STAR CITIZEN ALPHA 2.0: FLIGHT MODEL CHANGES
THE FUTURE OF FLIGHT
Since the initial release of Arena Commander, we’ve increased top speed, scaled down the availability of boost, and reduced the power of maneuvering thrusters. While these have all had drastic effects on the game, none have been a fundamental change in the way the game actually works – which goes to show how much stat balance can affect a system! However, behind the scenes, we have been working on some deeper changes to the flight model, and are nearing a point where some of that work can be put in front of players.
Flight Modes (aka IFCS 2.0)
The flashiest new feature is the additional flight modes: Precision, Space Combat Maneuvers (SCM), and Cruise. These are all IFCS profiles that focus ship behaviors toward the highly different goals of close tolerance adjustments, combat actions, and long distance flight respectively. Though you can only use one flight mode at a time, coupled/decoupled and the collection of flight assists can still be used to further customize handling.
When you take off you’ll start out in Precision Mode. In Precision Mode, the maximum velocity is significantly reduced and the throttle and acceleration are rescaled to provide improved control when maneuvering in close proximity to other objects. This makes take off and landing much easier, but will also improve control around other objects such as asteroids, derelict craft or when approaching other live craft during In-Flight Refueling or Boarding maneuvers.
Once you’ve cleared any nearby objects and have come up to speed you’ll want to switch into Space Combat Maneuvering mode. SCM is one of the biggest changes to the flight control system, but on the surface it closely mimics the current flight mechanics that you may already be used to in Arena Commander. The real power of SCM mode is that maximum velocity is a now dynamically calculated as a function of force and mass: F/m * T = SCM Max Velocity – this means anything that any changes to the acceleration of the ship (such as loadout changes, picking up cargo etc) will impact the maximum SCM speed. We’ve incorporated the SCM calculation in such a way that it is your ability to brake to 0 on any turning axis (x or z) that determines the top speed your ship is allowed to fly. This means that upgrading the ships maneuvering thrusters generally results in a higher max velocity being allowed by IFCS. Further, this speed is determined by the strongest turning axis of the ship, meaning the best drift control will be achieved by turning on the strong axis, rather than the weak axis. Each ship has a different configuration of strong and weak axes and its up to the pilot to learn them and fly to their strengths.
There is another exciting benefit to SCM: Afterburner. Where the current boost mechanic gives you better acceleration and drift control, Afterburner gives you more maximum velocity while maintaining the same relative control. Here’s how it works: In SCM mode the top speed is set according to your ability to accelerate to a given velocity in a set time. Since boost raises your acceleration your maximum speed also increases. Boost as it currently works is still sticking around, but now players will have the choice on how to spend their limited boost fuel: on max velocity to rapidly change distance, or better braking to improve handling.
For longer distance travel in the same local area Pilots now have the ability to utilize Cruise Mode. If the speed limit defined in SCM gives the pilot control at the expense of velocity, Cruise Mode gives the pilot velocity at the expense of control. And while the top speed is high, the available acceleration doesn’t change, meaning that reaching maximum Cruise velocity will take 15-20+ seconds, turning ability does not scale with velocity and coming to a stop can take much longer using the normal ship retro thrusters.
Since cruise velocities can easily reach 5x or more of the safely controllable velocities allowed by SCM, IFCS enforces controlled turning to ensure pilots do not get into uncontrollable slides. This means that the nose of the ship is locked to the velocity vector and maneuvers in Cruise mode become more about adjusting course than making turns. It goes without saying that Cruise is absolutely not intended to be used in combat, asteroid fields or high-traffic space lanes.
Of course, decoupled mode can always be used to rotate freely at cruise velocity. Savvy pilots will quickly learn to use decoupled mode and boost to brake with their mains as quickly as possible. Conversely, pilots will find that attempting to change course 90 degrees by using decoupled mode is an express ticket to sleepsville since the high sustained g-forces of such a maneuver lead to rapid black or red-out.