Flieger, grüß' mir die Sonne, grüß' mir die Sterne und grüß' mir den Mond. Dein Leben, das ist ein Schweben, durch die Ferne, die keiner bewohnt! - Hans Albers, F.P.1 antwortet nicht (Adaptation in the 80s: Extrabreit)

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Flipping through missions

After my successful mining operation, all intel about the required pristine mining location is in place, so it cannot hurt to do another one. This time, I can stack a few missions about methanol monohydrate, which strongly hints at its availability only in ice asteroids. Conveniently, the same pristine location in Bhare offers said ice asteroid rings. I also make sure to have enough drones/limpets available and filled my cargo hold almost totally up. Arriving in Bhare at the ice ring, I first confuse methanol monohydrate with methane clathrate, and of course, the former is super rare to find. I have to waste a lot of prospector limpets and go back to a station to restock before I have unearthed the required 16 tons of them.

In order to be not too lonely during my ventures, I made use of my new casual player guild´s teamspeak, Blue Venceance. I had met those guys via my forays in Dreadnought, but after I had launched a forum post about Elite, some likeminded players emerged. As it turns out, two of us had time and leasure to form up a wing. What do you do in a wing? Well, missions are not shared. There is a trading bonus when doing it in a team, but the real fun is, of course, combat. Previously, I had found a conflict zone in Koviac and even one or two missions attached to it. That´s where we go now. My wingmate sports a fully equipped Anaconda, me in my Vulture.

Our first drop goes not so well. I am there first, and as soon as I choose my side of the conflict, three red dots immediately open fire on me. My wingmate drops in, draws quite some fire, too, but thus gives me the moment I need to escape into supercruise. I can repair quickly at the next outpost, but it turns out that there are no large pads for the Anaconda, so he has to jump into the next system for his repairs.

In the meanwhile, I approach the battlefield again and more cautiously, by first boosting away from the fray, then choosing my side, and then carefully picking one red dot which is already surrounded by three green ones. Much better. Like this, my side quickly gets the upper hand and once my wingmate is back, we are in for a stroll and pick our enemies off, one by one. After about half an hour, I have about half a million Credits in combat vouchers and I have a million Credits in mission rewards. Not bad and a nice result for that particular game session.

However, in the meanwhile, the community has realized that the most cash comes from Skimmer missions. There is also the bad habit to stack missions artificially, by logging in an out, which makes the mission agents respawn said missions. You can stack up to 20 missions like this, each of them between one and two mission Credits worth (friendly or allied status required), and finish all of them by shooting a maximum of 12 skimmers. I don´t like this fact, as it causes inflation and makes other mission types inferior, thus limiting the game experience.

The next time I log in, there is no wingman available and I am still sitting at about 7 million Credits of cash. I still want to do my efforts with the engineers and need more savings, so I grudgingly resign myself back to Mula Wendes, my mission base for planetary skimmer missions. Since my spacecraft is just a means of getting my down to planets, I buy again an Imperial Eagle. It sports the fastest availabe boost speed, a good cockpit view, can carry a Scarab bay, and it is cheap, in case I should loose it.
I don´t artificially stack missions, but what I do is, at the end of my game sessions, accept missions and combine them with the newly available ones once I log in for a new game session. I always choose missions for two locations, do one location and fly back and stack missions for the other location before I do them. Like this, on a good night, I make 18 million credits for destroying just 12 skimmers in one location. Sometimes, I intentionally earn less and stack missions from those agents whom I am not yet friendly or allied with, in order to get them there, too.

Some missions take quite some time, because all those points of interest consist of mineral accumulations. A lucky hint from the community makes me realize, I see points of interests better and earlier if I fly higher up and zoom my scanner far out (page down button). It is still a bit annoying to search for suitable locations, because the game does not render them far ahead enough; sometimes, they just pop up when I have already passed them, and just a lucky glance sideways makes me aware of them. I wonder how many wrecks I might have missed because of this. There is an option in the graphic menu about pre-rendering surfaces, but I don´t notice much difference in this behaviour even once I crank it up to maximum. I would like to see outposts and especially wrecks much farther ahead from above. Right now, the safest way to discover them is to fly at 1 km and do a circle while in the zone of a point of interest. This gives the game enough time to make an outpost “pop up”, but it costs time. I hope that Frontier can do something about this, maybe introduce some more hints on the ship scanner, as the surface scanner in the Scarab already does.

