Elite: Dangerous Horizons

I’m currently uninterested in any game on my hard drive, but I had a sudden flash of inspiration and re-downloaded Elite: Dangerous. I impulsively paid 20 pounds for the Horizons expansion, which sounded cheap until it turned out to be 27 dollars in real money charged to my credit card. After a somewhat lengthy downloading and installation process I was back in the game that I last played for about a month after it’s initial launch at the end of 2014.

Of course I spent the first several hours of game time in tutorials, trying to learn how to fly again with mouse and keyboard. Thankfully it came back to me quicker than I expected, and I was able to get from system to system without crashing into too many space station walls. (I left the default WASD keyboard configuration even though it feels so wrong to put my ring, middle, and index fingers on ASD.) Then I Googled how to outfit my ship (a Cobra I think?) with an atmospheric module and an SRV bay and whatnot so I could land on planets and drive around and experience “Horizons.” It was neat.

I was able to drive around on a planet’s surface to some kind of base, apparently the only one on the entire planet, where I was warned to leave or I would be fired on. So I left and drove around some more on the bumpy terrain for a while. I accidentally sent my ship away while trying to figure out how to get back on board, which was a little concerning until I learned you could call it back again. Eventually I figured out how to board my ship again. It was fun. In true E:D fashion, the SRV is overly complicated to drive and the default keys are not intuitive. But it didn’t take that long to get used to it.

I’m going to land right in that crater.

But the thing about Elite: Dangerous is … it’s not really a game. It’s more of a simulator.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really cool simulator. Flying around feels very realistic and every solar system’s sights are pretty cool. And landing on planets is very cool, and driving around in the SRV buggy is very cool.

But I don’t have any compelling reason to do any of this very cool stuff. Once I’m on a planet’s surface, I just sort of drive around and think, “This is neat. Look, a rock! I wish I had something to do. Guess I’ll leave now.”

Is it because I always choose Solo Play? I hope not. Solo Play is the best feature of this MMO and every MMO should have it. :) I’ve always been under the assumption that the only thing that other players would add to E:D is more people trying to shoot at me, or people asking me to help them shoot other people. But ship combat in E:D is not all that interesting to me, and it’s especially annoying to be attacked when you’re just trying to go from one system to another.

Oh, I also made a Holo-Me for myself, which was pretty cool. It’s a nice character creator. But again … what’s it for? I never see myself. I can’t get out of my SRV and walk around or anything. (Even if I could, what am I going to do, pick up rocks?)

Now to be fair, the game does give you some direction with Missions at every space station. Upon completing them, you get credits and reputation. But they are all basically the same: Take this cargo to another station. Find some cargo and bring it back here. Mine some stuff. Go to a system and shoot some bad guys. I haven’t yet found any missions that direct you to drive around on planets, though.

Driving in the RSV looks and feels pretty similar to flying your ship.

What the game needs is more story-based missions to motivate me to move around. For example, something like going to a planet to talk to a guy, who tells you a compelling story and gives you a map to another planet with alien ruins on it that you can go drive around sightseeing in your SRV, where you learn about a long-dead civilization, then dig up a gizmo to bring back to the original quest giver. But pirates attack and steal the gizmo, so you follow them to another system where you learn that the gizmo will power their dying civilization for ten years, so you have to decide whether to let them keep it or steal it back. That would keep my attention.

So I guess I still don’t understand where the “game” is in Elite: Dangerous. Maybe this is one of those games that you need to play with friends so that they provide the entertainment when the game doesn’t. There’s a fantastic framework here and a really interesting space flight simulator, but not much else. It still seems as empty of content as the void of space.

The Elite: Dangerous Expansion And Value

Elite: Dangerous has an expansion coming out and you’ll never guess what happened after the announcement: People on Reddit got mad.

In a related story, the sun rose and set today.

I admit I’m just an average guy who doesn’t grasp all this new-fangled math the kids use, but I have never understood the “it’s not fair that if someone buys it today they’ll get a better price than someone who bought it before” logic when it comes to games. Of course now that I’m writing it out, I can’t think of the right words to explain why that doesn’t make sense to me. But here goes.

