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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Winning the War on Reality: Playstation 4 is Coming

Sony announced its latest break through in video game technology last night amongst massive fanfare, unimaginable consumer expectation, and an industry that is still unsure of where it will be in the next five years. The Playstation 4 aims to hit that target when it gets here, and to steer the next generation of consoles toward an all-inclusive, social, and online experience.

large1The PS4 sounds awesome, hands down. Out of the gate we’re talking top-of-the-line hardware here, eight x86-64 cores and a native Graphics Processing Unit that has 18 separate “compute units” that produce 1.84 teraflops of processing power. It has 8GB of system memory with a GDDR5-based system that produces an unbelievable 176 GB per SECOND of bandwidth for graphics rendering and performance. It has a completely separate chip for handling downloads as well which means “download in background” doesn’t mean waiting for two days for your latest game or demo to arrive.

largeBasically all of those Teraflops and GDDRs really just mean one thing: the Playstation 4 is a beast. It’s hands-down high-end graphics processing, and some of the videos shown at last night’s event proved that there is a whole new world of entertainment out there that Sony wants to bring to ALL your devices, not just your living room TV. The graphics are truly next-generation. From the millions of objects it can handle on the screen at once to the ability to provide feature-film-like animation. This thing will blow your socks off… And it will further combine all of your entertainment possibilities in one hub, with games, movies, TV, music, and more all rolled into this new paradigm of “the War on Reality” Sony is using. It’s clever.

The PS4 is based on 5 principles that Sony feels are the future of gaming: Simple, Immediate, Social, Integrated, and Personalized. For simple, Sony has stripped down the frills and fine-tuned the experience of the User Interface. They have created the largest, fastest, and most comprehensive gaming network on the planet, linked with Gaikai Inc’s cloud technology, that will allow players to browse ALL titles for the system through the Playstation Store. Gone are the days of downloading a stripped-down demo of a game to see if you like it. Now you’ll be able to go to the PStore, select a game, and immediately start playing it.

finalfantasy_versusOne of the most anticipated aspects of the PS4 is this immediate principle. Need to pause your game for awhile and don’t want to leave your system on? Not problem, just hit the power button and the PS4 will instantly freeze and enter a low-power standby mode. Then when you’re ready, you just hit the power button again and jump right back in where you left off. I don’t know how this will work with online games, but I’m sure there will be some version of it integrated. Taking this immediacy one step further is the ability to buy a game from the online Playstation Store, and immediately start playing it. Not like now where you have to wait for a game to finish downloading before you can jump in… With the PS4 you click download, and then start the game. It will continue to download (at full speed thanks to the dedicated chip) in the “background” while you play.

Sony has also gone social. One of the biggest problems with online gaming, in my opinion, is the prevalence of dickheads. Trolls hide behind stupid user names like YourMomSuxIt69 or WeedRulez420, talking smack while sheltered by the mask of anonymity. Well Sony is hoping to oust the dickheads with the PS4. Each user will now create a REAL profile with your REAL name and REAL Facebook integration. Does this mean MomsBasement420 will stop tea-bagging your corpse in a heated match of Battlefield? Probably not. But it will hopefully provide ways to screen out the kinds of players your want to play online with, and at least a real name so you can meet at the bike racks after school.

playstation-4-console-logoAnother huge social aspect of the PS4 is the “share” button. This button is going to kick ass. Ever just finish an epic killstreak on Black Ops II and wish someone else had been around to see your expert shooting and knifing and jumping? Now you just hit the “share” button, skim through the last few minutes of gameplay, select the beginning of the moment you wish to share, and upload it as a video for others to watch. I think this function is going to be unbelievably fun. Creating moments of awe-inspiring fun is what gaming is all about, and now you’ll be able to share those experiences with your friends. That is friggin cool.

Integration is also the name of the game with the Playstation 4, and they’ve gone beyond all expectations with this one.  The new Playstation app will allow iPhones and Android devices to have a “second screen” experience with their favorite titles. Imagine you’re playing Grand Theft Auto 5 and need directions across town. Now I’m completely making this up, but the technology is real, and it would let you do things like pull up a real-time map of the city on your iPad with a route planned out for you… Or Maybe a dossier on a potential client in whatever Hitman-type game could be sent to your Samsung tab for you to read up on different game aspects. These aren’t real game aspects, but the “second screen” experience is very real. Sony plans to integrate ALL your devices into your gaming exploits.

ds4The new Dualshock 4 controller sports a familiar shape and layout, while giving a new touch-pad input and “share” button. They have perfected the art of the rumble, and each controller comes with a more integrated motion-control input. Along with the direct control of the Dualshock 4, the PS Vita, which Sony released last year, will allow gamers to remotely control their console and their games. They introduced a technology that promises to make seamless play possible between the console and the handheld, giving users the ability to play ANY game remotely through the Vita.

Lastly, the PS4 aims to be completely personalized. The console will get to know you over time, suggesting titles from the games you play, and the ratings your give. It will even download games, music, movies, and television for you that it thinks you might like! The PS4 will take snapshots of your entertainment habits and offer up content based on that information.

playstation-4-controllerWhile Sony doesn’t have a physical console yet, the guts are there and the technology is here. In my opinion, they’ve taken a huge leap forward, and in the right direction. Combining awesome processing power with a completely immersive and social experience. If Sony can follow through on the promises they made last night, and deliver it without breaking the bank of the average gamer, they might have just put the future of gaming back on track. The PS4 will be available this holiday season.