Premature Evaluation: Rogue System

Every Monday, we launch Brendan into the black void of early access and see what he comes back with (if he comes back). This week, the hardcore spaceship simulator Rogue System [official site].

I’m sitting in complete darkness and silence. I can’t hear the hum of the ship, can’t even see the stars anymore. It could almost be peaceful, if it didn’t mean that I was going to die.

It’s almost criminal that we haven’t mentioned Rogue System more often. Apart from a brief news post and some words from sim king Tim Stone, we haven’t said much at all. It’s a hardcore single-player spaceship simulator with dozens of buttons, all corresponding to critical and non-critical spacecraft systems like plasma cores, temperature control, communications, and life support. Needless to say, it takes some learning.

First, there’s the sheer volume of buttons, dials and switches. This can be as exciting as it is overwhelming. It reminds me of being confronted with the controller for mech sim Steel Battalion. Your eyes widen – what a magnificent toy. But at the same time, how the hell does it work? With these sorts of things, there’s usually only one way to find out – by pressing buttons randomly and causing all sorts of futuristic havoc.

This isn’t exactly true of Rogue System. While my first hour or two of Elite: Dangerous was spent pressing every switch imaginable until I boosted into the side of a space station, this is a much heavier prospect. It’s a game of learning, slowly. Each system has its own start-up and shutdown routines, and the order in which you follow these mechanistic rituals matters. I would learn this lesson through the tuorials. And after that: the hard way.

The first couple of tutorials have you piloting the ship, using the keyboard or joystick to thrust around. One of the lessons intentionally sends you into a dizzying spin so that you may better understand Newton’s laws, forcing physics on you even as you close your eyes tightly and begin to wretch. Luckily, the next lesson is about how to turn the ship’s auto-correcting functions on – flight assist, basically. There’s an insistence on hard sci-fi everywhere. Even the “window” in front of you is not really a window, but a display screen projected onto metal, showing you what’s outside from any direction you select: froward, port, aft. Shut down this system, and you can’t even see what’s out there.

The other tutorials are all about the buttons. This is where you start to feel like a schoolboy practicing some kind of bizarre new musical instrument. The tutorial text is mostly clear, aside from a few moments when it assumes you’re familiar with flight sim or spacecraft jargon. It’s also packed to the brim with acronyms, forcing you to memorise the difference between LENR, TMS, RCM, MES, LSS – it’s enough to make you say FFS. You also have to press the notoriously irritating middle mouse button to zoom in on things, and I can’t seem to see any way in the controls menu to reassign it.

Despite that, it’s surprisingly fun to try and cram all of these lessons in – what buttons to press when departing a station, what to press when docking, how to communicate with Space Traffic Control – but it can also be tiring. Docking is a particularly difficult task, even if it is the most rewarding. I had to take breaks between tutorial missions and I imagine some folks will switch off immediately and say “no thanks” altogether.

The sixth lesson was about transferring orbits to another planet, and teaching you to sleep for a few hours in between (you press ‘U’ and it knocks you out). In the finished version, we’re told this will be expanded into a fully fledged suspended animation system. So you can chart a course to the most distant planets available – a journey that could take weeks – then plonk yourself into comfy stasis and wake up at your destination. That is, so long as you’ve aligned your course correctly, used the right percentage of auto-throttle, remembered to extend your radiators, adjusted for the heat of the superconductors, ignited the drive correctly, and haven’t neglected a single important button. Am I going too fast?

It’s an exciting premise, because a lot of the sim’s parts are currently missing. There’s only one solar system and one ship you can pilot for now – the Flying Fox. The comms system basically consist of about eight messages from space traffic control, and there’s only one real mission, a rescue flight in which you have to reach a satellite, dock with it, correct its orbit, undock and return, all within 40 minutes. Meanwhile, some of the display panels simply read “not yet implemented”, which is not something a space pilot wants to see in an emergency. I should know.

There’s still a lot here for anyone willing to learn, and more than enough for someone like me who still has trouble differentiating the MTS, the TMS, the RCS, the ECS… but there’s also a long way to go in terms of #content. There is another mission, however. It’s a freeplay, sandbox-style thing. And this is how I ended up stranded in the dark.

I started off docked at a station. I was proud of myself when I correctly remembered the start-up and undocking procedures. Although I did forget to inform Space Traffic Control that I was about to boot up my core, which I imagine is quite explosive and dangerous, because they scolded me for not telling them.

But they also let me away with it. I undocked and cleared the space station.

That’s when things got tricky. I looked at my navigation screen and set my destination as the second body orbiting the star, a cryovolcanic planet that would take three days to reach. I engaged the superconducters, set the autopilot on, twiddled the necessary dials, ignited the plasma core and summarily pointed my ship entirely in the wrong direction. I went whooshing off into space, reaching hundreds of thousand of metres per second.

