This guide is long. If you don't want to read big blocks of text, hit the "back" button on your browser right now. It assumes you have beaten Star Control II already, are familiar with all the ships and have a serious interest in playing melee competitively.
You may be wondering to yourself, "Who is this jerk and what qualifies him to tell me how to play my game?" Starting from the time online melee was added to The Ur-Quan Masters, I began to play the game in an IRC channel called #uqm-arena on the Freenode server. This was the supposed official hub for net melee. I was not very good when I first started and racked up numerous losses -- a big shock for me at the time. The room was not often very active, but I lurked and played in that channel for years. We had occasional tournaments. I played visitors, regulars, newbies, experts, UQM core team members, and even Chris Nelson back when Toys For Bob held a chat with the fan community back in 2007. I also played a few trial runs against a player testing out his aimbot, shieldbot, Glory Device triggerbot and artificial lag hacks against me. So what qualifies me to write this? Years of experience and an unhealthy obsession with the game.
This guide is written with the "200 points, no duplicate ships" rule set in mind, which has been by far the most prevalent rule set used within #uqm-arena. Different rules such as "random ship selection only" or "duplicate ships allowed" will lead to a different meta-game where much of the advice provided here no longer applies. Even #uqm-arena's preferred method of breaking stalemates has an effect on the balance of power between ships. Regardless, most of the information from this guide should still help you improve at player-versus-player even if your rules of play are very different. Game modifications such as Crazy Mod, Project 6014, or my own Balance Mod are not considered in this guide.
When a melee match begins, both players must pick their first ship without knowledge of what the other player is using. The best approach is to use something cheap and crappy that you don't care about losing. If your opponent starts out with Chmmr and you only use Zoq-Fot-Pik, this is actually a good thing. That Chmmr has been wasted. You've only paid out 6 points and now your opponent has one of their best ships set up for you to counter. Gaining initiative is well worth the sacrifice of one weak ship. Zoq-Fot-Pik and Shofixti are common starters for this reason. Middle-of-the-pack starters such as Syreen, VUX and Supox are also frequently chosen during the first bout, as they are just powerful enough to lay waste to the weakest ships without leaving you at a disadvantage afterwards. To be more in depth about the first draw, there is a rock-paper-scissors dynamic with starting picks. It usually works like this:
- Low value ships > High value ships
- Medium value ships > Low value ships
- High value ships > Medium value ships
Mis-drawing a high value ship on the first bout will have a significant detrimental effect on your chances of winning, while losing a medium value ship matters a bit less and losing a low value ship is trivial. To skew things even more in favor of the lightweights, the VUX Intruder's ambush ability is surprisingly deadly during the first bout, allowing it to eliminate rivals which it normally can't and inflict significant damage on high value ships.
Although the most expensive spacecraft are generally the most powerful, they each have a weakness to at least one ship which costs less. It's good to get in the habit of holding back certain ships until the other player deploys ideal prey. For instance, Orz has this interesting habit of leaving a long trail of death and destruction in its wake. At least that's what usually happens unless Androsynth shows up in the arena and slices right through it without even trying very hard. Androsynth costs a bit more than half the price of Orz, so if the other player has Orz in their fleet then you need to hold your Androsynth in reserve. Try to hit every ship the other player uses with the most effective counter available.
Another solution to difficult enemy craft is to pair it up against with the exact same ship yourself. If the other player's ship is already damaged, then the odds of winning are in your favor. Conversely, mirroring an enemy ship with full crew is not a wise course of action. Mirroring is best used when you have no decent counter ships, or have doubts about your ability to counter a particular ship. Most mirror matches involve very little skill, making them particularly worthwhile to initiate against opponents of higher skill than yourself.
The arena is the size of four game screens zoomed all the way back. Within the arena's confines there is always one planet and five asteroids. If an asteroid is destroyed, it will respawn off camera. Why is this information useful? For one thing, a player will often begin a bout by actively searching for the planet during many ship-to-ship match-ups. You will find yourself doing this eventually if you have not gotten into the habit already. Even when the planet is not important to either player you should constantly be on the lookout for the planet to minimize the chance of crashing into it.
A ship can only face 16 different directions. If you approach an enemy ship while hiding between their firing lines, they will be unable to hit you. Blind spots have a dramatic effect on some ships while being a non-issue to others. Weapons that fire in a wide spread tend to trivialize blind spots and homing weapons almost totally negate them. If you find that your opponent is approaching along one of your blind spots, it's generally a good idea to reposition yourself so that you have some possibility of landing a hit on the other player.
