This page is one of a 10 part tutorial. The tutorial is designed to be read in order.
You may continue this part of the tutorial directly on from the last if you wish. If you have played several tutorial parts in succession, it may be easier to start a new character: As time passes you will start to run low on Radine and enemy attacks will become more frequent – while you might benefit from combat practice, such attacks tend to distract from the main aim of the tutorial.
The battlecruiser has a complement of four shuttles. Shuttles operate in a similar way to interceptors, except they have no offensive capability. Instead they are primarily cargo carrying craft. They can also be used to carry people, vehicles, and mining drones, and may be used to collect cargo and tow stranded ships.
Shuttles require at least one crew-member onboard, but it is not particularly important what type. Shuttles do not need to be crewed by pilots. I recommend using single Marines to man shuttles because you rarely need all 40 unless you are undertaking ground operations. A good alternative shuttle pilot is a Flight Engineer – you do not need the majority of those for preparing interceptors. Select crew with AI in double figures for the task. Crew can be assigned to shuttles using the Tactical–Crew or Tactical–Loadout–SH–SH-n–Team. The former more clearly shows the AI of the crew-member assigned. Assign one crew-member to each of the four shuttles.
Each shuttle has a total cargo capacity of 2000 units. By default, 1500 units of this space are occupied by an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) and a (mining) Drone. View Tactical–Loadout–SH–SH-1–Cargo. On the right-hand side of the screen, the currently loaded ATV and drone are displayed (ATV-1 and Drone-1). These will be of use in the future, but not during this tutorial, so unload them onto the battlecruiser by selecting None instead of ATV-1 and Drone-1. Repeat this for all four shuttles. Drones and ATVs do not appear to occupy any cargo space on your battlecruiser – presumably they just clutter up the flight deck.
Fly to Mars, Sol. Target the Debris Field (via NID), and fly towards it. Fly the last 500 clicks manually. Once you are within 100-200 clicks of the centre, halt. Briefly enter Tacops (ALT+S) and exit it again back to bridge view so that the debris displays correctly. Debris fields may contain a mixture of asteroids, cargo pods and mines. This debris field does not normally contain any mines, but does contain a lot of cargo pods, making it an ideal spot to experiment. If mines do appear, it may be possible simply to avoid them. Other options involve giving your battlecruiser or interceptor(s) Minesweep orders. Take care when deploying interceptors to clear minefields because your rookie pilots often collide with the mines and asteroids, damaging their craft in the process.
Shuttles are launched in a similar way to interceptors. One can left-click on the shuttle name on the right-hand side of the bridge view or Tacops view and select Launch, or press ALT+F5-8, or launch them from the Command Palette in Tacops. You may also select Command Menu–BC Orders–All Shuttle–Launch, but launching all shuttles simultaneously can result in all your shuttles colliding and being destroyed (not a good way to start any operation ), so I favour launching them separately. There are no automatic loadout options (if you look in Tactical–Launch–SH-n you will see an Assignment option, but that appears not to do anything in particular).
Launch SC-1. You should be surrounded by cargo pods. Some of these contain goods, some do not. Target a cargo pod using Tacscan. Press V once or twice until the CVD (bottom right) displays both the camera image of the pod and a list of its Cargo Manifest. If the manifest reads “Cargo Manifest 0/0” (nothing), look for another pod until you find one with cargo. If the manifest covers more than one page, use , and . to cycle pages. Now order SC-1 to collect the cargo using Command Menu–Current Target–SC-1 Collect. Do not left click on SC-1 on the right-hand list and issue Orders–Collect–Cargo – it does not work. You can instead issue this command from Tacops, even setting a waypoint “Collect cargo”, however Tacops clutters up the display with asteroids by default making it hard to find the correct pod (although these can be hidden by customising Tacops Options). If you read on you may realise such detailed orders are not generally needed. The shuttle will fly towards the pod. When the shuttle arrives at the pod it will load the cargo onboard, and the pod will disappear. Order SH-1 home (for example, Orders–RTB, but there are several methods).
