The RPS Chatroom – Elite: Dangerous Alpha

By RPS on February 24th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

Elite: Dangerous is the crowdfunded re-birth of the classic Elite space trading game, which used ancient magics to cram an entire wireframe universe inside a computer. This new, modern magic is trickling its way through an alpha development process, and last week Adam and Graham got access to a series of singleplayer scenarios designed to demonstrate the game’s combat systems. Graham is playing it with the Oculus Rift headset, Adam is playing it with aplomb. They gathered beneath a moonlit asteroid field to discuss their thoughts so far.

Adam: Now entering the DANGERZONE.

Graham: DA-DA-DA-DANGEROUS. (To the tune of Notorious B.I.G).

Adam: We should start this off by inserting a link to all those words wot I wrote about how much I like shooting things in Elite: Dangerous. I’ve already shown my hand – you begin. Are you pleased with this tiny portion of space?

Graham: I am. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do. I’m a fan of Frontier: Elite 2 from when I was a kid, but my memories of it mostly involve slowly revolving polygons and my inability to ever dock with a space station.

The latter of which became a metaphor for much of my later life.

But in any case, I imagined this new Elite would mirror the scale, but I didn’t expect it to feel so good. I didn’t expect the lovely juddering of your spaceship cockpit, or the whirring engine noises, or the tactical pleasure of shunting power between systems.

I thought it would be fusty, having learned little from the last twenty years of design, but that’s not the case at all. This alpha is just a little combat chunk, but the combat is great all on its own.

Adam: The struggle to dock is a common theme in our lives. I thought the alpha might be too little to grab my full attention but the combat is extremely good. As you say, the whole design is beautifully atmospheric. It has a sleek future perfect vibe that disintegrates as soon as lasers start to flicker across shields and hulls are torn apart. It’s SOLID.

Graham: I kind of thought they’d focus on creating a huge universe, and the details would get short shrift. That’s sort of the way with space games, traditionally. But there’s stuff like locational damage in the ships which is just lovely. Your windscreen can crack a little, and you can hear your pilot’s heavy breathing as your cockpit de-pressurizes. Another hit and it smashes completely, and your ship is destroyed.

Adam: What it doesn’t do – and can’t do – is convince me that the rest of the game will work. The only hints toward the eventual scope are visual and narrative. Those brief text intros to the missions, talking about corporate espionage and piracy. And the obvious scale of space.

But I haven’t had that much fun in a cockpit since 1994.

Graham: I guess the question is, if the rest of the game is a mess, would the fun of the combat carry you through? Would you still fly around getting in scrapes and space japes, even if you didn’t enjoy the story, the trading, and so on?

Adam: I think the engine would be a fantastic fit for a space combat campaign. But that’s a different game. If everything in between the combat is a mess, it’d be a massive pain just to get to the combat. There’s so much that could be broken and distracting.

Graham: A reasonable point. I guess for me, the strength of this alpha is that it makes me want the rest of the game so much. These combat scenarios are set in and around asteroid fields or the empty void in space, but the thought of being able to fly off and visit each of the pale dots visible in the distance is tremendously exciting and even magical.

I think by feeling so good as a self-contained thing, it suddenly conveys the madness of also having an entire universe inside the game. That’s a thing which had become less impressive since the original Elites, which now suddenly seems grand and impossible again.

I’ve said this to you already, but it’s like playing Doom, enjoying the combat but thinking “If only I could talk to the monsters,” and then being told that talking to the monsters was coming in a future update.

Adam: Yeah, but will we ever be able to talk to the asteroids? Favouritism.

But I absolutely agree. It made me long for the horizons in every direction. Which probably aren’t horizons. Space horizons? Event Horizons? Sam Neill with a startling lack of eyeballs? The combat is great and I’d happily play a game that builds on that. Which is hugely surprising. I couldn’t quite believe how much fun I was having. It’s polished, it’s engaging and the controls are superb.

