Weapon Balance Observations and Suggestions

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Fleet Admiral
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Sun Feb 18, 2018 3:27 am

These are opinions I have about some things that had my attention for some time as I try to balance my own mod weapons among the standards in the game.

Tracking has a balance modifier of +50.

In early versions, that would have been accurate at the time because tracking was unreliable for at least two reasons.

One was the lack of the maneuverRate (which defaults to 18), which meant maneuverabilty alone affected turn rate, by delaying when missiles updated their facings. Many missiles at the time had maneuverability of 2 which updated once every two ticks.

Another reason was tracking missiles did not track flawlessly, which did one of two things:
  • The missiles sidewind toward their target, always wiggling back-and-forth which effectively slowed the missile down and cut their effective range. When combined with slow maneuverability updates, it was possible for the missile to outright miss its target by flying off to the side suddenly.
  • Occasionally, missiles would fly off to the side or loop. This detour would take long enough that lifetime would expire before the missile could recover in time and reach its target.
Recently, targeting was fixed so that missiles always plot an intercept course toward its target and do not deviate from it. The result is tracking missiles are much more reliable. Given sufficently fast maneuverRate (and maneuverability), missiles will almost certainly hit if not stopped. Tracking missiles are generally fire-and-forget.

How reliable will vary by missile's maneuverRate, missileSpeed, and lifetime. For long-range tracking missiles similar to the KM500s or Gotha-400, maneuverRate of 6 or more will usually be enough to hit a target nearly every time regardless of attacker's facing. Even maneuverRate of 4 might be enough to be relible.

For likely uses of tracking, the player can assume most of if not all missiles will hit, and should be considered as powerful as an omnidirectional weapon.

Thus, tracking should be worth +100 for balance purposes, the same as an omnidirectional weapon. Moreover, fragmentation weapons that unleash tracking missile fragments should assume all 100% of the missiles will hit, not just 67% of them.

However, this should not apply to fragmenting missiles that use multitarget to auto-aim but do not have tracking missile fragments, such as the S700 Uragan bolt. They should be balanced as they are now.

Also, balance calculation for tracking and omni should not stack. Having both omni and tracking together is +200 to calculations, which is too much and will make such a weapon less powerful than a weapon with either omni or tracking. A missile with good tracking will hit no matter where the attacker is facing, and it does not matter much if the missile hits a few ticks later or not. Thus, the greater of omni and tracking should be used.

Side note: S3 Medusa is overpowered with current balance, and would be even more so with my suggestions. The S3 Medusa stats would probably need to be raised to match the M5 Nemesis; that is, level 10 and value raised from 300 to 450. Maybe increase the mass too since those twelve missiles ought to weigh something. Maybe lower the payload from twelve missiles to ten or even eight.

Radius attacks are assumed to do half maximum damage.

In early versions, this was a good assumption due to a bug that used the target's position instead of the explosion's position. This would be a distance of 1 on small gunships, about 2 for heavy gunships, 3-4 on large ships (which were smaller than today), and 5 or more for huge stations like Starton Eridani (which were also smaller). This meant big things like Starton Eridani never took damage from small radius attacks such as those from XM900 Lucifers.

Recently, the calculation was changed, perhaps inverted to what it was, so that unless the attacker attacks from inside the target, radius attacks will usually hit for full damage. As for the attacking from the inside problem, that can be averted with failsafe to prevent fragmentation and allow direct hit damage to take over.

Testing was done with tracking missiles similar to XM900's, except for flat damage of 100, and damage to be taken was displayed instead of actually dealt to targets. For most of the hits, say from 50 to 80 percent, they displayed full damage. Of the remaining minority, most varied from about the high 70s to 90s. Very few dealt much lower than that.

Moreover, radius attacks can hit more than one target, although that does not happen in every fight.

With the current balance calculation, a radius missile can be up to twice as damaging as a basic missile for the same value. This is wrong.

My recommendation: Assuming we attack a single enemy, we could be generous to expect 80% of the full damage. This should be even higher partially due to possible damage to multiple targets, but this should help mitigate the rare times a missile does much less damage than usual. It would probably would be fine if we expect 90% or even full 100% damage. The rare times damage is less should be offset by the times we hit more than one target.

That said, rebalancing the few standard weapons with radius damage would probably be a big deal for the XM900 Lucifers and current High-Flux MAGs. XM900 Lucifers would be overpowered by about +155 (if assuming full radius damage). It would be good as a level 8 or even level 9 missile. For XM900s and the external NM900, my recommendations would be to rollback damage down to 75 and raise the level to 8. It might still be overpowered then, but this should be a start. As for High-Flux MAGs, they used to do 100 damage. Rollback the damage down to 100 and they should be fine with no other changes. As for M2 Vulcan and M5 Nemesis, they were underpowered before according to previous calculations but appear only slightly overpowered with my proposed changes; they should be fine.