I still felt good at this point. I discovered that the control panel for my seat had a “recline” button. I pressed it and lay back, pleased as a fat cat, then went to sleep. I was about 150 million kilometres from my starting point when I woke up and saw the data on my orbital information screen. I began to doubt my flight plan.

Rogue System is like a first person Kerbal Space Program – you have your periapsis, your apoapsis, eccentricity, all this incredibly important physics to consider, but without the handy projected pathways. There’s an overhead map but no way to tell which way you’re going, except by being clever. And I am not clever. I sent plenty of Kerbals to their doom by getting their escape path from one planet or another completely wrong. And now the same thing was happening to me. It was enough to make me freeze up in despair.

No! I won’t go gentle into that good night! I pull my seat out of recline mode and start to look around the controls, wondering what button would reliably stop the Wotsit Drive that was hurtling me 200 kilometres deeper into space with every passing second. I look at the superconductor switch, protected under a safety hat of clear plastic. This one feels right, I think. I flip back the safety hat and jam down on the button. The engine howls. The ship stops accelerating. I did it!

Wait. Why is the temperature system flashing?

The coolant tanks were becoming over-pressurised and the ship’s temperature control was starting to lose it. I rapidly clicked and unclicked buttons that I thought might help. Radiator bypass, emergency vent, none of them seemed to stop the temperature from rising. I moved the joystick to see if I still had thruster power. I did. But because the auto-pilot settings hadn’t changed, I had now accidentally put the ship into a terrifying multi-directional spin. I raised the comms transmitter and broadcast the emergency beacon. No response. Warning lights started beeping on the display to my right. The batteries had failed and were now inoperable, the fuel cells had a major fault. If the core went down, I would have nothing to power the life support, or anything else.

I pressed a few more buttons. Eventually, either something I pressed or the healing passage of time caused the temperature to start dropping. Eventually, I figured out the correct auto-pilot settings and slowly the ship ceased spinning and came to a stop.

I had time to breathe. According to the data listed on my right, I was still flying at ludicrous-metres-per-second into the great nothingness. But I was no longer accelerating – that was good news. I needed to turn around, blast the engine as hard as possible in the other direction, work up the power to stop and then start heading back.

This was going to be risky. I put all my power into the next course I charted, back to my “home planet” – throttle 100%. The tutorial had always taught me it was unwise to do this. You ought to stay at 70% throttle, it chimed in my head. “It’s too late for caution!” I cried at the memory. “More is always better!” After clicking all the right buttons, I punched the ‘commit’ button on screen and the ship started boosting, shuddering and creaking under the strain. I watched the orbital data to my right. It was working. The ship was slowing… slowing… yes! We’re going home! I watched as the ship started moving back to my starting planet. Getting closer all the time…

Closer…

And then…

No…

No!

The ship goes veering past the planet. Fury grips me and I start slamming all the buttons I think will help. Shut down the superconductors! Disable the magnetrons! Disengage the –

Vrrroooooohhhhmmm.

Oh no. I know that sound. It is the sound of a dying machine. The warning buzzer starts honking. The temperature of all systems is skyrocketing. “Wait,” I think. “Please, just wait a minute.” More systems start failing, going into the red on my error panel. “Please stop this,” I urge the ship. “Stop.”

The lights go out.

Within seconds of each other, all my instruments have gone dark, even the display screen full of errors disappears. I try flicking the switches. MTS? Dead. LENR? Dead. Batteries? Those are long dead. Out of nothing but desperation, I even try flicking the external system power switch, which I know only works when you are attached by an umbilical at a space station. I click it three times, as if it will do anything. Nothing is working. There isn’t even enough power to move my seat. I am trapped in this seat, in a tin can with no windows, floating through space at 160,000 m/s. And I can’t even recline.

But wait! A single thing is still glowing in the cockpit, above my head, on the Comms panel. The emergency beacon! It must still be broadcasting. Maybe someone has heard me! I zoom in to see what the display screen says, in dull blue letters.

“Not yet implemented.”

Rogue system is available on Steam for £22.99/$29.99. These impressions are based on build 1272397

From this site

58 Comments

  1. HothMonster says:

    Thanks Brendan, that was a fun read. I’ll have to keep an eye on this one.

  2. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Sounds cool. So many space games nowadays! Glorious

    • Missing Cat says:

      Well, there are more consolish arcade games that “happen to be set in space” in recent years (e.g. No Man’s Sky, Elite Dangerous) but surely there’s a distinct lack of space sims like Rogue System? I’ve been waiting a long time for something even remotely similar to ‘Shuttle’ link to en.wikipedia.org :)

  3. Sadfist says:

    I love how this article starts :)

  4. KDR_11k says:

    “Heat of the superconductors”? Aren’t superconductors by definition not supposed to produce heat?

    • Brendan Caldwell says:

      I told you I wasn’t clever.

