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Chris Roberts – Quantum Drives, Starfarer, Fuel & Quantum Matter

Welcome to some more Star Citizen, today looking at a post from Chris Roberts on Quantum Drives & touching on fuel, the starfarer & mining quantum matter.

Chris Roberts was interviewed on RtV recently and one of the things he talked about was Quantum Drives saying that smaller ships would typically require multiple jumps to cross systems. Larger Ships will be more efficient with fuel, heat & have larger QDs giving them extended range.

There was a massive post on Spectrum going into further details on Quantum Drives from Chris Roberts, which we shall read then discuss.

“I thought it would be useful to clarify a few things as I am seeing a polarization of opinion on the Quantum Drive mechanic that I discussed on this Friday’s RTV.

First let’s start with the Drive itself – It is not a propulsion device in the manner we are familiar with. Comparing it to a car engine, a jet engine or a rocket is not useful as it doesn’t operate on the same principals nor is it designed for indefinite continuous operation.

So what is a Quantum Drive?
It is Star Citizen’s “handwavium” version of a device that creates a warp bubble around your ship and is somewhat inspired by the theory behind an Alcubierre drive. The idea is that when in operation the drive contracts the space directly in front of your ship, while expanding it directly behind. Since it is contracting and expanding space around you, your frame of reference stays the same, meaning that anything inside the bubble feels no effect of acceleration, which is good as the forces required to accelerate to 0.2c in a second would definitely be fatal. This is also why when you Quantum you travel in a straight line (Orbital Quantum is slightly different as the idea behind that is the the Quantum Drive emits a much much weaker field for a much shorter time so you’re traveling much slower and you are also using the gravity of the planet you are orbiting to slingshot you)

As this type of drive works by manipulating the energy density around your ship, following on with the various theories of how a wormhole may exist, the drive has the raw tool ( the ability to create negative mass) that is needed to open up jump points / wormholes. Which is why if you look back on the SC lore, the first Jump Point was discovered by Nick Croshaw thanks to his modified Quantum Drive.

To create a negative energy density you need exotic matter, which is why Quantum fuel is different / separate than thruster propulsion fuel.

We don’t have it the game yet but our plan is to allow players to harvest / mine Quantum Matter. This would be different than collecting regular thruster fuel, which is accomplished by scooping up various gasses (dense inert ones would be best) from atmospheres or space clouds / nebula. Quantum Matter would likely be quite hard to find, dangerous to mine and very valuable (think of Coaxium from Solo: A Star Wars Story). Mining Quantum Matter will be part of the Harvestable Entities work we have planned for Q2 and may come online with the Q3 fuel work.

Thruster propellant is normally an ionized gas that is emitted by the thruster after being exposed to very strong electromagnetic forces. The model for a SC thruster is the VASMIR which is why power and heat management are important beyond having raw propellant.

Now we’ve got the pseudo science out of the way let me address the “heat” issue that some people have an issue with.

The idea behind the Quantum Drive (and Jump Drive) is that it requires a huge amount of power and the process that involves converting Quantum Matter into a negative energy field generates significant amount of heat that must be dealt with. The continued operation of the drive creates more heat than almost all ships have the ability to absorb but the larger the ship, the greater capacity for both power generation and cooling, so the heat doesn’t build up as quickly as it would on a smaller ship. The larger the ship, the more space for power and cooling units. The Idris is a good example with its huge reactor room and its cooling bath. Because of this it normally takes longer for a big ship to reach the point it must shut down the drive to allow it too cool down which is why larger ships can Quantum travel for a longer duration than a smaller ship

that can’t dedicate nearly as much space to power units and cooling. This is also the reason really small ships like a Merlin don’t have a Quantum Drive at all; they just don’t have room for the minimum required power and cooling you need for a Quantum Drive.

Now we could have just said size 1 Quantum Drives can jump for X time or distance and a size 2 one can do twice as much. If we had, I doubt I would have read a bunch of posts comparing Quantum Drives to car or aircraft engines, how they don’t overheat so its stupid that 900 years in the future Quantum Drives overheat (although if you have a coolant leak or you’re driving across the Sahara I think you’ll find a car engine can overheat).

