Our Kickstarter campaign has received $74,000 from over 2,000 backers! TV Tropes 2.0 is coming. There is no stopping it now. We have 4 days left. At $75K we can also develop an API and at $100K the tropes web series will be produced. View the project here and discuss here.
Arbitrary Maximum Range aka: Space Based Weapon Has Cutoff Range
Weapons used on an atmosphere-bearing planet (like the one you live on) will suffer air resistance, gravity and other restricting factors. In space, there's no such thing. However, the word "maximum range" will frequently pop up in space battles, which makes no sense. All weapons in space have unlimited range. This can be especially jarring if laser beams are immediately cut off and bullets disappear when they reach maximum range, which happens frequently in video games.
Of course, weapons having a maximum effective range makes sense. At great distances, lasers can't focus as sharply due to diffraction and the inverse-square law and may not be able to cut through enemy armor; particles beams bloom out due to thermal and/or electromagnetic effects and suffer the same problem; missiles run out of fuel for course corrections and can be dodged or intercepted; etc. Weapons using FTL drives or special force fields may also run out of energy after a while. If the sci-fi is particularly hard a maximum effective range may also be justified in that without FTL sensors, it becomes increasingly hard to tell where the target actually is as the range increases, due to the time taken for the light or other emissions being detected to reach. The fact that energy weapons would take the same amount of time again to reach the target, and projectile weapons would take longer, makes the situation worse. Guidance systems onboard the weapons would be limited by fuel, with better guidance systems reducing the size of warheads, or in the case of purely kinetic weapons, mass. And this is without considering the computational power needed to develop a firing solution for possibly relativistic battles.
Particularly egregious in shows where vessels are depicted fighting at a few hundred yards, where in real life energy weapons would allow them to do battle at hundreds if not thousands of kilometers.
This is one of the Acceptable Breaks from Reality in videogames. Imagine that your game engine takes into account velocity, momentum and other relevant factors of every single projectile fired in a battle. Now imagine you have, say, 9,001missiles flying. Add in More Dakka, Beam Spam, what-have-you. Then remember you need to keep track of the moving ships, the effects of successful hits, etc. Computer performance is going to crash and burn if you want to be hardcore realistic about it. Neither are computers typically capable of handling the sheer scale of engagements waged at the distance of tens of thousands of kilometers, and even assuming they would, such battles would probably boil down to Hot Sub-on-Sub ActionRecycled In Space, where the first ship to detect the enemy is likely to win the engagement by the virtue of shooting first, or a matter of who has more weapon throughput, Deflector Shields and better damage control, making the player's skills in either piloting or unit management a complete non-factor.
See also Short-Range Long-Range Weapon, Short Range Shotgun, Old-School Dogfight, and Stray Shots Strike Nothing. Contrast Arbitrary Minimum Range.
Examples (and Aversions):
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
Averted in Starship Operators. Ships move toward each other to get to optimum range, usually several kilometers, before firing. The first episode shows the effect of distance on the weapons with a railgun that is highly inaccurate but has enough ammo that it acts as suppressive fire on the Amaterasu, forcing them to hid behind an asteroid until they get close enough to use their plasma cannon.
Averted for the most part in Toward the Terra. Several space battles are shown to be taking place at such distances that the opposing sides can't even see each other. At one point a Kill Sat is fired at a target on one planet from the orbit of another.
They also have a death star-like planetkiller. To keep their target from noticing it before its fired, they park it behind a gas giant in the same solar system and fire it right through the planet.
Space Battleship Yamato - the Wave Motion Gun seemingly can only be used when the Yamato is close enough to the target to risk being caught up in the explosion itself. Enemy weapons are explicitly stated to be longer-ranged. One assumes that the difference is in the targeting systems, not the strength of the beam itself, but it's never explained in the series.
Legend of Galactic Heroes operate with a max effective range for its beam and missile weaponry, explained as a combination of problems with targeting at such extreme ranges and diffraction of the energy weapons.
The ranges for beam weaponry (in space) are mentioned to be that of a few million kilometres though. Arbitrary, but nonetheless huge.
Played straight for the Iserlohn Fortress' Wave Motion Gun the Thor's Hammer which has been stated to have a maximum range that has been extensively studied from previous battles and loses by the Free Planets Alliance to the point that entire strategies are designed around and beyond its firing arc.
Justified in Mobile Suit Gundam, where the second biggest influence on the setting are the Minovsky Particles that, among other effects, tend to play merry hell with non-visual targeting methods (and possibly even those as well).
Most other Gundam settings still use similar ranges out of pure habit, even where Minovsky Particles are not an explicit part of the setting.
Averted in Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam: Steel Seven, where the Jupiter Empire builds a Colony Laser in orbit around Jupiter they intend to shoot at Earth. We'd never seen Colony Lasers used at such distances, but there's no reason they couldn't be, and the threat is treated as very serious. The heroes don't manage to stop it from firing, but they do manage to mess up its aim by 0.1 degrees... which causes the laser to miss Earth by several million miles. Targeting at such distances needs to be extremely precise.
