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A Guide to Avoiding Missiles

Message 1689, 4927d 5h ago.
In one of my recent games VP games (number 4126) there were three missile hits within a stretch of five turns (15, 17 and 19). In my judgment, the movement of all three missiles could have been predicted and then avoided (though to be fair, two of the missiles hit somebody other than their locked target).

I'm writing this post in the hope that it can help other players avoid missiles more successfully. The game rules explain how missiles move, but it can be difficult to use the explanation to predict the missile's path. Collision detection is an important sub-topic, since getting a missile to hit an asteroid (without hitting one yourself) is a good way to keep it from hitting you.

Missiles that are seeking towards a ship will zig-zag their thrusts towards their target. A nine thrust missile might seek with these moves: Thrust, Turn Right, Thrust, Thrust, Turn Left, Thrust, Thrust, Turn Right, Thrust (Bang!). Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here's what that looks like. (You'll need to copy and paste the URL to another browser window, since I can't embed the images.)

That seeking pattern isn't very efficient, since the 9 total thrust points the missile had took it only six hexes from it's starting point (three in the the direction of the original heading and three more 60 degrees to the right of that). The overall movement is along a "diagonal" composed of equal components in two of the main hex directions. The diagonal is shown as a red line in the image. There are three different diagonal directions, once of which happens to actually be horizontal (which is why I put the word diagonal in quotes initially).

Since not every missile starts out directly on a diagonal to its target, most of them will travel straight in one direction until they get to one and can start to zig-zag along it. If you break the distance from the missile to the target into two components aligned to the hex directions, the initial straight part of the thrust will be in the direction of the larger component. It's length will be the difference between the lengths of the components. To find out it's final position, count the moves and turns and stop when the missile's thrust is used up. Here's an image that shows both how a missile takes a straight course to reach a diagonal and also how to count the thrust.

If a targeted ship has several choices of maneuvers that put its diagonal close to the missile's expected position, small differences in its movement can make a critical difference in where the missile ends up. This is because the missile will always turn so that it gets to the diagonal, even if is going to turn back soon after. Here's another image showing the different ways a missile might seek on a pair of targets that are five hexes from it (and just one hex from each other). If this was a standard 7 thrust missile, one target could be hit while the other could not.

Once you can predict where a missile is going to thrust at, you need to know if it is going to hit anything before it gets there, such as an asteroid or another ship. This is where collision detection comes in. For collision detection, the pattern of thrusts described above isn't really important, just positions the missile will be in at the start and the end of the turn. All of the rules for missile collision detection also apply to fighter maneuvers, though some zero damage collisions can be ignored for them.

The official rules say that if the straight line path of a ship or missile crosses an asteroid hex it will collide, without saying exactly what it means to "cross" a hex. It should be obvious to everyone that flying through the middle of an asteroid hex will cause a collision, but what if you only pass through a smaller part? The only clearly defined "near-miss" case in the rules is that sliding directly along a hex-side causes a collision, but one that does not result in any damage to ships. The tricky cases are when a ship or missile cuts across the corner of an occupied hex, so that's what I'll try to explain.

My understanding of it works like this: A ship or missile could, in theory, cut from the midpoint of one hex-side to the midpoint of a neighboring hex-side without triggering a collision . If it were to cut off any more it would collide, any less and it won't. In actual gameplay, nothing can move through adjacent hex-sides since ships and missiles must start and end their moves in the center of a hex, but that is the limit on the amount you can cut from a corner. Here's an image showing what I mean by cutting more and less.

A few last things about dodging missiles:

Some missiles can't be dodged, or can only be dodged by maneuvers that take you out of bounds or through an asteroid yourself. Those dodges are usually not worth it, since it's often better to let the missile hit you while you attack the enemy with your guns.

It is some times important to ignore a distant missile and let it come towards you. It's a lot more likely to hit something else when it's moving really fast.

If you're moving behind an asteroid, don't worry if the seeking algorithm will bring the missile to your exact location, since your cover will will make it blow up on its way in.

The best dodges are ones that make the missile hit or lock on to one of your opponents, or fail to lock onto anyone at all. The next best ones make the missile hit an asteroid or go out of bounds.

The worst missile "dodges" are when you jump in front of a friendly missile, or even a missile you shot yourself, when it is seeking towards an enemy. Just say no to friendly fire!

Anyway, I hope this guide helps. If anything is unclear, please let me know and I'll try to add more clarification. I hope this helps VP players to plan better maneuvers in the future!
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