Mar 18

A Closer Look into Weapon Mounts

Hello! This is my inaugural post on the Imperial News Network, but I’ve actually been around here for a while – I edit the weekly podcast INNside the Verse, and I’m also the creator of KTDM.shipWorks, a ship loadout engineering tool hosted on INN.

Being a huge geek about the in-game engineering side of Star Citizen, I had a natural fascination with last Friday’s design post on weapon mounts, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts on it. First, though, there are some big, confusing terms to clear up:

Terminology

Hardpoint

A place on a ship’s hull where any given piece of equipment is attached, from engines to power plants to seats to avionics motherboards

Mount

The intermediary item that connects a weapon to a hardpoint; up until 1.1, these were almost universally required

Fixed mount

A mount that is mostly static and cannot be aimed independently of the ship – it always faces directly forward, e.g. the 300’s default wing mounts in 1.0.3

Gimbal / gimballed mount / turret

These terms all refer to a weapon mount that can rotate and aim independently of the ship, e.g. the Super Hornet’s ball turret

Manned turret

A turret station manually operated by a person sitting inside it, e.g. the Retaliator’s turrets

Automated turret

A turret operated automatically by a targeting computer, e.g. the Freelancer’s side guns

Monoboat

A ship equipped with weapons that all have the same projectile speed, thus allowing them to all converge on a moving target the same point and inflict huge damage

The Environment for Change

Formerly, hardpoints were differentiated by type, size, and class.

  • Type refers to what can go on it, e.g. weapons, thrusters, fuel scoops
  • Size refers to how large an object fitted to the hardpoint can be
    • No specifics on what exactly constituted a certain size, though
  • Class, for weapon hardpoints, refers to the mounting configuration
    • Class 1 holds fixed weapons, Class 2 holds gimballed weapons, Class 3 holds missile racks, Class 4 holds automated turrets, Class 5 holds manned turrets, and Classes 6-9 are variants of capital ship weaponry

There was some known confusion about the class system, though; in Arena Commander, it is possible to take a gimballed mount from a Class 2 hardpoint and plop it on a supposed Class 1 hardpoint and vice versa… but I’ll get to that soon.

In any case, while the mount system itself wasn’t previously perceived to be a huge problem – mostly because it was nebulous and temporary anyway – there were some popular, valid community concerns related to gimbals in Arena Commander:

  • Gimballed weapon mounts gave a considerable advantage to mouse and keyboard players
    • HOTAS users can’t easily move guns independently of the ship
  • The Super Hornet’s ability to gimbal-mount four Size 3 and two Size 2 weapons made it obnoxiously powerful
    • Again, especially for mouse/keyboard users, who can aim them freely
  • Fixed mounts were wholly inferior to gimballed ones and had no place in an optimal ship loadout
    • Even though most joystick users can’t take advantage of gimballed mounts, there was still no reason not to equip them

On top of those current issues, the developers would have been faced with more down the road using this mount system:

  • Visual cohesion between weapons and ships is difficult to maintain without standards – the art, design, and gameplay parts of the pipeline have to agree on weapon size
    • A weapon choice that looks good might be underpowered, but this wouldn’t be discovered until much later in the process
      • And upgrading the weapon might ruin the ship’s appearance, so it would have to regress in the pipeline and go back to the artists
    • For example, the Avenger was said to carry a (gimballed!) Size 5 weapon on its nose before CIG had fully decided on what Size 5 means, so they had to backtrack because it looked goofy on such a small ship
  • The Class 1-9 hardpoint system is difficult to understand and kind of arbitrary
    • What’s the fundamental difference between ordinary ship weapons (Classes 1 and 2), “spinal mount lasers” (Class 7), and “capital ship cannons” (Class 8)?
    • Turrets can be switched from pilot, to crew, to automated control
      • The Cutlass’s, for example, is a manned turret configured to be controlled by the pilot in Arena Commander, but this wouldn’t be possible in the final game for some reason
    • What makes a missile rack hardpoint (Class 3) different from a fixed mount hardpoint (Class 1)?
      • It feels like an artificial constraint made for game balance, rather than being related to the ship’s engineering
        • And given the community’s penchant for modularity and customization (see: last year’s debacle on Cutlass variants), this wouldn’t last anyway
      • A Class 2 mount can be put on the 300i’s Class 1 wing hardpoints anyway, which negates its meaning
  • Sizes need to be standardized for them to carry meaning in the first place
    • What determines an item’s size rating? Mass? Displacement? Length? Manufacturer arbitration?
      • Could an unscrupulous in-game manufacturer make a “Size 1” weapon that’s short but extremely wide and heavy, so it doesn’t actually fit on many ships and breaks off all the time?
        • Okay, that would be pretty amusing

So while a mount system on its own sounds inconsequential, I think its implications can reach out into gameplay, economy, customizability, design, and the game’s development. Here’s what the designers have done.