The above header is a bit misleading here; there are no actual brakes in Star Control. If you want to bring your ship to a stop, turn your ship exactly 180 degrees from the direction you're moving towards and apply just enough thrust to negate your inertia. You will find that the various warships each require a different amount of thrust to bring themselves to a stop due to differences in acceleration and top speed.
Flanking is a tactic in which an attacker maneuvers around their opponent's front and strikes them from the side or back where they cannot retaliate effectively. This is the only way to fight when piloting a fast and agile craft such as the Arilou Skiff. In some situations a flanking ship can use an enemy's blind spot to help close the distance without being shot at.
Pillboxing is often the best answer to a flanking adversary. It is best employed by vehicles with fast turning speed and weapon systems that fire continuously, though it can in some situations be performed quite effectively by ships which do not fit this description. To pillbox, simply bring your ship to a halt and then rotate in place so as to lead your opponent with your guns. A stationary craft is difficult to flank, for if it is not traveling in any direction then there is no obvious opening to rush in from. Pillboxing is best performed far away from the planet.
Asteroids are a minor factor, but never to the point where you can totally disregard their presence. Crashing into an asteroid inflicts no damage and will bounce your ship away from it. Any amount of damage will destroy an asteroid, but that asteroid will cancel out with even the most powerful projectiles. Asteroids exist in Star Control melee to add a random element to combat. It is unusual for a player to win or lose a bout because of an asteroid, but that has been known to happen. Situations where one can actively capitalize on an asteroid are rare.
A gravitational field extends outward from the planet by approximately three times the planet's diamater in length starting from the planet's outter edge. When a ship's center of mass crosses into this boundary, the two things happen: Gravity will begin to slowly drag the ship inward, and that ship's maximum possible speed will artificially increase to a ridiculous number. Noninertial spacecraft (Arilou, Slylandro and Androsynth's blazer) are not affected by gravity. A direct collision with the planet will kill either one fourth of your current crew, or a single crew member if your vessel has very few staff aboard.
The planet can be used to accelerate beyond a ship's default top speed. This is known as the Leyland Gravity Whip. To perform a gravity whip, accelerate through the planet's gravitational field and stop accelerating once you've left the area of effect. A straight push from one end of the gravitational field to the other while passing close by the planet itself will give you the most boost. Ships with low acceleration need as much boost as they can get. Using thrust beyond the planet's area of effect will rapidly bring your vessel back down to its default speed. Due to this limitation a gravity whip can only be used to travel in a straight line until broken out of. This maneuver has a wide range of applications. The most obvious use of the gravity whip is to send spaceborne artillery such as the Earthling or Mycon careening so that they become much more difficult to engage up close.
Orbiting is a defensive technique with some similarities to pillboxing that allows the player using it to escape by gravity whip at any time. Orbiting involves placing your vessel in the planet's gravitational field in such a way that you automatically revolve around it. Many players seem to have trouble with this, but it's actually fairly easy to do. Remember how to brake? Simply repeat that procedure in close proximity to the planet. As you grind to a halt, your ship will begin to circle the planet on its own. You can adjust your orbit by accelerating very slightly in a given direction, and may need to do so to avoid colliding with the planet itself.
Contrary to real life physics, most in-game projectiles are non-relative. That is to say, they do not factor in your ship's current speed or trajectory when they spawn. Non-relative projectiles will appear to travel at a lower velocity when fired in the direction your ship is moving towards. The velocity is always the same no matter how they're fired, in fact, and that is the cause of the irregularity; using real life physics, a projectile fired towards a ship's direction of travel would have the ship's velocity added to its own. High duration, low velocity projectiles such as Spathi torpedoes and Mycon plasmoids are affected by this lack of relativity the most. Non-relative projectiles lead to certain situational advantages and disadvantages. To be perfectly clear, moving towards an opponent is detrimental in this regard while moving away is beneficial. Non-relative projectiles skew melee in favor of the defending player somewhat, though aggressive tactics still have a place in melee.
The Androsynth Guardian
This is one of the best fleet additions in the game for its cost, if not the best. Androsynth boasts speed, power and versatility. You should always use this ship and always expect your opponent to have one too. Pity anyone who does not.
