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)

Friday, 26 August 2016

Vulture undermining

Of course, a very good webpage offers all information I need, namely where to buy a Vulture. And then, a positive surprise: A Vulture is much cheaper than information from websites led me to believe. I have about 39 million Credits left, my Asp in the hangar, and a reasonably equipped Vulture, mostly A-rated. A fantastic ship it is, as the turn rate feels very close to an Eagle, but the two large pulse lasers offer an amazing firepower. As shield I choose a C-rated bi-weave, because with that much maneuverability, I do not count to be in the line of fire for too long, so I might profit from faster shield regeneration. Also, I had believed that the Vulture is of similar size as an Eagle. Quite contrary, the cockpit seems even more spaceous than the Asp´s, with an almost as good all-round view. After a quick test run and a power plant upgrade, all modules run fine at top priority.

My new venture is to finally up my standing with Aisling Duval, the power faction which I swore my allegiance to. Since four weeks have passed by now, rising up to rank 4 will allow me to buy prismatic shields. They essentially behave as a shield of one level higher than they are rated, thus allowing me to have an A6-class shield in the Vulture´s maximum class-5 compartment.

In order to raise rank quickly, I do not want to ship faction material between contolled systems and expansion systems. You only get 10 each half hour, even when you can pay 100.000 Credits to instantly get the next batch of 10. No, my Vulture is THE combat ship, so the natural choice is to undermine a system of an enemy faction. Thanks to a very good faction-specific player community, I can access a Trello-organizer-sheet and instantly know which system is best for this activity: Gui Banni. The same webpage also offers a neat guide on how to undermine.

The itinerary to Gui Banni is about 250 light years. Which means that I need to upgrade to an A-rated frameshift drive (~16 ly per jump), and a dearly recommended fuel scoop instead of armor reinforcement. The travel gets a bit difficult once I encounter an uninhabited system with an unscoopable red star, but thankfully, my fuel tank affords (barely) two jumps in a row and I can circumnavigate any further such obstacle.

Once in Gui Banni, I can experience the amazing power of my class 4 interdictor device, thereby catching ships already from relatively far away. Contrary to assassination-missions, where you have to look out for quite some time for your target, there are more than plenty "alliance"-named vessels, so it never gets boring.

Combat is so easy, after my tedious practice with an Eagle in conflict zones! The only real difficulty arises versus a "deadly"-rated Asp. I don´t get it how those buggers out-turn even the most nimble Vulture, go full frontal and unload a deadly barrage of railguns. This particular one sports in addition some turret scatterguns, which almost shatter my canopy in my endless close-circle dogfight. Of course, I had forgotten that I can almost neutralize turrets with chaff. There is an Orca, which has enough mass and staying power to actually jump away, but not after dropping some alliance-themed cargo. I can bunker four of them, maybe they will also yield merits when I bring them back?

In just one crazy full-night-to-morning game session, I destroy 26 alliance-themed vessels and earn 780 merits, and make my travel back thoise 250 ly to Aisling Duvals realm. This is enough to raise to rank 4 for the next powerplay cycle. Unfortunately, nobody seems to want to buy my alliance themed stolen cargo. It is again only after some internet-research that I realize, this particular cargo is only for faction-specific missions of another power-leader. Sigh. If information would be just a little bit more accessible in the game, just one note in the cargo description, on where you can buy and sell it, would be enough!

Anyways, now I am looking forwards to those prismatic shields!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Getting rich as a skimmer scrapper

Some misunderstanding on how the law works made me get some bounties. Sometimes you have to wait to get shot at, even if interdicted and that NPC to already threatening to kill you in chat. Then there are missions where you are to destroy ships of certain factions. If they are not wanted, you also seem to get a bounty. Same happens when you are on a planet and stray too close to certain point of interest, a base or a wreck, which do belong to a "civil" faction instead of an unanimous illegal faction.

Once you incurred a bounty, you are wanted and cannot pay it off like a simple fine until some hours or days have passed. The bounty system has changed quite a bit since the early beta days, I had forgotten this fact, until I was wanted in the three main systems where I had the bulk of my missions!

Bottomline, I felt the need to put some lightyears between my meticously researched systems and myself. So I sold my stored Eagle and Viper and got out of there, back in my Cobra and about 16 million Credits.

