The Merchant Marine

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Sapphire Wyvern
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The Merchant Marine

#1 Post by Sapphire Wyvern » Wed Nov 09, 2005 4:41 am

So.

You're running a galactic empire. Presumably, hidden under the layers of economic abstraction, your economy is going to be like every other economy in history: it's going to require moving stuff from where places where there is a surplus to places where there is a demand.

Now, since this is a galactic empire, and presumably planets aren't identical, that implies the existence of interplanetary trade. This more-or-less implies the existence of merchant marine (although marine isn't really the right word, of course!). Whether this trade fleet operates on capitalistic or planned economy principles is entirely irrelevant by the way; communists need to move stuff around just as much!

Since FreeOrion abstracts away the concept of having more than one traded commodity in an economy, I assume that trade ships are going to be "invisible" on the galactic map (in the style of MoO, rather than Stars). Therefore boarding/capturing or just outright blowing up trade convoys are probably not going to be handled in the space combat engine, as this would probably require the tracking of all those merchant vessels.

I guess the question is: what options should the game have for interfering with the opponent's merchant marine? We only need to look at the history of U-boats, or the government-sponsored privateers of ages past, to realise how important this topic is. I'd like to see some kind of ability to interfere with an opponent's economy just by having battle-worthy units in their space, to represent destruction of convoys, etc. If the size of an empire's merchant marine is actually tracked in some way (such as MoOII's food/population freighters) it ought to be possible for hostile action to destroy them somehow. Of course, the existence of a merchant marine ought to allow highly-developed worlds to subsidize the development of new colonies - this role is filled in SMAC by Supply Crawlers, and in Civ by Caravans. There isn't really any way to subsidize industry in MoOII, except to a limited extent by redirecting farmers to industrial work.

So. Anyone got any ideas about how to handle the merchant marine?

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#2 Post by leiavoia » Wed Nov 09, 2005 5:56 am

I would be inclined to model "traffic" to and from systems, but not necessarily the actual ships (of which there may be thousands). If you went with this idea, a simple blockade would be how you interfere with the system. The stronger the blockade, the more disruptive you are to the movement of commerce/resources/food of that system's economy, which subsequently disrupts the economies of other systems. Blockading a food-bearing planet would result in the starvation of other worlds that receive food from that planet's surplus exports, for instance.

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#3 Post by Sapphire Wyvern » Wed Nov 09, 2005 6:08 am

Right. Sounds more or less how I was thinking it should go.

Of course, the underlying logic of an economy would imply that blockading a world ought to affect nearby world's production (not just because of food!) because supply lines are cut off. I would think that the larger a blockaded world's economy, the more the blockade should cripple other worlds within the empire, to model the fact that there's no such thing as a self-contained economy and to make backwater worlds suffer more for being a long way from the core of your empire.

A good way to model this is to have each world provide an economic bonus to all nearby trading partners (that is, friendly worlds & trading-pact partners from other empires), with this bonus turning into a penalty if the world is blockaded. If you want to have some kind of game statistic measuring the capacity/effectiveness of your empire's merchant marine, that could act as a cap on the size of the bonus. [EDIT: The penalty for having your worlds blockaded (or captured!) would wear off progressively over a few turns as your internal economy adjusts to the fact that previous suppliers or purchasers are no longer available.]

I'm fairly new here, so forgive me for a n00b question. Does FreeOrion allow fleets to sit in deep space? If so, sitting in a starlane should result in a partial blockade on all the systems connected to that starlane.

Another situation that comes to mind: Empires A & B have a Trade Pact of some type going. Empire C should be able to deploy military forces to restrict communication between A & B, reducing (or conceivably eliminating with sufficient deployment) the benefits of such a pact.

Geography (stellography?) should be a significant factor in economic diplomacy as well as military action.

I guess what I'm looking for here are some improvements to the economic model that don't require any micromanagement, but do reflect the interlaced nature of an economy - and the crippling industrial & military effects of having your supply lines cut. It also promotes development of resources within your existing borders.

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#4 Post by guiguibaah » Wed Nov 09, 2005 5:49 pm

I'm fairly new here, so forgive me for a n00b question. Does FreeOrion allow fleets to sit in deep space? If so, sitting in a starlane should result in a partial blockade on all the systems connected to that starlane.