But I want it to be an Elite game. It’s not the combat that interests me primarily, which is why I was so happy that it sucked me in.

I’ll probably see more space combat with the alpha than I will with my first six months with the game. I intend to trade and explore. I’m a lover, Graham, not a fighter.

I think the update that adds ‘loving’ is due in August.

Graham: I’m an explorer also. I think that’s why I’m so thrilled by the cockpit. The thing that excites me about Elite is that sense of being in a very small, cosy box in a very large universe. That sense of being ensconced, alone, adrift, surrounded by potential. The cockpit they’ve created so far is a place I want to stay, staring out the window.

Adam: Yes. I like the bobblehead but I’m also slightly miffed that it’s such a personal touch that is, at least for now, universal. Everybody has one. I hope the cockpits can be customised at least a little.

Graham: I guess I should mention that I’m playing it with the Oculus Rift headset.

Adam: Oh yes. Graham is from the future. I forgot. I’m playing with my eyes.

Graham: My eyes have docked successfully with our virtual reality future. It’s great. The game which initially sold me on the Rift was EVR, CCP’s space dogfighting game now called EVE Valkyrie. E:D is similarly convincing.

Adam: IL-2 Sturmovik sold me. It’s a device for cockpits. I’d go so far as to say it’s a cockpit that people put on their heads.

Graham: A headcockpit, yes. Space combat makes a lot more sense when you can easily twist your head to look out windows and see ships whirling around above and behind you. Without the Rift, turning your head is put on the right analogue stick, but that felt slow and fiddly to do in the middle of combat.

Adam: Yeah, I barely moved my virtual head. I wanted a Rift so badly.

Graham: There was a thing. When I first started playing it with the Rift, and looked down at my avatar, there was a disconnect because the in-game pilot’s body is positioned in the chair very strangely.

Their legs are stretched out in front, leaning back. It’s not the way I’d ever sit in my office chair at a computer, so it seemed odd.

About five minutes later, I was looking out the top window of my ship at an enemy. When I looked back down, within the Rift, I realised that my real body had slipped into the same pose as the avatar. Like, “Oh, this is how space captains sit, because they need to look up and out their top window a lot.”

It made me more like a space captain.

Adam: That is the ultimate accolade. When I play Euro Truck Simulator 2, I become more like a trucker. That simply involves scratching my testicles a lot.

I think you’re essentially describing slouching though. Space captains slouch.

Graham: It’s very commander-ly though. A firm slouch

Adam: How did you find the AI? I enjoyed toying with it and liked that it was far from perfect. Didn’t feel like fighting drones.

Graham: I thought the different scenarios did a pretty good job of showing different types of enemy, as far as some being more aggressive than others goes. They seemed to have some sense of cover, nipping behind asteroids to try to lose me. It didn’t feel like they were robots on rails, certainly.

Graham: They also kicked my ass a lot. I found it quite hard at first.

Adam: I was terrible for the first hour or so. Mostly because I couldn’t work out which was was up.

Turns out there is no ‘up’ in space. As soon as I realised that, I was fine.

Graham: I feel like we should talk more about the tactical combat and nice 3D radar and HUD overlays, but really, what did you think of the final mission? The one with the faction battle and maybe 40 other ships.

Adam: I have to defer to your wisdom there – the last one I played was the supply strike, which is one squadron against another. That last one is Incursion, right? Where they keep jumping in?

If so, I was thwarted once and by then my time had been depleted. The weekend dead.

I struggled with the sixth and seventh missions because I was very intent on playing chicken with enemies in an effort to collide head-on. I love the idea of being in space, which is quite large, and still managing to crash into somebody else.

That’s one thing about the combat actually – no matter how large the area, the technique and tactics mean that ships loop and spiral closer together, as if bound by elastic. It becomes oddly claustrophobic.

Graham: I can’t remember its name. There’s a faction war happening and you can choose sides, or fly around as an observer. There’s larger, capital-sized ships and small fighters, and they start a short distance away from each other, and then start to arc off and lasers and missiles streak across the inky black. It’s meant mainly as a demo of the scale of fights they’re aiming for.

