Elite Dangerous Engineers. Urgh. So much grindy RNG.

OK, I wasn’t impressed with the sound of them in the beta stages as people were already complaining that they were grindy, always needing lots of hard to locate materials to activate, but given ObsidianAnt’s video from yesterday I’m damn sure I’m going to give them a total miss until they are improved (if they ever are). This is another released mechanic that highlights to me that FDev don’t seem to know what kind of game they are making – or they just aren’t explaining it well – or both.

Powerplay and now Engineers both implemented a system (or systems) that required a lot of playtime and dedication to a play style. With PP I can see how some players would love this and it bothers me less because I can just ignore it and leave those players to play the game they want to play. But with Engineers this isn’t so because NPCs can get the ship upgrades and therefore if I chose to ignore it I will be eclipsed by the game itself – the balance of my ship against an NPC ship will shift and the only way I can address that is by upgrading too. This is an arms race that will force me to grind for Engineer upgrades thereby forcing me to play the game in a way I don’t want to. This is the gear grind of older style MMOs that I hate and won’t do. In Elite this means you can trade/mine/combat/explore/mission your ship to a multi-million credit A-rated behemoth but at some point it will be obsolete unless you keep on grinding away at resource collecting.

When you add to that the arbitrary nature of the upgrades themselves then what you are saying is I should spend my limited play time hunting resources for an upgrade I don’t really want but now am forced to need and when I have collected those resources there will be a dice roll to determine whether or not I get the upgrade I have been working towards and if I don’t I have to start collecting again.

That sucks.

Look, I can stand the collection part as long as the items are easy enough to collect but as soon as they are made difficult due to things like secret locations, low yield, or pure RNG availability I’m not going to bother. Even if the collection part was fixed to be more accessible and less time-wastey, the fact that I have no say in what I will get from the resources just isn’t engaging and I’m just never going to do that and that will be a whole new area of the game I have to ignore. How much of the game do I ignore before there is no game to play?

The best way to fix Engineers for me (note that use of ‘for me’) would be for FDev to make the resources less grindy to find, implement a player-to-plyer trade system, and give us more than one character slot so I could have a farmer in the right area of the galaxy. They also need to remove the RNG upgrade system totally and implement a menu clearly showing resources to outcomes and then make that outcome customisable. By that I mean that I collect resources for a jump drive upgrade and those resources will be enough to get me that upgrade but in the final upgrade confirmation screen there are variables I can tinker with such as energy use and fuel efficiency and range. Sliders allowing me to increase the range but at cost of a increasing my fuel efficiency or increasing the fuel efficiency might then increase the energy use but reduce the heat build-up. These are just examples but at least with this system not only would everyone get the upgrade they want but they would also have the tools to mod it just enough that ships feel different or tailored to suit a role or individual.

Will FDev do anything like that? I very much doubt it. If Powerplay shows us anything, they are more willing to meet the needs of the serious gamers than the casual. /they seem to want players locked into a spiral of grind because that keeps them in the game and therefore ore likely to buy things from the shop to keep the servers going.

TL/DR: Making me grind just to keep me playing and then not giving me a guaranteed reward for my efforts is shit and I won’t do it.

Exploring the Universe with Elite: Dangerous: Vital evidence in the hands of the Imperial Empire…

Look, I can’t tell you how I got a copy of this evidence entry, all I can say is a lot of good, loyal Federal citizens died getting it to me.

It raises far more questions than it answers. Why are the two security forces fighting? What do the Imperials want the footage for? What is the status of the sleeper cell on Chango? All of these remain unanswered and all I know is that space just got more dangerous…

Exploring the Big Black: First Impressions to First Profits to First Death in Elite Dangerous.

I’m enjoying Elite Dangerous a lot but it’s both harder than I imagined/remembered and quite obviously a beta.

Anyone with half a desire to buy it right now should know that whilst the gameplay is fun and the delivery stable (not one crash, freeze or disconnect so far) it’s limited and far from fully implemented. Whilst it’s true that most of the core elements of the game are represented so that you can fight for or against the military, hunt traders or pirates, buy and sell between worlds or simply explore and map the universe, it’s also true that the area allowed for this is a tiny walled-off bubble and as such begins to feel like a fishbowl quite quickly. Still, the gameplay is solid and doesn’t feel like a rushed ‘work in progress’ affair which is what I think is the biggest criticism of Star Citizen’s dogfighting release, so if you are wavering on the edge of buying it I would certainly recommend you jump in. As long, that is, as you don’t expect to be playing the finished game and if you don’t then you’ll enjoy it a lot. One last word of warning, please for the love of all that is holy don’t burn out playing a beta to death – that’s just not a smart thing to do.

