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Note: The opinions and observations herein are strictly my own.
Sometimes they'll be right, sometimes not. Please let me know if the latter is true.

Dec. 2, 1999       

Defensive Systems     (Updated Dec. 12, 1999)
     In space, no one can hear you scream. Of course, you won't have to scream too much if you know how to handle your various defensive options. Starfleet Command offers you a staggering array of defensive systems; many more than we've seen in Star Trek. Today we're going to go through them one by one. There are some pretty important details here, so listen up. Proper use of defensive systems will maximize your efficiency and minimize the wasting of precious energy.

     The key to defenses is to know what your enemy is doing. Unless you're a Betazoid, you're not going to know what he's thinking, so the best place to start is to know what he has at his disposal. Make it a habit to launch a probe the moment an enemy comes into sensor range. This is the best way to find out what you're going to be dealing with. If the enemy doesn't have missiles, your defensive tractors are useless, so don't use 'em. If he's not using ECM, you'll be wasting power if you use ECCM. If he's using Photons, you'll definitely want to use some form of ECM, whether natural or artificial (both will be explained later, so don't fret). You can't just indiscriminately throw power around to cover all the bases. The very nature of defense implies that you are defending against something. Every engagement is likely to be different, so you need to use the appropriate defense for each attack. Hey, I'm a Taoist... I'm hardwired this way.

ECM (Electronic Countermeasures)
     ECM stands for Electronic Countermeasures. Present-day combat aircraft use it, so it's only natural that 23'rd century starships would have it. ECM makes you harder to hit, and the best defense is to not be where the enemy is shooting. ECM comes in two forms: natural and artificial. Natural ECM is any ECM which is not caused by your ECM panel. Erratic Maneuvering and Nebulae are the two ways to take advantage of natural ECM. Artificial ECM is generated on your ECM panel (or Sensors panel if you want to be nitpicky). ECCM (electronic counter-countermeasures) is used to "cancel out" ECM emissions from another vessel.

     When ECM is in use (whether natural or artificial), it will cause what is called an Attack Shift. This is where it gets really tricky. The Attack Shift is the square root of the difference between your ECM and the enemy's ECCM. If the Attack Shift is 1 or more, you are successfully using ECM. Now, the mathematics are kind of irrelevant if you just remember that the key ECM levels are 1, 4, and 9. Let's assume for a moment that your opponent is not using ECCM. If you set your ECM to 1, you will have an attack shift of 1. If you set your ECM to 2 or 3, you will be spending more power for the same effect, so levels 2 and 3 are wasteful (because the square root of 2 and 3 just round to 1 anyway). When you kick it up to level 4, you are making more progress. The square root of 4 is 2, so you will have an attack shift of 2. For levels 5 and 6, the same is true for levels 2 and 3; the square roots round down to 2. So, the question is, why are there values of 2, 3, 5, and 6, if they don't make a difference? The reason behind this is twofold:

     1. These additional values can help you fine-tune your ECM to overpower the enemy's ECCM. If your enemy is using 1 point of ECCM, you can go up to 2 points of ECM to regain an attack shift of 1.

     2. Artificial (self-generated) ECM can be combined with natural ECM for a cumulative effect. If you're using Erratic Maneuvers, you will have 4 points of natural ECM. You can add 6 points of artificial ECM for an attack shift of 3. Also, being in a nebula adds 9 points of natural ECM to all ships. This can be combined with erratic maneuvers and 3 points of artificial ECM for an attack shift of 4.

     So, what exactly is an Attack shift? Here is a graph (shamelessly taken from Kavik Kang's awesome tactics guide; a veritable bible of SFC tactics... it'll be available in html format right here at Starfleet Universe! Stay tuned!) that will hopefully shed some light on what this stuff means:

Net ECM Strength
Attack Shift
1-3 1 (16%)
4-8 2 (33%)
9-15 3 (50%)
16-24 4 (66%)

     Those percentage values next to the Attack Shift scores indicate the amount of protection you receive. For example, it would be 16% harder for a Photon Torpedo to hit a ship with an Attack Shift of 1. Since Photons are dreadfully inaccurate anyway, even the most marginal ECM differential can make or break a photon firing solution. ECM can effect seeking weapons as well, though not to such an extent. Seeking weapons can lose damage potential (either a 25% or 50% loss, or none at all) depending on the Attack Shift. The 1.02 patch provides an Attack Shift display on the main screen, so you can easily see the effect of any ECM your opponent is using.

     ECM does have limitations. ECM does not affect Hellbores or Plasma torpedoes as much as other weapons. Plasmas have 3 points of ECCM built-in, and hellbores are only about half-affected by ECM.

Defensive Tractors
     Defensive Tractors are only good for one thing; missile defense. If your enemy doesn't have missiles (launch a probe well ahead of time to find out), don't bother with defensive tractors. It's just wasted energy. And no, defensive tractors do not work against Plasma Torpedoes.

