BIG NOTE: NOT IN ANY WAY OFFICIAL OR EVEN A COHERENT SUGGESTION, just really a writing up place for some stuff from various sources.
Basic summary: a 'soft' RPS within extended RPS -style model
'Soft' RPS in this context is meant to convey that it's not a clear cut case of "Scissors beat Paper beat Rock beat Scissors", i.e. if you've only got rocks, and they've got paper, you lose, but rather 2*rocks vs 1*rocks is a definite win with a casualty rate of about 2:1 or better, whereas 2*rocks vs 1* paper is a battle with a casualty rate much closer to 1:1. So fielding only one type of unit (or more specifically, only the exact wrong type of unit) won't make you lose, it'll just hurt.
Quick Note - "Stand-off" weapons are those that are designed to be used from long range, trying to damage the enemy whilst keeping them from getting close enough to harm you. E.g. Fighters, Missiles and torpedos (see below). "Conventional" weapons, for want of a better name, are direct fire beams and bolts that have a (comparatively) short range. There's nothing to stop us splitting "conventionals" into short and long range, as long a long range is still much less than "stand-off" range. Personally I don't want to.
It would seem that "Stand-off" is pretty synonymous with "Indirect fire" (so long as IF is taken to include fighters...), so mentally substitute tht if you'd prefer.
Also "conventional" is similarly synonymous with "direct fire". (Though for example really short range missiles would be "conventional" weapons in this system, because they don't define a ship's role to the same extent as long-range ones...)
A Note on Hull Sizes
In what follows, the names of ship classes (destroyer, cruiser, dreadnaught etc.) are meant to be the hull size classes, not necessarily a name for their role. The descriptions accompanying are supposed to represent typical uses for that hull size, a player is completely at liberty to design a different use for it. There are no hull size names accompanying Stand off ship types, these are categorised by the weapons they're carrying (and there's nothing to stop a player choosing to mix those). The hull size you mount those weapons on is your choice (but see the side notes)).
Size Class = (standard Fire Name, Fighter carrier Name) (n.b. standard names are prefixed with Missile/Torpedo/Artillery/Mixed for appropriate ships (as determined by relative weapon loadouts) (Artillery for mixed missile/torp ships, anything which the computer can't decide if it's Direct, missile/torp or Carrier then it gets the "Mixed" prefix, e.g. "Mixed Frigate")
1,very small = Corvette, ???.
2,small = Frigate, Group carrier.
3,medium = Destroyer, Escort Carrier.
4,large = Cruiser, Squadron Carrier.
5,very large = Dreadnaught, Carrier.
6, huge = Battleship, Fleet Carrier.
n.b. I'm not at all wedded to these names, if someone has better ones, or I've got them in the wrong order according to naval/aviation tradition (e.g. particularly the carrier sizes...) , please yell.
"Designed for stand up, slug it out fighting, main weapon power and survivability are the main considerations for this type"
Cruiser - The smallest capital ship. Typical Conventional role: Too small to pack in strong PD and main weaponry, the cruiser is very vulnerable to missile fire, unable to go toe to toe with dreadnaughts in close numbers, and even at risk from massed groups of mobile escorts, though it's comparitively reasonable speed helps there, allowing it to avoid being too heavily outnumbered. Despite all that against it the Cruiser's raison d'etre is it's ability to outmaneuver the sluggish Battleships, whilst still packing sufficient punch to actual harm them.
Other Roles: Typical mid game stand-off ship. Fitted with stand-off weapons makes a pretty deadly killer (missile /torpedo cruiser, escort carrier) , carrying a fair load out of weapons and retaining some speed to allow tactical deployment.
Dreadnaught - Typical Conventional role: Quite simply, a pure hunter-killer ship, the dreadnaught is too powerful for more mobile ships to fight in a stand up battle, and just about fast enough to hold them in range long enough to gut any group it catches. The Dreadnaught however does have an achilles heal, it's not fast enough to escape a real Battleship, and doesn't have the sheer ability to absorb damage that the Battleship does, making it an easy target for the largest ships.
Other roles: Typical late game stand-off ship, since they don't really need the ability to take damage that a battleship hull has.
Battleship - A lumbering giant. Typical Conventional role: The epitome of the Capital ship design philosophy. Capable of dealing and taking massive punishment. Powerful weapons, immense armour, and layer after layer of structural redundancy, anything that gets too close is dead meat. The downside of all that punch is the 'lumbering' part of 'lumbering giant' however. Lack of speed makes this not a ship for fast moving engagements, and sometimes allows smaller lighter ships to achieve their objectives without ever coming into range of the 'Big Guns'. It also makes this a sitting duck against stand off weapons, and despite formidable defenses, sooner or later some of those attacks get through and the damage adds up.
