Flieger, grüß' mir die Sonne, grüß' mir die Sterne und grüß' mir den Mond. Dein Leben, das ist ein Schweben, durch die Ferne, die keiner bewohnt! - Hans Albers, F.P.1 antwortet nicht (Adaptation in the 80s: Extrabreit)

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Good bye Beta1

It has been an exciting time. Never before has a game inspired me so much to actually start writing about. And this is "just a beta"! I played it like a full grown game and it (almost) lived up to that. It is a joy to "fly in space" and the amount of choice and execution of choice worked (almost) flawlessly.

Of course, there were annoyances;
- the "hidden loading screen" when you enter and leave supercruise
- the suboptimal networking, which caused a very unsatisfying co-op or PvP game play
- some gamecrashing bugs
- the infamous insurance bug, which could cause you to loose your hard-worked fortune
- the gimbal-bug, rendering this powerful weaponry ineffective

But I think this was already all the nitpicking.

As this was my first experience in Elite: Dangerous, it will be always connected with the fondest memories about this game. Like "vanilla" WoW, participation in this beta1 will probably also be glorified as a hallmark of true "veterans".

I have only good words at this stage, less than I thought I wanted to write about it, but I think my 48 posts since the launch of beta1 speak on their own behalf.

Bye, beta1!

My last game session in beta1 yesterday was spent with PvP in the I-Bootis high conflict zone. I chide myself for not having noted all the CMDR names who I encountered, and some of them I already remembered from previous encounters.

At first I was back in my trusty Cobra, trying stealth combat, but had to realize that CMDRs did spot me way too quickly and consequently had an easy time shooting me down. There was one very exciting combat with a CMDR in a Viper, who won after I managed to get him down to 54% hull. He boosted away in his Viper, came back in stealth, which caused me to miss two full salvos of my 2xC4 cannons. He did not miss and the victory rightfully belongs to him! (It did not help that I started the fight with alreay only 57% hull, might have been decisive here). Good fight!
As a sidenote, I received the killing shot when he was already past me and I saw his Viper in profile; talk about laggy networking! I really hope this kind of stuff will be history from tonight onwards.

There were other fights were I got shot down before I even could see or identify the attacker. Indeed, sometimes the beta-client took about 30 seconds until it really showed anything, thereby leaving me in empty space, followed by an instant destruction when agressive CMDRs were around.

After some time, I switched to an Eagle, but after some tries I had to admit that there might be a reason why I see no CMDR fighting in one of those. They are simply too slow and have inferior weapon mounts. I really hope that the Eagle will get a buff in the new beta client! The only memorable moment was when I managed to stick to and stay at an CMDR´s Anaconda´s back, thanks to the Eagle´s superiour nimbleness; however, due to the poor weapon loadout, the Anaconda managed to jump away in time, despite of any masslock of me being close!

Even when there weren´t any CMDRs around, the NPC ships gave me a hard time, too. I still could manage two of them (with some loss of hull strength), but having three of them focus on me ended always in my destruction. Of course, the toothless Federation Fighters excluded. I like this, because this means that PvE combat will not become boring, thus I hope that Frontier will not tune down the current difficulty level. However, NPCs also cheat a bit; the initially present ships were never to my downfall, it was rather the respawn, usually directly behind me, which immedeately attacked me. Accordingly, my opposition of both factions at the same time did work out, as long as there were no respawn. It was not rare that there were three or four ships jumping in directly behind me and instantly opening fire on me. I had to go back to choosing sides in order to stay on the battlefield a bit longer, and even then those reinforcements got me quite some times.

All in all, during the last three game sessions, I engaged almost only in PvP/PvE. In those three nights, I never managed to shoot down any other CMDR, but was shot down plentyfully (and I suppose gleefully) by many a Viper commander. I might be not skilled enough, it might be the stupid networking issues of the beta1 client, it might be that I almost exclusively encountered - and refused to fly myself - the (overpowered) Viper with a (definitely overpowered) 4-cannon loadout (the famous "Shotgun-Viper"). But I hope this practice as an underdog made me a better pilot, and I hope to profit from this practice, once the playing field is going to be more balanced.

However, I have to admit, at the end of last game session, I felt a bit of frustration and indeed toyed with the thought to get back into a shotgun Viper. I am glad that the new beta client arrives in time, with new things to explore, because I suspect my playstyle lead me already again down to that kind of brainless gameplay which I wanted to avoid. Ultimately, beyond the fleeting joy of the moment, spending your time in conflict zones only, solo, is a waste of time, bar of any notable achievement.

For tonight, I really hope that Frontier gets the thing quickly installed, not so late as last time, when I had to wait until 10pm until the beta1 client was finally ready. Can´t wait!!!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Some quick combat blogging

I am playing more than I can write. Time contraints. Here a quicklog, drawn up from rather incomplete and hastily scribbled notes.

First game session found me doing PvE/PvP exclusively, with my Cobra (2xC2 gimballed pulse lasers, 2xC4 cannons). I chose the Eranin high conflict distress signal. I chose Eranin side to start with, because just attacking everybody would be probably  too much to handle alone. I logged several engagements with CMDRs.

- CMDR ? (Viper) flees after me 75% and him 64% hull without shields.
- CMDR Gesar destroys me by collision; no way to know if I got him, too.
- 2 CMDR vanish before I can get close
- 4 CMDRs, obviously Fed side, I am dead before I have scanned even one. Killscreen says "CMDR Dagobah"
- No CMDRs on my radar, but I am dead within fractions of seconds while I engaged a Fed Anaconda. Killscreen does not give any name ("your ship has been destroyed").
- Encounter CMDR Dagobah again, after a short wrestle I am destroyed by something but killscreen does not show any name again.
- Killed again in fractions of second, radar showed no CMDR ship, killscreen says "killed by CMDR Dagobah".

As I approach the distress signal once again, I get contacted by said CMDR Dagobah, wants me to join Fed side. Sure, why not, my mission is to interdict all sides concerned, after all.

- Join side with CMDR Dagobah, but he has to jump due to NPC fire; I destroy the rest but he does not return.
- CMDR Dagobah with 3 other CMDRs, but I get engaged and destroyed by several NPC Eranin Sidewinders. Embarrasing.

After this inderlude, I seem to have lost my new short ally. I realise that when destroyed you always start at the last station you docked, not the station of the system you go killed in. So I dock now in Azeban, because until now I always started from Asellus Prime. A new Cobra costs me 9.000 Credits, so it is really no problem to get killed at this point in the game. Joining Eranin side again.

- CMDR Kydechner in an Anaconda. I engage, but even though I thought I had avoided his frontguns, he manages to destroy me; not sure though because the killscreen does not show his name. Must be gimbals? Indication of being hit is very scarce, sometimes ships rubberband away from each other, so it is almost impossible to stick close to a ship.

- Killed by NPC again, by ramming this time. Embarrasing.
- CMDR Michael Searle disengages before meaningful combat can start.

From here on, I read in the ED forum that new conflict zones have appeared close to I Bootis´ station Chango Dock. Those are much closer to the station, so time to get there again is at least halved. From now on I join Fed side.

- Killed by NPC. Rrragh. Did I loose skill or what? If three Sidewinders have pinned you down it is very difficult to get the turn around; you have to realize a situation like this very quickly in order to still be able to boost to safety.
- CMDR Fromtonrange. Quite a chap. There are four CMRD and even before I have chosen side, he attacks and destroys me within two or three seconds.
- Some NPC only encounters.
- CMDR Fromtonrange again. I marked him as kill-on-sight and shoot him without having chosen sides yet. He boost out of range and jumps, though. Strange, even I chose Fed side after that, they remain yellow, but Eranin becomes red.
- Killed by NPC again.

With this I quit my Friday night session. Saturday night is as follows.

I am a bit tired from battle. I notice that when I try to engage CMDR Higgs Bosson and he escapes. Next engagement is NPC only and then I quit combat. I am tired and yearn for something more calm and relyable. After some pondering I decide to buy again a Lakon9. I did not fly this thing since I received my EDtracker for true "head turning" in the cockpit, and it should be gorgeous in combination with the Lakon9´s full round view cockpit.

Checking ranges via the "mission bulletin board" method (they show the range of your ship):
- empty gives 18,something ly
- 4 C2 missiles still give 18,something ly
- Full cargo of 440 drops it to 13,12 ly

I fly a mission with computer components to Draconis h, fully excpecting that I would also make a good price for the rest of my cargo hold with computer components. Unfortunately, this is not the case, I would have to sell them with a loss there. So I fly back to Aulin.

Slopey´s trading tool has been taken offline due to an interdiction of Frontier. They say it makes the game buggy. Fortunately, Slopey tells me in the forum, I can still use the current accumulated data, it will just not update. This is enough for me; I just need a rough idea which system has a good demand or supply of certain goods. It works fine for the last of the session.

- 435 units computer components from I Bootis sell in Aulin for a profit of 125 k Cr.
- Terrain enrichments cost 3900 Cr in Aulin and sell in Eranin for 5500 Cr, for a total profit of 706 k Cr.
- I repeat that single-run, going back empty because Eranin is so totally sold out on everything. The profit is still worth it.