Although the ship's name is "Guardian", Androsynth is designed principally for frontal assault. It does most of its fighting by ramming enemies to death using blazer form. The blazer moves at a constant high speed, hits hard and has a small outline. This outline exaggerates Androsynth's durability; 20 crew is merely average, but it won't feel average as you bob and weave through a hale of gunfire. The blazer's suboptimal rate of turning is somewhat limiting, but not bad. The blazer may crash against its victim multiple times before bouncing off or even wedge itself in the other ship's hull and destroy them almost instantly. These damage multipliers are for the most part beyond your control. The few craft which can outmaneuver a blazer are better fought using Androsynth's other weapon, its bubbles.
There is potential for abusive play with this ship. Although Androsynth itself is not fast, the blazer is. Most ships cannot catch an Androsynth that drops bubbles and then uses the blazer to keep away. Perpetual defensive bubbling will cause a stalemate against many ship types and should be considered foul play in those instances.
Tips and Tricks
Optimal Blazer Technique: Ideally you should wait for a full battery before going on the offensive to receive the longest possible duration. Whenever you fly past or bounce off a target, you should not attempt to turn around for another attack run until you've bypassed them by a reasonable distance due to the blazer's restrictive turn rate. Remember to get far away from your opponent before the timer runs out so that you may recover energy in relative peace. Whenever you manage to ram a target, take your finger off the turning buttons -- if you are holding down "left" or "right" during a crash, you are very likely to bounce away at an angle after one hit rather than chaining multiple collisions.
The Blazer Hop: The blazer has no wind-up time to speak of, making it quite useful even when Androsynth is low on energy. Low energy blazer hops can be used to hit a nearby assailant by surprise when they think you're vulnerable or perform a quick leap away from imminent danger.
Blazer Wedging: If an Androsynth blazer manages to wedge itself into an enemy ship, that's an almost instant kill. Some ships have obvious structural weaknesses which a blazer can wedge into consistently. The many gaps between Spathi prongs make for excellent wedge points, for example. Wedging has been known to occur during seemingly normal collisions as well.
Bubble Harassment: Although bubbles waver erratically, they do home in on the enemy ship. A small number of bubbles released from a safe distance can be used to force an opponent to abandon a defensive position such as a pillbox or orbit, either of which may be dangerous to attack with the blazer. If your opponent happens to be careening forward at a high speed (usually from a gravity whip), often the best thing to do is position yourself in their flight path, dump a big heap of bubbles and then blazer hop to get out of the way.
Defensive Bubble Cloud: Some enemies are too mobile to catch with your blazer form. If you're fighting one of them, devote your entire battery to bubble spam. You'll get better area coverage if you deploy them in separated bursts as opposed to all at once. Maneuver around to keep the bubbles between them and yourself. Perhaps attempt a surprise blazer hop if you feel your opponent isn't expecting it.
By far the best thing you can do with Androsynth is counter Orz. Orz is an expensive and powerful enemy which is easily dispatched by this one ship. It is not trivial to take care of with anything else. If your opponent has no Orz, many options open up to you. Druuge, Melnorme, Spathi and Supox make for particularly tasty secondary targets.
There is one thing you should worry about: Androsynth must go point blank with most of its enemies to damage them, so it is quite vulnerable to Shofixti's Glory Device as well as Ilwrath's Hellfire Spout. If you kill something with Androsynth but lose a big chunk of crew, you might run into one of these two ships and it will almost certainly end badly for you. Damage isn't much of an issue if you play Androsynth against Orz, but it can be against other ships. If you must pursue a secondary target and Shofixti or Ilwrath are sitting in the enemy reserve, pick something you feel comfortable against and try your best to pull off a flawless take-down. That's the biggest threat. All of the best Androsynth counter options that don't depend on it being heavily damaged beforehand cost more than it does.
There are several flavors of Androsynth counter. As the above section suggests, the most cost-effective way to put this ship down is to send in Shofixti or Ilwrath if it's wounded. That's 14/20 crew at the absolute highest, 10/20 being closer to optimal. A high crew Androsynth is vulnerable to a one-two punch from Shofixti followed by Ilwrath. These two ships leave the most room for error and should be avoided by uncertain or inexperienced players.
Slylandro is another option. It has enough speed and reach to maneuver around all-out bubble spam and wear Androsynth down consistently. Slylandro vs. Androsynth is fairly safe bet, yet it can be challenging for players that aren't good at offensive play and somewhat tedious for everyone.
Kohr-Ah is the safest way to beat an Androsynth. There are many players who prefer Kohr-Ah for this job despite being aware of the more cost-effective alternatives and capable of putting them into practice. Why? Because there is no single match-up for Kohr-Ah that gives its player a point advantage. It has to beat multiple ships to gain score. Yet Kohr-Ah needs to deploy against something if you have it, right? Androsynth is one of the toughest ships in the game and it's particularly easy for Kohr-Ah to dispatch.
