After completing several ship builds over the past few months and really digging into the voxel editor, I've found that the biggest limiting factor to my creativity has been the checklist of elements that are required for any ship to function. The Problem:
I'll use engines as an example.
All basic atmospheric engine L's are the exact same size. They all output the same thrust. Same fuel consumption, etc. There is a distinct number of them that I will need on my ship if I want to lift a Container L. But what if I want my ship designed with only one massively powerful engine instead of twelve relatively smaller engines? With the current system of elements that isn't possible.
Elements as they currently exist occupy the role of function while honeycombs occupy the role of aesthetics/armor. For a pure pve ship, using anything but elements is an active detriment to it's functional performance. For a pvp ship, the meta dictates the optimal style/aesthetic (currently a flying cube). This creates a situation where you aren't really designing a ship so much as designing a socket for each necessary component. Effectively a box with a seat in it strapped to some engines. Actual ship design would necessitate many internal components, not just all-in-one elements to be bolted to the hull.
Currently ship design (for any type of hauler) requires the entire back end of the vessel to be a wall of engines to maximize thrust. The Solution:
I am suggesting a merging of elements and voxels so that you are able to define the size and shape of your elements. Engines would exist in the form of a voxel, and function as such.
The same can be done for containers, fuel tanks, doors, windows, ailerons, brakes, etc. How would voxel based elements work?
Another game with this build system is Avorion, which fits into the space simulation builder genre (you can look up speed builds on YouTube to get a good idea for how the builder works). You can define an area to function as your engines. With this system you could have the exact same engine footprint. The same weight, thrust, fuel consumption, etc. However, you are now free to style the back end of the ship around one engine instead of many because it's shape and orientation are different. Using my masterful skills of paint I've illustrated a comparison of how things are now versus what I'm suggesting.
These two ships would have identical weight, thrust, fuel consumption etc. because they have the same volume of engines, just spread differently.
Voxel based elements would be manufactured just like elements are currently, but instead of outputting a singular object, it would output a volume of voxels, much like the honeycomb refinery does. One voxel of engine would have a set amount of thrust. A voxel of container, a set capacity etc. The larger the element, the more capacity/thrust/fuel/weight... What exactly is gained from this?
Most of the benefit of this is aesthetic, but there is some importance to that. Have you guys seen the Facebook ads and YouTube trailers for DU? Most of them are featuring interesting looking ships to showcase what can be done in the game. The reality is that the markets are littered with ships that are nothing more than engines strapped to a container with a stack of wings. There is a distinct "sameness" to most of the ships I see and it's because I'm staring at the exact same engines and wings and hovers on every one of them. I believe this damages the atmosphere of the game, especially for new players looking to see all sorts of cool ships, or build them, and then end up having to meet the same "checklist" of parts and being restricted.
Additionally though, you would be able to make better use of space within a ship. Containers could be long and thin for a specific type of ship or more square to fit where they need to. Most of an engine could be internal so it is longer instead of wider. Larger drive cores could offer reduced cooldowns.
I'd like to hear some of your feedback. Bad idea, good? Waste of time? Let me know!