Part 1: Ship Systems
1.1: Top Speed
1.2: Thruster Power
1.3: Rotation Speed
Part 2: Basic Concepts
2.1: Physics 101
2.4: Map Elements
2.5: JeffP on: Downgrades
2.6: Straight but not Proud
2.7: Eye on the Map
2.8: Tight Spaces
2.9: Dead Ends
Part 3: Piloting Techniques
3.1: Moving Backwards
3.2: The Afterburner
3.3: The Bounce
3.4: The Swivel
3.5: The Wiggle
Part 4: Turreting
4.1: Dangers of Turreting
4.2: Turret Upgrading
4.3: Turret Damage
I, like many others, will not begin fighting until I have achieved the maximum or near-maximum upgrade in all ship systems. However, due to bad luck or damage, sometimes I'm left with a less than ideal craft and must make do with what I've got. In this section, I will discuss the importance of three upgrades and their effect on maneuverability: top speed, thrusters, and rotation. Be aware that you can use the ?status command to easily determine in which areas your ship is deficient. Also keep it in mind that you can always ask a teammate if you can become a turret if you find yourself stuck with a bum ship.
A high top speed is frequently more useful for getting away from or getting to your opponent than it is for killing him. The exception is when you or your team is chasing someone who just won't fight, in which case you can speed a couple bombs and bullets into his back.
If you play with a low top speed, then you are handing your enemy the advantage of being able to choose when the battle is to begin or end. Attempting to run from someone with much greater speed is a recipe for frustration, for you will see yourself quickly and easily succumb to a barrage of smartly aimed bullets and bombs. Likewise, if you attempt to chase a faster ship, he'll disappear from your map before you say "coward". If you find your self stuck in a losing situation with no top speed, control the urge to run, and instead turn around and fire back at your pursuer. Running is the worst thing you can do, because your pursuer will be able to keep up and he will be able to hit you with several rounds of bullets per second.
Don't even think about combat until you have upgraded your thrusters. Otherwise, you will find yourself unable to make the sharp twists and turns needed to position your ship for battle. If you've spent most of your time in play with good thrusters, you have learned a certain set of responses and instincts, much like riding a bicycle. If you then play with low thrusters, these same instincts will betray you at every turn; your bombs will go wide and your turns will lead you into dead-ends instead of routes of escape.
Rotation speed is an important part of what makes a ship maneuverable, although not as important as the other systems. With low rotation, you're unable to respond quickly to attacks that come at you from the side or from behind, and will find it difficult to navigate rocky territory. Be assured that if you are fighting any reasonably good opponent, he will take note of your poor rotation and will circle around you faster than you can keep up. It is also is difficult to pull off tight turns with no rotation. If you find yourself being chased with low energy and need to get away quickly, a good tactic is to quickly dive into the nearest corridor, hoping your opponent won't have time to follow. A poor rotation speed, however, will give the enemy several second's warning of your intentions.
Although you will quickly develop a 'feel' for the physics of SubSpace, it's important to understand what is going on behind the scenes. SubSpace works on simple Newtonian principles. Basically, a body in motion will stay in motion. One anomaly is if you are flying in one direction, and turn in another and accelerate, you will slowly lose momentum in your previous vector.
Walls and obstacles are about 80% elastic; that is, when you rebound off a wall, you will be traveling at 80% of your previous speed. Strangely enough, ships do not collide, but pass right through each other, a phenomenon disconcerting to the experienced Descent player. Your bombs and your bullets inherit your vector when fired, and in addition gain a speed increase in the direction pointed. In other words, you have inertia, and so does everything you emit. Be aware of these facts, for there are certain attacks and maneuvers that take very specific advantage of them.
There are two skills that separate the great player from one who is merely good.
The first is an acute sense of timing, and the second is the ability to predict what other ships are doing. Since you need good timing to act on your predictions, the first skill is perhaps more fundamental.Almost everything you do in battle will succeed or fail based on your judgment of where things will be one or two seconds in the future. You ship is traveling along one vector, your enemy along another, and your bomb will form a third. Whether or not you score a hit will depend on how accurate your assessment was of the desired intersection point between the path of your shot and that of the enemy ship. You must also take into account the possibility of his changing course, not to mention the probability that you can avoid anything he may be able to lob your way. Shooting at a faraway target is even more difficult, since you must make an educated guess at where things will be five or six seconds from now.
