How to Make a Ship?
Space Engineers has two modes: Survival and Creative. In survival you’ll scavenge, mine, weld, raid, and defend as part of the more realistic game mode; it’s a lot like Rust in space, but friendlier and with more to do. Creative mode is an off-the-leash unlimited design playground, either for building ships and stations to show off on Steam Workshop or to test a creation before slowly replicating it in a Survival world.
For those trying to create ships, it’s good to start small; in this case, a minimalist 2-missile fighter with an antennae and connector. Create a new creative world, and choose any map except Empty World. Why? One danger when working on a small ship is bumping into what you have built before it is locked to a stable surface via landing gears’ magnetic clamps. In an empty world, theres no large platform for you to build your fighter upon, and so you run the risk of knocking into your creation and sending it spiraling into an infinite void.
Safety Tip! Back-ups: periodically control-c while targeting your ship to create a pasteable copy of your work. You don’t need to paste it as just having it on your clipboard is enough – you can hit ESC to vanish the pasteable wireframe. If you accidentally blow up your ship an instant before an autosave, you can paste a new copy. Also, if your ship does manage to start hurtling off into space, you can paste an unmoving version and get back to work.
Find a clear space on the default platform and hit G to access your main creation menu. To the right of the main list of items are three options, New Small Ship, New Large Ship and New Station. Selecting New Small Ship gives you a single landing gear piece to begin with. Use your mouse to orient it flat with the platform. Click to drop it – this is the one case where a landing pad will be magnetized to a surface without power running through it.
Now you could start building on this landing pad right away, but you are going to need to interact with and fine-tune all of your vessel’s sides and angles, so I suggest a column of light blocks on top of the landing pad and then build on top of that. We’re later going to need to work on the underbelly of the ship, and it’s far more difficult when it is almost flush with the ‘ground’.
In an unmodded Creative world, there is only one useable small ship cockpit. It is helpful to place the cockpit first and build the ship around it. Some small ships have a backup cockpit, which is useful if you have a passenger, but we’ll leave that out. You can enter and exit the cockpit by targeting the front glass and pressing T. In Survival, a cockpit acts like a medical station in that it can recharge your spacesuit power, but it will not have that effect without power. Place the cockpit square on top of the column as seen below.
Thrusters in particular have had a lot of mod updates by players to make them more visually appealing and effective, but again keep it simple. The backwash of an active thruster will burn away skin and metal (assuming you have thruster damage turned on in your world) so you will need to always point them outward; an inward pointing thruster will move your ship like it should but it will also roast your ship’s innards.
Currently there is a hard ship speed cap of 104m/s, a speed that any ship with one thruster can reach (slowly), so the edge comes from your acceleration level in each direction. With a single gyroscope for balance, a normal fighter can turn quite quickly, but without a good number of side thrusters it won’t be able to strafe well, which is used to quickly avoid missiles and debris as well as spin around an enemy ship to avoid its weapons.
A vanilla small thruster takes up two blocks’ worth of space. Below you’ll see a lot of them to the left and right, but you will need at least one thruster on every facing or you risk traveling in a direction which does not have a counter-thruster and unable to slow without awkwardly rotating your ship. Between the left and right rows of these plasma jets is a line of upward-pointing thrusters for quick downward motion.
Remember not to delete that landing gear yet, even though we have a cockpit and thruster; it won’t be able to avoid spinning off into space after an accidental bump until it gets power and at least one gyroscope (see below).
GUNS, STORAGE & ANTENNAE
Now we’ll add a pair of missile launchers and two small cargo containers. Missile launchers do not hold many missiles themselves, so in a prolonged firefight your fighter will run out quickly even if you are only using one launcher at a time (middle mouse click to toggle chain). There is a delivery system ships can choose to use that funnels items, minerals and ammo between locations on the ship using conveyer tubes. A small ship like this likely doesn’t need a complex series of tubes, but we do want to be able to feed more ammo into the launchers when they are empty.