But as I said at the top of this post it is the wrong comparison to make.

In the Universe of Star Citizen no one (that humanity knows of) has made a Quantum Drive that can operate indefinitely. A Quantum Drive allows you to cover great distances in a short period of time but is only capable of operation for a limited amount of time before it needs to shut itself down and cool off. The reason why we made heat as well as Quantum Matter the driver of the Quantum travel time / distance is that it allows players to make choices in how they configure and set up their ship. Explorers would likely favor higher quality and larger cooling and well as a strong power source for long distance Quantum travel and jumps. But this would likely be at the expense of more powerful shields or weapons which it then couldn’t operate effectively. The whole idea is to have the player make hard choices in what components to upgrade or equip; What is their priority? Combat? Travel Time / Distance? Protection? All things in the game are meant to have trade offs. We don’t want some meta ship or loadout that trumps everything else. You configure your ship for combat but you can’t Quantum as far as your weapons and shields are sucking down a bunch of power and cooling. If we didn’t tie this to the power and heat but instead used some arbitrary time per drive there wouldn’t be as much ability for the player to affect things inside a holistic system where all the components of the ship matter; they simply would have to move up to a bigger item or ship to travel longer while in Quantum. With the system we are implementing you’ll have a lot ability to tweak or alter things on the fly, depending on your objective. A pilot could divert a bunch of power and cooling away from other systems, like shields or weapons to Quantum further but the downside is when coming out of Quantum they will be vulnerable until they can shift power back to the systems needed for combat.

This is much better gameplay as it gives players the opportunity to tweak and adjust on the fly. We built a systemic pipe and resource management system for for ships, people and locations just so people could make trade offs in the resources dedicated to various components to achieve their current goal (or use this knowledge to cause havoc on an enemy ship or base). When far away from the nearest landing zone you can’t just equip a bigger or better Quantum Drive in your ship but you could divert a lot more power and cooling to it to get just that little extra distance.

Now this doesn’t mean that we’ve managed to perfectly balance all the components, or that the feedback or control on their state is as clear as it should be, which is where I feel some of the frustration is coming from. Balancing power, heat and fuel use will be an ongoing project, patch to patch but what you are seeing with the power and heat management for thrusters, quantum drives, weapons, shields, scanners and other components is the beginning of holistic systemic gameplay that I believe will make Star Citizen, for those willing to invest the time, one of the deepest and rewarding games out there.

Having said that, it doesn’t that mean the initial learning curve should be steep. Power , overclocking and heat management should be how invested players squeeze an extra 10-20% from their equipment to give them an edge. You don’t have to do it but if you know your ship and components well you can “Scotty” that extra bit you may need in a tight bind.

We want the game to be easy to learn, difficult to master; we still have a ways to go to make the beginning experience easy and welcoming but with the systemic approach to ship functions and components we have the beginnings of a system that rewards players that want to move beyond basic flight / ship management and gameplay.

EDIT: I have highlighted a section in my original post just to make it clear that the current balance (how many jumps / time duration) is a work in progress and will be adjusted. Secondly the UI / Ship computer should factor in the current power and cooling for its Quantum Travel calculations and when you drop out of Quantum to cool down that is intended behavior and was factored into the Quantum Distance calculations, so you’re not exiting with overheating warnings. Unless you are interdicted or a cooling or power unit misfires or criticals (from wear etc.) you shouldn’t exit Quantum with warning / overheating messages, just that you need to let your Quantum Drive cool down for X seconds before you can spool up for the next Quantum Jump.”

He went on to say

“The Starfarer will be able to transport and deliver / refuel in flight both regular thruster propellant and Quantum Matter. It will also be able to refine Quantum Matter into Quantum Fuel. The only aspect not decided is the mining aspect as we really don’t want to make the Starfafer a heavy duty mining ship but its likely we’ll have some smaller equipment; like a hand held mining device to allow you to EVA out to collect Quantum Matter – but we haven’t decided this just yet.”