Gratuitous Space Battles

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There will be a time for peace in the galaxy, where life-forms can skip through the fields and read poetry, unworried by the threat of war, but this is not that time. There will be a time for song, time for cakes, time for long afternoon strolls, but this is not that time. There will be time for love, time for joy, time for writing that novel you know you have in you somewhere, but this is still not that time.
This is a time for war. Huge war, galaxy-spanning war, where the cries for mercy from the citizens of captured worlds will reverberate around the bridge of your flagship. A time for honor, for glory, for huge profits for people in the defense industry.

Gratuitous Space Battles is a game about battles which take place in space and are completely gratuitous. It was developed by Positech Games in 2007 and is available for download and purchase at their website.

The game is rather unique among space battle sims in that the player does not actually give any orders during the battle itself; rather, the player can only make ship designs, dictate their starting position within the fleet, and modify each ship's AI before unleashing them on the enemy. After each battle, the player can analyze the results in order to tweak ship designs and fleet deployment before fighting again. Victories bring the player "Honor," which can be used to unlock hulls, components, and even other races.

There are four main races in the game: The Federation (available from the start), the Rebels, the Alliance, and the Empire. A fifth, the Tribe, is also available in the game's newly-released Expansion Pack. Faction number six, the Order, are in the second expansion. Expansion three brings the Swarm. The fourth expansion brings the Nomads. The fifth brings the Parasites. Each of these races has its own hull designs and layouts. There's a little bit of backstory as to why all these races are fighting each other, but you don't have to know any of it to actually play or enjoy the game. If you have seen any sci-fi at all, chances are you know the backstory anyway.

There isn't a direct head-to-head multiplayer; instead, players compete by putting together fleets on their own computer and submitting them as "Challenges" to an online server. Other players can then download these Challenges and attempt to beat them with their own fleets. The server keeps track of both the number of attempts and the names of those who beat the Challenge.

In addition a Campaign expansion pack has been released that allows the player to provide just a bit of context to the gratuitous combat, as they spread across the galaxy, invading planets and building ever-expanding battle fleets. Just the thing for all you megalomanical conquerers!

Tropes used in Gratuitous Space Battles include:
  • Affectionate Parody
  • The Alliance: An insect hive dedicated to the eradication of all bipedal lifeforms from the galaxy.
  • Ambiguously Human: The Federation is the first race you get to play as, has the standard blue color scheme associated with humanity and, color aside, fits the ISO Standard Human Spaceship design pretty well. But they're never explicitly named as humans. No one is, for that matter.
  • Armor Is Useless: Generally averted; you want some armor on your cruisers and frigates to stop them from getting mauled by shield-bypassing fighters, and heavier armor on cruisers, when combined with repair systems, can allow them to shrug off a truly gratuitous amount of fire from almost anything. One may still want to skimp on armor for fighters, however, as even basic ablative armor will add up when the upgrade is being spread across an entire squadron of fighters, and any heavier armor will result in a speed loss and decrease the fighters' survivability. [1] This is especially important in the campaign.
  • Artificial Stupidity: Ships and fighters generally target the closest enemy ship unless given specific orders otherwise. This has resulted in the use of "tank cruiser" strategies where one of more Mighty Glacier cruisers are positioned ahead of the fleet, using massive amounts of armor, shields, and repair systems to soak up fire while allowing the rest of the fleet to fire around it. This can be particularly devastating against fighter-oriented fleets, as the entire fighter force will try to swam the shielding ship and get ripped apart by the rest of the fleet. Any fleet not specifically oriented toward destroying the "tank cruisers" quickly will be torn apart.
  • The Battlestar: Any cruiser outfitted with carrier modules.
  • Berserk Button: Do not refer to the Swarm as "the Flock". Really, don't.
  • Boring but Practical:
    • One of the most potent weapons in the game is the humble but efficient cruiser laser turret. Few weapons in the game can match its damage output, ability to penetrate shields and armor (by Death of a Thousand Cuts), and especially its fire rate. Its only weakness is slow tracking speed (making it poor against fighters and fast frigates) and relatively short range. Its not a huge glowey death beam and doesn't have the impressive visual smack-boom of a detonating plasma torpedo, and you're not going to see a hojillion glowing contrails of outgoing missiles, but nothing tears apart cruisers and frigates more efficiently. Of course, you get enough cruisers pouring on the laser bolts, and you do get another breed of visual awesome....
    • Carrier modules. Not particularly flashy, but if you field fighters in any capacity, they'll dramatically increase both the lifespan and viability of your fighter squadrons. Especially useful in the campaign, as destroyed fighters cost money to replace, while carrier modules will greatly reduce fighter casualties.
    • Armor plating. No shiny shields surrounding your warship, but the armor will deflect most fighter-mounted and other low-powered weapons and can save a cruiser that would be otherwise gutted by heavy weapons.
    • EMP weapons. They inflict no damage at all to the target ship, but they disable all weapons (and most other systems like repair and shield recharge) while the EMP effect is active. As a result, EMP launchers on frigates and EMP cannons on cruisers can be a surprisingly effective force multiplier, especially used en-masse. As a bonus, EMP cannons can be mounted on any slot on a cruiser, even slots normally reserved for non-weapon components.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Cruiser and frigate missile and rocket launchers and Tribe autoguns never run out of ammunition. Fighters, however, can run out of rockets or torpedoes, and need to go back to carriers to re-arm, but they carry a truly gratuitous amount of missiles and rockets regardless. Also, carrier modules eventually run out of spare parts/ammunition to repair/rearm fighters, and repair modules eventually run out of spare parts to repair damaged modules.
  • Church Militant: The Order, from the second expansion pack.

