Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Star Trader Planetary Combat

"A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies, the chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure..."

In Star Trader Online, planets are the most valuable resource you can possess. Owning a planet conveys numerous benefits, but an empty planet is next to useless. For a planet to be useful, it must be populated. In order to do this, the player must pick up colonists from the greatly over-populated Earth, where billions of souls await a fresh start amongst the stars. Once a planet the player has claimed is colonized, the player may assign responsibilities to the colonists. These tasks include ore mining, farming, and fuel manufacturing. This is where the real benefit is; it's production capabilities. Colonies may even be taxed. It's because of these benefits that planets are so sought after, and in time the planet can be upgraded for even greater production through buildings. Although travelers may trade with a planet that is claimed by another person (if landing is allowed by the owner), in some situations it's more beneficial for him to take that planet as his own.

After breaking through a planets initial defenses (like planetary shields), a planetary invasion may commence. There are two participants in a planetary invasion, fighters and marines. Before the ground combat may begin, the space marines must land on the surface. The marines start out high above the planetary city to the left of the screen in their drop ships, which slowly descend towards the surface. If there is no star fighter resistance, they drop rapidly, otherwise air combat commences. If the attacker has no fighter escort, the drop ships are sitting ducks and easily destroyed after only a few hits. If a fighter screen is present, however, the attacking and defending fighters battle until either side has no more fighters. If the attacker destroys all the defending fighters, the drop ships drop rapidly and ground combat begins. If the defender destroys all the attacking fighters, they can then begin their attack on the drop ships. If all the drop ships are destroyed, the invasion has been thwarted.

Once all the drop ship reach the ground, their hatches drop down and marines pour forth firing upon the awaiting defending marines. The conditions that dictate a marine units effectiveness include it's rank (regular, veteran, elite), it's tech level (primitive, average, or advanced) and any of the attackers special skills (like the planetary assault skill, which is earned after a number of successful planetary assaults, or a player having the planetary assault proficiency trait). Once either side has no more marines combat is finished and the winner gains, or maintains control of the planet.

A couple of extra details about planets and their design rationale.

Planet growth: Planets populations can slowly grow over time but require food to do so. Some planets can produce food, some can't. Planets that can't produce food will never grow in population until there is an excess of food, which tends to set food prices to a premium. This can create quite a lucrative situation for clever traders. In some cases it may be beneficial for a player that owns such a planet to offer subsidies to other players to encourage them to supply their planet with food, ensuring it's growth and increased production.

Planet sizes and populations: Planets come in small, medium, or large (ex: pluto, earth, jupiter/neptune). The size is used to determine the maximum population a planet may hold in the millions, which are represented as population units. One population unit equals one million people. As an example, a planet with max size of 4 population units may hold at most 4 million people. The lowest measurement of population on a planet is one thousand people, so 4 million people would actually be represented as 4,000 k (four thousand thousand). However, only whole population units can be used for production, as opposed to fractional population units. This means if the population was 3,900 k, only 3 pop units could be allocated.

For a standard ship, a single cargo hold can occupy 100 k colonists (special ships like the pod/seed-ship can hold more). So for a ship with 10 holds, a size 4 planet would take 4 trips to fill at 1 pop unit per trip (4,000,000 / (100,000 * 10)).

And that’s planetary combat (plus a few extra tidbits). Next time, the new star ship combat is explained.

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