That depends on how you define "deep space"

Currently how the game works is that starlanes are linked to various stars, or "nodes" if you will. A ship travelling in a starlane can't stop halfway and sit there - it continues to move until it reaches its nodal destination.

However, there is the opportunity to add "deep space" in the game - simply create a star system (a node) with no planets - and erase the star. Voila, you now have a place ships can travel to that is in 'deep space'.
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#5 Post by Magus » Wed Nov 09, 2005 9:28 pm

There should be two facets to the Merchant Marine. First there is the privately owned starships plying the stars. These are abstracted away. But the second facet is the logistics arm of the military. The player has the opportunity to design military freighters, and the freighters may be capable of fighting back. The player should also be able to assign ships to escort duty, where they also fade into the background, escorting military convoys primarily, but also civilian convoys in peacetime.

This gives nations some defense against commerce raiding and cutting supply lines.

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#6 Post by skdiw » Thu Nov 10, 2005 9:37 pm

it would be difficult to intercept merchant marines because FO have starlanes so the only way to intercept is by blocading a planet at the planet. In effect, you can't really mess up only just the trade.
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#7 Post by utilae » Fri Nov 11, 2005 5:07 am

I like the idea of having your empire in such a way that two sides of your empire is connected via two planets, eg

o

o--------------------o o o

o

So if one of those two planets was blocaded, then trade could not goto or leave the blocaded planet. So effectively trade could not pass from one side of the empire to the other. This would isolate the two parts of the empire from each other and it could eventually cause the two parts of the empire to seperate into different factions.



Also, regarding designing civilian ships to have weapons. Maybe this can be done using a slider or more elegant interface system. On one end of the slider is "no weapons for civilians" which means civilians are not even allowed weapons legally. On the other end is "civilians have weapons of choice" which means that civilians can fit weapons to their cars, bikes and spaceships and even walk around with a rocket launcher over your back.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each side of the slider, but for the side where civilians have unlimited access to weapons civilians can defend themselves against pirates and have that kind of freedom, but the violence will be greater with people taking the law into their own hands, and pirates may even get there hands on weapons easier. Also tech could be stolen and reverse engineered by enemy races.

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#8 Post by Sapphire Wyvern » Fri Nov 11, 2005 11:12 am

I was thinking about my proposal that each planet should provide boosts to neighbouring friendly planets proportional to its own productivity, when I came to a realisation:

Since FreeOrion pools the production and trade of an empire anyway, this would be mathematically identical to simply multiplying the entire empire's productivity to a factor which is inversely proportional to average colony spacing! I don't think this would contribute significantly to gameplay, so I drop that proposal.

However, I'd still like to represent internal civilian trade & redistribution of goods. Since industry points have to be matched to resource points to generate PP, that's an opportunity for background modelling of trade: unblockaded worlds could automatically export excess minerals for industrial processing on other friendly worlds, in the same way that excess food is distributed.

A blockaded world should not contribute *any* PP to the global pool. The PP from that world should automatically be assigned to any projects being undertaken at that world. No PP from the global pool should be allocated to projects on a blockaded world.

It seems to logical to run blockades on a per-system basis rather than per-world basis, so if desired replace all instances of the word "world" with "system" in the above paragraph.

Utilae's proposal is nice and realistic, but I think impossible to accurately represent with the existing mechanics. The empire tracks exactly one global PP and RP pool, so it's not really possible to say that one arbitrary set of worlds has to draw its production from some portion of the RP pool with the remainder being allocated to another arbitrary set of worlds. Doing it on a system basis for blockades is probably doable though.

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splitting empire based on effective blockade

#9 Post by rupertson » Sat Nov 12, 2005 1:20 am

before I say anything: I'm brand new here (just started looking at the boards) ...anyway..

in reference to utilae's beautiful ascii art


o

o--------------------o o o

o


and Sapphire Wyvern's rebuttal/comments of split economy:

You say the design does not allow for the splitting of an empire into to economic units (by system I beleave was your suggestion). Would the quick & dirty hack (and realistic too) be that if an empire is split up well enough & long enough via a blockade that one side would simply become a separate empire? (effectively managing itself via AI). First it begins to 'decay' due to the lack of your management & then becomes a separate entity. Orders to those blockaded worlds 'might' not get through based on strength/duration of the blockade.

