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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Elite: Dangerous - Beautiful but Obfuscated

[gallery type="rectangular" ids="4179,4180,4181,4182,4183,4184,4185,4186,4178"]

This is Elite. It released in September 1984. I spent 3.5 hours last night playing it for umpteenth time. It was a great feeling to once more slide into the seat of a Sidewinder spacecraft and launch into space. It was like coming home after being gone for 30 years.

This is also Elite: Dangerous. In no way does it technically resemble the original Elite. It is far more beautiful for one thing, as the mosaic above proves. Yet given a three decade gap in the technology, the new game deftly captures the feel of the old game. When I first launched, there was no doubt I was playing Elite. It felt the same at a visceral level. I find that somewhat remarkable. Well done Frontier.

That said, it wasn't easy getting the hang of the new game. There is no good tutorial. They are all about fighting your ship or flying your ship. There isn't anything that really tells you how the UI, the program itself, works. I found my joy of flying an Internet spaceship dampened by the necessity of figuring out what buttons/keys/sliders controlled which aspect of the UI. For Elite: Dangerous, I purchased a Saitek x52 Pro HOTAS as an early pressie for myself. It makes flying the ship a wonderful experience, but it makes a hash of the UI. The left side panel is controlled by the POVs and buttons of the stick. The galactic and system maps are mouse driven. Nevertheless, some stick buttons are active and accidentally bumping one can send you anywhere. I find the same incongruity in Station Services. Most screens are mouse driven, but not all. Now, heap on this the fact the easiest way I've found to switch between UI screens is by using 1 through 4 on the keyboard, and there were times I found myself wishing I was an octopus with eight tentacles instead of only two hands. My desk layout is an arms width comprised of (left to right) throttle, keyboard, stick and mouse in that order. And I have to use them all! The lack of documentation for any of this leads to a level of obfuscation that is mind numbing.

Still, it is worth the effort. I can mitigate some of the obfuscation with a few reprogrammed HOTAS buttons and sliders. With any luck I can remove the keyboard from the equation. There are three modes on the X52 Pro and I haven't taken advantage of the other two yet. To do that I'll have to program the HOTAS directly though, and I'm not certain the controller interface will allow that. I've been struggling a bit between the naming convention in the game for buttons and things and what Saitek calls them. I've got a lot of reading to do. I'm sure if it's possible someone has done it. Reddit don't fail me now!

Elite: Dangerous is a fantastic experience, especially for those who played the original. Even if I had to continue with the present obfuscated learning curve, I would. I can see where younger gamers who never played the original wouldn't put up with such a system, and not like the fact space is vast and even at 400 times C it takes time to get from station to station, but the fact this new game still feels like the Elite I came to love means I'll live with it. It'll get better. I may even be Elite when it does.


  1. You might want to say that older gamers might not want to play either. I'd never heard of Elite before the kickstarter for Elite: Dangerous (I was running around Central America back in 1984), and I'm not very good at flight sims to begin with. I was thinking about picking up the game if it ever went on a Steam sale. I won't bother now. I don't mind the travel times. Just don't want the frustration of trying to learn how to fly. EVE flight is about as complicated as I can handle nowadays.

  2. I think there is a small misunderstanding in what I was trying to say. Flying the ship is easy. Combat is fun, and you have far more control over your fate than you do in EVE. Manipulating the screens necessary to make any computer game work is what is obfuscated. There is flight mode (seamless and pleasant) and everything else (ugh.) It is obvious where Frontier put the most effort.

  3. Oh, okay. I thought the flight controls were really complicated. I'd hate to buy a game and find out I couldn't play because I couldn't figure out how to move around the game world. That happened to me with Skyrim.

  4. I've got a similar hardware setup for Elite (X52 Pro), and I found it fairly easy to set up just using the in-game control bindings. A couple of secrets:

    1) You can use a two- or three-button combo for a command, allowing you to do things like using the pinkie switch for a "shift state", or pushing two switch toggles on the stick base to get a particular action.

    2) You can also assign button presses to the slider and wheels on the throttle.

    I've got a tweaked setup that I can send you if you like; it's evolved somewhat from the default, but it works for me, and it might provide a starting point.

  5. Ooooo, multi-button combos would be nice. Thanks! I didn't realize that could be done. I've been experimenting with the sliders though. I've got the thumb slider set to go supercruise when I push it forward and drop into normal frameshift when I pull it back. That works well so long as I remember to pull it back after interdiction. :P I've got to be careful though. Last night I inadvertently unprogrammed my UI select button. That was frustrating. :/ I didn't realize manually reprogramming a button with dual roles kills both roles. It's the #4 button which I'd rather have handle a combat/flying role. I should move the UI select role to the throttle. Have you noticed that some roles won't accept the higher number buttons? For example, I can't get the engine boost to accept any of my 30 series buttons.


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