Jarenth Plays Starships — Episode 1: Into The Void

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays Starships, it turned out that victory in Terra Atlantea wasn’t quite the high road to galactic conquest that I was hoping it would be. The galaxy is vast and rich with wonder, apparently, and full of more human-colonized planet than you could shake an entire arboreal planet’s worth of sticks at. My ersthwhile planetary competitors have all gone on to usurp and lead nascent interstellar empires while I was out ‘upgrading’ the citizens of Old Earth. And if I want to have any shot at staying on top of things, I have no real choice but to follow their leads. Time for a new galactic season of fashion: open warfare is out, careful diplomacy is in!

This is how interstellar diplomacy works. Apparently.

Cyber-Élodie’s Log. Galactic Date: 2045.2.

‘Do unto others as they did unto you’ turns out to be easier said than done. There’s a vast gulf of difference between having access to half-gleaned blueprints for interstellar space ship construction, and actually being good at it. It took years of work and tons of resources to construct an initial warp engine prototype… and the less said about the maiden voyage of that doomed brick, the better. I’d be upset about the senseless loss of Supreme life incurred, if I hadn’t had the good sense to back everyone involved up on beforehand. And people say cybernetic existence has no upsides.

The years spent developing space ship technology were by no means wasted, however. There is more to becoming a respected galactic power than just having a sweet ride. Considerable effort was spent cleaning up and consolidating Terra Atlantea. The place was full of hastily abandoned cities when I returned from my Old Earth trip, and for some reason the native bug wildlife was even more aggressive then usual. Like, hyper-aggressive. I’m actually a little curious about what caused that? Maybe I’ll ask one of my former friends, if I run into them in the future.

Once the sagging spires of Harmony and the crumbling brown boxes of Purity had been replaced gleaming black-and-yellow Supreme spires, the next necessary step was establishing a global infrastructure. The previous system of more-or-less self-sustaining cities was functional enough for planetary exploration and land wars of conquest, but now that I controlled the entire planet, it needed overhaul. All cities were streamlined, updated, and interlinked, slowly creating a planetary network of research and production. A planet that will soon serve as the homeworld for an interstellar empire needs to be run with the efficiency and effectiveness worthy of that title, after all.

And finally, as much as I loathe to admit it, some work was also needed to make sure my nascent empire could… ugh… communicate with everyone else. Not just in the language sense: it hasn’t been that long since they all left, so I’m reasonably certain they haven’t regressed to grunts and squeaks yet. But from what we’ve gleaned from intercepted transmissions and messages, it seems the larger galactic plane has settled on new standards of time, distance, currency, and spatial layout. It’s all very descriptive: they’ve traded the months and days and planet names rooted in old human mythology for a very rigid system of planetary descriptors and star dates. Which… suits me just fine, actually. Can you imagine the chaos of trying to run an empire with five calendars and seven naming schemes? Honestly, I would’ve probably taken a step like this myself: the fact that the galaxy has decided on the exact specifications for me really only simplifies matters.

It is currently the Galactic Standard Year 2045, Galactic Standard Month 2. The planetary system my adventures started in has been designated ‘Carinea’; the planet were are currently on has been marked as Star System Object 51. Carinea 51, then. It doesn’t have quite the ring to it that ‘Terra Atlantea’ had… but then again, given that we drained most of the useless oceans away to process them for deuterium, I guess the name wasn’t really fitting anymore, anyway.

This place used to be blue-er.

It’s taken ages and then some, but the first Franco-Iberian Space Fleet is finally ready for flight. We’ve managed to construct two small vessels capable of weathering the harsh space ways: the SS Venturous, and the SS Exultant. Yes, I’ve decided to keep a little creative naming here and there. Both ships are armed, armored, and capable of reaching the faster-than-light speeds necessary to visit nearby planetary systems in months, rather than decades.

Now, the time has finally come. From my comfortable captain’s chair on the SS Venturous, I am ready to give the order that will finally take Franco-Iberia to its rightful place among the stars. I will fly out to other human-inhabited worlds, impress upon them the benefits of Supremacy and of joining my new empire, my ‘United Federation’, and together we will forge a unity that will outlast the universe itself.

