A beam weapon, or beam cannon, is a weapon system mounted exclusively on large vessels. It is used to attack larger targets at long range or as a point-defense weapon against fighters, bombers, and warheads.
During the Great War and GTI Rebellion, the Terrans and Vasudans encountered the Shivans, a previously unknown alien race. Both species took note of the technological capability of the Shivans, particularly the main guns of the Shivan command ship, which they termed "Flux Cannons". The two races opted to replicate this technology after the end of the GTI Rebellion in late 2335. The result of this pursuit was the invention of the deadliest and most advanced weapons of war ever created by either race, called beam weapons. The first class of ship which was fully designed with beam weapons in mind may have been the GVCv Sobek, which is said to have entered service shortly after the destruction of Vasuda Prime. Further advancements enabled engineers from both races to mount these weapons on older vessels never meant to accommodate them, as well as less powerful, more energy-efficient versions on smaller ships.
Despite these advances, neither species was ultimately capable of matching up to the Shivans during the Second Shivan Incursion of 2367. Shivan beams were far more destructive than any Terran or Vasudan beam weapon ever made in terms of raw power and were capable of much faster refire rates at no visible cost to ship integrity. These advantages that Shivan beam weapons have over their Terran and Vasudan counterparts were demonstrated when the most powerful ship ever constructed by both races, the GTVA Colossus, was obliterated almost completely by beam fire from a Sathanas juggernaut.
Sufficient reactor power is required in order to fire beam weapons. Therefore, they are never mounted on small ships (fighters, bombers, and support ships), which have reactors too small and weak to support the power drain. For a time, the Vasudans' Typhon-class destroyers encountered similar issues, with most of them suffering from reactor overloads and system failures due to their power grid being unable to cope with the power needed to fire the beams equipped on them. The deployment of the Hatshepsut line of destroyers would rectify this problem.
In general, beam weapons are designed to be fired against large vessels, such as transports, installations, and warships. These are generally called "anti-capship beams" by players. However, smaller, lighter beam weapons exist that deliver less damage than anti-capship beams but are capable of targeting small ships and even incoming warheads. These are recognized as "anti-fighter beams" in FreeSpace canon (dubbed "AAA beams" on occasion by players due to their names in the FreeSpace 2 table files). The advancement of the beam weapon in the Terran and Vasudan fleets is sufficient enough to enable the most powerful anti-capship beam from either race to easily cleave through most cruisers and corvettes in minutes and deal significant damage to destroyers, if not destroying them outright.
Most Terran and Vasudan beam weapons are meant to be fired at a specified power output, dealing a consistent rate of damage assuming that the beam in question strikes its target for the entire duration of its lifetime. However, if the situation warrants, it is also possible to reduce power output to limit damage done, or increase power output beyond specified limits to increase damage rates; the latter comes with the risk of emitter and heat sink deterioration. Examples of ships that have taken either course of action are the GTC Rampart during a feint attack on two cruisers, and the GTVA Colossus, during its engagement with the first SJ Sathanas.
- See also: Weapons.tbl#$BeamInfo:
There are five beam types included in retail FreeSpace 2, assigned to the following
- Anti-cap beams, which only target large vessels. These beams can be directed to target specific subsystems/turrets if necessary.
- Anti-cap slashing beams, which only target large vessels and strike their targets across a wide arc. The slashing beams included in retail FS2 generally have higher damage outputs and faster refire rates than anti-cap beams, but are not as accurate and may completely miss the target on occasion.
- Targeting beams, which are never used in the game and whose purpose remains unknown. One beam of this type (the Targeting Laser) is included in the FreeSpace 2 tables, but it appears to serve no purpose due to supplementary content being cut.
- Anti-fighter beams, which can target small ships. These beams are capable of firing more than once per pulse, but do very little damage as compared to anti-cap beams. In the absence of small ships, they can target large ships, firing a single pulse.
- Fixed beams, which only target and fire at anything directly in front of them. This is distinct from most other beam types, which have a virtual "view cone" that allows them to fire at targets that are off-center.
Notes for mission designers
- See also: SEXP Reference
Newly-created missions in FRED2 do not enable beams by default. The easiest way to enable beam fire is to use the beam-free-all SEXP on every individual ship that needs to fire its beams. Greater control over each beam can be achieved through the use of the fire-beam SEXP, allowing beams to target specific ships, subsystems and turrets.
fred2_open adds an option to enable all beams by default in the Mission Statistics box.