It’s a vision of what the game wants to provide, and it’s exciting just to fly among it. Getting in close to the larger ships.

Adam: OH WHAT

I didn’t see that at all. I must have stopped one mission BEFORE the end. Rats.

It’s probably for the best. I think I managed to write fairly intelligibly about the small-scale combat. If I’d seen that I might just have posted forty screenshots and dropped the mic.

Graham: That’s what it inspires. It drops you into this Star Wars or Serenity-style battle and then expects us to be able to form coherent, critical thoughts about it.

Adam: It’s been so long since I’ve played a really good space combat game that I’d actually forgotten who much this is what I dreamed of playing when I was a kid.

It’s such a cliche, but I really did want to be Han Solo.

Graham: I feel a little silly, because this is just a sliver of a game. If it wasn’t for the Rift, I’d probably just be thinking, “Oh, this is a nice space combat thing. I hope the final thing is good.”

But with the Rift, I’m filled up with its overwhelming potential. I want the finished game, and I want the consumer Rift, and regardless of whether either turns out to be as good as we hope, there is something wondrous about it already. They’re trying to build a universe, and you can go inside that universe.

We’ve spent decades playing games, and trying to convince people of the power of these imaginary worlds. Trying to get them to ignore the boards and counters, the confusing controls and crappy textures. Now it’s just, here, put this thing on. There we go. Now you’re inside it. Isn’t it beautiful.

It makes me want to get my Dad to come visit, so he can have a go.

VIRTUAL REALITY SPACE HAN SOLO.

Adam: Even without the Rift I had a similar feeling, although I think it was exaggerated by the fact that I have used a Rift and can totally imagine assuming the spaceslouch while wearing one.

But the whole experience did make me a bit giddy. I always thought of Elite’s world as being quite austere, a quiet ocean or desert with the occasional nomad passing through. There’s a beauty in that as well and it was obviously my memory of the original games’ appearance that made me feel like that.

But Dangerous (and I understand but dislike that subtitle) is a different thing entirely. It is, in a way, a much more obvious version of space – full of drama and colour to counterpoint the void. That’s hugely exciting to be a part of though and I can’t wait to explore the quieter corners. There will be some spectacular sights, I’m sure.

Graham: You can customise the cockpits, by the way. There’s a menu option for selecting what kind of bobblehead you want. I put a little Christmas tree on mine.

Adam: A relief.

Graham: You, me, Craig presumably, adrift on the edges of space. Giddy is the right word. I haven’t felt like that about the potential of a game in a long time.

Adam: I haven’t even managed to wrap my head around the idea of multiplayer yet.

Confession time.

I was one of the people who thought that having any sort of multiplayer aspect would detract from the workings of the galaxy.

I figured that as soon as you add real people, they’re expected to do a lot of the heavy lifting. They’ll make the economy work, they’ll perform piracy and protection, they’ll be the living part of the world. Not an excuse for a static world, but a crutch that makes it seem slightly more active.

Obviously, the intent was never to force multiplayer on people so my doubts were a little misplaced. But now, I want to invite everyone I know into space with me. Just for a holiday if nothing else.

Adam: I spent half an hour babbling about the game on the phone to my sister and she has about as much interest in space games as I do in erotic abattoir photography.

Graham: I would have gladly had multiplayer forced on me, but I am happy that they’re committing to supporting both though. I can see times when I’d appreciate each mode.

Question: does your sister often discuss erotic abattoir photography?

Adam: CONSTANTLY.

Is my fear of massively multiplayer entirely unfair, do you think? Not just in this game but elsewhere as well? I like games built around systems and I often think that a multiplayer game hopes that people will create their own systems.

I guess DayZ is a good example of that. There’s a lot going on beneath the hood and it has complex survival mechanics but it’s the human interactions that everybody talks about and focuses on. I like DayZ though so maybe I’m just a mad old fool.

