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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. 4, 1999       

Tactical Maneuvering
     Piloting a Starship is easy. Even a blind man or a 16 year-old kid (who hasn't even attended the Academy) could do it. Piloting it well, however, is another story. These things we fly aren't racecars, and they're not fighters. They're several metric tons of good old (insert your government here) pride. In Starfleet Command, Helmsmanship is more than going from Point A to Point B and hitting Engage. Your maneuvers can be just as important as your weapons when in a combat situation (which will be most of the time).

     Let me preface this with an apology. I'm sorry it took so long for me to get this installment online, but I hadn't considered the breadth of this topic when I committed to doing it. Since I've never played a game of SFB in my life, I thought it would be prudent to buy an SFB manual so that I could be "in the know" as much as possible. There are many pages in this book dedicated to maneuvering tactics, so I'm kinda biting off more than I can chew with a single entry (which is why it took me so long to post this thing). Luckily (for me), not all of these tactics are appropriate for Starfleet Command, so I'll just lay out the terminology of the different approaches, escapes, and maneuvers, and what your options are with each one. Anyway, there are two parts to this installment. First we'll go through the Helm panel and discuss how the various maneuvers can be used. Second, we'll get more into approaches and retrogrades (a fancy term for running the hell away), and some basic stuff to remember while you're clicking away on your mouse.

The Helm Panel
     It's at the top of the screen. Woohoo. I know you've already read your manual and have most likely been playing for a while, so I won't insult your intelligence by repeating a how-to on Helm control. Rather, I'll just go button by button and lay out the details of what each maneuver really does.

Emergency Deceleration
     Makes you stop really quick. Most of the time, this maneuver isn't incredibly useful, and has its fair share of disadvantages. As you know, whenever you do an Emergency Deceleration maneuver, your ship will be immobilized for a short length of time. It is good to remember the classic SFB catchphrase, "Speed is life". It's not just a saying; it's more true than most newbies understand. Because an ED is the antithesis of speed, you're leaving yourself in a temporary world of hurt. Emergency Decelerations are useful when you're about to slam into an asteroid or if you have to avoid something, but aren't usually beneficial during combat.

     The reason for this is pretty straightforward: your ship can stop pretty well on its own (depending on class, of course). When an enemy is tailgating you (this will be covered later), a good tactic is to stop suddenly and force him to overshoot you, opening up his aft section to a point-blank alpha strike. BOOM! Now, an Emergency Deceleration is a good way to do this, but it's sometimes better to simply cut power (ie: drag the speed control down to zero). As long as you slow down first, (and assuming his ship class is similar in mass to yours) most of the time your opponent will just sail right by you. Then, you can click your Follow command (also covered later) and tailgate him for a change. If you use the Emergency Deceleration, you'll be stopped for a while, and he can easily gain distance or spin around and nail you right back. In short, he gets to determine what happens next. That's a bad place to be. So, the short version is to remember the name of the maneuver. It's an Emergency Deceleration. Unlike HET's, you can perform ED's as much as you want, but it leaves you way too vulnerable. Use it in emergencies only (or at least as rarely as possible).

Erratic Maneuvering
     Kinda like yelling "Hey, batta batta batta" at a baseball game. Basically makes you harder to hit. But it's a little more involved than that. You'll remember that in the Defensive Systems section we talked about natural versus artificial ECM. Erratic Maneuvering gives you 4 points of natural ECM. Now, the tricky part. Erratic Maneuvering costs as much energy as it takes for you to move at a speed of 6. Because of the way movement draws energy, this will differ depending on the size of your ship. A Frigate will be able to use Erratic Maneuvers with relative impunity, as it costs less to use EM than it does to actually pump 4 points of power into your ECM panel. A Battleship, on the other hand, should probably never use Erratic Maneuvers unless he really wants an attack shift of 3 (which an enemy cannot overcome by using ECCM). The power cost is pretty hefty in this case, and the Captain had better well have a very distinct plan when doing this.