- After five repetitions, I notice a profit-drop of 50 k Cr. The terrain enrichments are still in high supply for almost unchanged price in Aulin, but demand in Eranin is now medium. I use this occasion to find a similar high demand, and guess from Slopey´s old data that Opala might be it.
- Bingo, Opala buys for a profit of 700 k Cr again. Better yet, I can bring Fish (440 Cr.) back to Aulin (895 Cr.) and make an extra 175k Cr.

Unfortunately, after another run, Opala´s demand of terrain enrichment systems has already dropped to medium, and my profit dropped accordingly to 575 k Cr. With this, I decide to call it a night. I probably should have waited until the next session in order to sell my stuff, but this could also backfire and I am content with the profit from this game session. My cash accounts now for 14 million Credits, plus I own a 3 m Cr. worth of a Lakon9 (accounted from resale of the Cobra).

As a summary, combat zones are now cranked up with other CMDR´s presence, however, the PvP suffers still from glitches like rubberbanding, invisibility, instantkills without visualisation of being hit firstplace. It still is fun, but I can imagine a lot of frustration if this is not fixed in the new beta client which arrives on Tuesday.
Trading was as fun as it used to be, a bit more guesswork because of Slopey´s tool not being able to update with ingame data anymore. Without any Slopey, having to log every commodity manually would become too tedious for me. I really hope the trade-route ingame tool will be fully functional from Tuesday onward!

PPF - Pilot Peace Forces

I think this whole Eranin-Federal conflict thing made me find my "ethical" stance in this game. Here is my idea:

In EVE Online, there is currently a kind of centrally steered event in where the four factions gradually loose more and more political and official control of space, to the capsuleers i.e. the players. This is the background story for CCPs policy to enable players to produce every single in game item by themselves. From the odd salvaged rigg to the largest space station, everything.

Frontier has repeatedly stated that they do not want players to become dominant (pseudo-)political - or rather, anarchic - parties (aka warlords) in space. Frontier will uphold general control via the three main factions, but players will be able to "tip the scale" in selected and centrally steered events.

The ongoing story about the Eranin-Federal conflict is their first attempt at this new kind of live-steered world-community shaping. This is very, very innovative and to commend highly. Elite is elite in almost every aspect of game creation. I could discuss now on several pages how this reflects the need to steer human society, lest you land in anarchic situations like EVE Online represents for most of its ingame social aspects. But not here, not today.

I stated in my last post that I do not really enjoy choosing sides in a war which more resembles to real life idiocies, i.e. civil war about meaningless stuff when all what is needed is some talks and agreements so that everybody can be content. Every day I see the happy smile of my daughter, it reminds me that in fact it should be to our everyone´s obligation to exclude any person who has not for his primary goal a peaceful world, to spread unconditional love in a Christian or any other sensible religion´s sense. To my logic, this, and only this, is the way to sustain, advance and elevate humanity in an otherwise soulless universe (just go watch "Contact", if you want to see a further elaboration on this).

Thus, the emerging CMDR statements in GalNet issues of 24-9-2014 and 25-9-2014 leave a bad taste in my mouth. Similarly, I am very much disinterested by Frontier introducing some virtual ambassadors and presidents, launching some pseud-political role playing. This already and quickly went stale for me in EVE, although it survives, somehow, there until today. Sorry, not my cup of tea.

But there is something I can do. We can shape this virtual world. We can endeavour to play the game in a way that we are happy and content. This, in fact, is our primary reason to play a relaxing game and take a break from our daily life.

So, I hereby create a Pilot Peace Force. Since I am not much a fan of needless organisation and hierarchy, every CMDR can consider himself as part of these forces, by the mere act of aligning him or herself with the same ideals and principles as follows.

1. The PPF is there to interdict any war. Whoever crosses the line and shows up with military ships, i.e. ships which are clearly designed and get positioned in areas which clearly go beyond mere self defense, should be obliterated. This is not to be your main goal, but you shall follow this principle by and complement whatever your activities are.

2. The PPF is not there to interdict CMDRs from doing whatever they deem best for themselves. Piracy, smuggling, chosing a faction and gain influence and standing. Everybody is free, as this is the goal of the game, namely to observe and test behaviour, knowledge at certain goals to be set by your own interests. However, the PPF will combat CMDRs if their path crosses the principle of enforcing peace between the in-game factions. No hard feelings, it is just the rules I hereby set.

3.Think of PPF als a old school roleplay "neutral", "neutral good" alignment. So, if you act, make sure that conflict is settled or at least tuned down to non-opressive levels.

The ethic behing this is simple: The CMDRs rule the sky. If they hazzle with each other, it is their choice by being a CMDR first place. The Factions, though, represent in this world the "normal citizen". They are not to be drawn into our or any machinations, and if they join, then by choice and only for themselves. A general war or civil unrest does not fall into this category and is thus to be interdicted.

So, yes. Welcome to the PPF.

Friday, 26 September 2014

In search of Eranin conflict

This is the ongoing event at the end of the beta1 client, and I reckon it is also a test for Frontier´s event management for the final game. Unfortunately, I find it a bit difficult to follow. The GalNet newletter contains some hints, and apparently we are left to figure out how this is connected to which in game mechanics. Not a bad approach, a little guesswork challenge. At the same time, like this, Frontier keeps some kind of control about what happens in their world, thereby also steering the spirit of the community; if they do it right. Not bad, not at all.

So, what is going on?

"Eranin is flaunting its freedom in the face of Federal systems by announcing a celebratory liquor produced in Eranin and its fellow independent communist system Wyrd.  In response the Federation has banned liquor in the local area and deployed many black ops teams around the systems, which has even disrupted our own Black Market data gathering this week." - GalNet 19-9-2014
Means: Eranin sells a special commodity, Eranin liquor. It is illegal in Federal space, so you have to smuggle it (which means you must avoid scans lest you are shot at by police vessels) and accordingly you can only sell it at black markets.
Means: Federal space black markets have high prices for personal weapons (and probably other civil war related commodities), and similar to the liquor, this is a above average opportunity for CMDRs to make some profit.

"The net result, however, is a significant militarization of the ships out there around two thirds of all trade-ins to the Cobra have been from trading ships like the Lakons and the ZP Hauler. Thats an awful lot more combat capability flying round the galaxy" - GalNet 22-9-2014
Means: Half price Cobra, doh. Also, may hint at upcoming combat heavy event?

GalNet of 23-9-2014 reports how the community has taken up the incentives, naming specific CMDRs who achieved top scores in various activities, thereby further incentivicing CMDRs to become part of this innovative way of publishing a top score list. Not bad, not bad at all.

"The Eranin government wants to see even more destinations targeted with the now-symbolic liquor to spread support for their cause. Off the record they are also keen for more practical assistance from Commanders in fighting." - GalNet 24-9-2014

Means: The community should try to look beyond trading liquor only the black market at I Bootis. Consequently, a CMDR in the forum hints that Wyrd to LS 3262 is a underused smuggle route, and the next GalNet reported about the stong increase of smuggling activities throughout, in particular also from Wyrd.
Means: The community should engage more at the conflict zones for the Eranin side. No idea why, though. Beyond the easy bounties of 250 Credits for each Federal fighter, there seems to be no connection to any Event based scoring. Well, beyond the number of kills, obviously.

Besides that, this issue continues to report top scores and pseudo-political statements of various CMDRs. Probably a bit over the top, in my opinion; I am very sad at the ongoing war in the Ukraine and the near east in real life and I do not need blatant re-enactment of civil war situations and the corresponding idiotic fanatism crap and propaganda. I just want some easy going action without meaningless pseudo-ethical mumbo jumbo. If they want to go really ethical, then I want to be able to truly choose sides and be able to achieve the right things. So, right now, I choose to stay out of crap like this. There is no way to sanction war activities. Maybe I will find one, maybe by attacking every military vessel I can find (I have to think about this a bit more, there might come something more out of these thoughts...).

"Black Ops teams are moving to more overt than covert operations in support of the rebels...
We are getting reports of Eranin-supporting agitators whipping up political unrest in the following Federal starports:
  • Chango Dock (i Boötis)
  • Louis de Lacaille Prospect (LHS 3262)
  • Romanenko Estate (Opala)
  • Moxon's Mojo (Bolg)
Meanwhile, there are whispers of covert Federal activity in Asellus Primus and Wyrd." - GalNet 25-9-2014

Means: No idea. It is the most mysterious newsletter for me so far.

I docked at Chango and did not notice anything which could be linked to "political unrest" at this station.

In the meanwhile, I had spend some time in the Eranin conflict zone "Federal distress call". First time in, I chose the Eranin side and shot down those easy Fed fighters until I reached overall 400 kills. One of the last fighters proved to be particular difficult, though. That bugger rammed me and thus brought me down to 10% hull, while itself largely undamaged. I had to fight very carefully from then on. Then all fighters were gone and respawn was very slow, so I went out to drop in back again into a different instance. And lo and behold, the new instance had plenty of Federal fighters, but almost no Eranin sidewinders. The reason became quickly apparent: Two Anaconda class ships, with CMDR Epoch71 and CMDR CP.

