Monday, May 04, 2015

Bark: Mostly Harmless

A couple of days ago I finished reading Mostly Harmless, by Kate Russell.

I'd not read any Elite universe fiction since The Dark Wheel, the original novella that came with Elite way back in 1984, and I picked Kate's book mainly because I knew that she was an avid player of the game and had a certain familiarity and respect for the game world. I also bought it because it was the novelisation that sounded most interesting to me and I thought it would be a good yardstick to use to see if I would pick up any of the other books in the future.

First things first: I enjoyed the book. The story was entertaining and it felt suitably grounded in the Elite universe to come across convincingly as an "Elite" story. It stuck well enough to the Vonnegut principle (i.e. do horrible things to your characters to see what they're truly made of) to make the narrative interesting and dramatic. The writing also has a sense of humour and Commander Angel Rose's character was well-drawn, suitably flawed and had just enough hubris about her to be a likeable protagonist. I would not be unhappy to read about her further exploits in the future.


A few things about the book did annoy me.

Number one, by the rings of Asellus Primus, this book needed the attention of an editor who knows how punctuation works. There were so many little typesetting and punctuation errors in the first couple of chapters (and this did not improve throughout the rest of the book), that I almost stopped reading. I don't blame the author for this (unless, of course, the author did their own editing, in which case, they really should have known better!) - after all, the author's job is to write the story, the editor's job is to do the editing and iron out the author's inevitable mistakes. Honestly, you try writing 80,000-120,000 words without screwing up on spelling or adding in a space too many in a sentence somewhere... it's impossible - and no matter how much you proof-read it as an author, you won't find them all, because you're too close to the material - your eyes bypass the mistakes because you see what you had meant to write in your head, not what you actually wrote. That's why editors have a job - to be an extra pair of eyes on the manuscript that will see the flaws the author will never find.

Two, it was a little too easy to tell in the text that the novel had been crowdfunded. Some of the character and ship names were absolutely awful - I think that even in the 34th century people would have more class than to call ships Chandnør Waffoospark the Mad Swede, for example. Perhaps I'm missing out on some HILARIOUS pop culture reference here, but the obvious crowdfunding insertions did grate with me as both a reader and a writer. I know that this is how Kickstarter works with the reward levels and such, but I don't think I'd ever be happy with the idea of ceding over creative control over my work to some wonk on the internet, even if they were helping fund the novel. In my opinion, that's taking crowdfunding too far. If I don't have 100% creative control, it's not my piece of work, at the end of the day. And, crucially, it made the whole thing feel a little forced in some areas, rather than having a more organic, natural feel to the characterisation and the writing. If I was ever to crowdfund a novel (and I don't think I ever would), this would be one aspect where I'd retain control. If you want your own characters in a book, write your own fecking novel! Don't pay someone to crowbar them into theirs...

Three. I called the twist. I won't spoil it here, but I guessed it about a third of the way through. Maybe I've just watched too many thrillers and read too many mystery novels, but there wasn't enough depth to the personalities of the other supporting characters to provide enough misdirection to stop me from guessing where the twist would come from. It was still quite a fun twist, and the ultimate sting in the tail for the twister was an enjoyable one, but it was pretty obviously signposted very early on.

So, all things considered, Mostly Harmless is a decent enough book, and if you're remotely interested in Elite: Dangerous it's worth a punt. It's not going to win the Nebula Award for its style or originality, but it's perfectly servicable and enjoyable as a work of science fiction. Given this experience, then, will I now swoop down upon the Elite store and snaffle up the rest of the Elite: Dangerous novelisations? I don't think so. Not unless I'm given a personal recommendation by someone whose opinion in sci-fi books is known to be impeccable. Why settle for serviceable when there are so many books out there to be read that are better than that?

I'm out of here... I've got Time Of Contempt and Baptism of Fire to finish reading before The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt comes out...

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - So you want to be... a bounty hunter? (Part 2: RES Prowler)

