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)

Monday, 24 November 2014

Premiere Event and the Oculus Rift

Soooo, this was it. THE premiere event for Elite: Dangerous, the first and probably only event of this kind which I have ever attended to. It took my whole weekend, from Saturday 5 am to Sunday 11 pm and, all in all, it was a nice little holiday trip.

The pre-meeting on Saturday afternoon, which we had arranged via the ED forum, especially furthered by CMRD Awesome, was really nice. The Red Lion Pub is a really nice pub, and reminded me as a non-Brit so much of Tolkien´s descriptions of The Hobbit´s cave. Not one of those dark holes in the earth. A Hobbit cave is a warm and welcoming place. The food was delicious, they had free LAN (buggy, though, because the login screen would not pop up), only the bedroom was rather small and the walls a bit too thin (but not so thin that I would have heard the neighbours toilets flushing or something...). During my comfortable flaundering in the Pub during the whole morning, I encountered and had an interesting converstation with a German colleague. It turned out that he is one of the higher level backers and also maintains a German online magazine. A bit later the evening, I also managed to identify and drop of a thanks to CMDR Awesome, who had coordinated a bit our pre-assembly here, and CMDR Slopey whose best price calculator had added quite some fun for me to the rudimentary commodity trading in the Elite beta2 phase. Some very nice chats with some other guys and I also got offered a ride to the event location.

I regretted a bit that I did not have more opportunity to talk to everybody, but with about 100 people present at the pre-meeting and easily over 500 at the event, I quickly got overloaded. And I am also really bad at memorizing names. Tags with our forum- or ingame-aliases would have really been nice! Some people had costumes, with Kate Russel (one of the authors having published a book with a sci-fi novel in the Elite universe) in the lead in a sleek "Top Gun"-style flight suit, some shoulder leather girdle, and an exotic sci-fi pistol as a sideline. Some guys were dressed in kilts, as they had announced in the forums before. It was really the best experience to meet all those like-minded people, to bask in all this collected enthusiasm about this wonderful game, and to put some faces to people whom I read of in the ED forums.

As expected, the time between the event´s door opening and its start from 18:00 to 18:30 was far too tight to accomodate the long line which was quickly formed at the entrance. Some VIP´s got shuttled in first and it the wait was rather cold for some people, including me with my still lingering cold. Getting through the reception proved to be no problem, even without the ticket which hadn´t arrived in time, and I got my silver wristband with the event´s logo imprinted. We then strolled into the main museum hall. I had had a short peek into a side entrance, where some blue light filtered out and a lot of monitors were lighted up, but I was hushed away; this part would open up only a bit later.

The museum hall provided for a very nice scenery. You could almost imagine that some day, a Sidewinder would join the venerable bunch of aircraft in here. Although the partially massive size of the planes here made me wonder whether the size of Elite´s spacecrafts was a bit too small in order to believably be able to best the vast empty space out there. A Sidewinder would probably look more like a bumper car, in direct comparision to the mighty winged steel birds here.

We were provided with some finger food in this hall, but the real event hall was still closed off to us. There was champaign or orange juice, some mini burgers and some wrapped food. Well ok, in my job I already have attended a lot of receptions and evening events with that kind of fingerfood, so I am afraid this was nothing special for me. My personal taste leans towards some more "real" food, be it bread or even a warm buffet. Anyways, I wasn´t here for dinner and there was plenty of food to become satiated.

When I was studying a particular spectacular aircraft, a Concorde, suddenly proud fanfares announced the real start of the event, as some huge hangar doors slowly opened, blue light radiating out of the increasing opening. And I was at the other end of the hall, damn. Some jogging and pushing past more leasurly strolling guests, I got my first glimpse on the Cobra which was positioned between a F-16 and some other birds. It was a rather big model, but of course (the crazy nerd in me might say, sadly!) not original size. It was accompanied with a board as the other plains in here, describing times of service and some sci-fi history mumbo-jumbo, as if it was a true part of the exhibition. What a great start!

Behind the model Cobra, the hall broadened and amongst three more plains, Frontier had stuffed in the basic equipment for the event. A stage in the center of the back wall, two large round tables with about a dozen computer rigs each to the right, some seats and sofas to the left, lefthand behind the seatings was a bar and a souvenir shop. On the right side upwards was a ballustrade where the VIP or gold-wristband guests had their special refuge.

