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Lives, Witchers, And Bores, Oh My!

Long time, no update.  This has been a miserable few months, but I finally got a chance to get a bit of quality gaming in.  Yesterday was spent giving the latest huge update of Starbound a spin, and the day before completing the first free roaming area in The Witcher 3.

Witchin' Around.

The Witcher 3 is about as good as PC action RPGs get.  It features a hand crafted, open-ended world with elaborate attention to detail, a host of richly explored characters that are well portrayed in game, and fairly slick gameplay mechanics.  About the only bad thing I can say about it is that the mouse-and-keyboard interface is a tad awkward, resulting in my jiggling the camera view as I frantically click the mouse to launch a barrage of fast attacks.

The ridiculous alpha male that is Geralt of Rivera, your central protagonist throughout the game, is a likable enough fellow for a leathery scarred wreck that can't stop it with the sass-mouth.  I can't really blame him for being a bit cynical considering his world is one of nonstop violence.  Monsters roam the earth, it's a Witcher's job to put them down (for a price), and Geralt is one of the best.  However, wherever he goes, you will witness far more signs of strife caused by men, not monsters.  Thanks to the magical process of becoming a Witcher, Geralt is about a century old, so he has plenty of reason to be a bitter old man.

That same process also made him impotent but virile enough in vitality and appearance, so he's basically the closest thing a medieval woman can hope find in birth control.  Thus, Geralt's monster-slaying, alpha male image is completed by womanizing freely, and for some people that's part of the appeal of the game.  Personally, I'm a little annoyed that they've the gall to try to work an overarching love triangle into it, portraying Geralt as a sympathetic character torn between his two great loves, while ignoring that he was racking up women as card collectibles in the previous games.

Anyway, as far as I can tell, The Witcher 3 isn't really about that.  It's basically an offshoot of The Elder Scrolls style of game, with a skeletal treatment of the Batman: Arkham Asylum combat mechanics thrown in for good measure.  Honestly, it's no wonder I'm such a jaded gamer when I can already see almost everything that this game did done better elsewhere, but The Witcher 3 is a reasonable sum of its parts.  Uniquely, it brings an excellent treatment of its lore... but then, that's always been the highlight of the series.

I completed the White Orchard area fairly exhaustively, investigating every point of interest on the map and doing all the quests there.  When I reached the next open-ended area, Valen, I found it to be a larger area that was looking to be more of the same.  I'm sure a fun time could be had there, but I really pine for more in the way of emergence than this kind of prefab content can provide; the trouble with hand-crafted content is is that it's often static, prescripted, and that's not all that exciting.  That leads me to the next game I went on to play.

Bound by stars and other overreaching expectations.

Starbound is a bit of a rags to riches story, a rag-tag team of indie developers ran a kickstarter in which they promised the space grail and managed to get several million dollars of crowd funding for what was basically just more Terraria but in space.

Terraria could be justly called, "Minecraft if it was 2D," but if you get into the details of what that means then it's actually not that terrible: you take all the development savings of what would have spent on adding that third dimension and instead add content.  Thus, Terraria has a TON of content, and they just keep adding more to it.  In many ways, I think Terraria is the better game than Minecraft because having all those things to do adds some much-needed context.
Terraria's rapid expansion puts Starbound in a bit of an awkward position.  There's not nearly as much content in Starbound, but your focus is largely the same: defeat a chain of bosses to unlock the next set of activities.  What Starbound gets is a sci-fi setting, a somewhat more advanced engine, the ability to play any of six races, and jump aboard your very own ship and go to other planets.  However, that's pretty much the only advantages Starbound has over Terraria, and arguably not nearly enough for a 2D game with a multi-million dollar budget.

At times, I have to wonder if the utilization of the travel mechanic to produce functionally unlimited maps, Starbound's greatest advantage, is also its greatest disadvantage.  Throughout the play of Terraria, you first are driven to make yourself a home, and then explore the world map, familiarizing yourself with it.  Later, the map is transformed under the world-shaking events of beating up the bosses, making it more dangerous but also possessing more incredible treasures, which enhances the story of the place further.  In comparison, throughout your play of Starbound, you move on to more dangerous planets to find better ores to make better armor, leaving the previous planets behind and often irrelevant.  Consequently, despite Starbound giving the players a lot more space, the space in Terraria is a lot more significant to its players.