I was a bit frustrated again, as all my planning and search for this system as a base of operations had been thrown overboard by me not being able to anticipate the bounty game system. More by chance than anything else, I hopped a bit around and chose the next bigger industrial system with a population count in the millions. Mula Wendes System. Three big space stations along multiple small outpost stations, plus even a colony and a plethory of outposts the planet surfaces. I started some missions from space stations, but after a visit at the planetary Fan Colony, I was so pleased by the look and feel of landing there, switched over.

Since then, I focus on "Skimmer" missions ushered at Fan Colony, with choices taking place in three neighboring systems. Go planetside, visit the target outpost, shoot skimmers. Easy. Except for the partially heavy fortification of said outposts. The real trick I learned from the forums: "Points of interest" pop up on the surface around the stations, and the skimmers over there are without any protection. Indeed, they even don´t shoot back when you shoot from outside the "infraction area", which those hover-drones are supposed to protect. Shooting sitting ducks. It only takes time to find those points of interests. But since I am totally in awe of planetary landings, I did not mind to boost across the surface and enjoy this new game element.

After a while, I realize that mission stacking is also multiplying my profits here. Three missions to destroy nine skimmers, with a friendly status with the contractor faction, yield me overall 7-9 million credits.

Since the Cobra hasn´t got exactly a good view, I switch to an Imperial Eagle, sold at Fan Colony. The canopy view with it is so much better with my VR-goggles than in a Cobra! And the engine noise! And such passes time in a less action-y, more serene way of playing out missions. The only hectic appears when I become wanted, and thus hunted by system security. In order to not gain even higher bounties, I choose to run. This sometimes becomes a very close affair; the Imperial Eagle is just a little slower than a Cobra, and this shows when being hunted by system security forces in, well, Cobras!

Not sure why I become wanted. Must be because auf said some points of interest do not belong to illegal factions, even though they are mission targets, causing my to tresspass on the "infraction area".

After four or five game sessions, my wealth is overall at 50 million credits, including a shiny new Asp, selling my Cobra. The Asp is mainly only the means to hyperjump, get down to the surface and have a great overview over the surface, to quickly find those points of interest, thanks to the Asps panorama canopy. I also fit four class 1 turrets alongside two class 2 gimballed pulse lasers. They are needed on one occasion, and I have great trouble fending off a Viper in a tight close-surface dogfight.

At some point, most mission-yielding factions in Mula Wendes System have given me "allied"-status. Time to move on, I guess. I can always come back here for some safe high yield income if there is need. But now it is time to move on to something different. 50 million credits should be enough to afford a fully equipped Vulture, a ship which I have not piloted yet.

It is late night, and the first five stations in high pop systems which I check do not offer a Vulture. I briefly consider a basic Python, but want to stick to my plan. However, wasting time flying around poking like a blind man into shipyards for a Vulture is again one of the less pleasurable game experiences. Surely, some fans will already have assembled in the internet a list of all shipyards which offer Vultures.

For now, log off.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Earning Spacelegs again

It took some game sessions to get back into my “Elite: Dangerous legs”. But the game finally and fully meets all my expectations. I frankly cannot imagine playing it ever again without VR goggles and joystick/thrustlever! Now, it is just a matter of having enough time to embed yourself into that universe. Two hours are a minimum, or you end your game session with the feeling of not having really arrived there. Similar to EVE: Online, Elite: Dangerous does not hold your hand and you have to plan and think a lot if you want to evolve in the game. This, unfortunately, is a bit counter intuitive if you play in VR, because the necessary planning tools like webbrowser, wordpad, excel, etc. are not really available as a kind of VR-desktop environment. I guess that´s the kind of stuff an early adopter has to adapt to.

From HIP46659, I made my way back to inhabited space and arrived in the upwards-rimwards border. Lots of independent systems, then followed by the outer trails of Federation space.
So, what to do with all my precious exploration data? I could just sell it on the first random space station. But the money is not what I am after; I also want to control my reputation rating with the different factions. There is little use of being “allied” to one independent system of, how many, 5000? So I need either a Federation, Alliance or Empire system. My current reputation with the Federation is at 60% “unfriendly”. No idea how I arrived there. I guess it was because of bounty hunting for an independent system or rebellious faction, thus killing a lot of “wanted” targets who were allied with the Federation. Don´t do that ever again. You can easily become public enemy almost everywhere but one single independent system.

