What an interesting thread. it started on initiative, and I agree with what Levolun said. it would be nice if the weapon techs were a little more than paper/rock/scissors. at the same time, too much more would complicate this game. i don't think the emphasis with this game is the battles. still, i agree that there should be a little more informing my decision that what my enemies have and what i know about how the techs space/damage ratios work. Devious Toast, your analysis was excellent. i think if we want to give ourself nerdy problems to balance this paradigm, we should also consider space-to-damage ratio (...the acronym for that is STD) and also tech tree progress. in other words, the other major "tactical" calculation is how the weapons work in time.
i like the idea of initiative modifiers for the weapons. i don't remember if anyone's mentioned this yet, but we could also consider recharge rates. for instance, it seems like it wouldn't take much time at all to fire off an initial volley of missiles - just the time it takes for two officers to turn their keys. but reloading a missle rack takes a good amount of time since it'll probably need to be manual, at least at some stage. bullets need only to be aimed, but beam capacitors must be charged. okay, but take a step back. when you can detect potentially threatening ships at least a sector away, your military forces will be on alert long before they enter weapons range. by that measure, pretty much all weapons' first rounds would fire at the same time. the only probably thing that would prevent this would be... cloaking. that's a cool idea for a mod. another could be line of sight. what if we took fog of war to the next level, somehow? now THAT would be awesome. in the center of an empire, there will be lots of ships and bases, making blind spots few and far between, but on distant outposts and isolated planets, blind spots are boing to be much more significant regardless of your sensor range. we could throw in the caveat that as sensor tech progresses, sensors can see through different opjects (mk2 sensors can scan through planets, mk4 through stars). yes, that would all probably be hard reprogramming, but i havent got much into modding in the first place. i found this threat looking to fix a bug with my high end beam weapon stats, which i think might represent loss of file integrity during download (see linked post if you're curious (hopefully i did that right (ah, i'm lost in my own parantheses))).
anyway, that was a tangent. i still think reload rate could make an interesting addition to battles. moreover, someone else, maybe in a different thread, mentioned hating that attackers' missles hit their own ships before beam weapons even fired. i haven't been able to tell: does the game account for damage delay? missiles take a while to hit, and the tech report info says so ('the largest challenge with missiles is their speed"). anyway, my point with this is that a few subtle changes to the way weapons and defenses work in battle could make the strategic aspects of this game's battles a lot more nuanced. StarDock kind of touted the triple weapons system during development, and it's not bad. could be better.
anyway, those changes are more significant than something else i wanted to pontificate on regarding "the war machine in time" was how the technology groups progressed throughout the game. i'll get more in depth with weapons and defenses, but i want to talk about engines with my first point, specifically the values of engine comps and how they relate to techs. i'm sure we've all noticed that within a tech branch like engines or beam weapons, there are 'original' techs and "mark X" iterations. however, it seems strange to me that there isn't a uniform corelation between whether you've researched a completely new tech or an iteration. example: the first time you get impulse engines, you get 2 movement for 9 space (i think... i don't feel like checking). impulse mark2 reduces the space by 1, but mark 3 increases the movement and sets the space back to 9. i can't remember if it works like that for every uniquely named engine tech, but i know i noticed it for several. personally, i just think it's more intuitive that all impulse engines should have the same movement, the later iterations being smaller. ditto for the weapons, though in the case of say phasors, which has like 7 iterations, one could probably make an exception if needed.
though, i don't think it's necessarily needed in the case of phasors. (that paragraph, with no planning whatsoever, led really well into this one). in the case of weapons and defenses, a few people have all ready talked about part of the stategic decision making being related to the STD ration (heh). i also talked about how this could be interestingly complicated by adding reload rates for different weapons, if that isn't all ready there. Devious Toast wrote very well about how defenses could be made more interesting; i.e. adjusting their relative defensive powers individually, so that some defenses are a little more "all-around" than others, and this makes especial sense with respect to their existing STDC (size to defensive capability). but one other thing to consider is how these things might be made to change over the course of the game as a whole, with regard to technological development. there's no reason the different ratios and behaviors of the offensive and defensive systems shouldn't change over time; in face, i think there is a good reason it should. it would keep the games more varied from one to the next. here's what i mean.
