Planes and Ranges

OpenTTD 1.2.0 and the most recent version of av8 have introduced a new property for aircraft in Transport Tycoon; range. Range is implemented in a relatively simple way: it limits the maximum distance between airports in an aircraft’s orders. An “out of range” order will result in the plane refusing to move from its hangar or loading pad.

 

OpenTTD 1.2.0 also introduces monthly infrastructure maintenance costs, including very high (default) costs for owning airports. Both of these new features are attempts at addressing the perceived imbalance of aircraft in OpenTTD. Aircraft carry large numbers of passengers, very fast, across very long distances with no need for rails or roads to be built in between, and are seen as “money printing machines”. Many multiplayer games ban them altogether.

High infrastructure maintenance costs are not a very good solution, in my opinion, and av8 includes a parameter to reduce them. The specific problem with the air game is that building two airports a long way apart and spamming large aircraft between them invariably earns a lot of money, but infrastructure maintenance costs penalises all aircraft use equally; airports a long way apart cost the same to operate as airports close together, and airports used by one aircraft cost the same as airports used by fifty. The net effect is that previously marginally profitable small aircraft on short routes are no longer viable, while the “money printing” long distance routes are only trivially affected. The air game becomes even less balanced and interesting than it was before.

Range, on the other hand, is a worthwhile addition to the air game, although – if implemented “realistically” – it does nothing to address the problem of spamming large aircraft over long distances, as the largest aircraft tend to also have the longest range. What range does add is a more realistic simulation of the early period of aviation, where aircraft are usable in short hops only. It means as aircraft develop and ranges increase, players will put some thought into redesigning their networks to make use of the greater range, whereas previously the only differentiation between aircraft was capacity and speed, and slow planes were simply replaced with faster and larger ones.

I’ve had a few requests on the forum for a parameter to disable the range property, but on consideration I’ve decided not to do that. The range property is interesting and adds at least a little depth to the gameplay. Allowing players to disable the range of planes makes no more sense to me than allowing them to disable the horsepower of trains or the speed of ships. You’ll all just have to get used to it.

I’ll leave you with one last thought about aircraft balancing. If you, the players and developers of OpenTTD, don’t like how a particular mechanic plays, stop playing with it. We should not be putting our efforts into balancing super-jumbos flying from corner to corner of a 2048* map, because that gameplay isn’t interesting. Instead, we should try and make smaller aircraft, shorter routes and smaller maps more interesting to players.

11 thoughts on “Planes and Ranges

  1. Interesting article!
    I have not yet tried anything with the aircraft yet and probably will not in the near future, but:
    I think that the maintenance cost basically means that people can only start aircraft transportation after they earn considerable amount of money to fund the airport maintenance cost. But indeed, the high-profit kind of air routes is untouched.
    I personally play without maintenance costs because I think that the cheaper things are, the faster you get a high amount of trains, and the faster the game gets interesting as you have to solve high traffic on the network – I know your viewpoint is probably very different on that topic so rather won’t talk about it more :p.

    The range feature feels very weird to me. Not only because I guess that it is not too easy to tell if your airfield is going to be too far from the other one before being built. But also because I think that once you build some vehicles, you usually just want to use the automaticness of OpenTTD and just autoreplace them and honestly I really hate these “recondiderations”. I think OpenTTD allows for so much in terms of building a network which works without player interference that focusing on the on-the-fly management of the networks takes away quite a bit or – distracts. I personally do not want to look if there isn’t suddenly a new route available or if my industry hasn’t died just because it depleted it’s source.
    Therefore, I would say that the range also limits the early viability of aircraft by a lot and people who would not want to adjust their air “network” later, this might result in really just cutting it down to the option of waiting until the most modern aircraft is available.

    I think attempts to make aircraft more interesting are definitely a good thing. On the other hand I think both of these features are not quite making it more interesting as the construction of such transporation stays as trivial as it was – you just build two airfields, buy aircraft (presumably with long range now) – done.
    But there I am getting to a point of major changes how to build the aircraft. I doubt there could be anything done with the air route itself, so the only changes would probably have to go to the airfield itself. – Constructing airfields by tiles like train/road things would turn it into something very interesting but you would have to provide things like runways, hangars, loading zones or even some extra bits which would make it more like trains than RVs. Be it signals or anything else.
    But I guess such features are way too major to envision in any near future and mainly such an airfield would probably require a ridiculous amount of tiles in compare to anything else that is in the game now.

    So I think that both these changes are a nice effort, but neither of them in my opinion achieves anything that would add something to the game. In the end, trains are probably always going to be the most interesting, simply due to the complexity and freedom of the railway construction tools.

    To just quickly note on “balance”: The aircraft make a lot of money, but the transportation limits are pretty low as you cannot really expand an airport. Or at least there is a limit. Trains have seemingly endless throughput abilities. I believe it gets back to my previous point where the only real solution would be to make aircraft more interesting to construct. In addition from the current point, reducing their profittability by running costs or even the speed multiplier for aircraft would make them a lot less viable to “abuse” them as money makers. That would make the mechanic much more similar to trains not only in monetary viability, but the construction of an airfield would also get closer in terms of being a bigger task than pressing a few buttons and placing the airport on a flat spot with one click.

