Nebulae and asteroids in ship combat

I haven’t posted an update in a while, but rest assured I’ve been making a lot of progress on ship combat system. Ships now have armour, regenerating shields, structure hitpoints and weapons; they can shoot at each other and destroy each other. I’ve also implemented the reactive strike system that lets ships fire when an enemy flies through their firing arcs and players can hit a button to highlight all the squares the enemy’s reactive strikes cover so you can make tactical decisions quickly. There are firing animations for beam weapons and projectile weapons, which I’ll put a video up of once I’ve built the hotbar user interface to show it off properly. Below is what I’ve been working on this week:

Nebulae and asteroids

This week I added asteroids to the ship combat system and built a new system for creating gas nebulae, dust clouds, area-effect weapons, warp effects and explosions. Any fight taking place in an asteroid field will have asteroids moving slowly through the map, disappearing when they reach the edge and new ones periodically entering. The video below shows a few example nebulae using different colours, amounts of luminous gas and amounts of dust.

Nebulae will add some tactical variation to fleet combat, some being dangerous areas to avoid and others providing a tactical benefit. If you live in a system surrounded by a nebula you could even build a specialised defense fleet to take advantage of them.  A few of the things I could use this for are:

  • Sensor disrupting nebula – Attacks on ships inside the nebula have a chance to miss, or all ships inside are cloaked unless you come close. This could be a huge nebula covering most or all of the battlefield.
  • Shield dampening nebula – Shields don’t work at all inside the nebula. This could also be a huge nebula.
  • Ion storm – Ships inside the area take damage every round.
  • Slipstream – Ships gain bonus movement speed while inside the slipstream.
  • Wormhole – Two wormholes connecting far-away points on the battlefield.
  • Charged plasma – If a ship inside this nebula fires or is fired upon, the nebula discharges a bolt of lightning on a random nearby ship.
  • Explosive gas – If a ship inside this nebula fires or is fired upon, nebula explodes, dealing damage to everyone inside the nebula and dissipating the gas.

Most of these should have a small random chance to spawn, and if a solar system is surrounded by a nebula there will be at least one of that nebula in battles there. Certain weapons could even leave behind charged plasma fields or ion storms.

Science vessels

Recently the team and I have been discussing whether there’s a role for science vessels and non-combat ships in a combat encounter. Some of the most awesome moments from Star Trek all involved on-the-fly science using equipment that wasn’t meant for combat, and we’d like to do that in Predestination. The idea would be to let you research a suite of science modules that can be used in combat, like a scanner that probes enemy ships for weak points. Some of these might have uses outside combat, so you might build an asteroid belt mining ship to gather resources and still be able to use it in combat when the system is attacked. A few ideas we’ve had include:

  • Nebula scanner – Reveals the properties of the nebula. The nebula may have a hidden property that you can reveal using this, or scanning it may increase its existing positive effects and decrease its negative effects. For example, scanning a charged plasma nebula might reveal the plasma’s frequency, giving your ships immunity from the lightning discharges.
  • Gas harvesters – Let you suck up a nebula and deploy it elsewhere on the battlefield. This could be hilarious fun 😀
  • Asteroid scanner – Reveals the composition of the asteroid. Asteroids may have hidden minerals that could be used in battle. For example, it might contain explosive material that you could detonate or add to a missile, or a rare element you can use to increase weapon damage temporarily, or something that boosts your shields.
  • Tractor beam – Alter the direction of an asteroid.
  • Slipstream/wormhole generator – Creates a slipstream/wormhole between two locations on the battlefield.
  • Shield harmonic probe – Missile that determines an enemy ship’s shield frequency when it hits, letting your fleet ignore its shields.
  • Impulse disruptor – Creates and area effect slow or decreases an enemy ship’s movement speed.
  • Electronic counter measures – Could decrease an enemy ship’s attack range, give it a chance to miss, or disable its reactive strike.

If you have any ideas of your own for nebulas, area-effect weapons or interesting ship modules, please post them in the comments! We’re at the point where we can start making practically anything and I’d love to see what kind of ideas people come up with.

About Brendan Drain

Director @ Brain and Nerd
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Get your forums up and talk to Spacesector about your game. Heaps of sci-fi strategy nuts go and read Spacesector.


Please consider utilizing your nebula-mechanic to create debris fields in the position of (large) destroyed ships or stations. Off topic, have you considered inclunding a further fleet tactical level in your combats? Possibility to groups ships pre-combat so that they will stay in a formation. Formation would perhaps restrict movement to slowest ship, but could benefit for example from aplified point defence or reactive fire, or of increased accuracy and massed fire? Formations might be created pre-combat, with only limited (advanced tech based?) ability to break up formations or change formations during combat. Further, each formation might have a prime mission selected, for example missile defence, counter-fighter fire, torpedo run etc. (based on tech advances?). The prime mission would not be seem by the opponent, and would grant certain advantages in combat, but limit other attributes of the formation. For example, a formation of frigates assigned missile defence could have their point def increased, accuracy and rate of fire of main guns increased, but effects of that fire toned down so it would not be very effective against capital ships. So far your group's efforst seem to match the ideas thrown up at our office coffee table nicely :) Will follow you closely. Br, Timo


I like the idea of debris fields being left behind by destroyed capital ships and stations. Maybe there could even be a science module that has a chance to steal technology from these debris fields as if the ship had been captured. Formations are an interesting idea, but it would have to work well with manual control of single ships. I don't want stacks of ships or single formations that move together as one big ship, but I like the core idea. The current design lets players arrange their fleet in a formation for the start of the battle, but each ship has its own initiative roll. What if I let you define small groups of ships that would all share a single initiative roll so they'd take their turns together? That way you could be sure that your point defence frigates could position themselves well, and things like that. To be grouped together, ships would need to have the same initiative bonus and groups would be limited to just a few ships (3 or so) each. Giving groups bonuses is an idea I'll have to discuss with the team when we're further along with the combat system and can see how much complexity is already in there. We might just leave it up to the player to design his own ships the way he wants, so if he wants a group for missile defence he'd design ships specialised for that role.


Hi Nyphur, sounds like some fun and very creative ideas. Science vessels as a kind a trickster on a battlefield, might have an important effect on the course of a battle, might not do much at all. Pretty keen on finding out what you've got planned in terms of tech tree/science progress. What we've seen in recent 4x's is that tech trees often don't have a significant impact on the game play (ie. your missle hits for more, you can build a slightly bigger ship), nor do they present the player with interesting choices (as there are a lot of oppertunities to backfill the tech tree later on). Would be nice to see 'gameplay changing' techs in a tree, like a tech that would allow you to use space based strike craft inside of a planet's atmosphere to support a ground assault. That would make you want to bring a carrier for planet invasions if your soldiers aren't all that.


Each tech field will contain self-enclosed tech trees with mutually exclusive paths that you can never back-fill. So for example, you might research the Weapons Technology level 2 discovery and that would open a small self-enclosed tree of technologies for research. You'd then progress through the tree until you reach the end, at which point the field is finished and you can't revisit it. There's an article on the system in the Research button at the top right of the page. There'll definitely be some big game-changing techs, I'll be developing the techs for each area as I develop it so right now I'm just looking at weapons and ship modules.