Reply To: Collected Thoughts on the Ares class Problem

Terran Stellar Navy Forums (OOC) Division Development Collected Thoughts on the Ares class Problem Reply To: Collected Thoughts on the Ares class Problem


Let me just open with this: please do not read this as complaint or whining or huffing & puffing. This is just my process as I try to think through the problem in an organized fashion. This STARTED as an essay to argue in favor of the merits of implementing a ship with a Broadside configuration, and then I decided to broaden my scope and try to articulate the problem itself in addition to my favored solution. For this reason, this could be a bit disjointed, although I’ve tried to clean it up.

At the end of the day, this is just the text document I wrote for myself to keep my own thoughts recorded so I didn’t forget something. So, getting into it…

Having our Ares-class discussion in the way we’ve been doing it on Discord–jumping between narrow focuses over an extended period of time with a bunch of Lancer mess inbetween–strikes me as less than ideal. It doesn’t offer a broad overview of design flaws, compromises, and strengths. I decided the best way to approach this (as most things) is with a comprehensive writeup. So here’s a write-up of my accumulated thoughts on the subject.

Full disclosure, I’m a huge proponent of a broadside class. I’m in love with the idea. I was putting one together (for a non-TSN group) before I even heard that Phoenix was being reclassed. Nonetheless, I’ve made an effort to consider other possibilities (see below), although admittedly I’ve done so without spending hours conceptualizing how each of them could work. If one of the alternative possibilities spark interest, I’ll consider it further.

Controlling Ideas. 

Fleet config -- then & now: 
Raven -- Battlecruiser // Artemis
Phoenix -- Artemis // Ares
Horizon -- Valkyrie // Valkyrie
Viper -- Apollo // Apollo
Lancer -- Nemesis // Nemesis

No treading on other roles: 
Artemis - Jack All, from which all others are derived.
Valkyrie - Torpedo specialist
Apollo - Face-to-face brawler
Nemesis - Interceptor

Intended Role: 
Ares - Bunker Buster (Anti- single hardened target)

Phoenix used to be the only Artemis-class. Raven has taken that class now, creating a perceived need for another unique class: Ares class. I struggle to see the distinction between a bunker buster and the tankier & up-gunned Apollo, or the long range bombardment style Valkyrie. There’s four methods of combat in Artemis, and they seem to have all been written off: enhanced beams and shields are forbidden because of Apollo, torpedoes are forbidden because of Valkyrie, fighters are forbidden because of crew restrictions and general hostile environment in TSN, mines are forbidden because of their general applicability to kill pretty much anything (they don’t play well with the idea of killing a single target dead better or easier than the other classes can), and jump drives are forbidden because they would trivialize Nemesis interception and flout the whole idea of formation flying.

That doesn’t leave much to work with. So let’s go a bit more lenient on these points and try some subcategorizing on the assumption that we don’t want to just have TWO Artemis class ships in The 4th Light Division instead of only one. So let’s start by breaking unique points down as they differ from Artemis class as a classical configuration.

Apollo: heavier front shield, weaker aft shield, harder-hitting & faster firing beams at normal range.
Valkyrie: extra torpedo tube and guided ordnance to fill it (but fewer mines), softer-hitting beams at normal fire rate with longer range.
Nemesis: more mobile, more beams that hit softer and fire faster at both longer and shorter range.

