Frontier Tips and Tricks for Mid-Level Players
--- Instalment Three ---
10th May, 2001.
Flt. Cap. -Phoenix-
Captain of the [H.O.P.E.] Second Light
It has been quite a few months since I wrote anything for these tips and tricks, and since then the game has changed a great deal. The game scores have also been reset, and thus my new rank is indicated in the header for this document. I haven't been playing much recently, but nonetheless I still feel I have a few snippets of information which could prove useful to the new pilot. The goal of this instalment, as before, is to give the reader my playing strategies, in the hope that they will merge my ideas with their own and that of other pilots, gradually emerging with the "best" winning strategies for the game.
The very first thing which you must know before you are to start hunting down enemy starbases is that they are far from invincible. I remember when I first started to play - I considered enemy starbases something equivalent to impenetrable fortresses. Three starbases in the same location meant that I would never capture that area. I learnt that this is a grave misconception. So I say to you, the reader, that starbases, like all other AI-controlled vessels are reasonably easy to defeat. All that is required is an understanding of how the AI "thinks", and how they will react to given circumstances.
The role of a starbase is to defend its territory. You can look this up by checking the ranks list, and observing the information beside the ranks Fleet Admiral, Emperor, and Deity. What this means for you, is that if you begin to attack a colony on a planet and a starbase is nearby, that starbase will begin drifting over to you, to get between you and the planet. I say drifting because starbases do not come with boosters, but only thrusters, giving them a top speed of 0.1c. (Please note that this does not stop you from refitting your own starbase. If you drop your factory you can pick up a boost 3. I think this gives a top speed of around .21c). Starbases will very rarely move into open space to follow ships, and even if they do they soon return to protect their planets. If a starbase becomes sufficiently injured they will return to a friendly planet, of-course, but they may also try to hide behind it so that your fire hits the planet instead of the starbase. So much for movement, now for firing. First of all, starbases, like all other AI, will let you drift right by, no matter how powerful your ship is, so long as they don't consider you a threat. If you don't fire at or near them, they will ignore you. Even if you bring a colony near them, they will attack the colony, and not you. This means that if you get caught in a tight spot while dragging a colony it's often a good idea to dump the colony as bait while you run away and live to fight another day. Keep in mind that you don't always have to get into a fight with a starbase - sometimes it's quicker to just do your work without harassing them. But, to continue with what happens if they do start to fire at you. Starbases fire lasers as well as a stream of torpedoes. The lasers can be withstood for medium periods of time, but if any ship gets hit by enough torpedoes they are toast. The good thing for you (and the bad thing for the starbase) is that it sends its torpedoes in a straight stream in your direction. If you sit still and wait for the torpedoes to hit you then you won't stand much chance. If you maintain a constant velocity then you won't stand much chance either, because AI shots are fired using intercept courses. To avoid the this you need to change direction, speed, or both. That part is obvious, but this may not be: You will notice that if you stand still and you experiment with firing in various directions (either with the keys or using the mouse), you will find that you can only shoot in specific angles through the compass. The angles through which you can fire are not gradual. That is to say that you cannot fire at any angle you like. The number of directions in which you can fire is limited to something like thirty-two or sixty-four. This is why if you try to line yourself up to something and then you drift off to the left you may find that turning your ship will overcompensate and your shots will be off to the right. This is a "feature" of the game which you can use to your advantage. The starbase will fire in a line, and as you move locations it will fire along a new line, but you can use the gap in the lines to fit through without getting hit. This requires a fair bit of practice, a decent set of boosters, and using a Destroyer helps. If you can keep from getting hit by the torpedoes, you will still be gradually ripped to pieces by the lasers, but this still gives you much more time alive. So we know how it moves, and how it fires. How does a starbase "see"?
