Elite Dangerous

It was getting late, and I was running behind schedule trying to carry well-paying tourists back to their destination. While they partied in the back of the limo, drinking and having a great time, I was stuck in the driver’s seat trying to navigate a strange route through increasingly perilous territory. With my eyes glued to the clock and my foot on the gas, I was already doubting my latest career choice, and this was only my second trip. Fighting the growing urge to dump my passengers in the middle of nowhere and scream off into the night, I took a deep breath, and pressed the accelerator forward.

It was right about then that I dropped out of hyperdrive smack dab in the middle of the gravity well of a massive star, and immediately things went to shit. Ah, the joys of a space limo driver…

Alarms rang in my ears as the controls in my brand-new Saud-Kruger Dolphin started smoking. The ship’s computer gently alerted me to a catastrophic temperature exposure. Suddenly everything stopped, and we were drifting.

Floating in space, with my cockpit panels shorting out and my temperature gauge through the roof, I glanced over at the cabin camera to check on my passengers, convinced that they were all cooked by radiation in their plush seats.

Still partying… Thank god for a decent shield generator.

As my shiny new Dolphin (now nicknamed Space Limo of Love, FYI) was relatively and slowly pulled toward a massive purple ball of gas, fire, and death, these guys are blasting music and falling over each other playing Twister.

“Anyone know how to find the escape vector from a purple giant star?” I yell over my shoulder, knowing well that they can’t hear me. A few calculations and a frantic discussion with the ship’s computer later, and we were burning away from the ball of death at speed.

Luckily for me, These guys didn’t even notice that they’d nearly died tonight, and tipped well.

My morning was much better. Less alcohol and near-total-annihilation, more relaxing and listening to some music while dodging gankers. The Space Limo of Love is fast. I mean, real fast. I had the techs put in a new power unit and upgraded the scanner so I can handle some tougher sightseeing trips.

In the meantime I ferried a cushy trip one system away that paid out over a million credits, so yeah it was a great morning. It wasn’t until midday when I picked up a few passengers headed to a nearby system that I ran into trouble again. It started fine, until I hit the jump button too soon and overheated, knocking us out of Supercruise and into the well of another star. It seems like this might continue to be an issue, so I might have to have a new shield put on.

The Star was easy since escape vectors are an old hag now, but not until I swung the boat around and saw our destination a good 30 minutes out from the jump point… I about shit. I was cursing the “damn bay full of prisoners” up one side of the galaxy and down the other, and hoping that if I kept leaning on the stick I could somehow will the Space Limo of Love (SLoL?) to travel faster than physically possible.

So lesson learned, check the distance on the next contract to make sure I won’t be stuck humming ancient Glen Hansard tunes and reading the same diagnostic menus over and over with a ship full of prisoners.

Funny thing happened when we finally arrived, I noticed that the prisoners were actually Aid Workers I’d just delivered to a war zone.

No wonder the payout was so low! Fucking charity right?!

So far I’ve played about 20 hours of Frontier Games’ massive online game Elite Dangerous, and already I’m lost in my space-geek imagination. After five years of Eve Online and a decade or two of X3: games, Elite is exactly the next best step in space sims.

Sporting a 1:1 scale map of the Milky Way Galaxy to explore, Elite Dangerous is an ambitious project. I blew my 11 year-old son’s mind today when I showed him the game map. I zoomed all the way out to see the swirling arms of the galaxy, then slowly zoomed back in and focused on just a few of the passing dots of light. When he finally understood that every single one of those dots contained a solar system like ours with planets and moons and a sun or two, he lost it, exclaiming that there is no point to our existence before returning to Minecraft.

Unlike most conventional video games, Elite doesn’t have levels or bosses, and in that sense is a lot like Eve Online, in what amounts to a strictly player-driven experience. When the game starts you are dropped in a space station in the middle of nowhere with $1000 credits to spend, a base-model Sidewinder, and the clothes on your back. It’s up to you to make your own fun in a the biggest sandbox I’ve ever played in.