Er…

As soon as I figure out how to actually do any of that.

Wow, look at all these buttons that I don’t know what they do.

“Anytime you’d like some advice, press the ADVICE button”, Starships suggests. “We’ll scan our database for the most appropriate suggestions.” And… wow. I honestly don’t know which of these two facts is worse: that I installed ADVISR, a.k.a. Space-Clippy, on my galaxy-conquering spacecraft, or that it looks like I’ll actually need its help.

Alright, ADVISR. Hit me with your best suggestion.

“You should use your resources to make your ships more powerful!”

Most of Beyond Earth’s planetary resources have made the leap to the galactic scale quite well, albeit in a somewhat different form. Virtues are straight out, I’m afraid, but we still have Food, ‘Production’, Energy, and Science. Of these, Food and Science work more or less how you’d imagine: Food is used to create new population centers (‘cities’ doesn’t really cover their scale), and Science unlocks new technological advances. ‘Production’, now called Metals, is used for… no, not for building spaceships. I know, I was surprised as well. Metals is actually used to create new resource production centers on the planets in my empire. It’s actually Energy, Beyond Earth’s erstwhile currency, that is used to draft and upgrade my ships. Turns out that the actual material requirements for spacecraft are relatively insignificant on a planetary production scale. But these things have power requirements like you wouldn’t believe. Taking over the currency role from Energy is Credits, a newcomer on the galactic plane.

My current resource stockpiles hold a thousand of each resource except Credits. And given the importance of making a strong first impression on the planets I am to visit, ADVISR suggests using some of my 1000 Energy to upgrade my ships a little further before we set off.

For once, ADVISR, you and I are in agreement.

Ah, look at them. There they are. The SS Venturous and the SS Exultant. Two proud Supremacy-style Assault Corvettes. I have no idea how they work.

It’s actually relatively straightforward, honestly. Each ship is made up of a certain collection of modules. There are nine modules, all in all; my engineers tell me this is what each of them do:

Engines determine ship impulse speed. The stronger a ship’s impulse engines, the faster it can move in normal space. This does not influence warp speeds, but rather, tactical maneuvering speed. Speed is modulated by ship mass: all non-Engine modules add mass to the ship, reducing its movement allowance.
Shields reduce incoming damage on ships. Shields deplete after taking damage, but recover slowly.
Armor increases ship health, increasing the damage it can take. Armor doesn’t affect or reduce damage in any way, it just makes sure the ship can take more of it before exploding.
Lasers are long-range energy weapons. They fire accurately over far distances, but their power is lacking.
Plasma cannons are short-range kinetic weapons. Yes, even though they have ‘plasma’ in the name. Their range is short, but the power they project is significant.
Torpedoes are slow-moving projectiles that pack a lot of power. Torpedoes have significant flight time, though, and they can be avoided. Torpedoes are also limited: the ship module storing them can synthesize new torpedoes in a matter of hours, but in the time frame of a single battle, a ship only has access to a small amount of them.
Sensors reveal hidden objects around the ship. Which is useful, because…
Stealth allows a ship to drop off the enemy radar, making them untargetable. Stealth is broken when enemy ships get too close, however, or when a sensor module is triggered nearby.
– And finally, Fighter bays store fighter craft for battle. Fighters are small, lightly armed and armored craft, controlled by rudimentary AI systems. As with torpedoes, fighters are limited: each fighter bay can hold one fighter. The bays can reconstitute destroyed fighters after battle, however.

I won’t pretend I already know what is and isn’t useful at this point in time, naturally.

The SS’ Venturous and Exultant both are made up of five level-1 modules. Venturous has Engines, Shields, Armor, Lasers, and Torpedoes, while Exultant has Engines, Shields, Armor, Plasma Cannons, and Stealth. Respectable layouts for both, I’m sure… but I have a thousand points of Energy and nothing better to spend the stuff on, so why not throw about some upgrades?

Normally, making smart choices in this new-information-rich environment would be quite difficult. What is right, what is wrong, what will help me? But as luck would have it, I find myself pushed in one particular direction a little.

