The famed and thought of as dead Space Simulator. Beyond Asteroids, there was Orbiter, Elite series, Wing Commander series, Privateer series, EVE, Kerbal and a whole mess of StarTrek and Star Wars games. The only meaningful mentions in the huge category in the past decade was Kerbal and EVE. One was fun to learn or re-learn actual physics and the other can be called spreadsheet simulators with some 3rd person interaction. Each has a strong fan base, but as a kid growing up like many out there I have watched, read and imagined being the pilot, taking the stick and flying about in space. From staying up late watching shuttle missions being launched to even the casual gaze into a cockpit of a commercial airliner to looking out of the back open ramp of a Chinook in flight, the desire and fantasy endures today.
Taking a step back in time, it was late 2012 and I just backed a game. A month later, I found Elite: Dangerous and backed it as well. A year later, I played a tutorial that I hated from Elite: Dangerous and thought to myself ‘well, I hate this game’. Fast forward two years later, and I really like this game. In fact, this is the first backed game that I have played, liked, and is fully delivered.
I will save the whole crowd funding discussion for another time, as I really want to talk about Elite: Dangerous and what I think makes it work. But to do that, I think I should air the gripes I have about the game that do not work for me.
Elite: Dangerous bills itself as a game that is to a 1:1 scale of the Milky Way galaxy and uses real world physics for most interactions the players have with the game. So, when I found my ship reporting that it was moving above 1 c, also know as above the speed of light, I immediately began to fight it. Not only should that not be possible, but the whole graphical design is also not accurate. I mean, I can still see things as you would expect to see them going at absurd speeds. In theory, your immediate surroundings would not be affected such as the lighting in the cockpit, but every light from an external source should begin blue shifting with a field of view growing until no visible light can be seen. Well, I can deal with this kind of esoteric difference from reality and the graphics, but going faster than 1 c? Just, no. So much so that this was nearly a deal breaker until I did my due diligence and the Director David Braben just came out and said it, the willing disbelief of the speed of light not being a barrier is simply needed to have a game with gameplay. Other things like orbital trajectories, the expansion of the universe, and real gravitational mechanics do not seem to be present, but I can justify those just as easily not being there for purely gameplay and design reasons.
Why did I choose to suppress the nerd inside of me that was raging against faster-than-light travel? Because the game needs it. There is no other way outside of many, many loading screens to do what this game does given it is 1:1 scale of the Milky Way. And the game play.
Think back to the last time you envisioned yourself at the controls of your own spaceship, still docked at a station. Helpfully, the ship tells you via the center interface you can launch. The computer runs you through pre-flight checks to ensure you have all of the controls. Then begins the ride up a platform elevator to the surface of the station. The landing surface articulates with blast shielding moving followed by a juttering lurch as you decouple magnetically from the station. You now have control of your ship in six degrees of freedom. Power to the bottom thrusters and velocity is gained upwards, then you move the throttle forward and begin to make your way to the opening of the station. As you cross the threshold into the vacuum, proximity alerts go off letting you know there is a lot of metal around you, be cautious. Then, you are out in space. You cannot imagine the sheer joy of this moment, in first person, as I accomplished this most basic feat in a genre of game that is said to be dead.
Then came the realization that I had set no objective for myself. Voice Over IP is wonderful, and my real life friends told me they would be by shortly to show the way to their home base, an other space station over 68.7 parsecs away (or 224 light-years and yes I did the nerd math from ly to parsecs). So began learning the real basics of the game. How to plot your course using the star map, jump from system to system, checking to ensure there is a station so you don’t run out of fuel, or failing that how to scoop the outer atmosphere around a star for fuel. Some time much later, I arrived in the little starter craft.
Let’s go kill some enemy ships, suggested one friend. Why not? Apparently doing what I really wanted to do anyways would get me credits to get out of this ship and into a bigger ship. Well, not even 5 minutes later, after running into an oncoming enemy, I found myself out of shield being shot up by laser and miniguns with all sorts of alarms bleating before my canopy gave way with my HUD and most game sounds. Then boom! I blew up. Then it dawned on me, this is a game that is easy to play, hard to master. Maybe not the paragon of competitive and skill play, but I have yet to really delve into it deep enough to determine this; however, I am on the verge of saying that it is up there.
Two days later, I got into the next ship for me, a Cobra Mk III. Much better, I can now take a hit and deal some damage to ships my own size. Still, capable of being blown up if I am not aware of my surroundings, I was getting hooked and learning from my limited experience and the relatively larger pool of experience from my friends. Then it happened, I learned about trading cargo on the side, salvaging, illicit trade and mining. Three more days and I had a Vulture, a formidable attack ship with decent upgrades. Another day and I had a trade ship. Now, I ventured onto the bulletin boards finding missions to also do in my spare time. I even racked up a bounty in a few systems while completing them. I learned how to interdict, a cat-and-mouse game of following the target, to force them out of supercruise mode so you can blow them up, and evade others attempting to do the same to me. Scan ships to see if they are wanted, or need to die for my mission. Check faction and reputations gaining the useful ones and supporting my side to victory in various small system-wide civil wars.
Now I have a fully upgraded Vulture, a fully upgraded Type 7 and an Asp that is a work-in-progress with less than 2 weeks into the game. I cannot objectively say yet if it has the top tier of competitive play, endless game play and mechanics to keep me playing, but I am determined to play more and give it a proper review at some point in the future, if I can put the HOTAS down long enough to write one. Till then, I will probably see more of the Milky Way or perhaps in the ‘verse. Which reminds me, why not do a small write up about the other heavy hitter of crowdfunding that pointed me to Elite Dangerous, Star Citizen?