In A Certain Scientific Railgun we're supposed to believe that the title character's signature ability (throwing a coin at hypersonic velocity) will suddenly go from lethal to basically non-existent once it reaches its max range of 50 meters. This is in air, but friction through a fluid reduces velocity exponentiallynote Every time it travels a fixed distance the velocity will be some percentage of what it was at the beginning of that distance, so if 25 meters reduces it to 50% velocity 50 meters will reduce it to 25% instead of suddenly dropping off.
They actually justify this one by saying that at 50 feet the coin melts from air friction. She doesn't have this range limit with larger objects, but arcade coins are her preferred ammo because she can easily and inconspicuously carry them.
In Code Geass, Lelouch experiments with his Geass to discover its limitations, and finds that there's a maximum range. In the DVD Commentary the Japanese voice cast wonders how he figured this out (since the Geass requires a verbal command) and Yukana suggests he and his "guinea pigs" used cell phones like walkie talkies ("150 meters, check. 160, no good.")
Averted as strongly as possible in one of Paul Chadwick's "100 Horrors" backup features collected with Concrete; it describes a vaporizing ray, fired from an immeasurable distance an immeasurably long time ago intersecting the earth, instantaneously boring a gigantic hole through the planet. At the edges, cities, buildings, pets and people are neatly sliced down the middle. Any ray would probably diffuse to a large degree after that amount of time. But maybe that was diffused...
Implied aversion in Invincible; rumor says that the Space Rider has a weapon whose beams are still traveling through the cosmos and destroying everything in their path.
Averted in Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men: the ruler of a distant planet plans to destroy Earth by launching a huge missile through space to shatter our planet. The X-Men find about this and plan to stop the missile by messing up with its engine. Only after it's launched do they find out that it's not a missile, but a giant bullet. There's no engine to mess up with, the momentum gained in launching the bullet is enough to carry it to Earth.
Speculated to have happened in the Dan Dare story Terra Nova. The ship is struck by some mysterious small objects. What they were will never be known, but the scientist Galileo McHoo suggests that they could have been bullets fired millions of years ago in a space battle in a distant galaxy.
The aversion is invoked in one author's "realistic" take on how a Ranma ½ / Dragon Ball Zcrossover would go. It involved Ranma sparring with Ryoga and suddenly collapsing dead from a single missed shot from a missed beam by Piccolo in a battle several miles away.
Real Genius inverts the trope. The plot involves a project to develop a five megawatt laser for use in a Kill Sat, but it ignores the problems of attenuation and scattering that would occur in Real Life for lasers fired in an atmosphere — in other words, the laser has an unrealistically high range.
Star Wars, particularly the Expanded Universe, presents range limits as more the limits of the computer targeting programs than the actual weapons themselves. The various video game adaptations play it straight, though.
Episode III has a space battle at point-blank range as the first scene in the movie. But this isn't limited to the new trilogy - Episode V has two Imperial Star Destroyers very nearly ram into each other while chasing the Millenium Falcon, which shows both remarkable incompetence and that the ships were far too close to their target to begin with.
Also, the weapons mounted on ships are repeatedly referred to as lasers in the EU, including "turbolasers" on the capital ships. Although most of the EU's usage is intended to mimic how the original trilogy did things; energy weapons there were relatively short range, and visible. This was reinforced by the X-Wing and TIE Fighter video games, which were based on WW2 dogfighting tactics. That said, this is subverted a few times in the SWEU, with one notable example being in the X-Wing books: a pilot points out that proton torpedoes can travel 14 kilometers before running out of fuel but a fighter's targeting computer can only lock onto a capital ship at 5 kilometers. So he has a bomber squadron fire torpedoes at his own fighter's tracer signal, then he'll try to maneuver so that the capital ship they want to kill is in between him and the less-manuverable torpedoes. It actually works out pretty well, mostly thanks to his ship's droid.
Justified in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. The main character has a makeshift gun built by former inmates. Because of its lack of power and available resources, it must be fired at a close range. It's still very effective even if she has to approach her targets before firing.
Averted in the Honor Harrington series. Although every book will include some discussion about the range of energy weapons and missiles, it is clearly stated that the range discussed is an effective one, that is, the range from which it's still possible to hit the target.
Energy weapons has the beam divergence and on-the-way dispersion that tends to limit its effectiveness at the extreme ranges, but most significant problem is aiming. It's already a major miracle that laser cannons could aim at all, given that targets often move on relativistic speeds and the typical range is light seconds to light minutes, as Weber very consciously avertsSci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale trope. It doesn't matter how powerful your laser is (and how many gazillions of kilometers it can go) if you have a 99.99% chance of missing anyway.
The beam divergence problem is exacerbated by the fact that warships are protected against fire from the sides by gravity 'sidewalls' that weaken incoming fire. At ranges of over 500,000 km an energy beam would be too weakened to do any damage. In cases where the target is not protected by a side (which doesn't happen often against an awake enemy) the effective range is about double that.
