Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bark: In defence of offence

Some of you might find what I'm about to write offensive. This post will not be granny-friendly. If you're easily offended, you might want to stop reading. In fact, you might want to fuck off to somewhere else on the internet to watch My Little Pony videos. Here's a link, now fuck off... Still here? Don't say you weren't warned.

No matter what your age, creed or religion, if you're even remotely right-minded and sane, you were probably horrified by the brutal, cowardly attack by fundamentalist murderers on the Charlie Hebdo offices and kosher supermarket in Paris last week. Note that I'm not calling them "terrorists" or "Islamic", because they don't deserve the false legitimacy the label brings. The three gunmen were criminals and were no more representative of the religion of Islam than I am - and I'm a big, white, Glaswegian atheist with a Physics degree.

No matter how much the idiots and racists on Fox News would like you to believe otherwise, the Kouachi brothers and their accomplices, Amedy Coulibaly and Hayat Boumeddiene, weren't striking a blow for Islam, or seeking to avenge a perceived slight against the Prophet, they were simply using that an excuse to commit cold-blooded murder against defenceless journalists and civilians. They were trying to exercise power and impose their barbaric, medieval values on a global society that's left them behind. I'd go so far to say that it wasn't even an attack against free speech or liberty. No, this was an attack on independent thought and civilisation. From the response that I've seen from the politicians, religious leaders, journalists and people of not just France, but the entire civilised world, I'm glad that their attack failed so miserably.

I'm no friend of organised religion - or more specifically, monotheism. The reason why is because I'm a scientist, and in science, it doesn't matter who you are, whether you're an undergraduate student, a professor, a teacher or even one of the "prophets" of science (as popular mainstream media like to portray them) such as Einstein, Galileo or Newton, no idea is sacrosanct or unchallengeable. In fact, if you're a scientist, your ideas are there to be shot at (metaphorically, not with AK-47s) and challenged. The problem with monotheism, and particularly fundamentalist interpretations of monotheistic religions, is that THESE IDEAS ARE THE ONLY RIGHT ONES, AND IF YOU CHALLENGE OR RIDICULE THEM, WE TRUE BELIEVERS WILL KILL YOU, BECAUSE INFIDELS ARE NOT TRULY HUMAN... Now, I don't give a flying fuck what particular brand of religious claptrap you choose to believe in. You can believe in what you like - but you don't get to try and tell me what to think and what I'm free to say and do - especially at the threat of a barrel of a gun. All fundamentalist religion requires is faith, preferably an unthinking, unquestioning one. It takes ancient texts hundreds, if not thousands, of years old and tells you BELIEVE IN THIS, THIS IS THE ONLY KNOWLEDGE YOU WILL EVER NEED. For a scientist, this very concept is anathema. To quote Richard Feynman, it's better to have questions you cannot answer than answers that cannot be questioned. If you take away the ability to think freely, speak freely and question freely, you don't have a civilisation. You have a group of bipedal sheep, able to be bullied around by a handful of maniacs with machine guns.

And this is why, no matter what the personal threat to any individual, we cannot and must not let these barbarians, who number only a few thousand - perhaps only a hundred thousand at most - intimidate us into self-censorship, for fear of causing them offence.

Offence is necessary. Intellectually, it is vital. Every preconception and blindly-held belief must be challenged and affronted. The unsayable must be said - the forbidden and the taboo must be viewed and confronted, because not to do so leads to intellectual stagnation and the death of ideas and civilisation. We cannot and must not let a few thousand backwards barbarians dictate the global agenda and limit the freedoms of billions of people worldwide, just because they have a few guns and make shiny videos on what's laughably called "social media". And they cannot, unless we let them - because while the fundamentalists might have the weapons of fear, intimidation, guns and bombs, we - civilised people - have better weapons: education, culture, logic, reason, tolerance and forgiveness.

Let us not be fooled into thinking that this is a "war" on Islam or a "war" on Terror - that's exactly what the fundamentalists want, because it allows them to carry on in the misguided belief that they haven't already lost. This is a debate between the values that we want to respect and abide by in future generations. Do you want those values to be ones that allow people to be murdered if they are perceived to be threatened? Or do you want them to be the values that enrich everyone's lives by allowing people to freely explore all the possibilities that unrestricted thought can discover? I know which world I want to live in.

And I've always thought that if your values, faith, belief and ideology is so easily threatened by say, a teenage girl speaking up for the educational rights of women, or a bunch of geeks drawing cartoons, maybe you need a better class of ideology. And if that offends you, remember that I didn't make you read it. I didn't hold a gun to your head and make you think. And maybe if you're offended by what I've written here, maybe you should consider the idea that a fat, Scottish geek typing at an Ikea desk on a computer has more power than a thousand so-called "terrorists" with assault rifles in terms of changing the way you should think about and look at the world.