With that mini (micro?) review and PSA out of the way what have I been doing in my time exploring the Big Black? Well, trading a fair bit, running away from players whenever I can and discovering the deep, deep joys of talking to my spaceship. Let me explain…

I’ve installed VoiceAttack and for the low, low price of $8 (sub £5 for me) and I can honestly say it’s the best fiver I’ve ever spent. I am now chatting away to my ship like it was an old friend! Well, not really but I am barking orders at it and it’s obeying like the good ship it is and I honestly can not imagine the game without it now – I mean if you’re not meant to talk to a spaceship in the year 3300 then when the hell are you? I hope Frontier Developments builds it into the game at some point, along with appropriate and maybe even editable replies. Ahhh, I can but dream.

Using VA and my Hotas X joystick I’ve been trying to beat the Solar Fluke in the training missions and having some success – it’s going to take a lot of practice but I’m sure I’ll get there eventually. When I get tired of combat training I pop into the multiplayer where I’ve been finding out how trading works. At first I was losing money hand over fist but then a few days ago I had a break through and began to see my profits and savings creep up, nothing grand but I was making my way up the ladder without having to fight anyone.

And then it all went wrong. I was doing ok, I had traded up to 5,500 Credits and keeping my nose clean when I suddenly had a run of bad luck. It started with being shunted back into a station by a player docking in a hauler. By the time I managed to get myself free of his shields and facing back towards the exit my docking window had expired and I was suddenly a wanted criminal. I was fired on inside the station by the station authorities and then again outside (by the station *and* players I think). I escaped and managed to pay off the fine to clear my reputation at the next port but at a cost, wiping out all profit from my last two runs. I congratulated myself on clearing my name, mentally noted down a ‘lesson learnt’ and headed off with a hold full of expensive stock to sell. And that’s when I decided to get clever. Long story short I tried to do a loop the loop through some station super-structure and I hit it hard. Hard and fast. My shields couldn’t cope and my ship exploded. I lost it, the cargo and all my money in one fiery fireballs of fire. Boom. Start again time.

There is a time and a place for hotdogging and work is neither the time nor the place.

I’m in no hurry to get back in and do it all again as I don’t want to burn out in beta and then not want to play the full game in a few months time, but I will start again soon and see if I can get my sidewinder kitted out with some weapons and armour so I can have a go at fighting in the conflict zones that have flared up between the Federation and the Eranin Defence Force.

Elite Dangerous: And the obsession begins…

It’s been a slow build up, but I’m now officially knee-deep in an obsessive relationship with Elite: Dangerous.

I don’t know if I’ve written about this before, but I have a repeating pattern when it come to games that stretches all the way back to the first computer games I played in the 80s. I become obsessed by them. Not by playing them, you understand, although that does come later on for some games, but rather by the anticipation of playing them. Once I fall for the premiss of a game I can’t get it out of my head. Every waking moment is governed by thoughts of it, dreams become haunted by it, conversations hijacked by it, family & friends bored with it.

Now in the dim and distant past I had to work hard to desperately try and sate this ultimately insatiable beast but, as with many things, the internet has made this so much easier, providing me with podcasts, previews, developer dairies, youtube footage and even, if I’m really desperate, forums (shudder). And, dear reader, it is in precisely this state you now find me in relation to Frontier Developments upcoming release of the much anticipated Elite 4, or Elite Dangerous (I still hate that bloody name! It’s meaningless! Elite Forever would have been far better, or Elite Eternal, but not Elite Dangerous!).

Ever since they released the Capital Shop Battle video I knew the beast inside was going to rise again but it really wasn’t until I caught up on the podcasts and youtube videos covering the first Alpha release that I felt it wake up and sharpen its claws – thank Cthulhu I didn’t do this until after the Xmas and New Year break otherwise the good lady Antfarm would have divorced me!

So, here I am, eating, sleeping, dreaming ED and do you know what? I bloody love it! If only the games I become obsessed about could live up to and match the perfect image I create for them. Most don’t but I have a sneaky feeling that ED may come the closest so far 😀

Elite Dangerous – Commander Burro grows more and more excited…

OK, so I’m on record as being an elite fan but also as being nervous about the new version due out early this year because of my worry it will be a griefing haven. Neither of these facts has changed but it’s fair to say that now that Frontier Developments have released a very highly polished Alpha to the world I’m a hell of a lot more excited about this game than I was a month or so ago.

