This page is one of a 10 part tutorial. The tutorial is designed to be read in order.
This part introduces non-fleet battlecruiser combat systems and techniques. I suggest you start this part of the tutorial with a new character (quit to the main menu, delete the old tutorial character and start a new one). If you have been following the previous parts your ship will probably be damaged and running low on fuel, which will make this section either hard or almost impossible. When ready, launch.
The battlecruiser itself has both offensive and defensive systems. The primarily defense is the shield. Once the shield is penetrated armor and hull are damaged. Once armor and hull are gone the ship explodes. Quite a lot of damage to individual systems will occur long before the armor is down, and the armor/hull may be damaged while the shields are still up if you are rammed. Current shield, armor and hull strength are indicated by SHE, ARM and HUL on the left hand side of the bridge view.
The shield is set very low by default. Raise shields to full strength by pressing SHIFT+] or left-clicking on the SHE indicator on the left hand side of the bridge view and setting full. Shield strength can be modified in increments by pressing ] (increase) or [ (decrease), or using the bridge menu just mentioned. Shields can be turned off by pressing SHIFT+[ . A small amount of fuel (Plutonium) is expended simply by having the shield up.
You have an anti-missile defense system called EMD (Electro Magnetic Disruptor). It has a chance of jamming incoming missiles, causing them to fly in a straight line. Its use prevents you launching missiles and makes it somewhat hard to see. Toggle it on and off by pressing E or left-clicking EMD on the left-hand side of the bridge view.
Marines may be used offensively during planetary operations, but in space their role is defensive. Occasionally an enemy craft in the sector will beam intruders aboard. You cannot do the reverse – you cannot beam your troops onto their ships. Marines can be used to kill intruders by assigning Searching orders to marines on the Tactical–Crew screen. Marines must first Prep for Combat, so ideally should be given On-Station orders a few minutes before you need them, to ensure they are ready to fight straight away. (By default, 10 Marines are ordered On-Station when you start a new character – you will hear your Combat Officer announcing that Marines are ready for deployment during the first few minutes of play, meaning that they are ready for combat.) Intruders may seek to sabotage ship systems or steal craft such as interceptors. The former can only be prevented by your Marines killing or injuring the intruders first. The later can be prevented by turning off power to the Launch Control on the Logistix–Power screen – obviously this prevents you launching craft yourself.
The cloaking system is not exclusively a defensive tool, but it is often used as one. The cloak renders you invisible to other ships unless you launch a craft or fire a weapon. The cloak uses 10 units of Iridium per minute – approximately 50,000 credits a minute to maintain. After about 7 minutes under cloak, radiation levels will build up on your ship to the point where your crew start to become ‘radiated’ and certain decks need to be cleaned up using Radiation Control Units to prevent radiation spreading further. Once the cloak is de-activated, radiation levels will gradually decline, so the cloak can be effective if used occasionally for short periods. The cloaking system can be toggled on and off by pressing SHIFT+C or left-clicking on the word Cloak on the bridge view.
There are two main battlecruiser offensive weapon types, each of which has a semi-automated variant: Lasers and missiles. The battlecruiser has a primary laser called an Ion-Disruptor Array (IOD), normally targeted and fired from the bridge view. It has quite an effective secondary set of three automated laser turrets called Passive Target Acquisition (PTA). The primary missile firing system is normally targeted and fired from the bridge view. This is supported by an automated missile firing system called FATAL (FAst Target Acquisition and Lock).
The weapons system must be activated by pressing W or clicking on the IOD icon on the left-hand side of the bridge view. This will change the central part of the bridge view display from the default NAV mode to TAC mode. TAC mode adds various weapon related information to the display and removes some information relating to engines and navigation.
The main Ion-Disruptor Array (IOD) is a simple case of point and shoot. Pulses of energy will shoot from the gun, hopefully hitting the target. One can change the intensity of the shot by left-clicking on IOD on the bridge view, and changing the percentage (one can also use ‘ and ; to increase and decrease intensity). A high percentage does more damage, but has a longer recharge time, a low percentage does little damage but recharges quickly. By default the IOD will fire straight ahead. The IOD can be decoupled (and re-coupled again) by pressing Scroll Lock. Decoupling creates an extra targeting ring and adjusts the angle of fire so that targets do not have to be dead-centre to be fired upon. Decoupling is most useful when the battlecruiser is already on a fixed vector (such as under autopilot between points in space), since targets can be fired upon without changing the position of the battlecruiser. The poor dogfighting ability of your battlecruiser means that the IOD is still primarily a weapon to be used against large targets such as other carriers or stations.