Temptation was there, and in hindsight, I am annoyed that I did not give in. I had not chosen my side yet, so all entities were neutral/yellow to me still. As such, I just approached them while still being yellow. I should have chosen Eranin side and tried to combat both Anacondas. I might have perished quickly, but I also might have achieved success; since I would have started from close-up, there might have been a chance to stick to one of them and maneuver such that it would block firing position for both of them. However, with just pulse lasers, I would have needed an eternity to whittle down even one of them. Besides, my hull still was at 10%. So I probably did the right thing and chose Federal side this time. But I regret the missed opportunity for some really impossible-level challenge. After some Sidewinder kills, I left the zone and docked at Eranin to cash in all the bounty vouchers from my Eranin-side fights; some 11.000 Credits, minus repairs of 4200 Credits. Yes, this is much more easy on the portemonnaie then if I had been in an Anaconda...

After my desire for some action had been stilled, I went back to Asellus Prime in order to see if there are new special missions from the bulletin board, but nope. I then tried to discover what could be behind the hint from GalNet about those "Federal activities" in Asellus Prima and Wyrd, but no luck. I remember that I once discovered a kind of staging point for Federal fleet forces, at a nav beacono close to the I Bootis twin sun; a bit farther out to not disturb and remain a bit hidden. In consequence, I tried to travel to Asellus Prime´s twin sun, which also is a bit farther out, in order to probably uncover an event-based similar staging point.

However, the twin sun is 0,17ly out there and supercruise only accelerates to a maximum of maybe 1000 lighseconds/second. The speed indicator on the hud shows speed increases well beyond 1000c, but this does not correspond to what the ship is really doing. I eyeballed the 1000ls/s-value from the distance increase per second from Asellus Prime A, as shown in the rightmenu. If my (bad) math is correct, this corresponds 1000 lightminutes/minute. Which means that 0,17ly or 365days*24hours*60minutes*0,17 = 89.352 lightminutes would need to be covered and supercruise, which would accordingly need 89.352 lightminutes/1000 lightminutes/minute = 89 minutes to get there. Nah. I do not have the time to travel there this long just based on a hunch. Besides, this might be a bit too far off for Federation forces, too.

Well, today is Friday, and maybe a new GalNet issue plus the weekly newsletter will sehd some more light on the unfolding events.

Thursday, 25 September 2014


Coming back home late, being very tired, I still need some closure, which is best achieved amongst the stars. My Cobra waits for me and I go into an immediate launch. Toggling head turn on, my EDtracker reliably turns my whole vision 90 degree left - it always does at the startof a session, until I click this particular button, on top of my headset, right next to the light bulb. Click. As my vision returns towards the front, I barely have the time to admire the station wall from very up close. I had accelerated without thinking. Unfortunately, Elite: Dangerous ships do not allow for a kind of counter-boost, and amount of normal slowing down can save me at that moment. I briefly hope that my shields can compensate the impact, but in vain. A carousell of flames, then the black-white insurance screen pops up.

Annoyed, I click in my Cobra and confirm. This was my next mistake; I forgot to click also on the loadout, and as a reward, the insurance company refunds me only a non-outfitted Cobra hull. Great, great, this bodes well for the evening.

Here in the Opala system, only basic equipment is offered. And I shudder to think about how many stations I have to dock until the random generator graciously offers again a kill warrant scanner (I am probably mentally damaged from my times with EVE online, until before I had found or was close to the one-stop-shop in Jita). In the end, I launch with 2xC4 pulse lasers and 2x C1 gimballed pulse lasers. Not even a heat sink launcher.

The plan for this late and brief session is to engage into some banditry. Shoot freighters, collect their loot, sell it at a black market. The nav beacon, which every system has close to the sun is ideal. And in order to not collect bounties on myself, it needs to be in an anarchy system. I hyperjump to LP 98-132. An unidentified signal on my way to the nav beacon yields a lucky find; 10 units of gold. In my tired state, I manage to destroy two of them; apparently, when you approach a cargo container too fast (even before the scoop gives you that "high speed" alarm), it gets destroyed even when well targeted into the scoop.

At the nav beacon, my Cobra soon grabs a Hauler, which drops some domestic appliances and other stuff barely worth the effort. Well, I have free cargo space, so I might as well scoop it; the process is much faster and easier than with an Anaconda. Before I can really get at it, my shields start to flicker from enemy gunfire. Who? A NPC Sidewinder? How dares he?! I retract the scoop while accelerating and maneuver myself into firing position. Before I can really get into it, another yellow blip on my radar turns red. It is an Anaconda. A little challenging, now. I am undecided whether the cargo is worth the fight. No. I easily boost out of range. Then again, yes, at least the challenge is worth it. So I get close again. But the Sidewinder NPC has a good scripting; despite several tries of mine, it does not boost after me and thus ahead and away from the Anaconda, so I still have to deal with both of them at the same time. However, I am lucky, as a second NPC Anaconda decides to intervene on my behalf and opens fire on the enemy Anaconda. Unfortunately again, this does not deter the enemy Anaconda from loosing me as its target.

An Anaconda sometimes turns surpisingly fast and also this one, it opens fire only a few seconds after I myself managed to dodge it and to get into firing position for the Sidewinder. There are quite some minutes of wrestling, in which I loose shields and some hull to the Anaconda´s fire, before I can finally obliterate that pesky Sidewinder. Then I turn towards the Anaconda. It is only left at 10% hull, and the kill goes to my unexpected NPC ally Anaconda.

After this challenging combat, I dock at Freeport to repair and sell my stuff on the black market. Roughly 40.000 Credits sell value minus 3.000 Credits repair cost, an ok profit calculation. Before I launch, I hear something which sounds like an ongoing space battle. Maybe something worth to investigate! Unfortunately, once I have lifted off far enough so that the landing pad display does not obfuscate the radar anymore, there is no sight of combat nor loot. I exit the station and am a bit undecided what to do now.

Then I spot a Lakon Type 6 on landing approach. A perfect victim! After a few shots, the ship spills its cargo and I let it escape narrowly over the station´s frame. It is a lot of cargo, and I spot some valuables amongst it; personal weapons and combat appliances. The scooping proves to be a challenging process. Those containers are very, very close to the station, so close in fact that I wonder why they do not collide. The station fills all my view and makes any estimation of speed and course difficult. Just a firm look on the cargo scoop reticule helps me retain any navigational sanity.

After quite a while, my cargo hold is filled with 30 units of the more valuable stuff. Docking again in Freeport, the black market is a bit of a cheapskate. Only 2000 Credits per unit of personal weapons? Weird. This is when I remember the ongoing event with the Federation and Eranin. The latter party offers special Eranin liquor which can be smuggled to Federation systems, the former was said to have increased black market traffic for weapons. This could probably mean that the black market in I Bootis (Federal system) might offer more for my stash? Until now, I am not aware that black markets can, like the normal commodity market,  actually have different price ranges at different stations. It is worth a try. However, two problems. I would need to bring stolen goods into a police enforced system, with the risk of being shot down. And this risk is most probably exacerbated because I Bootis is one of the super busy systems, usually accompanied by extended periods of "docking denied". Not good with a cargo hold full of stolen goods.

No matter, Elite is dangerous and this is a welcome challenge. Hyperjump via Eranin to I Bootis, then enter "low heat stealth". This means I reduce the ship´s heat emission to 0% by shutting off ship modules and take most of the long apporach vector in this condition. Shortly before reaching the docking perimeter, I request landing and go into full stealth (i.e. shutting the heat emitters) in order to mask the raised heat which comes from activating drives and maneuvering. Then it is a question of luck when I can enter.

Executing this plan, I find to my pleasure that it works out perfectly. The station denies docking only for three times, and during this time, I wait unstealthed but with 0% emissions under the shadow of the station, fairly cofident that I am not able to be scanned from afar. Then I get clearance and can enter the station unmolested. Even though I indeed receive a scan warning, it comes so late that I am already far inside the station and the scan thus gets never completed. And, bingo, the black market at Chango Station indeed pays much better, about 4500 Credits for each unit of personal weapons. All in all, this run nets me roughly a profit of 100.000 Credits.

Fueled by success, I want to repeat this. Using the opportunity of a richly staffed outfitting screen, I equip all mounts with gimbal pulse lasers, a heat sink, and am also lucky to find a kill warrant scanner. Then I jump back to LP 98-132 and fool around some time at the sun´s nav beacon, some unidentified signals and finally in Freeport station´s perimeter. However, I don´t have a second streak of luck. Instead, the gimbal bug is back, and two of my four gimballed pulse lasers do not behave gimballed anymore.

At one time, I encounter a player, scan him and discover a smallish bounty on him. I open fire, but the ship vanishes. I so much hope that this will be the past with the next beta client. After that, nothing exciting happens anymore and it is very late again and I log off.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Cobra session

A half price Cobra, coupled with the wish to use my EDtracker in a cockpit with a better view, made me sell my beloved Anaconda. Wow, I say. I am so used by now to the clumsy steering of the Anaconda that the Cobra feels like a flash.

Starting in Eranin, I sell the terrain enrichment systems which I left in my hold at the end of my last game session. Prices were too low then, and now they are back up with a high demand and I am able to profit 300.000 Credits for 228 units. With a load of Grain, course is set to Aulin, where the Cobra sells. On my way to the station in Aulin, two unidentified signals identify as wanted ships and the bounties yield me 1400 Credits. An interdiction (they are much rarer these days than they used to be), sports a yellow Eagle with a big mouth, but it warps out when my Anaconda shows its teeth.

