Author Topic: The secret to building stronger ships and enjoying it less; or, subsystem damage  (Read 1623 times)


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Maybe this isn't a secret, but I just found out about it the other day, and from reading through forum threads it sounds like most people don't know about it either. I apologize to those of you for whom this is review.

Once stealth and shields and armor and all that jazz is blown away and your actual ship starts taking damage, what is the optimal layout for your subsystems?

First, a brief primer on taking damage at that phase. The shot is determined as coming in at one of the cardinal points, whichever it's closest to. In geometrical terms, if we say the ship design template has radius 1, the four cardinal points [north south east west] could also be assigned coordinates [(0, 1), (0, -1), (1, 0), (-1, 0)], respectively. Perhaps that's needlessly complicating things, but I found it helpful to visualize.

Say a shot enters from the west, a.k.a. point (-1, 0). The game will now make an ordered list of every subsystem on your ship and order it by the true distance between that point (-1, 0) and the closest point on the perimeter of the subsystem circle. I should include a picture here to clarify, but I will not. Oh, F it, it'll take five minutes, sure I will. Hang on.

Okay, here. I've thrown together a semi-typical layout with mostly random components (read: this is not an actual build, just a facsimile of one). It's also in FRB mod, but that's irrelevant. In this, I tried to spread out my less-critical components and bury my vital components kind of bunched near the center, the idea being it will take a while to get through to them. And this is all true, as far as it goes.

Any shot or shots taken from the west/rear of ship/(-1,0) would hit through subsystems in the following order, not passing through to the next until each next one was completely destroyed/disabled. (Forgive my paint skills.)

Remember, it's a list of shortest paths from that side to the edges of subsystems. Hits the slightly closer thruster first, then the other, then our ammo cache, then... what's 4? Life support? Anyway, gets into most of the vitals around 7-10. Not too bad!

How about a shot from the south/right flank/(0,-1)?

Hits the fuel tank, then thruster, then 3 and 4 and our vitals are done for. You should be able to see now that a shot from east or north would also take out about four non-vitals before getting into our gooey center.

Wouldn't it be nice if they had to take out EVERYTHING, no matter WHERE they're shooting from?

We can do that.

Note: To my knowledge, hull placement is completely irrelevant and has no bearing on anything at any point, thus we ignore it.

Well, it's pretty clear what's going on here. We've got a godawful mess in the center of the screen. There are a few tricks to optimizing that godawful mess.

  • The less valuable a subsystem is to you, the larger you should try to make it. You want your big 4.0 third engine to be first in line to go down. In this example, notice we combined the two 2.0 engines into a 4.0 to serve as our shell. The more big pieces of crap you have, the better.
  • As a corollary, the more valuable a subsystem is to you, the smaller you should try to make it. This may not always be possible, of course, but if you have a 2.0 explosive fuel system, consider breaking him into four 0.5 pieces. The smaller a system is, the later it will fall.
  • You should put everything in the direct center of the ship. Technically, it doesn't matter where on the ship your blob is so long as it's all in the same position relative to each other, but it seems like good form to make it the center, especially in those cases when you do want to separate out some things.
  • To get everything lined up just so, hold down shift while dragging your components. This will snap to grid and enable your picture-perfect setup. (Tips: Ctrl-drag an existing subsystem to copy it at that size. Right click a subsystem to delete it.)

The bottom line: This design wins no art contest (maybe for minimalism), but it works. No matter WHAT SIDE the enemy shoots from, he will have to go through EVERY SINGLE ONE of the components you lay out for him, assuming you can jigger the sizes to be what you want. (Ideally, you'd want slightly more important stuff to be like 3.5, more important still 3.25, etc. If you want to keep him from capturing your ship, just remember to leave a big enough explodable covering all the disabling bits. ;))

In more concrete terms, a layout akin to our first picture will typically have the enemy blast though about half the useless stuff you put in his way before hitting paydirt, on average, if you've done it right. With the centerblob, he is guaranteed to have to blast through every last subsystem you choose to put in his way (insofar as you can manage it within your design, but things are usually flexible). In our specific example, depending on which side he fires from, he averages about 5 obstacles; in centerblob, it's about double that. Better yet, it is deterministic, so you have control over the order of component loss (again, assuming you can make resizing/splitting/merging work with your actual design). By the way, I still don't know whether front-to-back layering has any effect; if you have a bunch of 0.25s stacked, it could be random, it could be back to front, whatever. Let me know if you figure it out. :)

The big downside is pretty obvious: it's frackin ugly, you can't tell what the hell you've put on your ship, and if you want to go in and make a simple tweak to fuel size or whatever, you have to pull aside a few components to dig your way in, putting them back after you're done. Is that worth it? I'm guessing for some people yes, for others no. For designs that are armor- or shield- heavy, once they've reached subsystem you're pretty much done anyway, so why bother, keep the layout intelligible. On the other hand, for layouts with minimal external defenses or where you're utilizing a large amount of (ooh, self-repairing!) subsystem HP, using this approach should afford you a) much better control over order of system loss, and b) probably about twice as much expendable internal HP in most situations as compared to a standard layout.

As always, compliments, criticism, or any other useful types of feedback are strictly prohibited.

TL;DR: Blob all your modules in the center during ship design.

Disclaimer: Maybe I got this all wrong. I don't know. I think rain is wet, but who am I to say.


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I used to build ships like that actually. Except less care was taken. I'd just make sure that my computer/reactors were all size .25 and in the dead center. Everything else on the ship would be destroyed before they took a single hit. Makes for a somewhat hardier ship, but the difference is fairly minor later on. Maybe 20 minutes into the game, you'll get, if you're lucky, 1 extra shot before they explode. On the bright side, stack a .25 repair bay in there (or larger if you desire) and a ship can come back from the brink of death. Not likely, but with how many battles your ships will get into, you'll have a few extra survivors. Enough to matter? Probably not.