"This galaxy was created in a weekend by the one true god, and he has no room in it for the likes of heathen aliens such as you. If your species is not listed in the holy book of the one true god, then it's pretty clear you are a mistake, and the order is here to rectify mistakes. For is it not written (depending on translations) that the total destruction of all alien species with devastating radioactive cannons and nuclear space-missiles is the will of the one true god?"

  • Color Coded for Your Convenience: Each faction has a design/color combination to make them highly distinctive, save the Alliance and Nomads, who lack a uniform color scheme but still follow a distinct design pattern.
    • The Federation has blue ships that look like throwbacks to classic 50's sci-fi spaceships, though with a strong Star Trek element harking back to their namesake.
    • The Rebels have arrow-like, boxy gunmetal-gray ships, also somewhat reminiscent of their namesake.
    • The Empire features jet-black wheel-like ships that look like evil versions of Deep Space Nine.
    • The Tribe's ships are green and gray, with rounded and organic-looking hulls, and the Order features bright red-painted ships that seem to be held together by some kind of weird energy/tractor beams that seem impractical but looks totally freaking awesome.
    • The Swarm's ships look like birds of prey and are painted a bright golden color, with inexplicably car-like fighters.
    • The Parasites go for a very white and shiny scheme.
    • Alliance ships consist of tan-grayish latticeworks around multicolored pods and spheres that make up the core of the ship and give them bug-like appearances.
    • Despite their many colors, Nomad ships are unified by their Raygun Gothic design style.
  • Command and Conquer Economy: In the campaign, you're the only one that orders what ships to be built. Also, you're not able to build structures on planet; the manual explains that this is because of all those droid work unions, misplaced and nonstandard parts, zoning issues, etc.
  • Construct Additional Pylons: Averted in the campaign. You need various planetary facilities to do things in the campaign, but you cannot build anymore. There are four structures - shipyards, repair yards, naval academies, and factories, and they come in different sizes.
  • Death in All Directions: Entirely possible, depending on your ships' loadouts.
    • Atomic Hate for the Order and their nuclear missles and cannons that fire blobs of radioactive material.
    • Beam Spam
    • Charged Attack although it's entirely visual, a beam weapon specific to the Swarm first fires multiple lasers into a point to gather together into one beam; much like a certain iconic moon space station.
    • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better for the Tribe and their close range autocannons.
    • Macross Missile Massacre. Most launchers have one explosive round and three decoys. Only the multiple missile launcher has four real missiles.
    • More Dakka for the Nomads with a beam weapon much like the one mentioned in Boring but Practical, but with a much faster firing rate.
    • Shock and Awe can apply to the Alliance, since they have a weapon specific to their faction that fires a huge bolt of electricity.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Many ships loadouts' can leave them this way; missile boats can be very vulnerable to fighters and plasma ships can be easily picked off by fast frigates and fighters; meanwhile, a cruiser or frigate outfitted with certain beam weapons will be helpless against cruisers that buff up their armor or shields, and fighters that lack armor penetrating weapons will not be able to damage heavy cruisers very well - but if they are equipped with armor-piercing weapons, they're hard-pressed to fight enemy fighters. The balancing act between fleets is very delicate. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Challenge mode, where many players assemble near-invincible fleets that are nonetheless vulnerable to a particular fleet configuration.
    • Particularly - and annoyingly - common is the challenge that consists entirely of blocks of cruisers equipped with missiles/plasma, defense lasers to stop fighters, and strong shields. The natural response is high-speed cruisers with plenty of guidance scramblers; the Swarm even have a module, the Smart Bomb Pulse Generator, that destroys all missiles in its radius, specifically to render missile-block fleets irrelevant.
  • Damage Is Fire: Damaged or destroyed modules on a ship will be presented as being glowing, burning pits in the hull of the ship in question. Realistically, the flames aren't very intense, and instead glow with radiated heat.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: Even ships with gratuitously heavy armor can be brought down by weapons with little or no armor penetration thanks to the "Lucky Hit" mechanic combined with a very high volume of fire. Repair systems can mitigate this, though, provided the armored tank ship doesn't get too unlucky, and provided the repair module doesn't run out of supplies.
  • Deflector Shields: Capable of absorbing an awful lot of damage, are completely immune to weapons with a lower shield penetration than their resistance value (unlike armor), and recharge relatively quickly while they're up, but once they're down, they're gone for good for the rest of the battle. Also, fighters can easily get inside them and bypass their defense, and they can be destabilized by certain special weapons and go temporarily offline.
  • Design-It-Yourself Equipment
  • Easy Logistics: Generally played straight, especially in the campaign, but certain missions, challenges, and campaign planets have "supply limits" which reduce the number of modules that can be brought to that battlefield.
  • The Empire: Ancient, oppressive, and ruled by a thousand-year old Emperor who is officially "under the weather."
  • Enemy Chatter: Inverted. You don't hear anything from your enemies, but you receive plenty of feedback from your own ships.

