Elite Dangerous: XXX-Wing

Last night I nerdgasmed hard.  There isn’t much to say about Elite Dangerous that hasn’t been said, but I need to share what, for me, was the best VR experience I’ve had so far.  Not just because it was comfortable, smooth and gorgeous to look at, but it was my dream experience – one that I’ve been looking forward to since I heard VR was making a comeback.  This game has clearly had VR gamers in mind from the start as it makes things very easy on the eye, mind and general vestibular system.  Though you will have some gut-wrenching moments from the sheer overwhelming realisation that YOU’RE IN MUTHAF**KING SPACE!  You are surrounded on all sides by the inky black disco ball, so there were more than a few moments that triggered my acrophobia, others the more general horror of teeny insignificance.

elite-dangerous-asteroids
I eat pieces of ship like you for breakfast!

For anyone who played a lot of X-Wing back in the day, the mechanics should feel familiar.  I was at home straight away, but you’ll have lots of gut-flipping moments in the first few minutes, especially trying to get bandits in your cross-hairs.  It’s not easy and you are probably going to need to tweak the controls a bit to get it set up how you like – do this early!  As a keyboard and mouse player I found it simple enough to get used to, but it takes a bit of teeth-gritting to get over the initial disorientation (unless you’re my mum who was clearly born in space).  Learning to find the dead-spot quickly – so you can stop rotating is the hard part and getting your sensitivity and dead zones sorted out – is crucial to a comfortable and successful experience. I turned Yaw-Roll, Axis-Relative and Axis-Acceleration off which I found to be the most predictable/intuitive experience.

Red-Faced Leader: Standing By

Now, a bit of honesty: I was going toe-to-toe with a enemy sidewinder and we got locked into a mortal coil… They were very tight, so I lost sight of them and had to hard flip to try to center, but the craft kept edging just out of sight (I could see the vapour they were leaving behind).  It was on the 6th or 7th loop that I realised I was chasing my own smoke trail!  The bugger was 3Km away shooting my wing-man…  I am the laughing stock of Trevithick Dock.

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Smokey is on your tail

In space, no one can hear you

That’s because, as far as I know, there’s not a single human being in the whole game.  It’s not exactly a problem at the moment since you have plenty of other things going on (see above).  But it is very interesting to note that immersing yourself in the local culture, flora and fauna is all part of their Grand Plan.  Elite’s Wiki points to this video as being indicative of the tech that will be used to animate creatures (it was created by Brabben’s studio Frontier Developments).

To Boldy Go

I’m REALLY looking forward to the planet-side part of it; ever since I played Outcast and Captain Blood I’ve longed to go exploring strange new worlds, coming in peace, shooting to kill.  Interacting with alien races, either to cooperate or conflict with them provides an almost infinite level of expansion and it will be interesting to see how they deal with languages.  I really loved the fact that the aliens in Captain Blood were batshit-insane (in fact, the whole game was), but that’s kind of how I imagine first contact anyway.  Pointing at things, showing things, lots of arm/tentacle-waving, exchanging things, backing off slowly, getting out of there.

Imagine being the first player to land on a completely unique procedurally-generated world?  Having its own structures and an alien culture that follows a basic set of rules, ones that extrapolate into any number of unknowable consequences.  We’ll be the new Magellans, Gagarins, Armstrongs.  We can all be Kirk!  Except that guy with the red shirt.

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Yes, we are an effective team.  Yes, yes, yes, I’m scrubbing as I speak.

For now, the places you’ll visit are space stations and outposts that have markets for trading, repairing/upgrading and topping up ammo/fuel supplies.  You can align with various factions to perform services for them or stay the lone wolf and try to get enough reputation to work for anyone with the right money.  Getting in and out of stations is a bit stressful, to be honest (there’s even a book called ‘Docking is difficult’).  The authoritarian alerts that shout and blink at you while you’re trying to do some difficult manoeuvres is even more agitating and I’ve come to think of the port controller as ‘ED-209’.

