A Warning to My Fellow Dummies

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.

Sounds great!

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.

Kensington Expert Mouse

Kensington Expert Mouse

However, I did have that gamepad still sitting around from that Rusty Hearts offer a few years back, a Logitech Dual Action.

The Gamepad in Question

Something like the Gamepad in Question

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.

27 thoughts on “A Warning to My Fellow Dummies

  1. James Prestridge

    It’s not just you. But, I can agree that once you do get things figured out it is actually quite enjoyable. I’ve never tried playing it with anything other than a joystick. But, even that required a significantly longer than normal learning curve on figuring out how to do basic things in the ship.

    I haven’t touched the game in over a month. But, I’d be happy to load it up and talk you through some of the basic points after work one night if you’re interested.


  2. tsuhelm

    I am an Elite fan back from the get go of early games and even then I struggled to fly the Cobra with a friends non-centering joystick… I actually got pretty good with keyboard controls. the old ‘slow, line up roll, line up roll, blast away, speed up’ maneuvering is, I am sure, still in my finger muscle memory …this I found was as complicated as the dog-fighting got…

    I dreamt of a better AI version to play….

    Now I want to play the new iteration, I cannot so will be waiting another year at least! Maybe by then they will have sorted out some of the issues you have described and one major issue which one of my friends, who loves the game, pointed out which left me in shock…there is still no grouping in game…no teaming up…for an space MMO wannabe that omission was rather shocking!


  3. Scott Turnbull (@Streamweaver)

    I’m playing and very much enjoying Elite Dangerous very much but I definitely get what you’re saying here. I was a backer and had access during the beta but never got past “login, what’s going on? logout” cycle because I didn’t feel like figuring it out and I figured they’d have a better tutorial after launch. Well it’s not much better but they do have several official youtube tutorials that were enough to get me past the initial frustration. If you’re really looking to bite into something you can enjoy then E:D is probably for you, but if you don’t really want to HAVE to sink your teeth into something, better to go play something else until you do.

    The one part I would disagree with is buying the game. I recommend folks buy the game, then buy it again. Support a company that isn’t just churning out the same crap over and over again.


  4. bhagpuss

    I find the whole concept of the “space flight simulator ” utterly incomprehensible to begin with. When the original Elite was released I was right in the middle of one of my most concentrated spells of gaming; I bought a lot of games and read a lot of gaming magazines and I knew what a hot number Elite was. I never even considered buying it.

    I also read a lot of science fiction. Always have. My understanding of spaceships does not include any part where a single pilot flies one as though it was a first world war biplane or an early jet fighter. There are many, many variations on the technology used to control spaceships and navigate space from within them but in my really quite extensive reading absolutely none of it involves joysticks.

    From what little I’ve gleaned about EVE from reading this and other blogs I think that the version of spaceship control there is much more like what I would conceive of as a genuine attempt to render the science fiction spaceship experience in a game. You tell the ship where to go and it goes there. That’s why we (will have) invented AIs.


  5. Jacob

    I have been playing the game off and on since beta, and I find it to be beautiful, though either I lack the time to really dedicate to it or it lacks enough of a game to engage me, I’m not sure which.

    That being said, getting started is a real bitch. I found myself going back and forth to the controls setup to set up my joystick how I liked it. You might find just setting each axis and button on the control pad to something that makes you comfortable just makes the whole experience a happier one for you.


  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – Yes, if you’re going to model the future it should be at least as capable as the present.

    One of my more popular posts for a stretch was about how to find an agent in EVE Online. Those are the NPC quest givers in EVE, but to get a mission from any given one you have to find their location and be eligible to receive a mission based on your standings with their faction. That is a really simple set of parameters to sift through if you have the right interface. EVE had such a convoluted interface that it was very painful to do this seemingly simple thing from within the game. It was easier to use Google to find an external tool to do it for you… which is to say, current technology appeared to trump future technology. They have since fixed that, but it was one of those “are you telling me computers can’t do this in the future?” sorts of things.

    Once of my problems with Elite:Dangerous at this point is that I am very much a “learn by doing” person. I can only get so much information piled up on me before I have to go use that information, lest it just fall off the back of my brain to be forgotten. E:D‘s initial, easiest tutorial starts with the assumption that you know all the flight controls and have proficiency in using them. It feels like there is a tutorial or two missing, so I don’t really have the groundwork to build on with the game.


  7. mbp

    I played Elite on a BBC Micro back in the ’80s and the pitch and roll controls were bastard hard back then but we put up with it because no one could figure out a better way to control 3D flight with just a keyboard.