One particular game session, I also have quite some trouble with the HTC Vive. I made use of a tip in the internet, to increase supersampling so that I have a sharper view, which is especially good for reading tiny letters in the HUD. However, my Nvidia GTX1070 does not have the power to render more than x1.5 without a severe drop in framerates. The result is negligible, the true improvement starts at about x2.0, but my tinkering causes quite some grey-outs and crashes. They always happen, once in a while, but the supersampling clearly amplifies this issue. I really hope that Frontier still works on improving the HTC Vive experience in particular!

Once I have found an outpost, at one point, while I am in my Scarab jeep, there are suddenly explosions all around me. Looking up, I see that “clean” Adder, which followed me for some time, attacking first me and then my parked ship. I just make it back in time into my ship as its shields fail. A bad starting point for a close-surface dog fight, and having just two fixed pulse lasers does not make this easier. I get away just barely. Taking flight from an Adder is a bit humiliating, but I like the fact that you are never really safe.

On my next try, my ship gets attacked again while I am far away in my Scarab. The attacker appeared only after I mounted the Scarab, and I am too far away to do anything. In my haste to scramble back, I veer and somersault and arrive only to find a burned out shipwreck. It is suddenly an interesting experience, alone on a rocky planet with no means to escape. Maybe with some later patch will introduce player ship crews, and I will be able to play this through and send a distress beacon to alert nearby players for help. Right now, I only have the option to self destruct. I did well by choosing a cheap ship for these missions. I now have lost only about 110.000 Credits, as opposed to the two million Credits, which my Asp´s insurance would have cost.

After these events, I play more cautiously and send my Imperial Eagle away while I drive on the surface. Some more “skimmer runs”, and my cash is up to 70 million credits after just one more game session. I don´t want to do this grind for long, just needed a cash safety net for some efficient other missions. I could now think about high efficiency mining in a Python, some trade missions, or just try out the T7 for the first time, maybe combine this with finally finding and bringing 200 landmines to Liz Ryder, so that my engineering venture can finally begin.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Estray miner

Since my cash is dangerously low, I need to go back to some mission funding. At the same time, I do not want to do planetary missions again, but something linked to space combat. For that, I need a system with conflict zones. The galaxy map can show systems with "civil war" or "war status", but they seem few and scarce in Aisling Duvals "powerplay bubble".

Two full sessions pass where I try to find a new base for doing combat missions. However, it seems to be impossible to get access to such missions even in systems which actually do have conflict zones, with a neutral standing and only a "competent" combat ranking myself. Instead, I get very low-payed transport, deliver, courier or mining missions. Even skimmer missions are rare at this stage. How boring is this!? I am very tempted to go back to my old system where I have friendly/allied status and just grind planetary skimmer missions. But I want to experience different content. 

In the end, I do some transport missions and manage to raise to a cordial status in HIP 114530 with two of the four empire related agents there. I figured that four empire related agents in one system would boost the spread of available missions, but right now, I don´t see much difference: Contrary to Mula Wendes, missions seem to have a lot of different target systems. Thus, stacking missions is much more difficult then it was in Mula Wendes, where there were by large only three different systems. Maybe this is because Mula Wendes actually sits at the border of the civilised space bubble, whereas now in HIP 114530, I am more deep in it.

Anyways, after those two game sessions of only hopping about without earning anything, I accept three mining missions, one for gold, two for Osmium. The total amount corresponds to the size of my cargo hold. Then I start equipping my Asp for a mining operation. As usual, it is at first difficult to understand what equipment I need, and some tutorials in the internet are needed as a preparation. Then I just start and drop into an asteroid ring. 

Some twenty minutes later, I am severely annoyed. Most asteroids offer only tiny percentages of Osmium, and I need a bunch of 16 tons of them. Also, I feast way too fast through the few limpets which I brought along.  I hadn´t realized that a prospecting limpet is a one-use item, basically being the UI instrument to target and show the mineral concentration of an asteroid. Even more annoying, the outpost I travel back to at about 1000ls does not have stock of them.

