Friday, October 5, 2018

Responding to Typhoon Commentary

So, I've had some comments about the Typhoon, some praise, some criticism, some response to questions and some surprised gasps.  I wanted to take a moment to address them and discuss some thoughts that arose from them.

I want to thank everyone participating in the discussion, and if you're not already on Discord, where most of the conversation seems to take place, I highly recommend you join us!

"Twelve hours of fuel?  Amazing that Typhoons have such long endurance profiles for a ship with no life support!"

This, personally, was the most interesting.  I'm not sure if my discussion of how spaceships might project power in Psi-Wars was public or Patreon-only, I think the former, but let me re-iterate it a bit and compare how the Typhoon operates to real-world craft.

First, of course, space is big.  I don't think the human mind is really built to handle that sort of thing.  Us pop-sci fans like to swagger around like we know a damn thing about it, but when I ran some numbers for the comparison I'm going to make a couple sentences below, I was astonished by the results; I knew it, but I didn't know it.  Star Wars does not reflect reality. We know this, of course, but it's pretty staggering how little we understand that.  I think we tend to think something along the lines of "Tokyo to NYC is far, Earth to Mars is farther, the Sun to Alpha Centauri is even farther," as though these are orders of magnitude, when the difference is staggering. If you had a futuristic ship that could travel from NYC to Tokyo in an hour, you would have a ship travelling at 10,000 km per hour (or nearly 2 miles per second).  The same ship would take eight  months to reach Mars, and half a million years to reach Alpha Centauri.

How we tend to intuitively grasp the Solar System.
This is from, btw.
Star Wars, and most Sci-Fi, fails to show us reality because we struggle to intuitively understand it, and understanding it is not the main focus of the story.  Star Wars is not about the struggles of interstellar travel, or even interplanetary travel, but a meditation on good and evil and on authortarianism vs liberty.  If you really sit down and watch Star Wars and try to gauge distances and speeds, you'll find it impossible.  Ships are in hyperspace "for awhile," with no distances given (and when given, they're ad-libs by actors that accidentally treat them as units of time), and when they land on a planet, you just see the planet looming, the ship moving towards it, and then we cut to it landing.  Did that flight take an hour? A minute?  A few seconds?  We can only guess, and more to the point, it's not relevant.

Is that wrong? No! Psi-Wars is really no different.  I don't actually care how long things take.  Space travel is just how we excuse going from one interesting location to another, and how we justify swooping, explosion-filled space battles.  For example, someone points out that a 2-hour flight time for a Typhoon to get to its target is "a lot of narrative dead-time." Only if you play it out!  You wouldn't.  Your imperial pilot gets his orders, hops into his Typhoon, launches, "dot dot dot" then arrives at his target and then has his space battle.  It's as much dead-time as your hour-long drive down the interstate in a horror-game inspired by Supernatural, or the dead-time in the original Star Wars when our heroes were soaring towards Alderaan.  I don't think your players really care, I certainly don't care, so if you don't care, don't worry about it.

But if I don't care, why did I spend a whole post discussing how ships place themselves around a world, and give Typhoon's hour-long flight times?  I'm a big believer in "showing your work in math, hiding your work in English."  If I'm going to build Typhoons in GURPS Vehicles, I need to answer all of the questions it asks me, including "how much fuel do you carry?"  This requires thinking how the ship would operate if this wasn't a cinematic adventure, in the same way that the Maserati your action character just had his chase scene in has a miles-per-gallon value worked out in its statline, and was designed to have a smaller carbon footprint than last  year's model.  They don't matter, until they do, until the player asks questions like "How long until I need to refuel," or "Can I get there from here in time and without needing to refuel?"  The answers need to be there, even if you don't actually need them. The work needs to be done, even if we bury it beneath the cinematic narrative, because the player and the GM actually experiencing it don't need it.

