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All The Albion Preclusion You Can Stomach

Now Playing: X3: Albion Prelude

This is looking to be a week in which I'll play the snot out of this game, leading up to X Rebirth's release on November 15th.  To these ends, last Friday and Saturday evening (after work) as well as the vast majority of my Sunday off, went largely to the pursuit of completing the Albion Prelude campaign that serves as a teaser for X Rebirth.

I talk a lot about the Panther light carrier.  Here's a good shot of it,
although the shot really doesn't portray how HUGE it is.  You could
probably line up about 50-100 Notus Haulers from head to stern.
Friday and Saturday mostly involved getting my very own factory complex of the Argon race started.  I began with a Solar Power Plant XL and then built all the supporting structures needed to essentially provide me a free stream of energy cells with a surplus of food and raw materials.

As of Sunday, it was time to get my computer components built in order to progress the Albion Prelude campaign... I want to complain a bit about that turned out. 

The trouble was that the Argon computer plants I needed to produce the computer components were only available far away from my factory complex.  I could not hire a transport there because this would involve going through many hostile sectors to get back to my complex.  So I decided it was time to sell off my Panther pocket carrier and get a nice TL-class transport ship of my own that I could fit with a jumpdrive.  Thus, I would be able to get in, grab the computer plant, and jump out.

What followed was a bunch of cognitive dissonance as to which TL ship I would purchase to accomplish this, making zero progress at all as I reloaded an old save game several times, trying one, finding something wrong with it, and then trying again: 
  • I had used a Split Elephant in past games, but I sort of wanted a ship with a different visual aesthetic just for a change of pace from my nearly-identical looking Panther.
  • I like how the Argon Mammoth looks, but it had too few hangars to become the main playership as I was planning, and I found upgrading it to be too awkward because I bought it at a station that did not have rudder optimization available.
  • The Paranid Hercules was even more aesthetically pleasing - it almost looks like something out of Star Trek! - but I discovered its tall design had a nasty habit of killing innocent freighters as it moved into new sectors.
  • The Boron Orca was alright... although I found that big, bulbous docking nodule in its belly to be a tad disturbing: are the ships docking with it or mating with it?  That's Boron pseudo-organic design for you.  More relevantly, it was just slow and awkward to use: the Argon Mammoth is the only commonwealth TL ship that did not turn like a pig.
In the end, the Elephant was really the only appropriate choice, mostly due to its large hangar bay and fast speed, but it left me with a problem in that I would soon need to get involved in combat quite a bit in order to advance the Albion Prelude plotline, but TLs really can't handle anything bigger than a standard-sized fighter wing.  Would I need to grind credits until I could buy a separate ship entirely?

Suddenly, while poking through my key bindings, I discovered that I would not need a TL ship at all!  It turns out that, when I installed the bonus pack for Albion Prelude, it included a player mod, the "Hephiastos Corp Station Building Service," that basically takes care of all station building for the player.   So, in the end, I ended up wasting about 6 hours on Sunday just reloading the same saved game.
Oh well, I suppose I learned a few things from all this rigamarole, not the least being a new appreciation for my Panther light carrier.  It really is a peerless player ship considering how nimble it is, how flexible its armaments are, and its generous fighter-carrying capacity.  Despite resembling a rusty slab sometimes, it also has some very nice aesthetic features, such a panoramic view over the bulk of your launch deck that lets you watch fighters launch from your hangars and your guns lay into the enemy - I don't know if any of those ponderous M1 (carriers) can boast that!

Although lacking the panoramic view, an equally good choice over the Panther would be a Griffin Sentinel, which carries half as many fighters but has about as much firepower, better turret arcs, a little more cargo, and a far smaller profile.  That smaller profile is a big selling point in X3 because it makes you that much harder to hit by enemy weapons fire (essentially increasing what that 4GJ of shielding can do for you) and also less likely to collide with things accidentally (whether they are innocent freighters or your returning fighter craft).

At one point, I tried taking a Boron Guppy, whose unique docking clamp meant that I could carry around a Boron Angel all the times.  The Angel could perform the tasks of a troop transport and also be a quartermaster to purchase and distribute useful cargo (as Frigates are too large to dock with most stations).  However, compared to the Panther or Griffin Sentinel, the Guppy has terribly lackluster armament and only a fourth of the shielding.  It only took one fight to remind me that the Guppy is about as useless under fire as the far smaller TM (military transport); it's really no match for so much as a single Corvette without launching a capable fighter wing. 

It feels good to pilot a nimble fighter ship, like this sleek Notus Hauler,
after flying around so long in a frigate (even though Frigates are more
nimble than the final, top-end tier of ships: the Carriers and Destroyers).
Speaking of capable fighters, I realized that having a M3+ (advanced heavy fighter) loaded down with energy bolt chainguns could supplement the firepower my Panther light carrier was putting out, essentially doubling it.

To these ends, I bought a Notus Hauler, which is about as advanced as M3+ fighters get.  However, this has not exactly worked out as well as I thought it would because the Panther doesn't pilot itself nearly as well with an artificial intelligence (AI) at the helm.