The event started with some welcoming by David Braben, and a schedule on the projection screen behind outlined that there would be a live twitch TV event, an on stage reveal of some kind, a Q&A session and a reading from books set in the Elite universe, by the respective book´s authors. Kate Russel popped in and added a spontane thank you speech for David, handing over some nice presents on behalf of the community. To be honest, and it might be because in my job I have become so tired of speeches and the usual formal stuff on events like this, I was rather disinterested. It is always the same, be it business, birthday or funeral speeches; some shoulder padding, some tries to find entertaining words, yada yada. However, David still has that charming allude of a nerdy being, which always and again here served well to areate any potential evolving stiffness.

In the meanwhile, I was drawn towards the rigs over there and I quickly positioned myself on one of the places, well deserted during David´s and Kate´s speeches. I had seen that this particular rig was running a combat in an asteroid belt in the new Python class spaceship! I love the Pyhton´s design! Sorry, to both speakers, but the nerd broke through (I still listened in half ear, I swear)! However, the setup was unfamiliar and I quickly resigned to make anything out of the myriad buttons on the Saitek setup (I am playing at home with a special assigned keyboard&mouse layout).

Also I wondered whether a new computer monitor at home was in order. The image here was so crisp and colourful in comparision. Only a bit later I learned that the rigs at this table actually offered the game in a 4k-resolution! So, a little bit of the future has already arrived here. After giving up on the labyrinthian Saitek controls, I let go and my eyes drifted to the other table, maybe I would spot a simple mouse&keyboard setup? No, sadly. But then, my eyes widened; a full dozen rigs over there and all of them - guess what - with an Oculus Rift Dk2! Wohoooo! Coming here had payed off exactly this moment!

Quickly I set down on the equally deserted table and put one on. That is, I tried to. My goddamn glasses look similar as to what the fantasy picture on the right of my blog show. Too large; I could not put the Rift on without risking to damage either glasses or my visage. I tried it without glasses, but I am a mole and everything just looked blurry then. You cannot imagine the frustration I felt for a moment there. So, next stop: The bar, get some beer, I needed that now.

The speeches were over by then and I started respectively continued to look around and engage into conversations, learning who from the names I know actually had appreared today. All and thoroughly nice people and nice conversations, which made me relax and enjoy the evening even more, after all the waiting and tension of expectation.

After some talks and beer (free bar, jay!), I couldn´t accept easy defeat and went back to the Oculus Rift table. After some skulking, a free rig emerged. I took the occasion, grabbed that damn Rift and rammed it onto my glasses, go to hell with them! What can I say, it worked out this time. The trick was, for anyone similarly suffering from glasses; put the Rift on your face before you put on the straps, do it invers to as if putting on a cap, i.e.  front to back, then it should work. My nose still has deep marks left and right from the glasses´ increased pressure, but I finally was in the matrix.

Matrix is the right word to describe it. The view is indeed like looking on a matrix/grid of bright spots, like one of those huge advertising tables consisting of thousands of lights. Your brain adapts quickly, and as you start turning your head around, the impression changes to being under a sheet of fly screen with a projector casting the game graphics on it from outside. Some more moments passed, and when I turned my head downwards and behind, I was then totally beamed away to another world consisting of wispy glittering light. I was alone in a Sidewinder´s cockpit, and even though I could still here the muffled noises of 500 fans in that big hall, the event hall´s ceiling had been replaced with the twinkle from cold distant stars shining quietly down into my cockpit, and a hughe bronze-orange planet loomed over me, having replaced the remainder large part of the event hall´s ceiling.

I do not quite understand people complaining about a low resolution. It is true that the Rift does not recreate the experience like on a monitor, it is entirely set aside for me by that incredible feeling of being "in there", which is so totally not connected to the mere resolution.

What surprised me was that the scale of the cockpit and the ship seemed so small; smaller than I had the impression from when playing on a normal monitor. But when I looked down "my" body in that smallish pilot seat, "my" shoulders seemed to have about the same non-bulkyness as my shoulders which I left behind. Turning my head around and looking behind was the moment which made me really being beamed there, that feeling of "presence" fully kicking in. The cockpit was tight as it should be, and it made the following experience immediate, like being observed from out a motor bike´s side car.

I accelerated and started some close-by skimming maneuvers around the asteroids. The feeling of speed was so real. I was whooping and jubilating as if sitting in a rollercoaster as the asteroids´ surfaces zipped close by. Even raming into the surface after a too-tight turn and that uncontrolled fast spinning around was like being in one of those speed carussels on a fairy market and it accordingly made me cackle with exitement.

From "outside" I must have looked like a imbecile; mouth open most of the time, mumbling wows and whews, screeching and whooping, twisting and turning my head around without any apparent reason. Remind me to never play in presence of friends or family like this. My future sim pit will need to be actually a "holodeck" room, with a lock!

