masses of fighter clouds real good.

    Fighters should be weaker in all aspects. Right now they are almost an unstoppable force of destruction if they arent completely invincible. (especially the fast rocket fighters; nothing can hit them unless the get grabbed by a tractor beam or swarmed on by normal fighters)

    AA weaponry should do their job right and actually kill fighters very quickly and effectively. And its exactly what they arent doing.
    Even heavy guns (wich we dont expect them to be any good vs fighters) dont do enough damage to kill a fighter in one shot.

    The only “right” counter against a swarm is a bigger swarm.

    I personnally dislike fighters in the game to begin with, and would love to not have to deal with them at all.

  27. I don’t mind the idea of new game play elements being added for the sake of the campaign. I’m liking the idea that you need to have ships carry the fighters into battle and needing carrier bays increase your allowed capacity, that way you could just have a counter saying ‘Allowed fighters’ or some-such.

  28. Story and gameplay considerations can merge quite well, actually. WWII analogies in brackets:

    1) More niche weapons specifically for countering Fighters, e.g. area-effect low damage (flak cannons)

    2) Exponentially increasing upkeep to represent logistical challenges in maintaining large fleets of individual machines (Blitzkrieg got stalled by outrunning their own supply lines beyond 250km from base)

    3) Fighter-slowing field similar to Swarm’s anti-missile field (uh, Stupid Jetpack Hitler or something)

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