Graham: I think it’s all systems, but different types. Singleplayer games give players top-down direction, or control the world from above. Something like DayZ or EVE Online by comparison create gravity-wells for players to be sucked towards. i.e. Spawning supplies in certain locations, so as to draw players towards them and together and therefore forcing them to interact.

If you like DayZ, why do you feel you might not like the same in Elite?

Adam: A very good question.

Partly, I think, it’s scale. I find it important that the world of a game is credible, no matter how abstract it might be. If I’m convinced that it continues to exist when I’m not looking at it – even if I can prove that isn’t true – I’m much more likely to stick around. I love the possibility of stumbling across events as they occur rather than being directed toward the only thing that IS occurring.

I want to be a participant rather than a spectator.

That suits multiplayer games perfectly because, by their nature, they are a confusion of actions. Even if people do the expected thing, they don’t do it at the expected time.

But Elite’s world is so large that it can’t possibly contain enough people to make it hum all over all of the time. It needs artificially spurred events to fill the gaps.
Does that make sense? I think it makes a kind of sense.

Graham: Mm, I can see that. That does make sense. I confess I don’t know; what’s the structure of Elite’s multiplayer? Will it have hundreds of thousands? Twelve? I haven’t read about it.

I think EVE Online offers solutions for some of those problems, but it is dependent on a great many players being online at any given moment.

Adam: From what I’ve read, large changes will be player-driven. So if a bunch of people form a trade federation, protecting one another and concentrating on specific routes, the economy in the systems that they target will become stronger.

Other players could then form a raiding group and attack the traders. A rich route, and therefore a well-established one, will provide more bounty.

But, yes, EVE is a fine counterpoint to my worries as well. Shows that people can be interesting in space.

Fundamentally, part of my concern with multiplayer is down to being a roleplaying kind of person. I’m more interested in being convincing than being successful. AND IN THE GAME

Graham: I like the idea of being a space bounty hunter, hunting space bounties. But I dislike the idea of being constantly drawn into elements of the game I don’t enjoy – or don’t want to focus on, like combat – by players haranguing me and interfering with my play.

I give the concept of multiplayer 7/10. Rent, don’t buy.

Adam: Other people in general really. They’re like flies in a delicious soup. But I do want to form a squadron of space-chums for adventures, good times and possible betrayal.

Graham: “Possible”.

Adam: If we don’t betray each other, space will betray us anyhow. Like the sea, it turns on those brave captains who try to tame it

Graham: Oh, I thought of a real criticism!

Adam: GASP.

Graham: It is hard to drink coffee while wearing the Oculus Rift. You can’t see the mug on your desk, and the rim clashes with the headset when you try to raise it to your lips.

Adam: Pah.

Graham: Elite: Dangerous requires straws.

Adam: You just need to customise the cockpit so that there is a cup of coffee precisely where your actual mug is placed. And chop off a bit of the headest.

I have a criticism.

The chaff did nothing.

And a missile hit my spaceship in the bum.

And I bounced off an asteroid.

:(

Graham: Asteroid physics: 0/10.

Although you’re right about crashing into enemy ships. Head-on collisions with enemy fights sends you into an uncontrollable spin, and experiencing that in the Rift is thrilling. It’s the one moment the Rift’s slight sick-inducing blurriness fits perfectly.

Adam: Thrilling in the same way as that one time I drank a big sugary milkshake and then went on a big dipper was thrilling?

Graham: I have yet to actually barf, but then I hadn’t drunk any milkshakes, so.

Adam: Here’s an odd thing – we haven’t talked very much about the original Elite at all here. Dangerous feels very modern – futuristic even with the virtual reality and the spaceslouch – and the parts that we’ve seen were the least interesting thing about the original, as far as I’m concerned. And I find that exciting as well.

If the freedom and sense of space is as enjoyable as I’d hope for from Elite, then the combat and aesthetic pleasures will be the cherry on top of a delicious cake.

