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Exploration in Starspan should be an ongoing, complex process. It is the general process whereby you find what stuff is in the space around your empire, from stars and stellar phenomena to planets and minor planetary bodies. It also includes exploration of other civilizations that may be more advanced than you, about on your level or less advanced.
Sensors you use to "see" with will operate in a bit more complex fashion than other space empire building games; there will be many types of sensors that "see" different types of things.
Here are some examples of different types of sensors:
- This would be an optical sensor, much as we have today. A telescope, in game terms, should have the capability of seeing an object of size X at some standard range (say, 1 AU) and takes Y amount of time to see what it can see with a Z degree field of vision in its sky.
- To play out a simple example of how this would work with made-up numbers, let's say we have a "Hubble telescope" that can see an object 1000 meters across, and it takes 1 month to scan 1 degree. To complete a 360 degree slice of its sky would take 1 month * 360 degrees = 360 months (or 30 years). Each degree of sky it can see an object 1000 meters across or larger at 1 AU; the closer an object is, the easier it can see, so the telescope could see an object 100 meters across if it is 0.1 AU from the telescope, or going in the other direction, trying to see stuff orbitting a star 10 light years away, the objects would have to be more than (roughly) 63,000 km across (this means it could see Jupiter [142,984 km across] or Saturn [120,536 km across] at this range, but not Uranus [51,118 km across], Neptune [49,528 km across] nor the smaller planets of our Solar System).
- Sensing equipment
- By contrast, this type of equipment doesn't really "see" so much as sense what is at play upon it. You stick a piece of sensing equipment (such as a magnetic sensor) aboard a ship and if you want to know, say, the magnetic field of Neptune, you'd have to send the ship to Neptune for it to work (the magnetic field of Neptune would act upon the magnetic sensor, allowing it to record the data and send it back to your home base at Earth where your base computers could then assemble a model of Neptune's magnetic field).
This detail and seperation seems complicated, and really it is, but all the player basically needs to know is that, at the beginning of the game, telescopes see light and energy and while you can see huge things like stars for quite a distance, things like ships (which aren't even 1 km across) you won't be able to see until they are relatively very close. The notion here is that space -- even just our galactic corner of it -- is fantastically huge, and because it is so huge, its filled with way too much stuff for you to be able to see all that easily. Exploration, then, becomes not just important, but a challenge, something you have to plan out in advance ... new technologies for seeing and sensing things, improving your existing technology since even a seemingly tiny improvement in the resolution of a telescope can suddenly bring a lot more distant planets into your view. You can also invest in more infrastructure ... with telescopes, for instance, you could have a ring of telescopes orbitting your star and have a data processing sensor coordinate and process their scans to make many widely-scattered telescopes act as one giant one better able to filter out noise.