The missiles' engagement range is objectively much smaller, but the fact that they are homing made them the primary long-range weapon in Honorverse. They are, however, limited by their drive endurance — the missile without fuel has no other choice than coast ballistically, and although much more stealthy, is both a sitting duck for point defense, and has 99.9% chance of simply missing its actively maneuvering target — at such distances even slightest inaccuracy translates into a huge miss. This was made especially apparent after the invention of the multi-drive missile, which could launch, coast until near the enemy (even if it takes hours to get that far) and then fire off their second drive to attack - giving them virtually unlimited range.
The engagement range of the oldest, nuclear armed missiles is truly a lot less than energy weapons. The engagement range of modern, bomb pumped (X-Ray) laserheads? Not so. These missiles use a gravity-lensed nuclear shaped-charge to pump lasing rods and are therefore immensely powerful energy weapons. A lot cruder concept of this weapon, does exist in real life, though no working models have been created so far.
Except that since they were too far away to receive useful input from the firing ships targeting computers they were relatively ineffective anyway unless launched in massed salvosuntil the development of Project Apollo which gave the firing ship FTL control over them.
Also explained in detail in the Vorkosigan Saga. The Vor Game features a space battle in which the interactions between the main weapons systems in use, each featuring different ranges, is explained. Lasers do have infinite range, but the ships of the day have very good anti-laser armor that works unless it is damaged by other weapons systems. Other weapons include physically firing missiles at the enemy, which while they theoretically have infinite range must be propelled or they'll be too easy to dodge, and gravitic lances, whose power decreases by the square of the distance and therefore have a minimal effective range, although their effects are measurable far beyond the distance at which they can do any damage.
Aversion of this trope (and how!) provides the punch line to the short story "The Gun That Shot Too Straight".
The RCN series by David Drake averts this trope. Plasma weapons drop in effectiveness with range (at close range a 5-cm cannon can do moderate damage to a corvette, at longer ranges it won't do more than a week or so of solar wind erosion) and scale up in effectiveness with bore diameter. Missiles use their kinetic energy to do damage, so a missile that manages to hit late on in its run will actually be more powerful than one early on - if it hits. (Though, as one of the characters points out, a large lump of iron that hits the target while being pushed at twelve g will still do rending damage even if it isn't going very fast.)
"Starworld" by Harry Harrison has the first space battle in history taking place as part of a rebellion against Earth by its colonies. The rebel admiral points out to the protagonist how energy weapons don't work due to the energy diffusion problem. Although missiles are being used by both sides, the rebels use linear accelerators firing unguided cannon balls to gain the decisive edge, then finish them off with a Flechette Storm of rocket-propelled bullets (fired from the standard infantry weapons of the time) which work well over infinite ranges due to the lack of air resistance.
The M-300 grav rifle, used by the ACS in John Ringo's Legacy of the Aldenata, avert this. The ammo, tiny pellets accelerated by grav drivers, is fired at just below the speed of light, and in or out of an atmosphere the only real limitations, for all practical purposes, are those of targeting system capabilities. In Layman's Terms, if you can target it, you can hit it.
Averted in the Humanx Commonwealth series by Alan Dean Foster, which presents a wide variety of space-based weaponry, some with effective ranges measured in intergalactic distances. Even a simple ship-mounted laser has light-second range; the major limiting factor is accuracy.
The Hardy Boys: Casefiles book "Flight into Danger" has the boys in an experimental jet with an experimental laser weapon. Since the beam loses efficiency over distance, it's like "hitting [another fleeing jet] with a flashlight" beam. Still gets his attention, though.
Averted in The Forever War, by the 10th year of the war (which lasts over 1000 years) missiles (called drones) can already hit targets from across the system, and combat consists of a one ship chasing another while both sides throw up curtains of 'drones'. Also, committing more than a single ship to an engagement is considered unusual. All in all, it's about as far from Star Wars as the Denmark Strait was from Salamis.
Averted regularly in Iain M. Banks' Culture series of sci-fi novels, where space battles typically happen at distances best measured in AUs, and all targeting and firing is generally controlled by AIs because organic lifeforms simply can't cope with the maths involved to hit anything at that distance.
Star Trek: The Original Series: The first Romulan episode, "Balance of Terror", has them using a plasma weapon that can create a huge fireball (which can apparently travel at warp speed). The best solution is to go at maximum warp backwards until it dissipates enough for the shields to handle. This episode was based on a WWII destroyer-versus-submarine script. The Enterprise played the role of the destroyer and the Romulan ship represented the submarine. This explains the use of depth charge-like weapons IN SPACE!, torpedoes, and the cloaking device. The weaponry operated as if they were in the Pacific, with limited ranges and all. It didn't help that this was an early episode and the SFX crew hadn't really established what the ship's armament looked like when it fired, so the "depth charges" were shown as balls of light that resembled the as-yet-unseen photon torpedoes despite supposedly being phaser shots (as distinct from the blue beams later used for the phasers). It might have made more sense if the depth charges were torpedoes.
This was continued throughout all the TV series, onscreen battles were always extremely short-ranged affairs. Ranges beyond a few kilometers only appear in the Expanded Universe or were not represented onscreen, using either tactical readouts (like in the TNG episode, "The Wounded", citing ranges of about 200,000 kilometers), or calling out distances (several episodes of The Original Series called out distances on the scale of tens of thousands of kilometers).
