You don't know who I am. That's fine. Suffice it to say I was on Discovery for quite some time, and I fiddled with Freelancer on my own, so I have a good idea of what can and can't be done. I'm also a solid writer, and a fan of the involved genres, so give me the benefit of the doubt, a few minutes of your time, and maybe a response or two.
The following is a long-forgotten piece of private mod development which I could not find any support for from the western Gundam fan community. Nor was I ever in contact with any high-level mod developers, or a sizable number of people willing to listen to, let alone support, the concept. But for the sake of my own conscience, if nothing else, I'm going to dump this entire idea here on this thread. The technical document I was writing is currently outside of my reach, so until or unless anybody asks for it, I'm substituting my own recollection of it, with fancy pictures to keep people vaguely interested.
It was one of many, many, Many ideas I had concerning Freelancer, where mods went right and wrong, the possibilities of the engine, more exciting varieties of combat, proper community design, the concept of live roleplay, creative storytelling, so on and so forth. I give you this:
Mobile Suit Gundam: Soldiers of Sorrow is a mod for the Freelancer engine which seeks to replicate the space-borne combat sequences seen in the classic anime series called Gundam. For those of you who do not know, or even care, about what Gundam is, suffice it to say that it involves the following: Space colonies revolting against the Earth, massive armadas shooting each other to pieces, hi-tech giant robots called "mobile suits" which shoot, punch, kick, slash, and stab their way through one end of a battleship and out the other, political intrigue, references to Nazi Germany, genocide on global scales (see: Colony Crash), and the next stage in human evolution: telepathy, which results in the ability to read minds and have instant reaction times in combat.
In other words, this in a nutshell:
Now, why is this worth making into a Freelancer mod? Well, here are some ideas:
- Spacecraft range from civilian tugs to gargantuan space dreadnaughts; nimble space fighters with guns and missiles to even more nimble mobile suits with plasma rifles and swords; absurdly-sized "Mobile Armor" units which are like oversized mobile suits with typical Japanese giant death rays of doom, to flat out Doomsday weapons which fire even 'larger' typical Japanese giant death rays of doom. In other words, enough variety in ship design, function, and performance that even the most Freelancer-savvy player will be hard pressed to cover all bases and perform all duties at once
- An environment closer to home, or rather above it: Low and high Earth orbits, the Moon bases, artificial satellites/asteroid bases pulled into orbit, the Asteroid Belt itself, Mars, and even Jupiter, since all places are involved at one point or another in the series
- A starter plot which still, after four decades, makes for a compelling environment, and enough back story and continuity to keep a constant rate of development going for quite some time. Not to mention, if the original story is used only as a starting template, the avenues for individual players making their own stories in a roleplay environment become astronomical
- Enough key and memorable events to allow for special occasion missions, like when the space guys try to drop giant colonies on the Earth to create nuclear winter, or the Battle of Loom where two fleets utterly annihilate each other and everything around them with nuclear weapons.
- A rich collection of already available sounds, ranging from everything from the interface on up to the largest laser cannon of doom
- An equally rich collection of already available soundtracks from a multitude of Gundam series, easily capable of filling in standard Freelancer requirements such as the "normal, threat, combat" states in sectors, cinematic sequences such as landing, and even bar music, not to mention enough variety to cover multiple eras of story development, giving each new edition of the mod a new feel
Sound interesting yet?
No mod is worth its salt if it doesn't outperform the vanilla game in at least some respects. But that's not the focus here. Instead, this mod seeks to re-create the game into something altogether different. Different flight dynamics, different weapon envelopes, "speed is life," viable hit and run scenarios, the benefits of genuine teamwork, so on and so forth. So let's get down to brass tacks:
SHIPS - The first thing someone wants to know is just what the Hell you get to stare at for the several hours you play. Have no fear: a million options are here.
Fighters - This is as close to Freelancer as you're going to get, and even then you're in for a shock. Fighters are quick, but that's about it. They specialize in scouting, going far and fast, but at the detriment of maneuverability. Fragile? Absolutely. Unlike some mods with such HP bloating that it takes literally 'hours' to kill a fighter, in this instance, split-second reaction time means life or death, and even the savviest Freelancer will notice quite quickly that staring down the barrels of a battleship's laser-flak turrets is a bad idea. These are ships for the bold, since to compete with the rest of this list is no simple feat.
Bombers - Some mods have bombers which are like fighters with a slight detriment to speed and such. Not going to happen here: bombers are purpose-built platforms for the express use in a coordinated attack. Slow, fat, and packed to the gills with high-yield torpedoes, the likes of which you used to see in Starlancer. Sure, they do a lot of damage, but without escort, and without clearing away defensive turrets, they're all for naught. Of course, cleared of all that, what survives against such a ruthless barrage? Trump cards in the hands of a competent group, and fresh meat for the rest. As they should be.
