so things got a little better when I started mixing up my fleets.
A neat thing I noticed is when you hold down alt you get red lines showing what a unit is attempting at, and green lines showing what a unit is attempting to cast at.
We don't see the green lines very often because most ability's instacast (although if you look really closely you can see the green lines . Where they do show up however is 1) when a unit has decided to cast at something that's out of range and is trying to chase it down. or 2) when the unit must be facing the target in order to cast (as documented in the entities but nowhere in the game).
By playing around and watching lines I've come to some conclusions. Again, these are purely observational, not empirical. I've just played around with a couple of things and made my best guess to explain what I'm seeing.
Units have either a single red line or a single green line. Never both, so this suggests stronlgy that a unit cannot shoot at one target and cast at another.
Because it can't do both at the same time, the unit has to decide whether to cast at something or to shoot at something. When it decides to shoot at something it shoots it 'til it's dead, then decides what to do next. (cast or shoot)
Choosing whether to cast or shoot IS context sensitive. It seems to be dependent on what else is going on in the area. If a unit senses it's the only thing with a gun in the area it will shoot almost exclusively. For example when I jumped my cielos into the enemy grav well all by themselves, they shot a whole bunch and didn't cast a single spell (maybe 2 or 3) . When I jumped 20 Kodiak heavy cruisers in with my Cielos, they did a whole lot of casting and didn't fire a single shot.
Now a Cobalt thinks it's gun has more to contribute to the fight than a Cielo, so the decision is a little harder. When I had 25 Kodiaks and 13 Cobalts, the Cobalts did a fair amount of shooting but spend most of their time casting. They were even will to chase down utility cruisers that were running away from the battle in order to cast at them. When I dropped it to 9 Kodiaks, the Cobalts did a lot more shooting at the closest target.
More details about utility cruiser and light frigate casting behavior to follow.
This context-sensitive evaluation of whether to cast or shoot seems be determined by what's going on in the area. It doesn't seem to have a whole lot to do with how the fleets are constructed. I'm pretty sure I got the same behavior whether my Kodiaks and Cobalts were in the same fleet or seperate fleets.
Casting also seems to follow the same algorithm as focus firing, so you'll see a bunch of units trying to cast at the same target at once, then they'll all try to cast at the next target, etc. This isn't a big deal most of the time because most everything is insta-cast so they just go bang bang bang and buff/de-buff all the targets. But does significantly slow down Cobalts (details below).Utility Cruisers:
Utility cruisers don't value their guns very highly. So as long as there's something else to do the shooting they will cast to their heart's content and do a pretty darn good job of getting adequate buff/debuff coverage.
One thing to look out for is spells have different ranges. For example the cielo's debuff has a much longer range than it's buff. At one point I noticed my Cielo's weren't casting their buff very often (except occasionally on eachother... useless). When I press alt to see what was up, i noticed they were hanging out at maximum range of their debuff. Thus debuffing all the guys that were shooting my Kodiaks, but not buffing them. I moved the cielo's closer, and immediately all my Kodiaks became buffed. So be aware of casting ranges, and remember to micromanage such things or better yet set fleet cohesion accordingly. Light Frigates, esp. Cobalts:
Unlike utility Cruisers, Light frigates think they're guns have something to contribute to the fight. I'm inclined to agree for now, even though I know that's an unpopular position.
So if auto-attack is on: You will see more or less casting depending on what's going on around them. Disciples and Skirmishers don't need to face their target, so they can just insta-cast. So they tend to cast more frequenlty than cobalts. They will still cast a fair amount even if they are the only thing in the area with guns and give you pretty good coverage. Although for the absolute best in debuff coverage I recommend turning auto-attack off and let them focus exclusively on casting. Cobalts
on the other hand must face their target to cast. And casting follows the same algorithm as focus firing. So if the cobalts decide to cast, you'll see a bunch of green lines as 10-12 cobalts start turning towards the target to cast. The first one to get there will get the spell off and the target will be affected. Now they choose "cast or shoot again." Since they've already started turning towards the target, it is much more likely that they will finish turning and shoot that target than choose to cast at a different target. So with Cobalts you get an awful lot of "cast debuff, then shoot the guy we just debuffed so he explodes, thus wasting the debuff." Again, it's less of an issue if the Cobalts don't think their guns are very important but it's still an issue.
If you are serious about using "Sabotage Reactor" I strongly recommend turning off auto-attack on your cobalts. At which point will get get pretty good de-buff coverage, but still not great. Given that their ability frickin' rocks!!!!! this seems entirely reasonable.
A couple other things I noticed. Heavy Cruisers will auto-target Utility cruisers/carriers over just about anything, even other heavy cruisers. Given this fact, there really isn't much point in using light frigates for anti-cruiser duty once Heavy Cruisers roll out. Thus definitely freeing them up for turning off auto-attack and letting them cast.
Bombers will auto-target heavy cruisers over unitility cruisers/carriers. The implications here are obvious.
I wish there was a chart showing the order in which unit will prioritize targets (i.e. which units will they attack first, second, etc.) I'de like to assume this WWW Link
is. but it's clearly wrong or incomplete in lots of cases.
I also wish we could get more information on the factors the AI considers when deciding whether to cast or shoot, etc...
Anyway, that's it for me today.
Once again we discover that once we figure out how the system works it's a pretty darn good system that works pretty darn well. I just wish we didn't have to figure all this stuff out for ourselves.