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    Default Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Think of any spacefaring setting with military stuff going on, from Star Wars to Warhammer 40k to Mass Effect. Every one's technology will have a preference for energy-based weapons (lasers, plasma, and so on), projectile and physical weapons (bullets and metal blades), or some mix of the two.

    Leaving aside the pure aesthetics of what looks cooler and fits the tone better, from an in-setting practical perspective, what are some potential advantages and disadvantages of each? What might lead a futuristic society to favor one over the other? Bear in mind, this isn't based on real science, but rather the kind of scientific-sounding explanations fiction uses for fantastical technologies to make them sound plausible, if not exactly realistic.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Energy weapons are easier to recharge and don't have to bother with carrying around cumbersome ammunition.

    Projectile weapons are less vulnerable to terrain interference. Things like dust clouds or basically any particulate in the air dramatically reduces laser efficiency.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by Koo Rehtorb View Post
    Energy weapons are easier to recharge and don't have to bother with carrying around cumbersome ammunition.

    Projectile weapons are less vulnerable to terrain interference. Things like dust clouds or basically any particulate in the air dramatically reduces laser efficiency.
    What about magnetically-contained plasma? That's a route a lot of sci-fi goes with energy weapons--would particulates affect it the same way? Are there any other advantages and disadvantages you can think of for either? I've heard it said that energy weapons are hugely preferable in zero-gravity, so that could be relevant.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Depending on how technical you want to get, this might be better for the "Mad Science and Grumpy Technology" thread.

    Plasma is generally quite hard to contain and keep sufficiently hot at any distance from its source. This is fortunate for users of candles and unfortunate for those seeking to make plasma weaponry. Unless your plasma weaponry is somehow capable of putting up a magnetic field around a projectile remotely, this means that your plasma bolt will need some sort of self-supporting magnetic field, which in all likelihood means that you need an actual solid projectile. Then you run into ammunition limits, and you wonder if it wasn't just easier to make a kinetic weapon, since the kinetic projectile doesn't lose much of its effectiveness once it gets cold.
    That brings us to the other main problem (besides power sources, but that's true of most sci-fi tech): heat loss. Plasma is only plasma under certain conditions, usually involving high heat. If the environment is conducive to heat loss, your plasma shot loses much of its destructive power based on how long it spends in flight. Moreover, once the projectile loses enough heat, it ceases to be a plasma and becomes just a gas, and will no longer be containable with a magnetic field, resulting in its prompt dispersion. Any gas that does not disperse probably won't be able to do anything to the target. Fortunately, space is non-conductive, so in a vacuum you'll do fine (assuming you've dealt with the containment problem.) However, if you plan on fighting in an atmosphere, you'll find that heat transfer becomes prohibitive, severely limiting range. And of course, the actual temperature of the atmosphere will make your weapons more or less effective.

    Of course, you could just keep plasma weaponry as glorified blowtorches, which solves all these problems but introduces new ones like "why am I bothering to put this much effort into a melee weapon?"

    Edit: In conclusion, plasma weaponry is unlikely to be a competitive design for general-purpose weaponry. It might be practical in certain specialized applications (short-ranged combat in a vacuum, low-collateral damage rounds that are intentionally limited in range, or for burning through some sort of defense or armor that is more vulnerable to heat than to kinetic energy), but I don't see it as being a good primary weapon.
    Last edited by VoxRationis; 2016-11-07 at 07:21 PM.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    There are many possible reasons. Just for semirealistic lasers, you have a weapon that moves at light speed (so is hard to dodge), can be recharged with just a power supply, has variable power settings, variable wavelengths (which may make a difference), and the choice between a beam laser and a laser pulse. The downsides are that it's effectiveness is reduced by anything that blocks/absorbs the wavelength you're using, drain a load of power per shot, and may be rather bulky.

    I am not qualified to talk about particle beams or plasma weapons, so I'll leave it at that.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelphas View Post
    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
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    How about a Jovian Uplift stuck in a Case morph? it makes so little sense.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    http://www.projectrho.com/public_htm...earmenergy.php

    I've had this bookmarked for just such an occasion.


    However, it really depends what we're talking about. Ship-to-Ship weapons? Lasers, all the way.

    Small arms? That depends on your taste. I'm fond of futurey solid projectiles, like those electronically fired cartridges al la the Metal Storm company. Or bolters. You can never go wrong with bolters.

    Also, a particle beam in atmosphere would produce comical amounts of radiation. That being said, a directed radiation weapon would be pretty cool. I'd suggest neutron radiation, super deadly and with a short half life.
    Last edited by comk59; 2016-11-07 at 08:13 PM.
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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by VoxRationis View Post
    Depending on how technical you want to get, this might be better for the "Mad Science and Grumpy Technology" thread.
    Let's not let it get that technical. I can't keep up with real science

    Quote Originally Posted by VoxRationis View Post
    Edit: In conclusion, plasma weaponry is unlikely to be a competitive design for general-purpose weaponry. It might be practical in certain specialized applications (short-ranged combat in a vacuum, low-collateral damage rounds that are intentionally limited in range, or for burning through some sort of defense or armor that is more vulnerable to heat than to kinetic energy), but I don't see it as being a good primary weapon.
    Alright, makes sense. For the record, the thing that got me thinking about this was a real robot mecha setting I've been working on for quite a while as a thought project, and hope to one day turn into a real video game if my career in the game industry pans out. In such a world, I can see plasma being used for melee weapons and not much else (I had it in mind that mecha often prefer to fight at close range in this setting, because one of their main military functions is to board and capture colony stations, and using high-powered ranged weaponry recklessly could blow open holes in the superstructure). Though it still leaves me with a toss-up between close-combat weaponry favoring beam sabers or high-frequency blades...