Fit those launchers on as depicted below, and make sure it points the right way to prevent a shotgun blast to the face. On the back of the rocket launcher is a small yellow hatch that can accept ammo, so select ‘Small Cargo Container’ and line up the container’s hatch with it. Now you can store many more missiles and feed them to the launchers. Because the containers are not themselves connected to a network you will need to manually load those missiles before departure.
A gyroscope is necessary for your ship to right itself. A ship with no gyroscope can have lots of thrusters but can still be bumped off into oblivion as it has no tether to where it should be. In our ship, it’s hidden in the nose; a thruster was removed, the gyro was sunk into the hole, and the finished product was covered with another diagonal light armor block. A ship this small only needs one as having multiple gyros will make it too responsive and ‘steery’.
BATTERY, REACTORS, REAR & BOTTOM THRUSTERS
Reactors generate power and, in Survival mode, require uranium as fuel. Batteries can be filled with power for later use; off a station’s large reactor for instance. When the battery is fully charged, our fighter can fly with no reactors and hold a charge from 15m to an hour depending on how often you use thrusters. A good tip is to point where you are going, add some velocity, and then turn off inertial dampeners (Z) so your momentum carries you instead of constant thrusting depleting your battery reserve. This is dangerous on a Survival server if you suddenly lose connection, however.
You might find yourself away from home with a low battery so add two small reactors. Instead of a mess of rear small thrusters, the ship has one large ship-size thruster flush with the top of the cockpit and the battery. Also, for style, there is light armor along the tops of the downward-pointing thrusters. Since you can’t charge a battery in Creative, you will only see the ship’s power light up when you add the reactors.
The reactors seen below have hatches of their own. In a larger ship, you might have tubes funneling mined uranium to them. For our purposes, just orient the hatch outward so they can be manually filled.
CONNECTOR AND ACTUAL LANDING GEAR
The connector is essentially a docking clamp that allows the automated passage of power and items to and from a ship. To ‘connect’, you should position your own connector on another until they turn yellow, then hit P to lock in. While docked you can set your battery to recharge. This is not a cargo ship and the missiles and uranium are loaded manually, so we just need a connector for battery refills, not to pass materials. The best place on this ship seems to be the bottom rear below the large thruster. In a perfect world, the small storage containers would be linked to the connector, but that’s a minor convenience and would cause less maneuverability and style due to the awkward tubes.
Now you can safely ‘cut the cord’, because your ship has power, a gyro, a cockpit and thrusters, so even if you bump it at this point it should stop itself. We want to keep the ship sleek to fit in small carrier bays, so place the new landing gear on the back below the large thruster. Like the connector, you back up to any surface and hit P to lock it down. In this configuration, you cannot undock and full-thrust away as you will damage the surface you were on with large thruster backwash. You’ll need to disconnect and then turn 90 degrees and thrust away or use the tiniest of thruster spurts to slowly get distance, then accelerate.
Small fighters are useful to test enemy station defenses. If those enemy turrets start firing, make sure you are carrying a decoy block magnetized to the rear landing gear. A decoy block is an object that automated turrets will fire at even if it is not part of a ship the turret considers an enemy. When the firing starts, demagnetize and let those turrets eat away the decoy while you (hopefully) escape. For that matter, you can accelerate backwards just out of range, demagnetize then come to a stop as the decoy flies into range of the turrets to test the response.
And now a quick paintjob to keep it dark and hard-to-see when performing recon:
Obviously your own ship will be unique. You could slap on an ore detector to help scout sites for later mining. A beacon is helpful to find your ship quickly around your base, but same as antennae: rein it in when you’re out and about. A collector will suck in resources nearby; just make sure it leads to a storage crate on your ship. Same with a connector; link it to the same storage so you can dock with a station’s own connector and easily load or offload cargo.
If you want a utility ship, you can add a drill, welder or grinder to the front (or any of the three as needed using modular front attachments via merge blocks).
This is a bland taste of the flavor and creativity possible in Space Engineers, but it’s a good stepping stone for more complex ships. You can load and dissect the fighter in this article via Steam Workshop; be sure to leave some feedback or questions.
Most importantly, fly safe!