Having bought the Cobra, my cash is up to 12 million Credits; a nice financial cushion for things to come in beta2, I hope. There are no indications so far that Frontier would reset the accounts.

The Cobra´s jump range without any equipment is 9,08 ly. When you select a mission in the bulletin board, it shows the range required for the mission and your ship´s current jump range. Added 10 tons of military armor reduces the range to 9,03 ly. Fully equipped with 2xC3(g)multicannons, 2xC2missiles, the range drops to 7,7 ly. In Beta2, we will be able to modify the ship´s equipment like the frameshift drive, so we will be able to play a bit around to achieve an optimal range. For now, 7,7 ly is enough to reach the next anarchy system of LP 98-132.

My plan for this session is combat, and in order to spice it a bit up, I want to reproduce what Isinona found out about the kill-warrant scanner. However, I found that it works reliably only in said asteroid field. When I tried it at the nav beacon near the sun, I did not get any bounty vouchers even though a blue message popped upn [Addendum later: Now it works also at the nav beacon, must have been a bug].While trying so at the nav beacon, I was in a shooting competition with CMDR Cams Lamenance. It was a bit confusing there anyways. First, I dropped out of hyperspace a split second after I had overshot and thus lost lock and thus I was about 80km away. I boosted in with FAoff and used the time to play around with stealth/heat settings. When I arrived, said dogfights were already happening and some cargo floated around. Trying to collect the more valuable titanium, I found myself being shot by an NPC. Since I had come freshly out of stealth, my shields were down and I was at 85% hull at the end. After about 10 NPCs which I had scanned and then shot, got the blue message that I had received a bounty but never was accounted for any voucher or cash, I gave up. On top of it, in some confusion with my module settings my cargo scoop was still offline, so I sat there helpless in front of some valuable personal weapons while CMDR Lamenance happily scooped them up in front of my nose.

Finally in the nav point of the extraction site, I could finally confirm that the k-warrant scanner indeed makes you get bounties in an anarchy system. I collected quite a number of them, but I also wasted all of my missiles. Coming to the end of my game session, I docked in Freeport. My railguns and missiles were empty and I wanted to get rid of the stolen titanium. Then I jumped to Asellus, Eranin and I Bootis in order to cash in the various bounties. Net gain: -6000 Credits. Whut? Missiles/ammo: -19.000 Credits, bounties: +13.000 Credits. Sigh. I will book it as a nice experience (the cockpit view is indeed much better with the EDtracker) and combat training.

My game session was riddled with some well known bugs. Having to repeatedly request docking times 10 at several stations, wasting a lot of my time, and encountering at least five CMDR ships which just vanished the moment when I wanted to target them. In fact, both bugs seems to be worse than ever before. I really hope that the beta2 client brings substantial improvements here.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Bridgeing time

Concerning Elite: Dangerous, it is a kind of bridgeing time. The Beta2 client will launch hopefully on 30 September. Until then, Frontier has launched its 10-day event to celebrate the 30th birthday of the first Elite computergame. Every day a little surprise for us fans. First day was a free emulator version of the original Elite. The second day apparently added some more story-line oriented missions to the mission generator; the conflict between Eranin and the Federation gets more tense. Yesterday, the Cobra was made available at half price. I am curious how this will be continued. But for now, I am left musing. 30 years, this is basically all my days from out of childhood. Some things form you and very apparently, Elite has left its mark on many a childs memories and dreams.

I have never played the original Elite; at that time my parents were strict and disallowed any computer game machine in our house. There was a ping pong game, though. Another tentative try from my Dad included an Atari telegame (not the 2600 version, something newer but I do not remember it, I just had the machine for two days), but it was discontinued when my parents found me abusing the machine for hours. I think the first game I played on it was called "Atlantis", basically endless-waves of enemies to be shot down above the city of Atlantis; as an alternative to the left and right SAM gun, you could launch a sentinel flying saucer with limited fuel. I crashed it too often and found that with the proper rythm, the SAMs were largely enough. Inevitably, Atlantis would be overwhelmed and sink, though. This was my kind of personal Kobajashi Maru Test, hoping that at some level beyond 100 I would beat it, but neither did I have the time to play on nor the option to reprogram it. Also, there was a little co-op car raceing game, which I remember fondly. Sometimes, my brother and me got our hands on a borrowed C64, but all I remember from this machine is the game "Archon", a chess-like board game where the playstones were fantasy figures or monsters which would engage in shooting/melee combat when challenged. So, overall no opportunity to engage in a very complex game as Elite was already at that time.

Up until I would dabble into virtual reality, I remained firmly in the realms of pen&paper fantasy role playing games, starting with "Das Schwarze Auge" (somehow, I do not like what it has become nowadays, a totally different game and ruleset). A bit later, all my current knowledge of English was seeded when my Dad brought me a old used copy of the orignal D&D. Since then, I had seen a lot of different RPGs.
Our computer game times really started when my dad had his first "PC10 pro", a derivate of the infamous IBM machines produced by Commodore. "Nethack", a derivate of the famous Rogue-type games (in my particular version you could play a Jedi Knight and a Tourist, both of which´s figures´ literature originals I only encountered later in my life) and a "Star Trek", programmed in GWBASIC (i.e. the lines were typed in by my bro and me from one those books), were our first companions. At the end of high school, I got access again via a class comrade to a video game console, the Sega Mega Drive. "Thunderforce II", "Ghouls and Ghosts", "Phantasy Star II" and "Golden Axe" dominate my memory from that time. I still sometimes play female elven characters named "Nei", still remember the fiery dragon breath which would wipe the screen from enemies, and, needless to say, I was able to play one session of Ghouls&Ghosts and Thunderforce II and Golden Axe from start to end without loosing a single life. Crazy, I know, but for me those were significant challenges to master, and I could do them in-between without much preparation, without the kind of time consuming and tiring preparation of getting your gear, walking or biking to the location, keeping fixed appointments, coordinating with other people, etc., which prevents or reduces so many of the possible real-life activities in our densely-pressed schedules. It seems that computer games are part of the answers of our generations; densely pressed game experiences for a densely pressed modern world. It was, for me, and they gave me freedom, choice, as well as challenges. My first virtual worlds.

Anyways, getting back to today. Anticpation led me to fire up Elite: Dangerous again. And here I am, in my trusty new Anaconda, after that slight misunderstanding with Abetti Platform scrapped my last one. I am down to 3 million Credits, so something needs to be done about it, I thought. So this game session was dedicated to various trade runs, whereby I could experience the new volatility of the market where Slopey´s Trading Tool would not work out my profit as reliable as I was used to before. Sometimes an indicated profit of 200.000 Credits would be naught, probably because some other player just depleted of oversaturated stocks. No matter, I chose the trade runs because I felt rusty and wanted to get back into the pilot seat. Simple lessons like not forgetting to refuel at a station had to be re-learned. I crossed the beta1-cluster all directions, rather unfocused from a profiteer´s point of view, but I was tired and basically it was just about re-experiencing the fabulous experience of flying a personal space craft, which Elite: Dangerous manages so well to create.

I also noted that Rand Haginen, one of the "TEST: mostly harmless" alliance guys I had met some time ago, was honoured in Frontier´s newsletter #41 with his DeathStar-trench-racing stunt in an Eagle with an Oculus set-up. Well done! This also kind of pinces me to look into their TS server again to see what´s up in the mean while. But currently, I am not in a very social mood.
I also totally liked the design screenshot of the Emperial Courier. Stylish, white and clean; kind of Apple-tech like, as a guy in the ED forums remarked.

My next session has to be dedicated to re-learning combat, I am sure that I am very rusty by now. Incoming also the birthday surprise offer of a Cobra at half price, I feel this could be the occasion to explore a bit more of a Freelancer style of play, looking out for gold in Anarchy systems and maybe also trying out the kill-warrant scanner, of which Isinona finally found a good use for. This is what I like about this guy; not the hot-shot flight-assist-off flying style per se, but his inventiveness of how he uses the meta game within the mood and fiction of the game. I have to admit that my kind of meta-gameing oftenly catapults me right out of the game, into bordeom and grind. So, I highly appreciate incentives on how to get back into the virtual world itself, its "mood".

What I feel I should do is make a new plan, on how to prepare for the new Beta2 client and how to use the current beta to find out what route I want to take. The scope of the final game is mind boggling. You cannot do everything in there anymore, it is just too much. This kind of contradicts how I approached computer games in the past. A nice controlled environment which would allow me total control and to explore every possiblility. This seems to be less the case with more modern games, in particular online games. When I first played "Sacred", it already drove me crazy that all the enemies which I had cleared out meticulously respawned the next time I left town. So, finite control will probably not anymore be an option with Elite: Dangerous? We will see; on some level, there has to!

Which "Elite" reputation should I go for? Which sector of space should I roam amognst the 400 billion star systems? Which should be my favourite ship setup? For which faction should I aim for a good standing? Which alliances should I look for to complement best-fun experience? Questions, questions, and I have no answers yet. But still some bridgeing days left to figure them out. I guess this is what you could call playing a computer game without playing it at the computer.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Hobus Souvereign

Firing up Star Trek Online, my goal is to take my Starfleet Captain tonight to level 40 and finally get to the really big tier 5 ships. My tier 4 cruiser annoys me already a bit. I had chosen the more bulky looking Envoy class, with a black hull plating. The little graphic glitch which showed windows floating in space apart from the neck annoyed me a lot, I saw it every time coming out of warp. Am I nitpicky? Maybe, also the slow turning rate is going on my nerves; I never seem to be able to fire my forward torpedo and make use of the high-yield ability.