The makers of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan wanted to have a starship dogfight between the Enterprise and the Reliant, but were initially concerned that it wouldn't make sense since both ships would logically be able to hit each other without having to get close. Thus, circumstances were contrived to make both the film's space battles take place at close range. For the first battle, Kirk lets the Reliant close in on the Enterprise without raising shields because he doesn't realize they've been hijacked, which he later admits was a mistake. In the climax, Kirk lures Khan into a nebula, rendering the sensors on both ships ineffective.
The original Battlestar Galactica featured laser bolts that would arbitrarily explode after traveling a certain distance.
Ditto the late 1970s/early 1980s TV version of Buck Rogers, made by the same production company.
Both presumably made so space fighters could fly through flak.
In any of the air-battle scenes in Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, a miss with an energy weapon would result in the laser beam exploding in the air just behind the evading target. As if it had hit the matte painting behind them. (My God, man, I think you found that answer we've been searching for.)
In Dungeons & Dragons, abilities clearly based on the victim's visual acuity, such as a Medusa's petrification or a nymph's blinding beauty, nonetheless will have a cutoff range of only 30 to 60 feet. Well, both of those are magical...
In old versions, the spell's range is the maximum distance to its point of origin: a fireball without set target flies to its maximum range and detonates as a sphere — unless something interferes. In d20 all spells have an arbitrary cutoff range, and can affect nothing further away than that: a fireball with range of 400' hurled at 400' will make a hemispherical explosion because the half that would go out of range is not allowed to exist.
Worse, your eyesight may have a cutoff range of 30' ... if you have infravision/darkvision/reviseforeditionvision - credible if it was some kind of active scanning sense, but the fluff generally makes clear that it isn't.
The same was true for ranged weapons until d20 set a more flexible range limitation in given (but arbitrary) number of range increments.
Played straight for arms which impart energy to a projectile, as in real life they work just like other ballistic weapons only they eaven use drop to reach farther. Nonetheless, out of effective range the projectiles seemingly just drop to the ground.
Epic-level characters can invert this by taking the epic feat Distant Shot. It removes maximum ranges and range increment penalties for all ranged weapons, projectile or thrown. This means a character with this feat has the same chance to hit the orc standing on the horizon as to hit the orc standing 30 feet away. Thanks to a lack of adjustments to the combat mechanics for extremely long ranges, the attack will also REACH the orc on the horizon just as quickly as it would reach the nearer orc, with no increase in damage for this obviously greatly increased velocity.
The fan-made Peasant Railgun is here for those who do wish to take into account increased velocity (and have a very permissive DM).
Despite its... purposefully bizarre physics, one thing that the Spelljammer setting did well was weapon ranges. Maximum range was just "snowball's chance in hell at hitting", and if you did fire at long range it would often take several turns for the arrow to get there. For heavy weapons, "range" is given for the first round, when the target have no time to get away; then a missile marker moves on at the same speed until it either hits something or reaches the tactical map border.
The Star Fleet Battles board game reduces the damage of phaser weapons as the range increases, and the hit roll is used to see how much damage is done, not if they hit at all.
Similarly, the FASA Renegade Legion series of board games has laser weapons attenuate at range. Although all weapons have an absolute maximum range of 30 hexes regardless of type, this is more of a game balancing factor than a realism issue.
In BattleTech, lasers can have an effective range as short as 100 *yards*. In space combat, where a different scale and different range brackets apply, even the smallest laser (The exact same kind as used on the ground)'s effective range shoots up slightly over 3,000 yards. Not bad for dogfighting between aerospace aces (though granted, on the other hand the maximum effective range for even the largest capital-scale weapons — other than tele-operated capital missiles, which move like fighters with their own small fuel reserve — is only about an order of magnitude larger than that).
In GURPS, missiles, guns, and cannons fired in space have unlimited range as, barring all else they can just keep drifting. Beams weapons have maximum rages, albeit very large ones (the smallest possible is 20 miles) that represent something more like maximum range. When fired in atmosphere most beam weapons have extremely short ranges justified as absorption by the atmosphere.
The Sixth Edition Warhammer Fantasy rulebook discussed the relatively short ranges ascribed to its bows and cannons with words to the effect of, "Accept that these distances don't scale to real-world distances, or else go find an empty parking lot to stage your battles".
More pronounced in Warhammer...IN SPACE! In 40k, the longest range basic infantry rifle has an absolute maximum range of 30", and most artillery weapons have ranges much smaller than 12'. Now, consider that a typical tank is about 6" long in the game. Supersonic craft regularly move 24" or less. Blindingly fast ships can clear a whopping 36"! Ranges and speeds like this would embarrass Napoleon's gunners and a land tortoise, respectively, but is an Acceptable Break from Reality, unless you can find an empty stadium to host your battles in.