Some people have called Charlie Hebdo's response to the attack on their offices "irresponsible" and "provocative". In case you've not seen that response, it's at the bottom of this post. I call bullshit on that. The best response to an atrocity such as this is to not apologise, to not pull your punches and show the world that we will not be cowed and that we will not submit to the base manipulation of fear and intimidation. By all means, be offended by it, but think about WHY you're offended. And do not believe for a second that your offence has more value than the life of the person who offended you, nor their right to have done it. I'm a teacher, I get offended by what people say to me on an almost daily basis, but I don't go around chopping the heads off the people who said something distasteful to me (though I imagine that would be a very effective behaviour management technique...). If God, Allah, Jehovah (or whatever God or god you choose to believe in) really exists (and we're not going to go into the "evidence" debate here - suffice to say that my opinion on this matter strongly agrees with Russell's Teapot), and is, in fact, omnipotent and omniscient, He doesn't really need His "honour" "defended" by a fleshy meatbag with an RPG launcher...

But if the fundamentalists really do want a "war", they should just name the time and place. Seriously, fundamentalists. Get yourselves all together into a nice desert somewhere, and we can duke it out. Except they'd never do that, because I forgot to mention one of our better weapons: nukes. We really could bomb them back into the Stone Age that they so clearly want to live in... Though you know what? We wouldn't do that, either - because we're better than them. Even crackpot, fundamentalist life has an intrinsic value, so these people don't deserve your hatred and fear. They deserve your pity, empathy and forgiveness. No matter how many innocents they try to kill or subdue, we need to continue to challenge their barbaric doctrine with education and reason, until they can finally see that their values are not wanted by us, are not tolerable by us, and that they were never worth fighting for to begin with. And finally, we certainly must not do their job for them by voluntarily ceding the freedoms that the Charlie Hebdo staff died for by taking them away with "security" legislation. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, any society willing to trade a little freedom for a little security will lose both and deserve neither - a lesson that's been forgotten all too often in the last fourteen years.

I'm going to leave you with a few of my favourite responses from the peers of the cartoonists killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack. They sum the whole thing up pretty well.

Nous sommes tous Charlie. Fuck fundamentalism and fundamentalists. And fuck their mothers, too. (But only if they're MILFs...)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Byte: A plug for the Elite Shipyard

In case you've not seen this yet, taleden on the Elite: Dangerous forums has put together a brilliant tool - the Elite Shipyard. Currently, it's still a bit of a work in progress, but if you want to find out how much that top-spec Imperial Clipper is going to set you back, and how much cash you need in reserve on the off-chance that you wreck it, well, now you can do exactly that.

It's 146.78 million credits, incidentally. The insurance alone is 5.4 million, and that's with the Beta discount. I'm going to have to get saving...

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Adder review

Screenshot_0133 Adder
Cost: 87,808Cr (As of v1.00)
Recommended weapon loadout 1 (Trader): x1 C2 Beam Laser (Gimballed) x2 C1 Beam Lasers (Turreted)
Recommended weapon loadout 2 (Explorer): x1 C2 Pulse Laser (Gimballed), x2 C1 Beam Lasers (Fixed)
Recommended weapon loadout 3 (Multi-role): x1 C2 Multi-cannon (Gimballed), x2 C1 Beam Lasers (Fixed)
Recommended modules: Chaff Launcher, Point Defence Turret

