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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Physics of New Eden

Nosey Gamer today had a post with a first paragraph custom made for what I wanted to write about today. In his post Submarine Game, he likens the physics of Eve Online to submarine warfare. I agree that space combat and submarine combat are very similar. Submarines hide in a hard to scan three dimensional environment as do spaceships. However, the analogy really doesn't have anything to do with physics. It's how humans overcome the obstacle of fighting in a low visibility yet immense environment. The underlying physics of the two mediums are apples and bananas at best. For one, ships in New Eden are not trapped in a gravity well like submarines are and won't sink when depth charged. Then there is the basic difference between hydrodynamics and vacuum dynamics, high drag versus no drag, etc. Though we humans may maneuver vessels similarly in such environments, they are in no substantial way the same - sorry Nosey.

But the physics of New Eden, and the warp changes in Rubicon, are exactly what I wanted to discuss today. I'm not a physicist, but I've had more than the average number of physics courses in my life, and I am fascinated by the subject and read everything I can about it. I'm very familiar with some of the current thinking in the fields of theoretical physics and what scientists are thinking might bridge the gap between Einstein's relativistic universe and quantum mechanic's seemingly random one. More on that in a moment.

Those two models of physics are the root of our physics issue in New Eden. The current way ships get from object to object within any system in New Eden is pretty much in agreement with Einstein's view of the universe. Quantum mechanics is only valid for the infinitesimally small. In Einstein's model, there is a finite speed limit in the universe. That is the constant 'c' in the famous e = mc^2 equation. The layman's term for it is the speed of light. That is inaccurate, but it suffices.

Nothing in the relativistic universe travels faster than this speed limit. To make matters worse, as speed increases so does mass. This requires more energy to move the ship. Any acceleration of that ship again increases mass and requires even more energy. The acceleration curve looks like this when plotted.

It requires an infinite amount of energy to travel at 'c'. But that's not what ships do inside a star system. Star systems are small compared to interstellar space. Relativistic effects aren't noticed on such short trips. Notice how flat the curve is until the velocity gets to about 50% of 'c'. That's the realm of what we do in New Eden. It's the realm of what we can do now in RL. Well, actually we can't even get to the first tick on that graph, but our understanding of physics can theoretically get us to that 50% mark.

And interestingly enough, anything below that threshold can pretty much use the older Newtonian model of physics to travel from point to point. Those equations are not as accurate is Einstein's model, but they are accurate enough at lower speeds.

Here's something most people don't know. NASA actually uses modified Newtonian equations to pilot its spacecraft around the solar system. All the orbital mechanics, those slingshot maneuvers like the Jupiter bound Juno probe just executed, are all done using Newtonian equations.

In Eve Online, the concept of these equations are being used too. Ships cross entire solar systems in seconds, but they do so in a Newtonian manner. According to the current chart, the longest it takes a ship to go 100 AU is 161 seconds or just under three minutes. Now, if that ship is treated as a Newtonian body, that is an accurate reflection of getting a freighter's mass up to max speed, cruising along at that max speed and then flipping end for end to slow down. All things being equal, the deceleration takes as long as the acceleration. And therein lies the issue with current ship physics in New Eden.

The freighter is a behemoth compared to most ships. The only ones close mass-wise are capital ships. All other ships are minnows by comparison, even the battleships. Since one set of equations are used on all ships, the minnows all travel similar distances in similar time spans. The shorter the distance travelled, the smaller the difference in travel time. It diminishes until it is no longer realistically any different. That is what we've all dislike about New Eden physics for a long time. It was a simple case that Eve Online was too real. By adopting the Newtonian model, all "small" ships behaved too similarly.

So what are they doing in Rubicon? Well, they are in essence making Eve Online less real. But are they really? This is where I start to get excited! You see, CCP has just jiggered the equations to produce more divergent behaviors among the minnows. But it actually falls in line with some of the most recent thinking on how to move ships across vast interstellar distances without requiring infinite energy. The term I like to use for this is "gravity surfing." The official term for it is the Alcubierre Drive. This is what it looks like.

Alcubierre Drive Representation
Your spaceship sits in the middle. It manipulates gravity in front of and behind it to constantly "fall" into the gravity well.

Now you'd think that larger ships would fall faster and thus the freighter would arrive before the frigate. However, the larger the ship the larger the perturbation of space-time has to be in order to set up this 'gravity surfing.' There is a diminishing return based on mass that to my way of thinking looks a lot like the new charts CCP published for the upcoming Rubicon expansion.

Of course, I could just be blowing a lot of gravitons up your arse. After all, I'm not a theoretical physicist. But New Eden is also not a real place. And we ignore the known laws of the universe everytime we pretend to travel at speeds that get us from sun to Oort cloud in a minute. By all things real, that can never happen. So I'm satisfied the Alcubierre Drive explains the new warp mechanic. Are you?