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymouswizard View Post
    There are many possible reasons. Just for semirealistic lasers, you have a weapon that moves at light speed (so is hard to dodge), can be recharged with just a power supply, has variable power settings, variable wavelengths (which may make a difference), and the choice between a beam laser and a laser pulse. The downsides are that it's effectiveness is reduced by anything that blocks/absorbs the wavelength you're using, drain a load of power per shot, and may be rather bulky.
    Honestly, just from an aesthetic perspective, I normally prefer projectile ranged weapons to energy ones. If lasers are the main consideration, could one feasibly make laser-absorbing armor commonplace? Or would that not work?

    Quote Originally Posted by comk59 View Post
    However, it really depends what we're talking about. Ship-to-Ship weapons? Lasers, all the way.
    I feel you. Does ship-to-ship weapons include fighter-scale? Or just the big guns?

    Quote Originally Posted by comk59 View Post
    Small arms? That depends on your taste. I'm fond of futurey solid projectiles, like those electronically fired cartridges al la the Metal Storm company. Or bolters. You can never go wrong with bolters.
    Hmm, bolters are always nice, and for my giant robot thought project, micro-missiles seem a more appropriate standard than slugs--more devastating. I can imagine a system where infantry favor improved forms of modern projectile weapons, mecha go mainly for bolters (or possibly lasers for space combat), and ships use lasers exclusively.

    Spoiler: Yes, I know mecha can't be justified practically...
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    I don't care--I just want to make a cool setting with giant robots. The flimsy justification I'm going with involves close-range dogfighting being preferred over ship-to-ship sniping due to the fusion energy source used by most spacecraft producing a form of radiation that messes with long-range targeting (basically ripping off Minovsky Particles, and making about as much sense as those do), and mecha being better than fighters due to their ability to turn in space without using fuel (again, ripping off Gundam) and aim weapons independently of the direction of their movement.

    ...Yes, the setting is pretty much just off-brand Gundam. Originality is overrated.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Both are likely to destroy the hull of the ships, ejecting everyone into space in short order. Which is fine if you're a space marine in an armored space suit, but otherwise no one in their right mind would carry them.

    Weapons that damage biological structures only would be the order of the day in space-based adventure games. I've seen ceramic-ammo flechette guns in some games, but also stun energy weapons, tasers, poison/gas weapons, etc.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tanarii View Post
    Both are likely to destroy the hull of the ships, ejecting everyone into space in short order. Which is fine if you're a space marine in an armored space suit, but otherwise no one in their right mind would carry them.

    Weapons that damage biological structures only would be the order of the day in space-based adventure games. I've seen ceramic-ammo flechette guns in some games, but also stun energy weapons, tasers, poison/gas weapons, etc.
    You know, I honestly never understood this argument for human-scale weapons. Modern spacecraft, certainly, but the stuff we see in most sci-fi looks like it has much thicker construction, more than a few shots from a personal firearm could blast through easily. What is it that makes this so easy to do?

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaril View Post
    You know, I honestly never understood this argument for human-scale weapons. Modern spacecraft, certainly, but the stuff we see in most sci-fi looks like it has much thicker construction, more than a few shots from a personal firearm could blast through easily. What is it that makes this so easy to do?
    Because cinematic explosive decompression looks awesome.
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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    As a tangent, aren't most weapons in Mass Effect actually projectile? I thought guns in ME were supposed to be railguns that used Eezo to acceleration very high caliber projectiles without much recoil?
    Last edited by BootStrapTommy; 2016-11-07 at 10:28 PM.
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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaril View Post
    You know, I honestly never understood this argument for human-scale weapons. Modern spacecraft, certainly, but the stuff we see in most sci-fi looks like it has much thicker construction, more than a few shots from a personal firearm could blast through easily. What is it that makes this so easy to do?
    The assumption that all spacecraft will be like the Apollo modules or Spacelab and not built for resisting incidental micrometeorites, let alone the colossally energetic weapons possible with sufficiently-advanced science, and also assumption of one hole leading to rapid and total and irreparable environmental loss and mass death, which really isn't going to happen for personal-scale weapons on anything remotely sturdy.

    or as comk59 said. :)

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaril View Post
    You know, I honestly never understood this argument for human-scale weapons. Modern spacecraft, certainly, but the stuff we see in most sci-fi looks like it has much thicker construction, more than a few shots from a personal firearm could blast through easily. What is it that makes this so easy to do?
    Youre right, I'm basing it on an extension of modern space craft. Or at least the logic behind them: getting materials into space is hard and expensive, heavier materiel takes fuel more to change delta v, and you don't armor them.