The only game that comes close in scale is No Man’s Sky, which loses some the grandeur in its procedurally-generated, cartoonish landscapes and repetitive exploration. No Man’s Sky is to GTA III like Elite Dangerous is to GTA V. It’s bigger, it’s meaner, it’s less pixelated, and it’s got long, long legs. The developers have mapped out the game for the next few years, and only just recently introduced landing on planets and driving wheeled vehicles.

While I watch Star Citizen from afar with longing eyes, Elite Dangerous is the closest thing I’ve played to a perfect sci-fi junky’s dream come true. A completely intertwined galaxy with a fluctuating economy, an ever-changing war between human factions, and a mysterious alien presence on the edge of known space. While the learning curve is a little steep, the payoffs come fast. I quickly switched up the default control scheme to allow more intuitive play and I’m beginning to see a universe of possibilities in front of me.

I’ve run deliveries of goods and data from one station to another, I’ve sought out combat rewards, and I’ve made a small fortune from ferrying people around in my Dolphin transport ship, which came decked out with a passenger cabin and a sweet Flipper-esque hull. I don’t know how often it will happen but one lady I dropped off in 15 minutes and made 1.2 million, another few sightseers paid for a mobile party bus that only required me to show them beautiful stuff out the window. As I heap more credits into my bank account, I can’t wait to score a nice warship that I can use to mop up pirates or insurgents. I hear there is a nice income to be made for mercenaries in the Milky Way.

My only complaint is really only an inherent problem in all games of this type, and that’s the lack of focus that means that there is no way to manage your game time in any way. I’ve logged on to play for an hour and ended up online for three trying to find the right job or contract, or traveling across the stars just to find that one station selling an upgrade I need. As a father of two with a full-time job and a marriage, my window for gaming is later at night 90% of the time… and spending an hour trying to adjust my controls or hopping for station to station looking for a decent payday can leave me feeling unfulfilled. However that’s not necessarily the games fault, so like I said, any sandbox type game can swallow the hours quicker than you can spare them.

That being said, I would totally spend an entire weekend playing Elite Dangerous and having a blast doing it. I love a game that inspires me to write about it, that opens my imagination and lets me have unscripted fun. I just can’t make money fast enough yet, but the journey is always more fun than the destination anyway. Just ask my drunk tourists.

Elite Dangerous is on PC, PS4 and Xbox, with Oculus Rift compatibility that puts you IN the spaceship. It contains microtransactions and will continue to have paid updates over the next decade, at least. Elite is always online, and is playable on a solo server, a public one, or you can jump into a private group as well. The other day I scored the base game for a measly $11 on the PlayStation Store, and there’s also a $30 cumulative DLC package available as it’s been out for a few years

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Even in the Future, it’s Decisions, Decisions: (Eve Online 1 Year In)

eve_chart_revelations-4096Let’s talk Geek for a few minutes. I’ll try and keep it entertaining for those that just sighed heavily.

In another life I’m an industrialist from the future. Let’s say about 26,000 years in the future. I don’t have time to catch you up on the details, but basically humans live in a galaxy called New Eden… There are 4 races of humans who are always declaring holy wars, positioning politically, and at each others throats… All in the name of the mighty dollar… So what am I saying? That not much has changed.

Anyway long story short: Like I said, I’m an industrialist that means I take raw materials and manufacture things for sale. I’m new here, which is to say I graduated from the prestigious Caldari Naval Academy about a year ago.  You see, long ago the ability to clone ourselves made us immortal. You ever see Battlestar Galactica? We’re kind of like the Cylons, when we die our consciousness is downloaded into a clone, and we keep on trucking.

