How To Disco, an easy laser guide!
By Only Mostly Here
People often seem to treat lasers as the 'advanced' or at least more difficult weapon system to build, I know I left them alone for quite a while due to not really understanding how they worked in game terms. Now that I've been around a while and picked stuff up from the forums, I think I know them well enough to be able to write this guide - and to say that once you know the rules, they're really easy to set up and nice to work with.
To start off, I'll run through the different laser-related blocks.
This is the core of a laser system. It routes power from couplers to emitters, and is where you look to see how much damage, range and AP your laser has. Costing 100 natural, metal, scrap and oil, and 30 crystal and coming in at 1300 RP it is a very expensive block, however most designs will not use many of these. I will abbreviate this block's name to MPL, as it will come up quite a lot.
These blocks take power from cavities, packet it up and send it to the MPL for firing. The coupler tells you how much laser energy you can store in connected cavity chains, and is the only place cavities can be placed such that they will work. The number of Q switches attached to a coupler determines the laser's maximum rate of fire. Couplers cost 30 metal and 100 scrap, with an RP value of 460 so are relatively inexpensive, which is good as large laser systems can have many couplers.
This block can only be attached to couplers, and chops up the laser beam into pulses. Up to 4 Q switches can be (usefully) attached to the coupler, since one facing of the coupler must go to the MPL and one other must have a cavity chain attached, and the more Q switches a laser has the faster it will fire. No Q switches results in a continuous beam laser, which has very low damage per 'tick' as listed on the MPL, but ticks 40(?) times per second. A single Q switch produces a pulse every second using 20% of the laser energy in connected cavity lines. Two Q switches fire twice per second using 10% of available laser energy per shot, three switches fire 4 times per second using 5% of available energy, and four switches fire 8 times per second using 2.5% of available energy. Q switches cost 100 natural, metal and scrap as well as 30 oil and crystal bringing them to 1045 RP - very expensive!
These store your laser's energy. They are attached in lines to couplers, and each cavity stores 100 units of energy. They can only be attached facing towards the coupler. The more cavities you have, the more energy is available to fire and the more damage the laser will do per shot. Energy is fed into cavities using laser pumps. Cavities cost 100 metal, 100 scrap and 15 crystal, bringing them to 750 RP, which is extremely expensive considering how many of them a typical weaponised laser requires.
Pumps inject energy into cavities, charging your laser. Blaarg. They pump 25 energy per second into cavities, while taking 62.5 units of energy to do so. 4 pumps can be attached to a cavity. Using enough pumps to keep your laser charged between shots without wasting power is the main concern when optimising a laser. Pumps cost 100 metal and 100 scrap, so at 700RP very quickly push up a vessel's cost. Please note that I have my suspicions that the 25 energy per second is incorrect, but the only information provided by the game says 25 per second, sooo...
Frequency doublers add range and armour piercing value to your laser. This is very important, as your AP value determines whether your damage is reduced by the armour value of components, and by how much. I don't know exact armour mechanics but consensus seems to be that having your AP value be more than double the target's armour value results in no damage reduction. As metal, at 10, is the highest armour value commonly seen, 21AP is a good amount to have. Each doubler increases AP by 1. The highest armour value in the game is actually the large drill bit, at 15. Higher AP also makes the laser lose less damage if it is fired through water. Doublers cost 100 metal, 100 scrap and 30 crystal making them fairly expensive at 900RP, though not many are needed in most cases. Frequency doublers apply to all cavity chains connected to couplers with the same number of Q switches, so as long as you aren't mixing different numbers of Q switches only 20 doublers are needed for the whole system.