Unlike interceptors, shuttles do not need to be readied between launches. So long as they are crewed, they can be re-launched an instant after they have docked. Once SH-1 has docked, open actical–Loadout–SH–SH-1–Cargo. Unload the cargo. One can work through each of the cargo screens manually transferring cargo from shuttle to battlecruiser, or simply click Unload All Cargo at the bottom of the screen.
The Cargosweep order can be assigned to shuttles to automated the process of recovering cargo pods. Launch SH-1 and give it Cargosweep orders (from the right-hand list, left-click and Orders–Cargosweep). Cargosweep orders can also be issued from within Tacops. Once the first pod has been loaded, launch SH-2 and give that Cargosweep orders. I suggest separating the launches in this way to reduce the chance of both shuttles chasing after the same pod, which they tend to do if both start from the same place. This not only wastes time, but may cause collisions.
Cargosweep covers all pods in the region on your radar. This will mostly be pods in the debris field, but may include others dropped by ships during combat. Any pod left floating around in space may be salvaged, regardless of previous owner. Shuttles will seek out all pods regardless of cargo, so Cargosweeps are slightly slower than assigning targets manually, but far easier to manage. Cargo pods in the debris field only show while you are within 200 clicks of the centre of the field. If you leave the area, the pods ‘disappear’. The debris field will slowly be emptied of cargo pods until there are none left. At this point (or just before it) shamelessly abuse the way debris fields are generated by switching to Tacops and straight back to the bridge view again. This will regenerate the debris field. (There are other methods to get this to happen, such as saving the game, but the ‘Tacops switch’ is the easiest.) So long as you remain in the debris field, switching to Tacops once in a while, the debris field will produce an endless supply of loot 🙂 .
Keep an eye on the volume of cargo your shuttles are recovering. The easiest way to do this is to Select Craft–SH1 or 2 in the CVD (bottom right). This display includes cargo as a percentage of total space, and also allows you to monitor reactor charge and damage. Once they start filling up, order them home (RTB), move the cargo onto the battlecruiser, and send them out again.
Shuttles load cargo pods using a tractor beam. Your battlecruiser is also fitted with a tractor beam. While you cannot use your battlecruiser to load cargo pods, you can use the tractor beam to tow large objects, notably ships. Shuttles can also tow ships using their tractor beams. Launch SC-3 and order it to Halt. Target SC-3. Lower your shields and turn and face the shuttle. Turn the tractor beam on by pressing T or left-clicking TRB on the bridge view. Slowly thrust towards the shuttle. When you get just under 1 click from the shuttle, the tractor beam will lock on. You now have the shuttle in tow. Because this is one of your ships, you will be asked if you wish to attempt a recovery (text at the top of the screen). Press Y (yes) to dock the ship, N (no) to keep the ship tractored. The tractor beam can be disengaged at any time by pressing T or left-clicking TRB – the tractored ship will drift free again. You must keep your shields down while using the tractor beam. You can tow ships into hyperspace, through jump point, almost anywhere you can go they will follow. You can order any shuttle to Tow another ship, even your own battlecruiser.
Tractoring/towing has several uses. The most important is to recover one of your craft that has suffered a critical system failure, such as a destroyed engine. Ships that have issued an SOS signal or are shown as disabled on the radar may be towed back to a station. When you dock with such a ship in tow, you will be given the option to surrender the ship to the station. If you opt to surrender the ship, you will be rewarded with experience points and credits – the amount is dependent on ship class and owner, and shown in the manual’s appendix B. These rewards are rarely enough to justify hauling the ship far, but sometimes worth the effort if you were ‘heading that way anyway’, or there is a non-hostile station nearby.
