Better docking

A quieter space for design discussion of long-term projects
FluffyFreak
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Better docking

Post by FluffyFreak »

Before launching into the various ways in which we can improve the docking system for modeller I have to ask: Do we want auto-pilot docking for the player at all?

I've been watching some videos of docking in the upcoming Elite:Dangerous and frankly they make it look like it's very easy to do. We have speed matching, we can have the ship automatically match the orientation of the space station to counteract it's spin etc. We can even to the fancy indicator to show where you are about the pad and fancy glowing things to indicate where you need to park.

So it seems to me that we only really need the auto-pilot to fly you to the vincinity of the station, and the rest the player can quite easily manage for themselves.

What do people think?

Now then, there's still the AI to consider, and they're all thick as two short planks, so some docking system is still required.

Nozmajner has asked if we can use bones and that looks doable, possibly even a single bone chain for docking & leaving from each pad.
So the AI could hit the trigger geometry, then follow the bone-chain onto the docking pad. To leave they'd just follow the same one in reverse order.

Other options are just to define the landing locator itself, where the door is, perhaps an internal volume the AI is allowed within and then we let it work it out with some navigation AI/waypoint generation in code.

The whole point of this is to reduce the amount of work that an artist needs to do when making a space station. Some things just HAVE to exist, the locators for the pads and some collision geometry for us to actually detect the docking itself, otherwise I want to make this as quick and painless as possible.
nozmajner
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Re: Better docking

Post by nozmajner »

I think autopilot docking might be useful to keep as an option. I mean a beginner might have problems with docking by hand.
Some kind of rotation synchronization would be handy for sure. Especially in my station remodel where the bays are sunk a bit, and one could easily hit the bridges around it.

And one problem with the bone setup is that bones always point to the next one in the chain, so setting up desired alignment would be pain (you can disconnect bones, but it seems that collada doesn't care much about it). But this shouldn't really be a problem if their only task is to provide waypoints to the AI.
Also, I suggested using bones as waypoints is because they are easier to work with in blender, with their built-in hierarchy. And they also can use custom mesh displays, which would provide some visual help during setup.
Tichy
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Re: Better docking

Post by Tichy »

I'd prefer to be able to dock manually, with some aid like in E:D. Since there's the need for an autopilot for npc ships, it could be sold as an equipment (or given as an order for a crew member), so one could choose to use 1T of cargo for it, or dock manually. In that way it would be more suitable for large ships than the small stater ones. I think that's a good thing that the player would have to lean how to do some maneuvers.

OT: IMHO, the autopilot shouldn't do docking at all. It should bring you near stations, planets and, maybe, enter orbits (with F2-F6 it's now very simple for the player to enter and change orbit, so IMHO it's not needed anymore). Too much autopilot makes pilots lazy! ;)
jpab
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Re: Better docking

Post by jpab »

As you say, NPCs still have to be able to dock, so we will always need the code to do that. I don't see any advantage in dropping autopilot docking for the player. The only reason I can think of for doing it is to force some gameplay onto people, but I would guess most players will have trading runs or whatever where they don't want the hassle of manual docking, even if they enjoy doing it in other situations. And I don't see any way that we can claim automatic docking would be technically impossible in the year 3200. ATVs already do fully automatic docking with the international space station, and we've had autopilots capable of performing landings for ages.

I'm totally in favour of doing things to making manual docking more fun, but I don't think we should get rid of autopilot docking.

There are also options like allowing the autopilot to be damaged through combat. That seems much more interesting to me, eg, someone blowing some important sensors away so the autopilot doesn't have any data to use, or some kind of electronic attack frying the computers or corruping software; suddenly you find that you've got to remember your manual flight training. As long as it doesn't happen too often, it makes a nice story.
Tichy
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Re: Better docking

Post by Tichy »

OT: A tradeoff could be to separate autopilot and autodock. In that way it would only be a matter of installing it by default or not on the starter ships (let's say: inastalled on the Earth start, not installed on New hope and Barnard's star starts).
One could choose to remove it in order to gain some cargo space and still be able to use the autopilot for the long transits in interplanetary space, while doing all the landing and docking manually. ..or he could keep it and let it do all the things.
FluffyFreak
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Re: Better docking

Post by FluffyFreak »

Off-Topic: I think we could do with having something likes like the autopilot/autodock weigh nothing but be considered "apps" for the ships computer, then you can simply enable/disable etc and they don't take up 1-tonne of cargo space which has never made sense to me.
impaktor
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Re: Better docking

Post by impaktor »

Oh, five replies while I wrote this. Well, I'll post what I wrote:

I take it you are talking about the automation from station door (for Hoop for instance) to setting down on the "pad" that is always automated now, and not about the flying from the vicinity of the station to the station doors?
we can have the ship automatically match the orientation of the space station to counteract it's spin etc
So this is not what the auto pilot does now? Or what is the difference?