Passive Target Acquisition (PTA) is better suited to dealing with smaller targets. With weapons systems active, press P or left-click PTA on the left-hand side of the bridge view. This activates three laser turrets, that will automatically select nearby enemy targets within their arc and range of fire, and shoot them. You have the option to man one of these turrets yourself (F5-7, F1 to return to Bridge), but they are normally best left as automatic systems. The intensity of PTA lasers can be changed using SHIFT+’ to increase and SHIFT+; to decrease (the lowest possible setting turns the system off), or left-clicking on PTA on the bridge view and selecting a setting. Low intensity gives rapid fire but at short range, high intensity gives a slower rate of fire, but greater range.
Basic missile use involves selecting a target using Tacscan (bottom middle in bridge view). Turn weapons on (press W) if they are not already. Use Backspace to cycle through your missiles. The currently selected missile is displayed as text just below dead centre, with type and name, for example “STS Vagrant”. Mines appear here too, which behave slightly differently and dealt with later. You can see all available missiles in one list by selecting Weapons in the CVD (bottom right). Missiles can be loaded into the launch bays from storage using the Tactical screen: Select Tactical–Loadout–BC–Weapons (or Mines) and switch weapons between the store on the right and launch bay on the left. Back on the bridge, having selected the missile, you need to get a lock on the target. Point your ship towards the target so that the target is within the circle in the centre of the display. Now wait for the rectangular symbol that is dancing around on the screen to lock onto the target. Once the target is locked, fire the missile by pressing the spacebar.
Common missile types you will use are:
- ATA = Air-to-Air: Use between ships in planetary atmospheres.
- ATS = Air-to-Surface: Use from ship in planetary atmosphere to attack ground target.
- STS = Space-to-Space: Use between ships in deep space.
- OTS = Orbit-to-Surface: Use from space to attack planetary ground targets. These are nuclear devices designed to destroy whole areas of a planet.
Among Space-to-Space (STS) missiles (those you use the most initially), you will find two main types of guidance system – Continuous Tracking Logic (CTL) and Automatic Tracking Logic (ATL). In the first case (CTL), you must keep the target selected until the missile hits or is otherwise destroyed. The second type (ATL) is a ‘fire-and-forget’ missile, which uses it own targeting systems after launch. Missiles also vary in range, time taken to lock onto a target, and damage. Full details are contained within appendix D of the manual. According to Derek Smart, “missiles lose their effectiveness with range”.
FATAL and other toys
The battlecruiser has an auto-firing system for certain missiles called FATAL. Designate a target to the FATAL system by targeting it in Tacscan, selecting a missile and pressing D. Up to 8 missiles/targets can be assigned to FATAL at one time. Press X to clear the target from FATAL. Only STS-Vagrant or STS-Ralix missiles can be assigned to FATAL. They will be automatically fired when anything designated FATAL comes within range. Both missiles are short range (15-20 clicks) and have the longest lock time of all STS missiles, but both do quite a lot of damage. FATAL is best used in relatively close combat situations, where you are primarily using your laser (IOD) rather than taking time locking and firing missiles manually. Targets can be assigned to the system in advance, often while you are jumping to engage the enemy.
A few other offensive toys are available, notably mines. These are potentially useful when you need extra defensive firepower at a very specific point (perhaps around a station or jump point). Leech mines explode when a ship comes too close to them, causing damage. Crab mines fire laser shots at enemy ships. Mines have a finite lifetime – typically around 10-15 minutes. Mines are deployed as missiles, but there is no need to target anything first. Deploying Leech mines without bumping into them can be dangerous…
Time for some combat. Set a course for Lennen in Sirius system. Make as many preparations as you feel you need for battle – for example, re-adjust your power setup, set shields to full, and assign some marines to Searching. The first jumps around the Sol system should be uneventful. You will pass through a wormhole into the Sirius system. In this region, Lyrius, you should see an enemy (red) contract on the radar, and a warning noise will sound. Don’t panic, it is probably just an orbital defense system (ODS) which poses no threat at this range. When you arrive in Lennen, you will be attacked. The region contains an enemy station, Pixan, which will launch various fighters against you (S24-Ravens, Starfighters, L-Fighters and similar).