Other roles: Well, it's huge and has lots of space, so you could pack it full of stand-off weapons and annihilate the world.
"Small, fast, deadly"
Corvette - A fast, maneuverable ship, perfect for getting up close and personal with isolated (stand-off) opponents quickly.
Other roles: Cut down everything, load up on sensors, you have a scout. Bit small to do much else with really.
Frigate - Stronger than a Corvette, capable of dealing more damage and inflicting serious damage on unsupecting stand-off groups
Other roles: Typical early game stand-off hull, build missile boats, torpedo boats or micro-carriers... Or cut back on engines, and pack in more light weapons and use them to provide extra point defence for capital ship groups.
Destroyer - Powerful, fast ship. Typical Conventional role: Designed for dealing with enemy escort ships, capable of intercepting and defeating frigates and corvettes.
Other roles: Strip out everything, load up a single heavy weapon, use them for swarm attacks on capital ships. Or fit them with anti-sub/cloaking gear and use them for ASW.
"The Archers of Space" (For British readers - no not the radio show)
N.B. Any ship size can be fitted with stand-off weapons (well, maybe not corvettes due to their size), and of course they can be mixed with conventional weapons if a player so decides, but note that fitting any stand-off weapons at all will slow a ship down by a fair factor (i.e it's a one time hit), so you might as well fit all stand-off if you fit some. That said, ship design is player choice, so "you pays your money and you takes your choice".
Missiles - swift and deadly, these powerful weapons allow you to inflict heavy damage on specific targets from a long range. They are usually capable of tracking targets, adjusting their course in flight. However they need top notch targetting to be effective and are vulnerable to interception by fighters and defensive fire. Small launchers but large ammo tend to give large 'broadsides' (useful for overwhelming targets defences) but limited total fire. Best used against capital ships as tend to be 'overkill' for smaller ships.
Active/passive tracking - so long as the launching ship for a missile is still alive, reasonably advanced missiles can rely on targetting information from their launching ship, and are hard to detect. If their launching ships dies (or leaves the area), then the missile must go into 'active' tracking mode and starts scanning for it's target as a result it is much easier to target, and so quite likely to get destroyed before it can do any damage. Lower tech missiles may not even be able to do this, and so simply go inert without their launching ship. Really low tech might be allways active scanning, and so not pose much of a challenge for moderate levels of point defence.(For Moo3 veterans, this is a suggested immersive solution to the "shoot 'n scoot" problem).
Torpedoes - Slower, with a less powerful punch than missiles, these weapons have the major benefit that they are area weapons, and so can affect many ships, inflicting lesser damage on many ships, perfect for use against groups of escorts or fighter, or other lesser armoured/shielded ships. In addition they tend to be 'dumbfire' weapons, not capable of adjusting their flight much after launch, but equally not requiring a good targetting solution on the opponent. Also, they are generally not interceptable nor vulnerable to enemy defensive fire. (n.b. large launchers and small ammo limits ship's 'broadside', i.e. rate of fire is low, this should limit shoot 'n scoot as you'd have to stick around for a fair while if you wanted to get a fair weight of fire off)
Fighters - can intercept missiles, reasonably fast, can attack multiple targets, reusable. (n.b. also has same active/passive mechanism as missiles, see above, more importantly without a carrier to dock with, these things go dead when they try to refuel/rearm. Though note it might be nice to allow them to dock with another carrier if it has spare space (due to their losses...)). Also not hanging around to pick up your fighters before bugging out should be really bad for fleet morale.
(could perhaps split figheters even further into three types 'fighters', 'interceptors', 'bombers')
n.b. "Escorts" renamed "Light Ships", based on a comment by Geoff that "escorts" implies they are not viable on their own, but only alongside capital ships... Sometime I might even get round to updating the diagram.
And: class names are NOT roles, they are sizes (which do have a typical/suggested role, but the player doesn't have to stick with that). Unless they're missile/torpedo/fighter in which case they refer to the weapons carried rather than the hull size (actually it's a bit confusing isn't it. Oh well, I'm sure you can all keep up :) ).
And: the arrows are meerly indicative of tendancies, they probably hold true if you stick to the typical role and equip the ships with the typical components. (And if you do that you'll probably get eaten alive in multiplayer by players who experiment :) ) .
Also: just noticed I've not mentioned anything about the special ships for each type. Quickly scouts = well duh, their ships with great sensors and nowt else. Command ships, bit of sapce devoted to comand functions, boost fleet abilities (e.g. slight bonus to to hits, formation organisation, resilience to being flanked, morale/experience if that's in etc.). AWACS ships (need better name) - ships with powerful long range targetting sensors and fire control and co-ordination systems allow missiles/torpedos/fighters to be launched at ships you otherwise couldn't see, also allow missiles/fighters to run in 'passive' mode even if their launching ship gets killed, and out to longer ranges. Basically allows standoff ships to concentrate on packing in weapons, and farm out the sensor stuff to a central ship, which is more space/cost efficient since they're then not duplicated across ships (providing your AWACS ship doesn't get destroyed).
