Monday, February 22, 2016

Horseshoes in Space - The Physics Behind the Jumpmaster 5000

                Good day, PGP readers. I must apologize for my recent hiatus. My lack of writing is a culmination of contracting a nasty cold bug, having a minor case of writer's block, and also a large part due to the reopening of the Overwatch Beta, of which I was fortunate to be invited to. I hope to now get back into my normal rhythm of things.
                In today's article I want take a look at the release of the Punishing One Expansion Pack, but not in the way you think. Although I am thoroughly intrigued with the inclusion of Guidance Chips, Rage, Mindlink, and the Gonk Droid (especially after my Shield Recharge analysis), what really draws my fascination for this new ship is the unique dial mechanic.
                The Jumpmaster 5000 is somewhat of a quirky ship and to help portray this, the game developers over at FFG decided to give the ship an asymmetrical dial. But why would they choose to do this? Is it the non-aerodynamic design of the vessel? That's not the case since X-wing Miniatures is portrayed as space combat and air resistance is non-applicable. And it is definitely not just because FFG wanted a new mechanic for the sake of a new mechanic. Their way of game design is so intricately laced with lore that they wouldn't do that. No, the reason for the choice of an asymmetrical dial is actual drawn from mass distribution.
                My collegiate career has allowed me to study a large portion of physics and it has been a enjoyable topic for me to learn. Matter acts quite strange sometimes when you really take a look at it. And there is a specific property of mass interaction that is called the Center of Mass, which we will use to look at Dengar's prized ship.
                Center of mass is the name describing the balance point of a quantified body of mass. This balance point is important because it is what dictates how outside forces will affect the body. Let's start by looking at the center of mass of a model cube. This shape is symmetrical and its mass is at a uniform distance from itself. The center of mass for a symmetrical object like this is - quite conveniently - in the center. If we wanted to move this cube we would have to take the center of mass into consideration. If a force is in the middle of one of the square faces then the cube will move directly in the direction you are pushing. But stray away from the center and then we start having problems. The further away you are from the center of the face, the more your forward movement is converted into rotation movement. In a frictionless environment, like the vacuum of space, this means that your cube will start to spin rather than move forward like you wanted.
                This takes us to our second model, a horseshoe. This shape is also symmetrical, but not on all of its 6 axes. As such the center of mass moves away from the exact center and towards a new location. The balance point of said shoe is moved closer to the connected top and further away from the open bottom. And even though it is in a different spot, this point still dictates force interaction. But now we have a problem, we can no longer apply a force directly to the center of mass because it is now just in empty space. We can overcome this problem by applying force from different points that are the same distance from the center of gravity. To illustrate, if you push on one leg of a horseshoe in space then it will mostly spin around the center of mass. But if you apply equal pressure to both legs then the opposing rotational forces will be cancelled out. If we wanted to make a horseshoe-shaped rocket ship then it would need to have engines on both legs.
                And thus we have the Jumpmaster 5000. This ship is a horseshoe with more mass located in one leg. And then the main engines are only placed in that leg. What does this mean? It means the Jumpmaster's center of mass is closer to the cockpit side of the ship rather than the turret side of the ship. And since the engines are only on the cockpit side as well, all of that mass is going to want to rotate around that center of mass when Dengar fires up his ionic boosters. That is why FFG designed the Jumpmaster with a dial where left maneuvers are easier than right ones. It has so many left green moves because the ship naturally wants to turn left when it flies. In fact, to even go straight, the Jumpmaster would rely on lateral thrusters on the turret wing to offset the rotational force. And it would need to use these thrusters even more heavily when attempting to turn right.
                In real life this ship would be more trouble than its worth and would never pass as a viable design for a spacecraft. However it isn't as bad, in my opinion, as the design of the U.S.S. Kelvin from Star Trek. Having the main nacelle engine below the disk of the ship means that the poor thing really only wants to spin heels over head. But the Punishing One's movment problem could have easily been avoided. If the ship designers had placed a second engine on the turret wing then the ship wouldn't have any rotation tendencies. Or perhaps a neater solution would be to place the cockpit and engines of the ship in the middle of the wedge, rather than off to one side, thus creating an umbrella shape.
                But let's be honest. The Punishing One wasn't created to as a prototype for real spaceships. It was made as part of a fantastical universe that is meant to be played in and be enjoyed. So I won't be fretting much once I get the chance to fly my own Jumpmaster in X-wing Miniatures. I will instead be enjoying a unique mechanic and a wonderfully built strategy game.
                I hope you enjoyed this small foray into the physical sciences. Please feel free to leave comments, as well as ideas for anything you would like me to analyse in the X-wing world. I hope you have a great week of flying and I will see you later. Poor Grey Pilot out.

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