This guide is written for league players. It involves how to fly as an individual and how to fly as a team. I'll assume that the reader knows the general mechanics of SVS Subspace. The guide is intended mainly for players who feel that they need help on improving their league play. Most of those in Iml and Pro, and perhaps even in Aml, will probably already be familiar with what I have to say, or have developed their own system to their satisfaction. However, if you have not, feel free to read on...
Flying Tactics: The Individual
This portion of the guide will teach you how to fly in a general 4v4 situation, with no specific regard for team tactics. In a sense, this segment will show you how to fly in pracs, how to survive, and how to attack without recognizing teamplay. Slowly mould it into your teamplay as you familiarize yourself and your squad with your own style of play.
Positioning: Playing Subspace Chess
Before I get into anything else, I should discuss positioning. Every maneuvre, every "trick", every tactic in Subspace, is based upon position. How you attack, how you move, how your opponent retreats or advances, all will be based upon your respective positions. There are 4 fundamental components of position: your relative speed with respect to the opponent, your distance to the opponent, your alignment with the opponent, and your relative speed with obstacles such as walls and rocks. Your goal in attack is to minimize relative speed and distance to the target, aligning your cone of fire towards the opponents while avoiding his own, and to use obstacles as traps or barriers to limit their scope of maneuverability.
Your relative speed with respect to your target will differ depending on how much damage you need to do. Minimizing it will maximize possible damage dealt, while also increasing the likelihood that you yourself become vulnerable to fire. To control this variable, watching the radar will be vital. You should not be in the direct line-of-flight of your target when on radar. Decrease the angle between you and your opponent once he is within striking distance (when he comes within your screen, for example). Keep yourself away from his possible cone-of-fire while on radar, and as you close, you should intersect him by moving in on his flight path. At this point, match his speed (thus decreasing your relative speed with your opponent) ONLY for as long as you need to deal damage. By the time your last shots are fired, you should already be accelerating away from him.
Your primary concern is that your own vector does not end up in the cone-of-fire of your target's teammates. This is why as a general rule (there are always exceptions), the easiest target is the one on the edge of the enemy 'formation'; return-fire can only come from 1 direction and is thus more easily tracked. I wish to talk about the exception right here: I said that attacking the flank is a general rule of thumb. There are specific instances when the reverse is true. If the enemy is out of alignment and out of position, they can be as close as they want and look as formidable as they want on radar; if they're pointed backwards, they're not gonna fire on you. At this stage, fly thru the middle of their formation and look for the guy who's hanging around behind the "protection" of his teammates: bypass his teammates and go for this lil fellow; he's low on energy.
Watching the alignment of your enemy will be critical. Depending on where his ship is pointing, what should be a perfect target could become a trap. This is the most easily changed element of position, and thus is the most effective when mastered. No matter what the other 3 components are, if your opponent is not pointed in the proper direction, you have the advantage, ALWAYS.
Look for the enemy to be oriented in the wrong direction when: - he is hit by your teammates - he has just come off an attack - he cannot mine (he is too close) - his speed is essentially zero (thus he has no maneuvering possibilities) If played right, ALL of these situations will lead to a rep/kill.
Be wary of traps, however. For example, I will often point myself backwards when chasing an opponent. When he tries to take advantage, i turn around and give him a bomb or 2. You can tell if a trap is imminent by noting that if the enemy has nothing to occupy his attention (ur teammates, for example), but he is still pointed away from u, he will probably be watching and waiting for you to make the first move.