There may be an important lesson about virtual worlds in there somewhere, but is that lesson, "Don't offer too much space, or it becomes less important to the players." or is it, "If you are going to offer a ton of space, you'd better include a ton of content and reasons why that space should be relevant."  Call me greedy but, as a gamer, would prefer the latter: more space, more content to make use of that space, and greater context to make that space valuable.  Maybe, in time, Starbound will provide these things, in which case it is actually half way towards a greater potential due to the original decision to have multiple planets.
I thought one of those things might have been added, because the whole reason I was giving Starbound another spin yesterday was because it introduced Colony Deeds.  These can be placed inside of finished dwellings, where they will summon a tenant NPC to occupy it, the type of which depending on how the dwelling is decked out.  This essentially allows you to build your own colonies!  This is a step further than the rudimentary village growth mechanics in vanilla Minecraft or Terraria because there's a much greater bit of player agency involved and the Starbound NPCs have a wider range of behaviors.

In practice, I found the NPCs it summons to be a reasonably emergent, in that they emote and wander around the house doing things a lot.  However, I am disappointed that there's no real logistics involved: you don't need to worry about feeding your tenants or anything like that; you just build the house, invite over a tenant, and they will periodically cough up a tribute in thanks.  At least there is the consideration of building regular guard quarters to attract guard tenants to stop the monsters from killing your other tenants.

After playing Starbound through pretty much an entire day off, I was disappointed to see how little I accomplished: I built one hut, which I rented out to a tenant who turned out to be a cook (meaning I had more cooking blocks than anything), explored the surface of three planets, dug to the core of two planets, and completed the first mission.  I'm at armor tier two out of five.  I spent most of that night browsing the Starbound wiki and actually being pretty disappointed how little content was left.

Ho hum, what next?  Back to Witcher 3?  More Starbound?  Maybe give the latest Terraria version a try now that I've talked it up?  Actually, isn't Minecraft with the latest version of the Minecraft Comes Alive mod is at least equivalent in overall value to what I've seen any survival game do for NPCs?  The nice thing about Minecraft modding is that I can throw in something like Buildcraft and get some automated block production that blows away this supposed "Sci-Fi" backdrop that Starbound gives me.  Once again, I've pigeonholed myself out of being able to enjoy anything; might as well get back to studying Unity 3D to make my own game if I'm that picky.
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Empyrion Vrs Space Engineers: A Different Kind Of Space Race

In my quest for more compelling virtual worlds, I have been watching Empyrion: Galactic Survival a lot this bizarro weekend, mostly via the Angry Joe Show twitch stream.  What I have concluded from my observations is Empyrion is following in Space Engineers' shadow, but it is nevertheless threatening the elder game due to a greater feature set (the modding scene notwithstanding).
Empyrion: Kludgy, but a lot more to do.