This block is a noob trap, and should in many cases be avoided. Destabilisers increase the proportion of available laser energy that is fired from the cavity chain they are attached to, causing a stronger pulse to be fired. Sounds great, right? However, the greater energy drain means that in many cases the laser simply cannot recharge fully between shots, resulting in rapidly dwindling sustained damage output. Some science has been done here which quantifies the amount of energy different numbers of destabilisers will draw. They cost 100 natural, metal, scrap and oil and 30 crystal bringing them to 1300RP. This is expensive, but as they should be used very sparingly anyway they should contribute little to a system's overall cost. Destabilisers are useful when you have a single laser combiner attached to the MPL, since a sane amount of destabs will not outstrip the recharge rate of 4 pumps per cavity when only running one combiner. In this scenario, destabs greatly improve space and cost effectiveness. As combiner counts rise, they rapidly become a detriment however.
Connectors are used to, well, connect your laser components together. They can transmit laser energy from couplers back to the MPL allowing laser systems to be expanded into any space. They are the cheapest part of a laser, made of 30 natural, 30 metal and 10 scrap at 130 RP.
Similar to connectors, transcievers are a method of moving your laser energy around your system. However, they do so by connecting two aligned transcievers together via a beam, and can connect through solid blocks making them highly invaluable. They can also connect through turret bases, so are useful for laser turrets. Only the pointed end of the transciever can transmit the beam, but any facing except the rear can recieve it. Transcievers are expensive at 100 natural, metal scrap and oil as well as 30 crystal coming in at 1300 RP, so a pair of transcievers costs 20 times as much as a connector. If you're moving your laser less than 20 blocks, it may be worth considering connectors instead of these.
Laser Missile Defence
A very useful component, the Laser Missile Defence, often called LAMS (Laser Anti-Missile System) uses your laser to shoot down missiles as its name suggests. Engaging at approximately 500m, it is quite inaccurate outside of 200m. Each LAMS node drains some laser energy, so spamming them everywhere isn't a good idea as they can cause the system's damage to drop dramatically. LAMS nodes cost 100 natural, metal, scrap and oil along with 30 crystal so cost 1300RP.
The weaponised part of a laser, it is from here that you can bring the word of disco to the unwashed masses. Combiners take power from cavities and fire damaging beams where they're pointed. They require attached optics to increase their accuracy and field of fire however. Combiners are fairly cheap at 100 metal, 100 scrap and 10 crystal: 700 RP.
Laser optics are attached to a combiner and increase its accuracy with each optics 'block' attached. Lasers with a small number of optics will be extremely inaccurate and suffer severe wandering. Each piece of optics costs 30 natural, 100 metal, 15 scrap and 10 crystal, totalling at 390 RP.
Laser Steering Optics
As with normal optics, these are attached to the combiner (and previous optics components). Providing a reduced accuracy bonus, steering optics instead increase the field of fire of the laser, up to 70 degrees from the combiner's facing with 6 steering optics. They will also increase the visual size of the laser 'barrel'. Steering optics provide no bonus past 6 and are quite expensive, using 100 natural, 100 metal, 100 scrap and 10 crystal, at 800RP.
This is attached to combiners to change the colour of the laser beam away from default green (or blue for continuous). It only works in certain orientations, and each colourer must be individually configured. They cost 10 natural.
Laser Energy Mechanics
The amount of damage produced by a laser per unit of laser energy it is given changes with the number of Q switches. A single Q switch turns laser energy into damage on a 1:1 basis, so each unit of laser energy fired per shot deals 1HP damage to whatever it hits.
With 2 Q switches, 10 energy fired deals 14.142... damage, suggesting each unit of energy is providing approximately 1.41 points of damage - a 40% increase in efficiency over a single Q switch!
3 switches cause 5 energy to deal 8.66 damage, so each unit of energy deals ~1.73 damage, again a substantial improvement over fewer switches.
Finally, 4 Q switches use 2.5 energy to do 5 damage, so each unit of energy deals a whopping 2 damage. This is double the energy efficiency of a 1Q system!
