Great graphics and potentially killer gameplay, but the control interface sucks big time.
Look at this.
R = forward thrust
F = backward thrust
W = ascent strafe
S = descent strafe
A = left strafe
D = right strafe
Q/E = roll right/left (respectively!)
Space - switch heading-to-vector compensator on/off (compensator automatically tries to keep up certain velocity at the direction where you are headed)
Targeting controls are:
X = target reticle
C = target nearest enemy
T = next target
Y = pervious target
Those are the most important controls.
Practically you only have pitch and yaw controls via mouse , you can forget about roll. To get that on analog control axis, you have to press mouse button 2 and move it sideways. Doesn't work very well IMO. The game needs joystick input. End of story.
So, what's wrong with these controls, aside from already mentioned lack of proper roll control?
Well. The forward/backward thrust is not actually thrust, it's a speed controller. It practically sets a target speed. And there is a maximum velocity for each craft so it's BS to say the physics are fully Newtonian. Theoretically they are, but effectively they aren't, at the moment. The player is not given command over the thrusters but rather you are given controls to set a speed to which the craft will then accelerate. Oh, the craft will continue moving to its previous direction if you have turned off the computer-aided flight (practically a must in a game like this - manual control gives better results after some time) but that doesn't help because there's a software-based limit to the relative velocity of every craft. You can't engage the thrusters actively. You tell the computer to accelerate the craft to certain speed, which is bollocks for anyone who has slightest amount of experience in zero-g flying from, say, I-Wars or heck, even Orbiter.
Also, even if you could engage main/reverse thrusters actively with R/F keys, their location is IMO poorly thought. You're supposed to control strafing movement with WASD keys, but also you have to control R/F keys, and simultaneously it gets a lot harder than you would think. If I could change the controls, I would
-remove the software-based speed limit,
-set keys to W/S = forward/backward thrust and A/D = strafe left/right and
-enable joystick attitude control.
Easiest method is to give the player a full control assignment window where everyone can change the controls to whatever they like. If there was one thing about I-Wars I didn't like, it was the lack ot proper controls setup. Every game needs that in my opinion. It's not like it's particularly hard to do, is it?
Current controls don't work very well and you can't change them. The controls are better than in initial version of the prototype, but still work.
im still downloading but i have to agree. i own a saitek x52, with its 7 axes + mousestick, only for many games to not support them. i think freespace has one of the best control setup systems ever. it has recognized every button and axis on every controler ive ever had. space is a 6dof environment and the controls should take that into consideration.
you mentioned orbiter, ive played that from time to time. its more simulator than game, but even it has plenty of annoyances, like you have to toggle your rcs modes between rotation and translation. id have rather has axes bound to each degree of fredom seprately. would have definately made docking manuvers more fun.
it completely lacks a good control setup screen (though you can edit a config file), all you can really do is set your throttle axis and its deadzone. the keypad controls were a little better and they had a cool 1/10th mode when you used them in conjunction with ctrl. in space the amount of thrust isnt as important as your burn time, for both delta v and rotational manuvers. i pretty much only use the joystick for atmospheric manuvers.
what orbiter does have is direct thruster control, rather that a software fly by wire system. shuttle pilots, being pretty much top of the line as far as pilots go, would probibly perfer direct control over their thrusters as opposed to a computer go between. so theres never been a reason to come up with a fly by wire scheme for manned spaceflight. ive always maintained that it could be possible to use newtonian physics in a game without comprimising the fun factor. a set speed limit can be newtonian so long as it respects the ships actual momentum and trhuster capability. my idea was to have a "combat envelop" system. this puts caps on the maximum amount of change in your flight vector you could induce with the purpose of keeping you in a specific combat area, so as not to comprimise your orbit.
to explain this wel use battlestar galactica secenario. galactica is orbiting a planet at a set velocity. a basestar jumps in into a higher orbit and launches a few nuke armed raiders. theese raiders must burn retrograde for a certain amount of time for their orbit to drop to galactica's level. after this burn the raiders must wait for their orbit to intersect with galactica's. galactica's vipers are sent out to intercept the raiders once reaching them, they must make their velocity vecor to match that of the raiders. this means that both raiders and vipers are not moving relitive to eachother.
your combat envelope specifies the maximum difference in speed between you and your target you may accelerate to, and the amount of time you may manuver and apply changes in velocity (excluding time in drift, where fuel is not burned). this would depend on what your fuel budget is once you consider your fuel use to target and how much you will need to return home. the remaining fuel represents how much delta v (your maximum potential to change your velocity vector) you may apply within that set envelope.
if you want to make huge changes in relitive speed between you and your target, you had better hope your aim is good because youre not gonna have much time to take the shot (ever played frontier?), if you wich to make small changes in relative speed, you can fly for a much longer period of time (this is my crude explanation of why ships in freespace are so slow, they have an envelope to consider), all this is dependant on how much delta v you have free to work with. your indicated speed, in essence is the percentage of the envelope youre operating at, not nessicarily your actual velocity, going outside the envelope is bad, cause youl loose time to complete your mission, or simply not have enough fuel to get home. so you can define your combat envelope as a bias between your manuvering time and your manuvering speed indirectly defining, based on your delta-v and needs of the mission, your combat area.
back to our example. sence the mission is a simple intercept mission, fly out, shoot down raiders, fly back, you could tilt your bias twards speed, starbuck can make a fast frontal attack in a similar manor as you would if you were to shoot a zero down with a p38. the raiders probibly also want speed cause there sights are on galactica. if some vipers had to defend a raptor, youd probibly tilt your bias twards manuvering time.
now the combat envelope would best be used in conjunction with some sorts of computerised delta-v management system and maybe this heading to vector compensator thingy (though this sounds like id eat your fuel faster). the computer would need to abstract down the page and a half of variables nessicary for space flight into a few easy to read gauges that you can glance at and get a pretty good picture of your situation without having to do 10 minutes worth of math in your head. youd need a gauge representing your remaining manuvering time, a gauge indicating the percentage of the maximum relative speed you must operate in to keep that time ticking at a constant rate at, and some 3d gauges that actually project your motion path.
target lock would also need a gauge wich is a line between your target and your path projection, this would be on the z plane relitive to the vector of the path at that positon and indicate the distance between your path and the target on that plane. as you manuver you can observe your path change, so that you can get it as close to your target as possible so that you may take a shot as you pass it. if you could visualize your motion, it would greaatly improve your situational awarness and make space flight easyer, and by doing so, more fun.
im not really a math and physics guru, so dont take my use of terminology too seriously. suggestions twards refinement of my combat envelope idea are welcome, id like to break id down to cold hard math, or at least explain it better. if youre confused try some station building missions in orbiter. thats pretty much where i get the idea from. spred your modules out and try to run figure 8s around them.