While your cargosweep is ongoing, monitor passing shipping. Specifically look for unescorted neutral (blue) ships (not cargo pods). Examine their cargo manifest in the same way you examined the cargo manifest of the cargo pods (basically target and press V once or twice). If you see a ship with cargo, you can potentially steal its cargo. One method involves attacking the ship – when the ship is destroyed it normally drops the cargo as a pod. Instead of attacking, mug the ship. With the ship targeted, from the Command Menu select Current Target–SC-4 Collect (or whatever shuttle you wish to use). If the shuttle is not already launched, it will launch, and then proceed to try and mug the targeted ship. Whether it succeeds partly depends on whether the other ship remains in the region long enough. Since the appearance of such ships is somewhat random, you may wait hours for the opportunity – don’t. Instead, watch for the opportunity to steal on future trips: You should keep at least one shuttle crewed ready for such an event – having at least one shuttle ready to launch is a good strategy regardless, since you never know when you might get a chance to grab a rogue cargo pod or need a shuttle to tow another ship.
There is quite a lot of skill involved in the effective use of cargo space. The battlecruiser’s cargo bays are not universal – you can only store certain items in certain bays (complete data is shown in appendix S of the manual). Shuttles, and less so ATVs and the Transporter, can store any type of cargo (other uses ATVs and Transporters are explain fully later in the tutorial). Consequently if you want to store a lot of an item such as a particular missile, Shuttle space is essential. For example, you may favour STS-Vagrant missiles. Each one occupies 25 units of space, but they can only be stored on the battlecruiser ready to fire (up to 20) and in Weapons Bay 2 (up to 10). One shuttle can store up to 80, and you have up to four shuttles available. So while overall battlecruiser cargo capacity is higher, Shuttles and similar can play a useful balancing role. There are two disadvantages to such tactics: (1) Obviously a shuttle packed full of missiles is not going to be much use for anything except on-board storage. As these tutorials are hopefully demonstrating, a couple of empty, flight-worthy shuttles can be useful assets. (2) When docked at a station in your battlecruiser, you can only access the battlecruiser’s cargo bays, not those of craft or other areas onboard. This may mean buying, launching, rearranging cargo, docking, buying, and so on.
By this stage you have probably amassed a shuttle load of loot. Load a spare shuttle (I will assume SH-3) with cargo you wish to sell (loading the shuttle is the opposite procedure to unloading it). Try to include some high price items – manual appendix S contains a list of typical price levels – alternatively load a range of weapons and spare parts. As you learn more about the game, you will start to appreciate which of these items are likely to be of use to you and which will not. Attractive sounding items like SAL and SAM weapons transpire to be ground combat vehicles that you cannot even use – but they typically sell for more than 100,000 credits each. Avoid illegal items. At this stage keep them on your battlecruiser. If you dock them at a Galcom station they will be confiscated, you’ll be fined, and a violation added to your record. You will inevitably pick up illegal goods. There are many way of handling them, including simply jettisoning them again. To jettison an item in your battlecruiser’s cargo bays, select Logistix–Cargo, select the item, and use the eject button that appears on the right hand side of the screen. Don’t jettison cargo whilst you have shuttles operating a Cargosweep – they will just pick the cargo up again.
When ready launch SC-3 (or whatever shuttle you just loaded). Order the shuttle to Fly To Starpath station (friendly station in this region). Give your battlecruiser orders to Halt (Command Menu–BC Orders–Orders–Halt) to stop them doing anything whilst you are away, and consider activating shields and PTA systems. Now switch to SC-3, either by pressing ALT+F7 or left-clicking on the name on the right-hand side and selecting Switch To. The experience of piloting a shuttle is very similar to an interceptor, except you have no weapons to worry about. Target Starpath and fly towards it. When you get within 25-30 clicks, dock by pressing ALT+D (just as you would in a battlecruiser). Enter Centcom and Log on as normal. As you might expect, the main difference is that you can only access your shuttle and its cargo. Sell as much of your cargo as the Tradcom will allow, and launch. On launch press Esc to return to the battlecruiser. Time spent in station trading does not count towards the overall game time. So while you may have spent several minutes looking at station screens, only the time spent docking, launching, and switching to and from the shuttle is registered. This means that your total game time away from command of the battlecruiser may only have been a few seconds.