Energy Management: Energy for attack, energy for survival
There are 2 important components to energy management: management during offence and management during defence. In Offensive management, count the number of bombs your opponent takes (usually in mid-range bomb lobbing). Many think that offensive energy management has to deal with bullets, but in fact, when in an offensive mindset, you should be bombing in order to control the tempo and movement of the fight. To gain the energy advantage during offence, ignore bullet usage and try not to trade bomb damage. This is most prevalent in duels; often the 2 duelers will circle and fire bombs almost in sequence. Avoid this: don't bother firing until you close to almost a sure hit. Becuase you are seeking to skim bombs while closing distance, often, you can take 2-3 bombs and still have MORE energy than your opponent (supposing you skim and he pb's). At this point you may choose to close with bullets or trap him to a wall and pound him using bombs. Note that 1 wasted bomb is a huge difference, in terms of both immediate energy costs and prolonged energy loss due to the bomb delay: the enemy cannot defend himself with bullets and deter you from attack. With this one bomb advantage, you can often fire into the 100's and still be confident of coming on top (given that your teammates dont try to tk you with crazy thors).
Defensive energy management is actually the conservation of energy during bullet fights. During bullet barrages, it is imperative that you back away when you need to. Keep enough energy so that you may escape, and still take a bomb (skimmed, optimally) on your way out. Going offensive during bullet barrages and counting on having more energy than your opponent based purely on bullets is very risky: lag and random damage play too much a role here for the risk to be worth it. If you were careful with your bombs, you will never need to gamble during bullet exchanges (perhaps that's my tankin ability talkin muwahaha). When engaging in bullet fights, always adopt a defensive mindset and have a backdoor available. Because you must close much more and expend more energy with bullets, you must be more cautious.
Tools of the Trade: Using your specials
Specials are (obviously) one of the most important aspects of the game. Teams new to league invariably squander their reps and rockets, while more experienced teams must conserve these as much as possible. I'll list some basic concepts in managing your toys.
Generally speaking, the items should be ranked thus: Reps first, then rockets, then thors, then portals, and finally decoys. Management of portals and decoys are not really all that important, because they're more a trick item than anything vital. The enemy will almost always have anti on. When they don't, u'll almost certainly have a spare port lyin about. Decoys can be confusing when launched in waves and when launched with a combination of stealth, but it's not very hard to manage that.
Thors can be used in 2 ways: the usual, most obvious way is to launch it through a wall at a retreating target. The second is to use it as a sort of trump card, when at the end of a bullet exchange, neither of you have enough energy to fire a bomb, you may strike that crucial extra 200 dmg using thors.
With regard to rockets and reps, here's how you should view them: They're both important, and every rep and rocket used should be counted. If you use a rocket and force the target to use a rep, it's a net profit for you. However, knowledge of position is again key. ENSURE that you will not be repped into enemy hot on your heels: If that occurs, you as well be forced to rep, and you lose a rocket in the process. Don't be afraid to use rockets. If you see what may be an opportunity, pursue it with a rocket, but dont be dissappointed if you cannot continue the attack and must retreat. A wasted rocket is nothing compared to a wasted rep.
Flying Styles: The Attacker and the Vulcher
There are two styles of fighting in league play: The attacker and the vulcher. I will be discussing each of these fighting styles, their pros and cons, and what type of player each style will suit.
Firstly, the vulcher. This is a defensive style in which you seek to follow up on attacks initiated by an Attacker, running down an already damaged enemy. This style can be so successful because of the fact that you commit to less risks: when skill is decided purely on how many mistakes you DON'T make, limiting your exposure to those mistakes can make you a better player. Awareness of positioning is not very important here, because of the distance and safety margin that is left; options are always open, and even when most are closed, an escape route is sure to be open somewhere if you've played defensively. The primary advantage of the defensive style is that if the opponent becomes impatient, then (all else considered equal) you have the advantage because you have already chosen and fortified your position while your target flutters about.
Keys to flying defensively:
- Use obstacles, such as walls, to protect yourself from charging opponents. Fire around corners when possible. Don't pursue an attack unless you are backed up by friendlies.
- Have backdoors open, and be ready to back-peddle like a madman.