Justified in the Gaiden GameBattlefleet Gothic. Since the model of a ship represents a microscopic particle in the middle of it's base, a maximum range of 12' (which is standard for most guns) is actually hundreds of thousands of kilometers of vacuum and is the maximum range at which the gunners bother to fire, since anything farther away than that would be long gone by the time the shells got there. Completely averted with torpedoes however. Once fired they keep going until they are destroyed or hit something, be it the enemy, a celestial body or your own poorly placed ships.
In Attack Vector: Tactical, lasers are actually built with energy inputs, conversion efficiencies, wavelengths and diffraction limits and aperture sizes to build the weapon tables. One damage point is 50 MJ delivered 'roughly instantaneously' over an 8 cm diameter spot size - this is roughly the equivalent of 12.5 kilos of TNT detonated into a focused spot the diameter of a soda pop can. The conversion efficiencies and laser wavelengths were chosen to make the game interesting, but within those bounds, they're scientifically accurate. The coilgun rules walk the launching player through four frame of reference shifts to present a firing card that ends up being the ducks eye view of a shotgun blast, and coilguns can be very long ranged.
For what it's worth, to make an interesting game, there's also a meta rule - weapon ranges that are shorter than 1/3 of the distance a unit can move in a turn tend to be very frustrating, unless segmented movement is allowed. Weapon ranges that are longer than about 4x the maximum rate of movement (or 'whole turn of thrust' in momentum based games) tend to render movement decisions obsolete. This isn't so far fetched; it's an accurate description of modern day Naval tactical combat - in the amount of time it takes for a sea skimming missile to cover 200 nautical miles, its target will have covered about 300 yards, and if it's big enough to be worth throwing an anti-ship missile at, might have changed course by 10 degrees.
Plausible space combat would break that meta rule hard. Ships with thrusts measured in single digit milligees, and depending on who you ask, lasers will either be limited to point defense roles due consumables, or will be so long ranged (and not heat constrained) that you'll be able to start firing weeks before you get to visual range. Beam weapons feasible in 1980-x era could have effective ranges 100-1000 km, but quick recognition of targets this far is another matter. One passable description of realistic space combat as we think we know it is that long range lasers will be used to mess up sensors, so that you can hit the now-blinded enemy ship with kinetic weapons that will tear through it like a shotgun through wet kleenex.
In Rifts South America 2, this is justified in the case of the Megaversal Legion's Inerta-Beam weapony, in which the beam is used to accelerate a bullet/shell to incredible speeds. One the projectile leaves the beam's effective range, it suddenly loses all inertia and velocity and comes to a dead stop, dropping straight down to the ground.
Ranges for all weapons in Rifts are listed as "maximum effective range," thus possibly averting this trope.
In Egosoft's X-Universe space simulator series, the highest (non-missile) range is about 8 KM for a heavy capital ship cannon. Then again, said capital ship has a top speed of 50 m/s...
In Master of Orion II, lasers and almost all other energy weapons have range-based damage penalties due to bloom, but mass drivers, Gauss guns, Disruptors, and the Stellar Converter do not. However, all weapons in the Master of Orion series do have a maximum range that's not a direct function of ship's hit probability.
Weapons in Freelancer have maximum ranges that are either ridiculously short or pretty reasonable, depending on your interpretation of the Units Not to Scale. That is, less than a kilometer in game units, but plausible if compared to the scale of planets and stars. The projectiles do still inexplicably vanish when they reach the limit.
Averted in EVE Online, where weapon ranges are waved away as being, variously, a product of projectile velocity, the targeting computer being unable to hit a target that small, or the missile running out of fuel. For projectile and laser weapons, there is no hard cutoff distance, but as distance increases they miss more often. Part of the range limit is the maximum range a ship can target at, being a possible maximum of 250km with appropriate skills and modules - it is possible to get railguns and missiles to have a longer actual range than this, but they can still only be fired at a targeted ship (although the range over 250 is still useful on missiles if the target is moving away from you, but in that case they would have more then enough time to warp off before any missiles reached them).
Semi-averted in Vega Strike (current version, at least). Each weapon has the maximum range property set rather close, but also property which controls dissipation, so arbitrary "range" could be avoided or set many orders of magnitude higher, it's needed only to conserve resources. Missiles are less limited — torpedoes even have FTL drives — though lockable ranges are still relatively tame.
Both averted and played straight in FreeSpace. Laser bolts (which more accurately would be plasma weapons) simply vanish a certain distance from the ship that fired them. Justified by the missiles, which explode automatically once they reach their maximum range (presumably after running out of fuel). But averted with the badass, ginormous energy beams used by the capital ships in the sequel, which can be seen going off into infinity (bonus points for them being true lasers: they strike the target instantaneously). The fact that these weapons still have a "range" setting makes very little sense (fans have attempted to explain this as the computer's effective targeting range: one campaign featured a ship attempting to fire a beam at an enemy outside that range and missing by about thirty degrees. The target jumps out before they have a chance to correct their aim). They are both visible in space and have a profound distortion/shimmer effect, but that's a different trope.
The Kaiser, the one primary weapon that fires actual projectiles, technically has an arbitrary maximum range, but it is so large that it avoids the trope. There are few instances in missions where enemies are outside the range of the Kaiser and at long range it is nearly impossible to hit any ship due to accuracy issues.