The New System

From the perspective of Arena Commander’s current gameplay, the major takeaways from the design post and the second 1.1.0 PTU’s game files are that gimballed mounts can hold items one size smaller than before, and that fixed weapon mounts no longer exist. For instance, the Origin 300i now has:

  • Size 2 wing hardpoints, which can either hold:
    • Size 2 weapons mounted directly onto the wing (the default), or
    • Size 2 gimballed mounts, each holding a Size 1 weapon.

Here are a few more examples of how things have changed so far:

old-new-mount-table
The implementation isn’t yet complete, but the system is starting to make sense! To round out this data, here are some excerpts from Chris Roberts’s follow-up post on the RSI forums:

You can think of the size of a hosting item being available points to be spent on itemports on the hosting item minus the two modifiers we’ve specified;

-1 being a host

-1 to be a manned turret (as you need room for the gunner)

…there could be a Size 4 Remote Turret / Gimbal with a Size 2 weapon slot and a Size 1 Targeting Computer slot. If you plug in a weapon and the targeting AI module it would allow the Turret to be a remote auto aiming turret that could fire independently of your control…

Emphasis: -1 being a host. There may be special mounts that don’t carry this penalty, but this will be the general rule. In accordance with this rule, as of PTU 1.1.0 v2, fixed mounts have been outright phased out of Arena Commander! Instead, for the wing mounts on ships like the 300i, Avenger, and Cutlass, the weapons are mounted directly onto the hardpoint.

In any case, here’s a cheat sheet that breaks it all down:

Mount_Compatibility_Table
The three numbers in each cell represent how many items of a given size (along the top) can be placed on a mount of a given size (along the left). The cell’s first number is without a mount, the second is if it’s gimballed, and the third is if it’s either manned or automated.

So, as an example, suppose we have a Size 5 weapon hardpoint and want to evaluate our options for Size 5 mounts. We’d start by finding 5 on the Mount Size axis (on the left). In the first column beside that (Weapon Size 1), we see 5,4,3. This means that:

  • If the mount is fixed, we can put five Size 1 weapons on it.
  • If the mount is gimballed but manually aimed by the pilot, we can put four Size 1 weapons on it.
  • If the mount is gimballed and manned, we can put three Size 1 weapons on it.
    • It may be possible to attach an AI module to a manned turret so it can function with or without human input, but bear in mind that that would take up yet more space on the turret!
  • If the mount is gimballed but automatically aimed, we can put three Size 1 weapons on it.
    • The targeting AI module is assumed to be Size 1 throughout this table, though it is entirely possible that larger ones will exist.

But how big is a Size 1 weapon? Well, that question can be answered definitively now!

Physical Sizes

In the design post, we are given a few tidbits of information on the physical size of mounts:

…we still need to differentiate clearly between a Size 1 (0.25m^3) and a Size 2 (0.73m^3). That Size 10? A whopping 1394.5m^3!

…(volume is preserved through ratios, which are capped at 7:1 and 2:1 – but there’s still every number in between)

As it happens, that was pretty much the perfect amount of information needed to interpolate the other sizes! Using exponential regression, I made a rough formula to interpolate the weapon sizes for Sizes 1-10, as well as their maximum lengths and widths/heights. The equation they used to generate these numbers might not have been exponential, but this is probably close enough.

Mounted_Item_Size_Table
Note: These volumes are not the actual displacement of the weapon, but rather the volume of a bounding box around the weapon.

 

Some things to observe from this:

  • Going up by two sizes nearly doubles the possible length
  • A Size 10 weapon’s maximum length of over 40 metres is between a Freelancer and a Constellation in length
  • Most current Size 5 weapons would be under 8 metres long, and the Avenger’s length is 19m – the A-10 Warthog is 16m long, and its famous 30mm cannon is 6m long, including its mounting system and other hardware (so it’s probably a Size 4 weapon, but the gimballed mount would make it a Size 5)
    • So a Size 5 Tigerstreik was still huge for the Avenger, but… kind of feasible

So, that’s pretty cool, but aside from allowing for some fun comparisons, how does all this stuff affect the game?

