Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The Physics of Space Battles

As I mentioned, the best part of Star Trek Online is the space battles. But one eternal problem of science fiction is that it relates to real science, so people have a tendency to compare the fiction of science to its reality. That big space ship explosion you saw in that sci-fi movie or game? Not physically possible. An explosion in space would be much smaller, because it would quickly consume all the oxygen the space ship brought with it, and then stop. Due to the vaccuum of space there wouldn't even be a shock wave. And so on.

So how would a space battle look if the physics were all correct? Nils sent me this story from Gizmodo, explaining the physics of space battles. It is an interesting read if you have an interest in science. But as we haven't detected any aliens in space yet, you are unlikely to get into a real space fight anytime soon. And I doubt that Star Trek Online or any other sci-fi game will replace their fictional battles by physically correct ones.
"But one eternal problem of science fiction is that it relates to real science"

Thats a problem of video games and movies, but I simply love it when it comes to books. It gives the author a choice: Walk the path of realism or the path of Star Wars. And I simply love it when an evolving story is a logical extention of physical facts!
Physics in space is an odd thing if they should be converted to games or movies. Often they would be pretty boring if they behaved correctly.

If I remember correctly I think I read somewhere that when they made Star Wars they tried at first with silent spaceships, you know those Tie-fighters which scream as they pass by as it ended up. People just became confused by the silence though, so they added sounds.
There's a website dedicated to this type of a scientist and movie fan I found it both interesting and funny :)
Well you wouldn't be able to see lasers for a start. This is a great site:
there is a reason why it's called "special effects"
Just read the Honor Harrington novels by David Weber, and you get the impression how huge and boring space can be if you want to play physically correct battles in real time.
We'll still have pew pew laserbeams I'm sure.

Edit: @ Everblue. Noooo!!!
In my opinion credible war in space can be quite interesting as well. You just need a good artist to make it real.

The silence in space can used as contrast to the echoing sound inside the battelships. Artificial fog can be used by the ships to detect laers, orbit mechanics are quite complex and offer many new ways to design a game. Much better than tank, healer dps .. :)
The most significant 'real science' issues with science fiction are related to gravity, inertia, and propulsion.

Sci-Fi writers simply have to write away these problems with some tech (like anti-grav and inertia-less drives).

The interia-less drive is an interesting answer because it kills two birds with one stone (inertia + propulsion).

Anti-grav in particular opens up a lot of interesting ideas. Bio of a Space Tyrant, by Piers Anthony, is one of the best books I've read for exploring the possibilities of anti-grav (including colonization of gas giants).
Its interesting to look at some games that have tried to emulate some "newtonian" physics. Emulated to a somewhat decent extent in Nexus - The Jupiter Incident, thrusters are used to angle and turn around instead of magical engine which doesnt move turning, etc, with alot of battles being fought at long range.

Movies and games have to take their creative liscense though, or it wouldnt be as fun :). Until we have a good old interstellar war for ourselves, I dont think we will really have anything to go on. That or a tragedy in orbit, but lets not wish for that... Too hard.

Also, Apparently theres Oxygen in space, obviously spread extremely thin (on an atomic level). I dont think anyone really wants to find out how that works, though. Not enough for a fire though :(.
[...]But Sci-Fi in MMOs, or any RPG really, have just never worked for me. I just can’t get into it. Which is so odd considering how much I love the genre. So is it the implementation of Sci-Fi in MMOs or is it the Sci-Fi genre itself that doesn't work for me?[...]
-Why Sci-Fi in MMOs Doesn't Work For Me (sid67)
I must be the only one who thinks the space combat in STO is terrible. Though the instanced mission zones are beautiful and the ships look incredible, I find the combat mechanics themselves to be not much better than the ground combat. In general, to me it feels too easy without feeling natural in any way.

As with Champions, I'm excited about upgrading my character (and ship), but I have no desire whatsoever to sit through the mechanics to do it.
Soon it will proably be like WoW:
The Enemy ships are 4x as large as yours and you need about 2 seconds to blow them up. Soon after that you relize that you can add many of them and pull them together to finish all of them off together with ae torpedoes.

I can't believe what I write here, but then again .. WoW is successful! Let's make our game more like WoW!!
Well, the physics of fantasy-based WoW is not exactly the most realistic either. :)

I've been playing Starfleet Commander, a Facebook game that has a non-Facebook portal. There are certainly a lot of unrealistic things about the game, but it drives home the point that a lot of "real" space combat would be dictated by logistics: the time it takes to manufacture ships and move them into position. Tobold, is it ok for me to post a link to the game here? Feel free to delete if not:
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