Why you should fly it: Essentially, the Adder is a poor man's Cobra Mark III. The Adder provides the player with the cheapest access to a Medium weapon hardpoint, making the ship a halfway house between the Eagle and the Cobra in terms of combat power. It's probably fair to say that the Adder isn't going to win any beauty contests, though the upturned, gullwing wingtips that come into play when you're landing the ship do add a smidgeon of coolness factor. Aesthetically, the Adder is very much a big brother to the Hauler - that is, ugly as sin. Fortunately, the Adder is second only to the Eagle in terms of its combat agility, so while it may not have durability of a Cobra, the combat power of a Viper, nor the sleek profile of an Eagle or Sidewinder, the Adder is still easily capable of handing an Asp's ass back to itself on a silver platter - provided that its pilot is mildly competent. As you can see in the video above, I didn't have too much trouble with that Cobra, and that was with basic weapons and vanilla E-rated thrusters and shields. It's probably not worth kitting one out as a combat vessel, as the money required to give an Adder the chance to compete with Pythons, Imperial Clippers, Federal Dropships and Anacondas for those lucrative asassination contracts would be more wisely invested in a bigger ship. If combat's not your thing and you simply want to use it as a stripped-down cargo shifter, it's a little bit better than a Hauler, as you can cram in 26 tonnes' worth of cargo racks, which might only be a handful more than the Hauler, but the fact that it's faster and more manoeuvrable will not only help you evade those pesky interdictions more easily, but will also speed up your turnaround time as you're docking and launching - all good for improving your profit margin in terms of cargo runs per hour. Another good use for the Adder would be as a mining vessel, as it has enough internal compartments to fit a decent-sized refinery and a few cargo racks, without having to completely sacrifice the ability to defend yourself from those unscrupulous Commanders who like to prey on asteroid grinders.
The stated design purpose of the Adder is to act as entry-tier exploration craft, and in this respect, the Adder is perfectly suited to its job. With an ultimate hyperspace range of between 22 and 25 light years, the Adder is perhaps a little short on hyperspace range to explore outwards towards the real fringes of the galaxy, but will comfortably handle exploratory forays inwards towards the galactic core. I've invested well over 2 million credits in my explori-Adder, most of that simply for the Detailed Surface and Advanced Discovery scanner, which are essential pieces of kit if you're going to make the most out of exploring. The 500 light second range on the Basic Discovery scanner is fine if you're just interested in scanning the system primary and maybe a few objects in the locality of it, but the Intermediate Discovery scanner isn't really worth the money. Over a million credits to just double the scanning range to 1000 light seconds seems a bit steep to me, as if you're a Pokemon Explorer like me (GOTTA SCAN THEM ALL!), you still have to do a lot of scrabbling around trying to find objects using visual parallax against the background stars, which is not something you want to be doing in an Adder. Save up the extra 500,000 credits and go the whole hog to get the Advanced Discovery Scanner - it detects everything in the system and makes the whole process much more straightforward and profitable. Another advantage of the Adder being a smaller ship is that the wear and tear running costs compared to an Asp are far more manageable. Overall, I really like the Adder and will be keeping mine for whenever I'm overcome by the wanderlust to pay a visit to the galactic core and some of the prettier, more easily reachable nebulae. Oh, and another thing - the Adder really sounds great. I love the sound the frame shift drive makes as it's winding down. It perhaps doesn't have the awe-inspiring sense of power and finesse that you get from the Viper, but still - Frontier's sound designers really deserve a lot of credit for giving each ship such a distinct sonic personality. It would have been so easy for them to make every ship sound the same, but each ship does have a unique character, and the Adder's a real charmer, despite the ugly duckling looks.
Why you should ditch it: The relative flimsiness of the hull and slight lack of combat power means that an Adder isn't really the ship you want to be flying if you're bounty hunting, though it is slightly more resilient than an Eagle. It's arguably a stepping stone from the Eagle up to a Viper or Cobra for the nascent bounty hunter and combateer, but there's one massive reason why you should stick with the Eagle if you're going to earn your early cash in combat, and that's the view from the cockpit.
There's no point mincing words here.
It's awful. Terrible. Execrable. Shit.
It's the single worst thing about the Adder. Hang up your TrackIR headset, or take off your Oculus Rift DK2 if you're lucky enough to have one, because in this you won't need it. Unless you like looking at the quality of the workmanship on the bulkheads, that is. This is not a ship to fly if you're claustrophobic. Combat in the Adder is mildly terrifying due to the lack of peripheral vision. You've got very little awareness of the space around you, making it very easy to collect stray ships or asteroids in the middle of a furball in a combat zone or resource gathering site. The greater combat power of the medium hardpoint on the upper hull doesn't entirely compensate for the restricted view, so you're really better off sticking with the Eagle until you can afford a Viper or Cobra. As I alluded to earlier, the poor vision from the cockpit also a disadvantage if you're using the Adder for exploring. If you can't afford an Advanced Discovery Scanner, trying to find distant objects using visual parallax is not easy with such a small view out of the canopy. A Sidewinder or Eagle, with their lovely open-top canopies, are much better for early game exploring, as you're much more likely to be able to pick up those tell-tale movements against the sky if you've got more of it to look at. The Advanced Discovery Scanner negates this disadvantage, of course, but it's not a cheap solution to the problem.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Byte: Flying Home For Christmas

With abject apologies to Chris Rea, Driving Home For Christmas, the Elite: Dangerous version.