    Changing any of those might make my statement less true, at least for low energy projectile/energy weapons. I mean, that's effectively the idea behind the ceramic flachette gun. It's low enough energy for the materials used for standard spacecraft in the setting. Which IRRC I last saw in Palladiums Mutants in Space, in which all three of my assumptions generally applied.
    Last edited by Tanarii; 2016-11-07 at 10:34 PM.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by BootStrapTommy View Post
    As a tangent, aren't most weapons in Mass Effect actually projectile? I thought guns in ME were supposed to be railguns that used Eezo to acceleration very high caliber projectiles without much recoil?
    Yes. With the exception of a few very exotic weapons, Mass Effect uses kinetics. However, the projectiles aren't high-caliber; they're low-caliber, more like grains of sand than bullets, but are accelerated to near-relativistic velocities because of their near-zero mass. That's why ammo was unlimited in the first game; ammunition was theoretically limited, but you'd need to have a unrealistically long engagement for it to matter.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tanarii View Post
    Youre right, I'm basing it on an extension of modern space craft. Or at least the logic behind them: getting materials into space is hard and expensive, heavier materiel takes fuel more to change delta v, and you don't armor them.

    Changing any of those might make my statement less true, at least for low energy projectile/energy weapons. I mean, that's effectively the idea behind the ceramic flachette gun. It's low enough energy for the materials used for standard spacecraft in the setting. Which IRRC I last saw in Palladiums Mutants in Space, in which all three of my assumptions generally applied.
    Similar physical constraints apply to watercraft in real life, but we still armor them because reality means they get beaten up by environmental and military forces. Efficiency is great, but losing a ship to incidental fire can end up costing more than the extra fuel to push a heavier ship.
    Last edited by VoxRationis; 2016-11-07 at 11:01 PM.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaril
    Alright, makes sense. For the record, the thing that got me thinking about this was a real robot mecha setting I've been working on for quite a while as a thought project, and hope to one day turn into a real video game if my career in the game industry pans out. In such a world, I can see plasma being used for melee weapons and not much else (I had it in mind that mecha often prefer to fight at close range in this setting, because one of their main military functions is to board and capture colony stations, and using high-powered ranged weaponry recklessly could blow open holes in the superstructure). Though it still leaves me with a toss-up between close-combat weaponry favoring beam sabers or high-frequency blades...
    As much as I love Hi-Freq blades, a mech sized one would be hard to not shake itself apart. Of course, this is all handwaved, so it wouldn't be too big of a deal. Massive Chainswords are fun too!

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaril
    Honestly, just from an aesthetic perspective, I normally prefer projectile ranged weapons to energy ones. If lasers are the main consideration, could one feasibly make laser-absorbing armor commonplace? Or would that not work?
    Oh yeah, easily. Ceramic plate would insulate heat pretty well. And a glass weave might be able to refract and spread a laser blast around. Although the glass would start to fuse after a couple of shots, so it would be about as long lasting as kevlar is.

    And for the record, I prefer kinetic weapons too. I would really suggest looking at Metal Storm, I take their 1,000,000 RpM weapon idea and shrink it down to rifle size for my sci-fi games. I also give it fewer barrels than Metal Storm did, usually only 4 or 6.

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaril
    I feel you. Does ship-to-ship weapons include fighter-scale? Or just the big guns?
    Either way. Lasers would make dogfighting easier, especially if you're using realistic dogfighting. If you use cinematic dogfighting, then kinetic weapons would easily work. You'd probably want something small caliber, so you could accelerate it to high speed without affecting your own momentum too much.

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaril
    Hmm, bolters are always nice, and for my giant robot thought project, micro-missiles seem a more appropriate standard than slugs--more devastating. I can imagine a system where infantry favor improved forms of modern projectile weapons, mecha go mainly for bolters (or possibly lasers for space combat), and ships use lasers exclusively.
    Remember, one of the best things about making your own settings is that you can throw everything we know about what kind of weapons you're allowed to build out the window. Thermobaric grenade launcher? Yes please! Autoloading Low-yield Thermonuclear Cannon? Give me two!

    Actually, Thermobaric weapons would be awful in space, but set one off inside a station or a mech and the entire thing would be vaporized. Maybe a Thermobaric torpedo that drills into its target would work.
    Last edited by comk59; 2016-11-07 at 11:33 PM.
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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by comk59 View Post
    Oh yeah, easily. Ceramic plate would insulate heat pretty well. And a glass weave might be able to refract and spread a laser blast around. Although the glass would start to fuse after a couple of shots, so it would be about as long lasting as kevlar is.
    Let's be honest, in must realistic settings we're not trying to reflect the laser blast. In general we'll be using ceramic plates to absorb both, or some form of plastic.