That last impact vaporized the ship's galley. Looks like it's take-out food tonight, guys.

  • Enemy Exchange Program: In the campaign, any enemy vessels left over when you win a battle will switch over to your side. You can't build any more of them, but they make for good garrison/militia units.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Excuse Plot to get to the main event of watching a bunch of awesome and heavily-armed spaceships Pew Pew at each other to create chunks of sparking, floating space debris. Then you buy more stuff and do it again.
  • Excuse Plot: It's called Gratuitous Space Battles for a reason.
  • Face Full of Alien Wingwong: The Parasites.
  • The Federation: An association of galactic merchants dedicated to making money. They technically don't have a real navy; all their warships are actually part of their "Contract Enforcement Division." And everyone has a contract that is due.
  • Fragile Speedster: The Swarm have a faction-wide 15% speed boost, but have 5% penalties to shields, armor and hull integrity, making their ships this. Finally, many frigates and all fighters are like this in general, being fast but frail; fighters generally use their speed as their defense method though, while frigates... don't.
  • Glass Cannon: Most frigates can be this way; even their most powerful shields can be swatted down fast by most cruisers, and they get absolutely torn apart by fighter swarms. On the other hand, they can do a ton of damage at low cost, they move fast for their size, and only frigates can mount ion cannons, EMP rockets, disruptor bombs, and anti-fighter missiles.
  • Hopeless War: For just about everyone. The Rebels are locked in a permenant struggle with the Empire for freedom, and with everyone else for simple survival. The Empire is bent on conquering the galaxy, the Alliance and the Order are on genocidal rampages to wipe out everyone else, the Swarm are just doing what they've been doing for eons since, and the Tribe are killing everyone because they've realized the only way the galaxy will be at peace is if everyone else is dead, the Parasites need new hosts, and the Nomads are killing everyone because, well, they're bored. And everyone owes the Federation money, and they're coming to collect.
  • The Horde: The Swarm are a nomadic species of birdlike creatures who have apparently spent countless eons roaming the galaxy, doing nothing but conquering civilizations. And there are a lot of them.
  • Luck-Based Mission: The campaign's battles involve the player being sent up against fleets randomly selected from those being used by other players who've played the campaign. As a result, the player will sometimes end up fighting poorly designed fleets that fall apart like tissue paper. Other times, they'll end up slamming headlong into an immaculately-designed, highly-efficient fleet of death. Ultimately, the only way to win is to make sure your fleets are just as well-designed.
  • The Mario: The Federation is a middle-ground, Jack of All Stats faction with small bonuses to many stats and no penalties. This makes them a good all-around faction to start off with, and flexible enough to run with many strategies and configurations.
  • Mighty Glacier: Most cruisers fall under this variety, and a properly armored/shielded cruiser with good point defense and/or EMP weapons can be an extremely effective tank for frigates or other cruisers.
    • The Empire actually specializes in this; they even get a special frigate hull named the "Weapons Platform" that has minimal modules but eight hardpoints (by comparison, that's more than many cruisers get), and is designed to either have little to no engine capability....but with the sheer number of hardpoints and low cost, the platform is able to inflict a ridiculous amount of damage-per-cost.
    • The Tribe, too. The Tribe's ships get a 100% boost to hull integrity and really good repair systems. As a result, the Tribe's cruisers can take an incredible beating and keep going.
  • Old School Dogfighting: Fighters engaging in combat will usually engage in classic whirling-around-in-circles while doing strafing runs, unless they've been specifically given the "Follow Leader" order, which causes them to launch concentrated strafing runs against enemy vessels.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: The Federation. It lampshades this rather humorously in one of the losing quotes, telling you that even though you lost the battle, you managed to fight so impressively that your sponsors are going to make a handsome profit from the public broadcast syndication rights.
  • Point Defenseless: Averted. Properly used, point defense systems can chew up an entire Macross Missile Massacre, and specially-designed short-range lasers can tear enemy bombers to pieces. Ships that are not equipped with point defense weapons, however, will be helpless against fighters unless tractor beams can slow them down.
  • Programming Game: You set up your fleet and can give general behaviours to your ships but don't direct them in battle.
  • La Résistance: The Rebels, a group of breakaway races whose members didn't want to spend the rest of their life fighting for the Empire. Therefore, they've devoted their lives to fighting against it instead.