Time is money

I’m a firm believer in the concept that time has a monetary value. That if you spend X amount of time doing something, it’s equivalent to spending Y amount of dollars on that something. Or vice versa.

Let’s say you pay $50 for a game. You’re now out $50. But then let’s say you play that game for 100 hours. Now you’ve received 100 hours of entertainment in return for that $50 you spent. You’ve received “time” in exchange for your money. Time that, presumably, is valuable to you. How much is that time worth to you? I like to use movies as a basis to determine how much entertainment time is worth, so if a 1.5 hour movie costs $5 to rent on Amazon, that means you’ve received … oh god … I can’t do math in my head, so hold on …  $333 of entertainment value for 100 hours of game play. So you paid $50 of money and received $333 worth of entertainment time. I’d call that a solid investment.

Now let’s say an expansion comes along with a price of $50, and that expansion also includes the original content. Reddit blows up because they think the original buyers are getting screwed over while the new buyers are getting a crazy good deal. But are they really?

The original buyers are already ahead by … ugh not again … $283 in value. While the new buyer will be out $50. The original buyers already know that they are going to get a game they’ll want to play, and they only have to play it for … click click click … around 15 hours to break even again. Since they’ve already played for 100 hours it seems like a pretty safe bet that no value will be lost. (Especially since they’re still ahead by $233 if they don’t play a single moment of the expansion.)

The new buyer on the other hand has no idea if they’ll play more than 20 minutes of this game. They’re taking a huge risk spending their $50. (The same risk that the original buyer took, yes, but that risk already paid off for the original buyer.)

Besides, it’s not like you lose anything if someone else pays less for something. It’s not like some invisible hand is going to reach into your bank account and scoop out your money to give to that other person.

I’m not sure if any of that made sense. In any other month, I might stuff this into my Drafts until I was completely sure of my logic–or forever, in other words. But the show must go on.

Posted on Blaugust Day 9. Read all of my Blaugust posts here.

Elite: Dangerous Opinions and Advice

Elite: Dangerous is a neat game, however right now I see it mostly as a single-player game. I play it entirely in the “Solo” mode, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything without other people around. Thus I wouldn’t consider it a contender for 2014’s MMO of the year, despite how bad the other choices were.

From what I can surmise, there are only two possible outcomes that can happen if you encounter another person: Either they can a) ignore you or b) try to shoot you down. (I suppose some weirdos might try c) start a conversation.) As far as I know, there are no group objectives to go after yet (such as world bosses), so there is nothing to “team up” with other spaceships for. So if you’re not a fan of Open World PvP I would suggest just sticking with Solo play. For me, Star Wars-style space battles aren’t what I want from a space game, so I just play Solo. (I’m not sure what I do want from a space game, but I know it’s not space battles. At least not with other people. It takes long enough to kill the AI pilots–it would probably take a good half hour to kill another person in an evenly-matched battle.)

The fact that you have to manually pilot your ship everywhere in Elite: Dangerous is both a blessing and a curse. I’ve always liked the idea of EVE but in practice I always felt like there was little or no interactivity in the gameplay–that is, you just click a couple of buttons and your ship automatically flies to a new spot. It’s neat, but during that time, you yourself just sit there staring at the screen doing nothing. That makes it very hard for me to justify paying a subscription for it.

In Elite: Dangerous, the process is entirely interactive, which makes it feel more like a game. Unfortunately, over time, the curse of it is that piloting your ship between systems gets a little old. Flying from system to system feels like “grinding”–just repeating the same actions over and over again. You start to wish for an auto-pilot so you could press a button, get up, do something else, and come back to find your ship docked at the next system. (In real life, I would think real space ships would have exactly that.) There’s an auto-docking computer you can buy which is sort of the right idea, but it doesn’t work very well (it keeps dinging my ship because it lands too hard) and it doesn’t pilot between systems. Maybe they’ll add a full auto-pilot in the future. I’d probably even pay real money for that.

Advice

Beware that it takes some time and practice to learn to fly your ship. It took me a couple of days before I could do anything but rotate around like an idiot in one place.

