Bit of an update on the second phase of the modding. First of all, I'm looking more closely on the texture part, to integrate better effects on the ships (glow and that stuff). Second part is the start of the rebalance work, which is intended to eventually make most fighters decent choices for the player to use all over the game, and one of the big points, particularly to make the game more Privateer-like, is to set up power plants and engines customisation:
This will require getting the newest edit of the .exe file I'll get in the mod, though the idea is the following:
* Fighters will have access to a lot more different weapons, making them relevant longer in the game;
* Energy management should be a thing, with power generation/capacity being distinct parameters to balance with consumption in game;
* Engines are going to be worked a bit to provide a whole new line of systems that can be set up, with different values of thrust and power consumption;
* The mass of fighters is going to matter, making thrust more or less speed-generating for the fighters;
* The big limitation between fighters will be in terms of volume taken by the powerplants;
* Each available powerplant will take different volume in your cargo hold, with the balance setting up large fighters to have more room for bulkier and more efficient plants capable of supporting powerful guns and engines but also will need more powerful engines just to achieve the same performances as a light fighter, which will have lower drag and smaller cargo holds.
* All enemies' loadouts will have to be reworked to fit the new setups. That
will be painful for me, though, since the vanilla game has... 470 different enemy ships' loadouts.
What does it mean for you, trusty Freelancer?
You have to choose between an Arrow V light fighter or a Lance superheavy fighter. Let's say the Arrow has 2 cubic metres' worth of cargo bay and the Lance has 100. The Arrow is a nimble fighter with a drag factor of 1 while the Lance's drag is 15 (the fighters suffer from drag induced by ether, which propagates sound in space - it's all linked to dark matter and quantum foam, trust me on this).
The good old ship equipment emporium has several pieces of equipment it can provide you. For example, the Duracell powerplant, which amusingly looks like a AAA-battery pack with open wires and a power generation index of 5, taking 0.5 volume. Or the Scotty's Custom, a matter-antimatter quantum-o-mat disintegrator zero point generator with a power generation of 100 and 25 in volume.
It also offers the Mark I "Squirrel Fart" engine, using 2.5 power to provide 500 thrust and the Mark X "Samantha Carter's Special" engine, using 75 power to provide 5,000 of thrust.
Now, with this, your Arrow could use the Duracell and the Mark I, consuming 0.5 of its 10 volume to provide 5 of power. 2.5 of this power generation is used for the engine, which gives you Thrust/Drag = 500 m/s speed. Pretty fast! You also have 2.5 power left for guns and shields, and 1.5 volume left for cargo, weapons and the stuff. You look longingly at the Carter's Special engine, which would make you go at plaid speeds, but there's no way in hell you'll ever get a large enough powerplant to fit in your smallish cargo bay. Though you might try to use a smaller engine even to free more power generation for your shields and weaponry. It's not going to be a medium fighter, but you could get a heavier balance of equipment.
For your Lance, you MIGHT make the same equipment choice, Duracell and Mark I. You'd get 99.5 volume available for cargo and the stuff. Of course, you'd get a top speed of Thrust/Drag = 35 or so m/s, and still barely 2.5 power left for guns and shields. Your Lance is going to be an overweight whale good for transporting more cargo while you read War and Peace
in front of your computer. Or you could go for the Scotty's Custom and the Carter's Special. Now 25 of your volume is taken, but you have 100 power generation, of which 75 is used to provide you Thrust/Drag = 330 m/s top speed. You're now cruising at a decent speed and have 25 power left to no-sell the guns and shields of the Arrow with your own.
Now, you could have powerplants dedicated to provide more power capacity than generation, making you capable of firing overpowered weapons at the cost of taking an unholy time to recharge them. Or maybe tons of generation and little power, meaning you could field more powerful shields and engines, but good luck having enough power to fire your big guns at all.
I think this way of balancing things would be a lot more comprehensive and could make various gameplay options valid, as well as keeping most fighters competitive all the way to the endgame. Of course, it also means some massive Excel spreadsheets on my way to plan the specifics of the balance, which is work that is going to take several weeks at the very least.
EDIT: here's below a sneak peek at the balancing process
I've configured the spreadsheet to allow quick selection of powerplant and engine followed by display of max speed and remaining energy/volume as well as alert if there is an incompatibility. At this point, I'm going to have to define the powerplants and engines, then tinker the stats to make the stuff work. I've defined the relation between each parameters and set up a first series of engines and powerplants for light, medium and heavy fighters (as well as a special set for the Lance, which is a massive and bulky fighter), and variants for them, with more performance in terms of power or capacity, or maybe lower drag for higher energy consumption (think closed Bussard scoops), the reverse, more or less thrust, etc. It leads to pretty interesting outcomes considering the specific drag of fighters.
For example, the Morningstar, which is a heavy fighter with low drag and high available volume - an endgame fighter, definitely - can fit a medium fighter engine with a heavy fighter powerplant and get most benefits from the engine variant with the lowest drag to get better top speed than if it had the more powerful heavy fighter engine. The values in the file are still work in progress, but give an idea of what to expect enventually: a setup where all fighters have different speed and agility plus a much higher degree of customisation to facilitate specific roles such as couriers (I'll have to see whether I can loot the story mode missions for their time limit code and design random courier missions with a destination to reach within a limited time) or bulk cargo fighters. For example, an Avenger with the smallest powerplants and engines will move like a snail at 68 kps but will have 63 of its 70 internal volume available for transport, while dedicating all the power of its most powerful available powerplant can push it to 156 kps, more than twice the speed, at the cost of having only 22 of the 70 internal volume available. And, of course, even in its fastest configuration, the Avenger will be laughed at by a Razor zipping by at 412 kps... that is, until the Avenger one-shoots the Razor while shrugging all the Pirate fighter's weaponry.
Yes, I love Excel and coding. Does it show?