Retribution_ThumbnailThis is handy in combat. And let me tell you, the galaxy is a rough place for a miner. When I got out of the Academy I got myself a small cruiser with a big cargo hold and I slapped a couple of mining lasers on it. I sat in that thing for hours nervously watching my back, waiting for someone to fly up and mess with me. Pirates are everywhere, and they’re not the singing and dancing kind. They’re the blow your ship to hell and scoop up whatever salvage they can find kind of pirates. The worst of the worst simply because in New Eden, everyone is immortal… Why not be a ruthless bloodthirsty warrior? There’s a profit in it.

After the cruiser I moved up to an industrial ship, then eventually a mining barge, until finally I trained long enough to learn how to fly an exhumer. Now I sit and grind away, clearing asteroid belt after asteroid belt of their precious resources. Then I learned I could take those raw materials and instead of selling them, I could get a blueprint and build something. So built I did. I build guns, ammo, equipment, everything under the sun. Then I found shipbuilding.

For the last six months I’ve been building the biggest ships in the universe, the capitals. I started with a small project and I’m slowly working my way up. These things sell for billions of dollars, and while I might spend a few hundred million on minerals, I’m still pulling in a profit.

3331Now I’ve crossed the Rubicon. I’m halfway through the build on a ship called a Rorqual… and I’m in over my head. You see, this ship is no ordinary one. It’s a capital industrial. It has the ability to use a special fuel to jump from one place in to another without the use of jump gates. Plus it can store other ships and clones inside its massive hull. It can take a small mining fleet, jump out to dangerous low-security space (where all the good mining is) and deploy a space station, a mining fleet, and a huge force field.

From there the fleet of exhumers goes and mines, brings the ore back to the Rorqual, which compresses it and stores it in a special hangar. Rinse, repeat. Then the Rorqual can jump back to high-sec, drop off the ores, and jump back. When the system is clear, everyone loads back into the Rorq, and jumps back home.

This is called Jump Mining… and it is a complicated, lengthy, and extremely profitable thing to accomplish. The only problem is you can’t do it alone… and dealing with other people in New Eden is a total pain in the ass. They’re egotistical, they’re aggressive, they never listen, and they flake out. This is the way of the world.

So the question becomes: do I keep it? or do I sell it? This is the chance to start my very own mining corp, to lead missions to dangerous places in search of the mighty dollar. I’d have to recruit, train, hire protection, I’m talking serious work for a guy who only likes to engage on the shallowest level possible.

Decisions, decisions…

Eve Online – The Biggest Game You’ve Never Played

There’s something about far-off galaxies, giant spaceships, inter-factional warfare,  and integrated economies that make the dial on my geek radar spin out of control. After spending countless hours in the single-player X-Universe, I’d grown weary of waiting for the two new X games coming out this year… So I decided to try something I’d only heard of, EVE.

I don’t know what it is about my sci-fi games, but apparently the more complicated  a game – the more it appeals to me. If you’ve never played either universe (X or EVE) then you’re probably asking yourself why anyone would spend hours playing two of the hardest games on the market… And my advice would be to run, as quickly as possible, in the other direction… Save your social life, your relationships, and your friends respect for you…

Not afraid? Don’t heed warnings well? Looking for an excuse to alienate your friends and family? Or just feel like an epic challenge? Then read on…

You’ve been warned.

Eve Online is what’s known as a player-driven, persistent-world MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). In English, it’s a sandbox. There’s no single-player, no storyline, no pausing, and no retries… I repeat… NO RETRIES. If you lose your ship in Eve, it’s because another player sitting in front of their computer somewhere in the real world, has taught you a lesson about where it’s safe to fly, or who it’s safe to mouth off to.

And this thing is big… I’m talking huge. The day-to-day of Eve depends on what your profession is (mining, pirating, military defense, entrepreneur, etc) and where you’re located in the fictional galaxy of New Eden. Most of the time the action takes place in local solar systems, each with planets, asteroid belts, space stations to land at, and plenty of npc (or “rats”) bad guys to deal with. Now multiply that by 7,500. Yes I tapped correctly, 7,500.