Capital ships - Corvettes, Cruisers, Battlecruisers, Battleships, Dreadnoughts. Standard navy fare, packing lasers and in space of course. Being a student of military history and tactics, however, these ships would actually play the part: The bigger you get, the slower you get, but the more range your weapons receive, and the heavier they hit. You could make an effective game out of just these if that were the point. But it's not, since the fun hasn't even started yet.
Mobile Suits - This is what fanboys are waiting for. Imagine a giant robot with a gun firing cannon shells twice the size of your body. Imagine it stopping dead in the middle of a firefight between fighters and blowing them to pieces. Imagine it swooping right in next to battleships, too close and too fast for the defensive turrets to track it, before it pulls out a giant, energized robot axe which cleaves those guns off their mountings, leaving the ship bare for further attack. Now imagine a very expensive version of the same thing with a gun capable of popping battleships in a handful of shots, aka the "hero unit." Now imagine them trying to kill each other while being shot at from all directions. Mobile suits are used for close-in combat: their maneuverability is unmatched, meaning they will always win against fighters in a turning fight, and can dodge heavy weapons with relative ease. Not to mention, they can pack some serious heat. Overpowered? Not quite: the average hum-drum robot isn't much harder than a fighter, but you have to catch it first.
Hero Suits - And this is how you catch them. The Gundam series always had its protagonists, as any show would, and naturally these robots tended to be much heftier, even faster, and armed like a Swiss knife. These are purpose-built to be mobile suit killers, and as such are exceedingly rare. But imagine the thrill you'd experience if one of them showed up in a thick firefight and started carving its way through the enemy ranks, only to have another one show up to contest it? Fanboy wank perhaps, but it has to happen sometime. And even then, there are ways of nullifying it.
Mobile Armor - Such as these. Imagine these as the antagonists to the hero suits. They're not quite humanoid robots, more than half the time, but Christ almighty they're a Hell of a lot scarier. What with even more giant-giant death rays, ray shielding, psychic-controlled free-flying laser turrets, and enough armor to ram a battleship and plow right through it... did I mention death rays?
Doomsday Weapons - Okay, whether or not these are actually 'flown' is debatable, but there are ways of implementing them. I mean, who would pass up the opportunity to use what amounts to admin powers to vaporize an entire sector on command? C'mon. You know you want to push the button.
And the Rest - Civilian ships, transports, "mobile pods"... your typical starter craft, trade ships, hostages, cannon fodder, bait, you name it. Plenty to go around, plenty to have a vibrant "civilian" community while everyone else gets blown to itty bits.
Now that that's out of the way, how about something a bit more technical. I obviously don't have a demonstrator for you, though I wish I did, so all I can do is describe it:
Fighters - When you fly slow, they can barely turn. When you fly fast, it's better, though not by much. Thrusters do not give a substantial boost, meaning much of the thrust is controlled by W and S. Guns are fixed to a very limited forward arc, and are usually weak lasers or projectiles. Missiles can be used, depending on how much lag the server ends up suffering. Would be good for trying to attack hard points on ships, which would, in fact, be vulnerable.
Bombers - Same as the above, only slower, and with torpedoes large and slow enough to be shot down. Could have defensive guns on it, rear facing, but for the most part they'd need escort.
Capital ships - I have yet to see a Freelancer mod which does capital ships to my taste. The speed differences between classes should be noticeable, and cruise mode, if it is even used, should take long enough to start that it cannot be used effectively in combat. Main guns hit hard and over very long distances; no single "mortars" here, but main battery broadsides. Defensive armaments like "flak lasers" would be used. High rate of fire, low damage, etc. Depending on the ship class, the guns might aim at different rates, making corvettes more survivable than battleships against, say, mobile suits, even while battleships can plink corvettes to pieces from far outside of their gun ranges. Player docking would be nice, and applicable, but I doubt it would be stable enough. And lastly, hardpoints would matter here. I'm going for a more Starlancer feel, where the smaller ships do their part by picking apart the guns, sensors, shields, etc. rather than whaling on the hull with peashooters.