     Now, the downside. Erratic Maneuvers adds natural ECM to your enemy's ship as well. The amount of this natural ECM that is generated depends on the skill of your Weapons officer. If you have a Rookie Weapons officer, you will be adding 6 points of ECM to your target. In this case, it's really unwise to shoot if you're under Erratic Maneuvers. In fact, it's probably not a good idea to use EM at all, since the penalty seriously outweighs the benefit (unless your only goal is to run away). As the rank of your Weapons officer increases, this penalty diminishes. A Legendary Weapons officer means that you add only 1 point of ECM to the enemy, which can easily (and cost-effectively) be negated with a little ECCM. On the topic of officers, a Legendary Helm officer will let you perform Erratic Maneuvers at half the standard energy cost. So, the usefulness of Erratic Maneuvers depends heavily on the quality of the officers under your command. (Note to Doubters: this information was taken from the supplemental manual provided with the v1.02 patch. This manual is available in PDF format here at Starfleet Universe or from Interplay's SFC site.)

     One final point about Erratic Maneuvers. There are some miscelleneous penalties you should remember before you get all excited. You can't launch shuttles or seeking weapons while under Erratic Maneuvers. Tractors and Transporters are likewise unavailable since all of your bucking around fouls up the delicate targeting scanners on those devices. Finally, you will incur a slight speed penalty while performing erratic maneuvers. Because turning at any time bleeds off a little speed, the slight turns generated by EM will slightly affect your ability to pursue or flee a target. This penalty is probably equal to about 1 or 2 speed points, so is barely noticeable (especially if you're moving really fast, like you should).

High Energy Turns (HET's)
     Of all of the buttons in the Helm panel, the HET buttons are probably the most decisive, tide-turning controls. HET's are the perfect tools to surprise your enemy and deal maximum damage at a critical moment. There are a number of HET buttons to choose from, but I find myself using the 180 degree HET the most. Here's why:

     In the heat of battle, it's often confusing to remember which way is left or right in relation to your ship and its line of travel. If you are in overhead view, and your ship is traveling "downward", it's easy to confuse the starboard HET for the port, and vice versa. The same holds true for when you're traveling "left" or "right" on the screen. HET's have to be critically timed. You have about a 1-or-2 second window to decide which turn you want to make, choose an HET button, and then hit the button with enough time left over to actually maneuver the ship where you want it, when you need it to be there. I solve this little problem by always using the 180 degree button. If I need to do a 90 degree turn, I simply hit the 180 button and then click where I want the ship to go after the turn has begun. If your goal is simply to head for the enemy ship, just hit the 180 button and click the Follow button right when your ship starts making the HET. You could use the "Choose HET Angle" button, of course, but I've found that the 180 button is tactically more useful in a wider range of situations. The exact use of these buttons is up to you, of course. The right and left HET buttons are good if you want to force your ship to turn in a certain direction, such as in using a Feint maneuver (described below).

     With HET's, there is of course a penalty. You can only do it so many times before your ship breaks down. A breakdown is an even worse situation than just being stationary, and should be avoided at all costs. If you are commanding anything bigger than a Heavy Cruiser, you shouldn't ever use HET's because the risk is too great. A Frigate can perform 2 HET's with very little possibility of breakdown. My general rule is that if the chance of HET is less than 90%, I try really hard to resist the urge to attempt one, unless it's an extremely dire emergency. This chance does increase over time, but it takes a very long time, so check in once in a while to see if maybe you can pull it off. We'll get deeper into HET's and their use down in the maneuvering tactics section.

Orbit Command
     Fairly useless in combat. One might think that continually circling a target might make you a harder target and spread out damage, but in fact all this does is keep the same shield facing the enemy, which is always a bad idea. However, when you're in a planetary system, you can set your ship to orbit a planet at long range, and as long as there are no asteroids in your path, you will have smooth sailing while you concentrate on the enemies around you. Again, this is not a terribly impressive use of the feature. Orbit is good for one thing; staying within sensor range of a stationary object while scanning.

Follow Command
     Probably the most useful and often-used commands on the Helm panel. Plain and simple, it makes you follow the other guy. This is great for use during HET's, and any time you want to tweak systems while still pursuing a target. This way, you can approach an enemy, launch a probe, set your necessary defenses, adjust your ecm, and be ready to rock when you get in range. In close-range knife fights, following is great for tailgating an enemy (this is one of the rare instances in which you'll want to be travelling at the same speed or slower than an enemy). In multi-ship engagements, following helps you to stay glued to the same target, and usually allows you to continually paste his aft shields.