Look at this screenshot of Carinea 51 again. Notice anything unusual? Something incredibly attention-grabbing, perhaps, that I haven’t paid any word attention to?

Not the yellow lines, no. Those are just cities.

‘Hyperlaunch’. Even on the galactic scale, there are things one would consider ‘wonders’. Extraordinary constructions, amazingly secret scientific breakthroughs, or particularly strong cultural mores. Galactic wonders have the ability to change the balance of power for the empire that has access to them… and as a Supremacy empire, Carinea 51 starts with one.

The Hyperlaunch Protocol is a combination classified military science and highly specialized component development. It is based on Franco-Iberia’s wealth of experience with naval warfare, borne of an attempt to translate the principles that made us so successful in that arena to the void of space. Our Arbiter Gunships were incredibly effective because of their flexibility and speed, allowing them to dart in and out of battle at a moment’s notice. And the range and striking power of our Seraph Jetfighters made them feared combatants in the sky. Now, Arbiters were bound to the waters, and Seraphs had to land and refuel after every strike. But a craft that could combine the strengths of both, without the weaknesses of either…

A strong limiting factor on the effectiveness of ‘normal’ space-fighters is the orientation procedure: fighters ejected from their carrier need several minutes for their navigation systems to orient themselves on the battlefield. But by combining the flexibility of the Arbiter’s on-board computers with the speed and precision of the Seraph AI — and by using Carinea 51’s deposits of Firaxite and Floatstone in new and unforeseen ways — we were capable of designing a new strike fighter that no longer has this weakness. The Hyperlaunch Space Fighter — codename ‘Deus’ — is ejected from the fighter bay at top speed, orienting itself on the battlefield almost immediately and reaching full operational capacity in a matter of seconds.

What? You didn’t think I was going to go into this galactic battlefield on completely the same level as everyone else? We go by the moniker ‘Supremacy’ for a reason, remember.

It’s not my fault the other civilization decided *not* to start off with incredible, singular advantages.

I upgrade both the Venturous and the Exultant with a level 1 Fighter Bay, allowing each of them to launch one fighter during battle. I could upgrade the fighter bays further… but to be honest, I still don’t really know what to expect in power levels for capital ships and fighters. Might be smart to spread my power a little. I upgrade the Venturous’ armor plating, and the Exultant’s shield systems, each to level 2.

They’re even shinier than before, now.

And speaking of advancement…

Concurrent with using Energy to upgrade my ships is my personal favourite topic: Science. Military science, to be exact: it turns out that studying alien biology or reaching interpersonal understanding isn’t all that high on the priorities list if the name of the game is ‘galactic unification through displays of fleet power’. Hence, Starships’ Science screen looks like this:

Nine study topics. Nine starship modules. Can *you* guess the overlap?

Science in Starships covers nine fields, each corresponding to one particular ship module. Studying Ion Drives improves Engine power, researching Nano Electronics improves Laser damage, working on Quantum Cognition improves Sensor effectiveness. And so on, and so forth. Each topic has a handful of levels — six, I think — and the prices for researching them vary so wildly that I have no idea what influences any of it.

Currently, I can study three things: Torpedo damage, Sensor effectiveness, and Stealth effectiveness. And while I have no idea which modules will end up vital and which modules I’ll never use, I do know this: a) it’d be dumb to go into battle with less than optimal upgrades enacted, and b) one of my ships at least has a Torpedo module. Thermal Compression research it is, then! Make me proud, Eggheads.exe.

And with that — ships upgraded and science performed — I think my combat power is as high as it’s likely going to get right now. Which means it’s high time I take this new fleet for a ride.

“Where to, Cap’n?”

Travel times and power requirements being what they are, there are three potentially interesting celestial objects I can reach from Carinea 51. One of them is an asteroid field, which really puts to question how my mapping algorithm calculates ‘potentially interesting’. But the other two are human-inhabited planets… each with a decent planetary population, making them prime candidates for joining my budding empire. And each, judging from the radio distress called we’re picking up, with problems for me to solve.

“Fleet captains!” I issue the order. “Set a course for Normae 28.”

“Maximum whatever engine type we’re using!”

