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, 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.

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