Maneuvering Tactics
     I know I probably should have whipped up some diagrams or something, but try to visualize this stuff. The two most basic maneuvers are the approach and the retrograde. An approach is when you are moving towards your target and the target is moving towards you. A retrograde is when you are fleeing your target and he is (presumably) chasing you. (Note to SFB players: in this section I am not referring to the Kaufmann Retrograde because this manuver is impossible in SFC. I refer only to the general term for fleeing... mostly because it sounds really cool) There are, of course, variations, such as pursuit (when you are chasing your enemy and he's running away), but by and large, these are the two main categories of maneuvers. Then, of course, are the combat maneuvers, which involve pretty intense clicking and a fair amount of thinking to make sure you have the right angle. We'll go through them one category at a time.

     The approach is probably one of the more tense moments in a Starfleet Command engagement. You're both heading slowly towards one another, your finger is twitching over the fire button, you're checking your ECCM to make sure you'll actually hit, you're wondering what tricks he has up his sleeve, you're guessing whether or not he's overloading, and it's just a very tense several seconds. Entire shield facings can be blown off when these ships finally come into contact, which is sort of a neanderthal, "hit the other guy hard and take tremendous damage doing it" way to fight. Hopefully, with knowledge of approach tactics, this won't ruin your day too often.

1. Direct Approach
     Basically this is the same as if you clicked the Follow button. You just head straight for the enemy with no regard for angle. This can basically end up two ways. First, you can overrun the opponent, which just means you fly right "through" him. After this type of overrun, the aft sections of both ships will be facing one another, and the aft-mounted weapons can come into play, damaging what on many ships is the most vulnerable shield. Also, after an overrun, you can do a 180 degree HET and fire full weapons at your opponent's aft shield. Direct-approach overruns are dangerous, because quite often the enemy will unload all of his weapons at your forward shield. If this happens, you're in deep trouble, because when you fire heavy weapons at close range, the feedback damage will hurt your tender (and probably shieldless) forward shield. If you continue to follow him, he will be able to use aft-firing weapons to do continual amounts of internal damage, which will eventually take out all of your forward weapons and leave you defenseless.

     There are many defenses against a direct approach overrun. You can drop a mine or scatterpack when he's at about range 5. This means he will head straight into it if he doesn't turn. It also helps if you pummel his forward shields just as he's passing, so that he will head into the mine or scatterpack with a damaged (or downed) forward shield. He'll really want to get away from that. Kinda like playing chicken. You can also set up a tractor to catch him before he passes you, but again this will leave your vital forward shields open to bombardment.

     Another way to resolve a direct approach is to perform a battle run, which means you head for the opponent and then peel off at about range 9 or 10 (out of overload range). This allows you to fire both forward and aft weapons, and you can open distance between you and your opponent. Obviously, this is better suited to ships that can travel much faster than the target. This type of maneuver is an attrition move designed to gradually wear away an enemy's defenses. This is not a gung-ho offensive tactic, and you will not to a tremendous amount of damage. If you're patient, this might work for you. It will also usually keep you relatively protected so long as you are travelling fast and maybe have some ECM on for added comfort.

2. Oblique Approach
     This has been covered in previous sections. An oblique approach is one in which your "nose" is not facing directly toward an enemy. Ideally (in SFB lore), this meant that two ships were travelling parallel to one another with 8 hexes separating them laterally, kind of like a street in which cars are moving in opposite directions but not hitting each other. In SFC, this is not easy to do, since the AI will almost always aim straight for you. But, an oblique approach can be defined as approaching the enemy at an angle. Usually, I like to point one of the two front "shield corners" at the enemy. This allows you to approach quickly, and would be called a "lead pursuit" in contemporary fighter combat terminology. The idea is to aim in front of the enemy's flight path. It will be easier to catch up with him, and harder for him to get away unless he changes course. By the same token, it's less likely that an attack will impact on your forward shield, which is absolutely the most important shield.

     Once the ships have approached, they reach the Oblique option point, which is at range 8. This is because of the way the weapon arcs are generally laid out. With a proper oblique approach, a ship can fire overloaded heavy weapons at maximum overload range, and the ship will fall into the firing arc for that heavy weapon. If you approach closer than range 8, your apprach angle will likely take the enemy ship out of your heavy weapons arc. Anyway, at the oblique option point, both ships have the option of turning to engage or turning to flee. This can come out one of three ways. If you both attack, the results will be similar to what is described in the Direct Approach section. If one attacks and the other flees, it will come to a pursuit situation, described below. If you both flee, then maximum distance will be put between you, and you can eventually turn around for another pass. It should also be noted that any ship that flees at the oblique option point will have the option of firing aft-mounted weapons at the other vessel. It should be remembered that due to the nature of the oblique option point, both ships should have an opportunity to fire heavy weapons, and the amount of damage taken by each vessel will likely determine which ship engages and which ship flees.