So, I worked out the numbers that I did, and it came to most interdiction missions maxing out at a range of 2500 miles, or 2.5 hours of travel by Typhoon (a bit less, actually, as it's a pretty zippy craft).  These numbers are based on actual planetary sizes, which are also pretty huge.  In principle, I could have given it 6 hours of fuel instead of 12, because 2.5 hours to get there, 2.5 hours to get back, and 1 hour to fight should be plenty, and if I've learned anything from building GURPS Vehicles, every ounce of material and volume counts, but the Typhoon was already astonishingly small, most of its fuel is in its wings anyway, which are still mostly empty space, hyperium fuel is extremely efficient and thus very light for the range it gives you, so why not give the craft some additional wiggle room just in case?

But does it even make sense for pilots to fly for such extended periods of time?  The pilot will be in a car-seat-sized cockpit in a vacuum suit, with no supplies, for hours.  Well, I did some homework, and the average air-time for a modern flight mission is 1-2 hours; that's much shorter than my 5-6 hour mission time, but that's a maximum mission time.  For example, if you need to fly down to a planet for some reason, this will take an average of half an hour (depending on how high up your carrier is positioned).  He also has access to a vastly more comfortable set of controls and environmental suit than a modern pilot, and modern pilots can fly for longer. and often do with ferry missions, or any mission that requires in-air fueling.  So the times here aren't too crazy.

I do want to highlight one major difference that I see between Star Wars and Psi-Wars, however.  Star Wars always depicts their fighters within spitting distance of capital ships.  Your mission duration is in minutes because you typically launch directly into the fight.  This is almost never true in the real world, as even in WW2, most of your pacific air battles did not take place within close proximity of the carrier: you wouldn't even be able to see your carrier.  The advantage of a carrier over a battleship is that the former can express firepower over the horizon. A Psi-Wars fighter pilot's missions are more like Wing Commander, where you launch, and then travel to some specific point far away, and engage your enemies there.  When the Dark Horse tramp  freighter tries to smuggle down onto a planet, the vehicle that intercepts him is not an Imperial Dreadnought, but a wing of Typhoons.

"Why did you give Typhoon's comm-scrambling equipment? that seems more the sort of thing a dedicated E-ship would do."

There's a lot of value in scrambling your enemy's comms, especially if you want to trap him and keep him from calling for help, and it's the sort of thing you definitely see in Star Wars, the sort of thing that prevents you from just "transmitting the plans."  But that said, the vehicles that seem to do the scrambling are the hulking Star Destroyers.  Pirates would also profit heavily from it.  A typhoon pilot might be too busy fighting to actively worry about comm-scrambling, and has better things he can put his weight-allotment towards.  I think it's a good point, and I'll take the suggestion going forward: the comm-scrambler is off the next version of the typhoon and the Starhawk.

"Missiles? Yes! No!  I don't know!"

There's varied opinion on missiles, which matches my own internal indecision.  Points for it are that missiles provide flexibility, and this is true.  If you load for plasma burst,  you're better at "space dominance" combat, if you load for plasma lance, you're better at "strike" roles, or CAS missions, and if you load for torpedoes, you can take out enemy warships.  All it costs you is weight, and some of your streamlining.

A point against it is that it might violate the idea of a "disposable" ship (maybe), that it violates the feel of the TIE-fighter (certainly true!), that it's added complexity for the pilot (maybe), and that the Typhoon "Breaker" is really your missile-carrying fighter (Definitely!).  I think the "Breaker" will change, as I want to simplify the Imperial vehicular array a bit, and mix it with the CAS ship I had previously built, and I want it to have a more prominent role in Psi-Wars than the TIE-Bomber had in Star Wars (I don't think I ever saw it participate in any space battle).

Personally, I'd like to see how they perform in space battle before I find out if missiles are necessary or not.  I will say that if missiles are necessary to be effective in combat, then I'll change things until that's not true.  A blaster-focused craft should be as effective as a missile-based craft, just at different roles.  I will also note that "strikes" are not part of the Typhoon's profile. It's a light fighter, more recon and interception than CAS and taking out enemy warships.  This makes me lean against equipping them with isomeric torpedoes, which means the heaviest missile I would allow them to carry is 100mm.

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