This is the role I've spent most of my gaming time in, while playing Elite: Dangerous. Last night I claimed my 2500th bounty - a figure that even Boba Fett would be proud of. Somehow, despite having more than 53MCr of bounties claimed, I'm still a Master and not quite yet Dangerous, but it's only a matter of time... Soon! Soon! I'm going to flag up a slight caveat here before I get into the three ships and their loadouts. Normally, I play in Solo or Private Group mode, which means that generally the only thing I have to worry about is either my own tiredness or a marauding NPC. With this as the case, I eschew the loadout of Shield Cell Banks and prefer Hull Reinforcement Packages (because they give you extra combat endurance without a power plant overhead), though if you're playing in Open, you might want to consider a balance between the two. NPCs very rarely get through my shields anyway, but on the rare occasions they do, I usually want extra armour, since FSD range isn't something you have to worry about if you're raiding a Resource Extraction Site (RES) for big game, I'm more than happy to sacrifice the FSD range for the extra durability that mass gives you. It should also be noted that these setups will work equally well for hunting at Nav Points, though I usually don't bother too much with Nav Point hunting unless I'm in an Anarchy (where everyone is fair game), as the frequency of Wanted ships at Nav Points is usually vastly outweighed by those you'll find in a RES. If you're going to be a dedicated RES Prowler, however, there is one thing you need to bear in mind, which is that eventually you're going to piss a faction or two off. Make sure that it's not the one in charge of the local space station, or you're going to have a lot of fun trying to dock for reloads and repairs... Once you're Hostile with a faction you do have to be wary of three Vipers in a Wing rocking up while you're already under fire from an Anaconda or another ship you're hunting. It can make things lively, to say the least. But that's what you get for being a hunter. Sometimes, you become the prey.
Prowler Eagle - 1.5MCr
If you've found a nice, productive RES site (Nu Tauri for the Federation and Beta-1 Tucanae for the Empire are good places), the one thing you really don't have to worry about is hyperspace range. Strip that FSD back to the bare minimum to get you into Supercruise, and save that power plant capacity for something useful, like thrusters, shields or weapons. I've flown the Eagle a lot with this spec and made millions with it. Even though the Eagle is relatively slow, it can still use its agility to run rings around larger opponents. Putting the gimballed beam laser on the dorsal mount gives you a massive field of fire, so you can keep laying down laser fire almost constantly on your target as they twist and turn to get out of your gunsights. Once their shields are down and your beam laser is drained, you can start laying into them with the low-power-draw multicannons, whittling away the hull percentage or sub-system health of a large ship's power plant. I've even stuck it out with Clippers, Dubsteps, Pythons and Anacondas when I've run out of multicannon ammo, and while it takes a little bit longer, the Eagle is still more than a match for large NPC ships at Master ranks or lower. This is definitely one of the best pound-for-pound fighter craft you'll fly for combat potency versus capital investment.
Prowler Vulture - 26.4MCr
I'm starting to warm a little bit to the Vulture. It's an unrefined brute and a bully, but it's almost peerless as a combat vessel. The FSD range isn't great to begin with, but if you find a good RES and don't need to fly it anywhere else, the low power plant capacity of the Vulture becomes somewhat less of an issue if you can downgrade the FSD to the absolute minimum. The Class 3 gimballed cannon is absolutely vicious and will rip through the power plant of an Anaconda in a single reload (provided you get direct hits each time) and you can dispatch opponents smaller than a Type 9 with just the Class 3 gimballed beam laser alone. You should be able to reclaim the insurance cost of this ship in under an hour, provided the RES you're in is being kind with drops of large Wanted vessels. I was averaging about 2MCr between reloads, when I was using a spec almost identical to this at Beta-1 Tucanae.
Prowler Anaconda - 616.3MCr
I wasn't sure whether to plump for a Python or an Anaconda as my ultimate RES Prowler, but upon reflection, it could only be an Anaconda. The Anaconda is an incredible ship - with enough power to blast anything out of the sky. When flown to its potential, nothing can touch an Anaconda. This spec has more cannons and armour than the USS Missouri, and is more than capable of reducing another Anaconda to scrap in a couple of shots. It doesn't come cheap, but if you can afford an Anaconda in the first place, that's not likely to worry you. The Class 1 and Class 2 hardpoints alone have the combat power of a Viper or Cobra and will handle most targets you'll find in a RES comfortably, but add in the delicious power of those gimballed cannons and you'll be turning a RES into a scrap yard in no time at all, because it'd take a small fleet of Vultures to get through those shields and armour plating... If you've never had the pleasure of flying an Anaconda in a combat zone, make sure you can afford a loadout like this before you do and you'll be in for one heck of a treat.

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - So you want to be... a bounty hunter? (Part 1: FSD Interdictor)