Gameplay Story Segregation does avert this in cutscenes as early as the first game. The Lucifer easily is able to bombard a planet with its beam cannons from a fairly high orbit.
Averted in a rather interesting fashion in Mass Effect, where it is explained that the effective range of the ship to ship artillery mass drivers is limited not so much by absolute range, but rather by the ability of the target ship to detect the incoming projectile(s) and get out of the way.
It is also mentioned that the first wave of fighters sent against a ship with laser weapons is guaranteed to be hit once they get within a reasonable range where those lasers would have perfect accuracy. They only begin to miss once the weapon itself heats up too much.
A Gunnery Chief in Mass Effect 2 makes damn sure his underlings have a targeting solution before firing their vessels' mass accelerator, otherwise it keeps going... and going... and going...
Gunnery Chief: That means: Sir Issac Newton is the deadliest sunuvabitch in space!
The second game also reveals the explanation for the Great Rift of Klendagon, believed to have been caused by a glancing blow from a very powerful mass accelerator round over 37 million years ago. An unknown race fired it at a Reaper, presumably as their "last great act of defiance". Not only did the weapon kill the Reaper, but the round simply kept going until it hit Klendagon, located in an entirely different star system!
Missiles in Elite 2: Frontier will automatically detonate if they run out of fuel before hitting a target. This is explained in the manual as a safety precaution; they don't want armed weapons flying about in space since that time a missile, after drifting for two years, obliterated a planetary settlement.
The lasers in all 3 Elite games avert this, however, as they apparently have vast ranges. The downside is, rather logically, the further away the target the harder it is to hit, though interestingly if you can gauge radar distances right, it is possible to hit out-of-visual-range targets (though it requires quite high skills and more than enough luck).
Graphically, this is applied quite oddly. Units firing solid projectiles will usually be firing some kind of explosive, and the warhead will detonate an arbitrary distance away from the firer. Beam weapons, on the other hand, simply cut off...and when the beam in question is the Wing Zero's wider-than-itself Buster Rifle shot, this has the effect of resembling nothing so much as a giant glowing cylinder that appears for a second to ruin someone's day.
Somewhat averted in most of the Space Empires games. Numerous beam weapons have a gradually decreasing level of damage as the range increases. It is not consistently true, though, as many still have a nonsensical cutoff range, and missiles simply disappear after a certain distance.
Gorf. The range of a shot was limited by when you wanted to fire again. Your shot would last forever, or until the edge of the screen, or until you shoot next.
Transcendence, a Rogue Like with 2-D Space, uses this all over the place, and with good reason — in 2D space, it's really, really easy to shoot a friendly who's just out of the range of your scanners. The really long-range weapons are very difficult to use properly.
Played straight in the Wing Commander series of games. Not only do guns have a maximum range, but missiles just disappear if they don't hit anything by the end of their fuel.
All There in the Manual: The Wing Commander manual justifies it in the case of self-propelled weapons (missiles, torpedoes), on the grounds that a space colony was once destroyed by a drifting derelict missile fired years earlier. Confed have taken to fitting their missiles with self-destruct systems that go off when the fuel is exhausted to avoid a similar incident.
Played completely straight in Sword of the Stars. Ships won't even fire weapons beyond the set range. And if beams miss, they will simply stop at their max range, instead of some sort of a blooming effect.
Slightly averted in the sequel, where the maximum range of most weapons is beyond the standard sensor range, requiring spotters and/or advanced sensors.
Some weapons even in the first game can fire at targets beyond-visual-range (but not sensor range). This includes missiles and (with expansions) rail cannons (AKA impactors). Additionally, Word of God is that battles actually take place from hundreds of thousands of kilometers away, but the game would be boring if this were rendered realistically.
Most of the Ace Combat games zig-zag this. Bullets, missiles, rockets, and bombs have a set maximum effective range; but a good player can hit targets beyond that rage by accounting for gravity and leading the target. However, if they don't hit anything for a long enough time, they vanish.
Worse yet, the game lets you zoom in on the 'clear hud' view. Attempting to utilize your plane as a sniping tool rarely works because the missiles will vanish long before they reach the target. The exception is the semi-active radar-guided missile, at least in the PS2 games, due to its extremely long range combined with the mechanics behind how it locks onto targets.
Star Trek Online gives most weapons a measly 10-kilometer range. Thus enforcing Old School Dogfighting. It is needless to say quite annoying when your huge ship bristling with weapons is forced to try and keep a much smaller ship in it's firing arc.
Furthermore, projectile energy weapons such as cannons lose power the further you are away from your target. Shooting a salvo at a target at the maximum 9.99km range will give a generally reduced damage output than if you were rubbing right up against the enemy at 0.00km. Projectile weapons such as torpedoes don't follow this rule though. Their damage is set.