So it is a question of either repairing my bad reputation with the Federation, or start anew from my current “neutral” position in the Empire or Alliance systems. After some pondering, I chose the Empire. They have the broadest choice of their own ship lines, iEagle, Courier, iClipper, iCutter, and they do look sleek and good. Already for the lowest class, the iEagle, I need an advanced reputation for the Empire.
Second choice to make, where to go in Empire space. In comes a game element which I did not touch yet, “Power Play”. An according overly in the galaxy map shows me the realms of each faction leader. But I need to read a lot of additional info from the community to really make sense of it. In the end, my choice is impulse, and I go for Daenerys Stormborn.. erm… Aisling Duval.
With all that overwhelming new information, I choose to ignore the third choice to make, namely “Engineers”. I hope that the game did not “de-volve” such that only pimping up your ship with their aid would make you viable in combat again! 

Despite all my pondering, I am still totally at a loss where I should place my new base of activities. Community lore tells me, choose a well inhabited high-tech system. This will find a broad choice of ships there and the good ship equipment and also plenty of good trading opportunities. However, especially the systems of Aisling Duval seem to be scarce of such. So, I finally ground myself in Yehel, an average good industrial system with some extraction and agricultural systems around. Mainly because, I just want to stop doing the “theorizing mini game” and just play the game in VR!
Doing missions specifically for Aisling Duval looks extremely boring. Go there, fetch 10 tons of information material, which respawns every 30 minutes (or by paying 100.000 Cr) and bring it someplace else. So I do this once, thanks, but I need more action. 

Enter the new mission system. It is a great improvement to finally have some personality sit behind those missions. If I want to raise my reputation with the Empire, I am already limited to two of the six agents here. Plus, the missions are low level of course. But thankfully, in come my exploration data. Turning it in, the profit is at about 7 million credits, and my reputation goes a bit up, yielding already better missions. Only in hindsight I realize, there also was a community goal where I could have profited much more from bringing my exploration data to a certain station. Sigh. Sometimes Elite: Dangerous seems to be more about reading news and guides instead of just playing it. So, forget it, just damn play the game, already!

A fitting mission for my mood now: Massacre 14 ships of a specific factions, in a conflict zone. Yeah, some action! Little do I know that conflict zones nowadays were re-scaled for wings, i.e. multiplayer. I get my ass handed to me very quickly as a “dangerous” Asp outcircles my Cobra easily (how is that possible????) and blasts me out of the sky with railguns. After my second attempt, each insurance cost is at about 300.000 Credits, realisation slowly dawns. My first step to adopt is, buy a cheaper ship. First, an Eagle with all-out railguns, later a Viper, both with only A-grade combat equipment to keep them as cheap as possible.

Like this, I use the conflict zones to hone my pilot skills. Even Eagles are a challenge in 1:1, and they also know the trick to lure me back to their comrades... in some zones, my own allies are quickly overwhelmed and I have no chance. In others, the situation is inverse. Like this, I at least manage to complete some of those massacre-missions. All in all, I pass some very challenging fights, augmented by my VR experience, and some game sessions just fly by in endless dogfighting circles.
After this very tough experience, my confidence in my skills gets only rebuild by some interdictions, where the enemies are, in comparison, a piece of cake. Time to look for some missions which include planetary landings, recognized by “kill Skimmers of faction x” which are the planet based enemy vehicles.

It is a fantastic experience to glide down to a planet, land, set out with the Scarab jeep. Also, a very nauseating one in VR. The Scrarab wobbles and bounces across the harsh surface, very difficult to control at high speeds. At first, I don´t manage more than one excursion before I get nauseous. But with some practice, I adopt. Key is, as in real life when you tend to get seasick, look at the horizon, and anticipate the movement. The planetary missions still feel a bit beta-y, though. Only via community feedback, I realized, I don´t have to attack a planetary base in order to kill the required skimmers, but there are also “points of interest” scattered around the planet. The “point” is, you can only find them by flying above 2km and watching your scanner; if the surface turns to blue, a point of interest is close. It can be only some minerals to harvest, but also some wrecks or even bases. Those are usually protected by skimmers of the same type as the closest planet bases. Sigh; this information is not difficult to find out, but still not very intutitive. Probably one of the reasons why Elite: Dangerous appeals more to the small experimental crowd.