My mission briefing sends me to Hobus, to investigate the cause why the system went supernova, and especially why this supernova´s fallout travelled at multiple light speed via subspace and destroyed the Romulan´s homeworlds before tehy could evacuate. It turns out to be a very challenging mission, especially the space fight. A D´deridex cruiser uncloaks, and while at first neutral, the next time it uncloaks it immediately attacks me. And it is cheating, I believe. How is it possible to launch 4 or 5 plasma torpedoes in a row? They eat through my shields and bring my hull dangerously close to give in. I dimly remember having seen a player firing crazy torpedo swarms like this, but I am at a loss which layout and skills are involved. This D´deridex for sure has also plasma beams, so it cannot be due to mounting torpedo launchers only.

On top of it, this particular NPC commander chooses to run away via cloak. Finally, some intellligent behaviour. And to reappear, again, and again. Two more times he reappears throughout the mission, the last time after I finished the ground mission, after fending off three waves of T´varo light warbirds. And he actually manages to destroy my ship this time. I was too close and shields were too low when another one of these 4 plasma-in-a-row crap happened. Damn. It sure feels like cheating when the game just lets you restart again and again. You can literally wipe through all of the content. Even when playing on advanced difficulty, those few permanent injuries are a good idea to have but it does not really alleviate the issue.

As the D´deridex finally implodes into its singularity core (and I do have to wonder why he did not run away vie cloak, this time!) one particular piece of loot drops, which is going to alleviate my main issue with the cruiser, namely its slow turning. The console is of bue/rare quality and my tired eyes see it sports a 26% buff on turning rate! Fantastic! I do not exactly know how the %tage boni are calculated, but 26% on a turning rate of 7 makes it close to 9, plus my warp core skills, and I should bring the cruiser closer to what an unbuffed escort or science vessel can do.

This mission also reqards me with a major plot reveal, beyond of what I already learned playing my level 36 Romulan. It is nice to see how the Starfleet and Romulan mission path´s converge and complement each other´s perspective on the Romulan main mission plot.

Now, finally it is time for the tier 5 ship. I wrestle a long time with my choices. Deep Space Science Vessel? An escort class, or stick to the cruiser class? I must say, in this tier, the cruisers offered really do have the best look. And the best console and bridge officer layout, too. My choice finally is the Sovereign class assault cruiser. I can have now three damage amplifying tactical consoles; I have three disruptor beam enhancing buffs, which give me overall +40% damage. Over 500dps per beam, on a wide angled firing arc, means a lot of sustained dps. And plenty of engineer and still enough science consoles, for damage resists, and my shiny new turn-rate-console! And 4 weapon mounts each front and aft. This is some serious fire power, this should be on-par with escort classes.

I also use the occasion to change a bit around with the bridge officer skills. I seriously missed the fire-at-will skill, when all those heavy damage plasma torpedoes came in. And I was underwhelmed with the rare opportunities to actually but high-yield-torpedoes to good use. This is better left for faster-turning escort classes.

My final layout has 3 disruptor beam arrays plus quantum torpedo front, 2 disruptor beam arrays plus plasma torpedo plus quantum mine launcher back, all mark VII or VIII, with a significant amount of blue and purple rated equipment. And, man, this ship turns and fires like kick-ass! As a first test, I dive head first into a borg daily quest and mingle solo with two borg sheres and two borg drones. I have to use every bridge officer, but I get through it without resorting to my oh-shit-buttons (miracle worker, evasion). Am so very pleased. This ship is so much more fun than the tier 4 cruiser! It might have been a bit my fault of malequipping the U.S.S. Erie, so overall my new Sovereign class U.S.S. Albert Schweitzer profits from both better loadout and my lessons learned.

Now the end game can come.

Addendum, after three more hours of gametime:

I cheated. At least I feel like it. The Exchange is STO´s auction house. I had started to sell the better equipment which I did not need, e.g. all cannons, and collected until now about 500.000 credits. There is a money cap for the f2p part, and I started to worry when I would hit it. I should better make use of the cash instead of wasting it. So I looked into the Exchange. For about 400.000 credits, I bought 5 polaron lasers and 3 according tactical consoles, plus 2 damage resistance engineering consoles.

Needless to say, this made missions suddenly a lot faster and easier, giving me the feeling that I play the missions now on a level which they were not meant to be played. At the same time, I deprived myself of the Diablo-style loot collecting game. Accordingly, the next two missions, plus two borg incursions, felt like a boring grind.

D´deridex warbirds became a common sight and I am used now to their combat style. You have to keep a distance to them in order to shoot down the burst-mode torpedos, keeping your evasion skill ready for this moment. Then you "wait" and circle until the beam arrays and the occasional torpedo have done their job, activating damage resists and regeneration skills from your bridge officer.

Unfortunately, I do not like the graphics of the polaron laser firing. It looks like purple lightning. Nice, but somehow, it does not fit to a Starfleet ship; rather to an alien ship. It is details like this which destroy a game for me.

You reached and play according to the limits and possibilities of a game system. This means that you achieved your exploration of the game system and with increasing familiarit, the newness and excitement fades. You start playing a metagame which is "out of sync" with the spirit of the game. Nothing against meta-game´ing, this is what I do a lot when I start to learn and explore the game´s system. However, the metagame in itself alone is too little. And this is what happens in the end game. Only the meta game is left. Find the most powerful sword, find better armor, to beat stronger enemies, all the while the Lich King is already vanquished. Or it is just a question of routine to get it done. No meaning anymore.

I always regret when I reach this moment, because it usually means the game is over and "normal life" starts. Including special offers from your discount Zen store next door, making me earn virtual credits in order to buy things I do not need but am made believe I need them. Thanks, I got a real life for this.

Maybe I can sell the polaron lasers and replace them with some blue of green phasers. At least the end of the Romulan story arc still compells me to go on. Not sure what is to come after that. Surely another alien race threatening innocent worlds.

In where a station teaches me a lesson

Worried that I might loose my skills with Elite: Dangerous, I decided I had to log in and fly a few rounds. It is not like bicylcling. My Anaconda had logged out in the middle of nowhere in Surya. Flight controls felt stange and alien. I had to struggle to remember all my VoiceAttack commands, and this lead to an extensive flight check of about 40 Minutes until I felt comfortable again with everything, including remembering the hotkey for the galaxy map. Yes, there is none, but it took me a while until I realized/remembered this!

While sifting in vain through the bulky key-binding menu, I found out that you can activate ship lights. Never used this. I hope there will be the need for it later, e.g. when exploring, or maybe also for signaling other ships who don´t bother to read the chat in that muddled comm panel...

Hyperjump to Ross 1051. I believe I never was there. An unidentified signal close to the sun provides for a test for combat. A Cobra with wanted status attacks me on sight. I destroy it with one capacitor charge before it can boost out of my firing position. Neat! The gimbal bug is gone, all four guns do track the target again as supposed to! Oh what happyness!

And the transition to/from supercruise works faster too! Wonderful! Wait, no, scratch this, it is just fast when apparently a no-traffic zone like an US is entered. Dropping into the station´s perimeter still takes sufficient length to make you feel it´s a loading screen in disguise.

Abetti Platform is a very welcome sight. It is the standard multi-sided dice, however, with two very long protruding piers or towers along one axis. Very high/long, indeed! Which other station designs have I missed yet? It is a nice surprise and I am looking forward to seeing much more variations in future still. Also, the station lights seem to have improved, more shiny, really christmas tree like. Or is it just that I already forgot so much about the game during those little two weeks where I haven´t touched Elite: Dangerous? Well, playing intensively another game with entirely different graphics, game mechanics and controls sometimes has this effect of amnesia for the previous game.

Pleased I notice that I haven´t lost my docking piloting skill and manage to land efficiently even though it is once again one of those awkward "close to the door" landing pads. VoiceAttack is a bit unreliable tonight, but I can finally make it to put out the landing gear. Let´s see, where are the keys for navigating the station menu? Ah, mouse control. Fuel, 29%, reservoir 2%, that´s almost empty, glad I remembered to check. Cash: 4,3 million Credits. Nice, but could be cushioned up a bit more, no?

So I load tritatium, which is in high supply; a sure indicator that you can sell it somewhere for profit. The question is, where. Before I go through the hassle of eliminating every other commodity from the trading view in the galaxy map, I fire up Slopey´s Trading Tool and see that a trade run of titanium to Bolg,just two jumps with an Anaconda, will provide me a profit of 100.766 Credits. And I never was in Bolg, neither.

Enthusiastically I launch, briefly wondering if I should start practicing docking routines with flight assist off. The hyperjump target is behind the station, so I fly a tight turn along the stations walls. I almost feel at home again in the cockpit. Once the nav target is in sight I accellerate and boost. What is it with VoiceAttack? Sometimes it seems to have a bad day and sometimes it runs without any hassle. Today is the former occasion.

- a rather unusual setup, more like a, space hazard...

Finally I am on trajectory, boost, flight assist off, and I lean back and grab a coffee. Anaconda cockpits are actually bridges and they do have a coffee dispenser. This is when I hear a loud crashing noise, some screetching and my cockpit explodes in sparks. The ship is already in a violent uncontrolled tumble and before I can even think "WTF.." I am in flames and embraced by vacuum. Blackness.