The Attacker, on the other hand, is the one leading the charge. There is no need to hesitate and wait for backup, because a competent attacker will naturally leave juicy targets for his teammates. Key to the attacker is offensive energy management and a clear understanding of position. He must be able to extrapolate from movements and actions just how much energy each of the enemy possesses: he can then choose the target best suited to attack as based on his position relative to the target. The attacker must have very good knowledge of energy management because he needs all the energy he can get in the attack; he has to choose SOME target to attack, leaving 3 others temporarily on his tail. He must know how much energy they have to do damage to him. His knowledge of positioning is vital if he is to avoid flying into a dead-end, or having his target bounce off a rock and out of harms way.
- ALWAYS be aware of positioning. Your attack route must branch off into escape routes.
- Have smart teammates who will follow you in.
- Skim skim skim skim skim. Always skim bombs.
You should strive eventually to build an attacking playing style. This style is almost always the most successful one. Given 2 teams, each being of the exact same skill level, the offensive team will always win. The simple reason is that they control the tempo and positioning during a match. Often you will see defensive teams go 7-0 in the regular season, then bow out in the quarter-finals, totally shut down. To them, it feels as if they played a horrible game: nothing went right. Their teammates never helped them out. The enemy were all tanks. And so on and so forth. Why weren't their teammates helping? Because the offensive team can erode a defensive position until SOMEONE is isolated and attack at will. A defensive team trapped in a bunker mentality cant make a team effort to attack. Those who try invariably get singled out. Why were the enemy all tanking eurolaggers? Since they control the tempo of the game, and how much spacing exists between ships, they get to say exactly when to close off engagements and break off fighting. The offensive team can fight til they're red, then immediately break off and recharge. The defensive team, being chased halfway across the map, cannot decide to suddenly decide to take a step back, as they're already falling head over heels.
The superiority of the art of attack compared to the art of defence is clear when you look at ship usage. The vulching style favours the defensive; Lobbing around corners, FOLLOWING whomever attacks. What ship could possibly be more suited to this than the levi? However, look at the distribution of levis across Premier. They are most prevalent in AML and Spring, where skill in attacking is often not enough to overcome the defensive style. They're just about non-existent in Pro, as the skill level is higher, and defensive players run the risk of being dominated by offensive players. What are the most useful offensive ships? Ships that have extreme maneuverability, in order to dictate the pace of the game. Javs are good because they can run enemies down and retreat at will. Warbirds are good because they can bypass defensive lobbing by maneuvering out of bomb paths. What are the most popular ships in Pro? hmm....
Subspace: a team game?
OK, onto the team aspect. There's actually not too much to talk about here. Teamwork and team-specific strategies are the direct result of good individual flying. If each player on a team has a basic fundamental understanding of positioning, they will naturally fly as a team. But there are several specific instances where I might as well tell you some tricks of the trade.
Cover Fire Heh. Your teammates being chased cuz he's an idiot and decided to rocket into a swarm of enemies and ran into a minepile. What to do? Remember this: When a guy's busy savin his own ass, he ain't worryin about bringing trouble to his teammates. Cover your own ass first. Look at the situation and say to yourself, "How can I maximize my own damage while minimizing the risks?" Most often, the answer is blanket lobbing. You should almost never help out your teammate by gunfighting; this brings you into the collective cone-of-fire of probably atleast 3 out of 4 opponents. You'll end up repping, shrap will hit your damaged teammate, he'll die and say "wtf lag". Note the above section on position; helping out your teammate is like flying a 4on1, with the 4 opponents flying full-speed towards you. In this situation, the most logical response is to lob 1-2 bombs into their general path and retreat. The same approach should be taken when defending your teammate. Fire a bomb or 2 right at him. He'll be going full speed and fly right past. At worst, his opponents will be thrown off by your bombs, and by trying to dodge them lose position on your teammate. At best, some idiot will plow into your bombs and die.
When CHASING a loner, watch for one of his teammates to expose himself. These targets are the easiest to get kills on; he'll have wasted nrg firing on you, his momentum will carry them to you, and you will outnumber him. So to target over-anxious help, rather than the loner himself.
The reverse situation is also true; The loner running off can dictate position becuase he's the one doin the running. The opponents can dictate position because their numerical superiority can cut off sections of the map. That leaves you, the helper, as the least flexible. Watch with extra caution for the opposing team to turn around and go after you.