My preferred playstyle in Elite: Dangerous is that of a bounty hunter. I suppose this is mainly because of a childhood (mis?)spent watching the original Star Wars trilogy and idolising Boba Fett. That said, the role of a bounty hunter in Elite: Dangerous isn't clear cut, but can be broadly categorised into two sub-types of bounty hunter: the FSD Interdictor and the RES Hunter. I'll write more specifically about RES Hunters in my next guide, as even though the roles might appear superficially similar in that they both kill crims for cash, they do require distinct loadouts and potentially different classes of ship.
An Interdictor Bounty Hunter (or as I like to call them, an Interdick) needs two key pieces of equipment in their loadout: a Frame Shift Drive Interdictor module (well, duh!) and a Frame Shift Wake Scanner. A Kill Warrant Scanner is useful, but arguably not essential. If you're flying with a ship that only has one Utility hardpoint (i.e. an Eagle) you will have to make a judgment call as to whether loading out with a Frame Shift Wake Scanner or Kill Warrant Scanner will earn you more money, since you can't fly with both. Personally, I'd take the FSW scanner. Also essential for the burgeoning Interdick is a ship with good firepower and long-ranged hyperspace legs, because more often than not, the suckers you yank out of Supercruise will try to run. Therefore, you either need to be able to blow their Frame Shift Drive out from under them before they escape, or simply be able to out-range their hyperspace jumps. The latter of these two options is decidedly easier than the former.
In each of these guides I'll post three ship specs for the role, each one in a different ship model, for three budgets. The "low cost" option will not exactly be bargain basement, but will cost less than 2 million credits, so I am assuming you've had a little time with the game to build up some working capital. After all, it's not hard to get yourself over to E:D Shipyard and spec your own minimum cost Sidewinder for each of the roles. The "mid range" option will assume a budget of between 10-15 million credits, for those established players who want to try out something a little bit different, and the "high end" option will assume that money is no object at all, and that you've got 50 million credits and upwards just burning a hole in your account with the Bank of Zaonce.
Iron Eagle
Interdick Eagle - 1.9MCr
I've undoubtedly mentioned this before, but I love the Eagle. It's a lovely little ship, and if you don't mind the fragility of the hull and the power management required to keep the modules up and running at the right time, then this spec is ideal for NPC interdicting. The only real issue with the Eagle is the lack of a second utility mount for a Kill Warrant Scanner. This can be a problem if your quarry jumps out into an anarchy, because that juicy bounty they had in civilised space will disappear faster than a plateful of cake in a high school staff room. The gimballed beam on the dorsal turret will strip your target's shields hopefully before they can return the favour (just remember to pop your shield cells nice and early - don't wait for the warning beeps), and the cannons can target and pound the hell out of the FSD of the target, hopefully before they can spin up into hyperdrive, so they you can take them to pieces at your leisure. And if your mark does get away, a hyperspace range of almost 18 light years should allow you to catch up with most NPCs. The Eagle's maneouvrability is key to making sure the enemy doesn't lay too many gloves on you, and also ensuring that those cannon rounds hit the required subsystem, rather than do too much hull damage. I first tested out the game's interdiction mechanics using an Eagle with a loadout similar to this, and I was taking down NPC Pythons pretty much with impugnity. Just on general principle, you should keep an Eagle in your starship hangar - they're just too much fun, and cheap to replace if you boil one.
Interdick Cobra Mark III - 12.8MCr
I agonised a bit over the weapons loadout here. I did consider plasma accelerators (briefly), but I think the projectiles are a little too slow and easy to evade to be used effectively for an interdiction vessel, where your target may be on the run. The gimballed Class 2 beams do good damage against both shields and subsystems, and the rail guns can be used to get critical hits on either the FSD or power plant of your target, ideal for quick kills. The 22 light years of FSD range is adequate for just about any NPC you'll encounter and the A-rated Shield Generator and array of Shield Banks should keep your hull out of trouble. You will, however, need to actively manage and restrict your module use, because with everything turned on, you're going to be significantly over your power budget. However, it is possible to keep all the vital combat systems running, provided you only use the scanners when you need to and only have one shield bank activated at a time. Likewise, the fuel scoop is only required in supercruise if you need to top up before chasing down your target, so will not affect combat. Also, if you ever get bored of bounty hunting, the Cobra is really easy (and relatively cheap) to re-spec into another role.
Interdick Asp - 44.75MCr
A lot of people underestimate the combat potential of the Asp, probably because it comes from the same stable as the venerable Space Cow. With a grand total of no less than six weapon hardpoints, however, the Asp does have a lot of stopping power. Its other great advantage as an interdiction vessel is a large power plant capacity, the longest hyperspace legs of all (barring a bare-bones Anaconda) and lots of space for utility and combat support hardware. Even with the big power plant, this spec does still require a bit of active module power management, provided you don't want everything to shut down when you deploy your hardpoints (because we all know how much fun that is in the middle of a firefight!). In combat, an Asp with four gimballed beam lasers on the Class 1 mounts is really something to behold - beware the laser fingers of death lancing out to grasp your target! Then you've got the dual gimballed Class 2 cannons to pulverise the FSD or power plant from close range. And it doesn't really matter if your quarry jumps away, because with 27.5 light years of hyperspace range, nothing's going to be outrunning you (not if it's an NPC, at any rate). And the kicker? You've even got a little bit of cargo rack space to scoop up anything juicy the target space poops out of their cargo bay to sell on the nearest handy black market, too. The Asp is a really versatile ship and I like it a lot - you're going to be seeing it rather a lot in the guides to come.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - So you want to be... a role-playing game guide series

A few days ago on Google Hangouts I received a request from a Elite: Dangerous Commander to who'd read some of my other guides to suggest a few ship loadouts for the Eagle, Viper and Cobra for a budding bounty hunter. After I'd finished being flattered by the concept that some random stranger on the internets would actively seek out my opinion on the matter, Commander Gnasher Slasher's request seeded the thought of an idea for a new series of E:D game guides. It's a bit more of a traditional extension of the Your Dream Ship guides I wrote over Easter.
The beauty of Elite: Dangerous is that there isn't one "right" way to play the game. You can find your own niche and play in a way that suits your personality and playstyle. In many ways, sandbox games like E:D are the purest form of role-playing games, because you're not straightjacketed into a single restrictive playstyle by a character class - you can really mix it up and even change the way you play over time. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to post role-playing guides for the main character archetypes you can assume in playing Elite: Dangerous. If you think I've missed any potential roles you'd like me to write about, please feel free to make suggestions in the comments. Here are the game roles I'm going to write about - though not necessarily in the order I'll publish them:

Bounty Hunter (FSD Interdictor)
Bounty Hunter (RES Prowler)


So keep your eyes peeled over the next couple of weeks - I'm going to start writing the first guide tonight, so it should be online before the end of the long weekend. As ever, thanks for reading - my traffic stats continue to amaze me (35,900+ hits last month, alone) and the kind comments really are appreciated.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Bark: The Writing Bug

I've been a bit quiet here lately, considering that it's the holidays, but there's a very good reason for that. I'm about 47,000 words into writing a fantasy novel, and I've been ploughing a lot of my free time over the holidays into that, rather than doing the usual kind of instant gratification activities I'd normally do on holiday, like playing a lot of videogames (you know the one), watching films, and so on.