    • DeepFried says:

      They still need cooling to achieve super conductance, so in that sense heat is still a problem. Unless we’re talking about some future tech room temperature super conductor.

    • Christo4 says:

      Just thinking, but if say it needs to keep plasma or something else in check then you need cooling and they’ll be exposed to high temps too. So if something malfunctions it can happen and obviously it won’t be good.

    • Guille says:

      The engine is a VASMIR engine model, you heat plasma and contain it inside a magnetic field to later shoot it and accelerate. Like in fusion reactors, the magnetic field is created by the current passing throw the superconductors, this generates heat but for the materials to keep their superconducting abilities quantum physics must be playing the leading role in the phenomena and quantum physics only manifest when the energy is low and therefore heat is low.
      Short answer, its the cooling what gives the superconducting propierties and not vice versa :)
      As you can see the sim is really sciency

  5. socaire says:

    Registered just to say the mouse zoom can be remapped. On Controls you select Camera Control on the buttons on the top, then Mode, then you can remap/unmap ‘Zoom In’.

    I’ve been playing on and off the game for some months and I must say it’s been really fun. No other game has caused my heart to beat so fast, docking is stressing at first and so rewarding when done properly.

    The community is really friendly and we’re getting updates every month or so. Really if you like sims really, give the game a try!

    • HothMonster says:

      I just watched a video where a guy said the zoom could be modified to toggle instead of hold as well which seems like it would be handy. Don’t have it though so don’t know if that was pulled from the current version for some reason.

      • TMC_Sherpa says:

        It’s still there but I think middle mouse is bound to Zoom In rather than Zoom In (Toggle) by default? Sometimes?

        ~ might also do the trick.

        Check under Options
        Controls
        Camera Control
        Mode
        Zoom In (Toggle) blah blah blah
        Zoom In blah blah blah

  6. Peppergomez says:

    looks about as enjoyable as a wisdom tooth extraction

  7. Stevostin says:

    Awesome read.

  8. Freaky says:

    Turning off the superconducting magnets confining the million degree plasma in the VASIMR engine. WCPGW.

    A bit of overheating seems on the rather mild end of the spectrum, really.

  9. Wednesday says:

    Amazing piece!

    This is old school RPS. Haven’t enjoyed an article this much since Gillen left.

    • syndrome says:

      it’s a rare sight isn’t it… sigh

    • vahnn says:

      Yeah, everything these days is “I have played this, I think it’s a game where stuff happens, I think, and the things. Lol I’m writing about a game but idk what is about I like trees lol.”

  10. TillEulenspiegel says:

    The camera makes this look like a VR game. Surprisingly VR support is only listed as “planned” on the website.

    I love the idea of managing a starship’s fiddly systems, but I’m less excited about manually adjusting orbits. That’s what computers are for.

    • melnificent says:

      That’s a shame, I’ll wishlist until it gets implemented.

    • TMC_Sherpa says:

      At the moment, the dev team is one guy so getting the core game play implemented has priority. VR is on the bucket list as is computer automation for travel, startup and that sort of thing.

      Note: I’m not a member of the dev team or the publisher. I’m just a guy who has been in the community for a year. Anything I say that is stupid or wrong is on me.

  11. DeepFried says:

    I feel like piloting a spaceship IRL would be mostly autopilot. I like the idea of managing a ships systems in a FTL fashion, but not so much in the “i have a bank of 100 buttons and switches in front of me” hardcore flight-sim fashion.

    • grimdanfango says:

      But IRL, even “mostly autopilot” can require fiddling with a cockpit full of knobs and dials. I think most commercial flight tends to lean on the autopilot, and you know what the inside of one of those cockpits looks like!

      • Napalm Sushi says:

        All modern commercial airliners have an autoland feature, but pilots only use it in extreme conditions because setting it up for any particular landing is more work than just landing the plane manually. The… circumstance described in this article seems to pretty accurately summarise the complexity and pitfalls of programming an automatic system.

        Also, in the early ’60s, manned spaceflight was almost entirely automatic. Look up the Mercury-Atlas 9 mission to see why the prevailing school of thought subsequently shifted to “if there’s a healthy scrap of thinking brains and motile limbs in the cockpit, we might as well use it.”

    • Freaky says:

      One of the planned subsystems is a “Ship’s Onboard Intelligence” (Via this page), which will help you manage the ship on your behalf.

      You’ll need to be able to cope if it fails or makes a poor decision in a given situation, so.. you still need all those buttons.

  12. Zeewolf says:

    This was a great read, thanks!

  13. clive dunn says:

    Difficulty settings : easy, medium, hard, Hal9000

    • phelix says:

      Difficulty settings: Star Wars, Star Trek, 2001.

      • Geebs says:

        Time acceleration settings: Spaceballs, Star Wars, 2010, 2001, Solaris (2002), Solaris (1972).

