Greetings! A great big idiot’s welcome to my fellow simpletons. I stumble out here before you today, shoes untied, to warn you. I need to steer you away from the great peril of having your diminished mental capacity not only exposed, but rubbed in your face.
I am here to implore you not to buy Elite: Dangerous.
I have had games make me feel stupid before. The EVE Online tutorial back in 2006 left me dazed and confused at times. I could not master the controls for World of Warplanes sufficiently to defeat the tutorial missions. I have crashed repeatedly in IL-2 Strumovik while attempting to find the correct key combo for a specific, required action. I have blown up on the launch pad in Kerbal Space Program countless times, or had the damn parachute deploy unexpectedly in flight. I have sat like a deer in the headlights, frozen by information overload, as Europa Universalis IV patiently attempted to explain to me the variations and precedences of my royal line of succession and the state of relations with my vassals while I was still stuck ten minutes back on how to join two military formations I raised into a single operational unit. And I cannot seem to remember even the simplest recipe in Minecraft to save my life, leading my daughter to grab the controls in frustration and say, “No dad, do THIS!”
In short, I am not stranger to attempting to operate without a clue.
But Elite: Dangerous has set the bar for making me feel the ass. I sit here even now wondering why I bought the game. I never played any of its predecessors, so why would I feel the need to jump on board now.
Oh, that’s right. Yahtzee lulled me into it.
Last week’s Zero Punctuation was about Elite: Dangerous.
And, in an uncharacteristic state of affairs, Yahtzee actually liked the game, describing it in ways that reminded me of any number of “making your way from humble beginnings” space exploration, combat, and trading games that I played in the 80s and 90s, like Starflight or Escape Velocity
or Battlecruiser 3000AD or even Stellar Emperor in its way. Hell, it was a sense of space that got me pointed at EVE Online.
So that is what did it, the Yahtzee approved vision of happy space faring nostalgia.
And so off I went to Frontier’s site where I successfully managed to purchase the game and where I was further enticed by some of the descriptions of the game, like:
Take control of your own starship in a cut-throat galaxy.
Start with a small starship and a few credits, and do whatever it takes to get the skill, knowledge, wealth and power to stand among the ranks of the Elite.
400 Billion Star Systems. Infinite Freedom. Blaze Your Own Trail
In the year 3300, across the vast expanse of an epic, full-scale recreation of our Milky Way, interstellar rivalries flare as galactic superpowers fight proxy wars.
Some may know you as an ally; others will call you a pirate, a bounty hunter, a smuggler, an explorer, an assassin, a hero… Fly alone or with friends, fight for a cause or go it alone; your actions change the galaxy around you in an ever unfolding story.
I even managed to get through the install process, getting everything on my drive even through the process has a few not obvious, can’t believe they’re still doing this in 2015 steps.
And then I tried to play.
I would like to point out that, as far as I could tell, there was nothing wrong with the game itself. It operated well, looked good, did not crash, and generally kept its metaphorical nose clean and its figurative hands to itself.
I just missed somewhere along the way the flashing red warning message about this being a hardcore space flight simulator first, and everything else second. Space trading and exploration of those 400 billion star systems would first require me to control my ship.
And I quickly demonstrated my complete inability to control my ship.
I made it through the first tutorial mission, though to call this a success would be distorting the meaning of the word. The mission simply requires you to shoot and blow up several stationary objects. My flailing around would have been amusing to watch if another ship had been present to see them. There was a lot of “okay, it will probably just be easier to keep rotating on this axis and try to acquire the target again on its next pass” sort of things.
Still, I finished it and, in doing so, decided to try the second tutorial. However, that one required me to actually move the ship around to shoot another ship. And that other ship gets impatient and eventually shoots back.
I don’t think I ever hit the other ship.
At this point, I was starting to figure that my usual input device problems might be holding me back. A trackball is not the best was to control a flight sim.
However, I did have that gamepad still sitting around from that Rusty Hearts offer a few years back, a Logitech Dual Action.
I had used it for the Windows version of a couple of the Travelers Tales LEGO games I picked up on Steam and found it good enough, even though the overall experience convinced me that those games are better left to consoles.
Anyway, Yahtzee had said something about using a gamepad to play and he had gotten me into this mess, so I felt I had better just go whole hog in emulating him.
This improved things… slightly. I chose the only setting that seemed to fit, generic joystick, and then went back to the first tutorial. I was then able to figure out how to move, though having to move the right analog stick back towards me controls thrust was immediately causing me coordination problems. My brain did not like that. Throttles move forward to increase power, except in pre-1950 French aviation.
I managed to work out how to move about, rolling the ship to be perpendicular to a given target then pulling back to drop it into the firing reticule to be locked and destroyed. That makes the process sound a lot more smooth than it actually was. I was fumbling around… a lot… but at least I felt like I had some sort of active control over what I was doing.
Eventually I had enough of shooting stationary objects, but I was nowhere near ready to shoot something in motion. I decided that I would have to adopt a strategy of “running away” for now and went on to the travel tutorial. There I was put in a station where I was supposed to undock, but wasn’t sure what to do. There was a timer counting down, but I wasn’t going to wait four minutes, so I started poking buttons to see if I could hurry things along. I managed to fire my guns in the station. That set off the station internal defenses which promptly blew up my ship. Tutorial not successfully completed.
But it did illustrate the problems I was having, which largely involved not knowing what the fuck was going on.
I kept feeling like I was missing some critical bit of information. Where is the list of controls? How can I tell what controls mapped to which buttons on my gamepad? Is there anything special I need to do with my gamepad to make it work right? What controls still need the keyboard? It looks like I need to activate controls on the screen, but how to do this is beyond my comprehension.
My Raptr profile will tell you I have spent 7 hours playing Elite: Dangerous, but that is a lie. I have spent most of my time tabbed out the game going through the forums or watching videos… some of which are linked directly in the game… trying to figure out what I am missing.
To no avail.
Unlike the other games I listed above, where I at least felt that if I applied myself or spent more time figuring out what was going on I might succeed, I cannot see a path forward. There are just too many bits of data I am struggling to find.
So I have yet to do anything I would feel I could be described as actually playing the game.
I am beginning to wonder if, in addition to the warning about the whole hardcore flight simulator idea that I missed, I perhaps missed some mention of the game still being in early access or something. I know this was a Kickstarter project, but I thought it had gone live and was ready for public consumption.
But people are out there playing Elite: Dangerous. So it must be possible. I am wondering if I just haven’t found the key repository of information necessary to get things going or if the game is simply beyond my rather limited capabilities.