    Lets cut to the most important question though: Do you have to manually dock? Back in the day you first had to find the small opening in one side of a space station. Then you had to line up with it. Then you had to match your rotation to its rotation. Then finally you could gently ease her in all the while praying that nothing was out of alignment. You could eventually buy an automatic docking computer but it was way beyond the reach of new players. Indeed many players never got beyond the first attempt at docking.


  8. James Prestridge

    Docking works exactly the same way currently. Matching the rotation isn’t as much of an issue with the starter/smaller ships. But, with bigger ships, it’s exactly as described.


  9. Ysharros

    Nasty wordpress won’t let me comment – or it’s spamming you with my attempts, in which case apologies. Last try:

    This is so me that I should simply steal your post and pretend it was mine. I haven’t loaded up the game in a week, partly due to work pressures but partly because I am pretty much incapable to spending more than 2 minutes tabbed in without having to look something up. But, like you, I have a number of friends who *don’t* possess mad spaceship skillz and who, however, have managed to get past the huge curve at the beginning and are now trading happily around the galaxy.


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  11. ultrviolet

    Lol I had the same reaction. It took me a couple of days of concentrated practice to learn to dock and undock my ship, and I’d say at least a week before I felt comfortable flying around. I ended up with mouse and keyboard as the easiest controls for me, and it helped me a lot to turn the sensitivity way down from what I was used to in other games.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Ysharros – Nothing in spam, so it looks like WP.com was just being a pain. On the game, there is a certain amount of relief to hear when other people are having the same problems. Misery loves company.


  13. zaphod6502

    @Wilhelm – I feel your pain. Elite Dangerous requires a fair amount of study and learning of controls.

    Then once you do you must appreciate the active energy management of your shields, weapons, and engines to be reasonable at fighting other ships.

    Then you must appreciate the nuances of slipstreaming and disengaging controls to allow you to shoot in different directions to that of your travelling direction.

    Then you must get to grips with the menu selection system in-cockpit which is not intuitive for new Elite players.

    Then you must account for the fact that your ship gives off an energy signature which may be used against you when other players hunt you down.

    Lastly you need to have a decent control system and having a HOTAS is the bare minimum to be competitive in this game (I recommend the Saitek X52Pro as a decent starter HOTAS).

    Enjoy! :)


  14. heavyb

    But the rewards. Ahh the rewards when you finaly is able to dock and sell those slaves. Ahh, dont give up and you will taste the sweet juice of success!


  15. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Andre – That set of references shows me a whole bunch of bindings I do not have. I have three options, not including “empty” and “custom.” I found the bit in the forums about how to add binding sets… which actually seems to point to the wrong path in the post… but have yet to actually find any to add.


  16. carson63000

    My experience matches yours.

    I loved Elite on my C64 back in the 80’s, and when this Kickstarter launched, I backed it instantly. Admittedly, a large part of that was guilt about the hundreds of hours I spent playing that pirated copy of Elite! But I really wanted to play E:D.

    I stayed clear of beta, and at launch I fired it up. I then spent an agonizing session spinning out of control, crashing into the walls of the space station, trying to move my mouse the necessary 0.1mm instead of the 0.2mm that caused me to spin out of control, all the while opening and closing help windows trying to figure out the controls. I then exited the game and vowed to return when I was in the proper frame of mind to approach it with patience and a desire to learn.

    That was a month and a half ago and I have not yet achieved that frame of mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. aquarionics

    It’s my opinion that the tutorials suck goats though monowire gauze.

    I gave up on the second combat tutorial, and started a real game. There, I was guided though the controls needed to pick up and land my craft, and went on my merry way. I’ve not got into the combat game yet – I run from pirates, or die fast – but you’re far better off getting used to the controls in open space *then* doing the combat tutorials.


  18. LexxieK

    I’m honestly baffled by how difficult some people have found Elite. I’m an old skool ’84 player too and therefore ancient and have no reactions left to speak of, but found it reasonably okay. The controls definitely need re-binding to something that suits you personally, and it isn’t a pick up and play game by any means, but it isn’t as impossible as some seem to be making it out to be, not by a long shot!

    I agree that the lack of in-game information and help can be a struggle if you’re only used to more modern games, but there is a manual linked directly from the launcher which explains pretty much everything you need, and the tutorials certainly help.

    I dunno, maybe it just hit a sweet spot with me that others missed. I’ve been playing ED since beta to the exclusion of pretty much everything else & can’t see me stopping anytime soon.

    All I would say is don’t be disheartened and give it another go. You never know, this time it might just ‘click’. for you.