On top of that, the game's combat mechanics makes it impossible to exploit the 10km range. Once a projectile is fired at a target, the game has already determined whether the shot will hit or miss. If a Borg command ship fires a Torpedo Spread (an almost always lethal attack) at your ship when you are out at 9.99km, activating Emergency Maneuvers and Emergency Power to Engines to boost your speed and quickly take you out of range to 20+km isn't going to stop the attack from registering on your ship. You'll still get hit since you already did and the game just needs to make sure it's visually carried throughnote with the partial exception of attacks that create a targetable object, as the point of them doing so is so that they can be targeted and destroyed before they do damage.
This is consistent with the visuals of the show (though a lot of episodes they call out ranges of much larger but such things can't easily be represented on screen), if not the expanded universe. Even in large-scale battles shots are only fired at extreme close range.
What's not consistent is that, during on-foot segments, your sidearms have a maximum range as well—of about (eyeballing it) 15 meters.
Interestingly averted in the old Windows 95 WinTrek game and its clones. While beam power dissipates, photon torpedo power does not, and since it's grid-based accuracy doesn't have to be all that clear either. Just point in their general direction and fire. No matter how far, the torpedo averages 200-250 points of damage.
Star Trek: Bridge Commander is a little better about this. You can free-fire photon torpedoes and pulse weapons, but good luck hitting any target closer than 60 KM (or closer for faster ships or slower torpedoes). Phasers are most effective if fired at closer than 40KM, and won't fire on a target at all if it's further than 60KM.
Homeworld 2 has a bad case of this. Missiles and kinetic rounds fired from ships will magically disappear into thin air (or thin vacuum?) once they reach their maximum in-game range. This is especially ironic considering that in the first Homeworld, missiles that don't hit a target will be seen flying off into distant space rather than disappearing. Realistically it should also to be possible to fire such projectiles from across the map and have them hit the large and slow motherships.
That's still pretty minor when compared to the energy beams that cut off immediately after reaching maximum range.
In Allegiance, missiles seem to disappear at a certain range, however they will actually float around the sector until hitting the edge of the map. They do run out of fuel at max range though.
In Star Control, all lasers are limited in range (usually very limited compared to other weapons). Most projectiles will disappear a certain distance out of the muzzle. Some projectiles, however, will keep flying as long as the firing button is held down. Since the battlefield loops around on all sides, this means that projectiles that missed the enemy ship and keep flying off can eventually still hit it!
In the Descent games, projectiles from non-hitscan weapons disappear after a certain distance, eg it's impossible to hit the second game's first boss from across the arena.
Steel Battalion not only has this for each weapon, but an armor modifier on all V Ts that further detracts from the effective range, depending on which side gets hit. This means that if a VT that would normally be within a weapon's range gets hit, but the armor modifier treats the weapon as out of range, NO damage is taken!
Somewhat realistic, that.
In the Armored Core series, each non-missile weapon has a given cutoff range (actually slightly less than the given statistic in the equipment menu) where the projectile simply vanishes. note In multiplayer, it was observed that a shot at the edge of the longest-ranged sniping rifle would hit Player 2. If P2 takes a half-step backward, and P1 is still aiming in that direction when firing another shot, the shot will disappear immediately in front of P2
In Chromehounds, made in part by those responsible for the Armored Core series, shots will go out to their respective ranges before simply falling to the ground in an abrupt arc. For some weapons, this tiny bit of extra range can be accounted for when aiming and extend the weapon's useful range. Learning to visually estimate ranges and arcs with accuracy is the entire crux of the Heavy Gunner RT.
4X game Sins of a Solar Empire has this for all ships, requiring that they move into range before engaging a target. However, it's averted for the arbitrary "Big Gun" of each faction: building a Novalith cannon, for example, means you can shoot it at any planet on the map, as long as you're willing to wait for the actual impact.
Averted in the background information of Halo: MAC slugs are not stated to have an effective range, their primary limitation being firing rate and the time needed to calculate a firing solution. Likewise, Covenant plasma torpedoes are only limited by the mechanism used to fire them, as the firing ship is constantly maintaining a magnetic field to guide and contain them.
Interestingly, in Halo 2, the Covenant ships that jump into the Solar System are stated to have stopped just short of an unexplained SuperMAC "kill zone." It's likely the range in which they can be assured of hitting their targets, as MAC rounds still have to travel to the target - even if it's traveling at 4/10ths the speed of light, that could take minutes to reach its target, which at that point a potato with a charge running through it would think to move out of the way. Also interstingly, this also means that the Covenant somehow knows this particular range for SuperMACs.
Covenant ships do have a maximum range at which they can maintain the magnetic field around their plasma torpedoes. This also means that, if the firing ship happens to be destroyed while the torpedoes are on their way, they will lose their magnetic bottles, continue moving in a straight line (i.e. no guidance), and rapidly bloom. This is actually done in the novel Halo: First Strike.
Used in World of Warcraft, where there is a limit on how far away an opponent can be to fire a spell at them. However, the spell doesn't care if they stay within that range after it's been cast, though if they run away for too long they'll take the damage before the spell graphic actually hits them. With a fast flying mount it's possible to travel faster than the projectile. This means someone can aggravate a gargoyle in Icecrown Citadel into shooting at them, run away from it, double back and get fired at again as many times as desired, fly off, land in the Howling Fjord, and finally get hit by a barrage of "40 yard range" spells that just followed them across the continent. Admittedly, they won't hurt.
