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)

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Elite: Horizons VR

So, it was time to get back to a more leasurly seated experience. Elite: Dangerous was waiting for me, for a long time already. My last login was in February. Enter VR. 
First, I have to relearn the game, or better, remap the controls, and make liberal use of the training missions. I quickly find that even the quite numerous buttons on my new HotasX joystick are not enough. You need about a dozen functions ready at hand. I need a full evening of a game session just to re-install and set up VoiceAttack, that famous little programme which lets me do voiced commands. "Landing Gear", "Cargo Scoop", and, of course, "Engage!". Once I have found a comfortable setup, the whole re-mapping exercise starts again in “open play”, having to configure the galaxy map and the system map. The reason is that you cannot use the mouse on a VR-environment, except for then it displays a surface for you. So, clicking on a specific star out of 400 billion is impossible with the mouse. Instead, I settle for moving a pointer via the joysticks. It feels very awkward at first, but after two game sessions, I have adapted. But I can see this control mapping exercise as a huge entry barrier to VR, there should be a proper setup from the beginning, together with a VR tutorial.

This, once more, prooves to me that VR needs still a lot of work in terms of accessability. The controls schemes must be as intuitive as using a mouse and click.

When I am finally able “wake up” in my Cobra´s cockpit, it floats in an empty system, about 400 lightyears away from inhabited space. The star glares into the ship cockpit like a gargantuan evil eye. Magnificent! But even though the VR environment is as breathtaking as I remember, I also remember my last sessions of exploration as some very serene nights, but ultimately, it got boring. Jump in, target and scan star, use advanced system scanner, go into system map, check for possible interest planets, travel supercruise, target and scan planets, jump out. Rinse and repeat. You feel neither action nor advancement, and the option to jump into the arena dogfight part of the game did not alleviate the issue. Elite: Dangerous needs more interaction for me than endless exploration. The plan is, finish your latest itinerary and get back into civilised space.
I set course for HIP 46659, the closest system with a black hole in it. This was my last itinerary in February. After some jumps, a system shows some planets which could be worth scanning. On my way there, I realize that I am not used to supercruise anymore and approach a planet way too fast. Trying to compensate and brake by means of a close-by at the gravity well, I get too close and emergency eject. Since I am already here, I want to dare and try out my first planetary landing. If this goes wrong and I crash, all of my exploration data from 100+ systems are gone.
What can I say, I am lucky, or, it is easier than I thought, and it is awesome! With careful circling and closing up, the Cobra finally settles down on a dusty ball of dust out in the nowhere. Now, let´s go out and drive about! Well… where is my Scarab jeep? My ship has none! It seems that by buying the game expansion, you get the planetary landing module for your ship, but not the jeep! How annoying. One more reason to return to inhabited space; humanity just cannot survive without proper supermarkets. 

After that rather underwhelming realisation, I launch and travel onwards. On my way, I realize that much time has passed since my last login: Every system I visit has been already “visited first” by some other name. I guess I would have to venture much farther out by now in order to be really a “first”.

Finally, HIP 46659 is there. An amazing system, consisting of about a dozen white Tauris class stars. And the black hole, about 9.000 lightseconds out there. I am scared on my approach, fully expecting to be kind of “sucked in” if I get too close. As I close in, the light starts to get warped around. For best visibility of this effect, I change my course so that the milky way is behind the black hole. As it should be, I don´t really see the black hole itself, and so I indeed to get too close. Thanks to my ship´s automatic systems, it emergency ejects well before the event horizon and drifts harmlessly along.
Hmmm. Somehow, I imagined it to be a bit more dramatic. Some maelstrom of matter being sucked in, or something. Oh well. I got my black hole, time to travel back “home” now.

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