Empyrion is made in Unity, whereas Space Engineers is built on a custom engine.  While this does put Empyrion at a disadvantage when it comes to conceptual flexibility, its developers nevertheless have a substantial advantage when it comes to adding features due to a savings of time spent that would have gone into developing their own engine.  Examples include:
  • Planets.  Empyrion already has planets and space to explore between them, whereas in Space Engineers planets are in the works but still awhile away (so you just have asteroid fields to scavenge).
  • Enemies.  Space Engineers' survival mode boasts only meteors and the rare ghost ship, whereas Empyrion has planets infested with whole hosts of hostile fauna and space with active hostile fighter drones.
  • Weapons.  There are a wide range of handheld weapons in Empyrion, multiple tiers, whereas Space Engineers just has an assault rifle and rocket launcher.   In this same way, there is also a wider range of ship-based weapon components to install in Empyrion, although Space Engineers has a much wider range of non-weapon based ship component functionality.
  • Survival Mechanics.  In Space Engineers, the primary survival mechanic is oxygen generation, and you may sustain damage to your health bar (usually by accident).  In Empyrion, you also need to mind your oxygen, but additionally you need find and prepare food to satisfy your hunger, and your health bar plays a larger role due to the existence of hostile forces.
Honestly, I look at these kinds of mechanics in Empyrion and wonder why Space Engineers has been progressing at such a glacial pace.  For a game released into early access in October of 2013, these things should have added in 2014!  This is why I speculate that the Unity engine has provided the Empyrion developers a significant advantage when it comes to adding major game features.
Space Engineers: Less to do, but functionally more impressive.
On the other hand, despite Empyrion apparently straight up cloning most of the ship building mechanic from Space Engineers, they are far behind the overall construction capabilities that the elder game has.  For example:
  • Space Engineers' ships have an advanced inventory system that allow you to move between different inventories on the ship without accessing those inventories directly.  Empyrion doesn't.
  • Space Engineers has the capability to remote control ships.  Empyrion doesn't.  
  • Annoyingly, in Empyrion you have to manually load up your ships fuel cells with produced fuel tanks, which could be rather a chore if you're in a ship with huge power requirements.  In Space Engineers, certain components draw their supplies through the conveyor system automatically, which means your reactors may be able to pull produced fuel fresh from the refinery as needed.
  • Space Engineers' vehicles can be fitted with parts that can help you strip down constructions or build them.  In the current state of Empyrion, your astronaut builds everything by hand but has an illogically spacious inventory to accommodate this.
  • As mentioned on Empyrion's roadmap, "the structural integrity of constructions is not yet integrated."  While the Space Engineers engine recognizes when parts of the ship have been severed off from damage, in Empyrion the blocks act like they are still attached even when they are not.
  • It does not hurt that Space Engineers' engine is a bit more stable, too.  But this is probably to be expected of a game which has been in Early Access for almost two years.  The general rule in current builds of Empyrion is to save early and often, anticipating a crash.
When I total up the pros and cons of both games, I am finding them a bit closer to a tie than I would like to admit.  I think Space Engineers probably deserves to be called the better game due to the greater attention to its technical details, but then again Empyrion has added more context to the players' actions by introducing greater conflicts and a more varied environment.

Yet, in the end, I would say both games are lacking that all-essential purpose that drives the action of a good survival game; both games' robust building mechanics are facilitating players to create elaborate constructs in a virtual world that just does not care.  Thus, I will continue to monitor both games and hope at least one of them comes through with that, as I currently find myself struggling to find much reason to make the time to play either game without an integrated greater context to the players' actions.
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Motivate, Damn It

Though it seems I am trapped between perpetual life interruptions, I nevertheless feel like all paths of worthwhile free time investment lead to game development.  
The primary reason being that I'm a nearly perpetually unsatisfied gamer.  The deeply-engrained gamer identity means that is what I'll do.  However, in virtually every game I play, I feel it ought to be better.  This ultimately comes down to a relatively selfish truth: I want the game to better suit what I want it to be.  Well, there's only one way to assure that's the case: make it myself.  Thus, undergoing game development is required.

But what to make?  Heck, I can hardly make up my mind here, but I keep returning to the idea of a virtual world.  If you look back at the games I've been playing, they are simply as close as I've been able to get to this concept without going through the perspiration of doing it myself.
  • Minecraft, heavily modded, almost brings a purpose to the game, but each veteran mod definitely elevates its functionality.  
  • Elite: Dangerous, because it is immersive, and it is in an unlimited scope universe... pity precious little is done with that space, but a feeling of "being there" is essential.
  • Space Engineers, with excellent logistics, physics, and overall building model... although it still lacks an inherent goal.
  • Starbound and Interstellaria... Chucklefish has published two excellent near misses to my dream game, bless them.
  • Roguelikes like Cataclysm:Dark Days Ahead and Caves of Qud, for marrying procedurally generated open worlds to inherent freedom and ambitiously deep game mechanics.
In a way, I've been only playing one game all this time.  It's something in between all of the above, but it doesn't exist yet.  This is because only I will be the one to make it exactly the way I'd make it.

Unfortunately, it's been frustratingly hard to nail down the specifics.  The most important specific of all, the core experience, dances with my fickleness:
  • Should I focus more on a single player character, or several?  Will it be primarily a roleplaying game or will it lean more into a city builder?  Maybe the Dwarf Fortress answer, and have both?
  • Dare I attempt 3D, or would 2D be immersive enough while also being more approachable from both a design standpoint and player accessibility standpoint?   
All answers valid, but none are perfectly correct.  In a way, my perfectionism is my worst impediment to my progress.