The default mouse-and-keyboard setup gives you your basic flight-simulator controls: Left and right to roll, up and down for pitch. You can get around like that, but to fly more efficiently (especially while docking) you’re also going to want to learn to use the up, down, left, and right thrusters, and the left and right yaw.

Expect it to take a dozen or so docking attempts before you start to get the hang of it. In those first ones, you’ll feel like a senior citizen trying to drive with macular degeneration. Do not turn off the rotational correction unless you are a serious masochist. Your ship will survive banging into walls and stuff so don’t worry too much about that.

Don’t worry if you run out of oxygen and die in deep space like I did. You’ll get a new Sidewinder ship for free. (Also, don’t forget to refuel every time you dock somewhere.)

Get to know your Frame Shift Drive (the ‘J’ key by default). It took me a while to realize this, but there are actually two different “modes” of the Frame Shift Drive. One is for flying between systems, and one is for flying within systems. If you notice that you can’t stop, it’s because your Frame Shift Drive is still on because you’re flying inside a solar system.

The basic idea with trading is to buy goods that have a High Supply and sell them to systems where they are in High Demand. The Galactic Map is not terribly helpful in giving you that information either. If you follow the trade routes on the map, you might end up getting boned. I don’t know if it’s a bug or if I’m using it wrong, but I’ve had to make lists of the items in high demand at various systems in a separate document.

The fastest way to make money by far is trading, by the way. Exploration, mining, and collecting bounties is really, really slow. It can take you hours and hours to make the same amount of money you’d get in one trip between adjacent systems. I’d really like to see those activities get improved rewards. I would do more of them but it’s just not worth it right now.

Conclusions

Since trading is pretty much the only effective way to “level up” in the game (ie. make more money), it gets pretty routine after a while. For that reason, my attention has drifted away from Elite: Dangerous to other things. Still, it’s a cool game, and I think I got my money’s worth. I’ll pop back in from time to time to see what they’re doing with it.

Year End 2014

In most Steam sales, I have a fairly strict cut-off point of avoiding anything unless it is under $10. Over the past year or so, I’ve rarely found anything meeting that criteria that I don’t already have, so I was a bit surprised to find myself buying nine games in this Winter Steam Sale, including Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, The Walking Dead Season 2, Murdered: Soul Suspect, Democracy 3, Contagion, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Dominions 4, Thief, and Transistor. All less than $10.

Not to mention the fact that Origin had its own Winter Sale so I picked up Mass Effect 3 for a single-digit price, too.

Of course it will probably be years before I ever play any of those games, if ever. (I looked at Dominions 4 briefly but it was a bit confusing so I put it away again after about 15 minutes.)

I intended to finish Dragon Age II and then head into Dragon Age: Inquisition, but I stalled out after the second act. I was getting antsy for an ending so I could move on to something else, and then I went and bought Elite: Dangerous.

Elite: Dangerous came along at a great time because I was getting tired of story-driven gaming in general, and there were a bunch of Netflix shows I was falling behind on. For me, it’s rather difficult to watch television and cut scenes at the same time. But Netflix and Elite: Dangerous make the perfect combination.

Someday I’ll write more about Elite: Dangerous but in a nutshell I enjoy it. I have a hard time seeing it as an MMO though, because I’m playing it entirely in the “Solo” mode, and it doesn’t feel like I’m missing anything without other people. Space flight is an inherently lonely sort of activity, so it seems natural to me that there aren’t other people around. In real life I would only expect to see other people in the same ship that I was in, or after I landed on planets.

I don’t have much to say about the year 2014 in MMO gaming. I’m not much into trends. ESO and WildStar weren’t bad games in my opinion, but I didn’t get enough out of them to pay for a continuous subscription. I’d happily jump back into them again though. ArcheAge was a bit of a disappointment, although I could still see myself going back to it from time to time if–and only if–my progress were not destroyed by losing my property, which will eventually happen when my Patron status runs out.

As for 2015, one day I want to write a blog post about this, but I am going to call it now and say that EQ:Next is going to be a terrible game that will shatter the hopes of many people. There is an abundance of evidence for this conclusion in what we can already see in Landmark.