This page is one of a 10 part tutorial. The tutorial is designed to be read in order.
This part of the tutorial can be continued on from the previous part, or started with a new character. It introduces ground operations, including use of drones and vehicles, troop deployment and ground battles. You must have the Map Pak installed, which adds buildings and units to the surface of planets. v2.08 and v2.09 distributions include this by default, earlier versions may need it downloaded and installed. Without the Map Pak you can try some but not all of the techniques, however only mining drone deployment will have any purpose. The ground operations code contains a few glitches, and if you are unlucky the game may crash, so make regular saves during this part of the tutorial.
Loading up on nukes
Sell some of your spare parts to raise credits if you need to, and buy two OTS missiles (any type will do for the purposes of this tutorial, for example OTS-Tanix). If you are continuing on from the previous part of the tutorial, use your docked shuttle to buy these missiles, launch, dock all your shuttles, and fly the battlecruiser to near planet Earth. If you have restarted, launch from Galcom HQ and stop. Once in position, order your Battlecruiser to Halt. Raise shields and activate weapons and PTA to give your ship some protection against any enemy ships that appear. In Tactical–Crew call another 10 Marines (20 total) on-station. Crew Shuttle 1.
And then targeting Earth…
In Tacops, zoom to Earth and Observe the planet. The planet’s surface should be familiar 😉 . The map is divided into climatic zones (purple lines), blue boxes (race/caste areas of control), and smaller red boxes (mission zones). Mission zones contain specific buildings and units. Other parts of the planet may be regarded as generic. Zoom in on one of the mission zones (red boxes). Each zone contains a series of compounds. Zoom in on a compound. Most compounds contain buildings, and many also contain ground units. When you first zoom to a compound it may at first appear to be empty. To pan around left-click, hold, and move the mouse. To rotate, right-click, hold and move the mouse. If all that detail is missing, you do not have the Map Pak installed – I suggest you quit now and download/install it.
Each shuttle can be loaded with one mining drone. Drones may be placed on the surface of any planet, and will proceed to automatically trawl the surface mining minerals. Each drone can mine up to 1000 units, but will typically take about 3 hours to do so (the manual states 8 hours, but 3-4 is more common). A full load of minerals can be sold for several million credits and there is no need to watch or guard the drones. Drones can provide bonus credits without too much hassle, but are clearly not suited to those wanting to make credits quickly. Zoom back so the whole surface is visible. From the Command Palette (press Esc), select SC1. Add a waypoint with the order Deploy Mining Drone. Place that waypoint somewhere in the Sahara desert (the large yellow area in the centre of the map, controlled by Ter/Mil). Do not place it in a mission zone. In Tactical–Loadout–SH–SH-1–Cargo (the Tactical screen can be accessed directly from the Command Palette by pressing the Tac button), check that Shuttle 1 has Drone-1 loaded. Once the crew-member has manned the shuttle, launch SC1. The shuttle will launch and head for the planet. Once it reaches the surface it will appear as a contact on Tacops, drop the mining drone as a new contact on the surface, and then return to the battlecruiser. You can now zoom in on the mining drone and watch it crawl around the surface. You can quickly see how much cargo space the drone has left from Tactical–Loadout–SH–SH1–Drone.
Most buildings on the planet’s surface are targets or background ‘filling’. Some planets have star bases. These are the planetary equivalent of orbital star stations. Finding them normally requires reference to manual appendix V (pzone.pdf) and lot of trial and error. Enter Tacops and observe Earth. Click the Hold button from the Tacops Commmand Palette. From that manual appendix you can get the co-ordinates: 10888N, 8331E. Hover the mouse on the surface and the co-ordinates will be displayed in the bottom right of the screen (this is very slightly inaccurate when viewing areas in detail, but perfectly accurate at planet level). The mission zone you are looking for is number 10 (in what is now southern Russia, just to the north east of the Caspian sea). The only in-game indication is the addition of “ZSBase1” in the zone name and possibly the red box flashing. Zoom to the mission zone. The zone is characterised by a large lake. On the right (eastern) side you will see a smaller lake. Zoom in to the eastern side of the lake, but don’t enter any of the compounds. Most of the contacts in the lake are naval units. In the south-east corner of the lake there is a large collection of buildings. In the centre of that group you will find a contact labelled “Ter Mil Earth” – this is the star base. The building is quite distinctive – two launch pads protrude from its sides. Target the building, and add it to the priority list (from the right hand list, left-click on Priority, then Add One–Recently Observed–Earth Ter Mil Earth, or left-click on the target itself, and select Add To Priority List). The priority list is a useful way to store several important or hard to find targets. Add a waypoint for SC1 on the star base (give a Halt order). Unfreeze the game (Update). Launch SC1. Immediately return to bridge and then Switch To SC1 (ALT+F5).