    OP, I'm also designing a real robot setting, and I came to realise that the main difference between the two is firing limitations. Because my mechs have bothered the generator and the cramped cockpit in the torso few mechs have enough power to run everything at once, and so have to divide what they generate between sensors, movement, boosters, and energy weapons. Energy weapons tend to draw power from the Tech's generator, while projectile weapons require you to balance spare ammunition against weight.

    Although my setting also features mechs with better power generators, as well as mechs with special abilities (think of the Martian kataphracts from Aldonah.Zero). There's also the fact that pilots have to be careful, as not every cockpit has working air conditioning.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelphas View Post
    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    How about a Jovian Uplift stuck in a Case morph? it makes so little sense.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by VoxRationis View Post
    Similar physical constraints apply to watercraft in real life, but we still armor them because reality means they get beaten up by environmental and military forces. Efficiency is great, but losing a ship to incidental fire can end up costing more than the extra fuel to push a heavier ship.
    And plenty of sci-fi makes fuel for ships essentially a non-issue already, either by making it functionally or actually unlimited, or so efficient that it no longer presents a space or mass concern in the volumes it's needed at. I may just not be looking at hard enough sci-fi, but I've never seen a single setting handle it by realistic modern standards.

    Quote Originally Posted by comk59 View Post
    As much as I love Hi-Freq blades, a mech sized one would be hard to not shake itself apart. Of course, this is all handwaved, so it wouldn't be too big of a deal. Massive Chainswords are fun too!
    I'd have no problem handwaving them being that size, but they couldn't parry plasma weapons, could they? So those would still be better.

    Chainswords are cool, but present the same problem, and also don't feel very anime Plus, wouldn't they favor techniques where you hold the blade against your enemy's body to saw through them? The melee combat I'm picturing looks more like jousting--opponents circle each other for position before making high-speed passes. For something like that, you want a weapon that can make clean cuts, rather than requiring you to stop.

    Quote Originally Posted by comk59 View Post
    Oh yeah, easily. Ceramic plate would insulate heat pretty well. And a glass weave might be able to refract and spread a laser blast around. Although the glass would start to fuse after a couple of shots, so it would be about as long lasting as kevlar is.
    Actually, I really like that. In keeping with the genre, the player in this game would pilot an advanced concept model mech (it's explicitly a concept model rather than a super prototype, because the whole idea of a super prototype doesn't make sense), and its most revolutionary feature is that it has Halo health--regenerating shields. I want other characters to be amazed when they fire on it and see that their shots have done nothing, so if I make projectile weapons the standard-issue specifically because armor doesn't normally block them, and then have these shields totally deflect them, that'll add to the shock and awe.

    Quote Originally Posted by comk59 View Post
    Either way. Lasers would make dogfighting easier, especially if you're using realistic dogfighting. If you use cinematic dogfighting, then kinetic weapons would easily work. You'd probably want something small caliber, so you could accelerate it to high speed without affecting your own momentum too much.
    I'm sure what I'm picturing is much closer to cinematic. Out of curiosity, what are the differences?

    Quote Originally Posted by comk59 View Post
    Remember, one of the best things about making your own settings is that you can throw everything we know about what kind of weapons you're allowed to build out the window. Thermobaric grenade launcher? Yes please! Autoloading Low-yield Thermonuclear Cannon? Give me two!

    Actually, Thermobaric weapons would be awful in space, but set one off inside a station or a mech and the entire thing would be vaporized. Maybe a Thermobaric torpedo that drills into its target would work.
    Oh, totally, yeah. Having a diverse selection of weapons would be a big design goal if I made this. I just want to get a feel for what the standard baseline weapons would look like before I start coming up with exotic stuff.
    Last edited by Amaril; 2016-11-08 at 09:56 AM.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaril View Post
    I feel you. Does ship-to-ship weapons include fighter-scale? Or just the big guns?
    The engagement distances with spacecraft are likely going to be rather extreme, as are the relative velocities.

    Unless you're dealing with guided missiles or projectiles that are near-relativistic (or a combination of both), you wouldn't have a chance in hell of hitting anything, even if they had "predictive targeting AI" or something. Heck, we were having to learn how to lead targets in WWI... the top speeds of even the fastest fighters was in the 120~140 mph range, and that wasn't exactly sustainable. The engagement distances were <100 meters, and that didn't increase a great deal for WW2, even if the air-speeds doubled or tripled.

    You might still have to "lead" at extreme distances (like significant fractions of an AU) with a laser. It's not completely point-and-shoot unless you're within a couple of light seconds (from here to the Moon is 1.28 seconds). We'd need to figure out how you detect each other at that range, as I assume the ship won't be moon-sized. That may help moderate the distance considerations. Still, it won't be WWII-distance Star Wars stuff... or even Star Trek stuff, which were nearly goofy close.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by GungHo View Post
    The engagement distances with spacecraft are likely going to be rather extreme, as are the relative velocities.

    Unless you're dealing with guided missiles or projectiles that are near-relativistic (or a combination of both), you wouldn't have a chance in hell of hitting anything, even if they had "predictive targeting AI" or something. Heck, we were having to learn how to lead targets in WWI... the top speeds of even the fastest fighters was in the 120~140 mph range, and that wasn't exactly sustainable. The engagement distances were <100 meters, and that didn't increase a great deal for WW2, even if the air-speeds doubled or tripled.

