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Wasting My Time In Elite: Disingenuous

Though I've talked a bit about starting up my game development endeavors again, I have yet to make more than a few tentative first steps.  Instead, I've largely wasted my time playing Elite: Horizons and Craft The World, games I've spoken of before.

In Elite: Horizons (or Elite: Dangerous, same game plus the Horizons expansion), I've finally made enough money mining pristine metallic planetary rings to upgrade from that gorgeous Imperial Clipper to the two ships above it that can actually dock on medium-sized docking pads.
Left: Fer-De-Lance.
Right: Python.

I started with the Fer-De-Lance, a ship that I read described as the ship equivalent of "an armored sportscar" that would typically "be owned by the same kind of person who would own cheetahs."  In practice, it's the nimblest ship to carry a huge weapon hardpoint (along with four medium hardpoints and six utility hardpoints), but has next to no interior room.  In fact, it's rare you'll see one sporting room for more than 32 or 16 tons of cargo, if that.

If you're looking for a ship in Elite: Dangerous that can kill any other ship in the game with relative ease, get a Vulture, it's relatively cheap and effective.  If you're looking to do the same thing in style, then you can spend between ten to twenty times more and get a Fer-De-Lance.  The Fer-De-Lance is a very specialized combat ship; if one pulls out of supercruise near you, you can be pretty sure he's not there to show you his cheetah.

I bored of the Fer-De-Lance within a day.  Yes, it was a lot better than my Imperial Clipper in a fight, sporting far better shields, maneuverability, and armament.   However, I ended up doing more or less the same thing.
  • In the Clipper, I would go near "hazardous resource sites" and mine in peace until my cargo was full.  Sell what I mined, restock my limpets, and repeat.
  • In the Fer-De-Lance, I go directly into those same sites, where pirates of significant size reliably spawn, and just kill them until I was damaged or I was low on ammo.  Trade in my bounties, restock my ammunition, and repeat.
This is the most profitable thing to do with either ship, but it gets monotonous fast.  To add insult the injury, I made slightly less money in the Fer-De-Lance, risking my neck in combat with a more expensive vessel.  Besides, I figure that being in a ship specialized to just killing things certainly doesn't help with the monotony.

So I used my meager credits to trade my moderately-well-equipped Fer-De-Lance for a poorly-equipped Python.   The Python is a multi-role ship, you can deck it out any way you like for any task in the game.   When fully outfitted, the Python is about the equal match of a Fer-De-Lance, slightly slower and with no access to a huge hardpoint, but about as nimble with access to a better power distributor.  This is balanced out by a larger price to outfit it, but it's basically the best all-around ship that can still fit on a medium landing pad.

After trying everything else with my Python, I found nothing more profitable than mining, so I went back to that.  With my D-class equipment, it really wasn't wise to seek out combat, and why fuss around with trying to find good bounties when I know where I can find valuable minerals?  There used to be over one million credit assassination quests, but the mission boards largely failed me here, and it was rare I could even find a "kill x number of pirates" mission anymore.

Despite upgrading to a ship that could do something more than mining, it seems that there was nothing else in the universe worth doing.   That tells me that the incentive system of Elite: Dangerous/Horizons is in shambles right now.   I might as well have stuck with the Fer-De-Lance, even if it was less profitable, because it was more fun mining space rocks when they shot back.

On that vein, lets throw out money earning entirely and look at the game in terms of variety.   As I player, I basically have a selection of roles available to me, but they all boil down to various flavors of main three activities of trading, combat, and exploration:
  • Trade - Travel between markets, buy resources low, sell them high.
  • Smuggle - Trading with illegal resources.
  • Mine - Trading, sourcing your own resources from asteroids.
  • Courier - Trading, letting the bulletin board decide what and where.
  • Bounty Hunting - Combat versus pirates.
  • Assassinate - Combat versus bulletin board targets.
  • Pirate - Combat versus traders, then trading resources made illegal because you stole them.
  • Mercenary - Combat versus warring factions.
  • Explorer - Exploring, which is basically just flying around in supercruise, waiting for your scanner to finish.
On top of that, there are dynamic events in the form of system signal sources that can be found while cruising around in supercruise.  These are more interesting than the basic player roles or bulletin board missions offered, but are highly unreliable because you never know what you are going to find (and it is usually not all that relevant to your needs).

What would be really nice is if things happened like they were proposed in the Capital Ship Battle Video that was shown 3 years ago:
See what happened there?  It was a staged example of what it would look like to be in a living, breathing universe where things of consequences are happening and the players are wrapped up into it.   It's proof that Frontier Developments knew how the players' activities in Elite: Dangerous/Horizons ought to look.

Nothing close to what's in that video ever happens in the game. You don't even get any NPC wingmen (though the combat training scenarios demonstrate they're certainly possible, and you can bring along players to be your wingmen).  You don't get spontaneously offered a mission in space to engage in a furball between capital ships because there is no such combat instance anywhere in the game!  There's not even any voice acting!  But each of these elements are just that, elements, what's really lacking here is meaningful scenarios.

Compared to what was in that teaser video, Elite: Dangerous/Horizons is a great big immersive simulation of a universe where nothing all that interesting ever happensPowerPlay might have changed that, but ended up being nothing more than lip service to the fact that the whole game is made up of simple, monotonous activities without a single meaningful scenario to be found.

What does a lack of meaningful scenario look like?  Whether it's open play, the bulletin board, or PowerPlay, it's always the same simple tasks: move a commodity, kill something, and dock.  There's little context or greater significance to these activities; although they did try to spice things up a bit by adding NPCs who try to subvert bulletin board missions, their interactions are nearly as slim and lacking in substance as the initial tasks themselves.  Unfortunately, that's just the reality of present-day Elite: Dangerous/Horizons.

Ultimately, it's this dreadful dearth of meaningful scenarios is the reason I quickly bored whether I was piloting an Imperial Clipper, Fer-De-Lance, or Python.  Even though Elite: Dangerous/Horizons has its strengths (it's stable, quite immersive, and should look and play fantastic on an Oculus Rift) all that beauty is simply too skin deep to last me longer than a short session every now and then.  In this last session, I stayed overlong, and now I feel keenly a sense of wasted time.
Craft The World is a much smaller game that nevertheless dwarfs Elite: Dangerous/Horizons.
As for my experiences in playing Craft The World, it's basically an elaborate ant farm with dwarves.   Its progression system dragged on overlong and bored me, too.  Despite that, I have to say that Craft The World is a significantly better game than Elite: Dangerous in virtually every way that doesn't require an Oculus Rift to enjoy.

This is because Craft The World does provide meaningful scenarios.  Your dwarves have a lot of context to each of their actions; there's a lot more at stake than seeing a number go up and down.  Basically, this game is an example of an emergent content engine, the kind of thing you really can't utter "open world" without at least trying to implement anymore.

Frontier Developments can't tell me that they never heard of such a thing.  They made the Rollercoaster Tycoon series, and are about to release a new one.  They should know what emergent content engines look like.  Why have they been unable to frame the universe of Elite: Dangerous as meaningfully?  I don't know.  I do know that I'll be watching for future expansions to the game in hopes that they are specifically target what it's lacking.

Of course, if I'm that fascinated by emergent content engines (it's sort of the whole drive of this blog) then I have only myself to blame for not trying to make my own.  It's really the only thing I want to make, let alone play.


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