Part 4: Leaving the CradleLeaving the Cradle
Our Sol I build screen still looks the same on the left, because we're only researching what we need to build and then immediately getting it done. On the right, the Imperial build options side if you will, we've got more coming though. The middle group is what we are concerned with here at the moment - those are our designable ship classes. One doesn't design noncombat ships in MOO2, and there is no such thing as building a colony ship but with cool new weapons on it. If you thought the six classes of ships in MOO1 wasn't enough - well, get ready to face the pain of only five. But with refit eventually becoming a thing. Also, you don't scrap designs anymore - you just directly replace them.
Selecting Design and then picking a ship class is how that works. This is a part of the UI I don't like, for a couple of primary reasons:
** Designing ships is a pretty common activity in these games. Why do I need to do, at a minimum, four clicks to get into the ship design screen? It should be a bottom-row button on the GCI like it is in MOO1.
** If I change my mind about which ship I want to replace in the middle of the process, I have to exit the ship design screen and lose everything I've been working on.
So this whole bit just grates on me, in the clunky-but-functional sort of way.
So here we are, and we can see that MOO2 is going to take suboptimal AI ship design routines from its predecessor and double down on the STUPID ON STEROIDS factor at times, though they aren't all nearly this bad and some are actually suprisingly decent. The general flaw, which I'm told was eventually addressed some by fan patches not to be seen here, is the 'kitchen sink' approach. The AI tries to put some of everything on a lot, and it isn't generally particularly super at designing ships for specific roles within a larger fleet concept.
We have a Scout here. With Nuclear Bombs. And a computer that only benefits beam attacks - the manual explicitly states that bombs never miss. There are no beam weapons on this ship. Or even invented yet. So the computer is literally a complete waste of money. Also, who wants a scout that can attack planets - but not defend itself against other ships? Wouldn't that be, I don't know ... a small bomber??
Yeah, don't build these. Ever. For any reason. That good old CLEAR button returns. Let's definitely use that. Now before I get any further, let's note some things about the design options themselves. And these are arguably better news. I'm reserving judgement for now on the whole ship design/combat part of the game, because I need to spend more time kicking the tires on it before I render an intelligent opinion.
** Six ship size options now instead of four. All of them have multiple ship portraits except the massive Doom Star, for which 'blocky blob' is understandably the only possible aesthetic configuration. That whole Death Star, but MOO, idea is obviously in vogue here.
** Larger ships have progressively slower combat speed and therefore beam defense. Very much in keeping with the original. The base ranges from 20 speed/+100 to 13 speed/+65 for an empty ship.
** The basics - drive system, armor, shield, computer - are apparently mounted either externally or in a standard, reserved compartment. They have only a cost, no space requirement.
** We can see that structure and armor points are separated out from each other - basically you have to destroy the armor first before the ship itself takes damage. Unless you have an armor-piercing weapon and so on, so there's another damage dynamic at work here compared to the original 'hull points and that's all' deal.
** Adding weapons or specials does consume space ... and it also slows down the ship. That is a very nice thing indeed. A Frigate with five Nuclear Bombs is completely full right now, and has half it's maximum speed and beam defense - 10 and +50. So there's at least potentially a reason to not fill up a ship beyond mere cost.
** As one would imagine, structure/armor points, space available, and base cost also scale up with the ship class.
As you can see, this is much like before in terms of adding Specials. There's a cost and a size and you choose what you want, with a limited amount of slots per ship even if you have the space for more.
Weapons though - they got a whole new treatment going on. We can filter the list by type. We've got firing arcs now - bombs are inherently 360 Degrees, but beam weapons can be limited to a specific arc. Once we get some I'll get into the specific tradeoffs involved there, and also the various modifications which we obviously don't have either. Missiles can be in racks of 2, 5, 10, 15, or 20 salvos as needs permit. Cost and space scale with those changes, with larger racks being more efficient. I.e., a 20-shot missile launcher has a cost and space of 40 each, while a 2-shot is a quarter of that despite only having 10% of the firepower. And while we can't fit it on a ship smaller than a Destroyer, we have our Interceptor - which is what we got for the Fighter Bay invention. There is of course also the fact that we have no fighter weapons yet.
So that's just a taste, we'll be revisiting this - and I am extremely not at all in any way the best or even adequate at MOO2 ship designs. Yet.
Ok so here's a proper Scout design. No computer or bombs and it's faster, harder to hit, and cheaper as a result. Cost is down from 34 to 25. Except of course, as is my tradition, I'm calling it a Recon instead.
I add a couple of these to the top of Sol I's build queue. Because of how combat encounters work, picketing systems with scouts, esp. unarmed ones, is no longer a winning tactic in MOO2 but rather a totally wasteful one AFAIK. A welcome change as I freely declare that was always a gamey thing, even if a necessity to handle MOO1 Impossible. So really I just want to get a couple out there and see what's within range - which isn't much. More on that in a second.
I decided to get a Worker going on these, because I'll want to start building an actual Colony Ship as soon as those are ready. I'll have the Recons done in about three turns each, and with this labor division we are seven years out from getting the research done so that syncs up well.