There are over 5,000 individual solar systems, and 2,500 discoverable “wormhole” systems, inside the Eve universe. They are all linked by “jumpgates” that players can fly through, they are all individual systems with unique characteristics, and they are all tied together by one massive, fluctuating, and completely player-driven economy. What that basically boils the game down to is what I like to call a galaxy simulator. The creators have made a completely immersive experience, where if you want to buy a ship, somebody, somewhere, has to mine the minerals and then build the thing before it ever reaches whatever market you are in… And players can insert themselves into almost any part of that process…

I’m a newcomer, I’ve been playing for just under six months, and my character is the Vice President of a nice little mining corporation situated in a “quiet” corner of the galaxy. Game time, for me, is mostly made up of constant mining for minerals I need to build products for market. I set out in my mining barge with a buddy and sit on an asteroid belt while they ferry the valuable ores back and forth to our headquarters… Then I take those minerals and combine them with blueprints I’ve purchased to make things like ships, weapons, ammo, and equipment. Some items I sell for cheap, some items for millions of dollars, some for tens of millions… those are the money-makers there. I also spend a lot of time answering questions for people who want to join the corporation, or for people newer than I. Whether by “Evemail” or by the in-game live chat, someone, somewhere, always needs something. Life is busy for a Vice President… And the name of the game in Eve, is money. “ISK” is Eve’s version of cash. Ammo can be bought for a few isk each, or giant spaceships can cost billions… The most expensive item I’ve ever bought was a blueprint for a Mining Barge, which gives me the right to produce ships I can off for $12.5 million each. I can charge more, but I’d have to move my ass further out into dangerous territory to compete with whoever was building them in the area.

My path in Eve is so far wrought with corporate intrigue, failed alliances, and a few of those “where it’s safe to fly” lessons I mentioned earlier… But all in all, the attraction for me is the fact that it’s more than just a game… For a few hours a day, if I suspend my disbelief just a little, I get to transport myself to the future. A future full of epic space battles, pirate-hunting, making money, and that doesn’t even touch the community aspect of the game.

Cause if there’s one thing I’ve learned in Eve, is that the more friends you have, the better.

CCP Games, the makers of Eve, are also prepping a massive free-play extension of the game that reaches all the way to consoles this fall: Dust 514. Dust is a break from the space-faring norm of Eve, and comes in the form of a first-person shooter game that is directly connected to the economy and on-goings of Eve in real-time. Connected in the sense that in the game of Eve, you can set up planetary “colonies” on almost any planet in order to mine raw materials, refine other minerals, or produce products – depending on your abilities… And it’s those “colonies” that are the actual battlefields in DUST 514.

Think on that for a second… A First-Person-Shooter PS3 game that is plugged into the living, breathing economy of a PC Space game… It’s an entirely new way of integrating games. When I say linked, I mean live, as in you can contact (from the PS3) players in Eve (on PC) and have them effect change in DUST 514 itself. Need orbital artillery bombardments? Need new supplies? New weapons? New vehicles? No problem. DUST 514 takes place on the actual planets that are scattered all over the galaxy in Eve. That means if you want to take over another person’s “colony” you hire mercenaries (in DUST) to do the job. Depending on the outcomes of matches in DUST, you can take territory and assets in Eve.

There’s never been a game like this before, that is spread across two different devices (PC and a PS3). Because while DUST is a separate game, it really isn’t. DUST is just an extension of Eve. A really, really cool extension. The thought of being on my laptop raining down fire on actual people on the PS3 is so cool my geek-radar is just spinning out of control… Or the thought of being in a losing FPS match on the PS3 and be able to turn the tide by flying to the planet on my PC and bombing the hell out of the other team… Yeah that’s just neato, I don’t care who you are.

And the best part? FREE-PLAY on the PS3. I didn’t pay a dime.

GAME ON!