Passthrough (for relativistic beams)
Currently, passthrough is calculated the same for all missiles. This is not true for weapons with the continuousBeam type. Relativistic beams that passthrough the target hit only once at the point of impact before continuing on. At this point, the question becomes how valuable is passthrough for hitting additional targets. In my opinion, not very valuable. The reason is enemies generally appear as small groups of about four ships, and ships are generally too sluggish to line up targets for such beams to hit two targets, let alone more, with one shot often. Passthrough does better in the rare fights where there is a huge fleet heading toward another target along a straight line, but again, such events are rare and usually scripted. If I had to guess how much continuousBeam passthrough is worth, maybe up to half the passthrough value. For example, +50 (or effective 50% more damage) for passthrough="100" for continuousBeams with passthrough.

Passthrough (for everything else)
This is tricky. How effective it is varies by missileSpeed, how big the target is, and if the missile has tracking. If the ship is about as small as a Sapphire or Ares Sandstorm, and the missile has missileSpeed close to or at 100, it will probably hit the target probably twice. If the target is a big like a large station, it will probably take four or five hits if missileSpeed is about 100 or many more hits if missileSpeed is much lower than 50. If the missile has tracking, and the missile has 100 passthrough, it can easily loop and passthrough the target at least one more time, maybe more if maneuverRate is high enough and lifetime long enough.

I will not guess how to balance this, but we can make some tweaks.

Default maximum number of hits should probably be five, but four may be acceptable. Stations have gotten bigger in recent versions. If the missile has tracking, the maximum number should be doubled for that weapon or missile at least.

Summations should go from one to defined maximum number of hits, not from one to infinity. For example, with passthrough of 50, average number of hits expected is two, which assumes the small possibility of infinity hits, which is not possible. If we stick with four hits, expected number of hits per shot should be 1.875, not two. If we use a maximum of five hits, expected number of hits per shot would be 1.9375. If we use 1.875 for four hits instead of two, our weapon can be about 6.67% more powerful while maintaining the same damage value for balance. That would be worth little more than a half point of damage for the Katana Star cannon, or little over half value for adding WMD:1. This will not be enough to help against small targets that will not take more than two hits when hit, but that is a start.

Perhaps extra damage from additional hits could be worth less, much like extra damage from armor penetrator. However, if that way is done, then maximum hits assumed should be raised to perhaps eight or ten in case a slow missile with passthough of 90+ cuts through a big station like a knife through butter.

JBW has commented that Katana Star cannon is weak. I agree with him. One way to make it better is to give it some WMD, maybe WMD:1 or WMD:2, with no other changes. Katana Star cannon used to be effective against stations, but not anymore. Letting it do more damage against hardened targets should help regain some of its old power.

Quick summary for those who did not want to read everything.
Tracking should be worth +100 instead of +50, and only the higher of omni and tracking should be used instead of stacking.

MAX_EXPECTED_PASSTHROUGH could stay at 4.0, but could be raised to 5.0. It should be increased for tracking missiles.
EXPECTED_TRACKING_FRAGMENT_HITS should be changed from 0.67 to 1.0.
EXPECTED_RADIUS_DAMAGE should be changed from 0.5 to 0.8 or more.
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Militia Commander
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Sun Feb 18, 2018 6:01 am

Agreed on pretty much everything.

If anything, I think you're overly optimistic about passthrough. I don't believe it's possible for the Katana to hit a Sandstorm more than once unless it's moving away from the shooter and is hit from the side.

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Fleet Officer
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Sun Feb 18, 2018 8:48 am

I think we should look into whatever's made the Kiloton Cannon so weak in recent builds. It can't even breach a Class V deflector most of the time. Is it possible that the balance algorithm overestimates the number of fragments that will hit when a projectile is set to preemptively explode at a large distance from the target?

On the katana: WMD would improve balance(both for it and for many other presently useless energy weapons). I was hoping for something that would make it especially unique, given its role as a special weapon that the Fleet appears to be rushing to adopt at breakneck speed and its status as one of the oldest among the game's iconic weapons. I've said in the past that a script that makes it more powerful as it hits more targets(eventually dealing WMD and radius damage) would be especially interesting, though I don't know how feasible that is.

Militia Lieutenant
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Mon Feb 19, 2018 12:18 am

JohnBWatson wrote:
Sun Feb 18, 2018 8:48 am
On the katana: WMD would improve balance(both for it and for many other presently useless energy weapons). I was hoping for something that would make it especially unique, given its role as a special weapon that the Fleet appears to be rushing to adopt at breakneck speed and its status as one of the oldest among the game's iconic weapons. I've said in the past that a script that makes it more powerful as it hits more targets(eventually dealing WMD and radius damage) would be especially interesting, though I don't know how feasible that is.
Make it into a more literal energy sword by greatly increasing its fire rate. With the passthrough and, say, 10 shots/sec, it becomes a ship-scale lightsaber.

It'd be nice if its graphic were more impressive, too; ion weapons currently don't look all that powerful. A fatter projectile would help.

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Fleet Officer
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Mon Feb 19, 2018 2:49 am

I've made headway here. It's not all that difficult to write a script that mimics the function of a 'passthrough' value. It's not difficult to have said script create a different kind of weapons fire instead of another of its own, or to have it increment a value stored on the projectile. It's not hard to adjust the effects of a weapon based on said attribute. A KSC that gets bigger, more powerful, and more effective as it continues to pass through targets isn't all that challenging to make, it'd just take a few hours to get the effects looking right and find all the right functions.

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