Extrapolated independent differences that ‘matter’ include:
+ Mobility
Mobility is great, but without a hole in a target’s beam arcs (or having no visible beam arcs to begin with), it is a meaningless attribute for a Bunker Buster.
+ Shield strength
Shield strength, particularly having ‘enough’, is most certainly part and parcel of any ship that enters a hardened target’s weapons range.
+ Beam strength
Beam strength is a solid way to modify firepower without directly impacting energy consumption and thus the longevity of active operations.
+ Beam count / fire rate
Beam count and fire rate are both effective ways to modify firepower while altering energy consumption: more shots fired, regardless of whether they’re from X number of beams or how fast a beam fires, has a linear relationship to energy expenditure.
+ Beam range
Range is an easy way to make an otherwise threatening enemy into a paper tiger; unless weapon ranges are redone across the board, a ship that out-ranges base beams or command ship beams will pretty much outrange everything, making poor play the only way to have fun.
+ Tube count
Tube count can relate to reaction time or strength of reaction depending on the captain’s style; more tubes mean more situations a ship can be preemptively ‘ready’ for to reduce reaction time, or it can mean the ship can react more strongly from an empty state after the same amount of time as a ship with fewer tubes.
+ Ordnance type
Ordnance type, insofar as it is used in practice, has two categories: splash and single target. Homing torpedoes are single target and (recently) sport respectable damage output; everything else is splash damage, limited in supply, and best used for clearing groups of ships rather than single targets. Even Nukes and Mines only deal ~160 damage to any single enemy, the rough equivalent of two homing torpedoes or 13 standard beam shots.
+ Drive style
Jump drives clearly have no useful application to destroying a target–any target. They can, however, make a ship a phenomenal interceptor and penetrator of defensive lines by cutting out the middlemen of time and terrain.
+ Directionality of fire (wink wink)
Directionality of fire can drastically affect engagement strategy and in some cases (wink wink) offer a relative boost in the ship’s defenses without altering any defensive values, just by nature of utilizing both shield facings instead of being forced to withdraw after only the business-end shield is down. Of course this change in direction of fire demands a change in ship’s heading relative to the target, making some long standing maneuvers impossible or much more demanding on the crew. Some benefits, some drawbacks. More on this much later, when I go into my detailed thoughts on a broadside configuration.
+ Extra Shield Nodes
This idea just occurred to me, so forgive my haphazard description (I may or may not fix it before posting). A ship could greatly improve its combat effectiveness with more shield nodes. As some know, and others may be surprised to learn, shield permeability does not increase with system damage. If there are 10 forward shield nodes in engineering, and only one of them is online, the only impact on your shield efficacy is regeneration rate. A combat procedure is conceivable wherein a ship enters combat running 250% beams with 8 coolant and 300% shields with no coolant but a large number of shield nodes. It could overheat the shields to total breaking point before disengaging and just hanging out a little while while damcon teams fix the shield nodes. This isn’t really applicable to the role of Bunker Buster specifically, because it would work equally well against any and all combats, but if somebody were looking for a way to enhance a ship’s durability without increasing its raw shield value, this would effectively prolong the time that a ship could run 300% shields and maintain the resulting reduction in damage taken. It just becomes an exercise of finding the right ratio of beam power to shield power to cause the shields to completely burn out at the same time that the beams begin to threaten to burn out their first node. Manual damcon team management would be important for this, else they’d all die as nodes burn out while they’re standing in them.

So the role of the Ares is to tackle a single hardened target such as a Command Ship or Starbase. What kind of tools would such a task require? For starters, Command Ships have thousands of shields even after being hit by an EMP (3000 for a Torgoth). So high damage output is required, be it burst damage or sustained dps. But exactly how much dps depends on how durable the strike craft is, because Command Ships have weapons. Weapons that do damage! The Torgoth command ship has beams that will do 1.67 dps (assuming no overlap of those beams). Thus the Ares class will need protection unless it does all of its damage with torpedoes or long range beams.

Just to get a feel for things, let’s take a look at the Apollo class, being the current go-to for such a job in lieu of the former Raven Battlecruiser. The Apollo at 300% beams w/ 8 coolant does 18 dps for 35 seconds (630 damage) and 15 dps thereafter (250%/8 coolant). How do the numbers hash out? Apollo must fire for 193 seconds to bring down the Torgoth’s 3000 shields–to say nothing of the hull. In return, Apollo can crank shield power to 300% for 29 seconds without coolant (burning out 3 nodes and nearly the 4th) and receive little shield damage (~16) in that time before they are forced to normalize shield power. After that, the command ship will whittle away Apollo’s remaining 94 shields over the course of 56 seconds (85 seconds total). Thus, Apollo is forced to withdraw after dealing 1380 damage over 85 seconds to the command ship. Apollo can’t do it; not all at once, not 1v1 anyway.

So a few things come to mind about what that means for the Ares class. Either it needs to be substantially more powerful than Apollo to get the job done; or we admit that Command Ships henceforth will always be team efforts. If we concede that Command Ships will always need to be team efforts, then we need to ask what Ares can do in order to specialize in hardened target destruction. It can either: bombard it with oodles of heavy ordnance and possibly risk splashing friendlies; or bombard it with oodles of homing torpedoes; or have nice strong beams with shields to match; or be a glass cannon; or be a tank to eat up damage while other ships do the damage, or tickle the command ship with long range beams to keep the pressure on while others recover and come back for a deathblow. What are some combinations we could consider to meet this goal of the Ares class being an effective bunker buster without simply being flatly overpowered?