    You might still have to "lead" at extreme distances (like significant fractions of an AU) with a laser. It's not completely point-and-shoot unless you're within a couple of light seconds (from here to the Moon is 1.28 seconds). We'd need to figure out how you detect each other at that range, as I assume the ship won't be moon-sized. That may help moderate the distance considerations. Still, it won't be WWII-distance Star Wars stuff... or even Star Trek stuff, which were nearly goofy close.
    Yeah, I'm aware this would be the reality. Personally, I like my sci-fi at least soft enough to handwave this away, and have at least Star Trek space combat--I just can't get excited about long-range ship-to-ship sniping. Hence, the setting I'm working on has dogfights in space (you can check my earlier spoiler for the justification I'm using, which is admittedly still not realistic, but at least, I think, plausible).

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaril View Post
    Yeah, I'm aware this would be the reality. Personally, I like my sci-fi at least soft enough to handwave this away, and have at least Star Trek space combat--I just can't get excited about long-range ship-to-ship sniping. Hence, the setting I'm working on has dogfights in space (you can check my earlier spoiler for the justification I'm using, which is admittedly still not realistic, but at least, I think, plausible).
    I understand where you're going.

    I honestly like Macross Missile Massacre for capital ships with point defense and fighter deployment as the "shields". Think "new" BSG (in quotes because it's now 12 years old).

    I also like asymmetric technology when it comes to fighting aliens. Mass drivers and missiles for humans, disruptors and gamma rays for green skins, and acid bombs for the fishcats who are actually pre-digesting you.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by GungHo View Post
    I also like asymmetric technology when it comes to fighting aliens. Mass drivers and missiles for humans, disruptors and gamma rays for green skins, and acid bombs for the fishcats who are actually pre-digesting you.
    And that brings me to a point I've missed with technology, particularly plasma weapons. A mysterious and advanced "other" can make use of technologies that would be improbable for a POV character or culture. Indeed, having such technologies may make them more awe-inspiring, more wonderful (in the old sense of the word) in the eyes of the viewer. The Covenant from the first Halo were very good about this. Their technology had few to no moving parts, floated, and used principles seemingly beyond that of human ability. It operated on principles alien both to the player and to the POV characters, which helped make the Covenant appear alien, advanced, and dangerous. (The later games spoiled a lot of that mystery the first game did so well, but that's another matter.)

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by GungHo View Post
    I understand where you're going.

    I honestly like Macross Missile Massacre for capital ships with point defense and fighter deployment as the "shields". Think "new" BSG (in quotes because it's now 12 years old).
    Yeah, the Macross/BSG style is my personal favorite, and what I'm using in this project. Unrealistic it may be, but for me, nothing can match the excitement of high-speed one-pilot space fighters taking on gigantic capital ships. It never fails to distract me from the lack of sound science behind it.

    Quote Originally Posted by GungHo View Post
    I also like asymmetric technology when it comes to fighting aliens. Mass drivers and missiles for humans, disruptors and gamma rays for green skins, and acid bombs for the fishcats who are actually pre-digesting you.
    Quote Originally Posted by VoxRationis View Post
    And that brings me to a point I've missed with technology, particularly plasma weapons. A mysterious and advanced "other" can make use of technologies that would be improbable for a POV character or culture. Indeed, having such technologies may make them more awe-inspiring, more wonderful (in the old sense of the word) in the eyes of the viewer. The Covenant from the first Halo were very good about this. Their technology had few to no moving parts, floated, and used principles seemingly beyond that of human ability. It operated on principles alien both to the player and to the POV characters, which helped make the Covenant appear alien, advanced, and dangerous. (The later games spoiled a lot of that mystery the first game did so well, but that's another matter.)
    I'm a big fan of this too. The uncertainty that prompted me to start this thread came from the fact that the setting I'm working on doesn't have aliens*, or any kind of convenient other to stick the energy weapons on--it's all about human conflict. In something like Halo, where it's humans versus an alien threat, I'm all for giving the humans bullets and the aliens beams (or the humans beams and the aliens weird organic stuff, or whatever).

    Spoiler: Aliens in my setting.
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    Well, alien tech would play a role in the game's story. Towards the end, it would be revealed that the miraculous invincible shields on the player's mecha were actually derived from stuff found in a crashed alien spacecraft the homeworld government discovered. The latter part of the story would focus on the rebellion gaining access to that wreckage, and using data from it to construct a planet-busting superweapon that would end the war. All that stuff is meant to be exceptional, though, and mostly just a backdrop to humans having high-minded philosophical debates about the nature of justice and the ethics of violence before using giant robots to kill each other.
    Last edited by Amaril; 2016-11-08 at 04:12 PM.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaril View Post
    Yeah, I'm aware this would be the reality. Personally, I like my sci-fi at least soft enough to handwave this away, and have at least Star Trek space combat--I just can't get excited about long-range ship-to-ship sniping. Hence, the setting I'm working on has dogfights in space (you can check my earlier spoiler for the justification I'm using, which is admittedly still not realistic, but at least, I think, plausible).
    I just handwave it. 'For some reason mecha are awesome as battlefield weapons, therefore you all pilot mecha'. At the most I just handwave it by saying they have the best balance of speed and firing arcs with the setting's technology (what I'm actually using, mechs just move so fast that computers have trouble targeting them).

