Advanced Mechanics part 1 - Stealth [outdated]

Discussion about PULSAR: Lost Colony including talking about factions, classes, ship systems, playstyles, etc.

  • This guide was made in Beta 16.3. I'll update it for Beta 17 when I get a chance.

    Hello space friends! I’ve been doing some testing on some of Pulsar’s lesser-known gameplay elements with the intention of making a Steam guide, but I figure I’ll post rough drafts here first. If you have any thoughts/corrections/suggestions, please chime in. I’ll start out with my investigation of stealth mechanics.

    Stealth depends primarily on two factors: EM signature and EM detection. The other signature types (Quantum, Radioactive, and Life Forms) matter to some extent, but EM is by far the most important. As other guides have pointed out, the formulas for EM signature and detection are as follows:
    ------EM sig = [Reactor’s base EM emissions] x [Percent power usage]
    ------Detection range (km) = [Target ship’s EM signature] x [Detecting ship’s EM sensor strength]
    ------Running a sensor sweep boosts sensor strength and EM signature by 10x for 10 seconds.
    ------Nebulas cause a scaling reduction in EM sensor strength. The minimum reduction is 10x.
    For example, say Ship A is using a Quiet Cupcake reactor (3.0 EM emissions) running at 50% power usage, giving it 1.5 EM signature. Ship B is equipped with a Level 2 EM sensor (3.8 EM detection). Ship B will detect Ship A at 5.7 km (3.8 x 1.5). If Ship B runs a sensor sweep, it will detect Ship A anywhere within 57 km.

    The other sensor types work very similarly, with a few key differences:
    ------Quantum is produced by the warp drive only when it is in the process of charging.
    ------Radioactive is produced by nukes: 1.0 for each loaded nuke, plus an additional 20.0 if a nuke is armed.
    ------Each crew member produces 0.1 Life Form signature.
    ------The base sensor strength for all of these is much lower than for EM. Also, sensor sweeps do not boost Qn, Ra, or LF detection.

    There are no bugs in this system; everything seems to be working fine on paper. But how about in practice? Let’s look at two scenarios:

    Scenario 1: Evasion. If all you want to do is warp around without getting shot, that’s entirely doable using standard stealth mechanics. Enemy ships will usually be sitting about 5 km away when you warp in, so you can keep your power usage to a minimum as you slowly back away, then charge the warp drive and jump out once you’ve cleared the 8km max range of enemy guns. This is a bit awkward and time-consuming, but it works.

    Scenario 2: Combat. This is the tricky one. When an NPC ship is attacked by an enemy it cannot detect, it immediately does three things:
    ------Runs a sensor sweep
    ------Moves towards the source of the damage
    ------Fires a few shots towards the source of the damage (if it's in weapons range)
    Steps 2 and 3 make sense; if you fire big flashy lasers, the enemy will spot them and be able to approximate your location temporarily. Step 1 is the problem. Even a puny Level 2 EM sensor has a 38 km range with a sensor sweep active. That means that your EM signature has to be below 0.37 in order to avoid detection at 14 km, the maximum engagement range for a player ship. You won’t be able to charge your main gun and maneuver away from the incoming enemy while keeping your signature that low, meaning you’re basically guaranteed to be detected. For reference, at Chaos 6 the sensors you encounter will be Level 4 (157 km range), 5 (236 km), 6 (326 km), or 7 (426 km). Even within a nebula, those higher-level sensors are almost guaranteed to detect you once the shooting starts. Based on all of that, combat is just about impossible using standard stealth mechanics.

    Luckily for us, there are some non-standard stealth mechanics left to talk about! As I mentioned above, you’re guaranteed to be detected in any realistic combat scenario if your EM signature is non-zero. But what if it’s exactly zero? Since detection range is multiplicative, an EM signature of 0.0 yields a detection range of 0.0, making your ship undetectable by EM sensors. There are two ways to have a 0.0 EM signature: have 0% power consumption, or have no reactor EM output. In combat, your power consumption will always be more than 0%, so that isn’t a viable option. Let’s look at reactor EM output. Every main reactor produces some EM emissions. However, the auxiliary reactor does not. Therefore, the only way to have 0.0 EM signature while retaining ship functionality is to remove the main reactor and rely entirely on auxiliary power.

    This can be tough to do in some ships, especially without the Engineer’s aux power talent. However, in ships with strong aux reactors like the Cutlass or Outrider, you can power all of your systems reasonably well, enabling you to truly fight while stealthed! This doesn’t mean you’re invincible though. Enemies can still detect your Qn, Ra, or LF signatures if you’re close enough. They can also track you visually to some extent. As I mentioned above, they spot you briefly when you fire, and in response they fly towards that position and fire a couple of semi-accurate shots in that direction. They can also see you pretty well within 3-5 km (varies by ship type). The result is that it truly feels like you’re fighting from the shadows - attacking unexpectedly, dodging the enemy’s counterattack, then popping up again behind them. I think this is what stealth combat should feel like in Pulsar.

    Key take-aways:
    ------The core stealth mechanics work as intended; nothing is outright broken.
    ------Sensor strength is badly imbalanced; detection is almost guaranteed if you’re using any significant amount of power. That makes low-emissions loadouts pretty worthless. By extension, the Stargazer’s ship bonus is also pretty worthless.
    ------Zero-emissions loadouts using only aux power work great. That makes the Grim Cutlass and the Outrider the best stealth ships at the moment due to their above-average aux reactors.

    Again, please chime in with any thoughts or suggestions. Also, I’d be happy to post quantitative data if anyone’s interested.
    Last edited by CptSnuggles on Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
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  • Thank you for the in-depth feedback, and good luck with the creation of a Steam guide! Coincidentally, the next update (Beta 17) focuses on sensors and stealth. Hopefully it makes some improvements to this system, and we look forward to your feedback!
    Leafy Developer
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  • That's great to hear! Maybe I'll hold off on this portion of the guide until Beta 17 comes out.
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  • Great post! Thanks for taking the time to lay this all out.
    "Never give up! Never surrender!"
    Alpha Tester
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