I'm flying home for christmas
Oh, I can't wait to see those docking spaces
I'm flying home for christmas, yeah
Well I'm moving through witchspace
And it's been so long
But I will be there
I sing this song
To pass the time away
Flying in my Co-bra
Flying home for christmas

It's gonna take some time
But I'll get there
Top to toe fuel scoopin’
Oh, I got interdictions all around
But soon there'll be a frame shift
Get my feet on Founders’ ground

So I sing for you
Though you can't hear me
In this vacuum
Avoiding the pirates near me
I am flying home for christmas
Flying home for christmas
With ten tonnes of Lavian Brandy

I take look at the commander next to me
He's just the same
Just the same

Top to toe fuel scoopin’
Oh, I got interdictions all around
I'm flying home for christmas, yeah
Get my feet on Founders’ ground
So I sing for you
Though you can't hear me
In this vacuum
Avoiding the pirates near me
Flying in my Co-bra
Flying home for christmas
Flying home for christmas
With ten tonnes of Lavian Brandy

Monday, December 01, 2014

Bark: Movember 2014 - The final beg for donations begins

Now that we're into December, Movember might be officially over, but now the real work starts. You've guessed it, I want your donations. I've grown this fabulous, furry, facial furniture for the last thirty days to get lots and lots of money for a very good cause, but now it's starting to frighten my students. For their sakes, please donate so I can get rid of it!

Get yourself over to my Mo Space and please give whatever you can - even a few quid has the potential to make a big difference. If you take a bit of time to look over some of the statistics as to why we should be raising awareness about the health risks posed by testicular cancer, prostate cancer and mental health issues in men, they're almost as terrifying as my Mo. In the UK alone, the number of men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year would fill a football stadium. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men under 50. The suicide rate in UK men is highest in the age range of 30-44 and 75% of all suicide deaths in the UK alone in 2011 were male, which is way beyond what you'd expect from the balance of men and women in the general population.

Hardly anyone talks about these diseases, because they're "embarassing" - there's a massive stigma surrounding mental health issues in particular. 1 in 8 men have a mental health issue, such as depression, but no-one talks about it because they're afraid of being seen as "weak". We shouldn't let outdated taboos and sheer ignorance or denial of these problems send people needlessly to their graves. Get talking, get donating, and we can change the face of men's health, one bristle at a time. 

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Byte: The only game in town (Elite: Dangerous Beta 3)

