The Elitist, Part Four: Spacer, Miner, Robber, Jerk

Brendan’s misadventures in deep space continue in our Elite: Dangerous diary. This week, he tries out the new features of Elite’s Beta 3.0.

I was lounging in Alison City station listening to to the Lauren Laverne show when the call came in. I say “when the call came in” to give you the image of a space rat in his natural habitat, feet up on the sensor monitor, drinking spiced wine and flicking the dust off the thruster in boredom until his screen lights up with “INCOMING MESSAGE” and he dives for the comms panel. What I really mean is: “when the bulletin board lit up”. The bulletin board marks all the jobs in Elite’s many space stations. My eyes fell from one job to the other – dead, fed-up eyes – then faltered and stopped as they saw a plain-looking advert marked “Light cargo transports required”.

I slouched closer to the screen, utilising the powerful hunch that would inevitably give me repetitive strain injury. This can’t be right, I thought. 174,000 credits for one job? That’s crazy. I’d be lucky to get 20,000 for a single gig. I clicked on the ad. The orders: take 18 tonnes of gold to Foucault Landing. Good lord, is that all? I instantly accepted the job and smiled an obnoxious, greedy smile. Then I looked at my mission screen. That’s where I saw the catch.

I had 14 minutes to get there.

Gold runs (and to a lesser extent silver runs, indium runs, gallite runs) are highly paid, desperately sought and tightly timed deliveries. They also carry a massive fine if you do not deliver. The gold con – a trick detailed in the last entry – is no longer free of consequence. It is a snappy delivery or nothing. When I arrived at Foucault Landing with 7 minutes to go, I thought I had this one in the bag. But the game had other plans. I brought up my contacts screen and requested docking clearance from the orbital. It was a low-gravity, low-population station and I didn’t expect any trouble. I started to glide towards the landing pads.

“Warning: Docking Request Denied”

What? I tried again.

“Docking Request Denied.”

No. No no no no no no. I tried over and over, hammering at the keys more fervently every time but the message still came back: No. We do not want you here. Be gone, rodent.

I looked at the timer on my mission. 5 minutes. I looked at the fine imposed for failure: 99,000 credits. I looked at the comms panel, a wall of hateful text: Docking Request Denied. I had been the victim of this before. It was not some part of the game’s faction system, nor a shortage of space in the landing bays. This was a different scourge. The scourge of Early Access.

I did eventually get past this bug with a lot of quitting and restarting, netting my money safely. But rather than go into that mundanity, let me explain why the game had been experiencing a lot of bugs and server problems in the first place. You see, Beta 3.0 had just been released. A blast of new things has been added in preparation for the official release in December. Understandably, the game was a little rocky at this point. I knew this was going to be a time of server hardship but, for someone like me, it was also an opportunity. I wanted to test some of the new features, partly because I feel it is my obligation as an objective space journo (fast going native/crazy) but also because I wanted to see if any of these features could make me money. That Asp was not going to buy itself.

Mining

The first thing I did was roll into a well-equipped station and buy two brand new mining lasers and an expensive refinery. If there was cash to be made, surely it was in the metallic rock belts of the universe, waiting to be chipped out. I set out in my fresh little Miner-Sidey and headed for the rings of Anahit, a scene of various crimes (assault, smuggling, attacking an officer – I deny all charges). When I arrive, there are a couple of ships floating around. I steer a wide path away from them. With no weapons I can’t afford any heroics this time. And caught in the ring’s gravity I won’t be able to jump away quickly, especially if I do something stupid, like forget to stow my cargo scoop. The best tactic is to stay far ahead. One of the ships is following me as I weave through the belt but after a few minutes it drops off my sensors. Now, it is just me and the rocks.

Mining works like this:

1. Deploy your special lasers
2. Get up close to a rock
3. Let loose
4. Scan the clump that peels off
5. Is it good?
6. Scoop-de-woop.