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaril View Post
    Yeah, the Macross/BSG style is my personal favorite, and what I'm using in this project. Unrealistic it may be, but for me, nothing can match the excitement of high-speed one-pilot space fighters taking on gigantic capital ships. It never fails to distract me from the lack of sound science behind it.
    Realistic space fights are a very different feeling. I have another, harder science fiction setting where fights are relatively slow and 'boring', because it's a much more mental battle and having to track not only your speed but also your acceleration is fun.

    I'm a big fan of this too. The uncertainty that prompted me to start this thread came from the fact that the setting I'm working on doesn't have aliens*, or any kind of convenient other to stick the energy weapons on--it's all about human conflict. In something like Halo, where it's humans versus an alien threat, I'm all for giving the humans bullets and the aliens beams (or the humans beams and the aliens weird organic stuff, or whatever).

    Spoiler: Aliens in my setting.
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    Well, alien tech would play a role in the game's story. Towards the end, it would be revealed that the miraculous invincible shields on the player's mecha were actually derived from stuff found in a crashed alien spacecraft the homeworld government discovered. The latter part of the story would focus on the rebellion gaining access to that wreckage, and using data from it to construct a planet-busting superweapon that would end the war. All that stuff is meant to be exceptional, though, and mostly just a backdrop to humans having high-minded philosophical debates about the nature of justice and the ethics of violence before using giant robots to kill each other.
    My favourite is Aldnoah.Zero, which has the same thing I'm using for mech abilities. Basically, one side has access to alien supertech only the possess the keys for, but have only learnt to use it in specific ways (it's a bit more complex in Aldnoah.Zero than in my setting because my Titanians don't have the feudal structure Vers has in Aldnoah.Zero).
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelphas View Post
    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
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    How about a Jovian Uplift stuck in a Case morph? it makes so little sense.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    In a future fantasy type sci-fi, I'd like the idea that people use both.

    Energy weapons have more pure oomph, but if a target has shields they can negate energy weapons with relative ease, so people use projectile weapons against those. However, shields are extremely expensive both to manufacture and to power for extended periods, so energy weapons are better against everything without shielding.

    In addition, you could build the world so a mix is awesome.

    Ex: Shoot the ship with projectiles to take down their shields and then rip them apart with energy weapons.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymouswizard View Post
    I just handwave it. 'For some reason mecha are awesome as battlefield weapons, therefore you all pilot mecha'. At the most I just handwave it by saying they have the best balance of speed and firing arcs with the setting's technology (what I'm actually using, mechs just move so fast that computers have trouble targeting them).
    Personally, I like the challenge of coming up with a practical explanation that at least sounds like it could be true, and I feel the extra effort it reflects strengthens the project. But fair enough, and there's definitely an appeal to just saying "f*** it, rule of cool".

    I think the reason mecha are so awesome as weapons is because they evoke humanity on an epic scale. When you climb into a mecha, far more so than any other kind of vehicle, there's a very clear sense that you're becoming something greater. You're still you, but more, able to do the impossible, see the invisible, row row, fight the powah Super robot may embrace this more fully, but all the good real robot stuff still echoes it. That's what I love about it. It's why I hate the idea of mecha being nothing but disposable pieces of equipment, even in real robot settings. I think a mecha should be an extension of its pilot's being, tuned to their unique skills and reflective of their personal style. If a pilot loses their mecha, it should be a big deal, and getting a new one should be a serious step in their character arc. And pilots switching mecha, or using each other's? No way, unless it's a special case supported by the story and, in the latter case, their particular relationship.

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymouswizard View Post
    Realistic space fights are a very different feeling. I have another, harder science fiction setting where fights are relatively slow and 'boring', because it's a much more mental battle and having to track not only your speed but also your acceleration is fun.
    I've heard it likened to submarine warfare--less exciting, and more tense, with firing a single shot, and then waiting in anxious suspense to find out if it connected, and if your enemy hit you back. That definitely sounds like a thing, it's just not my thing (although that may just be me not having seen it done well yet).

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymouswizard View Post
    My favourite is Aldnoah.Zero, which has the same thing I'm using for mech abilities. Basically, one side has access to alien supertech only the possess the keys for, but have only learnt to use it in specific ways (it's a bit more complex in Aldnoah.Zero than in my setting because my Titanians don't have the feudal structure Vers has in Aldnoah.Zero).
    I watched the first couple episodes of Aldnoah.Zero, and liked it, but stopped after I saw several accounts saying it got really stupid later on. Awesome music, though--I still listen to it.

    You should tell me about your setting. It sounds interesting!

    Quote Originally Posted by CharonsHelper View Post
    In a future fantasy type sci-fi, I'd like the idea that people use both.