As anot small gripe, I have to notice, the ships in Elite: Dangerous really seem unrealisticly small. I still remember David Brabens boasting how ships are as big as a Biong 747 and larger, but this is simply wrong. The Cobra, for instance, looks way smaller in VR. So small in fact that you wonder if where the space for engines and fuel and all such is supposed to be. Talk about suspension of disbelief, played on the monitor, you can still do away with it, but in VR ships need to be bigger to make a really realistic impression.

After some game sessions, my wealth is at 12 million credits, which was moreless my “starting capital”, i.e. I at least I have compensated my numerous ship losses, plus owning in addition to my Multi-Purpose-Cobra, a short range combat Eagle and combat Viper.

Elite: Horizons VR

So, it was time to get back to a more leasurly seated experience. Elite: Dangerous was waiting for me, for a long time already. My last login was in February. Enter VR. 
First, I have to relearn the game, or better, remap the controls, and make liberal use of the training missions. I quickly find that even the quite numerous buttons on my new HotasX joystick are not enough. You need about a dozen functions ready at hand. I need a full evening of a game session just to re-install and set up VoiceAttack, that famous little programme which lets me do voiced commands. "Landing Gear", "Cargo Scoop", and, of course, "Engage!". Once I have found a comfortable setup, the whole re-mapping exercise starts again in “open play”, having to configure the galaxy map and the system map. The reason is that you cannot use the mouse on a VR-environment, except for then it displays a surface for you. So, clicking on a specific star out of 400 billion is impossible with the mouse. Instead, I settle for moving a pointer via the joysticks. It feels very awkward at first, but after two game sessions, I have adapted. But I can see this control mapping exercise as a huge entry barrier to VR, there should be a proper setup from the beginning, together with a VR tutorial.

This, once more, prooves to me that VR needs still a lot of work in terms of accessability. The controls schemes must be as intuitive as using a mouse and click.

When I am finally able “wake up” in my Cobra´s cockpit, it floats in an empty system, about 400 lightyears away from inhabited space. The star glares into the ship cockpit like a gargantuan evil eye. Magnificent! But even though the VR environment is as breathtaking as I remember, I also remember my last sessions of exploration as some very serene nights, but ultimately, it got boring. Jump in, target and scan star, use advanced system scanner, go into system map, check for possible interest planets, travel supercruise, target and scan planets, jump out. Rinse and repeat. You feel neither action nor advancement, and the option to jump into the arena dogfight part of the game did not alleviate the issue. Elite: Dangerous needs more interaction for me than endless exploration. The plan is, finish your latest itinerary and get back into civilised space.
I set course for HIP 46659, the closest system with a black hole in it. This was my last itinerary in February. After some jumps, a system shows some planets which could be worth scanning. On my way there, I realize that I am not used to supercruise anymore and approach a planet way too fast. Trying to compensate and brake by means of a close-by at the gravity well, I get too close and emergency eject. Since I am already here, I want to dare and try out my first planetary landing. If this goes wrong and I crash, all of my exploration data from 100+ systems are gone.
What can I say, I am lucky, or, it is easier than I thought, and it is awesome! With careful circling and closing up, the Cobra finally settles down on a dusty ball of dust out in the nowhere. Now, let´s go out and drive about! Well… where is my Scarab jeep? My ship has none! It seems that by buying the game expansion, you get the planetary landing module for your ship, but not the jeep! How annoying. One more reason to return to inhabited space; humanity just cannot survive without proper supermarkets. 

After that rather underwhelming realisation, I launch and travel onwards. On my way, I realize that much time has passed since my last login: Every system I visit has been already “visited first” by some other name. I guess I would have to venture much farther out by now in order to be really a “first”.

Finally, HIP 46659 is there. An amazing system, consisting of about a dozen white Tauris class stars. And the black hole, about 9.000 lightseconds out there. I am scared on my approach, fully expecting to be kind of “sucked in” if I get too close. As I close in, the light starts to get warped around. For best visibility of this effect, I change my course so that the milky way is behind the black hole. As it should be, I don´t really see the black hole itself, and so I indeed to get too close. Thanks to my ship´s automatic systems, it emergency ejects well before the event horizon and drifts harmlessly along.
Hmmm. Somehow, I imagined it to be a bit more dramatic. Some maelstrom of matter being sucked in, or something. Oh well. I got my black hole, time to travel back “home” now.