I need some more time and research to understand that mining is only profitable, game-time-wise, if you find and drop into an asteroid ring with a rich or pristine “metal rich” or even better “metallic” composition. So, how to find one? Again, hopping randomized from system so system, a permanent browsing of that clumsy galaxy map, five second for loading it, five seconds for loading the system map? No, please, this is not how I want to play this game! 

After that, I can finally travel about 60 lightyears to Bhare system. Planet A3 has two rings and of course I first drop into the wrong, icy, one. But finally, I am where I need to be. The asteroids have high percentages of gold and osmium. It takes just about 20 minutes until my cargo hold is full. This time, I brought more than enough limpets, so that I even have to jettison some in order to make room in my cargo hold. Well, until I discover that the busy cargo limpets actually put also jettisoned stuff back into the cargo hold. So, instead, I fire multiple prospecting limpets, which self destruct.

Bingo, finally, some mining missions finished, no attacks or interdictions, and I am back in HIP 114530. Despite having four empire agents there, the next batch of mission are totally crappy. Sure, transport this or destroy a skimmer, but looking at the target systems, the mission targets are way too many lightseconds away, promting endless boring 200k lightseconds of travels in supercruise, for some measly 100k Credits as a reward. Nono. How annoying. This again is a block of gameflow, again the need to look out, literally research, for something more efficient to do. This late in a game session, I am not ready to go “back to the drawing board" and instead, for once, log out early.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Not my night

It´s one of these nights in Elite, where the word "Dangerous" has meaning. 

The ingame galaxy map, which is supposed to show trade streams, does not show any data concerning the trade of landmines, even though I buy every trade data from all adjacent systems. Nobody seems to trade landmines. This might be because the engineers outpost is actually hidden and only revealed to a priviledged few. However, I would have hoped that plenty of other players would deal with landmines for Liz. Again, the fan pages in the internet are my saviour. I pick the first location, which offers enough landmines for sale, so that I might satisfy engineer Liz´ demand. 

However, jumping over to LSH1651, the system doesn´t show many of its planets, despite me having bought the system´s exploration data via the galaxy map! My Asp does not have a scanner installed, so there is no way that I actually find the outpost I am looking for. I have to jump to the next best named system (good indicator that all system data is available) and buy a scanner. Having done so and jumping back, I finally find the planet with the outpost I am looking for. Alas, it is 18,000 ls out there. Sigh. About an hour of game playing has already passed, nothing but hindrances so far.
Finally arriving there, I load up those damn landmines and make my way back. As it turns out, of my 58-ton cargo capacity, only 40 tons of landmines did fit in, because some missions from before sneakily stuffed some commodity as mission reward. 

My game session time is short, and I still have three stacked base assault missions from last session. Thus, I postpone the “operation landmines” and launch from the planetary outpost to the space station, to stack more of the same mission. On this short route, I get interdicted. In my Asp, I feel confident, so I play the evasion minigame just for fun, and I loose it, as usual. Boy that was the wrong choice. Frameshift drive cools down much slower, and I have two greedy Diamonback Scouts on my pelt. No matter how I jiggle and boost and turn, even with its powerful prismatic shield, my Asp is toasted in no time. Damn! Scratch of two million Credits, more than my current mission log will earn me. As a side service, my cargo hold is now also empty.

Launch again. And again, I am interdicted, wtf!? This time, it is just an Eagle. Feel all my wrath!
Finally, on the station, there are no more missions to stack. The Blue Mafia and all other agents here offers entirely different mission sets. Before their timer runs out, I decide to finish the missions in my log. Jump and supercruise 8,000 ls. And, also a rare thing, on my scanner blips a hollow triangle. This triangle happens to be a Fer-de-Lance, and the CMDR whose name I did not memorize is alleged to Felicia Winters. Which means, with my allegiance to Aisling Duval, I am prey. 

I probably should have changed my course to try to wiggle him off. Instead, I slow down and try to exit supercruise, but my ship´s speed is too fast for that. The interdiction happens quickly. My ship spins wildly around, even though throttle was at zero. And me too, in real. WTF, something is tugging on my VRgoggle´s and my headset´s cableset. It is my cat. She got entangled, no idea how she could have been so stupid. All my head mounted tech gets tugged and ripped, and until I am free again and have mounted all stuff, I stare at the insurance screen. Scratch off another 2 million Credits.
This is not my night.