The refinery does all the rest. You have to collect a lot of the same type of material – Gallite, Uraninite, Silver (if you’re lucky) – and then a cannister of it will appear in your cargo hold. But the asteroids also spin at different speeds and sometimes have awkward shapes. You can easily approach an asteroid and start cutting it up only to be bashed by its revolving ‘tail’, for want of a better astronomical term.

So, I bobbed around the belt, cutting and scooping. Often I would slice a bit of asteroid off only to find it wasn’t the metal I wanted. Rutile? No. Coltan? No. Bertrandite? No. I settled on grabbing four different types of mineral, leaving these others floating in my wake. I carried on through the field until, finally, I noticed the readings on my sensors. A handful of unknown blips behind me. I retracted my equipment and sped deeper into the field, hoping to lose whoever it was. Soon, the blips vanished. But after some more cutting and collecting, they returned, this time in even larger numbers. I turned tail and ran again. Settling down when the blips again disappeared. Who were these clowns? What the hell did they want with me? A third time I cut, grabbed some Indite from different rocks and a third time the blips returned. I was beginning to get frustrated. I churned up my thrusters and began to run away again. This was scary. Who would pursue a Sidewinder this deep into an asteroid belt? It didn’t make any sense. And how were they doing it? They must be following my trai —

I paused. I pulled the brakes and wheeled to face the blips. Slowly, I put the thrust up and went back the way I came. I looked at the ‘blips’ as they slowly came into focus and solidified on my radar. A piece of Rutile. A lump of Coltan. A fragment of Bertrandite. I had been running from my own breadcrumbs. The sensors had marked the leftovers as unknown because they were dropping out of range as I moved on. I never stopped to think of the rubbish I was leaving behind. I shook my head, embarrassed with myself, finished my mining and boosted out of the belt toward the nearest station. Bye bye, Anahit. Add littering to my charge sheet.

Fuel Scooping

In the end, I only got 5700 credits for all the minerals I brought back with me. Not exactly an Asp-level haul and, honestly? A little boring. Fuel scooping is not so dull. Or rather, it is certainly more dangerous.

With fuel scooping you attach a device to your ship that collects energy from a star as you pass over it. There is a point at each of these billowing superhot giants that you will collect fuel automatically. But it will also raise the temperature of your ship dramatically, so you have to come away to cool down or your ship will start to fall apart. The idea is that you dip up and down above the surface, like some kind of solar dolphin, refilling your tank without ever having to pay a single credit to those greedy fuel barons. It’s a money-saving tool, rather than a money-making one. Since you literally navigate by the stars in Elite, jumping to a system’s centre and working your way out each time, a fuel scoop makes sense for those thrifty and brave enough to bounce over each sun as they travel.

I tried my hand at it once and, frankly, I would rather pay the barons. When your ship reaches critical heat levels, the systems start to break down. All it takes is for your thrusters to spark out and you will be spiralling uncontrollably into the sun like a doomed moth. I don’t want to take even that small chance of screwing up. As a recent article on the Galnet (Elite’s news network) stated: “Fuel prices are not THAT bad.”

Interdictions

Interdiction is a silly word. Yet it is one that flashes up remarkably often in your cockpit. Often, it is simply the cops pulling you over. Sometimes, though, you might be at the mercy of more unscrupulous characters. I have been pulled out of super cruise by zealous marauders who want nothing but to kill civilian passers-by. You now get a chance to steer your ship out of an interdiction, evading capture by following an erratic escape vector. When I was hawking stolen fruit and veg across the galaxy, I was putting a lot of effort into these manoeuvres.

But I have also been snapped up by a pilot who scanned me for cargo and said something like: “Let’s see what goodies you have.” When he discovered an empty cargo hold, he was disappointed but not violent. He left. I felt relieved but also slightly crestfallen. I looked at my status, where it still said “Harmless” and was immensely sad because, in all my Cobra-flying glory, with my seven kills and hundreds of thousands of credits, I was still not worth mugging. That’s okay. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would later do some mugging of my own.