After a way to short time, I reminded myself of the line forming behind each rig and hesitantly I let go. I also felt a bit nauseous, after one too many of those loops, like emerging from a real hard core rollercoaster. It was not from a faulty Oculus experience, it was more like from having done real loops.

After resting on one of those chairs in front of the stage, that twitch moderator jumped on the stage and made us practice cheering for the life event. I am sorry, we are not in the USA where people seem to like nothing more than standing in a hall, wave USA flags and cheer and scream for their favourite acting politician in the front no matter what nonsense this guy spews forth. I guess some colleagues around felt similar, because the exercise felt a little bit strained.

Which prompted me to leave that area. You can imagine how I beleagured the table with the Oculus grids for the rest of the night, logging back into the matrix at every possible occasion. In between, I was turned into an Oculus preacher, talking and nudging other participants towards trying out the experience themselves. And such passed by the twitch life event with me hardly noticing. From the scant bits of audio I gained, I had a rather "meh" expression. Apparently, it was just another round of advertising the game to, yeah, to whom? To people not having come here, to new potential buyers? I felt a bit miffed; I sacrificed a whole weekend of playing the gamma, quite a bunch of cash and free time to come here, for being used as statist-cattle for some advertising flick? Nono, not for me, sorry.

So I eagerly waited for the third event, the reveal. After some ale and another bunch of nice talks (there also were more Germans here than I had expected from the scarce feedback in the German part of the ED forum), David jumped on the stage and Kerrash (a so called "Ambassador", i.e. player who can participate with the companies PR) occupied an on-stage grid. The big screen lighted up and some combat zone started. When suddenly that black cloud of lightning formed, I honestly thought for some moments that a Thargoid vessel would appear. However, it was "only" a large cruiser, presumably from the Empire. Kerrash was voice communicating with some other players, coordinating action in order to shoot down the cruiser´s gun towers and grids and a brief and intense space battle ensued. The voices were distorted and really sounded cool, like you would imagine in a proper sci fi fighter movie. I am looking forward to try out this cool form of in-game mumble myself.

So the reveal was the appearance combat missions vs cruisers and the group voice chat. The second part came a bit after the action closed (way to short and looked a bit staged but not too coherent, unfortunately). David again grabbed the micro and announced an app. Wohooo! Wohoo? Well, for me more of a "meh". Not my cup of tea, unfortunately. Firstly, I do have a tablet, but it is Windows RT, a strict working tool. Virtually no game apps are supported there. Secondly, if they already do out-of-game tools, I would have preferred something browser based where I can actually influence something in game. As it looks like, this app will only display information, nothing more. Now, an app with the galaxy map, so you can plan and plot exploration or trading courses while on workpl... ahem... travelling, that would be something!

Anyways, some people were happy, some less, me a bit more amongst the ones to be labeled as "unimpressed", as all reveals seemed to be nothing really new and surprising for a long term backer or beta player. Gamma is out and my grid at home is in urgent need of an according client update and of heavy overuse of the new installment... A heavy competition for the event, considering my nerdy nature and the unfortunate timing of the event! ;)
Therefore I had more things expected, like, a a preview and play of a feature which is still far out in the making, or something similar exciting for somebody who is already intimate with most aspects of the game.

So, back to the bar, and back to the Oculus Rift. I should have ordered one already. Being blind to the controls while wearing the mask, I strangely found it quicker to get acquainted with the complicated layout of the Saitek joystick buttons. With only my touch senses, it somehow became easier to try out and find the right combinations. Just the landing gear button eluded me over two more sessions, preventing some more fancy maneuvers around the "docking" tutorial scenario. After three more sessions, also those looping-induced nausea vanished. I guess, with the real pressure from accelleration missing, my brain was quick to adapt and find a stable orientation to coordinate with my inner ear.

It is hard to be cool as a nerd. In between, in the breaks from the Oculus, people started to point out the marks which the Oculus mask left on my face, next morning´s mirror also pointed out how my glasses were already warped, hung more than sat, on my nose, and the deep pressure points on both sides of my nose still hurt today. But you know what, it was so totally worth it!

After some beer in between, my mood became finally party-ish again and I started to miss a proper dance floor. But the program was tight, anyways, and the Q&A session started. Man that was probably the most satisfying part of the event, after the Oculus Rift, of course. David, Mike and (didn´t get his name) sat there and answered virtually every question threwn at them. Exhaustingly. Fantastic to behold their engagement and patience, even when confronted with an already drunk guy´s philosophizing whether which "welcome" lettering on a Coriolis Station was actually considered to be up...

Finally, even myself got to fire off a question. It was about the stealth mechanic, if what we have is what we get, or if they have more plans and ideas about it. I in particular had in mind this one video from Isinona, which gives the (currently wrong) impression that stealth is an important part of the game.