We’re gonna need a bigger boat

Your first craft is a simple all-rounder, letting you test your skills in the major three career choices (Trading, Mining or Death) or even some combination of them.  Technically there are probably some variants that don’t strictly fall into these categories such as exploring or working for the space police, but exploring doesn’t pay well enough by my estimation and I’m guessing the latter normally devolves into dog-fights on Friday night.  All of these things can change over time and there needs to be no ‘clear way to win’ that will always work.  Balancing is a key part of the games’ premise, so anything you choose should be rewarding and it will only get more so over time.

elite-dangerous-landing
Successful rendezvous with Rama

The Dangerous Elite

OK, so all this exploring can put you in some interesting situations.  One thing you learn pretty quickly is to avoid confrontation.  Almost everyone else has a faster, stronger, harder ship than yours (or just more of them).  Fail to jettison your cargo for pirate perusal and you’ll be blown up and scavenged before finding yourself back at the start point with nothing but the sidewinder (an able, but uninspiring ship).  If you’re really good, you might give a small pack of pirates a run for their money: I found myself aimlessly milling around an empty star system and got hailed on by pirates (“your cargo or your life”), so I gave them the run around for 10 minutes, even landed some satisfying shots, until they finally picked me off.  There was some grim satisfaction in the fact that I’d only been carrying Tobbacco from star to star (that it turns out nobody wants in our neck of the woods and can get you arrested).  I got some much needed dog-fighting practice out of it and they wasted precious energy.  Pirates 1: Commander Ace Rimmer 0.01.  In your face, space bitches!

Should you find yourself in this scenario, do not despair!  It is possible to win against stronger opponents, but you have to be on your game and use every trick in your book.  I am told this, I believe it to be true, yet I have not seen a book nor do I know where to purchase one.  It may even be figurative.  I suspect it is.  Practice, practice, practice.

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Yes, stats will still be around in the future.

Tip of the iceberg

There are books out about the path to being Elite, but I’m going to just mention a couple of simple things I found very handy indeed.

When you’re Super-Cruising and you want to stop somewhere, target it with your nav computer.  Set your speed in the middle of the blue ‘sweet spot’ area and let the nav computer slow down for you (semi-automatic pilot).  This will take you to within ‘safe stopping’ distance and you’ll just need to turn off Super Cruise to arrive within a short impulse-drive from your destination.

Turn off ‘Yaw-Roll’ if you want to be able to dock more easily.  It’s hard to match your rotation with a station’s if you’re rolling every time you turn.  On that note, before you try to land on a dock make sure you’re facing the right way (away from the control tower, it seems to me).  It can take a long time to turn on the spot and you won’t be given that time – everything is harder when ED-209 is barking at you!

Pirates sometimes look like space-junk.  Except when it is just junk.  I haven’t sold any junk yet.  It’s junk.

If I had a tip for the galaxy map, this is where I would share it.  I do not.  It is hard in the Rift.  Fiddle with it until you get somewhere near where you’re aiming and lock it in.  You’ll find a combination of zooming out, re-orienting, zooming in and placing the cursor/marker on the system you want to visit gives fairly accurate results most of the time (but this is way easier when you’re not using the Rift so hopefully this will change).

elite-dangerous-docking
NONE SHALL PASS

My God, It’s Full of Stars!

I probably wouldn’t be playing this game at all if it weren’t for the Oculus Rift.  Elite Dangerous and the Oculus Rift are a marriage made in heaven.  I’ve tried it on a monitor and it’s a great looking game, but it’s easier and way more fun to play the game in VR.  Tracking enemy craft, docking, exploring and using the interface are very well managed with the headset on (you can activate controls by looking at them), but the sense of fun in massively increased when you can actually feel the weight of asteroids around you as you scoot about among them, ever so slightly unsettled at the idea of two of them conspiring to squash you like a fly between two water melons.  The sense of scale is humungous and space travel is a real rush (especially Hyperspace!).  Putting on your VR headset is like stepping into space, I can’t recommend it enough.

 

 

Toby Worth
#HEARMENOW

Toby Worth

Project Lead at VR-Gaming
I'm an incorrigible space cadet and a proper Knerd (crusading nerd).
Really enjoying things now the 21st century is getting into full-swing.As a self-appointed evangelist of ideas that are ahead of their time I will happily talk at you over ale.
Toby Worth
#HEARMENOW

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