Hobbies, Elite Dangerous, and Making Games…

Time, there’s only so much of it and they ain’t making any more of it. Or so I have heard.

Part of why I don’t post much (and why I stopped hosting my own site and moved it into a free WordPress.com blog) is because any time I spend posting things here is time I am not spending doing something else. The other reason is that nearly no one reads this blog anyhow – I have the stats to prove it lol… But mostly it’s that first part. I’m not a very good multi-tasker, but I excel at focusing on a single thing for hours on end. I’m even one of those crazies who like to listen the same song on repeat. I think it creates the illusion that time isn’t actually passing…

Anyhow, lately I have been playing Elite: Dangerous, a nifty space game, rather than working on Loop Dipole and the Chaoties or even logging into that other game I “still play”, Guild Wars 2. I put the words, “still play”, in quotes, because in reality the way I play games has changed a lot over the years. In 2002 I discovered MMOs and played the heck out them until around 2008, after which I slowly wound down my social involvement in gaming to the point where I am now not far off my 1980s level of playing single player games on the NES. Except my NES is a PC and I play Supertux rather than Super Mario… The point being, I have lost all interest in the online community aspect of gaming, particularly the notion that I should be responsible for or answer to “internet people”, and I have rediscovered the joy of single player games. Playing them, making them, teaching my kids about them, putting my wife to sleep while talking about them… All good fun!

I had read about Elite: Dangerous while it was in production and it seemed to me that it would be yet another free for all PvP “Gankbox”, so as much as I like space and scifi, I had no interest in wasting my time on such a thing. After thousands of hours trying to ignore cheaters in Planetside 2 and knowing the morality deprived subculture that frequents online games, I figured ED was yet another game that was destined to be ruined by those who cheat. Thankfully, as I recently discovered, ED has an entirely single player experience that takes place in the same dynamic universe that all players exist in. In fact, it has three nifty modes of play:

Open Play
The quintessential PvP Gankbox, box where social degenerates ruin other people’s play experience without any possibility of danger to themselves.

Private Gropus
A grouping system that causes only other people in your group to be part of your universe.

Solo Play
A universe where you are the only player.

Though it is somewhat problematic that player driven changes to the universe in one mode of play happens in all modes play, as people who play Open Play can’t actively prevent changes to their universe, overall the system works well and provides a unique “dynamic world” experience for all players. Interestingly, players on PC, Mac, PS4, and XBox1 all share the same universe database, which is a back-end simplification that you just don’t see very often in the gaming industry – usually each platform has its own database or “servers”. So it’s kind of neat, because the political landscape of the game can fluctuate and change despite your best efforts, due to efforts and motivations of other folks you’ll never meet. While not perfect, I think the unified universe, that puts some things outside of the player’s control despite their best efforts, delivers a level of realism that they probably didn’t intend to deliver.

As for the game play itself, it has its good points and its bad points. Character progression beyond a certain point really becomes a matter of “I want that” rather than “I need to achieve that to gain access to new game play systems”. This is largely due to the fact that after a certain point, all off the ships are essentially like different sized dice – they all do the same thing in the exact same way, just some are larger and more expensive than others. Coming from Star Wars Galaxies, where using larger ships meant more gaining access to more game play systems (ie. requiring other real people to man the guns, co-pilot, and repair stations), the ship progression in Elite: Dangerous is kind of bland actually. Like I said, you’re basically getting a bigger, more expensive ship, because you want it. Realistically, you can take part in all the game play systems available using the starter ship if you want. You just won’t be able to solo massive ships – no X-Wings taking out the Death Star here folks.

So what can you do in Elite: Dangerous?

Scifi space combat (bounty hunting for credits or just blowing stuff up, because you can), commodities trading, mining, smuggling of goods, treasure hunting (in space and in a vehicle on moons), exploration, manipulating faction control of systems, and customizing one’s ships with parts from around the galaxy. In the PvP mode one can also be a “pirate” by bullying people in unarmed cargo ships using one’s massively over powered combat ship – it’s a no challenge activity for the “pirate”, but seems to be a popular activity none the less. Each of these activities have randomized missions that are available on the bulletin board at ports throughout the galaxy, but for the most you can just go do these things as you see fit.

Personally, I like the treasure hunting aspect of the game the most, as it’s an over-arching theme that is broken down into different activities. On planets/moons you can drive around hunting for rocks to mine into resources you can use for buffs and repairs. You can also find points of interest with cargo containers, often guarded by easy to kill drones. Then there are missions where you are tasked with finding an occupied escape pod before the poor person inside runs out of air. The (usually well paying) escape pod missions require flying around looking for points of interest (blue regions on the radar) and landing to then drive out and scoop up the wayward soul. Mining and trading rare commodities can also fall under the treasure hunting category, as they both have elements of discovery. Similarly, if you’re into smuggling then there are plenty of wrecks in space to salvage, which nearly always provide valuable goods that are classed as stolen.

Exploration is a financially rewarding experience that can be enjoyable if you’re into that sort of thing. Traveling from system to system, scanning the stars and planets, and then heading back to a space station to sell the data you’ve collected can net millions of credits. Provided you don’t get blown up and lose the data before you can sell it that is. While it is possible to travel the galaxy in the starter ship, having a somewhat larger ship give one a wider variety of game play options along their travels, such as being able to repair damage to their ship or having room to carry a vehicle hanger so they can drive on some of the planets they find. With an entire galaxy of star systems to explore, exploration is probably more than a life time worth of content!

Combat, from what I have experienced in my low level Z-95-like Eagle, is very similar to the great arcade style space games, such as X-Wing Vs. TIE Fighter. The ability to switch between flight assist mode (arcade style controls) and Newtonian physics on the fly is interesting and, dare I say, makes Elite: Dangerous the perfect space game in terms of flight mechanics. At this point, having a larger ship simply means you have bigger guns and bigger shields and are perhaps not as maneuverable as smaller ships, so realistically one could play for hours and hours in low level ships without missing out on any game play systems. That’s the double edge sword of simplicity, providing the player with the freedom to choose their strata of play, but at the same time depriving the player of having anything more to work toward. Like I said before, you could get a bigger ship, but unlike Star Wars Galaxies, bigger ships don’t add additional game play (well, beyond being able to do more of what is available using a single ship, rather than using multiple smaller ships to the do the same thing). Down the road they may add multi-player ships and fighter hangars though, which will expand upon the game play systems the game offers.

All in all, Elite: Dangerous is a great game. I am very happy that I used my “hobby budget” to purchase it rather than purchasing the Heart of Thorns expansion for Guild Wars 2, as it provides far more content than I would have gotten out of HoT. Also, space laser man, space lasers! 🙂

As far as working on games go, I have been corresponding with a fellow who is working on his own single player experience based on Star Wars Galaxies Emu, which inspired me to get my Legend of Hondo environment reinstalled and running. I’d like to divide my time between puttering away at Hondo, Loop, and helping the kids with their garden this summer. It’s fun stuff, but so is playing other people’s games too ya know!