Some things to keep in mind:
  • 1. Many players enjoy the low level newtownian mechanics, and would probably like the option to be as "manual" as possible.
    2. In contrast, some find flying difficult (at least beginners), and always use auto pilot.
So it seems to me that we only really need the auto-pilot to fly you to the vincinity of the station, and the rest the player can quite easily manage for themselves.
So how would this work? At the station the player can ask the station (or his ship) for flight assist to match rotation, then fly in and slowly set down on the pad?

What does "bones" mean? Something that is easier to do for the modeller?

I'm not too fond of the current docking at Hoop for instance. You can come at any speed at it, as long as you hit the opening, the animation immediately gives you the right speed and trajectory. I've been thinking about manual docking that is a bit more challenging (if the player prefers), the way it was in Elite, try-crash-try-crash-try-succeed! yay-I've-learned-manual-docking!

So the way you envision this, could there be some gain by doing it in a more demanding way, like manual docking in Elite, and an easier way where you might pay the station to guide you in, or have I completely missed the point?

Maybe my questions sound negative, but they're not intended to. If what you suggested can be made to work (keeping both advanced players and beginners in mind), and if it makes life easier for modellers/coders, then I am all for it, if this is what you want to tinker with.
FluffyFreak
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Re: Better docking

Post by FluffyFreak »

impaktor wrote:What does "bones" mean? Something that is easier to do for the modeller?
Bones are just a common 3D modelling type, you usually use them to build a skeleton for an animated character and then attached other meshes onto those bones or you "skin" them with deformable geometry.

You can use them for other things though.
Phip-H
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Re: Better docking

Post by Phip-H »

If I may;
I think that "Auto-Pilot" and "Auto-Docking" should be separate features, and I would agree that the "App" concept for both is preferable to the current implied Mainframe implementation.
I believe that "Auto-Docking" is required for new pilots to minimize the learning curve, however I think it would make sense to reward players for manual piloting skills.
I think it makes sense to "pay" a station for "Auto-Docking" facilities in the same way that ships using ports today have to use pilots qualified to steer a ship into their harbor.
This leads on to all sorts of potential game play enhancements;
the Personal Information screen could include a section for "Piloting Qualifications", some stations may require a licence to be able to dock manually, at others you may have "Auto-Docking" unavailable, some both may be true and you may have to be qualified to dock there or be turned away if "Auto-Docking" is unavailable or damaged on your ship. Then there is the whole earning qualification element, there could be generic docking training, for both planet side and orbital ports, taking the qualifications of course would need to be paid for, and there should be limited numbers of training centers. Some stations could require a specific type of specialist qualification, or their own certificate.
Then of course there is the whole "your certification is not recognized by our faction" story!
This concept could extend out beyond just "Auto-Docking" to piloting in general, even if its just a measure of manual Vs autopilot flying hours... but I digress.
DraQ
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Re: Better docking

Post by DraQ »

First things first:

Current docking and landing - rails and all - is not very fun.

As for the autopilot, I'd be for fully integrating it into the base ship functionality, auto-docking included (basically I'm of the opinion that there should never be a tradeoff between tedium and mechanical disadvantage - in this case wasting space on your ship - in a game) - with one caveat: it should be an individually damageable subsystem (or set of subsystems) once Pioneer gets some damage model and it should be oblivious to damage to subsystems affecting ship's flight characteristic's (like individual thrusters), making autopilot dangerous or worthless in a damaged ship. Manually there should be no helpers like matching rotation, though low thrust modes should also affect rotational thrust (for precise matching ship's of rotation to the station's).

As for docking itself, either rails should be avoided to the furthest extent possible - in that case I imagine cyllindrical interior lined with landing pads where you'd have to land manually (coping with Coriolis' force and such), for ground based stations something a ship could simply land on (in the same sense as when you land rough), with volume within which it could be considered docked - or orbital stations should have an axial docking bay ending with closed lift (like in Frontier) or crane that would attach to the ship and move it to its berth using scripted movement.

Edit:
One more thing - I find current landing pad lighting scheme confusing, it's difficult to tell what's going on from a distance when the entire port is lit up like xmas tree.
I propose change to following, much cleaner scheme:

occupied pad - red (warning lights should always be on when something is on the pad)
empty pad - none (instead of green)
designated landing pad (when landing) - green (instead of yellow).
ship is taking off/about to take off - yellow/blinking yellow (in whichever order it seems logical).

This way all lights will actually signify something happening and won't be mixed with all the lights from unoccupied pads.
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