Our standard fuel cells are akin to MOO1 Hydrogen, four parsecs - we have a range of seven with the extended tanks. Except not really, because while the help says four parsecs, we actually get only three out of them. Grrr. So how far will that get us?
** Pro-Tip - I recently discovered the F9 hotkey, which is not in any way necessary but cool and it gets rid of the haziness about how far away something is. Press it once and you get a 'From?' cursor. Picking Sol as that source system, I can then move the 'To?' cursor around and get a specific readout.
So this white star is just out of range - the red one diagonally down and left from here is 8 parsecs away, or too far as well. Anything closer we can reach. Without extending our range in some way, we are limited to four additional systems. Being right on the edge of the galaxy like we are is not super-great. Between the edge and the middle would be best for early exploration and securing territory.
This kind of operation, and moving ships around as well, can be made easier by use of the Zoom function. There are two levels of magnification; the default entire galaxy and then a closer one that focuses in on about half of it.
Like so. Right-clicking recenters the galaxy map to move around.
And now ... Command Point Reserve. The relevant panel is the second one down on the right, the starbase picture with 6(+6) on it. This is a good explanation, so I'll not to try to improve on it. Basically, Command Points are a soft cap based on the empire's logistics. More star bases are needed to support a larger fleet, or else you pay through the nose for some of your ships to get the supplies they need through the commercial sector and not a streamlined official pipeline.
This is a good, simple, and effective addition IMO.
With this in place, nobody's building a bazillion frigates to spam the map with and overflow the fleets table, crashing their game. Not that I know anything about that.
As you have probably already figured out, the remaining two GCI panels are net food and available(total) freighters. The interface tour is mostly complete.
Another small thing that really deserves to be applauded. Unlike most games of the time, this notification now tells me what's building next in the queue - that way I have a heads-up in case I want to change it.
We now have a ship - and our command point reserve is down by one. Like MOO1, all ships at a system are automatically joined into a fleet. Those icons get even trickier when zoomed out, as they are smaller. The fleet window pops up when selecting them. Part of a fleet can be moved by clicking on the individual ships; that blue highlight goes away when you do so, removing the ship from the selection. The other three systems in range being red stars, I head for the yellow one in the corner first. The types of stars will mostly be familiar to MOO1 aficianados.
Except they aren't, because 'ours' is white here. Say goodbye to that fourth wall, for it is gone. More importantly though, yellow is the best chance for a suitable colony location.
In other words, red stars suck - and we're surrounded by the things. That doesn't bode well, particularly when the rest of the galaxy is much more diverse.
Accordingly, blue-white stars can be useful for ramping up the economy a little later.
We have one of these, on the opposite side of the galaxy from us. So it won't trouble us, but perhaps it will annoy one or two of our rivals. There's at least one more type, but they are rare and this galaxy doesn't have any.
This kind of thing happens very often, and is one of the rewards for exploration. He's better than Jarred, and we have no recruitment fee.
Well now - five planets! As you can probably spot, Callisto IV is a terran planet. It's a copy of Earth/Sol I actually, max pop of 12, abundant, etc. We're definitely headed there. The others:
** Callisto I - Large, Radiated, 5 max, Abundant. You might wonder why a 'large' planet has such a low population maximum - it's part of the effect of being Radiated. That can eventually be dealt with, which would increase the size. There are other ways to do that as well.
** Callisto II - Large, Radiated, 5 max, Ultra Rich, HeavyG. That last bit means heavy gravity, which means all forms of production are halved. That sucks considering how much potential the system would have otherwhise. We'll still probably develop it eventually anyway.
** Callisto III - Large, Arid, 12 max, Abundant. The only difference between this and the terrans is the arid environment, which means farming only produces half as much. Farmers can produce enough for themselves but that's it - some importing or improvement of the planet in some way will be necessary to do more than just be a population incubator.
** Callisto V - Small, Barren, 3 max, Poor, LowG. A ball of rock with more gravity problems and nothing to recommend it for industry either. There's literally nothing good about this planet, which is right there with your Inferno 10M max type from MOO1. Low gravity isn't as bad as high gravity, but still has a penalty: 25%.
Now we have some stuff to look at under the Planets. Another fine screen if I do say so myself. This is a list of all the planets you've discovered that aren't occupied. Those would be Colonies, and we've already seen that ledger. The difference confused me at first, esp. because of the 'No Enemy Presence' filter. Enemy presence in the same system is being referred to there. It's possible to have split ownership of a system with two races having colonized a planet in it, which I think is completely great. MOO2 was pretty early IIRC in adding in that kind of possibility.
Anyway, the sorting and filtering controls here work very effectively and the minimap highlights the system that whatever planet you moused over last is in. The key stats listed are exactly what they should be. And we can even automatically send a colony or outpost there without having to do it manually! I don't use that much because I want to control the order of things, but still a cool option to reduce micro if you want it.
As bad as those red stars are, we've been quite fortunate to find a system like Callisto within range. Often it's tough to find a clear first target. Exploiting that target will be up next. Amidst all the blather we only progressed time a little over half a year; it's now Stardate 3505.4.