The spearhead As I've said, you should eventually build yourself into an offensive player. When that occurs, use your offensive style. At first, you will be uncomfortable, and often your teammates will leave you in a 4on1. However, as you continue to play aggressively, your teammates will naturally settle comfortably with your playing style. With an offensive player on your team doing the majority of the damage, it's so much easier to vulch free kills! They'll become more aggressive as well, in seeking these ez kills, and end up complimenting you in your beserker charges.
The Art of the Turret The turret is one of those much-maligned tactics that get no respect. I honestly dont know why. It's effective if used properly, frustrating when it's not..wait a minute, isnt that just like the rest of Subspace!? Anyhoo, I'm not gonna give you any tips on FLYING a turret. That will be determined solely by your driver. I'll teach you how to fight one. The turrets only advantage is that it can deliver massive amounts of damage in an insanely short period of time. Keep this in mind, and play as if you're in Trench Wars. In essence, turrets really do have the ability to make 1-hit kills. They fire once, 3 bombs come out.
If 1 mine would kill you, would you chase a lone pilot? Well then, why would you chase a turret? Never ever chase a turret. The easiest way for a turret to make a kill is to mine like mad. You can be the best bomb-skimmer in the world, but you cant skim 16 shrap. You should also avoid staying still. If you do, expect the turret to release a cloud of bombs into you and never even have you on their screen. The best that you can hope for is that you dont rep bombs into your teammates, and vice versa. What you should do is (collectively as a team) find a wall or other obstacle to hide behind. The turret must change its position to get a good line-of-fire on you. When it does, find another wall to hide behind. The turret must come to you eventually; When it does, hope to get in as many shots as you can as it flies by, but dont chase more than a screen's length. Get your team to regroup and wait for the bull to rush again.
This of course applies only in the event that you are protecting a lead and the enemy uses the turret in hopes of closing the gap. What to do, however, when behind and needing crucial kills on a turret? Keep in mind that the turrets bane from way back in chaos and alpha is the MINE REP. If you can't mine-rep, hope that enough of your teammates rocket at the same time as you do, and try to approach the turret from multiple sides. If the turret maneuvres you directly behind it, swerve out and try again later. If you don't, you're gauranteed to eat mine after mine.
Tricks and Hints
There are many things that players pick up as they play the game. Little movements in opposing ships could signal the beginning of a retreat or attack. Certain shooting patterns may indicate low or high energy. Regular patterns of flight usually show up in most pilots. Let me show you how to spot some of these patterns.
a) The most glaringly obvious example is when an enemy suddenly backs off. This always signals low energy. Maybe there was a small ping spike and on his screen he pb'ed. Shrug. Your natural tendency will be to get right back at him. However, as a precautionary measure he will fly his ship backwards while decelerating, and peg you with a bomb if you slow right down with him. The key is to move laterally in hopes of skimming the defensive bomb. If you succed, the enemy will usually rep. This is an excellent time to use a rocket: The moment the opponent slows down, start your rocket so that you're decelerating as well. You should be moving laterally across his path of flight and make him lead his shot. If you don't, you'll eat a direct bomb for 800 nrg.
The obvious thing to do, when on the defensive end of this scenario, is to watch for that lateral movement. This can easily be seen by the orientation of the enemy ship. If he slows down abrupty but is for some reason sideways, he's trying to skim your bomb. In this case, try to bounce off a rock or other object, as his angle-of-attack is way off and he probably will not be able to compensate and follow your maneuvre. Also, always face your opponent. If there is a threat that you will fire on him, he will be more reluctant to attack. Sometimes you can intimidate a guy out of attacking, when he might have as much as 1k nrg more than you, merely by pointing your guns at him.
