One of the running discussions in military and space-opera science fiction is how useful a smaller ship would actually be in combat. On the one hand, realistically the answer is “not very” because it makes more sense to concentrate strength in a central location than spread it out in a few dozen inefficient fighters, and that’s even before taking the scale of energy production into account. On the other hand, a whole lot of little ships is just really cool, so there’s endless hand-wavey justification for why space battles are basically World War II aerial encounters in space. And then there’s Drone Swarm, which amplifies the coolness of lots of fighters while reating the need to focus your strength in a single ship, making something relatively new with the result.
The command ship in Drone Swarm is a single large cruiser that focuses almost all its offense and defense capabilities in a 32,000-unit strong wall of non-autonomous micro-agents. No single drone is particularly useful but large numbers of them act as a unit, some defending the cruiser with their shields while others head out on the attack. An enemy ship might be able to brush off twenty or thirty attackers but several hundred at once? That’s much more likely to land a strong hit, doing terrible things to shield and hull integrity. The problem is that each drone sent out is one less to defend with, making it easier for attackers to sneak a few missiles through. The trick is to draw the lines of attack and defense with precision, making sure to land where the enemy will be when the swarm gets there and sometimes making use of environmental advantages too.
With Gamescom kicking off this week, Drone Swarm has received a new demo and helpful trailer to explain just what it is you do, which is mostly revel in the spectacle of force comprised of thousands of tiny bots moving and scattering almost but not quite in unison. A true AI swarm would probably be more pattern-oriented than the slightly disordered one here, but the mad jumble gives them a lively feel of focused chaos that’s great fun to watch in motion. Give the trailer a look and listen to see what I mean, or better yet give the demo a shot to find out for yourself.