     There is another possible resolution to an oblique approach. This happens if one of the two ships does not turn at all, and continues on a straight course. The ship which does choose to turn can turn toward the non-turning ship's flight path, and eventually come into a pursuit course. This maneuver is termed the Klingon Hook, because of the Klingons' superior turn rate. Klingons just perform this maneuver more easily, and so of course they get credit for it. It is rare for a ship to choose not to turn in this situation, because of the vulnerability caused by this Hook tactic. A non-turning ship, however, can employ an HET to foil an attempted Hook maneuver.

3. Retrogrades and Pursuit
     Plain and simple, this is when one ship is fleeing and the other ship is following him. Extremely close-range pursuits are termed "tailgating", and will be described later because there are special circumstances when tailgating occurs. Pursuit will most likely take place at high speeds, as the fleeing ship is trying to maximize range (to avoid damage), and the pursuing ship is attempting to gain as much range as possible, so as to inflict maximum damage. As in all cases, the ship travelling faster will have the advantage. In many cases, this will be the fleeing ship, because he is not concentrating on causing damage, but avoiding it.

     The term "retrograde" essentially means travelling away from the opponent. Because the fleeing ship's only goal is to avoid damage (presumably to repair damaged systems), it is possible (and recommended) to take heavy weapons offline. Since you're running away, there is little possibility that you will bring your forward-facing heavy weps to bear, and you will need the excess power. The best use of this surplus power is to dump it into your engines, allowing you maximum speed. If you're already travelling at speed 31 and still have excess power, you'll probably want to put it into ECM. Remember, due to the way attack shifts work, you will only want to use setting 1 or setting 4 on your ECM. If you are using 1 point of ECM and cannot afford 4 points, you may want to dump any excess power into reinforcing your aft shield. When fleeing, ECCM is useless because you're not on the offensive, and thus won't want to waste power this way. You will want to keep any aft-firing weapons online, because if the pursuit lasts long enough, you can pick away at his forward shields until the time is right for you to turn and attack.

     Another way to open distance while fleeing is to drop a mine. In most cases, an enemy ship will swerve to avoid a mine, which will add more distance. AI ships are more likely to fall for this than living opponents, because a living opponent will know that a mine does only a little damage and can be shrugged off without significant penalty (or offset by a little reinforcement to the forward shield). D-variants (ships with heavy weapons removed in favor of missiles) are highly adept at running away, because the enemy will be flying right towards an incoming missile swarm, and will be forced to either change course or take defensive action (or both). In either case, this improves the missile ship's situation. The added bonus of not having heavy weapons increases the missile ship's power available for speed and ECM.

     One final note on fleeing. You will always want to be in overhead view mode while running away. First of all, this will best tell you when your opponent is gaining on you. Second, it will help you avoid asteroids, planets, and other "road hazards". At high speed, it's hard to avoid these things unless you have a head's up, and if you have your camera locked on the pursuing ship, you won't know you've hit an asteroid until you hear that sickening crunch and watch your ship explode. Situational awareness is critical. The tactical map screen is another option, but an overhead view is just more practical.

     When you're the one doing the pursuing, you have to maintain a higher speed than your opponent. When taking into account the items listed above, this can be tough, especially if you're holding heavy weapons. You'll probably want to drop overloads and just charge heavy weapons normally, because this will afford you more speed. The goal, of course, is to do damage to the opponent's aft shield, which is the most vulnerable in most cases. You have to take into account your speed, and apply ECCM if necessary (and affordable). If your opponent is a D-variant, you'll want to keep a close eye on any incoming missiles. If you have sufficient forward phasers, your point defense can take care of them, but your phaser capacitor will then draw power, thus decreasing your pursuit speed (and nullifying your ability to cause damage to the enemy anyway). The best option in the case of a high-speed missile launch is to turn away and deal with the missiles defensively. Let him have his escape. It's better to effectively wipe out a missile swarm than to keep him from repairing. This will turn the engagement into an attrition battle, where his missiles are limited and your heavy weapons are not.

     On the subject of seeking weapons, it is unwise to fire seeking weapons at a fleeing target. Missiles can be foiled by a dropped mine, and plasmas will dissipate over range, so a ship travelling away at high speed is likely to escape any damage they cause, unless fired at very close range (probably tailgating range).