     Each defensive tractor continuously consumes 1 point of energy. It doesn't matter if they're not currently activated. They're considered "on standby", so the power is always reserved and waiting. When facing an enemy with only 1 drone rack, you can sometimes get away with using only one defensive tractor, but he will always be able to fire another drone before the first one runs out of gas. You'll probably want to add a little point defense or bring up a second tractor just to be sure.

     Finally, if the battle wages for a long time, the enemy's drones may run out, or you may destroy his racks. In this case, you will probably want to deactivate your defensive tractors to get those precious extra energy points. Be careful, though... he may be saving a six-pack for when you least expect it.

Point Defense
     Point defense phasers help you to minimize the damage done by seeking weapons. Missiles and Plasma Torpedoes are the two types of seeking weapons in the game. Missiles will often be knocked out completely by defensive phasers, but plasma torpedoes are only degraded (they will do less damage if they take damage from phaser fire). Plasmas are only rarely completely dissipated by point defense (usually this is in conjunction with high speed or long range plasma fire).

     There are two ways to engage point defense phasers. The first, easiest, and least efficient way to do this is to hit the point defense button on your Defensive panel. This sets all of your phasers to point defense. Effective in an emergency, this option also leaves you vulnerable because your heavy-hitting Phaser 1's will be knocking out drones instead of your enemy's shields.

     The more time-consuming, but ultimately more efficient way to enable point defense is through your Weapons Panel. Under each phaser is a little button marked with a "D". Clicking this button will assign that phaser to point defense. Usually these will be Phaser 3's or Phaser G's, since they consume the least power and are easier to do without in a fight. It also helps if you remove these phasers from your standard weapon groups, so you don't inadvertently fire all of your point defense phasers in a standard volley.

     Unlike Defensive Tractors, Point Defense requires no extra energy until the phasers are actually fired, at which time the phaser capacitor will draw power normally. For this reason, it's not necessary to deactivate point defense after your opponent's missiles are exhausted.

     Your shields are your absolute last line of defense against damage. After all of the speed, fancy maneuvering, ECM, point defense, wild weasels, and tractor beams, your shields are the only thing standing between your naked hull and some punishing firepower. Shield control is pretty complex, especially with new developments in the upcoming v1.02 patch.

     I'll assume you've already taken the Academy course in shield control, but do you really know how to use them? A big part of shield usage is common sense. Don't let the same shield take too much damage. Once a shield is down completely, it will usually remain down for a while until you manually raise it (using your shield panel). Common sense dictates that you keep your strongest shields toward your enemy, and your weakest shields away from the enemy. Well, DUH.

     UPDATE: I've received numerous emails telling me that shields do not regenerate in battle. Please take note that I am referring to changes that have been made in the upcoming v1.02 patch. Many of you don't yet have this, because it hasn't been publicly released as of this writing. For those of you who don't have the patch (which should be most people), this is new information, and it's something to be excited about. It really does change the game for the better in my opinion. The way it works now is that shields that are completely down will continue to repair behind the scenes (using the formula below), and you can raise them later to whatever extent they have repaired. Intact shields will also repair themselves as per the formula below.

     The v1.02 patch introduces a new aspect of shields; self-regeneration. In previous versions of SFC, the recharging of shields was based on a complex formula that often prevented shields from regenerating at all. Back in the day, this was one of my main gripes about SFC, because shields are supposed to regenerate! It's just the way things are supposed to be, dammit! Anyway, with the new patch, everything is extremely peachy. Here's the new and improved formula for shield regeneration (taken verbatim from the v1.02 supplemental manual):

Shield regeneration is automatic. You do not have to pay any power or spare parts for this to occur. An individual shield facing regenerates with the following formula:

1 shield point per turn
+1 point if the ship has 4 or more undestroyed labs
+1 point if there is a Legendary Science Officer

All shield facings are repaired simultaneously, but the shield strength can never exceed starting levels plus reinforcement. Any excess shield repair is lost.

     At the end there, they mention shield reinforcement, and that's the next thing we'll discuss. From an energy standpoint, shield reinforcement is not quite as cost-effective as ECM or other forms of defense. Reinforcement costs 2 points of power for every 1 point of shield energy, so it's very energy-inefficient. You'd be better served by increasing your speed or diverting that power to ECM. Shield reinforcement does, however, help you out if you have a lot of power "just sitting around" (usually when you're moving slowly). Shield reinforcement basically shunts unused power to the shield or shields of your choice. This can be used to supplement damaged shields as they regenerate. As long as the damage received does not exceed your amount of shield reinforcement, your shields should repair normally. Energy used for reinforcement is divided among all of your shields, unless you specify a shield to be reinforced. Specifying a shield is the most effective, since that shield will receive a bigger boost than if you spread it among all of your shields. As the enemy moves around, you can select different shields to reinforce. For example, you can approach the enemy while reinforcing your forward (#1) shield, and retreat while reinforcing the aft (#4) shield.