I realise that I must sound like a one track record by now, but the more I play with Elite: Dangerous, the more I realise that this is the space game that I've been wanting to play ever since the original Elite, back when I first played it in 1985. With each new beta release the game is adding in new layers of complexity and functionality, which gives players many more options of how to approach the game - there's no one "right" way to play it, and that's what I find most exciting about the game.
I haven't been able to play the game enough to scrape up the cash for one of the new ships (Asp, Imperial Clipper, Federation Dropship) yet, nor have I had the opportunity to muck around with all the new pieces of kit yet (more on that later), but one thing I have been able to do is take advantage of the multiple ship ownership mechanic. I now have three ships, my Shinywinder (which you can see above), a fully pimped out Eagle (at the bottom of the post) and a moderately upgraded Cobra Mark III. Both the Eagle and the Cobra have a money value of about 1.5 million credits each, so they would take me halfway to buying an Asp if I cashed them in, but rather than putting all my monetary eggs in one basket (so to speak), I've decided to do something a little bit different with each ship. The Shinywinder I'm currently using for short-range courier runs until I can afford A-rated equipment in the important upgrade slots (power plant, shields, thrusters, frame shift drive and power distributor), and then I'm going to swap out the cargo racks for a frame shift interdictor module and fuel scoop. In the utility hardpoints I'm going to put in a frame shift wake scanner and kill warrant scanner (or possibly a point defence turret) and use the craft for bounty hunting/assassination contracts and generally griefing pirates. The FSD wake scanner will allow me to follow cowardly NPCs who run from fights across different star systems - there will be no escape from my righteous fury! I may even take it into Open Play, as if I get boiled by another player, at least the insurance costs aren't prohibitive.
The Cobra is a slightly longer-term project (it's currently stashed away at Beagle 2 Landing in Asellus Primus), as I want to use that as a long-range exploration ship. An A-rated frame shift drive for the Cobra will set me back 1.6 million credits, however, and I don't want to sacrifice the Eagle for that, even if they did slightly nerf the hyperspace range between Beta 2.06 and Beta 3.00 (my Eagle only gets 20 light years with an A-rated FSD, compared to nearly 25 in Beta 2), as the Eagle's my primary combat ship - at least until I can afford something devestating, like an Imperial Clipper. I'm going to keep the Eagle in mothballs until I have enough money tucked away to upgrade into an Asp, assuming I'm able to earn sufficient money between now and the full wipe anticipated at Gamma (though I hope we keep our kills and Elite rating - I've only just made it to Mostly Harmless, with "just" 1350 kills on the board!) and cash in all my ships to try out the Asp - as I've not flown one since, oooh, 1997, when I last played Frontier: First Encounters! The Asp is big enough to act as a genuine multi-role craft, as it has enough utility hardpoints and internal compartments to be a jack of all trades (though perhaps combining mining with bounty hunting wouldn't be the best idea!). Otherwise, I'm going to invest the cash I make from courier running, combat contracts and bounty hunting to upgrade the living heck out of the ships I do have, and maybe even buy a Hauler to do some mining.
I have briefly tried the mining mechanics and they seem potentially profitable, but dull. You're going to want a ship with a lot of cargo space, and potentially want to invest in a top-tier Refinery module, otherwise you have to be very selective about which metals and ores you keep when you're mining the A-ring asteroids. I was a little put out to see that in Beta 3 the A-rings seem to have replaced the asteroid field resource gathering sites in planetary rings that were such a happy bounty hunting ground for me in Beta 2. I'm not sure if that's a permanent shift, or a temporary block by the developers to test out the new mechanics. I would be disappointed if the resource gathering sites (in their old form) dropped out of the game entirely - though I did see last night that there's still one at Dahan 3, though you're no longer flying within the asteroid field itself.
Briefly, going back to multiple ship ownership, some of the costs of ships have leapt through the roof, giving them real exclusivity. A Type 9 was pretty pricey back in Beta 1, but now it's a staggering 32.6 million - I daren't think what the insurance costs would be for boiling one of those, but that's nothing compared to the cost of an Anaconda - 146 million! I don't think I'll be flying my dear Annie again anytime soon! Even the luscious Imperial Clipper (see below) seems like a bargain at just 22 million in comparison. In the final game, they're going to restrict access to the Clipper to people allied to the Empire (and likewise for the rather more functional-looking Federation Dropship - a snip at 37 million credits!), though currently anyone can buy one, if you have the cash (again, presumably for playtesting purposes). I'll talk a little more about faction reputations a bit later. Fuel Scooping
In the long-term, post-gamma and in the full release, I really see myself working my way up into an explorer-class ship (either an Asp or Imperial Clipper) and going out into the hinterlands with an advanced discovery module and detailed surface scanner to prospect for profitable new systems. Ultimately, I want to try flying to the far side of the galaxy - but that's going to take a long time (100,000 Light Years is a LONG way!) - and to do that, you need a fuel scoop. I'm quite impressed with the new fuel scooping mechanics, as you have to balance the speed and proximity of your ship to the star to get the best fuel recovery rate, without frying your ship to a metal crisp. And then there's the almost incidental risk of being interdicted by a passing pirate while you're doing this... I'll get back to interdictions in a second, but a final word on fuel scooping. Gods, it's pretty. You have to get so close to the star and spend enough time there (especially on an empty fuel tank) that you can appreciate the work that has gone into the stellar modelling by the dev team. Those filaments and prominences you can see in the screenshot aren't static placeholders. They're dynamic and you can see the matter flowing around as the magnetic field fluctuates. As an astrophysicist, it irks me a little that every star seems to be actively throwing out prominences and flares all of the time (in reality, stars have their quiet moments with no activity at all), but you can't deny that it looks gorgeous. Screenshot_0007
One of the big things in the change log for beta 3 was player-player/player-NPC interdiction. The new interdiction modules are gold for a bounty hunter (or griefer!), as if you can get behind your target for long enough while it's active, you can yank other pilots out of supercruise, and if they're dirty, give them the spanking they deserve. The police seem to have overly powerful interdiction modules, however. More often than not you're yanked out of SC before you can even find the escape vector, and they do seem to be overly keen to use them, too. Last night I got interdicted three times (twice by the same Viper!) when I was within 5 light seconds of Azeban City. Being interdicted pulls you back through space to the site of the interdictor (surely destined to be called by all and sundry InterDicks), so each time I had to travel back over the final 20-30Ls to the station - I feared that I was actually going to end up in an infinite interdiction loop, never make it to the station and miss my courier delivery deadline... but I made it eventually. I do slightly fear for how this functionality is going to be used by other players (i.e. jerks) in Open Play, because coupled with the frame shift drive wake scanner, you could (if you were jerky enough) simply use the wake scanner and interdiction module to harass other player indefinitely. No doubt the mechanics are intended for use in assassination-style missions, but in the wrong hands they are player-griefing tools. Still, you don't have to play in the open and if you're a decent pilot, you can avoid interdictions by sticking close to the escape vector for long enough - and avoiding interdictions gives the InterDick damage to their frame shift drive, as they're the ones who end up being ripped out of SC. Even successful interdictions (not submissions) can give the InterDick FSD damage, so there is a bit of risk versus reward factored in there by the developers. Screenshot_0847
The other big major change in beta 3 has been the introduction of the faction reputation system. I've not really had time to experiment with it too much so far, but from what I've seen and read on the forums, there is definitely a big payoff for choosing to ally yourself with certain factions. If you get rated as "friendly" with a faction, missions become much more profitable, as you've "proven your worth" to the faction, and they reward you much more, to the point where stations and faction vessels automatically appear friendly on your scanner (which might prove interesting if you choose to go turncoat and fight for the opposite side, say in the Eranin combat zones, for example). It remains to be seen whether becoming friendly with one faction will cause automatic hostility from another, though I imagine it will - I doubt you'll be able to play both sides off the middle in the Imperial/Federation power struggle, which could make it interesting flying into i Bootis in an Imperial Clipper in the full game! Similarly, flying a Fed Dropship into the heart of the Empire, Achernar, might be a similarly interesting (and short-lived!) experience. If I don't stay independent, I will side with the Empire, if only because they have sexier ships. Yeah, I know, I'm shallow! Screenshot_0842
A final thought on the Beta 3 updates: One thing that has struck me is the improvement in the NPC AI. Combat is much more challenging now, particularly in Beta 3.03, the Elite ratings do make a very big difference to the quality of the NPC pilot now. Big ships that we easy pickings in Beta 2 are now much more of a test of your flying and power-management abilities. I've posted a couple of combat videos below of me fighting an Imperial Clipper and Anaconda (in my Eagle and Cobra, respectively) and the NPC AI is much more of a handful now. Higher quality opponents have much better armour and equipment on board - I was really lucky against the Clipper - if he'd had turrets or gimballed weapons, I would have been toast, but I was able to get my Eagle into the blind spots between his fixed hardpoints and barely took a hit. I had a very different experience last night with a turret-equipped Clipper in my Shinywinder!
The NPCs in combat zones are also well-armoured and smart, I was averaging almost five minutes per kill, as the Cobras could simply out-run my 'winder to top up their shields when they started taking hull damage. You have to work much harder for those bounties and combat bonds now, and that's no bad thing. "Deadly" Haulers or Type 6's are still mobile bounty vending machines, though, mainly because their shields might as well be made out of sugar paper (the reason for this with the Type 6 is that they slot their shield generator into a Class 3 internal compartment slot, when the size of their hull really warrants a Class 5 shield generator), but if you meet a "Deadly" Eagle or Cobra - watch out!
Even the lower quality pilots aren't idiots anymore - most will try to run if they're overmatched - you either have to kill them quick or track them using a FSD wake scanner to cash in on that bounty. My E:D community buddy Tim Wheatley has an innovative tactic for dealing with this issue, but it's not one I'd recommend for everyone!