  14. buzzmong says:

    Good article!

    This is a fun game I dabbled with based on a Mr Stone article. System fidelity wise it’s DCS:World in space with bells on, slapped with the sheer spacey-ness of Orbiter.

    Which makes it really cool.

  15. Premium User Badge

    magogjack says:

    I wonder if a certain Mr.Stone had an effect on the name of the ship?

  16. fragmonkey90 says:

    Does the developer have plans to add VR support? It would be a dreadful shame if he/she did not, as this sort of thing is perfect for VR

    • Guille says:

      I believe it already supports the type of VR where you put a tracker on your head and the image moves in the monitor as in your head (dont remember the name sorry). More propper VR is on the to do list :)

  17. Det. Bullock says:

    So this is a bit like Evochron Legacy, right?
    I tried the tutorial of that game, after three hours I didn’t finish half of it and I was already overwhelmed, I guess it’s not for me then.

    • KDR_11k says:

      Evochron doesn’t put you in control of detailed subsystems like that, the most you can do is turn off the inertial stabilizers and re-route power to shields or weapons.

    • Det. Bullock says:

      All I remember was an overcomplicated mess of commands with the tutorial lasting AGES. I played spacesims for years but that was too much.

  18. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    If this is anything like DCS A-10, I’ll spend a lot of time fiddling, enraptured, with the detailed controls, learning how to take off, then be totally unable to avoid being shot down.

  19. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    Just to repeat my rant, I wish there was a decent space game with NO trading. I don’t want to be rich or powerful, I just want to be good.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      In that case, I’d keep an eye on this if I were you.

    • ape_escape says:

      Infinity Battlescape also looks to be shaping up well, it’s flight model seems to fit the middle ground between full-on hardcore sim and more approachable Elite style. It is PVP focused though, from what I understand.

      Thier seamless planet tech is amazing, they’re focused on creating a single solar system in high detail.

      • syndrome says:

        As someone who has been following Infinity on and off since 2005, I’m sad it’s crashing late to the party. On the other hand, the party hasn’t actually started properly, so who knows…

  20. Raoul Duke says:

    “It’s almost criminal that we haven’t mentioned Rogue System more often.”
    But on the bright side, you have written 20459 articles about minor pieces of DLC for Hitman!

    This game looks interesting. Unfortunately I am pretty time poor, so I can’t imagine ever finding the space required to work it all out.

  21. KastaRules says:

    Rogue System is basically a hard core DCS style simulator set in space. You get a very complex ship full of systems and sub-system which need to be carefully managed and it can be quite overwhelming at the beginning. But if you are familiar with the avionics of most serious flight sims you will get the hang of it eventually.

    The thing I really dig about this simulator is that its effective tutorials explain and teach you how everything works rather quickly. You won’t need to study a complex manual for days before being able to do anything.

    Still, it is definitely *not* for the casual gamer and I think it is best suited to those people who found Elite Dangerous a little too simplistic. You are going to push lots of buttons here and learn all the procedures you could dream of.

  22. Bishop149 says:

    So how does the actual flight planning work?
    Are you seriously expected to work out hohmann transfer orbits without any of the KSP-like graphical assistance, just on the basis of straight line vectors? That’s some serious math. Or does your ships drive just have so much DeltaV that you can just plot more or less straight and direct courses? If its the latter then your speed will pretty much always be so high as to have you “escaping” the star.

    • socaire says:

      For long trips there is a transfer calculator, you select the target body, the desired apoapsis and periapsis and the autopilot will handle the engines and the attitude. This is a constant-g transfer though, at the middle of the trip the ship will reverse the engines and do a braking burn.

      For doing a rendezvous there is an intercept mode that handles the attitude for you.

  23. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    When everything goes wrong, and there’s red alerts everywhere, does this game become Rouge System?

  24. Missing Cat says:

    Ah, Rogue System! Yes!! Thanks so much for the reminder, almost forgot about it, cheers!

  25. ThornEel says:

    “There’s an insistence on hard sci-fi everywhere.”

    And yet it has EM Drive.
    Worst of all, some people may end up believing this isn’t a Dean Drive sequel and actually something more than a fraud.

    • KillahMate says:

      What in the fresh hell are you talking about? The craft’s main drive is a VASIMR unit. Which is frankly what I would’ve picked as well if I’d made the game.

      • socaire says:

        He’s probably referring to the EMRC drive, which is a reactionless and seems to break the conservation of momentum and conservation of energy laws. The current implementation is based on the NASA Eagleworks resonant cavity prototype. In the game the drive produces a little bit more that 1g of constant thrust.

  26. fdel says:

    THIS IS DCS IN SPACE!!!!!! AWESOME

  27. weok says:

    You guys should try SpaceEngine – procedural scientific simulator and space atlas. It also have in developing true space flying, which i really love :)