     On that note, I should mention that your #1 shield and your #4 shield are the most important. These two shields are the most important because they are used during the two most important times in combat. The #1 shield is used when you're bringing your weapons to bear on the enemy. You are purposely trying to get in range for an effective attack. You are therefore getting within range of his weapons, so you need protection. The aft shield is important for when you are "getting the hell out of there", whether to repair damage or recharge weapons. A high rate of speed and a healthy "butt shield" are essential for survival when you're trying to open distance. If possible, avoid taking damage to these two shields unless absolutely necessary. This can be accomplished by using the Oblique Approach (mentioned in the previous installment), thereby allowing your enemy to hit your #2 and #6 shields, while protecting your #1 shield. The same can be accomplished for the aft shield by continuing to turn as your enemy pursues you. Hopefully, with gradual turns, you'll still open distance and he won't be able to get a bead on your tender rear-end.

Sensor Decoy Shuttles (Wild Weasels)
     Wild Weasels are both a blessing and a curse. When faced with an insurmountable swarm of seeking weapons (drones or plasma torpedoes), a Wild Weasel is a quick and efficient means of nullifying the threat. It is kind of an option of last resort, because their supply is so finite. Most ships carry one or two weasels, and larger ships can sometimes have as many as five.

     Well, everything has a downside, and the downside of the Wild Weasel is that you must slow to below speed 4 and fire no weapons as long as you want to be protected by the weasel. The moment you fire (or move faster than Speed 4), all seeking weapons still "airborne" will go directly towards your ship, assuming you were their original target. You cannot use a Wild Weasel to defend an allied ship from a guided weapon attack. Only the targeted ship can be protected by its own wild weasel.

UPDATE: Here's some more info about weasels. I erroneously inferred that launching a weasel will automatically perform an emergency deceleration. This is only the case if you're moving faster than Speed 4 when you launch the weasel.

R.W. Rodgers provided the following mini-essay on Weasel physics. Check it out!

"The maximum speed that a WW will still function at is 4. Additionally, it's worth mention that if one reduces their speed to 4 or lower prior to launching a WW (provided they have time to before impact!), you do not suffer from the "Emergency Deceleration Syndrome" while still leaving the WW active. I am running the v1.01 patch and this may have changed under the v1.02, which will mean I need to evolve my WW tactics when the patch is released.

Also, here's a nice way around the weapons firing restriction associated with the WW: A second shuttle can be launched after the WW without negating the effects. Dropping a scatterpack (which will NOT negate the effect of your WW) as your enemy closes behind his second wave of missiles towards what he thinks is a "damned if I do, damned if I don't" opponent, this can at least divert phasers/energy from his attack while allowing your WW to do what it does best; eat missiles! Maybe he reevaluates his attack plan any veers off, leaving you to your recovery. Bottom line is this; some movement is better than none. Speed 4 can get you some maneuvering that could be critically important in a tight pinch."

     The most important tactical consideration involving Wild Weasels is the fact that you will slow to a full stop, and will remain there for several seconds, due to an Emergency Deceleration maneuver that automatically kicks in when you launch the weasel (if, and only if, you're travelling faster than Speed 4, which should be most of the time unless you're suicidal). Once you stop, you WILL remain there for a while, and thus be vulnerable to an enemy attack from which you cannot run. Also, remember that your speed control remains where it was when you launched the weasel. So, even though you're stopped, your speed setting will still be at whatever speed you were travelling beforehand. If your speed is still set high when your engines start working again, you will automatically start to move, and, you guessed it, "Pop goes the weasel". So make sure after you launch your weasel, you move your speed slider down to zero, thus eliminating that nasty surprise when your ship starts moving again. Weasels were covered in slightly more detail in the Missile Tactics installment (Part 2).

     So, hopefully you've learned some little tricks to keep your butt safe in the cold void of space. I know a lot of this stuff is really confusing, so if all of that talk about square roots freaked you out, just remember the basics. If you still have questions, I'll be happy to answer them! Okay, we've covered defensive systems, but that's not the end-all and be-all of protecting yourself. In the next installment, we'll talk about maneuvering tactics. Maneuvering is important for both defense and offense, so it deserves a little scrutiny. Different approaches, a little helm terminology, and basically how to move that big ship that Starfleet trusted you with. Just imagine a Frigate with a big plastic "Student Helmsman" sign bolted to the top. And I'll be sitting right next to you with a little modified Emergency Deceleration pedal, just in case. Until then, don't go changing, and don't forget to wipe.

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