Unfortunately, this was at a point where the microphones had overheated and did not really work anymore. The answers thus drowned and were lost in the museum hall´s huge and buzzing atmosphere. David again said something too-PR´ish, if not "soon (TM)", but somerthing like, he was never really content and always would like to add more to the game, he then mumbled something about specific stealth equimpent coming at a later stage. Mike said something but sadly, I did not get it at all.

While I was very satisfied with the extend of the Q&A, I wonder why it must be that they need to dodge some questions like if they were politicians or football pros. It was most notable when asked what they would do better now from experience if they would be at the start of the kickstarter. David started about probably more trying to describe and stick to the vision and not so much to details, but he got interrupted and thus reigned in by Mike who confidently stated that they would do it again as they did, feeling that it was a tremendous success so far. Well, he is right, but this was not asked.
I guess it is about business. They cannot admit or speak open in some things because it would piss off an investor, launch a nay-sayer´s avalanche or simply risk misinterpretation. For me it is kind of sad; I felt almost like in a small family of like-minded people, and that would have warranted a truly open talk.
The stuff got better once the questions went into nerdy details and stuff about the future planetary landing, and in my impression the third Frontier guy there acted most open, knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the stuff he would answer. And, yes, city lights on the night side of settled planets would be a really cool thing to have!

After that, back to another beer and another Oculus Rift session. By now I had aquainted myself enough to the controls that I started the tutorial fight with the Crimson Triumph, the famous first stumbling stone for many newbs, where you really have to show some improved piloting. It was a fantastic experience again with the Oculus. It is so different when you can actually follow the enemy ship though the canopy view until it is far behind you and adapt your heading for the shortest interception/firing position. So much better than triangulating mentally the direction of the target hologram in the cockpit and the red blip on the radar. After about felt 50 circling loops later, the Crimson Triumph exploded and I again felt that slight rollercoaster-nausea. Not a problem, I was deeply satisfied and still wanted more. Too much beer might have also played a role.

Anyways, the evening had progressed so far at this point that it was actually early morning, 12.15 am. After having listened to some of the book readings, I suddenly felt deadly tired, as German time actually was 1:15 am and I had been on my toes since German time 5 am. My friends who gave me the ride felt similar, so we decided to leave with all the fabulous impressions we got. At the pre-meeting we had discussed doing an after-meeting at the Holiday Inn´s bar, but due to over tiredness, this point was moot by now.

I regretted not having talked to more people, still wanted to thank Mobius for his outstanding and lasting commitment on forging signatures for the community, still wanted to pat Mike on the shoulder and tell him to relax and sometime laugh&joke a bit on the forum, too, still get to know Sandro Sammarco and congratulate him on the nice design compromise he found for the "flight assist off" mechanic. I still wanted to shake Davids hand, but that poor guy was still doing autographs from after the Q&A until now and I felt he deserved some rest at some point without another overexited and probably too drunk fan aspirating in his ear. I wouldn´t wanted to have an autograph, anyways, however, a drop by and a nice hello here in my blog probably would have been an appropriate alternative, no? Well, it is not a very public blog I do here anyways and I better might want to keep it that way. From my experience, I have the distinct impression that becoming too public or famous can warp your "trueness" and "honesty", as you, probably also subconsciously, start to tailor to the expectations of the reader/audience and not to you own true needs/wishes which made me start this blog, after all. I call it "the politician´s curse", but I can see how it is deeply affecting private economy, too. Not sure if easy to explain this way.

Well, I think I wrote way too much, wasn´t even sure if I had the patience to do a report about me on the premiere event, but here it is. Despite all of my rambling, and the many points where I felt they could/should improve in the future, I had quite a blast in attending, thouroughly enjoyed it and the enthusiastic and fantasticly friendly community.

On the next morning, there were quite a bunch of them doing breakfast in the Red Lion and we got to talk a bit. I regretted that we had not an even more open round, as some people preferred to sit for themselves. Everyone´s own taste, I guess. But, thanks a lot, dear Psykokow, for the Coke and the chocolates! And all the other nice people. Despite all travels and the huge time commitment, I feel very relaxed and enthusiastic. I feel so refreshed that I think this short weekend served to replace many a weeklong holiday for me!

For anyone who might have missed me: I was the guy with a light brown leatherjacked, later with a lavender jumper and a scarf (and probably some marks and slightly warped glasses from repeatedly forcing on the Oculus Rift mask).

A heart felt thank you, all people involved, the heavy working staff at Frontier the community, it was simply wonderful and I already miss you all!

And now I am finally looking forward to download and start the gamma client! Whohooooo!

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