Writing and creating stories has been something I've done for almost as long as I can remember. Creative story writing was one of the few aspects of studying English that I enjoyed (the other parts I just saw as a necessary evil that allowed me to be better at the good bits) and I suprised my parents one year (I think I was about 16) at Christmas by asking for a typewriter, rather than the usual crap I would normally ask for. I really wanted a PC, since I'd been captivated by playing UFO: Enemy Unknown on my brother's computer when he came home from University, but recognising my parents' rather constrained financial situation at the time, I asked for a typewriter instead, since they were a whole lot cheaper and what I was really interested in was writing my own stories about the game world, rather than playing the game itself.

I'm not entirely sure what became of the typewriter itself, or the reams of undoubtedly horrifically bad fanfic that I wrote with it. The history of literature, certainly, has not suffered due to their loss...

In any respect, I'm a far more creative and experienced writer now than I was then, though I'm still probably well short of the 1,000,000 words of written fiction that the received wisdom in narrative literature states you have to surpass before what you're writing has a chance of being any good. I think that by now I'm about three-quarters of the way there - and while I would normally thumb my nose to such prescriptive "rules" as elitist poppycock, this one, I feel, does have at least some merit to it. Like most skilled activities, writing is a skill that needs to be learned, practiced and constantly refined. And I also think that there is an element of truth in that no-one really writes because they want to. I don't write because I want to. I write because I need to - and that's a big, crucial difference.

I'm a good communicator - in my job, I have to be. Otherwise I'd have thirty bored kids making their own entertainment by hurling stools and blowing things up in my science lab (and if anyone's going to blow stuff up in my lab, it's me... as the ceiling tiles will testify!) But I've always had more of an affinity with communication through the written word, rather than the spoken word. After all, my academic background is scientific, not the humanities. It's only more recently that I've had to train up and hone my verbal communications skills, but one of the beneficial side effects of that is that it's slightly refocussed the emphasis of my writing. I used to write purely descriptively, building worlds and recounting sequences of events. While there are a great many novels (in all genres) that do precisely this, since I became a teacher I've been exposed to thousands of different people from a huge range of social, economic and cultural backgrounds, which has led me to the realisation of one key idea: people are fascinating.

I didn't always think that. In fact, as your typical, teenaged, introverted Physics student, I wasn't terribly good with people. Fairly awful, in fact. (Some might say that I'm not much improved now, and they're living with me!)

The upshot of this realisation is that now I'm much more interested in the characters than the world building in my writing. I still like trying to create new, unique worlds - which is surprisingly difficult, given the diversity of influences and variety of ways images and ideas can get subconsciously imprinted into your brain these days - but now I seem to spend more time in creating interesting characters. This is also a remarkably difficult process, because you're trying to find character hooks that are unique, whilst simultaneously avoiding cliché, which also allow you to make the characters act and behave in a consistent, believable way.

So while I was in London earlier this week to meet up with a friend, I paid a visit to Foyles and perused their creative writing section (writers, of course, love to write about writing). There I found a fascinating and very informative book: Writer's Guide To Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein. I've spent a lot of time with the book this week, and it's been reassuringly enlightening to find that the character traits I would ascribe to the characters are consistent with the psychological personality types described in the book. The book I'm writing is an adaptation of one of my own scripts (which itself started out as an adaptation of an unfinished short story) that I wrote for the now sadly defunct Script Frenzy three years ago. The story originally started out as a traditional "High Fantasy" story in the J.R.R. Tolkein mould, but Game of Thrones (and me reading my way through the entire series in about eight months) changed all that. The script is almost certainly never going to see the light of day or ever leave the safety of my "Ravings" USB Flash drive, but I have hopes that the novel will. Whether it will be any good is a question that remains to be resolved (I'm far too paranoid and self-critical to be an objective judge of my own work - hence why the sci-fi book I finished last year needs to go through at least one more re-write before I even consider letting it out into the wild) - but when you look at a lot of the other crap on the shelves these days that sell by the hundreds of thousands, you do think "why not?"... I'm not under any illusions about ever having the talent to earn Pulitzer, Man Booker or Nobel prizes for literature... but an actual physical book on a shelf with my name on it? Why not?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - 1.2 Wings Beta Test Flight Video Uploading Frenzy!

CALL ME CRAZY. But, for you, dear reader, I've used an entire afternoon abusing the upload channel on my fibre optic broadband to free up a huge amount of space on my hard drive (instead clogging up Youtube), posting all the footage I took trialling the ships I'd not gotten around to flying yet, thanks to the cheap access I had to them in the 1.2 Wings Beta.

My priority was to fly the Imperial Clipper, because I've been wanting to fly that since they put it into the game at the end of the initial Beta test. Gosh, it's a beauty. WANT.

I also got reacquianted with an old friend, the Anaconda, whom I miss dearly. Such a good ship... such a fortune to amass to make buying one worthwhile... It'll be a long time before I fly one again.