Androsynth vs. Orz: Your blazer is the perfect weapon for dispatching an otherwise dangerous vessel. Orz marines are killed instantly upon contact with blazer form and the ship itself is not nearly fast enough to evade you. Chase them down and ram into them a few times for an easy win. Try to wedge into the inside of one of the back fins for a fast kill. Marines can hurt if they board you, but are simple to avoid or kill off even when you are reduced to using low energy blazer hops.
Androsynth vs. Melnorme: The Melnorme player will give themself an aneurysm trying to hit your small outline. Approach them from the front and weave around to avoid incoming fire. Be cautious if they have a red pulse ready or aggressive if they do not. As you get close to the enemy, veer away and then realign yourself with them so as to hit them in the back or side. Repeat these attack runs until the fight is over. As long as the Melnorme is carrying a red pulse, bouncing off the ship's hull and into that pulse is a serious threat.
Androsynth vs. Druuge: Your blazer form's small outline makes this fight a cinch. Charge up one of the Druuge's blind spots to force them to launch themselves backwards with recoil, then come around from the opposite direction and nail them. You don't absolutely need to force Druuge to throw themselves out of control to win the fight, but it helps.
Androsynth vs. Spathi: Spathi may be annoying to chase down with the blazer, but you fortunately don't need to do that very many times to win. Spathi is very easy to wedge from any angle due to its shape. Watch out for torpedoes. These don't track very accurately so you should not need to dodge very far out of the way to avoid them.
Androsynth vs. Supox: Blazer charge up one of Supox's blind spots. Expect them to backpedal and try to hit you. Supox may shift laterally to get themselves lined up with you, but doing so slows their backpedal and is not difficult to avoid. Once close enough, ram them into splinters.
Slylandro vs. Androsynth: Chase Androsynth around their own bubble cloud and tear them up with your lightning weapon whenever you're within range. It may be difficult to find an opening, but Slylandro is fast enough that it can eventually catch Androsynth unprotected and wear them down. The Androsynth may attempt to comet charge you, but that should be simple to avoid given your speed. You will need to be both aggressive and patient to come out on top.
Shofixti vs. Androsynth: Wait for Androsynth to come to you in blazer form, then suicide bomb when it gets close. Obviously the other player will attempt to fake you out. To maximize your chances of getting a good blast in, don't press the big red button until they crash into you. Try to poke at Androsynth with your dartgun to force them to commit to attacking for real sooner.
Ilwrath vs. Androsynth: Move away from Androsynth at all times. Force them to chase you across the screen in their blazer form. As they charge after you, cloak and then activate your weapon to auto-turn into them and blast away. Auto-turn is not perfect, so expect to do a lot of frantic manual rotating to try and catch the Androsynth as it attacks you. A wedge-kill is difficult for the Androsynth player to execute, but it can happen randomly on its own.
Kohr-Ah vs. Androsynth: Drop a few spinning blades nearby and try to time your FRIED for the moment the Androsynth's blazer is about to crash into you. Expect them to try and pull a fake-out or two to get you to waste your battery as that is their only way around the devastating flamewave. If Androsynth does not go on the offensive, they are shooting themselves in the foot; Kohr-Ah excels at long range warfare.
Yehat vs. Androsynth: Bubbles are a joke against your shield and the comet form is not much better. Chase after the Androsynth and pepper them with your pulse cannons when given the opportunity. Your shield should be able to negate any damage the blazer inflicts upon you normally, but you're in deep trouble if they achieve a lucky wedge.
Chmmr vs. Androsynth: Chmmr can beat Androsynth almost every time if you pilot it correctly. This involves flying directly away from the Androsynth at all times, then turning back around to shred them with your laser once they blazer charge at you. Beware of the planet while doing this. Androsynth should never have the opportunity to wedge itself between the bow and wing of your ship as long as you continue to move away from it.
The Arilou Skiff
The Skiff is not a great fleet addition. It has incredible maneuverability but not enough top speed to be a good flanking ship. This ship is also fragile and dependent upon luck. Arilou can beat a variety of tough ships inconsistently, but that is overshadowed by how vulnerable it is to several of the cheapest ships.
The Chenjesu Broodhome
The Broodhome has some muscle to it but not enough to justify its high price tag. You are better off not using this.
