Space Engineers Camouflage


I was reading this post by Reddit user Jospehhh, and was inspired to write another post about space combat. This post, like the last one about combat, definitely strays from realism, assuming in this case, direct line of sight is the only means of detection.

First, the point of Camouflage is to either A) blend in to the background, or B) Mimic something innocuous. The problem is both break down at short range. This means that staying at arms reach is the best approach.

Space is big. Really, really big. There is plenty of room to stay further away and remain undetected, but this is a problem for close-combat ships like fighters. That, combined with their outstanding speed, leads me to conjecture that camouflage for fighters is aesthetic only. This also applies to medium frigates, but less so. The ships that would most benefit from camouflage would be large, slow, vulnerable ships that could sit a distance from battle. This, coupled with my essay on strategy, leads me to believe that carriers and lightly ( if at all ) armed transports would best be camouflaged.

While researching various types of camouflages, I came upon Dazzle Camouflage, a zebra-striped pattern of crazily contrasting lines, designed to fool the observer by obfuscating the direction in which the craft is travelling. This would be most useful to fighters for several reasons. First, it would mislead the viewer trying to guess which way the fighter is going. Second, when used in groups, it would have the effect of a herd of zebras, where the design makes it hard to distinguish an individual from the group, confusing any human gunners. Admittedly, this would be only useful in very large numbers, and only against manually directed weapons.


A photo of the rare Striped Space-Horse

EDIT: After some tests with blender, I decided the Dazzle Camouflage does not, in fact, fool the viewer as to the velocity vector. However, it also reinforced my “flock effect” idea.

Here’s the Gif!


However, this style of camouflage would be detrimental to large ships. Due to their slow speeds, the velocity vector would be easier to see, and the high contrast would be very visible in the monochromatic space.

So, I think the best camouflage for a large ship would be a black-and-gray noise. Here’s a screenshot of space engineers’ skybox. This is most likely the background with which a ship would want to blend.


Here is the same image, color-reduced, to show you the several simple colors that make up the picture:


You can see that the reduced-color count is 4, and there is no true black, but a grayscale. The next image compares the generated colors to the paint colors in space engineers:


They’re close, and I suppose that’s because of the art director having a working palette.Either way, this works for our purpose. If you notice, the reduced-color image is mostly a single, solid color, either the medium or dark gray. There is little light gray (excepting asteroids). The best camouflage would be a mix of medium and dark grey, with a tiny bit of light-gray noise. I painted a 10×10 large ship. The next pictures are is at different distances. (The other stuff is just that: stuff. It’s not relevant)

2013-11-15_00005From “Close up”


Slightly further


Even further, it’s starting to fuzz away


Furthest. It’s become noisy!

So, the lessons learned from this quick demo: First, space is either dark gray or medium gray. Unfortunately, we can’t do both at once. At best, a ship with two different patterns on each of it’s side, but that requires knowledge of the enemies position to present the correct pattern. More likely, a generic blend of the two is a more passive camouflage. The pattern I used was random, but also black-heavy.The ratios:

50 % black

45% Gray

5% White

Using that, here’s a rendered random-noise pattern, trying to use those ratios (it’s a little black-heavy):


You must remember, this is a RANDOM example. It’s not quite perfect yet, but it’s getting there.

Here’s an example of strategic camouflage: It’s been pre-planned to look a certain way.


Here is it modified to fit the space engineers color palette:


Here it is scaled down and pixellated properly for use in the small-canvas world of space engineers.


Looks good! Let’s use this section, the black and gray heavy area:


Here it is in space engineers, from various distances. (I also started a new world so that other distracting stuff wouldn’t be there).

2013-11-15_00009Close up. Pretty obvious from here

2013-11-15_00010A little further. I noticed that the game has an artificial distance fog, but it doesn’t alter the color much.

2013-11-15_00011Starting to look like an asteroid

2013-11-15_00012Indistinguishable now


It’s above my crosshairs still, but it’s gone!

2013-11-15_00014Since the whole deal above was against the lighter sections of the skybox, here it is at approximately the same distance against the dark skybox. Can you find it?

This brings up some other points, the engines and running lights make it extremely easy to spot. However, one could accelerate and then cut all engines, drifting silently.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

Thanks for Reading!


Musings on Space Combat

So, with Ender’s Game having come out and my having recently acquired the game “Space Engineers” (SE) and already owning “Kerbal Space Program” (KSP), I was thinking about space combat and how, exactly, it would work.

Something common I see in spaceship designs in SE, and also in generic SciFi capital ships, is INCREDIBLY vulnerable skinny parts. Consider Star War’s Nebulon-B Frigate (A.K.A. That long one at the end of episode 5 where Luke gets his hand fixed), or consider Star Trek’s Enterprise. The spaceship design is inherently vulnerable because of the various skinny parts around the ships. One good solid hit with anything will destroy them.


This problem plagues most of SciFi, from the lofty BattleCruiser to the Covenant Supercarrier. They have weak points that, while in lore are shielded, are actually extremely vulnerable to enemy fire. One of the best solutions to this I’ve seen is the Imperial Star Destroyer. Other than its protruding bridge (Which I’ll get to soon), it has no obvious break points.


A good combat spaceship should be solid, able to take hits throughout its entire superstructure and not have the ship break into seperate parts. 