Well, I'm going to go back to trying to split my free time into at least half of it being spent doing something game development related, even if I have to use a life hack to do it.
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Turn Skipped

Another week come and gone, whatever have I been up to in my free time?   Well, in this case, I would have to ask, "What free time?"  In addition to working a lot more hours than usual, my only two days off were almost completely consumed by entertaining the five-year-old nephew while he was in town.  As much as I needed that time, I just can't say no to an innocent kid who loves his uncle.  Better luck next weekend, me!

I guess I could talk about what he had me play: Nom Nom Galaxy and modded Minecraft.   Both excellent games in their own right, although the nephew was calling the shots how I was allowed to play them.
In Nom Nom Galaxy, you play on a cutaway side view as an intergalactic soup worker, constructing a factory, locating ingredients, and racing against an off-map opponent to ship the most soup!  It's a pretty novel formula and a very solid game.

We played the two player split screen mode, which is a pretty effective way to play it.  The young nephew is getting better at replanting ingredients and is less prone to destroying our base and farms with his soup worker's saw than his last visit.  However, he was not very interested in contributing to a steady output of soup production, so I had to do the heavy lifting.  This game would probably be better suited to those a few years older, but as an adult I can appreciate the slick Pixel Junk brand game mechanics at work.
In Minecraft, the nephew is so in love with the Necromancy mod that it was hard to convince him to do anything else.  In that mod, you stitch together reanimated horrors out of a head, torso, two arms, and a set of legs.  These parts belong to the various creatures of the unmodded game and you can mix them anyway you like.  Want a squid-headed spider with iron golem arms and villager feet?  No problem!  (Especially if you play in creative mode and just spawn the parts in like we did.)  Unfortunately, aside from their appearance, they are all pretty much the exact same critter with varying hit points and damage potential, so I am a lot more bored of them then the nephew is.

The nephew also introduced me to the Blocklings mod, one that has you leveling up and upgrading your own Minecraft block derived pet.  The little blocklings are kinda cute, but I don't find them all that much more useful than the Necromancy Mod critters.  They seem to have pathing issues and it's a shame to have to go through all the effort of leveling them up when they're just going to run off and get themselves killed somehow.

What bothers me about both the Necromancy mod and the Blockings mod is that these pets don't do much.  They won't even bother to attack anything less you hit it first.  I far more prefer the Thaumcraft golems, which are autonomous in their functions and also capable of doing a lot more useful things than just attack.

Anyway, so went my weekend.  Now that I have a few hours off after work to contemplate what I ought to be doing, I find myself stalemated by exactly what I was trying to accomplish when I wasn't being hijacked into daycare.   I need something more fulfilling to do with my free time than play games, especially considering I'm too picky to enjoy many of them anymore, and the world domination gig is booked solid.

Maybe I'd rather make games, my lesser excitement of them partly being because I can, and having seen what goes on behind the curtain reveals far more potential fun than just playing them.  I am now thinking that my major hitch in the game development process is in the design phase.  To a great extent, the actual assembly of the game is the least important bit: I need to finalize a design I'm excited about, from beginning to end, before I bother to actually try to realize it.
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Digging Too Deep

This weekend, my primary focus was the same as the last two: space mining and some other entertainment to break up the monotony.  

That may change because I finally reached my penultimate goal in Elite:Dangerous of earning access to an Imperial Clipper, basically the sleekest ship in the game.  
Oh, she's not the biggest and best ship in the game, that honor belongs to the Anaconda, a ship whose hull costs about seven times as much.  In fact, the Python costs only twice as much as a clipper and outperforms it in every way (except speed) while fitting snugly on a smaller docking pad.   So the only thing "penultimate" about the Imperial Clipper is that it is arguably the best looking ship in the game, and has a slightly higher cruising speed to show for it.

Perhaps more importantly, it's the last one I plan to grind long enough to get.  From here on out, the diminishing returns for grinding exceed my comfort level.   If I bother to play at all, it'll just be for a little space atmosphere and expecting nothing in return.

In text-based virtual worlds, no one can hear you swearing.