The Alpha was (and is) only open to the people who backed the kickstarter but FD haave beeen very canny in not trying to block the alpha testers/players from filming and releasing their experiences meaning that YouTube has been flooded with some very impressive footage to whet the appetite of all us non-alpha backers. The first phase of alpha testing is now closed with more coming before they go to an open beta (by open, you still have to pre-order the game from their store) and then eventually in a public Gaamma period much like the way Minecraft operated.

I’m not in a position to purchase access to either the alpha tests or the beta tests but I’m not irked by that as I’m saving up for a joystick & throttle combo to play the game with so early access wouldn’t suit me anyway. Plus there is still the matter of whether or not I’ll like the game being a mulitplayer game or not – as I said in the griefing post, if FD create a world where dicks can flourish then I’m not going to shell out my limited funds for it. In all honesty I don’t think they will allow this to happen but I still want to read some post-launch reviews before I drop £35 for the game and the same again for a joystick.

In the meantime I’ve been scouring YouTube for cool videos to get me in the mood for some long overdue space combat in my gaming life. Of course Elite is much more than combat, but a space trading game alone would be as due as ditch water so a nice dollop of exciting pew pew is going to be a must and it looks like ED is going to deliver in spades!

Scott Manley has a useful introduction here:

And then later he has an very exciting time in a big old space battle here:


Here, Kroy Mortlach has three brilliant ‘back to basics’ videos that really explain how to get your ship controls up and running from scratch:

And finally, for today at least, Isinona proves his/her amazing piloting skills why flying and fighting with the fly-by-wire flight assist computer turned off. After seeing these videos, I want to fly like this more than anything!

So there you have the pick of my videos of the Elite Dangerous Alpha test. I would dearly love to be part of it but there’s no way I can afford to drop money on games any more (tip – if you want to be cash rich, be kid poor) so these videos are the closest I’ll get to flying my own Cobra Mk3 until the game is released in a few months. I’m all about the vicarious thrills, me 😉

Elite Dangerous: What a Burro wants from the next Elite game, part four. Hell is (certain) other people…

So Elite Dangerous is going to be a multiplayer game and I’m fine with that. So long as I don’t have to play with certain other people, that is.

Let me explain with an example of exactly why I don’t want to play with what I hope is a small minority of other people. Head over to the Lave Radio podcast and take a listen to the opening minutes of the second Backers’ Views episode. Go on, I’ll wait here.

So. There you go. The interviewee sounded like a perfectly normal and reasonable chap, didn’t he? But the views he expressed are so at odds with my own that I seriously found myself doubting this would be a game I’d want to pay for & play. Let me explain.

To me, griefing and ganking are obnoxious activities undertaken by obnoxious people for obnoxious reasons. The interviewee said that the world, the universe, is a dog-eat-dog place and whilst he is right, to me that’s the ugly face of life and not the facet I want to embrace. He gave the example of someone coming home after a bad day and relieving the stress by gathering with mates to gank other players. This to me is a serviceable definition of bullying and again that is not something I would ever want to be involved or associated with.

Now before you accuse me of being a ‘care bear’ or any other pejorative epithet that is nothing but a salve to your ego, let me put something to you.

A group of teenagers have a bad day and decide to alleviate their sense of unhappiness by making someone even unhappier. To this end they find a man sat on a bench and beat the shit out of him in a vicious gang attack. They move on feeling justified in their actions because they have transferred their unhappiness borne of perceived powerlessness to another. Far fetched? Unfortunately not.

Now you might balk at my use of a terrible real life example to make a point about a video game, you might think my inclusion of it trivialises the death of David Morley and the crime of the people who killed him, but I disagree. The cruelty and absence of humanity displayed by the killers of David Morley find an strong parallel in the inability of in-game griefers to empathise with the other players they seek out to harm in order to gain enjoyment from, and a sense of control over, them. This is why I hate griefers so much – their inhumanity to others, be it over the internet or in the street.