So, why ever use less than 4 Q switches? Space is one concern: a 4 Q switch setup takes quite a lot of space. The cross shape of a 4Q switch coupler can't be put right next to other couplers without leaving some gaps, while all the other numbers can be squashed together much more economically. Additionally, although the energy efficiency of higher numbers of Q switches is much better, the damage per shot is still very low. This means that as the laser wanders due to inaccuracy, it may deal more DPS in total, but it might just be tickling a large number of different blocks! A metal beam has 1200 health, so to kill it in one shot a single Q switch needs 1200/20 = 60 fully charged cavities. A 4Q switch laser needs 240, as it still only takes 2.5 power from each cavity per shot.
What about multiple combiners? Well, it seems that instead of all combiners firing simultaneously, they actually fire in sequence, so with 2 combiners, 1 Q switch and 1 cavity the first combiner fires 100*0.2 = 20 energy units, THEN the second combiner fires 80*0.2 = 16 units, leaving 64 energy units in the cavity. The damage of the second combiner's shot is also reduced by the same amount, meaning the total damage is 36 instead of the 40 we would see if both combiners fired at full power. This means that multiple combiners have a similar effect to destabs in that they increase damage per shot, at the cost of using more energy. Also similarly to destabs, the increased drain is percentage based resulting in diminishing returns on damage gain per combiner. LAMS nodes act as combiners, meaning this effect happens to them too - I'll restate here, don't spam them!
Something I touched on in the frequency doubler section is damage loss from firing through water. High AP values reduce this damage loss, which can be useful if the laser is likely to fire at submarines or ships such as the OW ones with a large amount of underwater bulk. However, another property is that they increase range, which on low powered lasers is important: Laser damage drops off with range, based on their maximum range. The range increase from frequency doublers (simply having more laser energy also increases range, but less than doublers) can mitigate this damage dropoff. Continuous beam lasers benefit a lot from this, as they have very low base ranges.
Building a Laser System
What your laser system will actually look like depends on how much space you have. However, there are some general layouts of couplers which are rather efficient in terms of space, though most are pretty common sense: you want your laser components as closely packed as possible. In general, long cavity chains are slightly more efficient cost wise since you don't need as many couplers and Q switches for the same number of cavities, but this is often not much of an issue.
1 and 2 Q switch systems are very similar, and very easy to make compact. On the whole, it's good to have as many pumps on your cavities as you have Q switches on your coupler (though 1 switch systems tend to need at least some extra pumps due to the high drain per shot). Here's an example build to demonstrate. It uses 2 switches, but a single switch setup is very similar - and can be stacked very densely in the vertical direction as well.
2 Q switch example
This setup is very space efficient. I've cut off some cavity chains so you can see the couplers, but the chains can be extended as much as you want, more couplers can be added horizontally and it can easily be vertically stacked, as seen in the final screenshot. This produces a solid volume of laser components as large as you want it, and in more or less whatever shape you want it.
3 and 4 switches are a bit more difficult. As they require more faces of the coupler for switches, it's impossible to just place couplers right next to each other so a framework of connectors is required. I don't have a 'standard' setup for 3Q systems, but I think my design for 4Q systems is pretty much optimal, with only a single block of wasted space between stacked cavity chains.
4 Q switch example
The first image demonstrates the single block of wasted space, the final one shows the framework used to create this setup. Effectively, it's vertically stacked rows of combiners with a 2 block space between them for Q switches, with each row horizontally offset by 1 block.
Here is a nifty laser calculator by Cronos988, which will tell you how many cavities and pumps you need for a desired laser damage/pulse and DPS, along with engine power drain and other tasty stats: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B_b_xf...Fd3NkFFLVU
Instructions: Using the upper part, you can see how different amounts of combiners (also works for LAMS nodes) and destabilizers affect the per cavity stats of your laser. In the lower half you can input what minimum damage, total DPS, and maximum beam damage you want and see the required amount of cavities for the current setup. This enables you to quickly see how additional destabilizers would affect your LAMS or what another combiner does for your damage.