Enjoy the videos and I'll post more thoughts soon, when I've had time to really muck around with things like the FSD wake scanner and the reputation system.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Bark: The Fifth Annual Movember Begging Bowl Notice

It's that time of year again.
Thirty long, hard, itchy days of generally being mocked by students, shunned by womenfolk, but generally admired by true gentlemen for the sheer manliness and foolhardy bravery for going out in public LOOKING LIKE THAT...
Right now I look like this:

In a month, I will look like this:

Or, who knows, maybe EVEN MORE AWESOME. I am, naturally going through this not only for the existential reward of contributing to raising awareness of the health risks posed by cancer, but I WANT YOUR MONEY. Not for me, for charity. Otherwise, all of that LOOKING AWESOME will have been for nothing... and we can't have that, can we?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Byte: This will be a day long remembered

Not only will it mark the release of Beta 3 in Elite: Dangerous, they've only just gone and released X-Wing and TIE-Fighter on GOG. BEST. DAY. EVER.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Easter Egg

I found an interesting Easter Egg while exploring an unexplored star system towards the far end of "the Pill". While on a particularly long super-cruise (over 500,000 Ls) I started playing about with my point of view, since the Eagle has a nice, panoramic canopy, and saw this.

Real purpose of cockpit lap-screen

A future tie-in, perhaps, to keep us entertained on long super-cruise journeys? I wasn't able to get the lap-screen to activate, but it would make sense for that otherwise redundant screen to do something in the final release.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Beta 2 thoughts incoming

Just a short post to reassure anyone looking for updates/tutorials about the new systems and features in Elite: Dangerous Beta 2, I will be writing about them soon. Things have been rather hectic here with the day (and, all too often, night) job - one of the disadvantages of being a teacher is that around certain crunch times (such as the UCAS application deadline) you have more work than can fit into a 70 hour week, let alone the 40 hour week that I'm paid for. Not that I'm moaning, you understand - I love my job, especially the work I get to do with Sixth Formers, trying to ensure that they make it into appropriate university courses or apprenticeships, but when you add that to all the lesson planning, admin and marking you have to do, boy, it cuts down on your gaming time. Unless, of course, you choose to sacrifice sleepy time, which is a bit of a false economy, anyway, because if I'm asleep, at least I could be dreaming about flying around in my Iron Ass Cobra Mark III...