I didn’t mean to get into piracy. No, really. It was those big gold deliveries that did it. They gave me a taste for a big paycheck. When those big courier jobs dried up and no systems were offering much in the way of the shiny stuff, I was at my weakest ebb. I sat in Brunel Hub, deep in Communist Alliance turf, when a skull mission caught my eye. It offered 92,000 credits. Ach. A skull mission. These are pirate booty runs. You can get a high payout if you get enough of something special to a buyer in time. This invariably means holding up a ship. I didn’t really want to mug anyone. But that little orange skull kept glowing. That 92,000, needling me, hovering at the edge of my vision. Maybe if I just take a look at it.

“Seeking special gifts,” it read. Some yet-to-be-added NPC deep in the station’s underbelly wanted six canisters of consumer tech delivered back to Brunel Hub within 55 hours. More than enough time, I thought. And wasn’t there a consumer good trade route nearby? I had seen it on the galaxy map, a little blue arc stretching from one star system into nearby Brahma. There was probably some shipments passing through…

Oh, what the hell, we space rats love to try new things. I clicked the accept button and ordered the ship down to the outfitting bay. It was time to get this Cobra back up to scratch. On top of the usual multicannons I added a cargo scanner, an interdiction device and something called a ‘Hatch Breaker Limpet Controller’. This nifty device would launch a small robo-jerk at my target, which would latch on and cause their cargo hatch to malfunction, spilling all their goods into space. Or, at least, that was the theory.

I dropped into the 59 Virginis system and decided to test out some of my new toys. A Lakon Type-6 Transporter veered across the space in front of me, flying (like me) in speedy supercruise. Type-6s are big, heavy and slow, and they can carry hundreds of tonnes of goods. This was my man. I kept my speed steady and followed him. His name was Churimaña.

I fired my interdiction tether too early and the ship’s computer told me to get directly behind my target. I turned carefully after him and realised something worrying. He wasn’t going for a docking station on the outside of the system. He was heading straight for the sun. Either he was fuel scooping or he was aware I had locked on and was giving me a runaround, either way, I would have to withstand the heat levels of the star too. Because if I detour off his trail I will mess up my speed and lose him. Getting behind someone in a dogfight is one thing but getting behind them in supercruise, while they skim the surface of a superhot class G star, is another. I won’t say much more, but there’s maths involved.

My ship sparked a little as the temperature levels peaked and I veered slightly off course. My Interdictor device marked the brave Churimaña ‘out of range’ as he disappeared behind the star’s horizon. I pulled my ship back and sweated out the last of the heat, getting Churi back in my line of sight. I levelled out my speed, got behind him and fired the Interdiction device.

“Interdiction Tether Established”.

Yussss. Now it was only a matter of keeping him in my crosshairs and not allowing him to break free. After a few seconds, the blue meter on the left (indicating my progress) filled up and the pair of us dropped out into empty space. Interdiction successful. My quarry popped in right in front of me.

Perhaps it was the shock, or Churimaña’s controls, or maybe even just lag, but the poor fella just chugged along and waited for me to start the party. If that were me, I would have been revving up and pulling all sorts of shapes as soon as I saw the makeup of this ship. Cobras are scary. Especially if they have just deployed their multicannons and are scanning your cargo bay for precious goods.

30 Gallite and 12 Beryllium. It wasn’t the consumer tech I was looking for, but it would do. Anyway, I had to learn how to use these limpet drones. I locked on and fired one at the Type-6, who had finally come to his senses and was dancing about like a fat space hippo. I stayed behind him, out of laser range. Hippos can be dangerous. The drone I had fired locked down on him just as I remembered an important point. His shields! The drone will only work if the guy’s shields are down.

“Siphon resource failed.”

I pulled my trigger finger back and let rip with my cannons. The Type-6 floundered – it just could not turn fast enough to get a shot off at me. Frankly, I was surprised it was trying to fight back at all.