In white, the insurance message asks me for a fee of 348.000 Credits. Plus 142.000 Credits worth of titanium. Dumbfounded I pay the fee, and while the loading sceen loads, and loads, and loads, I have ample time to analyse what just happened.

It was Abetti Platform´s particular design which turned to be my downfall. Totally forgotten about their existence, my ship´s path had dared to cross the station´s large extension axis. Like a giant club it came crashing down for an instant kill. I have to laugh. Elite: Dangerous teaches you to remain sharp in some disingenuous ways!

With this little lesson learned, I quit the client. It was stuck in the loading screen for about 10 minutes, anyways, and I had to kill the process via Window´s Task Manager. I studied a bit the new paints for the Viper and am very tempted to buy one. Especially the orange copperhead looks cool. However, I realize that I hesitate to switch to a Viper. Not because the Viper is not fun. Actually it is because of all that hassle it would be to buy again an Anaconda and find and equip the proper armaments. Yes, it is time that they implement the multi ship ownership feature!

Monday, 8 September 2014

Star Trek Online

Treat Perfect World Entertainment as a discounter publisher of MMORPGs. A small number of better-than-nothing quality games with a free-to-play business model behind and the money dribbles in via the numerous options to buy cosmetic ingame stuff. I think it is a great way to have a large number of players access and try out the game, and if it satisfies you, pay for it to your own leasure and get some extra pimp to support your vanity.

Having played Neverwinter, I found it to be a nice little game of this kind. But it could not really capture me for a long term, due to a rather bland story about a lich queen attacking the city of Neverwinter and a very dragged-out game play experience. My dwarven guardian fighter is somewhere around level 30 when I started to get a headache, assaulted by all those currencies and item options, which are not really options but just your usual level grind experience. No, thanks.

Star Trek Online suffers the same problem, but a bit less pronounced. And it has space combat, coupled with planetary third perpective combat. So I can enter a little bit and acutally play a game and try to ignore at best the level-grind elements. A perfect fill-in until Elite: Dangerous has developed a bit more!

I have by now developed a Romulan chick with pink hair, level 36, just having saved the new Romulan homeworld from an assault from an alien invasion fleet. And I have started a level 14 human starfleet commander. Prussian, to be correct. Sub-Lieutenant Mark Brandis rivals Vulcan ideals of discipline and logic, and the German reader probably recognizes my blunt copy of the hero from a famous teenager science-fiction novel series.

The game mechanics feature a kind of top-down map based space combat, with some strategic choices between hard-hitting cannons, which need some more maneuvering to get into firing position, wide-angled beam arrays, full-360´-turrets and torpedoes, which hit hard on armor and hull but are stopped by 75% by your Star Trek typical energy shields. The shields are split into four facing directions and need to be taken down individually, which requires you, besides auto-shooting and getting into firing position, to switch positions now and then in order to avoid hull damage and show a still "fresh" broadside to your enemy. I do have quite some fun with this more tactical approach, as opposed to the piloting-perpective in Elite: Dangerous. Besides shooting and maneuvering, you can also activate abilities, part your own, part those of your bridge officers (cutely abbreviated by players as "boffs").

Ground combat consists of the average third-person perspective, nothing special about it. Well, laser pistols instead of crossbows, a few melee swords and klingon-chunbackus (or whatever they call their weird mixed form sword-staff-axes). No pause to play, since it is an MMO and you can join teams with other players.

Nice also the need to actually administer a part of your big spaceship, including from 200 to 1600 crew members, of whom you are interacting with, chosing from a pool of around 100 duty officers ("doffs", funny) up to 20 of them to also buff (doff, baff, paff, rofl) your combat performance on ground and in space.

The game is difficult to access. As a forum member wrote in one of the many player-made guides, which you will definitely need to get into the game; besides a little tutorial and the screen where you can buy Zen for real-money, nothing is really explained.

The story captures me a lot more than that of Neverwinter, not necessarily because it features some very well done tie-ins with the Star Trek series. Yes, you can encounter most of the characters known from the movies, and the stories around them are well done and on par with any CRPG out there, but I admit I am not that kind of a geek about Star Trek. I just enjoy a science fiction setting and story with a little bit more complex take on mechanics and tactics.

My two characters focus on the two main styles of space combat. The Romulan commands a stealthy highly maneuverable "tactical" warbird, two heavy disruptor cannons, two photon torpedo launchers in the front, turrets in the aft-section for close-angle high damage attacks. The Starfleet Officer steers a slow-turning mighty cruiser which can absorb a lot of damage and relies on wide-angled beam arrays to whittle the opponents down. When one style of combat starts to bore me, I switch character.

Ground combat is less interesting for me, probably because it is already a well-known and overly played experience from other games. However, the odd well done ground mission still manages to capture me. There was for example one in the bowels of maintenance tunnels of a space station, with a very horror movie like atmosphere; you are literally haunted by what turns out to be a holo-persona driven mad by computer viruses, right along with a spectre-like race of transdimensional aliens. However, it goes right over the top, you even have to travel back in time and fend off the aliens right alongside with Scotty and Bones. And it gets downright ridiculous when in the middle of it all,you suddenly have to spend your time finding out about the right mix for a drink of some ex-affair of McCoy in order to calm her down and give you a piece of equipment, which is required to save the whole crew. Yeah, well. Some good, some bad. Back to space combat.

There is some space pvp maps, however when I entered the only one which I was actually able to find, it was full of borg cubes to defeat, and no enemy faction to be seen during all those about 20 missions I repeated in there.

Still, I like and consider it refreshing to the traditional fantasy settings or fantasy-sci-fi mixes out there. It is a kind of a purist approach. Also, it makes partially more sense to me to find/salvage a technological more advanced equipment, say, a mark IV phaser beam array with improved targeting systems, for a space ship than, a Diablo-style leather-armor of painful punishment with more armor rating than a full-blown standard plate mail. Talk about suspension of disbelief. It is somehow easier on you in a sci-fi setting, I think.

I am also a little bit back in the "old days" of CRPG, when you still had to steer and manage a full party and imagine their interaction amongst each other, which was fully perfected in games like Baldurs Gate or Neverwinter Nights. Here, I have my trusted first officer, my science officer piping in with scientific mumbo jumbo, and my engineer who is always ready to throw in a fix to a problem. I can equip them with armor and weapons, choose their skills, too, well, the old days.

Well, that is just a first impression and motivations about this game. So far I can say that Star Trek Online is better than I was led to believe by many a review or discussion. I am playing it now since end of August, while eying each new newsletter from Frontier for actual news on Elite: Dangerous, fully ready to come back once they fixed that stupid gimbal laser bug on my Anaconda and added some more interesting game elements to the current "Space-Trucker" core experience.

Lucy and the human potential

Scarlett Johanson seems to have become a little star these days. I saw her first in the Avenger movie (plus her ´pre´-cameo in "Iron Man") and wondered how a woman with not exactly perfect model sizes can make it into brainless entertainment movies like this. Just look at that Transformer-chick for comparision. In conclusion, Johanson perhaps indeed is a somewhat good actress?

As I watched "HER", I felt confirmed in my assessment. Scarlett Johanson does not appear, but you hear her voicing the operating system HER. Wow! I daresay the movie has its considerable impact by her voice only, or already. Definitely a recommendation, and set apart from the regular blockbuster experience.

I was not interested in "Lucy" because of Johanson, though. I treated her appearance rather as a possible recommendation, that the movie would not be too bad. And Luc Besson still stirs good memories from "Leon" and "Fifth Element". Sadly, "Lucy" cannot be put on the same pedestal.

While I was enjoying to see another elaboration of what could be if humans actually evolved to transhuman capacities, there were too many shortcomings here:

- The movie focuses on Lucy and maybe the totally evil drug dealer boss as a counterpart. Morgan Freeman remains more as of a off-screen story teller. Which is too little. Also, while Johanson gives considerable try to show a human loosing his/its humanity, the movie does not really focus on this part either, and just turns into some brainless action scenery.

- The action sequences are few and not really connected to the movie´s main theme, or, message. Transhumanism has very little to do with some levitation, animated CT vision, shootouts or a car racing, with considerable ethically not tolerable apparent deaths of innocent bystanders. Questionable and a good thought provoking scene only the moment where she shoots a patient on the operating table, having deduced that he would die by his tumour anyways (this is the moment where you have to realize that Lucy starts loosing some kind of humanity, much better than the moment thereafter with a very weird phone call to her mom).

- A weird kind of an ending. Leave it, Besson, Cubrick´s "2001: Space Odyssey" did this kind of ending. While Lucy does it in a graphical much, much better and none-too-long winded way, maybe it is the curse of becoming older that you have already seen this and done that. Not much to impress you is left. Although I did love the idea that it is all about time. There is no movie beyond brainless timetravel paradox thingies, which actually focus on the scientific and connected philosophical nature of time. But again, the movie does not really elaborate much on it. What a pity.

- Very little human interaction, more like scientific treatises. If they would be a bit more thought provoking, maybe, but as such they are too little to keep a whole movie afloat. One good scene though was when Lucy gave a kiss to the cop; to "remember". Never I saw a so unemotional, remote, disconnected kind of a movie kiss; this was right to the point and I wish the movie had more of those little things showing that something is really off with Lucy (waah the potential! though not exploited by the movie, sad, sad!).