3a. Tailgating
     Simply put, tailgating is essentially an extremely short range pursuit. This is best done by the pursuing ship matching the opponent's speed at short range (range 1 or 0) and clicking the Follow button. This opens up the fleeing ship to maximum firepower by the pursuing ship, to it's most vulnerable area (the aft shield or hull).

     As the fleeing ship, when faced with a tailgater, your only goal is to shake him from your rear. From that position, he can annihilate your aft shields and continually pummel your hull, while beaming over H&R parties and even beaming off your spare parts. This can be done in a number of ways. As mentioned before, an emergency deceleration is not the best option in this case, because it leaves you motionless and utterly vulnerable to whatever he has in store for you. The easiest and best option in a tailgating situation is for you to drop speed and then click the Follow button just as he overtakes you. This puts you in the favorable position, and allows you to do some damage to his aft shield and tailgate him for a change. If you're in no shape for a fight, you can perform an HET and try to open up a lot of distance. Because of the nature of tailgating, you will probably not be able to fire your forward weapons at him when you HET... the primary goal of this is to escape the situation; not to do damage. If you do want to do damage to the enemy, you can tractor him and then HET, unload on his forward shield, and then release the tractor to open distance until your weapons recharge. Mines are useless in defending against a tailgater, as the mines will activate after the enemy has already passed their detection range.

     If you are tailgating (you dirty rat... I salute you!), you must at all times be mindful of your opponent's speed. If you notice him dropping speed, cut your speed immediately to zero. Your goal here is to stay behind him. If you overtake him he will have the advantage. You can always ramp up your speed later to continue pursuit, but you must stay behind him at all costs. As you damage his internal systems, his speed will continue to drop due to engine damage. Take this into account and drop your speed accordingly. If your goal is to capture, you may want to switch your weapons to disable mode so you don't risk blowing him up right in your face, which will damage your forward shield. Also, if you take too much weapon damage to your forward shield, you may want to peel off and consider another tactic. As long as he's running away, you'll be able to do damage to his aft section even at medium range. Every point counts. In any event, monitoring your opponent's speed is the most important aspect of tailgating, because a quick action by your opponent can utterly foil you.

4. Special Maneuvers
Feint- A feint is essentially making your opponent think you are going to do something which is not what you're really doing. An example of this could be making a turn to port and then performing an HET to starboard. For example, if you are being pursued, you can turn your ship gradually to the left. Most of the time, the enemy will turn with you, in an attempt to stay on your #4 (aft) shield. If you do a quick 90 degree HET to the right, you can generally continue the HET by manually clicking around (or clicking follow) so that you are pursuing him. This can momentarily throw the opponent off, because for a split second he will have to review the new situation and take appropriate measures. The extent of this will be determined by that particular situation (whether or not you have all of your weapons armed, relative speeds, et cetera), but in many cases you can cause your opponent to hesitate a bit. This is probably harder to do in real-time than it is on paper, but it is just another thing you can pull out of your hat when the situation warrants it.

HET's and Tractoring- if your goal is to tractor an opponent into an asteroid, an HET will sometimes help you do this. Move into range at high speed (it doesn't matter which angle as long as he is between you and the rock), and then HET to "hook him" kind of like a fish. Try to make your HET angle end in such a fashion that you will miss the rock if the tractor is suddenly released (like, if his ship explodes or something), but that his ship will hit the asteroid if you continue on your present course. Then, assuming you are travelling fast enough, you can ease him right into the asteroid. The speed issue is very important, because your speed will be hampered by his ship (as your movement cost will include his ship's mass as well as your own) and it's direction of travel. I know that tractoring people into asteroids is considered a cheap tactic by some. All I have in response is that that's why God invented repelling tractors.

     I know I haven't covered all of the possible maneuvering tactics. This is a pretty huge area, because the very basis of SFC is to maneuver in such a way to inflict maximum damage at minimal risk to yourself. Because this is such a broad topic, don't be surprised if we have a Maneuvering Tactics: Part Two at some time in the future. If I find more nifty maneuvers (or if people kindly send me some), we may very well revisit this topic. If not, then Part Two will be vaporware. Fortunately, there is a lot of stuff to cover in this game, so we have plenty of fodder for discussion. Since we ended on the subject of tractors today, I'm thinking that next time we'll discuss various secondary systems in the game, such as tractors, transporters, the Zen of T-Bombing, and other miscellaneous stuff. Stay tuned, and again, I apologize for the amount of time it took me to compile all of this info.

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