With it’s shields down I launched another limpet drone. But this was the Little Lakon That Could. He must have pumped all power to systems because by the time the drone landed his shields had already come back online. He had also turned during that time and was blasting lasers at me. That was fine, I thought, weathering the lasers, I have plenty of drones left. I got back into position and started peppering him again. After a couple more ‘siphon failures’ (I never figured out the cause) I started to lose patience. I held down my multicannon fire and launched a volley of the drones all at once. I was barely paying attention when the blue message blinked across my info screen, telling me that one of my little robo-lads had been successful. Excellent! Now I could simply chill out and watch as the cargo fell out of poor Churimaña’s hold, like droppings. Here they come. One canister. Two canisters.

BOOM.

Uhhh. I slowed down on the thrust and came to a stop. I took a look at the debris around me. Churimaña had just blown up. It looked like, maybe, I should’ve laid off the cannon fire that last few seconds. I swore. All that trouble and only two canisters had made it out of the ship’s belly. You just had to do it, didn’t you Churi? You just had to make things difficult.

I scooped up the two canisters. Gallite, worth about 1k each on the black market. Bah. That was probably just enough to clear the bounty I earned for attacking the Transporter in the first place. Oh well. The consumer tech was still out there somewhere. I relaxed. Then they arrived. Three Vipers bristling for a brawl. The Fuzz.

It was time to go. I boosted out of there and kept on skimming the stars. I never did find that consumer tech I was looking for. It wasn’t in the hold of any of the ships I held up afterwards and the scum of Brunel Hub would mark me as an abject failure. I’m drifting now in the Brahma system, in the middle of nowhere. I have a system-wide bounty of 3826 credits and a galaxy-wide fine of 7707 credits. Kids: crime does not pay.

Next time: Can Brendan get the Asp he so dearly wants? Probably not, it’s 6 million quid. But find out for certain in the conclusion of our Elite diary!

37 Comments

  1. GernauMorat says:

    In the screenshot with the bulletin board, there appears to be a job which says: “light transport required for 70 virgins”

  2. sendmark says:

    There is a mining scanner that was meant to be ingame this patch, but got held back due to a bug. That will help make mining easier. The most important thing to do apparently is find a Pristine system with Rich Metallic resources. They are loaded with Palladium, Gold and Silver which makes mining actually worthwhile.

    The ASP is a great ship, especially because the 6 hardpoints are all grouped at the front which makes a big volley of fixed weapons possible. The 6 million is minor compared to the upgrade costs, they are absolutely eye-watering, and I ended up downgrading soon after getting one back to Cobra/Viper.

    Overall this Beta is a decent systems test, but having played the previous Betas, I do not think it’s a reflection of Gamma, which should be a lot more balanced in costs/income, let alone what should be a bit more content on the mission/faction side.

  3. jeeger says:

    Mechanically, it sounds quite spiffy already. Might have to get this (some time after launch, of course). I still have to finish the Freespace 2 campaign before that, it’s been sitting on my hard drive for ages.

    • Trotar says:

      The pre-order has a discount over the price after release.
      fyi :)

    • Doubler says:

      Mechanically I love the game is it is currently. My only serious gripe with the game in it’s current state is that it is terribly balanced. Few things besides trading are worth doing if you want to make any money at all, most weapons have ammo costs that make them useless if you intend to use them to make a living, and nearly half the ships would take hundreds upon hundreds of hours to get (without equipment) even if operating at a constant peak income level. I sincerely hope this gets worked on very heavily before release.

      • Janichsan says:

        It admittedly still needs some balancing, but there already are quite a few other options but trading to make money. I found that by taking some higher risk missions, you can make money much faster than by trading. Mining will become quite worthwhile when you start to look for ore off the beaten tracks (keep in mind that the accessible area in the current beta is still mostly part of the inhabited core systems). And with bounty hunting, you can also collect a not too shabby amount of cash when you single-handedly fight off a small pirate fleet. Just don’t expect these options to be easy and/or convenient.

    • Contrafibularity says:

      Don’t expect it in a Steam sale any time soon though. Maybe by the end of next year ED will go to Steam, and it might even come with one of the (paid) DLC expansions by then (such as planetary landings). But this is one game where I think it will be nice to play from day one and see the persistent universe grow (provided you’re going to play this in online mode of course).