The Chmmr Avatar
Obscene firepower and a solid defensive screen make the Avatar one of the strongest ships in the game. It can definitely pull its weight, but is not imbalanced the way a few of the other ships are. This ship is middling in terms of cost-effectiveness. The Avatar is therefore usable, but not essential.
The Druuge Mauler
The Mauler is a must-have. Its mass driver is an amazing weapon against many different adversaries.
The Earthling Cruiser
This ship is weak but inexpensive. It typically performs well for its price. Earthling is a very easy ship to play well and is highly recommended for inexperienced players in particular.
The Ilwrath Avenger
The Avenger is lethal in a few circumstances and underwhelming otherwise. Its usefulness depends on your opponent's fleet composition, though the ship isn't a total waste if you're intimately familiar with it.
The Kohr-Ah Marauder
The Marauder is usually the best performing ship in the game, though not the most cost-effective. Countering this ship requires both talent and practice, and it has been known to rampage if not countered properly. For this reason, Kohr-Ah can be ridiculous at lower levels of play and it remains solid even in games between experts.
The Melnorme Trader
This is one of the most skill-demanding ships in Star Control. It can conceivably win against anything, but has also been known to flounder and lose in all kinds of stupid ways. The Trader is very effective despite its tendency for mixed performances. Consider avoiding this difficult ship until you feel comfortable with PvP.
The Mmrnmhrm Transformer
While the Transformer is one of the better performers, it is not essential. This ship's performance is roughly on par with Androsynth and Melnorme, both of which cost less than itself. To its credit, Mmrnmhrm is rather easy to play well. Use it or don't at your discretion.
The Mycon Podship
The Podship has some potential as a combatant but cannot nearly live up to its high price. Do not use this ship if you're playing to win.
The Orz Nemesis
The Nemesis is powerful, but falls a bit short of its steep price. It's dangerous enough that you should still prepare to deal with opposing Orz and may bring your own if desired.
The Pkunk Fury
This ship is not that great unless you get lucky. The Fury is a flanking ship, so it also demands skill and reflexes in addition to luck.
The Shofixti Scout
The Scout is cheap and very overpowered. It doesn't work against everything but for its rock-bottom price it doesn't need to. Consider it mandatory.
The Slylandro Probe
The Probe is clearly the best of the flanking ships. Always have one of these in your fleet.
The Spathi Eluder
Fwiffo may have been the star of the show when you played through Star Control II's main game, but in net melee he's a distant memory. Competent players will not blindly chase after an Eluder, period. The Eluder's weapons are weak and unreliable when dogged pursuit does not occur, making the ship a poor fleet addition.
The Supox Blade
The Blade lacks a decisive strength or truly game-changing special ability. It has decent mobility but not enough to flank properly. The ship as a result is mediocre and not quite worth its cost.
The Syreen Penetrator
This ship is a bit tricky, but it's good on the whole. Less seasoned players should avoid the Penetrator, while the rest can take it or leave it.
The Thraddash Torch
The Thraddash Torch is the most broken and annoying ship in the game, hands down. This ship is easily cost-effective enough to be a must-have, but what you should really do is ban the damn thing from play.
The Umgah Drone
Some people will tell you the Drone is useless, the worst ship in the game. Those people don't know what they're talking about. While it is a bit janky, there are ways to get mileage out of this ship due to its low price. That said, the Drone is situational and difficult to play to its potential.
The Ur-Quan Dreadnought
The Dreadnought is pretty bad. This ship is priced at the highest tier and is not nearly able to perform at that level. Both of its weapon systems are clumsy and unreliable. The Dreadnought's shortcomings become more pronounced relative to the skill level of the players involved, but this ship may disappoint even at a casual level of play.
The Utwig Jugger
This ship is amazing against high firepower adversaries. Utwig is the best answer to Kohr-Ah and Chmmr and for that reason you should always have one. Winning against heavyweight ships as Utwig definitely takes practice, however.
The VUX Intruder
Deficient in many ways, the Intruder is nevertheless quite effective against a few of the stronger ships. This ship is also one of the best to select for the first bout. You don't need it, but it's worth using.
The Yehat Terminator
This ship underperforms for its cost. The shield is decent, but does not make up for everything else. Pass on this one.
The Zoq-Fot-Pik Stinger
The Stinger is weak, but can still prove useful for its low price. This ship pales in comparison to Shofixti but you can add it to your fleet if you can find a niche for another cheap ship. It's also much easier to pilot than Umgah.