Deck & Conn, Log 12 – “New Contact!”
The last week I’ve worked on implementing the sensor & detection systems for Deck & Conn. They’re now done. Well… working, and are as ‘done’ as they can be until play-testing lets me tweak the specifics of it a little more.
This dev log will cover how the sensor systems work, and a bit of my thinking behind them.
Deck & Conn is a combat & ship management game, but the combat is also about stealth. Before you engage with an enemy, there is the chance to make sneaky moves, to ensure that when you do finally detect your enemy you are in a tactically advantageous position. It’s turn based, and the difference between 1 or 2 turns of detection before your enemy sees you can mean the difference between having torpedoes ready to fire, or not.
As the core mechanics are loosely based on the 1971 Star Trek mainframe game, each sector you use as battlefield is tile-based. In the original, it’s 8×8. But for this game, I’ve made it larger – 12×12 – to give you a little more room for a fight.
In very broad terms, what impacts your detection range is this:
- How good your enemy’s sensor suite is
- How many systems you have on and in what mode they are operating
- How close you are to various celestial bodies
So, let’s look at the systems I’ve implemented to hopefully make this all work.
Oh, and a quick note: for the purposes of testing, I have turned on a heatmap mode for the main view screen, showing which tiles will let you be detected by the enemy vessel or not. In the full game, this will not be visible – it’s just for me to tell what’s going on, and to make it easier for me to explain it to people in this blog.
How Stealth & Detection Work
The basic tools to ensure your own stealth are simple – you can tell how intense your ship’s current emissions are in the bottom-right of the screen, next to the Done/Next Turn button. The colour behind it goes from cold tones to hot ones depending on how un-stealthy you’re being, and the text also changes to reflect this.
When running standard, your reactor will be the main source of emissions. Other systems, such as your helm, will produce some emissions (and more again when you’re moving) but reactor (or your APU, the other power-generation system) are the real killer here.
The reactor has multiple modes, however. You can put it in reduced/low power mode, which will give you less power to work with, but reduce your emissions a little.
Which brings us to the first proof there’s an enemy in the sector – an alert from your crew, and indicators on the map.
So far, all we know is that the vessel is somewhere amidst the visible haze on the screen. If we get closer, we will get more information. At this point, we will by default (unless you’ve manually selected a different data screen on the top-left panel) see a summary of al the information our sensor operators have determined from the enemy ship’s emissions. As we get closer, these will get updated with more information.
And, finally, when we determine its location precisely, it will appear on the map, replacing the haze from before.
You can see here the initial information we’re getting – and for ease of explaining, I’ve now turned on the debug mode.
You’ll notice there’s effectively two different radiuses here – a light one, and a dark one.
The light (outer) one is when the enemy will get the same information we have – vague knowledge that you’re there, and what type of ship you may be.
The more time we spend in this zone, the more information they’ll get about us – and the same is true in reverse.
If we get inside the inner radius, it will pick up our precise information, and be able to track us.
Once we’ve detected them directly for a few consistent turns, we’re going to get more useful information appearing on the top-left panel.
Our sensor operators here have determined that the vessel seems undamaged, that its magnetic hull defenses are off, and the state of its armaments.
The dim state tells us that its Torpedoes (T) are powered down, as are its Railguns (R) and its CIWTS defense turrets (C).
If this information changes, the brightness of the letter with increase.
This is the information we have as we engage the enemy.
While in debug mode, we get an alert telling us we’ve been picked up – but in the game’s normal mode, this is something you’ll have to determine yourself.
Usually, being detected will be obvious – the enemy will probably begin charging torpedoes, turn on defence systems, and begin moving – probably towards you to get within firing range.
Which is where the ‘one turn makes a difference’ can be. If you are sneakily in orbit of a nearby planet, making yourself harder to detect, you can be getting away with loading and charging torpedoes and even gathering intelligence on the enemy, preparing to fight while his crew are still playing cards in the mess hall, unaware that they’re about to be turned into space dust.
It’s also worth noting that there are other minor factors which can alter detection ranges – an experienced XO will increase the speed with which you get information about a detected enemy ship, and damaged sensors will (sometimes dramatically) reduce the range at which you can track them at all.
There is one more important game function to discuss – active sensors.
What’s been shown so far is passive sensors – picking up the emissions of an enemy ship. But in a pinch, you have another option – active sensors. Think a ping from a submarine.
Within a reasonable range, you can select a tile and hit ‘scan’. Next turn, it will blast our radar signals to the section, checking the return to find the ship you might suspect is hiding nearby.
But notice when that’s selected… your emissions go to ‘dangerous’.
Because pings work both ways. In a heartbeat, the enemy will detect you, giving away your position.
Is it worth it? To briefly pick up the enemy and confirm its position while giving away your own for a turn?
That’s your call to make.
These can, of course, change during combat. A sudden hit damaging your sensors may mean you lose track of your enemy – reducing him to an outline to show his last-known position.
Can you still fire weapons at where you hope he is? Yep, of course. But your chance of hitting will reduce hugely… maybe it’s time to tuck your tail between your legs, sprint to the other side of the sector and hope you can commit some serious effort to repairs before resuming the confrontation.
As play testing begins, I will be tweaking the impacts all these factors have on detection ranges, and may even add or remove information from your sensor panel.
Next up: damage & weapon systems.
This one will be fun!