May 22, 2020

Aurora Tutorial Part 5

Welcome back to my walkthrough of Aurora, a rather unique 4X game. Now that we have our initial colonization well underway, it's time to turn our attention to the stars. Aurora's interstellar travel model is built around Jump Points, essentially wormholes that link star systems. Any ship with a jump drive can transit a known jump point or escort other ships through, and jump points can be stabilized to allow all ships to pass freely. But before you can make use of a jump point, you first have to find it.

This is the job of grav survey ships. These work pretty much like geological survey ships, only they go to survey locations in deep space. Each system has 30, and some number of jump points. A few systems have only one, while 2 is typical and 5 or 6 isn't unknown. This obviously requires ships, but before you rush off and build a version of your geosurvey ship with grav sensors, it's worth taking a deeper look at the jump point mechanics.

If I have a ship I want to get from one side of a jump point to another, I have a few options. If the jump point has been stabilized by a dedicated ship, I can just send it through, no questions asked. The problem is that stabilization takes months for a specialized ship, and only goes in one direction. If you send something without a jump drive through an unstabilized jump point, it can't come back. This is most often the stabilization ship, so while it is possible to play entirely without jump drives, I wouldn't recommend it. This is doubly true because stabilization works for everyone, friend and foe alike. That said, shipping lines won't go through unstabilized jump points, so you're going to need to stabilize your core routes eventually. The modules to do so can be found under Construction and Production, and you'll probably have to research one before you can start stabilizing.

OK, so now we're back to jump drives. Each jump drive has a maximum capacity, set by the size of the drive and the Jump Drive Efficiency tech. At the first level, this ratio is 4, so any jump ship is going to be 1/4th jump drive. Fitting them to every ship is right out. Fortunately, a jump ship can escort any ship its own size or smaller1 through a jump point in a standard transit, either as part of the same fleet, or by simply sitting on the jump point and opening it for passing ships. Both can be good options, depending on circumstances. Naval operations rely heavily on jump ships integrated with the fleet, while jump tenders are very helpful for routes you haven't gotten around to stabilizing yet.

But we're talking about survey ships, and neither of these really apply. It's very possible to do the initial survey with jump tenders, but it requires a lot of micromanagement, as you have to coordinate multiple ships to explore new jump points while making sure that nobody gets stranded. I suppose you could build a dedicated jump ship for each survey ship, but that's going to be expensive because of the overhead. On the whole, it's much easier to just build jump drives onto your grav survey ships. Unfortunately, the game usually doesn't automatically give you the tech for jump drives, so you'll need to make sure SM mode is on (the lightbulb on the main screen) and instant Jump Point Theory (if you don't already have it), Jump Drive Efficiency 4, Max Jump Squadron Size - 3 and Max Squadron Jump Radius - 50k.

Building ships with jump drives is more difficult because of the hard ceiling on tonnage, and I'd strongly recommend using the prototype function to make sure you don't get stuck with a bunch of dud jump drives. The process is quite similar to that used for the geosurvey ship in Part 2. Make sure you have decent speed, enough range so you're not running back to base all the time, and sufficient deployment time and maintenance life. Breakdowns can be particularly problematic in remote star systems. When you have a design you like, instant a few of them into the Shipyard Task Group, and then detach each one and set up standing orders to survey the nearest survey location.

Play the game until one of them discovers a jump point, then select that ship and order it to transit the point in question with either Standard or Squadron Transit. When it does so, it will find itself in a system, chosen from a list of real stars. The stars themselves are correct, but smaller bodies are randomly generated. You may find a system with a habitable planet, or one that's completely empty. Check using the system window (planets in the top bar), which shows all of the information about any bodies in the system. Note that each star's bodies are displayed separately, so you may have to flip between them. If you've hit the jackpot and gotten a world with a breathable atmosphere (colony cost of less than 2.00), then it might be worth cancelling the standing order and using your survey ship as a jump tender so your geosurvey force can take a look around. You might also want to look into commercial jump drives, which are larger and less efficient, but can't pass ships with military engines, for use on a jump tender to allow early colonization. Otherwise, either recall it to finish the survey of Sol, or let it begin to survey this new system.