Something similar occurs in City of Heroes. You have to be close enough to aim, but if you can out run the animation it will chase you until it hits.
MechWarrior really can't seem to decide what side of this trope to be on at times. MechWarrior 2 had weapons with listed maximum ranges that seemed to get an unusual amount of distance beyond that (most notable for PPC shots and Gauss rifle slugs, but would occasionally be invoked by missiles too). At almost all other times, though, beams, projectiles, and missiles simply despawn at their maximum range. This can be problematic given the series' notoriously wonky hit detection and damage calculation at times.
In All Points Bulletin, weapons fired outside of their optimal range would have suffered from damage falloff, turning, for example, a 2-shot Short Range Shotgun into a 4-5 shots kill when fired at mid range. Before a certain patch, though, the game had a far more bizarre behavior - bullet that traveled outside their maximum range would disappear into nothing.
In Far Cry 2, fires will only spread a certain distance, leaving patches of scorched Earth surrounded by untouched grass. Apparently, they put it in after a test fire consumed the entire game world, killing everyone in it.
Star Ruler has this problem, though ranges are pretty damn long: 1000 is equal to an AU, roughly eight light-minutes, meaning even the absolute shortest 1-range weapon is still good to about half a light-second. This goes into the other problem of having inexplicable FTL weapons, though, when lasers remain hitscan all that way.
Justifiable in Escape Velocity for everything except pure kinetic weapons, which are fairly uncommon. Missiles detonate at the end of their range, while shots from plasma casters fade out. However, weapon velocity and range are completely independent of ship velocity, which makes it fairly safe to engage a capital ship by retreating from it at the same speed it pursues just at the edge of proton cannon range.
Spacewar! has a Wrap Around screen. At least one version has both torpedoes and lasers. The torpedoes go on looping forever until they hit something, but lasers have a very short range.
In Team Fortress 2, it's not the sentry's bullets or rockets that have a maximum arbitrary range, but its sensor. Cue cheeky Scouts (usually nothing more than Sentry fodder) parking just outside of range and destroying it by plinking it with handgun bullets - alternatively, cue the sentry's Engineer pulling out a Wrangler and using that to make the sentry retaliate from beyond its normal range. The only other weapons that have maximum range are non-rocket-propelled projectiles, which are subject to the physics engine and can only be shot so far upwards and forwards by limitations in the weapon's design or the person wielding it.
Averted in Schlock Mercenary, where an author's note states that a test-firing of orbital weaponry proved inconsequential until the blast sterilized a comet bearing single-cellular life two years later.
But it would have burned up in a nearby star in another couple million years anyway, so it doesn't really matter. Think of it as a mercy killing.
The beam has a gravitic component to it that keeps it from dispersing, but it's not perfectly efficient - it'll go quite a long way, but eventually it will lose focus.
Massively averted here: Credomar, thought to be a space station, is actually a hyperspace death ray capable of hitting a target anywhere in the galaxy, while being fired from anywhere.
Justified in Void Dogs, where weapons are useless past a certain range because the beams and bullets move at or below the speed of light while the ships (and everything inside their magic reality-warping fields) are moving much faster.
Project Rho considered the limits of beam weapon technology grounded in real-life physics. A 10 megawatt X-ray laser could quite conceivably kill spacecraft out to at least a light minute... sure, most things that were actively evading would be hard to hit due to lightspeed delay but consider this: such a weapon in orbit around the Earth would be able to vaporize well armored satellites in orbit around Mars when the two planets were at their closest, and thoroughly frazzle the electronics of any unarmored device fifty times further away (over twice the distance between Earth and Mars when they are furthest apart). So, yeah, no maximum range, but maximum effective range.
The same site also suggests a light-second as the maximum range for projectile weapons (at sub-relativistic speeds, at least), since at greater ranges, the target will have time to fire its engines before it's hit, and even a second's burn from a decent rocket can let a ship dodge by a wide margin. This doesn't go for guided missiles, of course, which are mostly only limited by fuel.
Anti-aircraft shells are designed to avert the trope as described in the top-of-page example. Because AA gunnery in the World War II fashion consists of firing large quantities of explosive-packed steel into the air over a major city, something has to be done to make sure those quantities that miss their targets don't descend upon the people and things you are trying to protect. AA shells have a self-destruct mechanism, which triggers long after they should expect to have hit their target but before they have had a chance to fall to earth. The worst the people below suffer is a light rain of tiny fragments....in theory.
Not to mention, even if the shell explodes as shrapnel, the shrapnel still has to come back down thanks to gravity. Even if it's not heavy enough and fast enough to kill someone, that shrapnel could still put them in the hospital.
Wire-guided missiles like the US BGM-71 TOW are, well, wire-guided. As in they receive guidance commands from a wire trailing behind the missile, and attached to the launcher. They have a maximum range equal to the length of wire.
Even similarly designed wireless systems have the limitation of their transmitter.