  1. I think you missed the comparison. First Nosey says that "Some will argue..." and second the only physics part of of eve is the sub warp speeds in which the comparison is valid. Now that is the physics part the other part of the comparison is the fact he is talking about a stealthed ship vs a sub and how they are used("If stealth is the equivalent of sailing submerged").

    1. Nope, didn't miss it. I was just shoehorning a shoutout into an opening paragraph. And Nosey is right, the submarine analogy has been booted around a lot in the Eve Community. I still think it's more about human perception than the actual physics of the situation, but please feel free to disagree. :-)

    2. Ok then why we can't accel ships above their max velocity then?

  2. Actually I have always like/hated the total lack of adherence to physics in EvE when ships (no matter their size or mass...

    (1) 'coast' to a stop...
    (2) 'heel' when they turn...
    (3) go "POOF" and disappear into the station, irregardless of where the docking port is, when docking and...
    (4) have to, for reasons unbeknownst to man or alien, exit the station 'through' the docking port they ignore the rest of the time...
    (5,6,7,8,9...) and don't get me started on my ship flying THROUGH stuff!!!
    ... =]

    1. There is a game that fixes all these problems.

      It is called Elite. It was published in 1984. Physics were "real": ships had velocity, acceleration, and mass, and no top speeds, so most dogfights ended up being "slingshot" affairs as ships shot past each other.

      Docking bays had collision, so if you didn't match the station's rotation just right, lots of explosions and crashes until you can afford a docking computer to do it for you.

      I know that EVE seems silly sometimes, but while Elite's physics worked great for an arcadey space adventure simulator, they do not really seem appropriate for EVE.

    2. And Coriolis stations! Yes! That was one sweet game for physics geeks. But to tell truth, I couldn't wait to earn enough to buy a nav computer that would handle the damn docking rotation automatically. That was CRAZY hard.

  3. More massive objects don't fall faster in a vacuum--but if EVE were a vacuum, turning off a prop mod wouldn't slow me down.

  4. "Then there is the basic difference between hydrodynamics and vacuum dynamics, high drag versus no drag, etc. Though we humans may maneuver vessels similarly in such environments, they are in no substantial way the same - sorry Nosey."

    There certainly is a difference between hydrodynamics and vacuum dynamics... and EVE falls fairly clearly on the hydrodynamics side. ;-)

    The backstory may claim we're flying spaceships, but they don't behave anything like you'd expect from 'real' in-vacuum manoeuvres. (The warp drive is responsible, according to the lore; apparently it causes some form of drag against space-time...) I don't know where it was, but I think I've even seen someone using fluid dynamics to estimate the density of whatever it is we're all swimming in.

  5. To be honest:
    LIGHT travels ONE AU in about 8 minutes. (8.33~) In EVE travelling 100 AU in 160 SECONDS, can be considered real?
    INgame, we are travelling at 311,8 times the speed of light... sounds really real to me. :P

    (Go figure it out yourself: put it in a different perspective light travels 1 AU in 499,0047838 seconds)

    Still, a nice article, I just wanted to point this one out.

    1. You hit it right on the nose. I thought about adding that number in the post, but I didn't want to hurt anyone's eyes when they crossed too hard. *LOL* That's why I like the Alcubierre Drive explanation. When you start getting into the details of his equations, the ship is not actually moving. It is moving space-time around it while remaining stationary within the bubble it has created. In that way it avoids the absolute speed limit imposed by Einstein's special relativity. To an outside observer, that ship could indeed travel over 300 times the speed of light.

  6. "I agree that space combat and submarine combat are very similar."

    Except... they're not.

    Incidentally, the one thing that's probably least similar between space and underwater combat is the example you used - detection. Simply speaking, there is no stealth in space, because unless you introduce a reactionless drive(so, break even more laws of physics) ships move by throwing a lot of very hot stuff in the opposite direction, which is extremely easy to detect against the near-absolute zero background of space(and also planets, and even stars - it's just a matter of sensor calibration, no dodging that one). To give you an idea just how easy, the Space Shuttle's main engines could be detected from Earth's orbit as far as Pluto.

    Turning engines off is not a solution either, because every ship emits heat just by virtue of working. Unless you kill all the crew and turn off all the computers(turning it into an useless lump of alloys just drifting) it will emit heat, ergo - be visible as clear as day.

    In space everyone can see everyone at all times and cover effectively doesn't exist. Real space combat would be a very boring one...

  7. You said: "That's why I like the Alcubierre Drive explanation. When you start getting into the details of his equations, the ship is not actually moving. It is moving space-time around it while remaining stationary within the bubble it has created. In that way it avoids the absolute speed limit imposed by Einstein's special relativity."

    According to Einstein's theory of general relativity, aren't both views equally valid and, therefore, true? (ship moving through space vs. space moving around ship) I think the time savings results from the warpage of spacetime, not from a difference in point of view. I'm not trying to be critical--just wanted to correct this small point; I think your blog is great and thoroughly enjoy reading it! Keep up the interesting discussions, please. :)

  8. Correct away! I am certainly not an expert in theoretical physics and appreciate any new insight you can lend.


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