Battle of Endor Syndrome
What do we mean by a Battle of Endor mission?
The Battle of Endor (BoE) is a very important battle in the Star Wars universe. This battle involved several dozen warships and hundreds of fighters on each side. If you ever hear somebody from the FreeSpace community mention a Battle of Endor-type mission, s/he is thinking about a mission which involves several warships (often big ones, corvettes and larger) battling each other across a space teeming with fighters. An old Volition Watch article advised FREDders not to create "BoE" missions. However, numerous major campaigns released in the last few years feature enjoyable Battle of Endor missions; the VWatch article condemned the type rather than the makers wrongly. It raised specific examples of errors common to BoE missions, but the errors are ones that bespeak poor design and attention to detail, not proper indictments of the type.
However, this brings us to the key point regarding this type of mission. It is extremely unforgiving of designer inexperience, lack of attention to detail, and error. In a mission that features only a couple of cruisers and their fighter wings fighting it out, one can afford to make a few mistakes or to simply "gloss over" details; likely it won't be noticed.
In a Battle of Endor-type mission, any mistake or overlooked detail will show up glaringly.
What are the problems with such missions?
- The FreeSpace engine: The Retail engine (not FreeSpace Open) has difficulty if there are too many objects in the mission, typically resulting in collision-detection failure and rendering primary weapons mostly useless. FreeSpace Open is much more permissive in this regard, but can still experience a noticeable slowdown in some cases. Generally, however, you should be reasonably safe as long as there are no asteroids involved.
- Mission designer's nightmare: BoE missions are very hard to build well. If you are a precise and circumspecting mission designer, you will find making such missions terribly painful and nerve-wracking. Testing these missions is not the easiest thing to do, either. With lots of targets, a player can react lots of ways and prioritize them in odd fashions, or attempt to take on enemies that are not their problem. Building a BoE and getting it to behave consistently is not easy. Building one that looks good, with ships maneuvering and reacting to changing situations, and getting it to behave consistantly is even more daunting. If it does work, the designer may be fighting the AI or ceding control of large parts of the action. And this is before you involve Alpha 1 and attendant issues of difficulty and player skill.
Why should I make such missions?
Volition had to "dodge" making such missions several times over the course of FreeSpace and FreeSpace 2.
The player participates in the epic Battle of Deneb depicted in the FreeSpace 2 intro through the missions Evangelist and Doomsday, holding off the SD Lucifer and SD Eva from Vasuda; it is instructive to consider how much more impressive that battle is in the FS2 intro, and how many more ships were involved. This seems a much more reasonable expression of how the battles "should" have played out considering what both sides had available and how important it was to them. In FreeSpace 2, High Noon and Bearbaiting are such missions; this is effectively make-or-break for the GTVA, but they commit only a small number of fighter wings (four or five) and three capital craft when we know they had more than that available. (Karajorma's "Grizzly Bearbaiting" gives a reasonable impression of what Bearbaiting perhaps should have been.) Similarly, the events between Bearbaiting and High Noon, and there is in fact a time gap of at least several hours, encompass what would have qualified as a BoE. The original GTVA plan for taking down the Sathanas with a multi-destroyer assault would probably have also counted as one, as would the version of Their Finest Hour that seems to have been originally intended.
Volition had to avoid this, have the Aquitaine totally unescorted by friendly capital ships either of the two times it was bushwhacked by a Moloch, or have no more than two ships corvette-sized or up in the mission area, because they had to contend with the limits of contemporary computers. Computers have since advanced, and these missions could now have been built, or the Aquitaine could have yelled for backup from its fleet in Proving Grounds rather than run away. Above all else, this type of mission offers the opportunity to create a decisive battle that is not only decisive, but looks decisive and looks realistic.
Similarly, missions of this sort offer the designer an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to the player that they are not doing all the heavy lifting on their own; there are other people out there fighting both for and against them. Combined with intelligent use of command briefs and a few additional missions that demonstrate the aftermath or the preliminaries to engagements, such missions can greatly help establish the feeling that the player is a part of a larger battle, not the fulcrum for all events in the war.
Such missions when well-constructed also offers an excellent (and much harder to detect than other, more blatant ways of achieving this) opportunity to have the player's side get their collective head handed to them despite the presence of the player.
Simply put, this is not something for a novice to attempt. It takes a lot of skill and attention to detail to build a large combat that will work. More difficult yet is attempting to build one where the player will actually have a noticeable impact on the outcome, if that is your intent.
Some workarounds for these missions exist, such as Derelict's solution of having the player fight in a separate yet nearby action.