In deliberating ganking what they know to be avatars owned and operated by real people rather than those controlled by the computer, griefers are deliberating setting out to hurt these other people and that is bullying and it is fucking shameful. They can dress it up any way they want, they can delude themselves it’s just a game, that no one really gets hurt, that everyone has agreed to play by the same rules, but that’s all they are doing, deluding themselves. If they want to pretend they are the apex of maturity by bringing ‘real world’ motivations into the game then they should at least have the fucking balls to admit why they are doing it and not go passing the blame onto their victims. They are bullies, pure and simple and they bully other people for reasons they themselves know and recognise all too well but are too chicken-shit to face up to. They are cowards.

They are the reason I want to pay multiplayer games as a single player, not because I can’t take the fact they could blow my make-believe spaceship up, but rather that I don’t enjoy being in the same same universe as someone who can only find enjoyment in hurting others. I can always get another make-believe spaceship and forget about the ganking but the unpleasant feeling of needing a shower that their presence leaves behind lingers for a long time, and not for the reason they would like to imagine. It’s not them that coats me like oil because they are just people after all, stupid, selfish moronic people, but just people. No, what offends me is what they exhibit: the self-deluding desire to embrace the worst, base aspects of humanity. They are a tumour that imagines itself not killing its host but freeing it. They are idiots. They are scum.

Near the top of this post I said that the views expressed in the interview gave me cause to doubt whether this game is for me or not and if, when released in 2014, it does turn out to be an Eve-like place full of talking tumors then I won’t be playing it.

But I don’t think the game will be like this. I’m essentially an optimist and therefore think there will be enough decent people involved in its creation to  balance out the lead designer’s self-confessed desire to make it all PvP with perma-death and give it heart. I’m also a realist and think that Frontier Developments will want to cater to as many players as possible and these days that means casual players who don’t want to see their thirty minutes gaming slot wasted by being the target of a gang of roaming idiots.

Still, I could be wrong. The game could be a haven for the type of myopic pricks that I detest in and out of games so if nothing else the interview has convinced me not only not to back the game but not even to buy it until I’ve read reviews. I’ll keep my money in my wallet until I know I’m not going to waste it on a stinking pile of sewage full of annoying turds.

Frak me!

No, really… frak me… if this is actual game play then I may just have squeed in a crowded office with excitement.

This suddenly looks like a totally amazing game again 😀

Elite Dangerous: What a Burro wants from the next Elite game, part three…

At my gaming heart I’m an explorer, but a lazy explorer. If you say to me “Here’s the whole universe to explore!” I will think this is a good thing. If you then also add that to do this exploring I will have to spend a long time flying through boring black space and along the way there will only be a slim chance I will witness anything more exciting than a nice sunrise over a gas giant then I’m going to suddenly be much less inclined to explore. That kind of exploration has all the hallmarks of grinding and we all know by now how I feel about bloody grinding, don’t we.

Now in the many fan eulogies of Elite & Frontier I have heard how people would just set off to cross the galaxy or to find generation ships and asteroid hermits and whilst these have all sounded like great fun as a concept, the execution did not. Mostly they are tales of people wasting hours just going nowhere or, more accurately, finding nothing except more procedurally generated empty black space and that is, frankly, a dull waste of my time as I said here.

I don’t want Elite Dangerous (*name shudder*) to be like that. I want to explore it and I want it to want me to explore it. How can Frontier Developments do that? Well I think a little like this…

  1. Put lots of exciting things to find and see in there. Exploding stars, old space battle wrecks, glorious nebula, dou ble ice rings that we can fly through and any number of other marvels that can be generated on the fly. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating – I want ED to grant me the chance to see the sort of cosmic wonders & interstellar events that I will never, ever get to see for real.
  2. Put achievements in there. At one time I hated them but Guild Wars 2 showed me the light. They are fun and give just the right boost of energy to a flagging desire to explore. I want to collect all the super novas, lost ships and forgotten miners in the game so I can paint the achievement badge decal on my cockpit dash 🙂
  3. Another lesson to learnt from GW2 is that of Dynamic Events. In somewhere as big and empty as space there needs to be some stuff happening for me not to nod off at the joystick and I want to see a DE engine built in to keep even the deepest of deep space explorations interesting. Imagine an old hulk you find that explodes out with pirates or hidden military forces! What about the deep-black sci-ship that will be sucked into a black hole unless you refuel the engines? The possibilities are endless!
  4. A last lesson they could take from GW2 is that of jumping puzzles. In GW2 these have always been a real marmite issue but well handled by Arenanet so that the people who hate them don’t have to do them whilst those that love them have turned them into an almost e-sport within the game. I’d like to see this happen in ED but instead of jumping, I’d like to see flight skills such as slingshoting, aero-braking & maybe even warp-skipping employed to reach an otherwise unobtainable location.