- The movie also has some entertaining artistic cut scenes to show the animal world, which emphasize the topic of evolution by showing certain animal behaviours. It worked well in the beginning when it was an allegory of Lucy becoming victim to the predator of a drug cartel boss. In fact, a marvelled at this scene. However, later scenes just degenerate into a dumb visualisation of evolution theories, dumb and overcome ones, at that.

- The supernatural abilities are too many and too overdone to be explained by a mere increase of "cerebral processing capacity", you know, the old myth that human only use 10% of their brain. If you want to have a story about superheroes, do a story about superheros, but not this. Potential within our brains, would be rather about consciousness, as in, versus, unconsciousness. Bluntly speaking, perhaps it is not a bad thing that our consciousness is oblivious of many of our bodily things. I wouldn´t want to experience and feel in every cellular detail the process of digestion, for example, of the process how that wonderful steak (by the way, also just a collection of tissue, fat and muscle fiber from a dead animal) turns into something brown and stinky to be dropped in your toilet. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked. If you want to focus on the thought power of the sub consciousness, you have to access topics like intelligence, dreams, hallucinations or spirituality and theology. Besson´s movie here does not do anything of this.

- Last but not least, since a certain hominine creature also makes its appearance in-between, the name and allegory to Lucy is of course called for in vain; I cannot see any connection apart from some blunt and cliché  "life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it" voice over.

Bottomline, if you are interested to watch a good movie which both speculates about the individual human potential (by focusing on the subconscious "intelligence") and delivers some good entertainment, without any metaphysically ridiculous mumbo-jumbo, go and watch "Limitless"! (And I cannot tell you how much I would want this particular type of pill for myself! A clean room, a clear and sorted mind, jay!)

The only scene I will probably take with me in my memory, is when Lucy, depraved of her sustaining super-power-drug, starts to dissolve. I feel sometimes like this, falling apart in an attempt to choose immortality, self-sufficiency and self management, and can relate. Perhaps the best metaphysical scene and allegory in the whole movie.

But hey, all in all, I do not want to be understood as too critical. The movie was still better than your average blockbuster and it at least dared to tackle some serious topics beyond the average clichées. I am not going often to cinema and I do not regret watching Lucy.

And finally, to come back to something more banal about this blog´s topic, as to factor in also my passion of computer games; because of my interest in the topic of virtual reality and trans humanism, I will definitly try "Civilisation: Beyond Earth". If it comes any close to the master game of all, "Alpha Centauri", it should hand you a nice game system with lots of tactical depth and replayability, as well as some good and entertaining food for thoughts on the human potential, of where we could go, what we would want to achieve in this world. What has this to do with Lucy and the human potential? Well, the moodiest end of Alpha Centauri includes you turning into a giant planet-wide mushroom colony. How about that.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Game is theory is life

[The following text practically wrote itself; when I started, I wanted to write something about Star Trek Online and my motivation to get into it. Well, it became something completely different!]

My main motivation to buy and sink time into Elite: Dangerous is the prospect of virtual reality, a seamless world in which you have "presence", to avoid the over-used term of "immersion". This is achieved by not only having a limited stage to operate on, the cockpit, but you can actually leave your ship, walk around and mount another vehicles at your leasure, and you can walk anywhere where you could realisticly do so. "Second Life" was one of those attempts, and basically all modern MMORPGs try to give you this illusion.

Once you are "present", you can bring gameplay to a whole different level. You are not pushing pebbles on a board, you are not manipulating some colourful sprites on a screen anymore. You actually try to simulate, and thereby you come closer to what game theory is about than anything before. What is this? Games are for children and not for grown-ups! Dear old fashioned colleague, please arrive in the 21st, no, the 20th Century. Actually, according to wikipedia, game theory already started to appear in the 18th century.

Game theory is a study of strategic decision making. Decision making can be regarded as the cognitive process resulting in the selection of a belief or a course of action among several alternative possibilities. Cognition is the set of all mental abilities and processes related to knowledge. Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering, or learning.

 - a two-player generalization via a decision tree (courtesy from wikipedia)

Still follow me? Yes? So why on earth are computer games looked down upon? Can´t you see their potential still?

This is probably why I immerse myself so extremely into some particular games. This is probably also why most games start to bore me after some time; at a certain point there is no knowledge anymore to be gained. The system is fully explored and you learned everything to learn about in its limited simulative scope. So, you are looking for a new game, preferably one with a wider scope, because you want to learn more, you want to know and understand everything, not only rationally, but by feeling and experience. Every parent knows that children do not learn by listening; they learn by experience and by copying. And we know in the meanwhile that you actually never stop learning.

This yearning to learn, for experience, transcends any distinction between recreation and work, between "useful" skills for your job, your survival, and skills which help you experience and understand your place in the world. It transcends the difference between science and art, between a mathematic formula and poetry, between a diploma and satisfaction.

During all those years with computer games, I learned a lot. About achieving goals in a certain defined system. About the need to have a defined system in order to have and be able to achieve goals. About human behaviour in a defined system, applied game theory on human social behaviour. About how to deal with a lot of humans, how they come together for a common goal, how to deal with myriads of deviating motivations of each individual, how to stick to a cause in order to get what you want, even though it does not immedeately correspond to your motivation and many people around you annoy you without end. How to, in the end, come back to yourself and find out what you want for yourself and what makes you happy in this world.

There are some guys who invested over 5.000 bucks into Elite: Dangerous. Crazy, hm? What does this guy state about it:  "Just the sheer joy of exploration and expanding the boundaries of your mind. The door for an open-minded me was unlocked. I strongly believe that I became a successful business man because of it." He played Elite as an 8-year old; an age where many parents would consider computer games a devil´s tool, to be kept from children lest they become mentally dumb, socially incompetent and addicted.

There is only one mistake to be avoided, and this applies in general; do not stick to something when you actually realize that it is time to move on, be it the tool of a computer game or "real life". It is the same for every novel medium. If you play a game, have a good idea about what you want and a plan for it before you actually start playing. And if you do not do this, then use the game to learn to do it.

tl; dr
Playing computer games is directly linked, more than ever in any kind of game before, to an implicit understanding of the process of acquiring knowledge. Not only memorizing, say, dates in history, or a particular skill set, say, grammar. It is about familarity with the process of gaining knowledge and a tool for an instinctive analysis of your place in this world. Take it on, use it, assimilate it, and move onwards on your path to enlightenment.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The dark side

Being rich and bored, my options are few. I cut down my game sessions significantly, since I reallocated power distribution, uhm, my time resources, towards other things, waiting for the beta client to update all the bugs and disfunctions encountered so far, and maybe to include new interesting elements, too. Instead, I looked a bit into another MMORPG, Star Trek online. I might write something separate on this. Concerning Elite, I did not write anything until now, but after two or three short superficial sessions, a coherent new story started to emerge.
A first short game session found me patroling unidentified signals (US) in h Draconis. I wanted a new environment and I never was in this system before. As I am bored, I automatically loose some sharpness, which I had to realize at an US which constisted of 7 gold containes. While I lazily scooped them in, three Cobras made their appearance. Since I had repeatedly experienced that most ships do not even dare to attack my Anaconda and quickly make it away, I just ignored them and continued my scooping. Quickly, I was woken up. The Cobras had snuck up on me to close range and simultaneously opened fire. I accelerated to destroy them routinely, however, in the end I was down to 84%, even had been forced to use expensive missiles to get some breathing room. I was rather annoyed about myself; the gold´s worth does not weight up the repair and ammo costs. What happened? Bordeom made me careless, complacency made me forget to retract the cargo scoop while figthing, so I was a real sitting duck throughout the fight. This way, I learned that even maneuvering at the Anaconda´s slow speed is useful to avoid enemy fire. You have to stay sharp in Elite: Dangerous. I wouldn´t want it any other way.

A hyperhump later in 26 Draconis, a system which shows to be under an independent government, but a population of zero. Weird. And soon it becomes obvious that this system indeed behaves like an empty system; no bounties gained. Not before I am interdicted by an Anaconda, though. This little dance leaves me again down to 83% hull, and the prospect if another 26k repair cost with nothing gained annoys me again. Devoid of any ideas of what else I could do in a leasurly way, I quit the game session.

Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. Wait... there is still... the dark side beckons. Something I would probably not start doing when the game is finally out. Perfect occasion, now. Smuggling, piracy, murder.

- ... and whores, but they are not implemented yet. (courtesy from godofallcows here)

In general, smuggling seems to be the FOTM after Isinona did that famous moody video and some smuggling tips have been summarized nicely in the ED forum. However, cut the mood away and just realize that all you need to achieve is to get to land before any security vessel has enough time to scan you, no matter how you achieve it. And it is economically not all-too profitable, except if you manage to get hold of some gold or weapons.
Isinona was acting overly redundant; just going in with full boosted speed would have been more than enough to escape a scan (it might be different at different station; maybe Isinona happened to pick exactly the one station which scans every ship by default). So for any beginner, you can go more slowly by using stealth e.g. at Chango Dock in I Bootis, a station of which I know for sure that they do not scan by default every approaching ship. Just make sure to not dawdle; security forces can still spot you and scan you, even in stealth, as I have to learn later in this story here, when they are close enough. However, docking with max speed, going down to blue when entering the docking cage, usually is enough to pull it off. I did it already and never had any issue with security, so I did not consider smuggling as a challenge, yet.