As you can see, you must perform a delicate juggling act between three or four variables just to keep up with the crowd. There is little you can do to improve your ability to handle these calculations outside of practice and experience. Gradually, you will become better able to predict what someone is going to do next and where your bullets are going to hit, but be aware that this takes time. There is nothing more satisfying that to see an opponent slam into three or four of your bombs after he's run far enough away to think you could no longer be a problem.
One of the phenomena that you will become intimately acquainted with is the problem of lag. First, some background. SubSpace is an online game that uses the Internet's TCP/IP transport protocol to communicate with the host computer in Washington. Your SubSpace packets usually must hop past a good number of routers before reaching their destination, and each one slows it down. The time delay introduced by this hopping is referred to as latency, and can be from anywhere to one tenth of a second to four or five seconds. SubSpace is programmed in such as way that the client must know the location of some or all of the ships in the game, and thus the more ships there are in the arena, the greater the load on the network connection. Like most NAPS that connect major internet backbone providers to one another, it is overloaded and underfunded and thus adds something like 100ms to any packet that it handles.
Ping isn't everything, however. Packetloss generally has a greater negative effect on gameplay than ping. Packetloss is simply the percentage of packets that are lost in transit from your computer to vie.com, and vice-versa. To determining what your packetloss is, type '?packetloss' into SubSpace. Packetloss from the server to you doesn't matter much, but loss from you to the server is crucial. If 4it is %10, for example, %10 of all of the shots you fire are not reaching your opponent. This is the cause of all those bursts that the enemy doesn't see and all those repels that don't move his ship. Your connection to the server is very dependent on the ISP you are using. If your loss is above %15 and your ping more than 300ms, consider switching. There is a feature available in the main screen that can be activated by pressing “trace”, this may help you determine the state of your connection to the servers. Generally any broadband connection will be able to handle subspace fine, but some older or slower dialups do have problems. If your opponent's packetloss is very bad he may not be seeing many of your shots, which also means that you probably aren't seeing many of his. Certain players, and even whole squads in league games have at times manipulated their connection to simulate such packetloss.
Each map is divided into a number of sectors in a rectangular grid. A sector is identified by a letter and a number; the letters run from A to T from left to right, and the numbers from 1 to 20 from top to bottom. Thus, the top left corner is sector A1, and the bottom left is sector T20. This coordinate is displayed on the top of your map at all times, in small type.
You should be aware of the several different varieties of map terrain and what they do.
Empty Space: Duhh. It's all around you.
Walls: Walls behave in exactly the same way even though there are many different looking wall graphics. They tile either horizontally or vertically, and if you hit them you bounce right off.
Fake Walls: These are tiles that look like walls but actually allow ships to pass through them. While under a fake wall you will be invisible on the screen but still visible on radar. And no, you can't lay mines under them (damn).
JeffP On: Downgrades
Ship damage is defined as losing a prize you have acquired. If a ship has full energy (or very near full energy) when it takes a hit from a bomb or bullet (or from going through the wormhole) it will not take damage. (Note, the shrapnel after the bomb may cause you damage though...). The odds of your ship actually taking damage are a function of how much damage is occurring. Once the odds of taking damage are calculated a random number is used to determine if your ship will actually take damage or not.
Once it is determined that you ship will take damage, one of 17 systems is picked to take the damage. If your ship does not have an upgrade to that system, then no damage occurs. A fully loaded ship (with all systems upgraded) is more likely to get a system hit than a weaker ship. You can never be damaged below the minimum levels (you cannot lose your L1 guns for example or drop below 1000 max energy).
Straight but not Proud
A great deal of your game time will be spent chasing after or running from an opponent. The one thing you can do that will almost guarantee your death at the hands of a veteran pilot would be to fly in a straight line. Your opponent knows exactly where you are by looking at his map, and the more predictable your actions are, the easier it is for him to hit you. Travel in a straight line, and you will almost surely run into a mine laid by the enemy or worse yet, a string of bombs fired right back into your path. It is typical of the newbie to chase a pilot and fire two or three pbombs at him, only to run into an enemy shot and die instantly. And if you are known as someone who likes to run straight, your pursuer will be able to tell his teammates exactly where you are heading should they be looking for you. Avoid this (and similar) fates by swerving back and forth as you fly, and by traveling in an arc over long distances. Even as you do so, assume that your enemy has anticipated this and never lower your energy to the point that just one chance hit could kill you.