Ares role realization methods:
+ Glass cannon — conflict Lancer
+ Heavier beams and shields — conflict Apollo
+ Splash-heavy torpedo boat — conflict Valkyrie? Also turns into superb fleet-buster, conflicting intended role.
+ Three-or-more tube Homing Torpedo boat — conflict Valkyrie? Fits the role, at least. Hammer a single target with weapons that hurt only a single target, and have enough of them to end a command ship or two.
+ Minelayer — mines don’t trigger on bases, and mines are ideal fleet-busters, conflicting intended role
+ High damage, very short range beam with long cycle time — impractical, forcing a dive-bomber like approach which is very unfriendly to users, and folks seem to hate it
+ High damage, very short range beam with normal or short cycle time — decidedly overpowered (conflict Lancer 😛 )
+ Medium damage, short range beam with normal or short cycle time — conflict Apollo
+ Low damage, long range beam with any cycle time — boring; awful damage-per-energy; little need to ever enter danger zones; fighters or drones become the only threats, and drones not so much depending on firing arc
+ Simple Broadside — no real conflict, popular idea, possible balance issues, might not actually get enough protection out of both shield facings to make it any better at busting bunkers than Apollo
+ Upgunned Broadside — conflict Apollo (maybe less-so, since shields will be standard or weaker, and combat model will be distinctly different?)

If none of those approaches appeal, maybe we can change the state of the game to create a way for the Ares to fill this niche without stepping on any toes.

Game modification to avoid treading on other roles:
+ script bases to be ships so mines work on them — nobody wants to do that, right?
+ Take homings away from everybody and turn them into single-target bunker busters — nobody REALLY uses homing torpedoes anyway as far as I’ve seen, and TSN hates batteries too. Win/win?
+ somehow alter another torpedo type (everybody hates pshocks) — isn’t it impossible to alter non-damage characteristics?

If changing the state of the game doesn’t appeal, and if we can think of no way to agreeably satisfy the declared role of Bunker Buster, perhaps it warrants an alternative job for the Ares to do that would contrast with the rest of the fleet.

Alternative roles:
+ Carrier — TSN doesn’t like fighters, and lacks pilots
+ Tank or otherwise heavier ship — emphasis 4th LIGHT division & previous issues with OP Battlecruiser
+ Minelayer / Fleetbreaker / Area Denial Specialist — creates hazards for friendly ships or otherwise just goes splash crazy with Echo runs. Terrain is important in Artemis, but generating friendly-safe anti-hostile terrain from a ship is clunky and ineffective without accepting significant wait times to lure enemies into them.
+ Non-mine Anti-Fighter — either outrun the fighters ala Lancer, or be well enough protected to tank the swarms while plinking them down with porcupine beams pointed out in multiple directions; would be pretty silly to watch it fight warships by cranking maneuver and going all fidget spinner on them (The Last Starfighter: Death Blossom!!)
+ Scout — Lancer doesn’t sound like they want to be a scout anymore, so there seems to be an opening here.
+ Pure Missile Cruiser — would never be in any danger; outranges all enemies, and just kites drones at warp while flying in circles and firing torpedoes. The RavenBC at least had the potential to take damage sometimes.
+ Jump Drive ship — beat the Lancer at the interceptor game and flout formation flying at the same time!
+ Dive bomber — Swing in, fire a big beam shot, and escape until the weapon reloads. Perhaps this is what was intended with the first iteration of the Ares class with the short range high power beam; a repeat strafing run vessel. Feedback suggested that it was difficult to employ for having no way to check if the main gun was ready or not without a stopwatch, and that all the time spent setting up for another pass made performing the job a larger time-suck than simply handing the job over to Apollo. As noted in above realization methods: not user friendly, and folks seem to hate it.


So finally we come to my favored solution, an up-gunned broadside configuration, to attempt to meet the role of Bunker Buster without walking directly on Apollo’s territory. It shares similar beam power, but the different directionality of fire forces changes in engagement strategy and creates new weaknesses. This next part of my thought process is in 2 parts: Broadside as it compares to traditional configurations in general, and broadside sub-configurations as they compare to each other.

Broadside Ares-class in General — Good and Bad relative to standard configurations

The good:
1. Realistic ability to take advantage of both shield facings in combat.
2. Depending on turn rate, potentially excellent at staying on a single target’s unprotected flank (that is, dancing around an enemy’s beam arcs)
3. Up-gunned (if you don’t up-gun the broadside, Apollo will be flatly better at the Ares niche than the Ares)
4. Satisfies crew desire for uniqueness.

The bad:
1. Weaker single shield facings. (I recommend 65/65, as I’m sure the proposed 45/45 is MUCH too little.)
2. More difficult to keep a target in optimal firing arc.
3. Easily overtaken by enemy fleets for lack of ability to kite while firing optimally; i.e. if you “cross the T” with this ship, you can’t just go into reverse to maintain a standoff with only the leading elements. Either you you break contact, or tank the fleet as it comes into range and risk severe damage.
4. Easily overrun by enemy fighters; exacerbated by “bad” points 1-3.
5. Cannot pursue a tango-train and mop up an enemy fleet from the rear with impunity.
6. Gambles on increasing power to shield facings, or burns out quickly to run both.

