Reactor Control

Hey Folks! I started on the reactor control UI today, splitting time fairly evenly between research and layout. The fire-up sequence is one of the more important parts of the upcoming teaser, not to mention one of this game's design goals: satisfying and meaningful pilot controls.

Players should feel like they're Wash, powering-up the ship for a full burn, flipping switches and turning knobs. And in the spirit of NEO Scavenger's attention to detail, these buttons and knobs should be based on some minimum level of reality.

With this in mind, I set out to enumerate the steps for powering-on an inertial confinement reactor. The reactor type that will power most ships in this game, and comparable to the Epstein drive found in Expanse. The high-level explanation is that it uses lasers to implode a tiny pellet of He3 and Deuterium fuel, and that implosion fuses atoms at its center, which in turn, fuses the atoms further out inside the pellet. Eventually (picoseconds later), the pellet is consumed, and the energy given off is high enough to heat He3/D in the chamber around it to a plasma, and to start fusion chain reactions there.

This fusion chain reaction in the plasma is released out the back of the ship in a controlled manner, which is the source of the ship's thrust. Some of it is siphoned off to be passed through a magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) generator (think hydro dam, except using flowing plasma instead of water).

There's more to it (much more), and a lot more precision involved than what I'll tackle. But it gets the point across. A layman, and possibly even a somewhat physics-literate sci-fi fan like myself, can probably suspend disbelief that this is the real deal, and they are at the helm of a powerful, high tech reactor. So far, the start-up sequence looks like this:

  • Purge Reaction chamber (Roughing Pump then Turbo Pump)
  • Charge Capacitors
  • Activate Cryogenic Pump System
  • Activate Pellet Injection System
  • Power-On Forward Field Coil
  • Power-On Rear Field Coil
  • Calibrate Laser
  • Activate Fuel Regulator
  • Activate MHD
  • Containment Laser Fire
  • Ignition Occurs!
  • Exhaust Aperture Open
  • Maintain 1.16e9K reaction temp to minimize x-rays and heat.
  • Adjust aperture/MHD split to trade power for thrust

I'll probably have a cheat sheet, like a clipboard, pinned somewhere on the UI so new players can follow along. And if I can manage it, maybe some steps will be optional or variable, and performance will depend on getting the right balance. And ideally, AI will do all this automatically, based on their skills, so you can just direct "Wash" to fire-up the reactor if you don't want to do it personally.

That's the plan, anyway. As you can see from today's mock-up, there's still a lot of design to work through. And I'll probably need a bit of iterating to get the feel right.


Respawn's picture

Attempting to make the UI resemble the control panel it's representative of is certainly a neat idea I long to see appear more often, being both aesthetically pleasing and immersive at once. I'm vaguely reminded of Highfleet, actually:


On another note, that interface looks fairly complex, if at least accurate. What sort of learning curve do you intend?

Part-Time moderator of the Blue Bottle Games Discord

dcfedor's picture

I'm looking forward to Highfleet, too! Very cool aesthetic. And the deeper take on lander-style mechanics look like they'll be fun.

Regarding learning curve, I'm aiming for something that looks daunting/convincing, but is actually fairly easy to handle. It's mostly about pushing buttons and having cool things happen, with just enough realism to sell the illusion.

Most likely, there will be some sort of sticky note or clipboard peeking out from the screen's edge, and it'll have a cheat sheet/checklist on it.

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games