Eye on the Map
Never, ever take your eyes off of the map for more than a few seconds at a time.
Before an enemy can kill you, he must first come near you (unless he's a miner), and the map will always give you at least five seconds warning before you must fight. An experienced SubSpace player will constantly be analyzing the behavior of the ships around him; based on their patterns of movement, he can tell at a glance whether a group of ships is an enemy team bent on his destruction, or just a bunch of negs having a tea party.
When you are engaged in a one-on-one, every so often glance at the map to see if there are any other ships that appear to be purposely heading in your direction. If so, you should assume that they are coming for you, and it would be wise to temporarily break off and move away from their line of fire. This is especially important if you have flags to protect, because in such a case a quickly approaching ship will frequently bring his entire team with him. Use what you see of your opponent's movement to your advantage. If he is coming in a straight line, lob bombs in his path. If there is a large group of ships nearby, and you are losing the fight, lead him into it in the hope that he will be delayed by the melee.
Every arena is a chaotic mixture of large open areas and claustrophobic corridors. Many people tend to stay away from the smaller spaces because they either fear being ambushed, or are not confident of their navigational abilities. However, these are usually the easiest places in which to lose a crafty pursuer. Next time you are being chased, turn into one of these areas and fly as unpredictably and as erratically as you can.
Several of these regions, though, are so cluttered that they cannot be flown through without paying full attention to your screen. This means you've got to temporarily violate the cardinal rule that tells you never to take your eyes off the map. When approaching, take a quick glance at the map to assure yourself that there is no one waiting in ambush, and then fly through quickly but carefully.
If you are precise enough with the arrow keys and make liberal use of the afterburner, you can execute some quite spectacular moves. Do this correctly, and often you can gain a substantial lead over even the most determined pursuer. Do it wrong, and you will bump into a wall and bounce right back into a hail of bullets.
One of the worst things you can do is to skillfully outmaneuver your enemy in a maze only to stumble upon a cloud of ammunition let loose by his stealthed teammate. Toggle your x-radar often if you want to avoid such a fate.
If you don't watch where you're going, you may find yourself turning into a dead end. If your opponent has been playing the game for any length of time, he will most likely have his eyes on the map and will note your mistake. He'll then slow down, and as you struggle to get out, he will let off a haze of bouncing bullets and pbombs that will kill you instantly. Careening into a dead end is one of the most reliable ways to die or at least downgrade your ship to the point of uselessness; even players who know the terrain extremely well will make this mistake, since on approach the entrances too many such places look similar to those of corridors.
Having made such a mistake, don't panic. The worst things you can do are slam down on the thrusters and overshoot the exit, bouncing around like a pinball and hitting every bullet in sight. Your first reaction should be to attempt a warp. If you are damaged or if the enemy has antiwarp on, however, this won't work. Instead, very carefully and very slowly move your ship to the exit and fly it through. You opponent will be shooting at you, but you have no choice but to grin and bear it, or better yet, use a repel. If you know you're going to die, use a burst and take him with you.
If you often find yourself slamming into mines and bombs while you saw them coming, then you should consider lowering your speed. Even if you can't dodge the bombs, you can "skim" them, resulting in a less energy loss. You can fight your way through quite a few bombs that way, providing that you are skilled enough to avoid all the shrapnel. An even better way is to dodge all those bombs in the first place. Now that's a bit hard because there are lots of players with excellent aim, but since most of them will be aiming "ahead" of you, you can trick them. Pretend that you're moving into a specific direction, and suddenly change course. If you time it right, chances are that your opponent will waste a good 400 energy on a bomb that isn't going to hit anything.