As I hinted at in the last entry, I was interested in playing Caves of Qud, and did so.   

It's a fun little post-apocolyptic roguelike, rich with flavor text illustrating an interesting world and unusual game mechanics such as mutations.  In what other game can you be a four-armed turtle gunslinger capable of spawning temporal clones?

That said, it's far from a perfect game.  I find the RPG aspects of it to be a bit rudimentary, the skills you earn are essentially just perks, so the character power progression curves unpredictably.   Enemy balance is also a bit lopsided, liable to spawn instakilling foes where previously only leveling fodder could be found;many a cheap game over awaits.  However, it's an early access game, so it's forgiven.

You've risen my hopes and dashed them quite expertly.

I also have begun to take an online class in Unity 3D.  It was marked down from $197 to $10 with the right coupon found via reddit.  So far, it's indeed an online class: nothing but lectures, PowerPoint slides, and a message board.  Still, short of taking a live class, this is probably the easiest (wimpiest) way to learn how to use the powerful IDE, but after all my waffling perhaps I ought to just forge ahead on the smallest incline available.
Sensing I might be making progress towards usurping its entertainment potential, reality has rudely destroyed my working operating system.  Worse, it did so in a classic fashion where a mortal is tempted too much power.  

I was tempted to migrate my four-drive RAID 10 array to a RAID 5 because that's still pretty decent data security but also has the potential to be reading from three drives instead of two.  Post-migration, I discovered that I dug too deeply: while the drive managed to keep its data in tact, Windows 7 would have nothing to do with my RAID 5 shenanigans.

So I decided to stop being so fancy and just reinstalled Windows 7 to my fifth, 128 GB, SSD drive.  Performance is all around better with the OS running on a SSD, but I shall forever be plagued with the need to manually redirect everything that's not system-crucial over to the D: drive where the Raid 5 is. Lemme tell ya, a LOT of stuff wants to come live on the C: drive whether you want it or not.  One of these days, I'll shell out for a terabyte of SSD drive space... but not today!

Windows 10 is out, but I won't be migrating to it until I know for certain my RAID drivers are compatible with it.  Otherwise, I lose the data and space that dwells on my newly-merged RAID 5.  I would hate to have to start over again.
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Prospective Pursuits

Despite claiming to be burned out from Elite: Dangerous, what little free time I have managed to focus towards a particular end has mostly been spent engaging in the most boring activity it can offer: mining.

Mining has been made a bit less boring than it used to be because of the addition of collector limpets.  These handy little robots will elegantly fly out, grab any asteroid debris or cargo containers they can find, and drop them off in your cargo scoop.  The fully upgraded limpet controllers expand limpet lifespan to a full twelve minutes... unless you have targeted something to pick up, in which case launching a limpet does only retrieves that and then it self-destructs.  Prior to the implementation of the collector limpets, you had to collect all the debris manually by ramming it with your open cargo scoop, which was challenging enough but overly monotonous.

The other half of what makes mining worthwhile is picking the right target.  I had originally thought mining in Elite:Dangerous was mostly a matter of flying out to asteroid belts, hit up the few rocks you find there, and then jumping to the next.  All that travel time takes forever, and it turns out a much quicker way to fill up your cargo hold involves finding resource extraction sites located within planetary rings.  Planetary rings are made up of effectively unlimited asteroids, so you can gleefully fill your entire cargo hold without having to go back to supercruise first.  Look for "metallic" or "pristine metal" planetary rings, because minerals are worth so much less than ore that I'm not sure why they even bother putting in mineral belts at all.

Currently, mining has me upgrading an Asp Explorer with a 64-ton cargo capacity.  I load up on ten limpets, leave the station, go to a nearby purely metallic planetary ring, zap rocks with my mining laser, use collection limpets to fill my cargo hold, leave the planetary ring, return to the station.  Takes about an hour, and I get about 500,000 to 1,000,000 credits depending on what I find and how many bulletin board missions want to buy those minerals off me.  Mining is a peaceful pursuit, but not very exciting, so I can't recommend it for anything other than taking an occasional relaxing jaunt into to space.