Of course, there's always the chance that a habitable planet has intelligent life of its own, with their own ideas about who should expand and rule the universe. Bringing them around to your way of thinking is a major part of Aurora, and one I'll start covering next time. But before I start in on that, it's worth a digression into the military implications of the jump system. Obviously, the jump points form choke points which can easily be protected by a hostile force. There's not really any way around this, although squadron transits do make it significantly easier. A squadron transit, instead of showing up right on the JP, arrives at a random distance set by the drive tech. Early on, it's pretty small, and barely even worth it, while later drives can reliably land you outside of beam weapon range, buying valuable time. Standard transits also subject ships to a significant amount of "jump shock", which basically prevents the unit from doing anything until it wears off. Squadron transits suffer from less of this. The downside is that while a jump ship can carry any number of ships through a standard transit, it can take only a few (again set by tech) through a squadron jump. All of this means that forcing a jump point is possible, but isn't to be done lightly. Fortunately, the Non-Player Races (NPRs) will often send ships out to engage, allowing you to meet them in deep space instead. We'll look at building warships to do so next time.

1 Note that it's the size of the jump ship and not the jump drive that matters. A 5,000 ton ship with a 6,000 ton jump drive won't be able to take ships bigger than 5,000 tons through. Also, commercial jump drives can't transport ships with military engines. They're much larger, and significantly less efficient, but cheap for the size.


  1. May 22, 2020echo said...

    So once you get rolling, is it efficient to use a mothership-based explorator fleet? A group of civvy surveyors supported by one big ship with maintenance/ISRU, a retconned mythical hyperspace core, and a babe in a tube?

    Or does it work out cheaper and less micro-intensive to build independent general purpose survey ships that travel to one planet at a time?

  2. May 22, 2020bean said...

    You can't actually build a civvy surveyor. The survey sensors are military systems.

    In terms of systems, I once ran a mothership-based system with a central tanker and 8 survey ships. It was extremely efficient, and a lot of micromanagement. Also, it relied on a feature that's currently missing from C# Aurora. Even without that oversight, I would not try it again.

    But I'm not sure that's what you're asking. You seem to be talking about a fully independent system (mine was not), and the answer to that is a hard no. First, you can't make maintenance supplies without a population, IIRC. There are ways to do ISRU and to restore crew while in deep space, but a base for a survey squadron is big and slow. (I've made one in my current game), and an entertainment complex for the crew would be of similar size, the kind of thing you use for supporting a major fleet.

    Overall, you're better off with independent survey ships.

  3. May 23, 2020Alexander said...

    Having read some of Steve's (the game's creator) accounts of his games, quite frequently first contact occurs when a survey ship in a frontier system is destroyed by unknown hostiles, and fails to report on time. Is this actually how the game works, or is it just him roleplaying (i.e. he knew exactly what happened, but played as if his admirals didn't)? If you're ships aren't all equipped with 'instant' communicators of infinite range, you might transit a jump point by first sending a small, relatively expendable craft to check the far side is clear of mines or ambushers, then send through your survey group. At this point, leave the jump ship on the jump point, and send the survey ships out to work. If they are attacked (and, let's face it, destroyed) the jump ship can fall back and alert the fleet.

  4. May 23, 2020bean said...

    That's roleplaying. You know what all your ships are doing all the time. And the risks of losing a ship are not that large compared to the micromanagement involved in doing that.

  5. May 25, 2020echo said...

    Thanks, that's a pity. Your tanker idea is roughly what I was imagining. Sounds like forward basing could be useful though?

    There's a surprising number of let's-plays for Aurora. Anyone found a particularly good one? I'll try a few to tide me over until I've got some actual gaming time.

  6. May 25, 2020bean said...

    Forward basing can be useful, provided you can find the right nodes to place it at. Biggest problem in my current game is that I've found myself chronically short on tugs, and for a long time didn't have any tug big enough to pull it forward at a reasonable rate. If I wasn't trying to colonize a Venus-like planet (reasons are complicated) which means lots of orbital habitats it would have worked a lot better.

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