And we’ll look back and laugh ‘HAHA. What fools we were to be so excited about a cherry! How innocent!’

And we’ll say that while drifting through space together in tiny fighters, on a hunt for Jim’s frigate. Then we’ll rob all of his credits, blow his ship to smithereens and find that he’s fired us by text message.

Graham: It’s all I’ve ever wanted.

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32 Comments »

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  1. altum videtur says:

    DANGERFUL!

    Man oh man I remember playing Tachyon the Fringe and thinking it was shit and the greatest thing at the same time. And then playing some other space things and loving it. Oh, to be young and starry eyed.

    Also, I remember this one space shooty game. I can’t remember much about it, but there was this one part where you had to stop huge missiles from hitting something. And there was a fighter named Grendel with a turret mount I think. Anyone?

    Edit: found it. Oh god I played Starlancer and never realised. Only the demo though.

    • frenz0rz says:

      Aah, Starlancer. I would pay a worrying amount of money for a Rift-compatible HD remake of that.

      Although desperately flinging a Patriot around trying to stop those sodding torpedoes from hitting the ANS Reliant on that one bloody mission would likely make me violently ill when using a Rift.

      • Tom Servo says:

        That defense mission in Starlancer really brings back the memories. Violent, rage filled memories. I have to admit I could only get past it when me and a friend played it co-op because he couldn’t finish it either. It was awesome to have that option back in Starlancer’s time.

  2. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Mulitplayer in Elite: Dangerous will always and forever be summed up by two words:

    “Beefy Aftermath”

  3. Tatty says:

    I remember getting an Atari ST for the specific purpose of playing Elite in non-wireframe when I was a kid.

    Went from a Speccy 128 with 100s of games to a 520 ST and Elite plus a few demos. I was happy.

    When I tell people these days that I am Elite they think I’m either an extreme politicist, a cokehead or a sales manager. Soon they will understand….. ish

  4. Premium User Badge

    amateurviking says:

    Oh dear. Now I am genuinely considering springing for this now.

    NO, bad amateurviking.

    Nnnng.

  5. Premium User Badge

    tumbleworld says:

    Space-Captaining like a Jarl.

    I really, really want E:D to be incredible. This preview fills me with hope, but also terror, because there’s so much potential to squander… The multiplayer could be wonderful, but I’m particularly concerned about Griefer potential. DayZ in Space just sounds utterly loathesome. Still, I’m reassured that offline will be there.

  6. Zenicetus says:

    Note: a Track-IR rig won’t give you the full immersion of a Rift, but you can still swing your virtual head around the cockpit to track bandits (assuming this supports it, and it should). It’s cheaper than a Rift, and works with most of the major air combat sims. And you can drink coffee with it.

    I still plan on getting a Rift once they’re an official product, but Track IR is a reasonable substitute in the meantime. Oh, and Adam, get a joystick.

    • Premium User Badge

      Matchstick says:

      E:D does support TrackIR at the moment.

      Takes a little work to get the settings correct, but works fine from then on.

  7. dsop71 says:

    Start working at home with Google! Just work for few hours and have more time with friends and family. I earn up to $500 per week. It’s a great work at home opportunity. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. Linked here http://7.ly/egQy

  8. Themadcow says:

    That’s it. Decision made… 2 weeks off work when this comes out. If someone could take my wife and kids over that period it would be much appreciated – they’ll just get in the way otherwise.

    • Premium User Badge

      Scandalon says:

      Sure, I’ve saved up two weeks of vacation, we’ll swap. We’ll rock-paper-scissors (no shotguns!) for who goes first. Best 3 out of 500.

  9. Premium User Badge

    JamesTheNumberless says:

    Used to love space shooty games so much in the Tie Fighter/ Wing Commander era. Very promising that the Rift is bringing them back with a vengeance – it might almost make up for the new Elite not being the slower paced trade empire building game I really wanted it to be. There are times when I just want to sit on my bridge in luxury, sipping tea while the slaves I bought in the last system (to sell on the black market in the next system of course) are busy manning the plasma cannons. If this game lets me do both, I will probably have to find some way of uploading my consciousness into it.

