I'm a _long_ time MoO/4x space game fan. I've also spent about the last year planning and creating technology demos for my own space strategy game. I'd have gotten much further on the project except that I got married 7 months ago. (-8
Anyway, having read through the whole of this combat discussion, I've got to say that you guys sure work well together. I worked with the Battle for Wesnoth folks for quite a while, and while they are a fantastic bunch with amazing talent, there was much less cohesion in the group. I applaud how well you are all considering one another's opinions and offering highly constructive criticism.
That aside, I'm interested in getting involved with FreeOrion at the expense of my own project. One of my favorite aspects of Master of Orion was the ability to customize my ships. I'm the kind of player who likes to invest myself emotionally in every one of my space-faring bearers of destructions. I want each one to be unique, each to have a designation, each to have a purpose, each to be able to make a very noticable impact on the battle -- each one to matter. Wesnoth (I apologize for the abundant references, but if you haven't tried it, please do http://www.wesnoth.org
) was very good at fulfilling my need here. Each unit had a name. You smiled when your archer leveled up into a ranger, you cried when he died.
You see where I'm going here. I want each ship in the battle to matter. You can have 'epic' your 2000 ship battles where 500 small ships are lost and no one really cares. They are only epic the respects that there is lots at stake, and lots of explosions. But does your hand tremble on the mouse when one of your best captains perishes in a suicidal ram to save the remains of your fleet? No. Of course not. No one ship matters. There is no personality. That's the trouble.
Of course not everyone will agree with this, but I'd much prefer a fleet of 50 ships to be considered completely enormous. The largest of ships would require the resources of many planets to be built. Slightly smaller ones would require the same - but at a much lower technology level. Smaller ships would still have a general speed/manuevering/lower chance to be hit bonus, but the idea of what a 'small ship' is would change throughout the game. This would keep fleet sizes small and highlight the importance of the ship design aspect as well as having experienced crews if you plan on implementing such a thing.
Depending on how you implement your 3D engine, I think that 50 ships can easily look gorgeous and even quite epic. I'll discuss more, but one thing at a time.
I'll take a look through your source and the requests on sourceforge and see if I can be of any use to you. Thanks and keep up the good work!