Maybe the Griffin's compact size would make it ideal for AI use?  Honestly, I doubt it, X3's capital ship AI seems to favor broadsides but the Griffin and Panther have the bulk of their firepower up front.  In that case, the ideal AI capital ship would probably be some huge carrier or super destroyer since they have turrets enough to get the job done regardless of which direction they're pointed.

Relying on AI fighters to do most of the fighting would be cool, but not tenable at the upper levels with X3's balance.  Flak is somewhat overpowered; even heavily shielded fighters are essentially just sacrificial lambs when thrown at a capital ship with flak capabilities.  A player will try to dodge flak projectiles, with varying success, but that AI does not use the strafe drive at all, making them easy pickings for flak and sometimes even rival fighter barrages.  To some extent, this can be counteracted by putting the AI into ships with giant shields, such as the Argon Eclipse or Teladi Falcon Sentinel, but flak batteries will overwhelm this in time.

Ideally, fighters won't be put up against capital ship flak batteries at all; corvettes, frigates, and other capital ships are the safest options to engage capital ships.  Missile Frigates in particular can take down capital ships with incredible ease by launching copious amounts of Flail Barrage Missiles, but care should be taken to launch them out of range as, if they are shot down, they do area-of-effect damage that will probably damage the frigate.  For this reason, M8 Bombers are a waste of money, because their ordinance is more dangerous to themselves than the enemy!

Fighter drones are a surprisingly effective solution.  I tried launching 20 MK II Fighter Drones and having them escort my Notus Hauler and I found I could take down a Terran carrier pretty easily.  Unlike fighters, you can lose drones without it be a major hit to your bank account; drones are cheap, but not always plentiful because the stations that produce them cap out at maximum capacity relatively quickly.  I like to try to recover my drones after combat, which can be done by individually ordering them to stand by and ramming them like any cargo, but this is a bit of a chore.  I suspect that the M7C "drone carrier" ships were supposed to be able to order the drones to dock, but Egosoft changed their mind before completing that feature (probably because simply being able to reuse them would allow a player to run around with fleets of hundreds of drones, and that would be massively overpowered).

Enough talk of strategy, back to completing that Albion Prelude campaign... 

Anyway, having finally built my computer factories into my complex (and a chip plant "just because") I then spent a bit of random faffing about doing various missions as I waited for the necessary computer components and microchips.  I easily obtained the 10 impulse ray emitters, and happened to have a captured Xenon L already, so that step of the Albion Prelude campaign was completed relatively simply.

For the next step, the campaign had me "help with the war effort."  What a mess that was!  It seems the way the war works is to have Terran and Argon ships spawning at random every time you jump into a sector at war.  Once, I witnessed an Argon Titan super destroyer coming through a warpgate immediately after a Terran Tokyo carrier, essentially dooming both ships to an instant, collision-based death.  A battle in the Omicron Lyrae sector had about a dozen ships between Corvette and Super Destroyer size slugging it out, and so much firepower exchanged that several asteroids were destroyed in the process.  Okay, that's actually pretty epic!

Miraculously (well, it was a bit less of a miracle thanks to the power to reload saved games) my Panther and Notus Hauler both survived my helping the war effort.  Currently, the Albion Prelude mission has completely disappeared from my mission tracker, but I suspect that just means means I met the final condition of part 2 of the campaign and I will eventually be called back to start part 3.

I might be able to complete this Albion Prelude campaign before X Rebirth comes out, but I probably have already exhausted its potential as a lead-in for X Rebirth.  Albion Prelude is basically a story about the Jonferco corporation bringing major technologies to the X Universe that will change the way it works by the time X Rebirth begins.

The first such technology is their hyperspace freeway system, which allows for travel throughout a solar system without the use of hyperspace gates.  The second technology is automated drones which are significantly more advanced than the ones in Albion Prelude.  Both such technologies have been shown off in the first X Rebirth video trailer, and what you see in Albion Prelude is just the story of the early history of these technologies being built.

Boring Real Life / Game Development Progress: A plan, of sorts.

Last entry, I was coming to grips with the realization that my laid-back 60% schedule was so evenly spread throughout the week that I would feel like I'm working about as hard on my days off as I am on days I'm actually working, and consequently I would never feel so very released from my obligations to want to do any work in my free time.  I decided that I needed a comfortable mental strategy that that might produce some progress.

Currently, my strategy is, "Do whatever I want to do on the limited time off I have after work on working days, but try to do at least one productive thing on the days I have off."  That productive thing can be design work, writing a story, utilizing productivity software (such as GameMaker or Ableton Live), or maybe even writing a detailed blog entry (such as this).  Just as long as I do some kind of creative endeavor each day, I can feel reasonably satisfied I'm doing something.

Yesterday (Sunday) was spent pretty much completely absorbed in X3: Albion Prelude, so it appears I've a thing or two to learn about impulse control (but then, I already knew that).  I imagine that this plan will work out considerably better on the other 80% of the time I'm not expecting something as awesome as X Rebirth to happen.

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