The Python test flight video I actually uploaded a while ago, but I've not gotten around to posting the link here yet. So here you are. I like the Python. I'll definitely get one in the future.

Likewise with the Vulture test flight video. That's also been online for a little while, but I'm still just as ambivalent about the ship now as I was then. And this is despite me having about 10 million credits invested in one at Jameson Memorial...

It was also a bit of a priority for me to get my hands on a Fer-de-Lance. Having been cruelly denied flying one in either Frontier or First Encounters (some tosh in the lore about it being "too powerful" to be trusted in the hands of private pilots, as I recall), I've been waiting for 30 years to fly one. It's not bad at all, but it's a bit of a "luxury player" of a ship. By that I mean that it costs too much, doesn't track back and thinks it looks and performs better than it actually does... Would I buy one? Maybe...? The Python is the better all-rounder, though.

Lastly, and the less I say about this the better, is the Federal Dubstep. Let's just say that I'm glad to have purged the hard drive of all evidence that I ever flew it... It's so crap, even Youtube thinks that the video should have been stabilised...

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Your Dream Ship, Part 3: Orca to Anaconda

If you've been reading the other two parts of this guide - here and here, if you missed them - today I'm going to deal with the big beasts of the Elite: Dangerous pantheon of ships. As before, assume finding upgrades is no problem and that money is no restriction, either. We'll start with the trickiest ship to find a role for, the Orca.
Orca - Role: Combat Zone/RES Tank
Why is it tricky to find a role for the Orca? Well, it's billed as a passenger ship, and Frontier haven't put in the passenger modules or missions yet, so it's difficult to really see why you'd go about flying one at the moment. No doubt I'll come back to this ship once the passenger mechanics have been added to the game, but I had a think and tried to find a niche for it. My initial thoughts were for it to be a sightseeing ship, but even pared back to the bone, you're only getting 18 light years of jump range from it; not really enough to visit distant nebulae. So that's not going to work. Right now, the only possible role I can see for an Orca is acting as a 'Tank' with a Wing of smaller fighters in a combat zone or RES. Stick on board high damage, high aggro weapons, attract the attention of something big, like an Anaconda or a Python, let your A-rated shields and upgraded hull soak up the damage, while your little friends do the real damage. Alternatively, just wait until Frontier put out the passenger modules...
Fer-de-Lance - Role: Space Bastard
The only real flaw with the Fer-de-Lance is a relative lack of FSD range, meaning that you've realistically got to stick to civilised space. 'Civilised', of course, is a relative term, because that's where all the pirates, criminal gangs, squabbling factions and defenseless traders are. This specification gives you options. You could swap out the hull reinforcement packages for a couple of cargo racks if you wanted to indulge in a bit of piracy, but the FdL is better suited to dealing damage than scooping cargo. If you're going to do that kind of thing, it's better to have a Wingmate on standby to scoop everything up, while you intimidate the target into space-pooping out their cargo with your hideously powerful weapon loadout. Otherwise, as long as you stay within a couple of jumps of a space station, you could use this spec to bounty hunt in resource sites, assassinate high value targets or simply clean up a star system of Wanted pilots while pootling around in SuperCruise. A good ship, then - but I still think it's overpriced for what it is.
Python Selfie Cam
Python - Role: Pirate Lord
Seriously, no-one in their right mind is going to mess with you if you're flying this. To keep the power requirements down, I've had to sacrifice the beam weaponry, so despite the decent jump range and the fuel scoop, you won't be able to stray too far off the beaten track, because you're going to have to reload your cannons quite a lot - but as discussed earlier, all the best targets are in core space, anyway. This spec should also handle PVP quite well, though you would probably want to swap out the cargo racks for hull reinforcements if you intend on taking on a Wing of player-flown Vultures. I like the Python a lot, as it's big, powerful and versatile. Personally, this probably isn't how I'd kit it out myself, (I'd fly a more multi-purpose loadout like this), but if you're the kind of player who'd rather be notorious than famous, the Python is ship for you.
Type 9 Heavy - Role: Combat Zone Gunship
A cargo-hauling Space Cow spec would have been too obvious. Based on the assumption that you want to have fun, rather than just make huge virtual piles of virtual money, try turning the Type 9 into a mobile fortress. You will, of course, want to bring friends to those high intensity combat zones, but decked out like this, you could do some serious damage and still make a lot of money in community goal combat zones, where you have to scoop up cargo from destroyed convoys. Just be careful trying to deliver those illicit goods into the station! The Type 9 doesn't make the best smuggling ship...
Anaconda - Role: Thargoid Hunter
If you've made the 500 to 1000 MCr required to seriously kit out an Anaconda, undoubtedly you don't need advice from me. However, if the Anaconda is a distant dream for you (and it is for me right now, because I don't want to spent a few weeks trading in dull cargo boxes to grind up the cash), here's a potential role you might want to consider for your Anaconda, in that distant future: Thargoid and alien artefact hunter... I would put fairly decent money on Frontier reintroducing the Thargoids in a future expansion pack. I also imagine that once planetary landings become a reality, we'll be able to go searching/surveying planetary surfaces for interesting tchotchkes left behind by long-dead alien civilisations. Which I also imagine would be worth a considerable amount of money in human colonised space. So you're going to want cargo space. You're going to want a decent fuel scoop and field maintenance module. You're going to want a decent hyperspace range to get out into those unexplored hinterlands. And you're going to want some pretty bloody powerful weapons, just in case you stumble across a Thargoid warship. The large gimballed beams will handle just about any challenge posed to you by human pilots, allowing you to conserve that precious plasma and multicannon ammo for close encounters. When I do eventually return to the welcoming bosom of Annie, this is how I'll kit her out. Because I know one thing... If I were to meet an angry Thargoid, I wouldn't want to be flying anything else!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Your Dream Ship, Part 2: Type 6 Transporter to Imperial Clipper