Other Things I'd Like To Do And Why I Haven't Yet:

1. Move out.

Since my little bro put us all through the wringer in June, his eventual release from jail is a bittersweet prospect.   I don't want him to suffer being on the inside, but neither do I want to be front and center when he's being a maniac.  Another major incentive to buy a space of my own is that I really like the idea of having a place completely to myself, along with the freedom to run it exactly how I want to run it.

The primary reason I have not moved out is because it's rather expensive.  In fact, the only apartment manager to give me the time of day first wants proof that I can actually afford rent and living expenses.  Apparently such a thing is beyond the humble part time wage of a library circulation assistant, but I am now scheduled for enough substitute hours to work full time for a full month!

In the meanwhile, the serenity of my free time is ravaged by the perpetual suspense of what tomorrow will have in store for me and my brother.  As one of my coworkers recently put it, "I thought becoming an adult was supposed to make life easier, but it only gets harder the older I get!"

2. Play Minecraft.

I still watch a bit of Yogscast Minecraft playing, primarily Sjin's "Rule The World" series, which is an elegant example of Minecraft at its best, leaning heavily upon the Ancient Warfare 2 mod.

At the end of May, I wrote about the ups and downs of that mod and came to the conclusion that Ancient Warfare 2 is a bit too finicky about its block types and NPC behavior handling to bother using it.  Yet, one thing that really appeals to me about this mod is the idea that you need to feed your villagers, which makes industrializing my food supply to grow my personal town into an important part of the game, and should pair well with many industrializing mods.

I found an interesting alternative called Sim U Kraft Reloaded, which also has conveniently starving villagers, but also require a great deal of resources to build prefab buildings.  On the downside, I get the feeling AW2 NPCs are probably smarter than SUK:R NPCs, and the SUK:R aesthetics (evident in both the building and NPCs) is modern themed, running counter to my desired fantasy vibe.

3. Play Sims 4.

I was thinking of going back and giving this game another spin now that they've had a few more months of development put into it.  I thought I might try something akin to The Asylum Challenge, where you do not control the majority of "insane" traited sims.  It has been my experience that letting the sims' autonomous behavior lead them to horrible mishaps is one of the more enjoyable ways to play the game.

So I stepped back into the mindset of being a Sims 4 player, saw that they released a cool Sims 4: Get To Work expansion pack, and then saw they wanted to gouge me $39.99 for it.  Perhaps "Get To Work" refers to what you have to do in order to afford EA products?  The reminder of how much of a ruthless economic machine The Sims franchise is somewhat soured my enthusiasm to partake.

4. Play Witcher 3.

I don't know why I'm not playing this game.  It's a glorious role playing experience full of rich characterization, vivid imagery, and above par gameplay.  Yet, oddly enough, it seems I am too finicky to play it.
Maybe all my time spent playing Skyrim has exhausted my quota for gorgeous, 3rd person action RPGs in this lifetime.  I'd rather play something like Caves of Qud, a post-apocolyptic roguelike.  Weird of me... I guess my brain gets something more worthwhile out of crappy-graphiced procedurally generated games than it does good-looking hand crafted content.  Maybe it is the additional leeway for my imagination to apply itself?

5. Make my own damn game.

If I could make a game that would satisfy me, among the most finicky of gamers, then I could make the game that challenge the entertainment value of reality itself.  Maybe that's the reason why reality seems to conspire against me every time I try.

Anyway, I am still waffling over the engine.  GameMaker is easier to use, but Unity has far more robust support for a real programming language (C#).   I am thinking I would like an engine that could simulate an entire virtual space at once with potentially thousands of entities, so maybe something that handles threading would be mandatory.  According to the Rimworld FAQs, Unity actually isn't all that good at handling thousands of objects.  I might just have to code my own engine, probably using an API such as LibGDX.

So we have our reason why I'm not right there: making games is hard, especially the way I'm doing it.  But it is self-evident that it would be a better use of my time than just playing them. 
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Where Elite:Dangerous Burns Out

This week, I mostly played Elite: Dangerous.  (Granted, I worked a full time schedule, so I didn't have a whole lot of time to play anything.)  Yet, I find myself a bit disappointed in what I have to look forward to in the latter half of the game.