Now that you can keep your ship from falling apart, you should try to kill some. This does not include piling up mines and hoping that someone hits them, but it's about fighting smart. You can keep firing bombs and keep hitting him with a few, but that's not likely to kill him. They will back-off when they are low on energy, and they will come back when they are recharged. If you want to kill someone, you'll have to move quickly when you think he's low on energy. Move in and use single fire and guns at close range, and stop and recharge if he gets away after the first assault. Don't let him surprise you with a portal or a mine. If it was as easy as that, this game would suck :). Fortunately there's a lot of skill involved, as well as a nice chunk of luck (bomb and bullet damage is partially random!). You can be a damn good tactician, but if you can't hit the guy if he's not even moving then you might as well try to kill the nearest asteroid (which, by the way, is quite good aiming practice:) ).
It is amazing how many players never use their back arrow key. Skillful handling of your reverse thrusters is one of the hardest things to learn in SubSpace, but it adds much to your ability to maneuver. When faced with a bomb, a newbie will frequently be seen trying to first turn around, and then to use his forward key to run away. What he should have done instead is to accelerate backwards, instantly putting some distance between him and the bomb, and saving precious seconds that would have been wasted in rotation. Your reverse thrusters give you a whole additional 180 degrees of possibility, greatly enhancing your ability to dodge fire and making it easier to aim at your opponent. When running, instead of looking forward, face backwards and fire back at your surprised pursuer, using the back key to navigate. Some very good players have taught themselves to fly backwards for great lengths of time, weaving in and out of corridors, but this is a difficult thing to pull off.
The afterburner is used to give you that extra push in situations where your thrusters simply cannot get you where you want to go. If you are about to overshoot a power up or are seconds away from being smashed by a surprise pbomb, turn 90 degrees and immediately fly away with your afterburners on. Although they consume a large amount of energy, if your charge rate is at or near maximum, the drain is almost negligible. Frequently you will find yourself with a good charge rate but few speed upgrades; keep your afterburners held down continuously and you can pick up bonuses and fly past battles with ease. It goes without saying that in a tight chase or pursuit situation, your afterburners are invaluable for getting from point A to point B faster than your opponent might assume possible.
One way to amaze and befuddle an enemy is to use the properties of the elastic wall to place your ship in a position that simply wouldn't be possible by use of thrusters alone. Many times you find yourself wanting to reverse course immediately; there is no easier way to do this than to fly head-on into the nearest wall, bounce back, and turn around. Make frequent use of the bounce to put your ship at a needed angle to capture a powerup or to make an exit. You can often save four or five seconds over the time the maneuver would have taken otherwise, seconds that you can use to defend yourself. In battle situations, you can gain an edge by learning how to bounce your ship and your bullets off of walls at opportune moments. The enemy will be amazed when he sees you stringing two or three bounces in a row to end up behind his bombs.
An ill-timed bounce can often turn a carefully planned attack into a nightmare rout. There is nothing worse than overshooting an opening only to careen right back at your adversary and his bullets. Many times you will lose total control in such tight spaces, pinballing randomly until you can slow down and sort out your position.
When making wide turns, there is an often-used technique that gives you a way to avoid pulling such a boner. For example, suppose you are flying toward the entrance to a corridor, but are slightly above it and fear that you cannot fly in without hitting the opposite wall. If you simply went directly at the entrance, you would indeed throw your ship into an uncontrollable series of bounces. Instead, slow down your ship by turning it about 60 degrees to the left. Gently fire your thrusters, and as you near the entrance turn 15 degrees to the right and proceed straight down it. You will have bled off your speed slowly and will not bounce off the wall, and because you started your turn early any bombs an enemy might have thrown at you will have gone high.
When you are fighting another ship, he will attempt to hit you by predicting your movements based on which direction you seem to be turning. You can confuse your enemy by executing the Wiggle maneuver, which is much like pulling a 'fake' in football. He is facing you, and you are facing him, and he's about to fire a bomb. At this moment quickly wiggle your ship back and forth using your left and right arrow keys and just a little bit of thrust, and your opponent will either fire in the wrong direction or delay his shot for a few seconds, giving you time to counterattack. This is also an excellent opportunity to use your back arrow key by arcing one way, watching the enemy fire into your path, then immediately hitting your back thrusters and your left arrow key. You'll be back where you were and will be in a position to hit him in the side.
