Category Archives: Elite: Dangerous

Not So Elite and Dangerous Only to Myself

You are not prepared!

Illidan Stormrage, foreseeing my purchase of Elite: Dangerous

I am trying to give Elite: Dangerous the attention it deserves since I own a copy.  But it remains a difficult game for me to get a handle on.  Part of that is that it is one of those games that you really need to sit down with for a few hours and focus on, and part of that is because I like to play video games full screen on my single monitor… immersion you know, along with being able to actually see little fiddly bits of the UI… so the near constant need to tab out of the game in order to watch a video or find a command on a chart wears on me a bit.

Also, I am still sulking a bit that the game description speaks of all sorts of broad-stroke activities you can engage in, but fails to mention things like “the first time you successfully dock your ship it will feel like a major life accomplishment.”

But I persist.

Since my last post I haven’t hit many good stretches of time, but I found a couple and did manage to go back to the game.  Having fiddled with the tutorials and left feeling vaguely dissatisfied, I decided to just jump straight into the game.  Why not just bump around in real space?

And once I got into the actual game and was in the hangar and ready to undock for the first time, do you know what the game showed me?  It showed me a list of all of the relevant commands, right there on the screen as a checklist.  And the checklist displayed which buttons for the generic joystick settings (still could not find the specific in the settings for gamepad) activated the action and made me activate each and every control on the list before it would let me proceed.

Absolutely brilliant.  Best bit of interface I had seen up to this point.

Of course, that immediately raised the question as to why that wasn’t in any of the tutorials I had seen up to that point.

It also left me really wanting a way to toggle that option on so it came up every time I wanted to undock until I knew the commands by heart through sheer repetition.  No joy on that front.

Finally, I also wanted to take a screen shot of it so I could show everybody this brilliant bit, but Elite: Dangerous has mapped the screen shot function to the F10 key, something I only found out later.  Seriously, it is 2015 and somebody still thinks that the Print Screen key isn’t the go-to choice for screen shots?  Do they not have that key on keyboards in England?

Anyway, I eventually sorted that out and found where the game stored the pictures on my drive, but by then the moment had past.  The brilliant bit was gone and I was just there in the station ready to undock.

We're going into space!

We’re going into space!

Undocking was not that big of a deal, in part because I learned where the thrusters were thanks to the checklist.  I was able to lift off the pad and move around the station well enough.  I did have to go adjust the dead zone setting for the analog sticks on my gamepad.  The one that controls roll was still activating in the nominally neutral position, leaving me slowly rotating counter-clockwise even with my hands off the controls.

I got that settled, but found myself somewhat disoriented as to where I was around the station relative to the point from which I took off.  I carefully nosed around the station, trying not to hit it of the occasional passer by.

That looks like the place... I think...

That looks like the place… I think…

Since I had already committed to space, and since I hadn’t gotten as far in the tutorials as actually docking back up, I figured I might as well fly around.  I actually remembered how to get the frame shift drive engaged… the faster than light drive that allows travel amongst the stars… and lit out for parts unknown.  Or, at least parts unknown to me, which covers just about every part of the 400 billion star systems mentioned so prominently in the game description.

Going fast! Wheeeee!

Going fast! Wheeeee!

Off I went.  I even remembered to retract my landing gear. Of course I had no idea where I was going and no plan as to what I would do once I got there, but I was headed out.

Or I was for a while in any case.  An inconveniently placed star eventually put an end to my first space journey.

Well, that isn't going to do the paint job any good

Well, that isn’t going to do the paint job any good

Still, I felt like I had gotten out and done something.  Yes, it was pointless and futile and ended up with me dead, but what the hell.  I was back in Trevithick station and ready to undock again soon enough.

This time I spent a bit more time just maneuvering about the station trying to get myself lined up on things and generally watching the world go by.

I think that is a landing pad for docking...

I think that is a landing pad for docking…

Then, as I was close to the station and fumbling about for controls again, I managed to do something to annoy the station personnel and they commenced shooting at me.  I pointed myself away and poured on the acceleration, but found myself dead again.  But, again, what the hell?

This time though I actually stopped at the postmortem/revive report.

The financials of being a goof

The financials of being a goof

Apparently I wasn’t just starting fresh again.  It looked like wandering about space and wrecking my ship was adding a burden to my character and/or account.  I was not sure if 440 Cr a crash would be a minor inconvenience or might end up hamstringing my character going forward, so I decided that maybe I should go back to the tutorials for a bit.

Docking seemed to be an appropriate item to focus on, since undocking seemed to be a snap and everything else in between docking and undocking is just details.

The docking tutorial is the last one on the list.  Presumably somebody believes that unless you can survive all that other stuff, you won’t need to land.  Anyway, upon starting that tutorial I can confirm that the whole rotating station thing that was brought up in the comments does exist in Elite: Dangerous.  The tutorial puts you outside such a rotating station, explains how to request permission to dock… sort of, I had to go to the wiki to decipher it, but it tries… and then sends you on your way.

And I want to say right now that I totally aced matching rotation and getting into the station.

There was some margin for error, but I did it...

There was some margin for error, but I did it…

I was not only surprised that I managed it… probably my biggest achievement in the game up to that point… but I was also pretty impressed at how the whole thing looked.  It was very nice looking, worthy of playing full screen in a dark room for the full immersion effect.

Then there was just the detail of getting to the appropriate landing pad and actually landing.  I had to get to pad 12, which was highlighted.

Pad 12 is over there on the... floor... wall... something...

Pad 12 is over there on the… floor… wall… something…

Getting into the station was a snap.  Working my way over to the landing pad, placing myself over it, lining myself up, and actually landing was another story.  The station authorities are very fussy about people getting about their business and not hanging about.  Loitering is a serious crime, as is wandering over the wrong pad or letting your timer run down.

I made a few attempts, but I think I am missing something when it comes to camera controls.  There must be a way to see below you… and external camera or something… that I am missing.  Absent that, and thus only able to do this by looking straight forward, I tried to guide myself in by reference points on the far end of the station.  After a couple attempts that got me to the point where the landing pad data came up on the control screen.  However, I never managed to get myself aligned and on the pad in such a way that the process was declared complete or successful or whatever.  And then the timer ran down, my docking clearance was revoked and suddenly I was just loitering, a crime that warrants the destruction of your ship.

But at least it was just the tutorial, so I did not accrue any further debt… and it looked pretty neat.

I am clearly still in over my head, but I at least made some incremental progress.  And we’re getting version 1.1 of the game… today I think… though I am not sure that anything on the long list of fixes will help me.  A co-worker dug out a joystick with throttle he had stored away, so I might give that a try when next I have an appropriate sized block of free time to devote to Elite: Dangerous.

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.

EliteDangerous

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.