Mobile Suits - Here's the fun stuff: turn like mad, decently fast (not enough to make fighters outclassed, though), and can strafe like mad. Newer models get even faster, to the point where the movement speed is faster than most players could handle, even with mouse settings tuned down: the intention is to make the high-performance models, especially "hero units", neigh-uncontrollable. No free lunches, you see. Weapons would vary entirely based on the model involved, most likely with limited customization: machine gun cannons, heavy cannons, missile pods, energy weapons, and of course hand to hand weapons. How? The easiest way I can figure is to make the weapon a high-refire, minimum-range affair, where you still have to close with a target to do it. However, the damage is so extensive that if you caught, say, a fighter as it flew by, you'd cleave its wing off. Aka: boom. It would also play into the ammunition system, which I will get to in a minute. The main hull of the "ship" would be the torso, and all limbs, weapons, and the head would be "weapons" mounted on hardpoints. Given appropriate centering, and "follow the mouse" design, you could make a convincing setup where the head looks where you point, and the legs (with rocket boosters) pivot based on whether you look up or down (the lights probably not included). Empty hands or "shields" would simply be filler; an FL-hook command would probably prohibit a suit leaving dock without having all slots filled, so even though you could lose a limb (or head!) in combat, you need to put another back on before going out again. The "shield" arm would doubtless have heavier HP, making it more like a "damage sink" with a large enough hitbox to protect other hardpoints on the suit. Arms with melee weapons would have to be outstretched. A bit awkward, but functional. Finally, the heads tend to have some sort of secondary weapon like small guns on them; since the head looks where you point, that's perfectly fine as well.
Mobile Armor - These would require creativity, since the designs are so wild it's difficult to keep track of what does what and goes where. But there are some basic ideas: long refire times for super-duper-doom rays, rapid fire defense guns akin to the guns on capital ships, and for those fancy mind-controlled free-flying turrets? You could have other players man them for you, under an in-game restriction that they must be within X km of the hosting ship. Little tricks like that could make all the difference. Think of mobile armors as corvettes or light cruisers with quirks.
Now onto funky, specific stuff:
Ammunition - The energy use on ships and suits would be entirely based upon pre-set weapon arrangements. All weapons which have ammo, most likely main guns, would eat up the maximum amount, while secondary weapons like melee swords, smaller guns, etc would use virtually nil. Combine this with no energy recharge during flight, and voila: you have to dock to resupply. This puts a check on hero units and the like by limiting their actual endurance: sure that gun can blow up anything in one shot, but you only have twelve shots. Shoot wisely. Missiles are straightforward since they're already in the vanilla game. Capital ships may be special in that they have no need to resupply; gotta give them something to live for in such a hellish environment after all.
Nukes - Some special occasions and/or units would have access to nuclear weapons. On the main, the Gundam series avoided these through treaties and taboos and such. Obviously a nuke fight would end too quickly. All the same, there were times where they were used, such as the very very beginning. Here's hoping Freelancer's graphics engine can render a blob of fiery doom that large.
Nanobots/Shield Batteries - Aren't any, unless there's a specific reason, like a quirk on a special suit or mobile armor. This is a game of "kill fast, or be killed fast." No second chances, unless you're a mind reader anyway.
"Newtypes" - The Gundam series, or at least parts of it, revolve around the next stage of human evolution: empathetic telepathics called Newtypes. The idea is that, in combat, they can sense the thoughts and feelings of those around them: if you look at them and have the intention to kill, they already know that you're going to do it, and from where, giving them what amounts to near-instant reaction time without the need of fancy battle computers and the like. Naturally this cannot be implemented in the game on an as-is basis. 'But' it could be implemented through the use of shields on otherwise non-shielded ships like mobile suits. In essence, the "sixth sense reaction time" turns into the good graces of shielding, letting you escape with a few extra hits. More "mature" Newtypes could have larger shield reserves. How would these people work in a server? Well, have what amounts to the Men in Black scouring good roleplay and silently, without any fanfare, explanation, or anything, dump a "Newtype Level 1" shield in someone's craft. If they roleplay it well, maybe upgrade them. If not, revoke it. As for their faction friends? Well, if they're bright they may put them in their best ships to maximize the effect. Or they can call them a witch and kick them out. Their choice, their consequences.
Systems - Would be sectors. We're dealing with the Earth and its immediate area, with a lesser emphasis on a handful of other planets. The scale should fit as closely as possible, meaning space colonies would really be giant tubes in space, and the Earth rendered as a background image except when at its closest point, where it would probably be an oversized object rather than a standard Freelancer planet.
Stations - They still exist, but we're also dealing with gargantuan artificial and natural satellites, so something has to give. The result would be oversized objects, if at all possible. For instance: one of the space colony areas gets blown to pieces, leaving some of the tubes cracked open. Imagine hiding, and fighting, inside them.
Here's where things get tricky. I've always noticed a disconnect between people who want to just blow things up, and people who want to write, make, and act out stories. I figured, why not do both.