My cash is dangerously low, just about one million Credits left. Travelling on with my Asp would risk loosing its entire asset value of 44 million Credits. So, with much humiliation, I go to the ship dealer and shop for a cheap old rusty Eagle. It can fit a hangar for the Scrarab. I do not need more to finish my mission stack. But humiliated I do feel.

After the hyperjump, again the same CMDR blips up and again approaches fast. Nono, not this time: I was cautious and had my Eagle only at half speed. As such, I am able to slow down fast enough and exit supercruise before he is close enough for an interdiction. Back in normal space, I boost away. It is now a tricky decision for the Fer-de-Lance: Will she enter my low exit wake, then I can supercruise away with good chances that she will be left too far behind for another interdiction attempt. Some time passes, but no Fer-de-Lance. She might be waiting close by to immediately catch me back in supercruise. I won´t risk this and jump into another system. Then back. No hollow blip this time. She maybe got bored or is busy with another interdiction target.

This time, approach my target planet by a orbital vertical vector. Like this, any interdictor will have to first also rise up from the orbital plane, and until she did so, I should have had enough time to either arrive or hyperjump away. But no hollow blip remains to be seen.

Instead, just mere moments close to the planet, I get interdicted again by an NPC ship. WTF, isn´t it enough already!?! Having learned old forgotten lessons, I throttle down and let theinterdiction happen, then boost immediately away and can thus re-enter supercruise before the interdictor has acquired me as a target. My crappy C-class scanner doesn´t even identify the interdictor ship class. Finally, I arrive at my destination and descend to the planet surface.

Arriving at the same rocky landscape as last time, it turns out that my Eagle as a much easier time to find a landing spot than the fat Asp. Destroying the power grid is easy, now that I have the routine. Bing, plus 1.1 million Credits. Not exactly for a profit, this night. 

Jumping back to Eurybia, the missions offered have not become better. I think this is a fine moment to log out. Nothing more good can come out of this overall rather botched night. At least I regained plenty of long forgotten experience!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Ship tuning via engineers

My ventures in Elite: Dangerous once more grind to a halt as I discover Dreadnought, a little newcomer with some very positive reports from Gamescon. This is not about Tie Fighters. You fly in a team of five, each in command of some serious heavy spacecraft. The pacing, mood and graphic are very well done, and even after three weeks of Beta, I have trouble not going back to do “just one more battle”. Watching those behemoths dishing it out with all kinds of impressive weaponry never gets old. Thus, the nights were long. As typical for closed beta games, the community is small, such that I quickly stumbled upon a German casual guild named Blue Vengeance, with a well done webpage and teamspeak capacity. As it turns out, there are also some who play Elite: Dangerous, which in turn finally motivate me to go back from that “instant action” type of gameplay to the more serene, planning type which Elite: Dangerous is.

Speaking of planning, it is exactly those moments where a plan fails which tend to kick me “out of the gameflow”. My Vulture is docked in Yhele, a nice occasion to pay off some fines and finally get rid of my “wanted” status. However, as my Powerplay-Faction lead by Aisling Duval in the meantime did expand and started to exploit Yhele, the conflicts have died and Yhele is a quiet vassal of the Empire. A pity, because those three conflict zones were in proximity to the station, and especially all specialized mission concerning those conflict zones are gone. Also, my Powerplay-status has dropped again this cycle, barring access to prismatic shields, nevermind the fact that the Vulture has not enough powergrid to sustain them. Time for a new plan, a new venture I guess.
I still think that a massively shielded Vulture would be formidable permanent part of my fleet. I just need a way to tune up the power plant output. In come the engineers, but a lot of research on fan websites is required until I get an overview where all of them are, what they can offer, and how they work. A pity, because this kind of “have to look-it-up” gameplay collides with the immersion provided by my VR-goggles; put them on, fly to a station, don´t find what you seek, put them off, research and memorize system and station names, put them on, fly there, next step of the plan, rinse and repeat.