This is only a flavour of what it will take to keep me exploring and I have no idea if the Devs are considering anything like it, but if they are not and they just expect people to fly off for three hours of pretty screensaver time then I know that I’ll be bitterly disappointed.

Elite Dangerous: What a Burro wants from the next Elite game, part two…

In my last post I talked about how I wanted to see an Earth-centric universe in Elite Dangerous and I was really pleased to hear I will be getting just that when the game is released in early 2014. If you pop over to the official YT channel, this fourth fiction diary video mentions it just at over six minutes in and to know that the Federation HQ is on Mars is just amazing. All in all, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be a Fed now 🙂

And my desire to play a Fed leads me nicely on to my next ‘what I want to see in the game’ post. Realistic humans, that’s what. What do I mean be that? Well, simple really. Too often in sci-fi the humans are abstracted to the point where they are pretty much aliens. Their motivations, actions and reactions are so far removed, usually due to the nature of evolving societies and advancing technology, as to bear little resemblance to what I recognise as human. At that point I lose interest in them because I can no longer connect to them and unlike fantasy I read sci-fi precisely to connect to a concept of own potential future.

So when it comes to the humans in Elite Dangerous I want them to be more like us with the same drives and fears, the same desires and goals but I still want them to be more exotic. I want them to be transhuman, altered by tech and by genetic engineering, but fundamentally still human at their core.

Both The Federation & the Alliance sound like my kind of people. a union of utilitarian capitalists on one hand and a loose collective of trading partners on the other – these are people I can understand. But then you come to the Imperials well then those fellas suddenly start looking more like aliens than they do humans, but given that there are only three intelligent races in Elite one of which is humans, another is extinct and the third may not be in the game at release, it makes sense to have something of the ‘other’ in the mix.

Still, no matter how cool Imperial ships are, there is no way I’m handling slaves so it’s the Fed for me 🙂

Elite Dangerous: What a Burro wants from the next Elite game, part one…

I’m pretty excited about the new Elite game due in early 2014, partly for nostalgic reasons but also because I am pretty bored of fantasy right now as the last three years have been very Tolkien and Guild Wars heavy in both my gaming and reading. But for the past six months I’ve been reading nothing but sci-fi (mainly hard sci-fi with a little opera thrown in to remind me why I get bored with space opera so easily*) and now I’m craving a play experience akin to the brilliant Transhuman Space role playing universe. I think Elite 4 (given the piss-poor name of Elite: Dangerous, what were they thinking?) will be my best hope of finding it.

So what exactly do I want from Elite (that’s what I’m calling Elite 4 now – it’s always going to be just Elite to me). Well that’s simple… but complicated too. Let me explain.

Firstly I want a human-centric universe with Earth at its heart. Of course I want human colonies, I want humans to have spread out for light years in all directions, but Earth should still be special to them. This might be unrealistic given how difficult it might be for one planet to stay relevant in such a diaspora but I’m not asking for Sol 3 to be a galactic capital yet neither do I want to see it a nuclear ravaged wasteland or forgotten back-water. Earth may diminish in political power as we take to the stars, but it’s where we crawled out of the oceans and up into trees, where we founded the notion of civilisation and fought again and again to impose and defend it. How can humans take to the stars and forget the wondrous beauty & ingenuity of everything we have built and created here? And what about all the amazing things we will make here by 3300? Are we to assume that the planet becomes denuded of its artists, its humanitarians, its creative geniuses? No, if we are to build on what I firmly believe is the obvious fact that, taken as a racial planet-wide whole, the human species is continually improving and working hard on making sure we don’t blow ourselves back into the stone-age then there is every reason to suspect that by 3300 Earth will be a target amazing planet indeed and I want to see that. I want to explore the wonders not only of the human universe, but of the human home world. I want to fly around the whole world and land in the cities that have grown and spread with another millennia of human ingenuity. I want to skim the clouds above Britain and swoop down to land in London and Manchester and Edinburgh. I want to visit home.

I know Elite won’t have planetary landings at launch, but as long as the Earth hasn’t been forgotten and confined to the rubbish dump of history, I’ll be a happy Burro.

In my next post on what I hope to see in Elite, I want to look at human behaviour and motivations. I think I’ll use the phrase “keeping it real” at some point 😉

* Rainbows End & Embassy Town were brilliant, Consider Phlebas less so and The Human Division a fun ride somewhere between those two poles.