There would be a single server with the max capacity available. It would be a roleplay server, but not at all like Discovery, for instance. Roleplay would be very faction-based in that everything has in-game consequences. Sectors can be conquered, ships lost are actually Lost and must be re-purchased, the money for which can only be attained by supply convoys which must be protected. Limitations on who can send money to different accounts allows for the large factions to "budget" their members and apply only enough money for specific units and their maintenance/replacement. Small-time players, should they choose to work alone as a civilian in the middle of such an environment (God bless them), would be limited to trading and trying not to be killed. From there they can do things like bribe the major factions, or start their own small faction via a "banking license", giving them the same means to transfer money. And to top it all off, since the Gundam series spans such a gigantic time frame with such a rich variety of machines and plots, there would be a functional technology tree for each faction. Want to invest in mobile suits? Done. Want to invest in a superweapon? Sounds even better. Want to go for broke and have a battleship that's lightyears ahead of the opposition. Go for it, and see what you can do with it. Things like that.
The resources and economy would be balanced based on the performance, and strategic situation, of the factions. For example: the Earth guys start with little money and very backwards technology, but have a great capacity to get money and spam units. The opposite is true for the space guys. Other factions could have their own setups as they arise.
Superweapons, as mentioned before, would be limited-use, admin-power-based systems. Imagine having a trump card weapon: kill everyone in a chosen sector. It can only be used once, since the weapon implodes, but hey, imagine what damage it could do if you timed it right?
Hero units, as an extension of the self-contained monetary system, would be prohibitively expensive, meaning their use at all may be debatable if a given faction decides against it. See? It's not all fan-wank here; if you could fly an army of heroes it wouldn't be very interesting, now would it?
And stories. Oh the stories... follow the canon if you wish, but why not make your own faction? Or instigate a coup? What if the wrong side wins the war? What if those creeps out by Jupiter suddenly roll in and plow over everyone? As money is self-contained, factions can theoretically "Die" and be completely extinguished. At this point, it would be the free traders and special circumstances which would allow new groups to form.
How is all this performed by an overworked sweat-shop mod team? Well it's quite simple:
The overall changes to the game over a length of time are very minute. Once the main map is established, and once every starting unit, and the first unit down on every level of every tech tree is finished, the game can start. The development cycle would then begin: a four-month process through which the first three months are spent designing whatever ships the factions claim to be going towards, and preparing to move around stations, bases, and control points based on who's winning and losing in given areas. The fourth month is the transition, where the update is implemented, before the process is restarted. The end result is that, once the main game is finished, the devs have a good four months to make a handful of new ships and swap around a few bases. Give or take changing some music and sounds based on eras, making an upstart faction, and so on. Easily accomplished by even a much smaller team than the starting group, and the end result is something much more 'alive' than many other Freelancer mods. There's always a sense of progress and change. And since there are so many "eras" to draw from, the start of the mod would seem like a different world from where it's at in the present.
Some of these things, like the Newtype stuff and hero units, call into question concerns of egalitarianism. Well don't worry about it: Hero units can be Destroyed flat out (blown up ships are defaulted to a space pod at a faction's home), and very expensive to replace on a whim. And Newtypes? The advantage may not be too great if you get the jump on them. There's less room for admin bias there, and factions have to actually play smart with their money and their members; incompetent leadership can be booted, you know, so if some jerk is hogging all of the Gundams and sapping the Federation's bank account, open a case against him and have his super-duper underaged female anime admiral Court Martialed and vented into space. There's a war on.
Speaking of which, "roleplay" is not nearly as important with factions legitimately at war, so none of that "tell you my life's story" or prohibitive ID "rules" crap which I loathed so much. If you're at war, Kill the Enemy. If you're a civilian, hope to god that the Feddies are good guys. If they aren't? Defect and give all your money to the other team. And even you, as a player, add manpower to these factions, which is a very real commodity. Imagine a faction which bullies new people in civilian ships, and then has no recruits because everyone takes them for jerks. Real actions, Real consequences, Real roleplay.
And if you don't like that idea? Fair enough: Type in an FL-hook command and instantly spawn in an isolated system with whatever ship and weapons suite you want. Use it for training. Use it to try out that Newtype level 4 Gundam that nobody can afford to buy. And just whale on each other; it's all free. A sandbox. A true sandbox, within a server which also hosts a real, vibrant storyline, which is constantly evolving, with real people making real decisions with real consequences.
That's what I wanted to see in Freelancer this entire time. It's what no professional studio will ever deliver since it places too much in the hands of actual players.
That's the gist of it. Wish I knew about Freelancer earlier, when there were still people willing to do things like this. But at least this is now out in the open, so I can feel like it was slightly less a waste of time. C'est la vie.