Assuming that communications technology could overcome this if sufficient (depending on distance). options could include the user only gains control of the larger empire segment, or only the segment in contiguous communication with the capital system, etc.

How the handling of reunification would be done is beyond me, but it seems like this might still be possible. This would continue to make it difficult to maintain a spatially dispersed empire.

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#10 Post by Impaler » Sun Nov 13, 2005 1:37 pm

I am thinking we could have 2 kinds of Blockading

Planet Blockades - Ships in orbit of a single planet preventing anything from landing, taking off from planet. The blockader must engage and defeat planetary defences to do this.

StarLane Blockades - Ships located at the starlane "Entry Ramp" aka Deep Space 9 style worm hole much like that would in the Space Empire Series. The ships engage anthing trying to enter or exit the starlane. This type of blockade is specific to a particular end of a starlane, each end can be blockaded independently.
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#11 Post by Geoff the Medio » Sun Nov 13, 2005 10:23 pm

Keep it simple in basic function: Ships blockade systems. If a system is blockaded, all starlanes connecting to it are blocked for hostile empires' supply or trade purposes, and all planets in the systems cannot send or receive any production, minerals or food to or from the empire.

You could get around blockades without fighting by using cloaked ships, or perhaps 'blockade runners' of some sort.

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#12 Post by Sapphire Wyvern » Mon Nov 14, 2005 9:57 am

Geoff the Medio wrote:Keep it simple in basic function: Ships blockade systems. If a system is blockaded, all starlanes connecting to it are blocked for hostile empires' supply or trade purposes, and all planets in the systems cannot send or receive any production, minerals or food to or from the empire.

You could get around blockades without fighting by using cloaked ships, or perhaps 'blockade runners' of some sort.
I agree with this statement. I don't think we need 'blockade runners'; cloaked ships and military ships that are fast enough to retreat before being destroyed in combat will be able to pass through blockaded systems, and I see no compelling reason at the moment to permit "background" freighters to do so. (Background freighters are the ones that are assumed to exist, without actually being explicitly modelled)

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#13 Post by Geoff the Medio » Mon Nov 14, 2005 11:32 am

Sapphire Wyvern wrote:...I don't think we need 'blockade runners'; cloaked ships and military ships that are fast enough to retreat before being destroyed in combat will be able to pass through blockaded systems, and I see no compelling reason at the moment to permit "background" freighters to do so.
The idea would be to give economic / non-military might some way to cope with a blockade. If there's no way to get past a blockade without actually shooting your way out with a bigger fleet, then just blockading an economic player's systems would doom them, since they couldn't do much about it. If, rather, there are techs the economic player can research which allow X% of his/her unblockaded internal trade to pass by blockaded worlds, then the economic player can potentially survive the blockade.

Of course we'd need to make ways for the blockading player to get better at blockading to compensate... so maybe an intial blockade with start-of-game equipment and techniques against start-of-game default freighters blocks 75% of enemy trade. Then the blockaded player researches stealth or engine speed or somesuch, making his/her freighters able to get past 50% of the time. Then the blockading player researches better sensors or engines or specialized blockading equipment, and can get the % back up to 70.

The balance of power between blockades and evading blockades could also swing back and forth, much like offense vs. defense tends to do in some games.

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#14 Post by Sapphire Wyvern » Mon Nov 14, 2005 2:03 pm

Ok, so we assume that the empire's freighter fleet is equipped according to the SOTA of the empire's technical abilities. So researching engines, sensors, cloaking technology directly factors into blockade/blockade running effectiveness.

If we're modelling blockades on a percentile basis rather than "all-or-nothing", I think we should include a consideration of the size of the blockading fleet. I would suggest multiplying the number of hostile ships present (after combat resolution) by (their size class + 1) to obtain a "force estimate". The force estimate is designed to reward fleets of more numerous smaller vessels, within limits - one Doom Star would be a terrible blockader, 6 Cruisers would do a much better job. Obviously only armed ships count. This is then compared to the total productivity of the system (sum of nutrient, PP & mineral production) because a tiny fleet can blockade a tiny world effectively, but you need a big fleet to blockade a major industrial center effectively.