Engage autopilot if it is not engaged already. The shuttle will autopilot itself into the Earth’s atmosphere. Once it reaches Earth it jumps straight to the area above the waypoint. If you do the same manually without a waypoint, you can arrive anywhere on the planet. Once the surface is visible, press A to take the shuttle out of Autopilot. Atmospheric flight is similar to space flight, with a few important differences:
If you cut thrust, gravity will take over, with predictable results. If you get too close to the ground, your ship will scream “warning” at you. By default, you ship flies in FTOL mode (thrusting forward). By pressing Caps Lock, thrust will change to vertical, VTOL. VTOL is clearly useful in overcoming gravity. After switching to VTOL, half thrust will keep you at about the same altitude, less will lower you, more will raise you slightly. You can move forwards by pushing forwards on the joystick. To land, in FTOL, roll and pitch so that the craft is aligned with the horizon. Cut thrust to bring yourself to a stop. Switch to VTOL and let your craft sink towards the surface. Just before you hit the ground, raise the throttle to about 50%. To take off again raise the throttle above 50%. Alternatively, press SHIFT+E to land under autopilot, and disengage autopilot to take off.
Tacscan has two planet-specific modes, AIR and GND. Cycle them by pressing K. AIR will allow airborne craft to be targeted, GND targets units and buildings on the ground. These work with everything *except* star bases. If you select GND and cycle through the targets you will never find the star base (Ter/Mil Earth), because such bases are not treated like other ground buildings. Instead, select GND mode using K in Tacscan, then switch to the NID by pressing J. Press J again until the left-hand monitor shows a brown coloured surface mini-map. Now cycle the targets using , and . – you should be able to target Ter/Mil Earth. Docking is identical to orbital station – fly within about 25 clicks and with the building targeted, press ALT+D.
There are few reasons to use planet bases instead of orbitals stations – the only reason commonly cited is to sell the contents of a mining Drone without leaving the surface – this still requires a Shuttle on the planet. There are several reasons against, notably difficulty in targeting and inability to dock battlecruisers. When ready, launch.
When you wish to leave the Earth, point the craft up towards space and apply full thrust in FTOL mode. At an altitude of around 190,000 you will automatically return to space. Alternatively press O once above cloud level (around altitude 10,000) and then press Y (yes) to return to space. Target your battlecruiser in Tacscan, SHIFT+9 to fly towards it, and then ALT+D to dock when close.
Any craft can enter a planet’s atmosphere, but battlecruisers are not well suited to it. Notably the battlecruiser’s radar system does not have AIR or GND options. It can still inflict quite a lot of damage using PTA systems.
Attacking the surface
Enemy bases on planets may be attacked using conventional means (troops, interceptors, etc) or by orbital bombardment. Orbital bombardment requires Orbit-to-Surface missiles. Open Tactical–Loadout–BC–Weapons, and swap two loaded missiles for OTS weapons from the right-hand list. From the bridge, target Earth in the NID, and either fly to within 300 clicks of it, or assign Earth to the Flight Path Designator (F) and engage autopilot, which will move you close to the planet and hold you there – not technically an orbit, but you will remain at the same distance from the planet. Don’t enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
Open Tacops, and observe Earth. South America (towards bottom left) contains three Insurgent mission zones (Ter/Ins). Zoom to the southern-most zone of the three, “Mission Zone 9 (Zone 10)”. You should find several compounds, some containing mostly regular buildings (cities), others with factories, and some with assorted military facilities. Zoom to a military compound (these tend to be small and flashing). From the Command Palette, click OTS, then Target. Click on a building in the compound. The missile will then lock onto the target. When ready, launch. You can watch the missile’s progress by left-clicking MisCam on the right hand side of the screen. Alternatively just wait and you may be treated to birds singing followed by a spectator’s view of the explosion. All the buildings in the compound should be ‘neutralised’. You may gain around a thousand experience points for the ‘kills’, depending on what the compound contained. This is perhaps the easiest way to gain rank for the super-rich – at around one million credits a missile, ‘nuking’ planetary targets is expensive. Feel free to use the second OTS missile to attack another hostile target in the area if you wish.
The easiest way to move a small number of Marines to the surface of a planet is to use the Transporter. In Tactical–Loadout–Trans–Teams, assign two readied (on-station) Marines to the Transporter (the maximum possible is 10). Wait for them to arrive at the Transporter Room. Enter Tacops, and find a nice empty part of planet Earth. Click on the Trans button on the Command Palette, then click somewhere on the surface of the planet. Finally click Deploy. The two Marines will fade in. Zoom in to see them. You can potentially set a waypoint for “Trans Team”. You may need to issue the order Resume Waypoints – ideally set such orders before deploying. You will probably experience one of the main difficulties with planetary command and control – placing waypoints on the ground, rather than in the sky or below the surface. The most reliable way I know to get points on the surface is to ensure you use only a perfect top-down view. Instead of clicking with the mouse (which tends induce a degree or two of rotation in the map), place the mouse cursor where you want it, and press + and – keys to zoom in and out, and the arrow keys to pan around. Finally place waypoints with the cursor in the centre of the screen. It’s an art 😉 . To beam the transporter team back to the battlecruiser, press the Evac button on the Command Palette. Returning Marines will go off-duty unless they have contracted a medical condition (infection, radiation sickness, etc), in which case they make their way to the Medibay for treatment. The Transporter can also be used to move up to 1500 of cargo. There are not common reasons for moving cargo via Transporter – cargo can only be beamed to an open area of ground, not a building or craft. Since there are few times when you only want to move a few Marines at once, you may find the Transporter is more effectively used for additional battlecruiser cargo storage.