  10. Lemming says:

    tbh, whether the combat is any good or not was always going to be the hard part of making a new Elite game. Braben knocked functioning universe and economies into a cocked-hat, long ago. If the combat is awesome, this is an instant classic, mark my words.

  11. Premium User Badge

    El_MUERkO says:

    I backed this as soon as possible, didn’t have to read the pitch, trusted Braben to be true to the goals of Frontier and now, as I see the progress made, the scope of the gameplay, procedural everything, near endless exploration, online coop multiplayer seemingly without compromise.

    This is the game I dreamed of as a kid and Oculus Rift is the VR medium I dreamed of playing it through as a kid, going to bed after a mammoth session of Frontier on the 21″ sitting room TV on my Amiga 600. My own personal gaming nirvana, my wildest dreams realised.

    • Themadcow says:

      Absolutely this. For the first time since I quit playing WoW I’m actually extremely jealous of the neckbeard mountain dew (not sure I can get that in the UK but meh) drinking community, sitting in the basement (again, rare to have in the UK) with their crazy technology set-ups and tonnes of spare time.

    • WrenBoy says:

      Looks like 2015 will be an expensive year for gamers. The Rift, a bunch of great games which use it and lets face it, some serious upgrading to do. Cannot wait.

  12. Larington says:

    “Adam is playing it with aplomb.”



    Jock: “OMG JC, a aplomb!”
    JC Denton: “Aplomb!”

  13. Jim Dandy says:

    I’m impressed by Adam’s ability to play with aplomb. Very difficult, and it takes a great deal of restraint to not use the other plomb. Now the Steam controller makes sense…

  14. derbefrier says:

    Man I bet that shit with the rift is pretty badass, If alpha access wasn’t so expensive i would buy it.

    i’ll probably cave when it gets to beta

  15. LionsPhil says:

    A headcockpit, yes.

    For headcocks?

  16. Janichsan says:

    Gah! Stop teasing me! I already can hardly wait for this game!

  17. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    Ok, I want this game and I want a rift. Who do I throw money at to get an Occulus Rift?

  18. SuicideKing says:

    1. Have you two (Adam and Graham) never played FreeSpace 2 and participated in its SquadWar* game mode? I was too young and 56k modem connectivity wasn’t cheap, so i never played SquadWar. But it was an early example of what Elite and Star Citizen are trying to do now.

    2. How do you check the controls with the Rift on?! I’ll use a joystick and keyboard for Elite, whenever it launches. Granted, I don’t have a Rift, but i wonder how it would work if i DO have a Rift.

    *

    FreeSpace 2 allows multiplayer games to be played across a local area network (LAN) or over the Internet via the free services provided by Parallax Online (PXO). The player can communicate with the other network players vocally through FreeSpace 2’s own voice chat capability. LAN play allows the players to play the standard player versus player modes such as deathmatch, or cooperate to complete multiplayer missions. They can even join in games which are already underway.The same can be done over PXO but with the added incentive of having the players’ statistics of kills and deaths being tracked on a ladder (ranking) system.Players can also form up or join squadrons in SquadWar, an online persistent galaxy hosted by Volition on PXO, where squadrons fight each other for territories.

    PXO, the free Internet gaming service handling SquadWar, was initially acquired by THQ in their 2002 acquisition of Outrage Entertainment (renamed as Outrage Games).The service still continued on until July 2003, when Outrage Games was dissolved and PXO terminated. The components of its website were, however, later handed over to the FreeSpace 2 Source Code Project to help them create a similar service in tracking statistics and rankings.

    • Imbecile says:

      My experience with the rift seemed to show that the keyboard doesnt really work with it, You need a kinda split controller, or even just a controller. Something with all the buttons instinctively to hand.

  19. Josh W says:

    The enemy gate is down Adam