Oh, yes. The in-game 3D engine dreams have started, which is a sure sign that I've been playing the game too much, but it has been one of the only ways I've been able to get flying time over the last week or two since Beta 2 was released. Tonight I downloaded the 2.06 patch, but I've not had chance to try it yet, but I'm hoping that it will give me a few more frames per second in the resource gathering sites, as between 2.03 and 2.05 I've noticed a big performance hit (up to 20fps) in the rings, which makes bounty hunting (my primary source of income at the moment) a risky proposition, particularly in terms of lag making you collide with asteroids, or (even worse) accidentally hitting Federation Eagles as they swoop into your line of fire in pursuit of a Wanted felon.

I've not checked all my stats recently, but I must be knocking on for over 200 hours played so far, and I've got over 850 kills on the board, but I'm just as taken with the game now as I was when I first started playing the Premium Beta. The Outposts add variety and make the galaxy feel a little more populated, plus the revised bulletin board mission system gives you an extra career path to build up the initial capital to allow you to ditch the Sidewinder for something rather more combat-worthy. I loved my time in the Eagle in Beta 2. It was a wretched little ship in Beta 1 - hobbled by a poor hyperspace range and a substandard power plant - but the ship upgrade system has transformed all that - it's a vicious little thug of a ship now, though unfortunately a little too fragile to try taking on Elite Anacondas... I'll talk more about the ship upgrades when I do a proper update summarising all the changes, but broadly speaking, I've found Beta 2 to be a bigger, richer, more vibrant place than Beta 1.
They all say that...

I probably won't be able to raise enough cash to trial the new Asp Explorer before Beta 3 is due at the end of the month, but it looks like an epic ship. Six weapon hardpoints, a bigger cargo capacity than a Type 6 Transporter and pretty agile in the hands of a good combateer, especially if you upgrade the power plant and thruster modules. I can't wait to fly one, but I'm going to have to, as I'm about 2.5 million credits short of being able to buy one, and finding good trade routes these days is much harder than it was in the 1,200Cr profit per tonne days of early Beta 1. Instead, the blood of many a Wanted NPC is going to have to lubricate my way into the cockpit of the Asp, and even with the much better bounties in Beta 2, that's going to take a while.

I have been able to spend some time exploring the outer reaches of "The Pill", the expanded region of space, containing over 550 systems (compared to Beta 1's 55 star systems), and it would appear that my ambition of being able to circumnavigate the Milky Way in the full release of the game is a) somewhat ambitious, and b) going to be a massive time sink. I'm still going to try it, though. As soon as they implement fuel scoops and I can find a frame shift drive that will increase the hyperspace range of my ship to something of the order of 20-25 light years. Currently, I can get 15 l.y. out of my Cobra, which is pretty good, but in the far recesses of the galactic arms, I suspect that some of the gaps between star systems might be a bit further than that. I guess I'll find out when I get there. Even with a relatively tiny fraction of the galaxy to play with so far, I've still managed to find some interesting features in the star systems you can reach now. I think my favourite so far is the sun-grazing ring system at Wunjo 1, which might possibly be the brightest ring system in the entire universe.
Lying in wait
A Convocation of Eagles
The brightest planetary ring in the universe

I've no idea what those rings are made of (surely too close to the star for them to be ice?), but, crikey, that's one hell of a view.

I've also been trying to keep up making a few combat videos, while I've been testing some of the new weapons in Beta 2 (again, more on those in future posts), so I thought I'd add in the widgets to my last two videos, where you can see me testing out the beastly overcharged gimballed multi-cannons, firstly using an Eagle, and then with my trusty, Sucker Squadron Classic Wireframe Cobra Mark III. Enjoy, and good hunting, Commanders!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Video frenzy

Now that I'm back at work, things have been a little quiet around here lately, but rest assured that I'll be writing a whole new round of guides, ship and equipment reviews and tutorials as soon as I can after Beta 2 is released on the 30th of September. I certainly can't wait to get my hands on an Asp Explorer (I've always been partial to a nice Asp!), and I'm hoping that the larger bubble of explorable space will yield up some interesting sights in the new release.