Paradoxically, a good spaceship should have thrusters mounted far away from the center of mass for turning quickly. Given, a spaceship could (and in my opinion should) use internal gyroscopes, using RCS (Reaction Control Systems) is fairly commonplace and usually quicker than gyro turning, such as in KSP.


This means a more fuel efficient, maneuverable craft, which is good. However, putting the thrusters out farther means (especially on small craft) weak points. Which kind of goes against my first point. Nonetheless, a good spaceship design should account for its own mass and plan accordingly to maximize its agility. A good spaceship should be maneuverable. Lack of maneuverability would make for a pretty crappy capital ship and an outright terrible fighter. Which brings me to my next point.

The classification of spaceships is usually pretty clear, but for my discussion, I’m going to explicitly define them:

Fighter – 1 (maybe 2) man spaceship. Fast, Agile, not a lot of bullets/missiles/fuel/whatever

Frigate – Medium size, crewed with 2-10 people. has more capacity than a fighter, and can possibly be self-sustained, but is not equipped to deal with everything.

Capital Ship – Crewed 10+, fairly large. Capable of housing fighter wings and possibly frigates. Self-sustained.

With those in mind, let’s talk fleet logistics and tactics. It’s hard to compare the structure of a space fleet to anything modern-day.  The closest comparison is Aircraft Carriers, so most of the tactics I’ll bring up will involve those, as well as the fighter-bomber tactical relationships between WW2 B-17’s and escorts.

I’ll start with carrier tactics. Now, the general deployment for carriers is at the core of a fleet. This allows the fighter squad to “abandon” the carrier, knowing it’s safe in the hands of the various support vessels. This, in turn, lends the entire fighter squad a larger range of deployment.

However, a single carrier is in and of itself not vulnerable. With a capable fighter squadron kept close (A relative term in space) to the carrier, the carrier can remain safe, and even engage other ships, albeit at relatively close quarters. When facing a single carrier, the most promising tactic would be to try and tempt the fighter squads away from the carrier, leaving it vulnerable. The United States did this (Although accidentally) during the battle of Midway, where U.S. Fighter Pilots happened upon undefended Japanese Aircraft Carriers with the fighters away defending the island. The fighters than returned to an empty patch of ocean, now out of fuel.


While this is a valid tactic, in space it must be adjusted. First off, a long, clear line of sight and (hopefully) ample communication makes this tactic mush more difficult to enact. Additionally, once completed, the enemy fighter squad is not inherently defeated because of space physics. While aircraft run out of fuel and crash, spacecraft drift endlessly drift in the direction they have velocity. With their last vestiges of fuel (and likely, the knowledge of the destroyed carrier) they can attempt to do several things, one of which is attack your squad without restrain in a suicidal fashion. Several tons of fighter speeding at your capital ships is incredibly dangerous. So, overall: Be careful how you destroy carriers. Their fighters are still dangerous.

Now, to talk about the main battlegroup. The carrier and the support ships should be in the center, because they are highly vulnerable. Surrounding these, in spherical fashion, are the various frigates and battleships that make up the fleet. Note: spherical, not circular. Space is 3D, which I will get to. These frigates protect the vulnerable carriers.

This is a highly defensive stance, and would be most likely impenetrable, but this would get the battlefleet nowhere in terms of offensive capability.

This is where we talk about fighter-bomber tactics. My vision for offensive attacks would be offensive frigates escorted en route to target. In movies, the notion of the fighter is highly romanticized. For example, the concept of a single fighter overwhelming the defenses of an entire battlestation is ridiculous (See Star Wars ep 1,4). More likely, frigates with substantial firepower are escorted by fighters for protection from enemy fighters and frigates. It is likely that fighters can cripple or even destroy frigates, so small-scale battlegroups probing each others defenses are likely.


As the frigates bear towards targets, the fighters work in several squads to eliminate incoming enemies. The fighters, in turn, would operate in a loose formation. Loose, to discourage area of effect weapons. This would adhere to the Finger-Four formation to give the individuals a clear firing line, while still being able to maneuver.

The frigates would then attempt to attack larger capital ships when close, attempting to disable or destroy their capacity to attack offensively.

This leads me poorly to my next point: Bridge placement. While Hollywood portrays spaceships having these majestic Bridges with sweeping, majestic views of the entire ship. This is about as dangerous as it gets, one good hit to the structure eliminates the entire command structure. The best bridge would be tucked away in the center of the ship, safe from all enemy fire. Situational awareness would be simulated by cameras around the ship, and with radar.


Final topic: Space being 3D.

While classically, combat is thought of in 2 Dimensions, almost entirely due to the constraint of gravity, space is entirely 3D. This must ALWAYS be considered when deploying formations.

When deploying formations, there is inherently no “up”. This lack of direction leads to confusion when arranging. This can, however, be mitigated by using the flagship (Say, where the admiral resides) as reference. Using the prow of the ship (where the engines aren’t located) as forward, the entire fleet can be arrayed around it in a coherent battle fleet.

That’s all I got for now.

Thanks for Reading!


EDIT: I forgot to cover the topic of coverage. In many capital ships, there are a lot of emplacements. It is entirely imperative to consider the amount of coverage each individual emplacement has, while also balancing an emplacements efficiency. My rule of thumb: Unless you have a damn good reason to have directed fire (Which there are good reasons), have ample coverage all over the ship.