      • jeeger says:

        Yes, that’s my problem with it. I’m not really into multiplayer, so it’s not really my type of space game (It’s a bit sad that so many of the spiffy new space games are multiplayer games first). However, the diary seems to be written from a single-player perspective, and it sounds quite fun, so I am still undecided on whether to let the multiplayer focus deter me.

        Anyways, I have enough games as it is, and if I had 40 € lying around, I’d become a RPS supporter! So, no preorder.

        • Janichsan says:

          That’s the beauty of it: you can ignore the “multiplayer” part completely and still reap the fruits of the other players’ actions. There is a solo online mode, that allows you to play in the consistent, online universe without ever being bothered by other players. The final game will also have a solo offline mode, but that will probably lack some (if not most) of the dynamic aspects of the game universe.

        • Love Albatross says:

          It really isn’t multiplayer focused. You can play in solo mode and never see another person, but even if you opt for the full open online mode you might only run into another person very rarely – the game is so huge that away from the core systems there’s a low chance of seeing anyone else.

  4. dongsweep says:

    Love these diaries, they are hilarious and each one persuades me a bit closer towards buying the game. Look forward to the next diary more than any of the other articles.

    • Hex says:

      Seriously. Especially now that Chris Livingston has abandoned us. :(

    • colossalstrikepackage says:

      Seconded. Caldwell for me justifies being an RPS Supporter. Hope to see much more of him on this site – and many more diaries.

  5. Ergates_Antius says:

    Is a joystick recomended/required for this?

    • Tutamun says:

      There are people who can fly really well with mouse/keyboard.
      I’ll try and learn it for the times when I don’t want to get out those huge joystick/throttle thingies. But currently I’m pretty bad at flying with a mouse.
      I’ve read tips about trying out yaw instead of roll on the mouse x-axis and will try if this is better.

      Flying with a Joystick or HOTAS is more fun in my opinion. So if you can afford it I would recommend getting a Joystick or HOTAS.

      *edit*
      Some say that all input methods are good once you have adjusted them to your liking.

    • mechabuddha says:

      For me, a joystick is by far preferable to a normal mouse. However, I was able to use a trackball mouse to some degree of success.

    • Doubler says:

      Personally I didn’t do badly with mouse and keyboard, but I did end up buying a HOTAS setup for the game. The flight model in E:D is fantastic, and flying with a HOTAS is just plain joyful in and of itself.

    • Contrafibularity says:

      You might also consider going for head-tracking before you even get a joystick for this. A bunch of ED enthusiasts and hobbyists have turned to making a cheap head-tracking solution specifically for Elite: Dangerous (but will also work in other games) which is like 1/5th of the price of TrackIR. See link to edtracker.org.uk

    • Arithon says:

      It depends what you prefer.

      I used KB/Mouse a first, then dusted off my (very) old Logitech Wingman, found joystick was more intuitive. After playing with X52 Pro at EGX using Oculus Rift DK2, I got an X52 Pro for my birthday. While it takes up space, the setup is awesome.

  6. Hex says:

    That first part of the article about lounging around in the spaceship drinking spiced wine got me thinking.

    It would be really super fancy to have a fleshed-out mission generation system which mimicked the evolution of a relationship between the player character and the various folks out there in space looking to farm out work. Successful completion of jobs could be rated by speed, fuss, what-have-you, to boost a taskmaster’s opinion of the player. Building such a relationship and keeping it in good standing could then allow more and more sensitive work to be offered, possibly generating non-central plot-lines.

    I think that that kind of thing would go pretty far in making the player feel like he’s in a living, breathing world in which his behavior has a lasting impact.

    • Synesthesia says:

      I really hope someone from the dev team reads this. This is a fantastic idea.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Phasma Felis says:

    I take it that, unlike the original Elite, mining lasers are no good at all for fighting with?

    (They weren’t great in the original, but would do for self-defense in a pinch.)

    • Janichsan says:

      I have no first hand experience with the mining lasers in E:D yet, but they already were pretty much useless for combat in Frontier.

    • Arithon says:

      Mining lasers break rock, but don’t break through shields, so unless your target has no shields, they are useless in combat.