In the meantime, I've been playing a bit more with Fraps and Moviemaker to create a few E:D videos of my hopefully watchable exploits. When I have a bit more time at my disposal, I hope to be able to do some proper post-production voiceovers, rather than the flavour text captions I'm currently using, but for now, I hope that what I'm posting is at least mildly interesting and entertaining, as well as giving the viewer a flavour of just how awesome this game really is.

I uploaded a couple of videos over the weekend, the first of which documents one of my epic-ist fails I've ever had playing the game, as I monumentally misjudge an engine boost, closing in for the kill on an otherwise helpless and mortally wounded Federation Anaconda at Eranin 2, with hilariously tragic consequences. Just as well this happened on a solo instance, right? God forbid that anyone in the outside world should see my mistake.... Whoops!

In an effort to somewhat reclaim my credibility as an authority on how to play Elite: Dangerous, I also posted a video of myself and a friend similarly raiding the High Intensity warzone at Eranin 2, only with more success, barring the odd server glitch. Here I get to demonstrate the awesome badassitude of an "Iron Ass" Anaconda, fully specced out with no less than seven cannons (three Class 6, two Class 4 and two Class 2). As my buddy Ol points out in the video, I'm taking down enemy Anacondas like they're fighters. Behold the awesome awesomeness of cannons!

Hope you enjoyed the videos. More updates will be incoming soon, after I've had a chance to play with the new pieces of ship equipment, and had the opportunity to fully evaluate the potential of the Asp Explorer, which was always my favourite ship in Elite 2: Frontier. Good hunting, Commanders!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Byte: Elite 30th Anniversary

As part of the celebrations for the 30th anniversary of the release of the original Elite on the BBC B Micro, Frontier Developments have released a limited edition Cobra Mark III skin for Elite: Dangerous. At £10/€13/$15, it's massively overpriced for what it is, but you know what they say about fools and their gold...


They are easily parted, if it means that you can fly TOTALLY COOL-LOOKING VIRTUAL SPACE SHIPS.


Hey, at least they're a fraction of the price of what you'd pay in That Other Space Game...

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Equal Opportunity Space Murder

Just to prove that I'm not totally anti-Fed, I join the fight against the dastardly Eranin independent insurgents in my trusty Anaconda. And totally kick ass, natch.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Anaconda Hunt

A few days ago I stumbled across this awesome video of an Anaconda pilot kicking serious bottom using a loadout of seven rail guns.

Suitably inspired, I thought that I absolutely had to try this out with my own Anaconda. The only caveat was that the wonderfully-named Fruchtpudding's video was recorded in Premium Beta, and there have been some significant changes to the heat generation and power usage mechanics, plus a few tweaks to weapon damage. As you'll see below, rail guns look super-spectacular when they hit, but generate far too much heat for the damage they provide. So, like any good scientist, I perform a little experiment to see what loadout will actually turn my Annie into an ultimate death gunboat. I think the experiment was a success, but see what you think. Enjoy, and Good Hunting, Commanders!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bark/Byte: "There is no gravity in space." "Oh, yeah? Try telling that to Andromeda."

I'm hoping that my efforts to embrace the power of the internets into my teaching for the next year won't be met with the usual teenage response of "Yeah, right... whatever."

Friday, August 29, 2014

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Who needs docking computers?

I've previously spoken a little bit about how useless the docking computers are, unless you want to go and make a cup of tea while your ship pirouettes its merry way to the docking bay. After my brief foray into open play last night, I rebought an Anaconda in LHS 3262 and headed over to Aulin Enterprise to see if they had a Plasma Accelerator and any Class 6 Cannons (they did). Just to prove that a) I do normally fly an Anaconda, and b) that docking computers aren't necessary for even the big ships, I thought I'd record the evidence.

The video runs from just after the supercruise exit to touchdown - all done in the time it takes for the docking computer to mangle its way through the docking port from 1km, and nary a scratched shield. Not bad considering it was my first Anaconda landing after I'd spent the whole of my previous E:D gaming session in a Cobra. Sometimes, I amaze even myself...

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Wolf Pack Hunting

Last night I downsized my Anaconda for a Cobra, as I was playing on an open server with an old gamer buddy of mine, Dr Barnowl. I mainly fanny about accidentally colliding with things, hitting wrong controls on my new joystick, and generally wish that I hadn't bothered swapping out one of my C4 cannons for a C3 Gimballed multi-cannon. Oh, and there's no commentary, because I recorded this at 1am in the morning and I didn't want my girlfriend to think I was developing a mental illness. This is my first gaming video ever, so y'know, be nice. Eventually some sort of (incredibly amateur) post-production will happen to my videos in the future, as I will probably make a few of these from now on. Because, that's just what the internet needs, isn't it? Another Scottish Physicist making Youtube videos about space games...