The main problem comes down to weapon balance.  If I compare the damage per second as measured by the players on an April 2015 forum thread with the actual cost of the weapons and the difficulty of mounting them on ships, what arrive at is the conclusions that the power balance tapers off heavily in the latter part of the game.
The reason is because of how damage scales relative to price in the weapons.  For example, a class 1 ("small") gimble-mounted beam laser would cost around 75,000 credits and do 8.7 DPS, but a class 3 ("large") gimble-mounted beam laser costs around 2,400,000 credits and does 24 DPS.   So you end up paying 32 times the cost of the weapon for less than 3 times the damage.

If I look at the weapon mounts on an Imperial Clipper, there are only four hardpoints, two "medium" mounts and two "large" mounts.  In terms of DPS, there is a potential for twice as much damage as a Cobra Mk III's two "small" and two "medium" hardpoints.  Yet, the Clipper hull costs nearly 60 times more, has only twice the shielding as the Cobra, and is much easier to hit due to its size.

Perhaps the Imperial Clipper's mere 4 hardpoints is an overly extreme example.  Lets take the most heavily armed craft the players can currently pilot, the Anaconda, costing over 6 Imperial Clippers.  The Anaconda hardpoints are 1 huge, 3 large, 2 medium, and 2 small.  Thanks to the weapon balance, those 8 hardpoints are not as relevant as the cost would suggest.

The advantage of the smaller ships is further reinforced by weapon mount types.  A fixed beam laser is one of the deadliest things in the game, a class 3 does around 30 DPS, but it only fires straight forward, which makes it significantly less useful on a large, cumbersome ship like the Anaconda.  So you mount a turreted version, costing severalfold more credits... and it does less than 15 DPS!  Well, that's fair enough, you don't have to aim the turreted version, so it works out to about the same credit cost, right?  Wrong: the weaker, turreted version of the weapons cost nearly 20 times more than the more powerful (but harder to hit with) aimed versions.  So getting a larger, more cumbersome ship carries a compound cost to outfit it.

In some ways, I rather like this "level playing field" balance that puts a player in an Anaconda at not too much of an advantage versus a player in a Cobra  Mk III.  What is bothers me is that it seems like the longer I play, the harder I will have to struggle to make progress.  The credit costs skyrocket for less and less benefit.  Compounding this are the insurance costs that make it so, the bigger and better the ship I am piloting, the more credits I have to fork out to replace it.  It is a pretty unsatisfying balance overall.

My inner power gamer concludes that there is little reason to upgrade your ship past a certain point.  A frugal player might as well just kit out a bunch of cheaper hulls for each role, switching between them for the variety of activities.  I have a pretty good chance at killing an Anaconda with a tricked out Vulture heavy fighter that would cost a hundred times less, so why buy an Anaconda at all?  The prestige; you buy big ships just to say you have collected and flown them.  This is sort of a problem because, for more practical players, it robs Elite:Dangerous of the main impetus to play: if you're not there to earn credits to get bigger and badder ships, then why play?
Well, there is something they added in version 1.3 called PowerPlay, where you can pledge yourself to one of ten rulers and then engage in (largely profitless) activities that make numbers go up to potentially put the rulers in charge.  As different rulers impose a different set of rules on the solar systems under their control, changing ownership is a means to change the shape of the universe.  It looks great on paper, because player involvement that shapes universes is what games like this really need.  Unfortunately, in practice, it's too much of a grind; the PowerPlay activities are repetitious and lack adequate variety for the expected time investment by the players.

Times like this, I see why I ended up spending so much time in Minecraft.  I can vividly remember most of the adventures I have had in Minecraft because I had such an impact on the game world, permanently depleting resources as I delved into massive caves, then taking those resources and putting them towards great projects of whatever I wanted to build... well, so long as it was made out of blocks.  In Elite:Dangerous, I hardly care about mining asteroids, blowing up enemy ships, or docking with space stations, because each instance of these activities hardly differentiate from another of the same.  Thus, the only things that noticeably changes as a result of my efforts are my ship and my credit balance.  

Maybe Notch has spoiled me, or maybe Braben really needs to step up his virtual world savviness.   Maybe all this finicky bloviating over Braben and Notch's differences in game philosophy reminds me that, if I want to do the job "right," I should probably stop wasting time playing games and get back to trying to make them.


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