  19. Sylow

    I am just reading that posting and am wonder where things went wrong for you. It is true that Elite Dangerous requires some effort to get into it. I also know that i at first try in my full optimism (aka “hey, i am a space sim vet, i don’t need those training wheels”) switched off flight assist, rotation assist and the likes and then of course destroyed myself on the inside walls of the space station. But once i enabled them i was able to get out of the space station even with mouse and keyboard on the next try, although i later dug out my old joystick and have to say that for me the game controls much better with that than with mouse and keyboard. (Although some friends of mine swear by mouse and keyboard even in that game. So tastes differ, but considering how well one of them fights with mouse and keyboard, they don’t seem to be a real disadvantage. )

    Thus all in all, i would say:
    – yes indeed, the game wants you to go through your control setup at the start. But as long as you did not switch it off, you have the checklist at launch which makes you press all important buttons, once, along with checking off what they are supposed to do.
    – Indeed, the first hour of the game you’ll be struggling with the controls of your ship, and indeed i even for the first week often felt that i was handling it clumsily. (Mind you, i achieved what i wanted to do, it just “felt” clumsy for me. )
    – I admit that i have one big advantage for playing it: i have two monitors. So for the first hours of playing, my second monitor displayed the keyboard layout of the game. I think having that quickly available helped me a lot. (If no second monitor is present, printing the keyboard layout and having the sheet of paper at hand might be a good idea. )

    That being said, none of my friends who tried the game had significant issues with controling the ship any more after a short adjustment period. (A hour or two on the first evening, when we all were kind of lost. ) Considering how awesomely the game turns out as spaceship simulator, it’s definitely worth it in my eyes.

    Where the game actually fails is playing with friends. Reasons for that are:
    – Starting positions are random and distances are huge. When my friends first turned up in the game, we had to see who was where and then determined a system which was somehow in the middle of all of us. There we met the next time, for it took some of us some hours to get there.
    – There is no grouping feature. (It is supposed to come soon, but for sure it’s not there yet. ) So if you go bounty hunting together, only the one doing the kill gets credit, the other gets nothing. There are no missions which are designed to be done in group, there is no way to be “connected” in space, so even if you fly together, one in a fighter the other in a freighter, the freighter can be interdicted (taken out of faster than light travel) and attacked by pirates while the fighter remains in the faster traveling mode and thus quickly is thousands of kilometers away.

    So all in all, if you primarily want to play this game with friends, you really have to still give it some time. But for solo playing i find it very enjoyable already right now.

    @mbp :
    On your question of docking, in principle docking is the very same way. In actual use, though, docking in E:D gives you much more freedom. Most ships even fit through the mail slot when turned 90° to the side and minor collisions don’t matter any more, while they immediately killed you in the old versions of Elite.

    Next to that the position of the entrance is much more obvious now (in case of doubt target the station, then you’ll even have arrows on the display of your target, where the entrance would be) and since the entrance slot is not just a rectangle on the surface any more, like in the old versions of Elite, but actually a modelled entrance, you can see at which angle you approach and get in without problems.

    @carson63000 :
    Let me bet, you did just the same as i did at first try, switching off all the “for babies only” stuff like flight assist and rotation control? They are there for a reason, though. They are the “AI” other people mentioned, which you switch on so you just tell the ship where to go and the ship does that. If you switch them off, you’ll basically control every thruster individually, and doing that is a very high challenge. (Also, the advantage you get from that is very minimal, it might at some time in a fight be a good idea to press the “flight assist off” button for a few seconds to be able to pull a turn without changing flight direction, but outside of that it’s really not worth the effort. )


  20. Steel Monkey

    Rather like you I experienced the difficulty curve on initial start up. The game got much easier to control once I got a list of what each button should do- I bought a HOTAS for $45 to play the game and it is now straightforward/ intuitive. That said I still fly into rocks, ships and stations… by design of course. The game is to me a combination of grind (getting money) and lots of fun blowing ships up/ being blown up/ losing money.

    I do remember one training mission which I could never finish… I could never find how to request docking permission. Now that’s easy (but still buried down 3 layers), I guess it’s just a question of learning. It is actually quite satisfying to have come so far up the mastery scale that now I can do what I want- most of the time.


  21. Sylow

    For those who consider docking the same, take a look at those two videos:

    I really think the newer Elite wins here, docking is much easier than in the original.


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  23. Alysianah Mystic (@Alysianah)

    I’m worrying about having the same issue with Star Citizen beyond the motion sickness I’m experiencing. However, I do know going it that it’s a space SIM and expect the flight controls to be difficult to master for non-sim fans. But I’m hoping that unlike ED, SC’s Squadron 42 RPG campaign does a good job and initiating us into space flight and combat.


  24. mmojuggler

    Thanks for the timely post! I’ve been eyeing this game, following the EliteDangerous subreddit, watching videos here and there, but now I have second thoughts. And think I’ll wait until I read that the tutorial improves. I don’t feel like spending time to practice docking since that isn’t the enjoyable gameplay for me.


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