  8. racccoon says:

    Hope you learnt your lesson robbing a transporter is not great nor is it worth it, they seem weak & vulnerable. but the guy who was captain did not know much about his ship, those type 6’s are so easy to get away from any attacks, its the type 9 that’s the pain in the butt.
    The best tip is instead of trying to blow one up go buy a 6 yourself! you’ll have your money in no time! 100k a minimum trip is the norm in one of those, The 9’s are just a pain in arse, far too slow, the glue in space. Useless & undependable a total waste of cash.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      Well, the Type 6 Brendan tried to steal cargo from was piloted by a NPC. The piloting AI in Elite can be less than superb at times (though it’s generally enough to blow me up)

  9. bp_968 says:

    So I just got my DK2 and Alien Isolation forced me to go buy a GTX 970 for smoothness (it’s amazing now!). That said, I’m guessing that I’d be a fool not to get Elite Dangerous at release?

    I guess I need to break out my old joystick in preparation.

    • Arithon says:

      The guys from the Alien Isolation stand were queuing at the Elite: Dangerous stand to use the DK2 with Elite over the four days of the EGX. So, yes.

  10. tk421242 says:

    Perhaps someone that is playing this or better understands can explain something for me. I am seeing comments about solo play and online multiplayer.. but how is the economy balanced? What I mean is does the game feature a static economy where things have a set value and pretty much are developer set or is it more dynamic and the supply and demand directly changes the price such as in EVE?

  11. Shadow says:

    The question is, has the game lost some of the grind? I played the first beta briefly, and it was extremely grindy to try and get any kind of profit. Gold salvaging was pretty much the only reasonable way to get some cash, but that got boring before long. Missions paid peanuts, and in a Sidewinder trading paid just as much.

    How’s the missions now? How’s profitability in general? I don’t want to believe the persistent multiplayer universe is infecting the singleplayer with MMO syndrome, stretching everything out so that it takes weeks or months of constant play to actually get anywhere. I want to feel like I’m playing Privateer or Freelancer, with decent progression in a sensible amount of time, not EVE Online in singleplayer.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      In Elite, the grind has always been the game – long before MMOs were about. It’s the Euro Truck Simulator of space.

      That being said, missions are more lucrative now, and trading is reliable, but the prices of high-end ships have been raised significantly. It doesn’t take long to get out of the stock Sidewinder now, if nothing else.

      • SanguineAngel says:

        My friend and I used to play Frontier between us, shuttling a floppy disk containing our precious save file back and forth between our houses – basically shared custody. Obtaining new ships between the two of us would take days or weeks and the wait was glorious.

        My concern with Elite: Dangerous was that progression would, if anything, be too quick.

      • Shadow says:

        Bittersweet news.

        Well, I’ll likely give the game another shot once the final release is out. Hopefully progression will be reasonable by then (if it isn’t already). The problem with stretched out progression is that it requires PLENTY of stuff to do for it to remain enjoyable throughout the ride, and said volume of content isn’t there in the vast majority of cases. Advancing via a healthy diet of various missions, trade opportunities, encounters, mining, etc. is fine. If the only actually profitable way is through dozens upon dozens of trade runs along the same route, or doing the same kind of cookie-cutter missions over and over, then it’s not.

        Anyway, we’ll see.

  12. Kerr Avon says:

    Ahh, bliss! Just put my feet up (in my cockpit?) after a long day. It’s truly a wonderful thing to read these well-written “Caldwell Chronicles” (as opposed to the Stele Chronicles), sipping a mug of ol’ Janx Spirit (Assam tea really) while listening along to the remastered TIE Fighter soundtrack… link to originaltrilogy.com and here (by Clint Bajakian) link to soundcloud.com. I think that last “Ode to TIE” one on Soundcloud is a good reading accompaniment for this. Anyone else?

  13. SheffieldSteel says:

    Can anyone who’s played X, X2 and/or X3 tell me how this compares?
    My last official Elite experience was on a BBC Micro… so I want to believe.