A broadside configuration would excel at contending with singular targets using the advantages of greater optimal firepower, and greater potential survivability. It would be very similar to the Apollo class in those ways; however, It would in contrast struggle to contend with larger enemy battlegroups and most especially carrier groups due to a relative immobility when bringing optimal firepower to bear. It would be particularly vulnerable to encirclement by fighters because it could not protect against hull damage by rotating shield facings after one facing, individually substandard, is overloaded.

It is not a tank-qua-tank. In contrast to the Apollo class, its defensive advantage is situationally dependent on the ability to present an alternate shield facing to a target without losing firepower, which is difficult to do with precision if consistently possible. Additionally, in lieu of extra coolant, it can’t maintain large power increases to beams and both shield facings simultaneously. That defensive pool stands a good chance of being substantially weaker than standard symmetrical facings while the crew attempts to predict which facing will receive the next shot: if they’re wrong, that’s a lot of damage that didn’t get absorbed by a hardened shield. The flip side, if the crew doesn’t gamble, is that engagement time is otherwise limited by how long the engineer can keep both shields running hot. (Honestly, writing this paragraph out has me convinced that 65/65 shields will probably be too little!)

Suffice to say, the broadside doesn’t come with only advantages. It comes with some serious gambles or even liabilities in the realms of combat maneuvering, opportunity to fire, and durability. But what it does do, unequivocally, is fill the niche described: a ship tuned toward dealing with difficult single targets without necessitating a bunch of extra heavy ordnance and treading on the Valkyrie’s action. A role, however, which the Apollo could still perform better unless the broadside is similarly up-gunned. To be sure, the Apollo will be decisively superior when engaging enemy fleets thanks to the ability to kite and engage leading fleet elements without allowing rear fleet elements to close into range, combined with a much stronger business-end shield facing.


Configuration Comparison — Good and Bad relative to other broadside configurations

Overlap configuration:
1-2 fore arc, 1 aft arc, each with firing angle greater than 180°

The good:
1. 360° arc of fire granting abnormally easy single drone interception capability.
2. Doesn’t lose ENTIRE damage output if targets are not in the narrow port or starboard arcs.
3. Doesn’t tempt crew to play fleet cracker by barreling into the middle of a fleet to utilize both port and starboard guns.

The bad:
1. (Potentially) Fewer total beams prevent mass drone interception even if skilled crew were to try. Overlap configuration would have similar limitations under ideal circumstances to other ships in their own ideal circumstances (i.e. overlap broadside won’t be clearing drones any more quickly or effectively than traditional configurations).

Independent Broadsides Only:
1-2 port arc, 1-2 starboard arc, each with firing angle substantially less than 180°

The good:
1. Capacity for double dps with good positioning and fast clicking weapons officer.
2. (Potentially) Greater total beam count, allowing for mass drone interception on par with Lancer under ideal circumstances.

The bad:
1. No fore or aft beam coverage resulting in more difficult drone interception.
2. Very narrow arcs of fire, and zero capacity for damage outside those arcs.
3. Tempts crew to play fleet cracker by barreling into the middle of a fleet to utilize both port and starboard guns. (Some say manual beams with shorter cycle time would approximate the gain of firing both sides and reduce temptation and efficacy of attempting to fire both. I disagree at present.).

Hybrid Broadside & Point Defense:
1-2 port arc, 1-2 starboard arc, each with firing angle substantially less than 180°, and a point defense beam.

The good:
1. Meets or exceeds fleet baseline for drone interception, both in arc of fire and number of drones per volley.
2. Capacity for double dps with good positioning and fast clicking weapons officer.
3. (Potentially) Greater total beam count, allowing for mass drone interception on par with Lancer under ideal circumstances.

The bad:
1. Could misfire point defense and waste it, having done no damage for the energy or cycle time expended.
2. Very narrow arcs of fire, and zero capacity for damage outside those arcs.
3. Tempts crew to play fleet cracker by barreling into the middle of a fleet to utilize both port and starboard guns. (Some say manual beams with shorter cycle time would approximate the gain of firing both sides and reduce temptation and efficacy of attempting to fire both. I disagree at present.).


…and some unrelated side-musings:

Torpedoes: 75 damage, or +50 energy on convert

Assuming 8 energy per beam shot and 12 beam damage per shot, 50 energy means: (6 • 12) + (12 • 0.25) = 75 damage.

Beams are flexible, predictable, and operate on-demand. Beams can do damage to a target, or defend the ship against a drone. When doing damage to a target with beams, you can easily predict which target shield facing will be impacted.

Torpedoes are comparatively unpredictable in angle of contact (possibly causing unhelpful damage), cannot be used for defense, and require forethought for use. Benefits of torpedoes include only bait for anti-torp targets and range.

Straightup energy can also be shunted to shields or propulsion. Energy is extremely flexible. Torpedoes are not. The game truly punishes using torpedoes, because the energy is so much more valuable.