We arrive at Normae 28 after a ‘short trip’. Which is to say that interstellar transit only took three months. The words of Douglas Adams are as true now as they were way back on Old Earth: space is big. It’s easy to look at an abstracted stellar map and forget about the gaping gulf of void separating even the ‘closest’ planets.

Of course, space’s size being what it is means that Normae 28’s problems didn’t get any closer to resolution. It seems, even, that my fleet may have arrived in the proverbial nick of time.

“Greetings, planetary government of Normae 28.” I open communications. “This is Supreme Admiral Élodie, of the First United Federation Expedition Fleet.” I catch myself nearly misspeaking: I’ve opted for ‘United Federation’, because I figure that ‘my personal galaxy-spanning empire’ might make the neutral planets hesitant to join. Took me a while to get in the proper mindset, but it’s not like I had much else to do during my three-month transit.

“This is Supreme Admiral Élodie, of the First United Federation Expedition Fleet. We have received your call for help. Please state your emergency situation.”

The reply is hasty, and scattered, but clear enough. For the past few months, Normae 28 has been under attack by… an independent faction of space-faring humans that call themselves ‘Marauders’. I suppose it was inevitable that not every human-seeded planet would develop into a peaceful government or stellar empire contender: some people, to paraphrase the old chestnut, just want to watch the universe burn.

The Normae 28 militia has met with limited success trying to fend off the Marauder fleets. But if scanner signatures are to be believed, the currently incoming Marauder fleet is headlined by something called a ‘Gamma Class Dreadnought’. Without outside help, Normae 28’s government fears, the Marauders will overrun planetary defenses in a matter of hours.

I’d normally be a jerk about this, but I can see why this particular ship might pose a problem.

“Don’t worry, citizens of Normae 28” I announce over open comms, “the First United Federation Expedition Fleet will take care of these invaders for you!”

I then close the comms, and load up the fleet’s dedicated Tactical AI modules. “Can we actually repel this fleet?”

“Let’s say ‘maybe’.”

Welp. Not too happy about those odds, but I can’t really retract my promise of protection now. If I do that, I might as well toss this whole ‘impress neutral planets to join the United Federation’ plan down the drain. I order the fleet crews to battle stations, and await the arrival of the Marauder forces. Let’s see how Supreme the Venturous and the Exultant really are.

And here they are!

Battles in Starships are a turn-based affair, set on a hexagonal space map. Yes, space is technically three-dimensional. But in practice, that matters less than you’d think. You can always draw a flat plane from ‘your side’ to ‘the enemy side’, after all. Maybe in battles where three or more battle groups got involved?… But that’s just crazy talk.

Each turn, each ship can do two things: move, and take an action. A ship can move a number of hexes up to its movement rate. Surprising, I know. And ‘action’ is basically anything else a ship can do: fire weapons, activate modules, launch torpedoes, the works. A ship can even use its action to boost engine power, moving another 1 hex. At the expense of being able to do anything that this turn.

The Marauder fleet takes the first turn in this battle. When they arrive, I immediately understand Normae 28’s worry: the Gamma Dreadnought is big, powerful, loaded with weapons. And it’s not alone, too: two Fighter wings flank it on entry. The Dreadnought is obviously the main danger, and I worry what its weapons could do to my precious new ships, but the Fighters are nothing to scoff at either: they’re fragile, but fast, and still capable of inflicting significant damage.

The fleet moves towards me, but doesn’t attack. The Fighter craft only have short-ranged Plasma Cannons, and the Dreadnought’s Laser weapon is blocked by the asteroid fields floating in some hexes. Which is good for me, but also bad: my Laser weapons are equally obstructed.

Asteroids block laser fire, yeah. Don’t look at me, I don’t make the space rules.

With Laser lines of sight blocked, a close-range Plasma engagement seems like the only option. And given that both the Fighters and the Dreadnought are well-equipped in that field, I’m none too happy about the prospect. Yep, it’s looking like this battle might go really poorly for me…

…if I didn’t have access to my Hyperlaunch Fighters.

Suddenly, Fighters!

