The power issue really needs no explaining. Prophet included an "Advanced Solar Panel Array" in his "Tinker Master V2" mod which nicely addressed that shortcoming, but to me suffers from the same lack of realism as the standard article.
The Realism Problem as I see it:
The feasibility of Solar panel arrays in the vacuum of space has been a proven reality for over half a century. They actually perform far better than they do on earth because the sunlight isn't being filtered through the atmosphere. The issue I have with both the standard article and Prophet's Advanced array boils down to two questions:
- 1) How can a solar array be protected by the ship's armor (which would prevent the sunlight from reaching the panels) and still function?
- 2) Even if you had transparent armor (which sure wouldn't provide much protection against laser damage ), how could an array large enough to produce the desired power, possibly fit under the armor on a small to medium sized ship?
The obvious way around this is external solar panel arrays, which could be made as large as necessary. Of course they wouldn't be protected by the ship's armor (and maybe not even by it's shields). Therefore they'd be very vulnerable to damage due to their large size (an even bigger target than the ship) and fragility.
Strange as it may sound at first, to me as a modder this vulnerability is actually an advantage. It allows for the possibility of arrays large enough to refuel a big reactor in a reasonable period of time, without unbalancing the game. As long as the of acquisition costs (purchase price and difficulty) are appropriately high, the big advantage in fuel savings can be balanced by the limitations on when & where it could be safely installed and the risk that it would be damaged or destroyed if the player made a mistake.
I see two different ways that such arrays might reasonably be implemented in Transcendence and would really appreciate your feedback and suggestions regarding the merits and difficulties of these proposals.
Option # 1
- External Solar Panel Array
A no-slot, external device that would be carried in the cargo hold like a patch spider, to be installed (deployed) when needed. Like a patch spider, the player would "use" the ESPA to install or uninstall it. Also like a patch spider (and other external devices), there would be a chance that the ESPA would be damaged if it happens to be installed when the ship is struck by weapons-fire with it's shields down. But installed patch spiders (due to their small size) are only occasionally damaged when the unshielded ship takes a hit. In contrast an installed ESPA (being considerably larger than the ship itself) should be damaged when the unshielded ship takes a hit, far more often than not.
This is a point I particularly need help with. I know that I can make the ESPA subject to being damaged simply by declaring it to be an external device (external= "true"). But is there a way to dramatically increase the likelihood that the installed ESPA will be damaged (compared to other external devices) when the unshielded ship takes a hit? I'm pretty sure I know how to code the necessary aspects this device, except for this one adjustment (which may or may not be doable).
If I can't make it such that the installed ESPA is damaged more than half of the time when a shot gets past the ship's shields, I'm going to drop this one from consideration. A low chance of being damaged when the player screws-up would neither my meet goal of realism, nor significantly aid in preventing this device (which drastically reduces the need to buy and carry fuel), from unbalancing the game. A sort of balance can be achieved at a point in the game by manipulating acquisition costs alone, but beyond that point (when the array has paid for itself), without the added risk of loss (which is an ongoing cost of use, as opposed to a one-time cost of acquisition), it's all gravy and eventually becomes unbalancing. Jacking-up the cost of acquisition only pushes that point farther down the road, it doesn't eliminate it, and if the break-even point is pushed too close to (or past) the end of the game, it makes the device practically useless.
PM achieves a measure of game-long balance in his "Solar Reactors" (part of his comprehensive "Reactors Pack 912" mod) by combining acquisition costs with a different sort of risk; the risk of death. PM's Solar Reactors can only be refueled by solar recharging (they can't accept fuel rods or any other sort of fuel), so the player has to watch his fuel level very carefully. If the fuel level gets low too far from a sun, there's nothing the player can do. This risk constitutes a very real and significant, ongoing "cost of use".
There are two additional properties that I'd like to incorporate in the ESPA, if I can get some pointers on how to code them. The first would prevent the array from being installed when the ship is moving. The second would either prevent the ship from moving or turning while the ESPA is installed, or automatically uninstall it when the player presses a thrust or rotation key. These are just features that I'd like to add. if it turns out that they're not practicable, I can live without them 'cause, at my current skill level, this option will be considerably less difficult for me to implement than the one which follows.
- Portable Solar Charging station
A usable item that would be carried in the player's cargo hold to be used when needed. When the item is used it creates a PSC station, the way a "Beacon" station is created by Bobby's "Beacons" mod (http://xelerus.de/index.php?s=mod&id=75). Like Bobby's Beacon station, the PSC station will have very low hit points and can be retrieved and stowed (converted back to a usable item) in the players cargo hold. But unlike Bobby's Beacons which are an inexpensive item that creates a very small station (a small target) when deployed, the PSC would be a rather expensive item that creates a station larger than most freighters (a BIG target). Being a large, fragile target it would likely be destroyed if any sort of engagement occurred near the station. This chance of destruction is the risk that I want for game balance (discussed at length in Option #1, above).
I envision PSC operation as follows:
- The player "uses" the PSC usable item to deploy the PSC station (This removes the PSC usable item from the player's cargo hold and a PSC station is created next to the player's ship).
- The player types "D" to dock at the PSC station, then from the dock screen menu selects "Connect PSC charging cable". ( This installs a no-slot device labeled "PSC charging cable" in the player's ship)
- The player is then returned to the normal space view (or whatever you call it), where he'll see his ship docked to the PSC station. The ships thrust and rotation controls should be locked, so the ship must remain docked while charging cable is connected.
- The player keeps an eye out for hostile ships, while watching the reactor fuel bar climb as the reactor charges-up.
- When charging is complete, the player types "D" to dock, then from the dock screen menu selects "Disconnect PSC charging cable". (This uninstalls the no-slot device labeled "PSC charging cable" device and removes it from the player's ship)
- The player selects "Undock" (This simply returns the player to the normal space view)
- The player selects "Disassemble and stow PSC" (This removes the PSC station from the game, places a PSC usable item in the player's cargo hold, and returns the player to the normal space view.)
Thanks for taking the time to read this.