The base blockade percentage could then be:

A tuning constant * (force estimate) / (total trade)

The value of the tuning constant would require playtesting.

Then apply modifications for cloaking tech (blockade runners' bonus), sensors (blockader's bonus), the difference in engine tech (bonus to one side, depending on who has the edge), and any special equipment on the blockading fleet (tractor beams, for instance, should grant a blockade bonus). These could be multiplicative or additive.

Then apply a minimum of 0% and maximum of 100%.

What do you think?

From the point of view of elegant game mechanics, it would probably beneficial if the military supply line rules were unified with the civilian blockade running rules. An obvious initial look would suggest the following guidelines for adapting the above mechanics:

1) if an unblockaded line of supply exists from a fleet to a suitable supply center, there are no problems;

2) if all possible paths to supply centers are blockaded, use the above formulae at each blockaded node to find the route of minimum total blockade percentage (multiplying blockades in series together - ie two x 50% blockades = 25% traffic getting through). This should be a simple application of a network search algorithm.

When calculating military supply line blockades, apply a significant bonus to the blockade runners to reflect the fact that we are modelling military supply transports rather than freighters, and they would presumably have more extensive cloaking & better engines.

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#15 Post by Geoff the Medio » Mon Nov 14, 2005 2:38 pm

Sapphire Wyvern wrote:2) if all possible paths to supply centers are blockaded, use the above formulae at each blockaded node to calculate the route of minimum total blockade percentage (multiplying blockades in series together - ie two x 50% blockades = 25% traffic getting through).
That's getting a bit too complicated for fleet supply for my tastes. [edit]tastes? taste... plural...?[/edit]

It would be too difficult to explain to the player why s/he is getting 37.5% supply to a fleet if individual systems in the path have different and hard to predict degrees of passibility. This is a different situation from economic blocakes.

It's (IMO) OK to have a degree of blockade for each system for economic blockading, where the degree of the blockade is determined only by what's in that system (ie. if your ships get past a system's blockade, then they can make it to or form anywhere else empire (ie. they dump their cargo into the empire pool, or add their cargo from the empire pool to the planet's resources for that turn)). IN this case, it's simple for the player to see that there are so many enemy ships there and of what sizes, and so they can easily understand why they get so much reduced shipping, and so much shipping gets through. As well, in order to blockade a particular system, all the blockader has to do is put a lot of blockading ships into the system... there no less or more they can do by having ships in other systems, or carefully maintaining a balanced enclosure around the system on all sides, or other such tweaks. As such, having the added complexity of degrees of blockading isn't too difficult to comprehend.

If, however, we're talking about fleet supply line cutting, then you *have* to worry about mutiple systems in a multistage path from the fleet to a supply centre. If each system along the path can take its own chunk off the supply getting through, as a % or as a constant deduction, then it becomes necessary to micromanage your blockades in order to optimize their function. You'd have to be sure to evenly spread around all your blockading fleets so that there's no minor crack in the blockade, where one path is slightly better than all others. If there was a crack, all supply would go through it, and any excess blockading you had elsewhere would be completely wasted, necessitating keeping this carefully micromanaged.

This is significantly worse than just having to have just any path to the fleet to maintain fleet supply, or having to block all possible fleet paths from the fleet to stop supply, as doing that only requires a presence on all possible paths, but doesn't necessitate a uniform optimized blockade across many systems that's difficult to figure out, and micromanagement intensive to set up and maintain. To block all paths, you just have to scatter a few ships around, and leave them unless they're destroyed, which is an order of magnitude simpler to do.

So... perhaps fleet supply should be on if there is any path, and off if there is not a path, whereas economic blockades would have percentage effectiveness depending on various factors.

If we want to make fleet supply slightly more interesting, the rate of supply (or cost) could decrease (or increase) according to the shortest length path from the fleet to a supply source. This actually makes it even easier to block a fleet's supply lines, as you now get some benefit by blocking the shortest path, even if you can't completely surround the fleet and cut off all possible supply pathes.

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