    Energy weapons have more pure oomph, but if a target has shields they can negate energy weapons with relative ease, so people use projectile weapons against those. However, shields are extremely expensive both to manufacture and to power for extended periods, so energy weapons are better against everything without shielding.

    In addition, you could build the world so a mix is awesome.

    Ex: Shoot the ship with projectiles to take down their shields and then rip them apart with energy weapons.
    Star Trek does something like this, right? Phasers to break shields, followed by photon torpedoes to break the hull? That's definitely a way, giving both kinds of weaponry a role in every conflict at different moments. My setting does a similar thing with ranged and melee weapons, so that dichotomy does exist.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaril View Post
    Think of any spacefaring setting with military stuff going on, from Star Wars to Warhammer 40k to Mass Effect. Every one's technology will have a preference for energy-based weapons (lasers, plasma, and so on), projectile and physical weapons (bullets and metal blades), or some mix of the two.

    Leaving aside the pure aesthetics of what looks cooler and fits the tone better, from an in-setting practical perspective, what are some potential advantages and disadvantages of each? What might lead a futuristic society to favor one over the other? Bear in mind, this isn't based on real science, but rather the kind of scientific-sounding explanations fiction uses for fantastical technologies to make them sound plausible, if not exactly realistic.
    Star Ruler 2 has an interesting approach:

    > Energy Weapons (lasers in this case) consume very little "ammunition", are extremely precise, but have trouble piercing armor and have no recoil (both on the target and user).
    > Projectile Weapons' (Gauss in this case) ammunition takes much more room, are imprecise, takes a longer time to reach their target but have much more impact.
    > Missile weapons takes the most room, have a very slow rate of fire, but each munition can cripple an enemy ship. They are also a bit more precise than projectile weapons due to guidance.

    Sooo... assuming Dream Pod 9's rules...

    Energy Weapons gets a bonus on accuracy, have to deal with overheating instead of ammo, lose the ability to use ballistic to hit behind cover, and have slightly less power. They do not cause the target to fall over. Projectiles work with regular rules.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Energy weapons are likely less ammunition-intensive, and also less likely to cause collateral damage via ricochets or overpenetration. They're also less "messy"; they certainly aren't pretty, but they wouldn't shred your insides and break apart like bullets tend to. For this reason, it's not entirely outside the realm of possibility that projectile weapons - at least in an anti-infantry role - might be banned. You could certainly have them be legal; this isn't something that would necessarily happen, but it's possible.

    Conventional weapons would likely be more efficient, however. They cause more bleeding, and have less trouble with armour, especially ablative armour. They'd probably be more rugged and durable, as lasers are very precise devices, and even the best batteries lose charge over time. Of course, you'd also have to lead your target and allow for gravity and wind interference.
    That's all I can think of, at any rate.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaril View Post
    Star Trek does something like this, right? Phasers to break shields, followed by photon torpedoes to break the hull? That's definitely a way, giving both kinds of weaponry a role in every conflict at different moments. My setting does a similar thing with ranged and melee weapons, so that dichotomy does exist.
    Lol - maybe? I don't think that Star Trek worried much about being consistent about such things. Star Trek was really at its best when it was exploring weird social/political ideas through the filter of sci-fi 'otherness'. The tech pretty much worked however that particular episode's plot needed it to.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaril View Post
    Personally, I like the challenge of coming up with a practical explanation that at least sounds like it could be true, and I feel the extra effort it reflects strengthens the project. But fair enough, and there's definitely an appeal to just saying "f*** it, rule of cool".
    I unfortunately have enough of a science background to immediately see that any explanation is probably untrue, especially the long ranged targeting one (most other forms of vehicles are just better in this instance). I've given up trying to justify it beyond 'mechs are fast, accurate, and cool'.

    I think the reason mecha are so awesome as weapons is because they evoke humanity on an epic scale. When you climb into a mecha, far more so than any other kind of vehicle, there's a very clear sense that you're becoming something greater. You're still you, but more, able to do the impossible, see the invisible, row row, fight the powah Super robot may embrace this more fully, but all the good real robot stuff still echoes it. That's what I love about it. It's why I hate the idea of mecha being nothing but disposable pieces of equipment, even in real robot settings. I think a mecha should be an extension of its pilot's being, tuned to their unique skills and reflective of their personal style. If a pilot loses their mecha, it should be a big deal, and getting a new one should be a serious step in their character arc. And pilots switching mecha, or using each other's? No way, unless it's a special case supported by the story and, in the latter case, their particular relationship.
    You see, I prefer it when mecha are at least semi-disposable. Or at the very least I like there to be mook mecha that are. It makes the mecha feel more like a real thing to me.

    Now, I'm not beyond having a pilot use a mecha for so long that it becomes hard for others to use (either because they are just used to the quirks it developed in-use or because the controls are optimised for them), but I think that, if it isn't a super robot you should be able to get a new production model with only a short amount of downtime. It's a probably because, while I think mecha are awesome, to me the pilot should be the special one, not the machine.