Turreting is a diverting but not incredibly useful part of the game. You and your team can play SubSpace and succeed greatly without ever having formed a turret, but others prefer to form them and rampage around simply for fun. The actual mechanics of turreting are frequently ill-understood, and ill-covered in the manual, so I will go over them here:
- To connect to a teammate as a turret, use the pgup/pgdn keys to select his name in the player list, and press F7. Wait several seconds for the server to attach you.
- If you are a turret, press F7 to detach.
- To kick off any turrets you have, press F7. You can't become a turret yourself unless you kick off your own turrets first.
- You may only become a turret if you have full energy. If you have stealth, cloak, x-radar, or antiwarp turned on, you must turn them all off before you can attach. When you attach, your energy will be depleted to almost nothing.
- If the ship that you are a turret on is killed, you will become detached, but will not be killed yourself. If one of your turrets is killed, he will simply explode without affecting you or any of your other turrets.
- If you are a turret and change teams, you will detach and become an 'enemy'. If you have turrets and change teams, all your turrets will detach and you will become an 'enemy'.
- If a ship carrying turrets is holding a flag, he will appear red on radar. If a ship with turrets does not have a flag, but one of his turrets does, then he will appear red on radar only to those enemies with x-radar activated.
- A turreted ship will disappear from radar only if him and all his turrets are using stealth. If any turret is cloaked, he will not be seen on screen as a turret. If the ship is cloaked, the turrets can still be seen, but will appear as strange 'floating turrets'.
Dangers of Turreting
Be extraordinarily careful whenever you join someone as a turret, or accept a turret yourself. If your host ship is in the middle of a battle, when you join you will likely be killed immediately due to the energy depletion. Even if he insists he is in the clear, do not wait more than five seconds after such a verification to join, since five seconds is all it takes for an opponent to rush in and start a fight.
If a ship carrying turrets picks up a bonus, then all turrets will receive the upgrade as well, and this includes shields and superpower. However, every additional turret means one less ship is out there gathering powerups for his teammates.
Downgrades occur separately on all turrets, so if you lose pbombs, for example, and your host ship is not willing to pick up greens, you must run the risk of playing without them until you choose to detach and find them yourself.
One of the most dangerous things about being part of a turret stack is the possibility of taking damage from your fe11ow loose cannons. The more turrets there are, the more bombs will be fired in battle, and the greater chance there is that one can misfire and bring everyone's energy close to zero. If you are an experienced player, you will know doubt have been in battles with a very badly damaged opponent where you decided to fire a bomb at close range, confident that although it will hurt you badly, it will certainly kill the enemy. On a turret ship, such decisions can be deadly.
Perhaps more commonly seen is the presence of a newbie turret who is absolutely incapable of aiming a bomb; he thus endangers the entire stack by his tendency to fire into walls and nearby ships. Before you join up, be confident of the abilities of your turret-mates, for the bad judgment of any one of you will affect all of the rest. Even if you are all excellent pilots, due to the effects of lag, it is likely the host ship and the turret are seeing slightly different screens. Whereas the main ship may see an opponent as being an inch away, to his turret that same enemy could be halfway across the screen. Therefore, it is safest if you ask your turrets not to fire any bombs at all.
It's also possible for mines to become 'desynched', that is they appear on some player's screens but not others. This could lead to a situation where a teammate attaches to you and dies instantly since according to his client you were sitting in the middle of an enemy minefield. Be warned.
You must realize that all turrets take damage independently; while the main ship may be eagerly engaged in battle with full energy, one of his turrets may be sweating it out in the red. If you are a turret and are close to death, detach immediately. You can never assume your host ship is as badly off as you are, and will break off battle at just the right time. If you are a turret pilot, remember that you are now responsible for the safety of your gunners and thus you shouldn't be taking the kind of risks that you would in single play.
An understanding of the psychology of the turreted ship is important if you choose to either fight or to fly one. Ships with turrets tend to be grossly overconfident in their ability to withstand damage, and forget the fact that a few well-aimed pbombs will kill a five-turret stack just as easily as it will a single ship. Your imposing mass may strike fear into the hearts of the enemy, but his bombs and his bullets will be unperturbed by your greatness. Turret ships thus often play more aggressively than is warranted; you can fool them by pretending to run in fear, and then turning around at an angle to smash them with bombs. On the flipside, do not attempt to bluff a turreted opponent, for you'll get called on it more often than not.