How It Works Today and What’s in Store for the Future
With the introduction of the Origin 100 series and its unique AIR system, we wanted to spend a little time talking about the current and future role of fuel in Star Citizen. The career of Refueling, and by proxy the gameplay of fuel, is one of our many non-combat driven gameplay loops and key to creating a believable universe.
This piece is a primer to the Refueling design and career, which will be discussed more in the build up to its release.
Fuel Mechanics in Star Citizen Alpha 3.1
In Alpha 3.1, all of our ships have a Hydrogen Fuel Tank and most have a Quantum Fuel Tank, snubs being the common exception. The ship’s thrusters consume fuel stored in the Hydrogen Fuel Tank and convert it into thrust with a small draw from the Power Plant. When in Quantum Travel, thrusters use the fuel contained in the Quantum Fuel Tank.
A common misconception is that fuel is only used during Boost or Afterburner. Actually, fuel was intended to be consumed during any use of the thrusters. Most ships have a Fuel Intake, again snubs tend to be the exception, that regenerate fuel from the environment. Fuel should usually regenerate faster than what standard maneuvering burns while in space. Sustained maneuvers involving Boost or Afterburner, as well as use in atmosphere, will consume more fuel than can be regenerated. This will deplete the fuel bar located on the HUD. Stopping these maneuvers will typically refill the fuel bar, although most ships need to be moving for the regeneration to occur. Hence, if a ship is left running while landed, you may return to discover it has less fuel in it.
If you run out of either type of fuel, the only way to refuel your ship is by visiting a Cry-Astro station or filing an insurance claim at an ASOP terminal.
The Future Fuel Cycle
The first step to moving your spaceship is to create thrust and fire it out of a thruster. The broad, in-game explanation behind creating that thrust is as follows:
1. Fuel Intakes scoop natural gases from the environment and funnel them into the ship.
a. To get the most amount of gas into your ship, seek out areas of concentrated gas.
b. Using your Fuel Intakes in regular space may scoop limited quantities of gas or none at all.
2. These gases are converted into plasma.
a. Fuel Intakes will do a basic conversion on a limited range of gas types.
b. Refineries will provide more conversion options.
3. Converted plasma is stored in the Fuel Tank, previously called the Hydrogen Fuel Tank.
a. These tanks can only store one type of plasma at a time.
4. When thrust is needed, plasma pumps through the Power Plant and is converted/agitated into energized plasma.
5. The energized plasma is funneled into thrusters.
6. Thrust is produced and the ship moves appropriately.
Hydrogen is the most common element in space. All ships can use hydrogen to power their thrusters, but it is not the only type of gas that can be converted. Some ships can harvest and convert varying types of gas that when refined provide additional benefits, such as increased efficiency or reduced emissions. You can only store one type of plasma in each fuel tank so pick wisely. If you wish to change types, you must purge that tank before refilling, which is not recommended in deep space.
Refineries are the key to converting other gases into usable fuel. While Fuel Intakes do a passable conversion job, Refineries take it to the next level. They can be found on a wide range of ships like the 100 series, Freelancer DUR, and on the high end, the Starfarer.
As part of the refining gameplay, you can select what type of fuel to scoop and where it will end up, provided you have a ship with multiple fuel tanks such as the Starfarer. You will need to monitor the situation as gas concentrations will vary by location and even within the same location.
Let’s say a gas cloud in space is a mixture of ammonia, hydrogen, and nitrogen. Ammonia would be the most efficient/dense fuel so you may be tempted to scoop it. But it’s only 9% of the gas composition, whereas nitrogen is 40%. That means it will take you just over 4x as long to get the same amount of ammonia plasma as nitrogen plasma. On the other hand, ammonia plasma is a higher grade and sells for more.
Finally, Quantum Fuel will remain as is. It will only be consumed during Quantum Travel and refilled at designated stations like Cry-Astro.
How Fuel Will Be Changing in Future Patches
The major change players will notice is that some ships no longer have the ability to regenerate or scoop fuel by default. This part of the fuel design was delayed until we could implement support features that ensure a positive player experience. These prerequisite features are:
1. A way to call for help.
2. A way to get fuel at any location.
The first issue was solved with the introduction of Service Beacons in 3.1, and the latter will be solved when the Starfarer gains refueling functionality in a future patch. Other ships capable of refueling, such as the Aegis Vulcan, will also provide refueling functionality when they are released.
Ships either have a Fuel Intake, do not have one, or have the option to equip one. To determine which ships fell into which category, we looked at their intended careers and roles, as detailed in the Shipyard series.
Combat (Short Range) – The in-game equivalent of a carrier based ship, such as the Gladius and Hornet. These ships will not come with nor have the ability to equip Fuel Intakes.
Combat (Long Range) – These ships, like the Vanguard and Retaliator, will have Intakes as their role requires them to traverse long distances.
Exploration – These ships will have Fuel Intakes by default. Their very nature dictates that they can travel long distances, well away from the nearest refueling location.
Industrial & Transport – Typically, these ships will have Fuel Intakes by default, as again they are required to travel long distances.
Support – Naturally, the Starfarer and most other ships in this career will retain them as they’ll often be expected to execute long distance and extended duration missions.
Competition – These ships will vary depending on their type. Some ships, like the Razor, feature technology that allows them to refuel, whereas others, like the M50, deal with the issue differently by having larger fuel tanks.
Some ship families, such as the Aurora and 300 series, have variants that come with a Fuel Intake by default, while the rest of the series can equip one if you procure it separately or transfer it from another ship. Furthermore, just because a ship may not have a Fuel Intake does not mean it cannot operate in deep space. There are no hard restrictions in place to prevent it. You will just need to consider your actions more carefully. You could leave enough fuel to return, call for a refuel, or make your journey a one way trip.
How Does the Origin 100 Series Air System Benefit from This?
The 100 series benefits from having an Fuel Intake and Refinery, allowing them to process more types of gas than other ships in their class. In addition, the default equipped Fuel Intake is of a higher grade (B vs C) than is standard. The 100 series also has a bespoke Refinery that can harvest a wider variety of gases than comparable systems at that price point
Out of all the starter ships, the 100 series is intended to be the most fuel efficient. Thanks to the AIR system it achieves this goal through a combination of its naturally efficient thrusters, a higher quality Fuel Intake, and the wider range of gases it can refill from via its Refinery.
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