    I watched the first couple episodes of Aldnoah.Zero, and liked it, but stopped after I saw several accounts saying it got really stupid later on. Awesome music, though--I still listen to it.
    Aldnoah.Zero is interesting. The first series is awesome, and has a brilliant conclusion. I love how the Earth mechs are interchangeable (literally, there are several cases where a mech gets trashed but the pilot has a new one in an episode or two), while the Mars mechs are all unique and hard to replace (only one is ever replaced in the entire run). There's also nothing beyond societal reasons stopping Vers Knights from switching mechs, although it's easy to see how they might get good enough at a certain ability that there'd be no point to.

    The second series is not quite as good. It's focus isn't as tight for the Earth characters (although I suspect that's because season 1 is Inaho's story and season 2 is Slaine's), the plot doesn't quite flow as well, and the ending is far worse (I like it, but think the originally planned ending would have worked out better).

    You should tell me about your setting. It sounds interesting!
    I'll see what I can dig up, I haven't written down a lot seeing as I'm still working on the society, but below is the basic premise.

    Spoiler
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    There are two important sides in this conflict:
    -Earth/the inner sphere, who seek to have the entire system under their control.
    -The Titanian Alliance, a group of colonies in the outer solar system who wish to retain independence.

    As far as the actual setting is concerned the only players worth anything are Earth and Titan, because they are the only ones in a position to build mecha or move forces about.

    I'm going to focus on Titan, because they are what I've been concentrating on, but they are a semi-transhumanist group who left Earth to pursue the progress they wanted without bothering those back on Earth. They have DNIs that allow them to directly link up with technology (including their mechs), and a variety of biological and cybernetic tweaks are common. They are intended to be the 'better' side of the conflict. Their society is loosely English with some quirks.

    Titanian mechs come in two types, the basic ones are lightly armed and armoured and designed to be manufactured quickly, so that loses can be replaced. However, those that survive tend to get modified by their users to better reflect their preferences. Then there are Specials, that Titanian PCs pilot, which start as slightly better basic models and then have some modifications attaches (better boosters or armour are very common), plus a 'special power' designed for the pilot.

    Earth is more like the current world, and uses mechs with no special powers, right down to things like DNIs and augmentations being rather rare. They have a variety of standard mechs to fill various roles, but no true Specials.

    Rules-wise, it's based off d6 Space. Pilots work as normal, and then mechs are built with a modified set of vehicle rules where the chassis gives a certain amount of space, and then players fill it with weapons systems to their liking.

    There's some other stuff, like rough uniform designs, but that's my basic outline.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelphas View Post
    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    How about a Jovian Uplift stuck in a Case morph? it makes so little sense.

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    Default Re: Energy weapons vs. projectile/physical weapons for spacefaring sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by GungHo View Post
    The engagement distances with spacecraft are likely going to be rather extreme, as are the relative velocities.

    Unless you're dealing with guided missiles or projectiles that are near-relativistic (or a combination of both), you wouldn't have a chance in hell of hitting anything, even if they had "predictive targeting AI" or something. Heck, we were having to learn how to lead targets in WWI... the top speeds of even the fastest fighters was in the 120~140 mph range, and that wasn't exactly sustainable. The engagement distances were <100 meters, and that didn't increase a great deal for WW2, even if the air-speeds doubled or tripled.

    You might still have to "lead" at extreme distances (like significant fractions of an AU) with a laser. It's not completely point-and-shoot unless you're within a couple of light seconds (from here to the Moon is 1.28 seconds). We'd need to figure out how you detect each other at that range, as I assume the ship won't be moon-sized. That may help moderate the distance considerations. Still, it won't be WWII-distance Star Wars stuff... or even Star Trek stuff, which were nearly goofy close.
    It all depends upon the accuracy/speed/range/power of weapons vs the speed/maneuverability/durability(including shields) of ships.

    Mass Effect's fluff actually talked about this quite a bit in the fluff. The ship ranges were basically how far away ships could dodge the massive projectile weapons of the big ships. Bigger = longer ranged. Fighters would get pummeled by a couple shots coming in, but you would attack with swarms of them. Lasers had near perfect accuracy at the start of battles, but they were short ranged point-defense, and as they heated up they lost power/accuracy, allowing fighters/bombers to hit ships with hugely powerful but short-ranged torpedoes at basically point-blank range.

    In the fluff, one reason humans gave the turians a rough time at first contact was because they had way more fighters, and they were willing to use them offensively despite pretty heavy losses coming in. (Basically humans invented the space carrier in Mass Effect while everyone else just had a few squadrons on their battleships.)


    So basically - you can realistically justify just about any range combat you want - just be consistent. If anyone here has read the Vorkosigan Saga - they even talk about how in the main character's grandfather's time battles were fought when they couldn't even see other ships when shooting them with lasers, but shielding tech made lasers basically useless and made them have to close to plasma range in his father's time, and now the new thing which mostly ignored shielding were gravitic imploder lances which only had a range of a few km (in a world where ships are going at a decent fraction of the speed of light even out of warp - though it's not too specific.).
    Last edited by CharonsHelper; 2016-11-08 at 06:54 PM.

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