Peak engine power refers to the actual amount the engine will pull, because the laser pumps either pull all energy or none. This is probably the more important number when planning your engine unless you add an electric engine as a buffer. On the right side, you see the number of pumps required per cavity and the distance to the next "break-even" point. That is the point at which you'll need another pump. Your system will generally be more effective when this number is low. Adding more than the indicated number of pumps is usually a bad idea, as it will increase peak engine pull without doing anything for you.
Laser Missile Defence
One of the most common uses of lasers is to protect ships from missiles. This can be achieved with a fairly small system and is worth doing on anything which has space to spare. This remains pertinent: Missiles have 100 health and somewhere between 1 and 2 armour requiring a minimum sustained output of 100 damage/pulse at 3AP to destroy in one shot. LAMS nodes still shoot the closest missile in line of sight, so limiting individual nodes' arcs of fire using ship superstructure can allow LAMS to multi-target, greatly improving effectiveness. Rate of fire is extremely important for LAMS, so on all but the smallest units it's optimal to use 4 Q switches. It's a good idea to have 'spare' damage: make your laser deal about 150 damage so you don't fall foul of the combiner mechanics. A continuous laser is actually worth considering here, however I've found that a continuous LAMS able to outperform 4Q pulse at its job is impractically large and expensive. However, it is often worth using a continuous LAMS over 3 or fewer Q switch pulse systems, space allowing.
Missile detectors can currently be placed internally, but I've heard that this is actually not intended. They have a 90 degree view cone, so having them spread out can help to prevent blindspots. Placing the detectors on a spinblock is another good way of countering their narrow field of view. Either way, it is a good idea to have multiple detector clusters for the sake of redundancy. You attach them to AI connectors, either hardwiring them to a mainframe or using wireless receivers to connect them. Once placed and connected to a mainframe, missile defences will automatically control LAMS nodes to counter incoming fire.
Even if a ship has an offensive laser system, it is almost always worthwhile to put your LAMS on a separate system: since missiles are very fragile, it prevents wastage of laser energy firing at missiles with your giant deathray when in reality a laser pointer would do.
I don't know why you'd want to resist the power of disco, but I suppose those who aren't man enough to challenge enemy disco by matching it with their own would want a way to defend themselves. The only laser countermeasure currently in the game is smoke, found under laser warners in the AI tab. Smoke and laser warners need a mainframe connection to function, which can be provided using a wireless connection.
Smoke clouds reduce laser damage by 90% per smoke cloud a laser beam travels through. This can result in functional immunity to laser damage for very low cost. In order to destroy a single metal beam every second through two smoke clouds, a 4Q switch laser needs to have something like 3000 cavities, so counting pumps we're looking at a 15000 block laser system, just to kill a single metal beam per second through moderate smoke. I did do this maths recently, but I can't remember the exact details so may have some numbers wrong. Either way, this illustrates just how effective smoke is at its job, and a disco fairy somewhere in the world dies with every smoke cloud deployed.
All is not lost however, while smoke does move along in the direction the vehicle that deployed it is moving it only moves at about 30m/s, so fast vehicles will leave their smoke behind. Smoke can be deployed a maximum of 1 time every second, so vehicles up to about 60-70m/s can achieve some amount of laser mitigation, but any faster than that and they are vulnerable to the power of disco.
Smoke clouds linger for 18 seconds and smoke launchers recharge every 40 seconds, so in theory you can get away with deploying smoke every 17 seconds on slow moving units. However, smoke will not move with a craft's changes in direction so it's probably safer to set your laser warners to deploy smoke every 5 seconds, which will also result in thicker smoke coverage, preventing even ridiculous 16000 block lasers from dealing scratch damage to you. I've found that 5 second deployments work for craft up to about 35m/s. Past that, I use 2-3s deployment gaps and at the upper end of smoke usefulness around 60m/s I recommend 1 second deployments.
Finally, if you want to be able to both defend yourself against enemy disco while also showing them that your disco is superior, bear in mind that your own smoke will affect your lasers, so the ends of your optics need to be outside of your smoke coverage if you want to do any damage. As far as I can tell, this does not apply to LAMS damage, but I'm not 100% sure.