Current and Future Effects

In Arena Commander, all ships’ default weapons appear to be the same as before, but there are some other changes of note:

  • The Super Hornet is now at full capacity by default – its stock weapons (2x M4A, 2x CF-117, 2x CF-007) are the maximum size allowed on their respective mounts.
    • Mind, replacing the Behring lasers with another pair of Badgers will still result in a pretty fearsome monoboat! It’s still by far the most powerful ship in Arena Commander.
  • The Cutlass Black’s top turret still has its Sawbucks, but they’re now Size 2 instead of Size 3.
    • They still fire 40mm rounds, though, which is remarkable for such a small weapon.
  • The Avenger, as mentioned before, is still a mystery – the main gun still uses a proprietary mount with mismatched sizes, but I imagine this will be ironed out in the public release of 1.1.
  • Missile racks and weapons will one day, in theory, use the same hardpoints
    • This doesn’t seem to be the case yet, so we’ll just have to wait and see how that gets balanced – should be interesting seeing Aurora LNs with six guns!

For now, then, the changes to customization are effective but straight-forward. However, once we start thinking in terms of ship customization and the Persistent Universe, it all gets a lot more interesting! Size permitting, most weapon hardpoints will be able to hold fixed, gimballed, or automated weaponry of any quantity; some crazy idiot can bolt a single fixed Size 5 weapon on top of a Hornet, and it will work! But at the same time, things will remain immersive, rule-based, and still visually reasonable:

I think I'm okay with being a crazy idiot.
An 8-metre Omnisky on a 22-metre ship

The hardpoint class system has been removed entirely as a result of all this, which is fine by me – it really only ever pigeonholed ship functionality and confused newcomers.

Finally, all this will require less labour and backtracking from the developers, as artists now have standardized size constraints to work within, and people at all stages of the pipeline can agree on the meaning of “Size 3” and agree on where a weapon of that size and firepower would be appropriate.

Closing Thoughts

I think that while a short-term goal of this redesign was to alleviate backers’ frustration with Arena Commander’s apparent favour towards mouse and keyboard players, it has a far further-reaching effect on the creation for future content – both for the development of the game and for players customizing their ships. This weapon mount system introduces reason to a system previously governed by arbitrary rules and exceptions, making players feel like they are operating and tweaking a system that makes intuitive, logical sense, rather than fighting restrictions that merely exist because the game was artificially balanced that way.

The ships in Star Citizen combine art and engineering with a level of intricacy that has never been explored before in a video game. Each recent design post – on mounts, damage, and shields – has illustrated the incredible amount of creative and technical consideration that has gone into each of these systems, and those are only a few of many, many ship systems that have yet to be developed and unveiled in full.

Star Citizen’s development teams across the world still have the bulk of their work ahead of them, and to see the game to completion and beyond, they have to do everything they can to streamline their processes for adding content. Much like how the new damage system was created because damage models took too much time to make by hand, this standardized mount system eliminates ambiguity and reduces the time required at multiple stages of ship development – but these systems can require a significant initial time investment in order to ensure cohesiveness and balance in Arena Commander and in the Persistent Universe.

In face of the agonizing delays of AC 1.1 and Star Marine, then, it’s important to consider that these decisions are all made in the name of delivering the best game possible in the end; stopgap measures are sometimes necessary, but it’s ultimately much more rewarding to create a lasting solution that will benefit the development cycle down the road. And really, while a missed deadline is forgettable, a great product isn’t.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

 

sixfsincaps

aka “FFFFFF”

aka “Mr. White”

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5 comments

  1. Nalerian

    Nice write up and analysis! Appreciated and shared with a few folks from my organization.

  2. Ricko

    Absolutely wonderful article! Thanks for that!

  3. Kantziko

    Thanks for the article …
    I’ve just finished its translation into French for a fansite in this language. We are putting a link to this page, of course, and we are mainly doing it for people who cannot read in English.
    Continue the good job !

  4. Nefario

    Thanks for this.

    I’m really hoping they will put the nose canard mount up one size on the Hornet and it is already advertised as holding two size 2 weapons on the VD store page so maybe they have that in mind to bring that ship back up a little bit.

  5. Saoldian

    Wow. Mind. Blown. Remarkable analysis. CIG needs you to write their Design Posts from now on. Excellent work. Thank you.

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