Quickly enter Tacops (ALT+S), press Esc once to show the Command Palette, and then press the Hold button on the palette – this will pause the game whilst allowing you to see the situation.
With the action paused, take a moment to look around the region using Tacops. Click the Full button on the Command Palette to show the whole sector in the default view. Your ship will be shown in green in the bottom right corner of the Tacops screen, close to the jump point called To..Lyrius. Zoom in slightly on this area. Zoom in by left-clicking, out by right-clicking. Your ship will appear as a green box surround by three numbers, your ship name and designation (Terran/Military). The left-side number is your shield level, the top-side number the overall ship integrity as a percentage, and the right-side number is the armor strength. The same format is used when you target ships in Tacscan. If you close the Command Palette by clicking on the map, and hover the mouse over your ship, you will see this information explained, alongside your ship’s current (or last) order, probably FlyTo.
Towards the centre of the map you will find a planet, and several enemy contacts. The shield and armor values give an indication of the type of vessel – values up to about 500 are typically fighters, around 1000 typically carriers or similarly heavy ships, values of several thousand are normally stations. Other information can be extracted at a glance – for example things with the order “Standard Orbit” will not attack you unless you are within their range because they have no control over their movement. Ships attacking you will normally display your name when you move the mouse over them, for example “SAD Myship” – the enemy has seek and destroy orders, and it is seeking and destroying Myship. During long battles consider returning to Tacops to check that no new threats have appeared. It can be quite easy to get involved with combat and not notice _that_ second battle-fleet that just jumped into the region until it engages you…
Do not attack the station (Pixan) or ODS near the planet. Instead fight some of the enemy close to the jump point you arrived at – let them come to you. Don’t remain entirely stationary, nor remain in autopilot: Around a third thrust on manual control is ideal. You can cycle targets quickly using , and . or target nearest enemy (M), nearest attacker (N), or nearest in front of you ( / ). Remember, you must be using Tacscan to see enemy craft – not the NID. When firing at a targeted enemy ship you will notice red and green boxes around the target. The red box indicates where the target is now. The green box attempts to calculate where the target will be by the time your laser shots reach it. Consequently you should aim at the green box. Don’t try to shoot down missiles – only target ships. Targeting missiles is quite an easy mistake to make initially, since the names will not mean much to you. It may be helpful to display a picture of the target in the CVD (press V or select Target Camera from the CVD (bottom right). Missiles also normally appear as white contacts, where as enemy ships are red contacts on the radar.
Targets here are mostly small and fast moving. Limited dogfighting with the main IOD may work, but use of PTA and EMD will be more effective overall. Watch your shield level – unless you happen to get rammed, you won’t take damage while your shields are up. Hyperjumps can sometimes be a good method of buying yourself some extra time to boast shields or review the overall situation in Tacops. If things get really hot, you can always jump out of the system – enemy ships rarely follow. Also remember you can pause or save during the battle. Heavily damaged enemies may attempt to flee, so consider following them by hyperjumping after them. Take care, because in this case they will tend to flee to Pixan station, potentially dragging you into range of the station. In some cases ships will be disabled and will emit an SOS, or drop a cargo pod – ignore these for now.
The station has a finite number of fighters to launch against you – up to 30 in this case (the station has other heavier craft, but does not normally launch them until you get closer). With a little skill, you should be able to dispose of all these fighters or send them limping back to base. So if you died or got beaten up, feel free to restart and try again. Each enemy ship you kill rewards you with experience points. The precise value varies by ship type and owner – manual appendix B gives a full list. There is no experience for damage, only kills. Experience points eventually lead to promotion. The only promotion to make much of a difference is that to Supreme Commander, since it allows you to control almost the whole Galcom fleet. That rank is a little way off yet 😉 .
This battle only allows you to try different tactics against a certain kind of enemy – battles against other capital ships require a slightly different approach, notably greater use of the IOD and avoiding the enemy ship ramming you. Many battles mix ship sizes, requiring slightly different tactics again. And, of course we still haven’t used our interceptors – read on.