Deus Venturous and Deus Exultant streak from their fighter bays like the fists of an angry meteoric god. The Marauder fleet is caught entirely unprepared. How could they be prepared? My faction is literally the only power in the universe capable of projecting force like this. My Fighter wings are on the Marauders’ Fighter wings in seconds; the results are as predictable as they are violently explosive.

Which is to say that *they* turn to space dust and *I* do not.

Without Fighter support, the Gamma Dreadnought loses much of its aura of terror. It’s still an incredibly powerful ship… but it’s only one ship. There is only so much it can do. Its single Plasma Cannon barrage bounces off the SS Formidable’s shields without much lasting effect. And this ineffective shot is the only action it will ever take; the next turn, my Fighter wings tear it to shreds.

For my valiant defense of Normae 28, I am given… a numeric score.

I am so caught up in the thrill of victory, I don’t notice until a little while later that my ships have apparently changed names on me. Wasn’t I talking about SS Venturous and SS Dauntless just now? Because looking at the ship overview screen, I see an SS Dauntless and an SS Formidable. And… I’m pretty sure I didn’t rename them? What in the… either I ran into the weirdest possible glitch in my ship naming software matrix, or my fleet is staffed exclusively by incredibly flighty mercenaries.

Well, whatever. Dauntless and Formidable it is, then. For as long as this may last.

I open communications to Normae 28. The planetary populous is, unsurprisingly, exalted with my swift defense of their lifestyle. My (spurious) claims of ‘just being glad to help’ fall on deaf ears: 300 units of Food are transferred to my Empire’s coffers, whether I want to or not. Not that I’m complaining, mind.

Obviously, my real goal in helping the people of this otherwise uninteresting planet is convince them to join the United Federation. And while that result is still a little ways off, I’m certainly making progress: according to intel, fully 50% of Normae 28 now ‘supports the United Federation’. Political influence over a planet is measured in Influence Points: on Normae 28, I now hold 2 out of a maximum of 4 Influence. One point because I fought off the Marauders, and one extra point because I’m the first galactic empire to ever come to their aid.

Planetary influence isn’t the zero sum game you might imagine it to be, though. While Normae 28 hasn’t officially joined the United Federation, the fact that 50% of its people support me translated to me receiving 50% of its total production.

They’re basically giving me half of everything they make.

And all that for a two-turn fight.

I close communications. The first step towards galactic unification — under my name, of course — has been made. And while I don’t see any good opportunities to advance my standing on Normae 28 right now, I’m sure opportunities will pop up later.

For now, I turn my attention to the rest of the galaxy. The fleet is still battle ready, and the crews are still fighting fit. Where else can I make my influence felt? From Carinea 51, the only other planet I can reach is a place called Doradus 24. Interesting, to be sure, but it would take several months of travel to get there… even if I take a shortcut through the asteroid field connecting the two. I could go there… or I could see if any interesting planets lie beyond the space-lanes leading away from Normae 28.

Well. That’s certainly *interesting*.

Next episode: It turns out talking to people you haven’t seen in ages can be *hard*. Who knew?

8 comments

  1. Wait, is that a rival faction’s homeworld?

    Wow that is super close.

    Also 2 BILLION people on that planet? How many years have they been settled? Are they popping people out of cloning vats or something?

      1. Yes, definitely would expect colonist families to be pretty massive, but even so. Lets say you managed to get a large colony ship, one that contained 100,000 people to a planet, and the average family had 10 kids, and they kept this up for the next 3 generations. You are talking say:
        100,000
        600,000 (500,000 kids to grow up and pair off)
        3,100,000 (2,500,000 kids to grow up and pair off)
        20,600,000 (17,500,000 kids)

        That is about as extreme a population curve as I can believe and still takes a while before it will reach approximately 2 billion people. How long has it been since they left Old Earth?

        1. A while, I guess.

          But keep in mind this is also a setting where genetic engineering and cloning vats are, like, mid-tier technologies.

          1. What would that do to your society, how do you even structure it. I would think it would be pretty incomparable to any current modern society.

  2. I’d normally be a jerk about this, but I can see why this particular ship might pose a problem.

    My word, it’s a giant paintball helmet!

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