An alternative means of delivering personnel and ATVs to a planet’s surface is to use shuttles. In Tactical–Loadout–SH–SH-1–Cargo, check that ATV-1 is loaded. In Tactical–Loadout–ATV–ATV-1–Team, assign 4 (readied) Marines to the free slots. Wait for them all to walk to the Shuttle/ATV. In Tacops, Observe Earth. In the north-west corner (currently Alaska), you will find “Mission Zone 0 (Zone 1)”. Zoom to it. The map should include a small lake in the centre, on the northern side of that lake is a large compound. Use the + key to progressively zoom into the area. This is a mixed civilian area, with friendly (green), neutral (blue) and hostile (red) buildings. There should be no military units visible. Create a waypoint for SC1 on the ground just to the north, with the order Halt. (In theory, the order Deploy ATV can be assigned as a waypoint. Some players suggest placing two waypoints, the first a Proceed to Next, the second the order to deploy. I have not got this to work reliably, so suggest you deploy ATVs manually.)
Launch SC1, and Switch To it (ALT+F5). Once you see Earth’s surface, take control of the shuttle and land it on the surface. The lower-right side of the main shuttle HUD display contains several words which one may left-click on with the mouse to reveal further menu options. Left-click on ATV, then select Deploy ATV-1. Then Switch To ATV-1 by selecting ATV again from the shuttle menu, and Switch To–ATV-1; or pressing ALT+F9. Controls are similar to other craft. Press W to access the ATV’s weaponry. Feel free to drive around and shoot some enemy buildings.
ATV-1 contains four marines, and only one is needed to drive. Three can be assigned to an Away Team, a small unit of soldiers who can roam the planet’s surface. Left-click Crew, then select ATV. Now tick the boxes next to the bottom three Marines in the list. Select Transfer To–Away Team. Left-click Crew–Away Team–Deploy–ATV-1 Team to deploy the marines.
Left-click Orders, and select Halt, to prevent the ATV doing anything for the moment. Open Tacops (ALT+S) to view the area. Set a waypoint for those marines – ATV1 Team. Give them a Search and Destroy order, with the waypoint set as one of the enemy buildings. Left-click on each and issue the order Resume Waypoints. They should now neutralise the building.
The easiest way to extract marines is to give them RTB orders. These can either be issued by ordering each marine separately, or you can Esc/Switch To the ATV, left-click Crew then Deployed Teams, tick the marines, and Orders–RTB. Away Teams treat the craft that launched them as their base, so long as that craft remains nearby (important caveat).
Once the marines have returned to the ATV, extract the ATV. Set a waypoint for a shuttle, targeted on the ATV1 with the order Extract ATV1. The shuttle will swoop in and grab the ATV. Ensure you use a shuttle that does not currently have an ATV on board (in this case, SC-1 is perfect, just clear its old waypoint). If SC-1 has been waiting nearby, an alternative method is to order ATV-1 to RTB. One can even target SC-1, drive towards it, and when you get close be switched straight to the cockpit of SC-1 (this is by far the hardest method to get right).
If a marine should die, they can be replaced later at a station by hiring a new marine. The same applies to System and Flight Engineers, and Medics. Only officers and pilots can have replacements cloned (in the Medibay).
And that’s just the start
There is much more to ground battles than this tutorial covers. You have many more marines, and extra ATVs and shuttles at your disposal. Marines can be deployed direct from shuttles, without ATVs. If you attack surrounding compounds you will come up against hostile ground units. You may wish to call in interceptor air cover. Consider using some interceptors with Combat Air Patrol orders (CAP), and some with Suppress Enemy Air Defense (SEAD), with missile loadouts to reflect these orders. Clearly, command and control of ground battles can become very complex.
While most ground operations are based on the methods used in this tutorial, there are some oddities to watch out for. For example, if you send shuttles or ATVs home leaving marines on the planet alone, those marines will not respond to RTB-style orders when the craft are re-launched. The correct method for extracting troops in these circumstances is described in chapter 18 of the manual – in short, CTRL+left-click on the marine to mark it for extraction, and then send a shuttle in with an Extract Team waypoint set nearby.
If you wish to continue this ground battle, you can, but this tutorial will not cover all the options in detail. Planetary operations are among the most complex aspects of the game to control, but are very rarely needed in play. In short, do not be concerned if you do not understand the finer points of controlling ground battles. You can ignore them for now, and come back and experiment at leisure.
The final stage should be the recovery of Drone-1 from the surface of Earth. This is a simple case of assigning a waypoint targeted on the drone with Extract Drone-1 orders. The shuttle extracting the drone must not be carrying a drone already (preferably use SC-1). Once the shuttle has extracted the drone, unload the drone from the shuttle, and then unload the contents of the drone into the battlecruiser’s cargo hold. The majority of minerals are of little use to you and should be sold at a station.