b) The reverse of this is when even after a bomb or 2, the opponent is still closing recklessly and streaming bullets at you. DONT CALL HIS BLUFF, he probably dropped a bomb or you miscalculated. If he's still aggressively going for you, ALWAYS move to the side and play it safe. Javs like to do this a lot. They'll fly in at full speed, and because they're practically on you before you see them on radar, most bombs fired on them are usually wide (if the jav is flown properly). They can skim multiple bombs and still be in the upper 1000's. At this point, you may think a bomb will be enough to finish him off, but if you make the crucial mistake of firing that bomb, you leave yourself open to bullet fire without retaliation when the jav closes to the closest distance. A jav doing this can be in 100's and still be sure of his survival, because you wont be able to fire back.
c) When the enemy is retreating, keep him against a wall. Fly to the outside and press him in with either bombs or multifire. Dont aim right at him; aim at the "outside lane" to prevent him from turning into free space. In this scenario, rather than hoping to deal damage, you are hoping to limit the target's flying space. Eventually, 1 of 2 thing will happen (unless he has a clear speed advantage (jav/rocket) and manages to outrun you): he will either try to use the wall's friction to slow down and cut under and behind you, or he will turn and gun you (hoping to take advantage of fire delay from multifire or bombs).
In the first instance, fire at the wall. You don't need to aim for him. Deter him from cutting under you by closing off his escape lane. He will either have to try to tank through your shots, or abort the maneuvre. If he aborts, he has lost a LOT of speed, and probably your teammates will be able to catch him (since you've already corralled him into a narrow lane, your teammates should find an easy target).
In the second instance (he retaliates with a gun lunge), fire a bomb and back off. Because he must slow to zero velocity, he's a sitting duck. You should get a direct hit fairly easily and chop off half his health with no problem. At that point, you can close in again with guns or let your teammates do the work. He will then proceed to call you a lagger. Congrats.
d) The zig-zag is so commonly used it's almost comical to watch. It's the maneuvre whereby a ship being chased turns sideways and applies thrust up and down. This causes the ship to zig-zag along the attacker's line-of-fire. Most shots will miss. The move is very similar to barrel-rolls in flight: it moves you out of the enemy line-of-fire while decreasing the distance between you and your antagonist. Eventually, the hope is that the zig-zag will bring you close enough to an attacker who has depleted his energy firing at you, and you can finish him off easily.
If you are on the attack and find your opponent doin the zig-zag, the solution is simple. Move slightly to the side to pre-empt mining attempts. Keep chasing but conserve your energy. At some point in the maneuvre, the target will break off the zig-zag and go for a gun rush. At this point, do what I mentioned in c). Hit him with a direct bomb and accelerate away from him (ie accelerate backwards and off to a side). NOTE: careful if you're a jav. It's the ship this move works best on, because the jav approaches very fast and there's little room for adjustment or error.
e) Levis and stealthed/cloaked ships have the annoying trait of being ridiculously easy targets once they have their mind made up on a target. If you're fighting a levi, watch for the characteristic separation (it might be VERY slight) of 1 of the radar blips. Slip off the attack vector and let him pass you. As he flies into your bombs, he'll have about 600 nrg from spamming his own bombline, and u'll have around 1500 (assuming you got careless and had to skim a bomb).
It's slightly harder to take advantage of cloakers because they usually don't expend as much nrg as levis before they lose to bullet distance, but they're still suceptible to attack. Lob bombs in his flight path while still in radar range, and finish with bullets. Cloakers are more easily taken advantage of in a weasel because it can pre-empt any cloaking strike with EMPS: the emp will cause cloaks (especially on sharks) to burn away nrg and leave the target vulnerable. The natural response to an emp hit is to uncloak immediately to conserve nrg. When he's busy doin that, take the 0.200 seconds you've gained to close in with spears.
By the way, play against javs the same way you would a cloaker. Let him close, and smoke him while he's at max speed. He won't be able to avoid your shots. Your primary concern is to avoid his return fire. If you're in a weasel, his insane rate of approach means you can trade bombs, but at optimum distance (POINT BLANK), you'll be able to fire bullets and he will not, due to bomb delay.