a couple hypothetical scenarios. number one. you've had a bit of a touch time getting off the groud because a minor civ shot down a couple of your early colony ships and gave you problems. you invaded them and got it taken care of, but it had its toll, but now you feel like you're setting yourself up for a strong comeback. but here come the drengin. the vagans were using mass drivers, so all you've got is armor. and you went with missiles for their early bonus. your scouts saw two medium sized ships, and you're no where near having the tech for it. here's the good news: you had all ready researched lasers 5, and you got the full series of miniballs when you had the vagans on their knees (as a part of a peace treaty you immediately broke). bad news: the drengin are using beams too, and their two medium ships have deflectors, and it seems most of their earlier model fighters are outfitted with early stingers. i've seen this happen. thankfully they have no armor, and early deflectors barely defend against mass drivers at all. so you can hit them. but the problem will be hitting them enough before they kill you completely. thankfully it's a bit of a voyage they're on, so you have some time. why not go with deflectors, since that's their main weapon? well, the thing is, deflectors are bulky, and you definately don't have time to match their medium ships or get enough miniaturization to fit shields and leave room for more then one weapon on a small ship. armor is about the same cost and offers okay back-up defense to beams, plus you can make it smaller by quickly researching the last iteration of armor left in the current sub-series. you have chaff fully researched. chaff isn't especially effective against anything but missiles, but ECM could probably be researched in time. ECM represents a critical turn in missile defense, since it affects targetting systems, and it's also a bit cheaper than deflectors. it's especially good against missiles, but also offers decent jamming to targets further away. and it's small, so you could fit two ECMs on a small ship to defend almost completely against 40% of their outdated firepower. regarding the rest, they should be well enough defended to at least give 'em a bloody nose. if you focus on small (not tiny) ships with this kind of defense, against their first wave and send a couple high-speed fighters behind their line to take out the transports, you probably have a good chance at getting them to leave.
scenario two. you're a charmer, and no one really hates you. yet. plus you just happened to find yourself early game seculded in a corner (there's a big gap between your few systems and anyone else, making war hard at this point. the obvious strategy is to plan for war. but how? i'm only going to look at weapons in my hypothetical universe, in this hypothetical tangent. even early on, there isn't a clear choice. the weapons you pick are kind of personal taste until you have an enemy. i read a post, maybe in another threat, that making ships with multiple weapons systems is valueless. i haven't found that at all, but i haven't played enough to have a clear sense of it. either way, i don't think it should be that way. it'd be nice if the interface tallied total simple offense and defense values for you. it'd be even nicer if you had a quick screen or a simulator of some kind that could do a simple defense adjustment before you enter battle (in other words, somehow "average out" the defense multipliers against the various weapon value types in the enemy fleet... it wouldn't have to account for proposed reload and damage delay; i'm only imagining an tool to get a better sense of combat outcome, but there still should be certain things that seem to be up to chance).
anyway, getting back on track, you decide to plan on focusing on two types of weapons to offer better all around offense. missiles are pretty consistently bulky and powerful, and their qualitative changes tend to be reload and damage delay (let's say the jump to photon torps represents a major breakthrough in damage delay and reload rate, but sets back the work you've put into reducing missile STD). very early mass drivers are weak, but have very low delay and get smaller and smaller, and early drivers also have excellent reload rates (by far the best in the early weapons generations). but the change to exotic particle bullets changes mass drivers significantly. suddenly they start doing a lot more damage, but at the cost of a higher reload rate and bulkier components, though they retain their low damage delay. at first, beam weapons are pretty bulky for their damage. beams always have virtually zero damage delay, their major advantage (presumably anyway, see next paragraph). beam damage itself makes acceptable jumps with plasma and 1st-gen phasors, keeping them competative, but phasors represent a major turn for beams. phasors don't make major strides in damage dealing capability, but rather they become smaller and faster to reload (recharge) with each generation. so the strategic functionality of mass drivers and phasors flips mid game. i'm not even going to speculate on what happens late game. i think you get the idea.
but i'm making an assumption that seems to contradict an apparent observation. it seems that in battles when the deadly shots are fired on a ship, it just sits there and waits to die even if it's weapons were going to fire soon. if delay is going to mean as much as i think it should, that needs to change. Goatride mentioned SE. in Space Empires ships of different size got defensive bonuses (fighers even got offensive). i think that makes perfect sense, or at least implement a D&D-style size modifier. that way having varied fleets becomes more than just a matter of economic ability.
there's one other thing i'm a little fuzzy on. it seems a little a-priori to assume that a fleet of 15 fighters could take out a single huge capital ship, even with what i mentioned about size modifiers. simply put, even if such a fleet could usually take out a capital ship due to the difficulty such a ship will have hitting them, and the number of guns they can individually offer in return, i'd like to see it play out, at least if anyone takes all of what i've written about delay and recharge to heart. adding a little bit of well-planned asymmetry can open up a world of strategy that isn't there now. it doesn't need to be perfect or perfectly balanced. anyway, i'm thinking i should repost this as a suggested change.
PS: Goatrider, SE4 was a great multiplayer game, but the AI was atrocious.