There is a certain range beyond which a starbase will not fire upon you. This has nothing to do with the range of their weapons - PlasmaTorps can go a fair bit further than the engaging range of a starbase. Imagine a circle drawn around a starbase. If you fire towards it from inside this circle, it will fire back at you. If you fire at it from outside this circle, it will ignore you. With some experimentation you can find this distance (be sure to zoom out enough on your main screen by using the plus/equals and minus/underscore keys) and fire at the starbase without getting hit. Be careful, because starbases are sneaky, and they will let you get a little within this perimeter so that they can keep firing at you as you try to get outside the circle again. Find this "safe zone" outside the imaginary circle around the starbase, and remember it! It is the key to defeating the starbase. If you fire at a starbase outside its circle of vision, you will not get fired upon. Unfortunately, hitting a starbase with fire from this range is pretty tough. Many warheads will fizzle before they hit their target, and others will usually sail past, as the starbase moves to dodge your bullets. Thus we come to choice of weapon:
1. Rapids. These are very often my weapon of choice. Rapids are the closest thing you can get to a laser if you aren't a member of the Stellar Aces. They move quickly (hence the name), but they also have an excellent range. Get at least two, and set them to auto-fire by pressing Shift-n (where n is the weapon bay they are in. E.g. Shift-2, because grenades are usually in bay 1). Sit in your safe spot, and start firing. The rapids will extend in a line from your ship, and as they connect with the starbase in the distance the starbases shields will gradually weaken, until the starbase is destroyed. This has some catches. Firstly, the starbase will try to move out of the way. When this happens, do not turn your ship to point at the starbase. If you do you will risk experiencing the angle of fire problem I mentioned earlier in this piece. The number-pad keys (which I recommend you use instead of the arrow keys) associate Numpad4 and Numpad6 with turning left and right. Use the Numpad1 and Numpad3 keys to strafe from left to right. If you do it right, you will be able to drift left and right while the starbase attempts to avoid your fire. Your second catch comes when the starbase gets hurt, and hides behind a planet. When this happens do not chase after it. Fire at the planet for a while, and the starbase will remember that its duty is to protect its colonies, and will come out to fight you again. Your third catch comes when the starbase calls for assistance from other robots. Whether they die or not may not be too important, because if they succeed in distracting you then they have already done their job. The trick to take out the enemy ships while not taking your attention off the starbase is this: When you choose your position to sit and fire at the starbase, choose the side opposite to enemy space, or opposite to the whole system. When enemy ships warp in to fight you they will be coming from the direction of the starbase. When they jump out of warp, they will instantly be caught in your fire, and will cause you very little trouble as they explode shortly after they arrive. This is the final catch. Destroying a starbase with rapids takes a little while, as rapids do not carry much punch, but I find it to be by far the safest and often the quickest method. Keep the line of rapids on the starbase, and it will inevitably be destroyed.
2. Torpedoes: These days I tend to use PlasmaTorps for everything. They are the most versatile weapon in the game. Torps cannot be used like rapids because they can easily be dodged and they will often fizzle before they hit the starbase. The trick to compensating for this property of the torps is to accelerate toward the starbase, fire a volley, and quickly head back away from the starbase before it hits your too much with its return fire. Use the perimeter of vision to your advantage, along with your boosters. This is where having a smaller craft can come in handy, but this can be done with a little more effort in a dreadnaught. Again, we come up against catches. First, even with the added speed that you give to the torpedoes by flying toward the starbase before firing, it will often still move out of the way. The trick against this is to fire half your load, turn a little, and fire the second half. The starbase AI is not smart enough to dodge both, and will often concentrate on avoiding one to get hit by the other, or even get hit by both halves. Your second catch is that you will find that you will get too close and the starbase will destroy you. The answer to this is don't get too close! Avoid getting real close to the starbase so that every shot you fire impacts. Not every volley you will fire will hit, but keep in mind that torpedoes are powerful, and you won't need too many successful hits to defeat the starbase.
3. Flames. Yes, you read right. You can destroy a starbase using flames. Well, more accurately, you can destroy a starbase by coming up real close and giving it everything you got. This requires a few things: You need to be in a dreadnaught, with a shield 5 or better. You will need plenty of power so that you don't run out of steam while you are trying to fire. You will probably need to use something like two plasmatorps and two flames, and just hit the spacebar like crazy. The basic idea of this strategy is that you will both start firing like crazy, except that with your head start the shield 7 of the starbase will succumb to your flames (plus more, perhaps) before your shield 6 succumbs to their lasers and torpedoes. This method doesn't always work. Sometimes the starbase is lucky, and sometimes you are. If you get the starbases shields down a little before all of this, you will give yourself a much better chance (you can do this by sending in an AI before you). Also, remember that afterward you will have to repair your ship immediately. If this method is so risky, why use it I hear you ask? Well, it may be risky, but it is extremely fast. If you go in there with guns blazing then it will all be over (one way or another) with a matter of seconds. If you're short on time, then this method is for you. Just remember not to start firing until you are up real close. Lastly, don't even think about trying this if the starbase is already mad at you (that means, that the starbase starts firing at you as soon as you come near). You need to have the upper hand as the one who starts firing first.
4. There are plenty of other weapons you could use - I sometimes see people use missiles, although I tend to stay away from these, because the heat-seeking weapons have a very limited use.
This just-about summarises all the strategies I have on defeating starbases. One final thing, is that you may not always wish to destroy a starbase. Often they can be very valuable to your race (or even to your bonus score) if you capture them. As you should already know, capturing an enemy vessel means that you need to tractor it and dock with it, but you must have more crew. Forget capturing starbases in small vessels - AI starbases start with about 10000 crew, which is a tad more than the few hundred crew in a destroyer. If you are in a dreadnaught, however, you can often damage the starbase until its crew drops to a number below yours, when you can capture them. Be careful, because if you fire too much the starbase will blow up, and if you fire too little while attempting to dock then the starbase will recuperate and start firing at you. Knowing when to fire and when to try to dock is very hard - indeed, I consider capturing starbases the hardest thing to do in Stellar Frontier.
--- End of Instalment Three ---