Last night I posted an outfitting guide for the first half dozen ships you can fly in Elite: Dangerous. Here I'll post suggested roles and loadouts for the next six ships (in order of expense), hopefully giving you an idea of how each ship can be used to fulfil a specific role within the game, and hopefully tomorrow I will complete the trilogy of guides, taking us all the way up to the mighty Anaconda. The same rules apply: money is no object, and we're assuming that all upgrades are easily found. So without further ado and needless waffling on, dangerously and uselessly testing the patience and forebearance of my readership, here's what I'd do with a Type 6, if I had one in my ship hangar.
Type 6 Transporter - Role: Cargo Box
The Type 6 is a trader, not a fighter. If you want to make solid money trading, you're going to want those 100 tonnes of cargo space, but you're also going to want to make it as difficult as possible for people to take them away from you. An A-rated shield booster and shield generator should give you a precious few seconds to allow your uprated thrusters to boost you out of harm's way, and the defensive weaponry and modules should discourage pirates from trying to chase you down too hard, while the A-rated FSD should give you the range to out-jump the majority of pursuers, provided you're not fully loaded. If your preferred route to wealth and bigger ships lies on the trading path, then at some point you'll fly a Type 6. If I absolutely had to fly one again (and thank goodness I don't!), this is how I'd kit it out.
Vulture - Role: Assassin
The Vulture is one of the new kids on the block in the 1.2 release and it has quickly won the hearts and minds of a significant number of combat-minded Commanders. It is brutally efficient at what it does - which is Space Murder ships of all sizes with a maximum of efficiency and a minimum of fuss. The price of such an unsubtle projection of combat power, however, is that like its smaller Core Dynamics stablemate and sibling - the Eagle - the Vulture's poor power plant capacity requires you to make compromises on the broader loadout of the ship - you can't simple A-rate everything, because the ship would end up practically invincible. Even as it is, the Vulture is arguably on the overpowered side, and will no doubt be on the receiving end of a few swipes of the Nerf Bat in short order. As it is, however, you're best off utilising those two Class 3 weapon hardpoints either smashing your way through combat zones or pursuing those lucrative assassination contracts. You can more than double your armour rating using hull reinforcement packages, which goes some way to compensating for the ship's slightly underpowered shield generators - especially against Elite Anacondas or Federal Dropships. Assassination contracts usually take place within occupied space, so you needn't worry too much about a fuel scoop or the ship's limited FSD range, so you can dedicate your power plant budget and internal compartment space to modules that will make you harder to kill, while killing your targets as quickly as possible. From an objective point of view, it's a great little ship, and I do have one stashed at Jameson Memorial for combat giggles - but I still don't like it in the same way I like my Eagle or Cobra.
Asp Explorer - Role: Explorer (well, duh!)
The Asp is my current ship of choice. I don't quite have it decked out to this degree (yet!), but this is a "money no object" exercise. At first, it might appear that we're well over power budget here, but it's worth remembering that you don't need to have those Field Maintenance Units powered up - and, indeed, that they should be deactivated unless you're pootling about in real space in a safe place to repair modules. You could eke out a few extra light years of FSD range by trimming off the shields, defensive modules and the weapons, but if you've just circumnavigated all the way to Sagittarius A* or the Eagle Nebula and back, you're probably going to want to feel the sensation of extra security those modules are going to give you, should you happen to get interdicted one jump short of civilisation, when you've got 10 million credits' worth of exploration data sitting in your ship's navigation computer banks. For long range trips into the unknown, the Asp is really the best option, with its resilient hull, peerless jump range and a great view from the cockpit. The cheaper Vulture has nullified the Asp's utility as a combat vessel, and the Type 6 represents better value for money (and certainly less of a financial risk on your insurance costs) than the Asp, should you be tempted to strip one down to act as a cargo box. If you're going to fly an Asp, take it out into the hinterlands, where it belongs (but don't forget to take a couple of big guns and a shield generator in case of emergencies).
Type 7 Transport - Role: Pirate Bait
That picture above represents the closest I've come to actually buying a Type 7. I can appreciate the value of a Type 7 as a cargo carrier, and if that's how you like to make your money, fair play to you. But I thought it would be a bit obvious to suggest a trading configuration, so as an intellectual exercise, I thought, how would I play with a Type 7? Well, I wouldn't, frankly, but that's not terribly helpful for the purposes of this guide, so if I absolutely HAD to fly a Type 7, I'm grateful for the advent of the Wings update, because I'd use the Type 7 to bait Player Pirates in Open play, particularly the ones with rather large "Top 5" bounties. Bimble along in supercruise looking vulnerable (and crucially, not in a Wing) while your mates in Vultures await your signal on voice comms to Wing Up and steam in to support you as you keep the would-be pirate(s) distracted with your curiously resilient shields and hull, plus your annoyance turrets. Well, that's what I'd do. But then, I'm mean and evil.
Federal Dropship - Role: Pirate Corsair
Speaking of being mean and evil, both of the Faction ships seem uniquely suited to being kitted out for a bit of piracy. Overall, I'd prefer the Clipper to the Dubstep (I'm going to keep calling that, just in case it catches on), but if you're going to do piracy properly, you need a healthy amount of cargo space, A-rated equipment across the board as much as possible, plus lots of firepower to take out shields and subsystems of your victims quickly. The Dubstep is a little slow and short of FSD range, even with a top-tier drive, so you really are better off getting a Clipper.
Imperial Clipper Selfie Cam
Imperial Clipper - Role: Pirate Corsair
If you're going to plunder the spaceways for pirate booty, you might as well do it in style, right? Not only that, fulfilling the same role, the Clipper demonstrates the inherent superiority of the Empire over the Federation, given that you have more cargo space, better weapons, a faster ship and a longer FSD range than the Dubstep. Of course, this superiority doesn't come cheap, but that's just another reason why you're going to have to raid those rich, fat Federation transport ships for their decadent cargoes... ALL HAIL THE EMPEROR! BASK IN HIS GLORY!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Your Dream Ship, Part 1: Sidewinder to Cobra Mark III