Piracy, on the other hand, is difficult to do. Players are usually away before you can make them yettison something of value, but some NPC ships drop cargo if you scare them sufficiently by shooting their hull into very low cohesion grades.  However, murder... well there was this newsletter which warned of some wanted ruthless CMDRs with very high bounties on their head. Maybe I should indeed try out this playstyle, too. I assume that bounties on your head get cleared once you are shot down (?), so the challenge would be to stay alive and acumulate a high value. You may judge your stature by that of your enemies.

- a proper dark signature file for murderous deeds (courtesy from Mobius)

Before launching into the next session, I prepared some more voice commands, i.e. macros. I will have to drop from security forces´ radars. One voice command will activate/deactivate stealth. My Voice Command does not react well to the word "stealth", so I use the more unique, easy to recognize "Schleichfahrt". Another one will access the modules in the rightmenu and shut frameshift and shields off ("shut down"). Another one to reactivate them ("wakeup"). Last, a seperate command for the engine, needs also be more unique, so "Triebwerk".

So, the order will be, when I arrive as "wanted" and/or with stolen goods at a station:
- approach with "boost", "flight assist" (FAoff),
- "shutdown","triebwerk"
- enter "Schleichfahrt" once I am 4km close and my ship has cooled down sufficiently,
- "request docking"
- "triebwerk", FAon, final approach to docking entrance,

presto. Doing this on the base of voice macros is mainly for personal comfort and for instilling the mood of acutally "commanding" a spacecraft, as opposed of just "piloting" it.

In between the game sessions, I also tried to find a way to make my video capture software ("Shadowplay" from Nvida) to not capture the chitchat from Teamspeak. However, I have to realize that it is still a beta and does not have a corresponding option yet. I am too lazy to find another video capturing software, since I am not really needing Teamspeak yet, considering the futileness of social gameplay in this game´s beta client.


In order to become an actually feared pirate, I jump to independent governed space, Dahan. It is an independend government, which means I will incure "wanted" status and also bounties, but it should be limited to this system [forgot to test this theory, though]. In order to accelerate my encounters with all kinds of ships, yellow "clear"-status ships is enough this time, I drop into the nav beacon, which every system has near the sun, presumably an as an entry point for NPC ships coming out of hyperspace. I start shooting ships liberally and unscrupulously; many take flight and the Anaconda is not in the position to hunt them down, but I get my share of spoils.

Unfortunately, a severe gameplay bug appears, which kind of disqualifies my weapon setup and, ultimately, also the concept of a slow-turning gunboat-Anaconda in a dogfight. Two of my gimbal pulse lasers do act like fixed lasers. This makes aiming very difficult and 50% of my shots do not hit anymore while I am maneuvering. Even if I adjust, I have to realize that I am not used to proper aiming anymore! Testing and verifying this bug and creating a ticket take up some time. I can shut down, sell and re-buy, but the guns stay bugged. Sometimes, they "switch", i.e. it is suddenly the other pair of guns which lost its gimbal. Despite all efforts, this bug now accompanies me consistently. Flying an Anaconda without gimbals gimps my combat performance; any manual aiming will not compensate, since my combat tactics rely upon a certain strafing movement which prevents direct aim. I nevertheless try to keep to my plan and try to treat the bug as an added challenge. But it is not so much fun with this bug.

A Cobra drops some cargo before I destroy it anyways. Because I can. Yes, feel the dark side, feel its power. Even as a mean pirate and murderer, I must nevertheless earn a bit of money, so I start scooping. I ignore the fact that there are more efficient ways to earn money besides pirating and try to live as if I had no access to trading opportunities. So I have to get by now with the spoils of pirating. And a hard life it is. Grain. Biowaste. Radioactive Waste. Consumer Electronics. Cobalt.

A ship approaches. This is new to me; an Anaconda system security vessel. It starts scanning me. Thankfully, I do not forget to retract my cargo scoop, but I still did let it sneak up a bit too much on me. In single combat, NPC Anacondas usually manage at most to tear me down to about 80% hull. Thanks to the gimbal bug, I now score less damage and it takes me longer to finish the fight. A fight of this magnitude is already ok difficult, but having on top to deal with a kind of malfunctioning weapons makes the whole experience a bit too close to my taste, and rather expensive, too. Since I cannot totally avoid being hit, this time my hull is down to 63%. On top of it, the rest of the yet not scooped cargo suddenly disappears. Combat took too long and some timer must have expired. Not great, at all, Frontier, this is a total breach of your "realism" approach, here!

For repairs, I go back to Brislington Station in h Draconis. Aware of my "wanted" status, I do the smuggler´s stealth approach which I planned and detailed above, using and testing my new voice commands. It works out fine, I land unmolested.

As a little break, I try again to wrestle and kill the gimbal bug, with some test subjects at the nav point. Shutting modules on and off via rightmenu, adding some tries to save&quit in between, leads the client to a crash. When I log back, my painfully bug-impeded collection of bounties on my head of 7.800 Credits are suddenly down to 100 Credits, as seen in the rightmenu. On top of my annoyance, I now feel insulted. However, after checking my "wanted"-status later at the security office, it still costs me a fine of 7.800 Credits to pay off. Another bug, ticket.

Launching again, I start my new murdering routine and catch some Haulers and Sidewinders, which do leave cargo. Soon again, ships approach. Eagle, Viper, scan reveils both as system security ship. A third one lags a bit behind. A fourth at my four-down. Two Anaconda system security vessels! Things escalate. They start scanning me and I know that a hell of a fight is pending. As I accelerate, they open fire. I focus on one Anaconda, but it is fruitless. Two Anacondas plus two nimble ships on top do hurt too bad. I manage to boost away and enter supercruise, a bit breathless and annoyed, with 37% hull, 69.000 Credits repair costs (which, in fact, seems to be bugishly low; I have already payed 130k Cr to repair similar damage). Calculate the cargo scooped, no, it is not even worth calculating, so low value the stuff I got even is.

Aaand, back for repairs! Again Brislington Station in h Draconis. Again my stealth approach works out fine. Absently, I note the thought that pirating and murdering and then docking at legal system stations for maintenance might not be a sustainable way of pirating and murdering. How true this foreboding became during the next few minutes!

- Brislington station, frequent stops for repairs

Launching again and leaving the docking corridor, my scans already revealed quite an unusal number of system security vessels close around. Distracted, I turn a bit too early and manage to entangle myself with the protruding antennae of the docking cage. As coincidences are sometimes, I did not go into stealth yet, and I am glad that I forgot to do so as it saved me some repair costs. Immedeately, I make up for my mistake. Some short moments later, a scan warning message pops up. What? I am in stealth! The police vessels must be really close, then, to be able to lock me anyways! I guess that is what you get if you crash into their front doors with a loud bang. And they do react bloody fast.

There is no stolen cargo in my bay; even though I have to admit that occasionly I do forget to sell them, this time I did sell them. However, I did not clear my "wanted"-status, which is all those trigger-happy police forces need to scratch the itch. Railgun fire impacts my ship as I hit the control for the afterburner. No shields due to stealth, slow as a slug against three very fast and numble red dots on my radar, presumably Vipers from my earlier observations. But even then I am surprised at the incredible amount of beating my Anaconda has to suffer.

Barely, I make it past mass lock and escape into supercruise, with 13% hull. Had I already had locked another system, my engines would have charged up longer to prepare a hyperjump and I would have been destroyed.

Did somebody famous once state that the dark side is the easier way? I feel the urge to shoot that guy.

With 13% hull, I am faced with the decision to hyperjump to an anarchy system in order to avoid security in my weakened state. However, CMDRs lying in wait at Freeport might be an even greater risk. This is why I decide to try another stealthy approach to Brislington. Stealth is now not only fun, it is paramount for my Anaconda to survive. Fortunately, my landing approach works according to plan and I settle down with my barely-holding-together Anaconda. Whew, close.

At least I can say, docking and repairing again in a non-anarchy system has some added tension to it, as a pirate and murderer. However, the according fame and profit are missing, which takes some significant part of the fun away. And this is also the end of my last game session for this blog entry.

All in all, after these last game sessions, I see my plans to play the dark side thwarted by bugs and an overal economic inefficiency. Right now, piracy is simply not worth it. Maybe smaller fishes, but right now there is absolutely no in-game reason for a dark side Anaconda to exist. The just-for-fun aspect suffers from bugs, what is left is the challenge to regularily tackle Anaconda-sized system security vessels with escorts, and pay the rep bill for it, or insurance, if it comes to the worst. I would be happy to re-try this part, once the game updates with all the intended additional features and a more propfitable outlook.

As I have never encountered so many security Anacondas before, it was interesting to note that, apparently, the game scales up the police forces according to the level of danger your ship represents.

As an interesting afterthought, maybe this result kind of reflects that status of theft and bribery in real life. You do not get rich with it. For the latter, you better be a big fish asset manager or something, playing and abusing the system by some grey means which are not exactly forbidden, with the backing of vast amounts of funding. Maybe Elite right now is a bit too much of real-life?