After some afternoons of “idle planning”, I roughly know which tuning is available and how it could play together for a fully pimped-out Vulture. Here is the plan:

- charge up the powerplant by +35% (-50% heat efficiency, integrity), i.e. from ~15MW to ~20MW;
- buy and tune low powered prismatic shields to -31% powerdraw, -20% mass, i.e. from 6.5MW to ~4.4 MW and from 40 tons to ~32 tons;
- tune power distributor to increased weapon output (because this one has double the output than system or engines on the Vulture and thus profits must from the tuning percentage);
- tune one or two shield boosters to +279% (+300 mass increase, +25% powerdraw), i.e. from +20% shield power to ~+50% shield power and from 3,5 tons to 10,5 tons;
- tune clean drives to +18% optimal mass, -60% thermal load (+25 powerdraw,), i.e. this should compensate for the greatly decreased heat efficiency of the overcharged powerplant;
- tune frameshift drive to +50% optimal mass (+25% powerdraw, integrity), as everyone loves farther jump ranges;
- tune hull to -15% mass, 18% hull boost (-25% reinforcement), i.e. from 230 tons to ~199 tons;
- tune armor to 68% reinforcement (+30% mass, but not for light armor!), i.e. from 288 armor to ~450 armor
- tune weapons as last because they are most likely to be switched out according to needs.

Quite a shopping list, eh? Engineers require first to be found, then a mission to access one, then some requirements before they work for you, then slowly ranking up to the best modifications like above at rank 5. Not that it would be that easy, though. Some engineers are “hidden” behind others, so that I first need to rank up here before being able to access the one I want. Sigh. Ok, I understand that this is for the long term player, but still… I hope the game does not rely too much on those uptuned ships. Drawback if it rightly so doesn’t: Once you have tuned your ship, combat should become ridicously easy…

Well, there is nothing better to do right now, except for doing either transport, assassination or conflict zone missions in a new system. I waver a bit between those options. My new wing mates hide in a private group and after I coaxed them out of it, they chose to do what the do every day: Dogfights in HiRes zones, i.e. resource extraction sites, for bounties. But I want a perfect ship, first.
I need to visit Liz Ryder in Eurybia. She will work on reinforced armor and hull reinforcements, and finally give me access to Hera Tani, who in turn will work on my power plant and power distributor. After that, I need to look for Lei Cheung or Didi Vaterman for the shield improvements, and so on. Let´s see if I can stand the grind!

Since there are likely also transport missions involved, the Vulture gets stored, out comes my Asp. It still needs a pit stop to upgrade the frameshift drive from C to A. Off go the VR-googles, research on webpages, fly there. Then it is tima to move on to Eurybia.

In order to meet Liz, I need a friendly status with a faction called “The Blue Mafia”. Well, I hope this goes not too far so that I would loose status with the Empire-aligned factions in that system. In the end, it doesn´t. I can immediately stack some well payed planetary missions, with an overall profit of ~1 million Credits very profitable ones, considering that I am just “neutral” with them. The mission type is a new one: Destroy a “Main Flux Generator” in a low-security settlement, a base assault is in order!

The mission takes some time. First, I try an assault with my ship, but two cannons quickly shatter even my Asp´s prismatic shield while I can´t seem to hit anything myself. Weird. Since the base is situated in such a rocky area, I take quite a while to actually find a landing spot. Then, driving up that rocky slope is a nightmare, making the Scarab sommersault and this provokes again seasickness with my VR goggles on. Finally my assault with the Scarab jeep fares well. Once in the base, I have to get rid of two ground-defense turrents. This turns out to be easy, I just have to hide behind a corner until my shield recharges. There are three datapoints, not sure what to make of all those hacking messages I get once I access them. And there is just one other targetable building, the “Power Grid”. Once I destroy it, all three missions give the blue success message. So, for the future I know that Main Flux Generators are really the Power Grids. Sigh. This is what difficult to access means. But as usual, in the end, everything turned out as doable and fun, after all!

Back in Eurybia, my status is now up to “Cordial”, and I immediately get a transport mission, which as reward promises access to an engineer. Great. Except for, the transport mission requires a supercruise along 280,000 light seconds. Time enough to put my VR goggles off and read some webpages in the meanwhile… This game could definitely need a built-in webbrowser!
Next mission: Bring me 200 landmines, Liz Ryder the Engineer says. From where, she does not say. The web says, you can find them in military installations, only planetary ones. Great, how do I know if an installation is military??? Forget it. Off go the VR goggles, using this commodity specific webpage for a search. Unfortunately, I confuse “sell” with “buy” and make a wrong trip. A bit miffed about these literally  bureaucratic hindrances, the “flow of the game” is broken, and since it is late, I log out.