All these 'normal' ship classes should be fully designable by the player, and so the functions assigned to them above need not be what the player chooses to do with them, however I suggest we should design the basics of the ship design and combat systems such that these roles work, and that entirely contradictory roles don't. I.e. so that in a stand up slugging match no corvette design in the world is going to beat a standard battleship, but so that there is still room for players to design ships that suit their personal tactics (e.g. to make battleship sized ships specially designed to slaughter escort ships that are herded towards it, i.e. packed full of smaller lighter weapons, foregoing some of it's total potential firepower for the ability to engage more small targets simultaneously, or cruisers packed full of point defence to provide cover for small escort groups on their way to missile groups, or stripped down destroyers/frigates which just manage to cram in one big weapon, designed for hit and run or swarm tactics against battleship/dreadnaughts).
Basically the main mechanisms I suggest for this are as follows:
Range of weapons - weapons fall into two main categories 'engagement' and 'stand-off' weapons. "stand-off" weapons equate to 'archers' in Total-war / AoE style games, they are designed to fire a significant range, with the aim being to hit the opponent whilst they can't hit you. Enagement range weapons are the equivalent of melee in such games, you expect to get hit back when fighting at this kind of range.
Speed - enforce the speed differentials between classes by having the size of the hull scale the max speed, so with the same engine techs, a Battleship is always much slower than a frigate. Also limit the improvement in speed that better engine techs give to at most the same as the initial difference between two/three size classes, so that the relationship of speed to combat role doesn't go completely out of the window with faster engines. Note that small improvements in engine speed should still be sufficient to have big tactical impacts, so this isn't as big a restriction as it might seem at first sight.
Survivability - Basically bigger ship classes, most noteably the capital ships, should have significantly higher 'hull' or 'structure' values, i.e. the ability to soak up more damage after their shields/armour fail without dying or loosing major systems, this would naturally ensure that smaller ships just couldn't go toe-to-toe effectively with them, and would have to develop alternative tactics.
Weapon power / defenses -Standard enagement range weapons (i.e. not missiles/torpedos or fighters), should come iin several mount sizes. The larger mounts should do more damage for the cost/space, but fire slowly, and track slowly. The smaller ship sizes (e.g. escorts) would simply not be big enough to fit the largest weapon size(s) and so would have comparatively weaker offensive strength. Defences, e.g. shields/armour, particularly on larger ships, should have some 'complete protection' level, so that the first few points of damage from each hit against them are nullified completely, and this should be a larger value for bigger ships. This would mean that the damage from small weapons being fired at big ships would mostly be wasted, i.e. firing 10*10damage light mount lasers at a large ship with 100 shields which absorb 5points of damage would result in 10*5 deing absorbed, and only 50 being done. whereas firing one 100 damage spinal mount laser at it would do 95 points of damage, and firing the 10 small lasers at 5 smaller targets each with (20,1) shields would do 9 damage with each shot, for a total of 90 damage (or alternatively 3 destroyed and one with 9 damage).
Drawbacks of stand-off weapons - Fitting Missiles/torpedos/fighters should not pack the same punch for the size/cost as shorter ranged weapons, and should slow fast ships down a bit, so making them vulnerable to capital ships that are able to close.. and of course fast escorts would be able to close with them before they could do enough damage, this pops out already.
Detailed description of player ship design process
A work-in-progress describing this is to be found under ship_design_process_scratchpad
In addition I would like to lay on top of this:
Hero ships etc.
(n.b. this idea is essentially based on the hero , myth and normal units in Ageof Mythology...)
Hero Ships -> SuperWeapon Ships -> Normal Ships -> Hero Ships
And also (someone else's suggestion - (Geoff?))
Metal box, asteroid, and bio-ship types
Where each of the types has distinct characteristics (for some really good suggestion, look at (both) the thread(s) in the forums). Initially we could just use a relative advantage in one of the three categories. (I'd suggest metal box best at stand-off (all the small complicated technical bits), asteroid at capital ships (buidling stuff from asteroids means it has loads of free armour and structure point(bits of asteroid you never bothered to remove) and bio at escorts (mostly due to the other two being taken, but perhaps we could say they are naturally more maneuverable or something...).
Other Side notes
Geoff's Subs? - how best to integrate them into this... perhaps they fit nicest into the escort class, or something else, maybe as a type of stealth, parallel to cloaking. "Torpedoes" and their 'not being hit by pd fire', 'slow', 'crap targetting' properties seem a nice fit. Perhaps they are the normal ship version of this subspace technology.