October 25, 2015

When I Grow Up I Want to be a Carrier Pilot

Have you read the Capital Ship dev blog yet? If not, you'll want to check it out. It's pretty high level in most cases, but does a good job of laying out CCP's intentions. To summarize, capital ships will be given more options and deeper specialization. As a result, they'll be less well-rounded, and more vulnerable. There are a lot of changes coming to all capital ships, but all I want to talk about are squadrons. After reading the dev blog, I couldn't help but think flying a carrier after these changes will make you feel a lot like Admiral Adama.

Squadrons are groups of up to 12 fighters that a carrier or supercarrier pilot controls. You can launch up to 5 squadrons and all the fighters follow the orders given to the squadron - no granular control of individual fighters.

The gameplay for a carrier pilot is in the decisions you'll be making in putting the right squadrons on the field. You'll be choosing between Light Fighters, Support Fighters, and Heavy Fighters. Each type has a role: anti-fighter and light combat, ewar, and capital/structure damage respectively. Furthermore, each squadron can have up to three abilities which look to be actively controled, similarly to a ship's modules.

The look and feel of the proposal really strikes a chord with me. Look at these mockups:

This image does a good job of conveying a 'minigame' type of gameplay for carrier pilots. Managing the squadrons that are deployed, their status (some abilities may need to reload apparently), and getting squadrons on deck (or in the launch tubes if we're going to continue the Battlestar Galactica theme), and choosing what types of fighters will be in what squadrons could be a lot of fun.

This image gives us a taste of what the squadron control may look like. While you can't order individual fighters around, you do get a bit of granular control back by activating multiple squadron's abilities.

And quite interestingly, the tactical overlay begins to look more like something you'd see out of a strategy game, or perhaps reminiscent of a sci-fi movie's idea of a tactical overlay, as compared to just showing weapon ranges. This is important because you'll be able to order your fighters to whevere you want in space rather than interacting with a specific target.

Apparently the new camera controls that will be coming is in large part due to the gameplay requirements of squadrons. The range of fighters will only extend as far as the grid, but that does mean they can still be hundreds of kilomters away. It's pretty easy to imagine how difficult it might be to keep an eye on everything, so hopefully the new camera and the tactical overlay will help with that.

Combined, these changes could lead to be a really exciting new way to play. It strikes me as more RTS and less staring at modules and overviews, which is a really cool direction to go. Obviously this is all very early information and I won't be holding my breath, but I'm very intrigued by what could be incredibly engaging gameplay that makes you feel like you're in control of a real carrier. Up until now, drones and fighters have not been exciting to control, and this could change that.  I wonder if this type of gameplay will ever make its way to sub capitals.

I hope there are more moves in the future to add interesting ways of interacting with the game, shifting from the overview.