Elite: Dangerous has gone through many changes since I wrote my original ship, weapon and module guides, back in the Beta phases. Rather than continually go back and modify the guides, I thought I'd take advantage of the wonderful Elite: Dangerous Shipyard website to perform a bit of a thought experiment.

Let's pretend that money is no object. Let's pretend that you have access to a shipyard where every single possible module and upgrade under the Sun (or should that be Sagittarius A*?) is available. How would you equip your dream ship?

It's not a trivial question, given that people have different playstyles and different ships are better at fulfilling different roles. So I'm going to take you through my vision of the perfect loadout for each of the ships currently available in Elite: Dangerous. It should be noted at this point that a) this is just my opinion - your mileage may vary (as the saying goes), and that b) while my experience with the game is extensive (probably knocking on for nearly 500-500 hours at this point), I won't have personally playtested every loadout I'm going to suggest. But I will have played with most of them.

I'm also only going to suggest one loadout for each ship, otherwise I'll be here for weeks suggesting different variants, and I'm sure that you can probably figure out things like stripped down cargo hauler specs for yourself. I will start where every Elite: Dangerous pilot generally does, with the Sidewinder.

Sidewinder - Role: Courier
One of the best, low-risk methods of earning money as soon as you start playing is running light cargo transport and courier missions in your Sidewinder. The majority of your investment in the equipment for this loadout is actually in the weapons, though as a courier, battle should really be your last resort (hence the chaff launcher and the point defence). With two gimballed beam lasers, the Sidewinder can give much larger ships a run for their money and a bloody nose, thanks to its high agility. Decent weapons, allied with an A-rated Power Distributor will give the Sidewinder good combat endurance when it comes to dealing out damage. Add that to an A-rated Frame Shift Drive (FSD) and lightweight D-rated equipment in the other internal bays, and you have a nippy, long-range courier able to ship up to half a dozen tonnes of cargo further than a stock Cobra for roughly the same amount of cash. While it's easy to dismiss the Sidewinder as a cheap, low-rent craft you want to get out of as soon as possible, in the right hands, and in the right role, it's actually a capable little ship.

