I've talked about staggered waves before
1) "Two to three fleet clusters per system." I'm hoping that we'll have at least one thousand players online simultaneously throughout the operation. This comes out to about ten fleet clusters online at a time. However, I am of the opinion we should only attack a single system in full force at a time, and not spread our forces thin. Others support this opinion, but it's not something that has been decided yet. If you include our staging and supply area (likely Nul) as one system, the system we are fighting in, and whatever systems we have to pass through to get to that system, we will likely have three or four active systems.
So your numbers do work out in this respect, but I think it's wasteful for our forces to spend any more time than necessary in the systems between our staging area and the front. At any one time, I imagine that new combat-oriented players would log in or arrive at our staging area, and our more vulnerable craft (cargo ships, SAR, etc.) would be there dealing with logistics (ie loading up on munitions, unloading crippled ships for repair, dropping off injured or marooned players). So the staging area would be pretty active. However, with any hope, our supply/SAR/etc. craft should each be able to service a great number of combat craft at the front. And our combat-oriented players won't want to wait at the staging area for long, so there will be far fewer players at the staging area than at the front. The front is where we'll need everybody, so the vast majority of our players will be there. Any systems in-between will simply be what we have to travel through, and should not be kept populated. This way, we do not diminish our fighting force.
2) "Search and rescue would be centered around each convoy, with the flagship forming a 'nucleus' around which SAR ships can search carefully." This one is a bit hard to conceptualize in a concrete manner. Are we talking about keeping the SAR ships with the supply convoys at all times? If so, I should hope that the SAR ships would have very few people to pick up, because that would mean our convoy craft are being beaten to heck. The vast majority of player ships that are shot down will be at the front. Not just the front, but the front of the front. :-P Keeping them with the convoy would effectively pull Starfarers, Freelancers, and Merchantmen into heavy combat zones and away from the command ships they would need to be resupplying. SAR is going to be as dangerous a role as any dogfighting or bombing role. Keeping them together would also likely give SAR insufficient time to perform their duty. The cargo craft will likely unload their cargo onto the instance's largest ship and leave to go get more supplies. The SAR craft will be flying around the battlefield trying to pick up people, which will likely take longer. And then, the SAR craft will likely be unloading the people they rescue onto the local command ship, not ferrying them all the way back to the staging area, which is where the cargo ships will be going.The long and the short of it is, I believe most SAR craft will remain in at the front for the vast majority of their playtime, while the cargo convoy will be moving between systems constantly. So you can't keep them together on any permanent basis. There might need to be a few SAR craft operating more loosely to pick up the (hopefully) few players who are shot down between the staging area and the front.
However, I believe these convoy groups need to break up when they arrive at the front and/or the staging ground. It's quite likely that the battles we get into will last anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours. Convoys of new ships arriving at the front should not be starting new instances, but reinforcing existing instances. This is where C&C is important: identifying which ships were shot down in which instances, what the enemy force is like, what our force is like, and replacing the shot-down craft with the most appropriate ship at that time. Main command will be keeping track of all these things, and C&C for the convoys will need to distribute these orders. The same goes for cargo delivered by the Starfarers/Merchantmen/Freelancers/etc.. This means that as new convoys arrive, each individual ship will need to receive different orders. Once we have reinforced all of our instances up to their maximum desirable number of players, we can consider starting a new instance.
I also don't believe that every convoy will likely have an Idris or larger ship moving to reinforce the front. There are going to be too many convoys and not enough capital ships; their captains are also unlikely to log in in such a way that you can distribute them so every convoy has a command ship. However, it might be useful to have a dedicated convoy command ship at all times. This way, we always have not only a strong center to our convoys, but we will have a connection to command to coordinate deployment. It'd be a mess if a new convoy of craft came to the front, but the Hornets didn't know which instance needed space superiority, and the Freelancers didn't know which instance needed more warheads delivered, etc.. With this said, we might need two Idrises (at all times of the day) and crew willing to simply run back and forth between the front and staging ground. It's important to realize that once a command ship has arrived near the front and has deployed all the ships to the appropriate instances, very few or none of the ships that came with it would still be there. However, the cargo craft that came with it in the last instance, and damaged ships retreating from battle, would be there waiting for a return convoy.Why do I say two Idrises, though? IMO during each of the staggered waves, we should have one group moving in each direction. This way, if they are intercepted, they can relatively quickly move to support one-another. The returning group would be weaker, after all.
As for the timing of the groups, I think we should have a convoy every 15 minutes. This short timing will keep players cooperative and willing to move in a convoy. It's possible that traveling from the staging ground to the front may take longer than 15 minutes, and if so, there may need to be adjustments to the number of staggered groups actively traveling at once, or the timing of the staggered groups. I also think that players who want to jump on their own should not be prohibited from doing so, and simply warned against it.
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