    In the end I would like to just mention that the money-balance in the game is not everything, I would actually even say that money are pretty pointless. To give an example, if you give the player more options to build and decide based on details regarding construction of the thing he is going to make, it get a lot more depth than just wondering about costs. Not sure if you saw how NUTS Unrealistic Train Set does it, but the general idea is to provide a choice between trains with similar throughput capabilities, but of course different stats. This means that the faster ones are of course going to be automatically more profittable (until their running cost is increased – which should definitely be done). Which leads to a very simple decision what to use. Want money? Just use the fastest train, no decisions. But if you want your network to work, you suddenly have to choose from a vide variety of trains. For example you feel that you have not enough space so you could abuse slower trains which do not slow down in shorter curves, or if you feel confident in using fast trains which accelerate rather poorly, so they need a lot of space to maintain their speed and use them efficiently. And more and more.
    What I want to say by this is that the game simply provides a lot more than just money thinking, and unfortunately – the most profittable solutions are usually the most trivial in the way of actually thinking when playing the game.

    That would be all, I did not quite expect to write this much – hope I did not bore you to death with my endless comment if you by chance wanted to read something this long till the end.

  2. > High infrastructure maintenance costs are not a very good solution, in my opinion

    Luckily it is easy to change the costs, either via the base costs or directly for each type :) Still, by necessity the default costs are only balanced for default vehicles with their ridiculously low running costs, so it isn’t surprising at all that they don’t really match your set.

  3. I like ranges. I think they add something to airplanes and how they work in the game.

    But.

    I think that 1) ranges should be able to be disabled. Sometimes I am playing to make a large network of airports and I don’t like the limitation when doing that. Different people like to play the game different ways, and sometimes the same person in different moods.

    2) There is no real good way to tell if an airport is going to be in range. Right now I have to build both airports and the plane and give it orders to see if it will work. Until there is a range tool I would like to turn the feature off because it is too much of a pain. Alternatively, if you know a good way to find airport ranges I would like to know it. My google foo just leads me here and some other pages that don’t seem to help.

    • Most of my ranges are powers-of-two-ish, so you can often tell by eyeballing the map (ie, if you’re playing a 512×512 map, and the plane’s range is 256, it can travel half the length of the map). I agree the feature needs more work, though.

  4. Hi there,

    Firstly a big thanks to all the modders etc.The work done to keep this game going is amazing and that includes adding new features such as range.

    While I appreciate this idea and welcome its inclusion, could I please request a ‘disable’ feature so that people can choose how to play the game.

    I keep playing this game largely because of its ‘sandbox’ nature and I note that most functions and options can be enabled or disabled. I’d like to see this with the ‘range’ option if at all possible.

    In my opinion, adding such a new feature is great but forcing everybody to use it isn’t necessarily everyones cup of tea so please if at all possible, could I ask for someone to make the range feature optional so that members of the community such as myself can experiment with all the features with all the options.

    Thanks so much to everyone for all their hard work, it really is appreciated.

    Paul

  5. Your last paragraph doesn’t make much sense to me. I’m not sure how you can say that those of us who don’t like the problems with aircraft balancing should stop playing with aircraft, then immediately talk about balancing aircraft. Personally, I want to be able to utilize every vehicle type in a meaningful way, and since I like to play with high water levels (to make island clusters) much of my gameplay relies on long-distance air or ocean transport. As we’re surely all aware, this is the most exaggerated form of imbalance between vehicle types, and I generally go broke early on if I try to use ocean transport for even the most time-insensitive cargo types.

    What I’d like to do is use air transport for the things that need to get there right away, and ocean transport for everything else. I believe that a large difference in per-ton running costs would help with this balance much more than infrastructure costs ever could. This is similar to real-life intercontinental transport, where air transport is very expensive and greatly limited by weight, but ocean transport is extremely cheap by comparison and can haul heavier and bulkier cargoes. Some of this problem can be solved on the cargoes side by playing with cargo payment rates, but most of it has to come from vehicle sets that are gameplay-oriented and designed to magnify the specialization of each vehicle type.

  6. I personally would wish to see an option to remove range for the simple reason that I’m primarily playing some real world scenarios typically focusing on one country, and it’s more than a nuisance when even an A320 is out of range to reach just the nearest city that in the real world would be served at all. When you need an A340 to get from London to Liverpool you know that something’s just not quite right.

    Or to put it in other words, I think range is a really good idea for a number of games, but because the scale of the game world in OpenTTD is de facto quite flexible then the ranges should be too. If you don’t wish to remove them altogether, maybe there could be a multiplier to address this?

    • Hi Nathaniel,

      Not yet!

      If you look on bananas you will find a grf called “av9.8” – it’s much smaller and simpler than av8. That is the aircraft set that I’m planning to make 32bpp version of.

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