Excellent. By blasting our enemies into atomic ribbons, we have truly proven to them that we shall not engage in their bloodthirsty wars.

  • Private Military Contractors: The Federation's fleet is made up of mercenaries who enforce the merchant association's contracts, and individual ship captains are billed for ammunition and paid by the kill.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Everyone. Even the Federation's mercenary troops are extensively trained, highly-motivated, and willing to give their lives for their contracts.
  • Roboteching: A mass of missiles can fly off at angles to the target and then all converge on the vessel at the last moment.
  • Scenery Porn: The backgrounds in this game are jaw-droppingly beautiful - and that's before rivers of high energy death start spewing back and forth and chunks of ships go flying artfully through space amidst huge explosions.
  • Space Fighter: A strong fighter fleet can be a game-winner. Each fighter only has handful of slots and a tiny powerplant, often having to do without shields or armour. However, you can have lots of them: even mighty battleships can be worn down by a ravening horde of fighters.
    • Fighters are especially useful early on in the campaign, where you won't have a the capacity to produce lots of cruisers.
  • Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: Comes with the territory. All vessels are broken down into three main categories (Fighters, Frigates, Cruisers) by hull type. Where they fit further on in the scale depends on how the player designs and uses them.
  • Stealth in Space: With no explanation given or needed.
  • Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors: A fairly complex one, as nearly every combination of weapons/ships/modules has a counter. Missile-heavy fleet? Slap on some guidance scramblers, point-defense, or a bunch of fighters. Frigate-heavy fleet that's using cruisers as screens? Gratuitously-fast rocket fighters are your friends. Having trouble closing with that plasma/beam fleet before they rip your ships to shreds? Time to load up on EMPs. Enemy using an annoying amount of EMPs on you? That's why they made EMP shields. Coming up with the right balance of firepower, ship types, and defenses to beat your opponent's fleet is at the core of this game's challenge.
  • Theme Naming: Each faction has ships named after a particular theme. The Federation's ships are named after terrestrial animals, the Alliance's fleet is named after aquatic predators, The Empire's ships are named after Ancient Roman military terminology, and the Rebels' ships are named after Norse mythology. The Tribe draws their names from terms regarding tranquility and transcendence, the Order has names drawn from the Catholic church, and the Swarm is based on ancient Egyptian mythology. Nomad ships have names that sound vaguely Arabic, and the Parasites take names from taxonomic classifications.
  • Tractor Beams: Frigates and Battleships can be mounted with (blue) Tractor Beams, slowing the pesky-deadly fighters down to the point where slow tracking beams and missiles can kill them.
  • Weather of War: "Spatial anomalies" which cause a variety of effects on the battlefield that limit the number of ships that can be deployed, or which have other effects such as reducing shield strength or weapons ranges or requiring engines to reach the battlefield.
  • We Have Reserves: They call the Swarm, well, the Swarm for a reason; their hulls are generally cheaper so the Swarm can put more ships on the field. Their defeat quotes also edge toward this, pointing out that even if they are defeated, the destroyed fleet is just one of many endless waves.
  • You Require More Vespene Gas: Three resources are required in the campaign: cash, produced by Factories, crewmen, and pilots, both of which are produced by Naval Academies. Crewmen are required to man the bigger ships, while pilots are required to fly all ships, regardless of size. Fighter squadrons require large numbers of pilots, while frigates and cruisers only require individual pilots.
  • Zerg Rush: see We Have Reserves above.
    • Can be done with the other factions as well; frigate spamming is a fairly effective tactic (unless the enemy has rocket-fighters....) Frigate spam is especially useful in the campaign, as a squadron of fighters costs about twice as much as a single frigate; early on your fleets will likely consist of a lot of frigates because you don't have the income to build a cruiser every turn.
    • Less effective in the campaign, since you have to spend money, crew, and pilots to replace lost warships and fighters. You can't just toss aside ships like you can in regular battles. The Swarm still gets an edge, though, because their cheaper ship hulls translate into a big economic advantage in the long run, allowing them to zerg more effectively...
  1. For example, if you have a basic fighter design that only costs 80 credits per ship, and add a basic ablative armor upgrade, that'll tack on about 30 extra credits to each fighter - now multiply that by 16 fighters in your squadron, and that comes out to 1760 credits for the whole squadron, as opposed to 1280 for the unarmored squadron.