Iron Eagle
Eagle - Role: Interdictor Hunter
I love the Eagle. It's a vicious little bastard of a ship. Other than being on the lightweight side and not being able to absorb much damage, the Eagle's maneouvrability, peerless cockpit view and three weapon hardpoints make it arguably the best dogfighter in the game. With A-rated shields, an A-rated power distributor and a good mix of gimballed beam and projectile weapons, the Eagle is ideal for interdicting Wanted ships much larger than itself and bringing them to justice. To fulfil this role properly, you want an A-rated FSD, which gives the Eagle the ability to out-jump most ships in the game, and a frame shift wake scanner plus a fuel scoop, so that you can hound targets across space until they have to face their inevitable doom. I still have an Eagle stashed away for combat giggles, not least because it allows me to make best use of my TrackIR 5.
Hauler - Role: Explorer
You may never have thought of the Hauler's potential as an explorer-class ship. I certainly hadn't, until I started mucking around with the options on E:D Shipyard. And then I tried it. Unarmed, unshielded, hull mass slashed to the bone with slimline D-rated modules, provided that you invest in a top-tier Advanced Discovery Scanner and Detailed Surface Scanner, you're actually far more likely to make more money in a Hauler exploring than you would from trading. Obviously, at the beginning of the game you're not going to have 2.5 MCr knocking around in your back pocket, but the investment costs are certainly a lot lower than those of an explorer-spec Asp, yet you get enough FSD range to take a serious tilt at the sparsely populated outer spiral arms, not just the dense galactic core. The A-rated power distributor (you've probably spotted a pattern by now - this is an essential purchase for ALL ships) is necessary to boost your engine recharge rate to Sir Robin bravely away, in the event of getting interdicted. And if it all does go wrong, at least the insurance costs aren't too prohibitive. If you've made your first couple of million trading or fighting and want to try your hand at exploration, but can't afford an Asp, then seriously consider the Hauler.
Black Hole III
Adder - Role: Explorer
I could have tried to come up with an off-the-wall role for the Adder, but it's too good an explorer vessel to make any other suggestion of how to fly it, just for the sake of being different. This specification is certainly high-risk and quite expensive (though still less than you'd pay for the basic Asp hull), and while it's a full 1.6ly short of the FSD range of the Hauler I posted above, there are a few reasons why you'd want to go for the Adder instead. Firstly, it's that little bit faster than the Hauler and more agile, so if you do get interdicted before you get out into the wilds, the Adder does give you a better chance of running away successfully. Additionally, the hull is rather more substantial as well, meaning that you're much more likely to survive navigation mishaps, say getting trapped between binary stars while refuelling in supercruise mode. The greater number of internal compartments (and their larger class) gives you more repair capacity for your modules, plus faster refuelling (handy when trying to avoid those navigation mishaps!), which all adds up to the potential for longer-ranged expeditions, deeper into the galaxy. Obviously, it's not quite as good as having an Asp, but you're getting a ship that can do almost as good a job for 10 MCr less... Sounds like a bargain to me. One disadvantage is that choosing one class down on the power plant and the power distributor does mean that you have to shut down the cargo hatch to stay beneath your power budget, but that's okay - you're not going to have any cargo racks installed anyway!
Viper - Role: Resource Gathering Site Hunter
If you're looking at the spec and thinking "what the hell is wrong with that FSD range?", well, it's simple. You're not going to be taking this ship out of the system. The Viper is only good for one thing: Killing stuff as quickly and efficiently as possible. Find a system with a nice, productive RES, and this ship will pay for itself in around two or three hours. And it will be fun. Screenshot_0752
Cobra Mark III - Role: Rare Commodities Trader
Following the 12.5 MCr cash windfall I received at Lugh, after getting into the Top 40% of pilots for the Spear of Lugh community goal, this is the current spec I have on my Cobra, sitting in its bay and waiting for action at Jameson Memorial. Fully A-rated, 40 tonnes of cargo racks, fully armed and armoured, with over 20ly of hyperspace range, this is a formidable ship for the price. A-rated sensors will help you see danger coming, the A-rated thrusters and power distributor will help you Sir Robin to safety, but if it does start to go fruit-shaped, the Military Composite Armour, A-rated shield generator, shield booster, plus the gimballed cannons and beam lasers will make just about anyone regret messing with you. Every pilot should have one of these in their hangar.

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Ship Comparison Guide - Part 2; Asp Explorer, Imperial Clipper, Federal Dropship, Orca, Python, Vulture & Fer-de-Lance

Well, hello there. It's been a while. I've been very busy working since the turn of the new year, and also in some quite substantial back pain for the last couple of months, which has made keeping up with the blog a bit difficult. This whole "getting old" thing... It's a pisser. However, I was able to take advantage of the recent 1.2 Wings beta to try out the vast majority of the ships I've not been able to fly in the game so far. The only ship I didn't test drive was the Type 7, mainly because after all of the hours I spent trading my way up to an Anaconda in Premium Beta, I have no desire to fly another trading box ever again. Here's my review of the Type 7, completely uninformed by not having flown it at all: It's bigger than a Type 6, smaller than a Type 9, about as worthless in combat, and about as exciting as watching a puddle of distilled water evaporate. I hope that was helpful. Anyway, forget the Type 7... We've got much more interesting ships to talk about.

I've slightly altered the format of my ship guide to previous installments, thanks to the revision of the module system and the introduction of new module classes in the 1.2 release. They're worth a separate guide all of their own, and I'll be getting around to writing that over the course of the next week or so. Anyway. Onward! I have new ships to tell you about!

Asp Explorer:
Cost: 6,135,658 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout 1 (Explorer): x2 Class 2 Gimballed Beam Lasers (Optional: plus x4 Class 1 Gimballed Multicannons)
Recommended weapon loadout 2 (Bounty Hunter): x2 Class 2 Gimballed Multicannons, x4 Class 1 Gimballed Beam Lasers
Recommended weapon loadout 3 (Assassin): x2 Class 2 Gimballed Beam Lasers, x4 Class 1 Gimballed Cannons
Why you should fly it: The Asp Explorer has to be one of my favourite ships in the Elite universe. In the original Elite, they were absolute bastards to kill, and I still remember the moment that I managed to kill the Asp with the Cloaking Device when I turned Deadly and the Imperial Navy/The Dark Wheel (I forget who's supposed to have been responsible in the lore) tried to have me killed. In Frontier and First Encounters, the Asp is a fabulous ship to fly, because you can equip it with military drives to get an epic hyperspace range, yet still pack it to the gills with a 4MW beam laser, laser cooling booster and enough shield generator units to make it practically invulnerable to anything other than a plasma accelerator.
In Elite: Dangerous, the Asp is identified as an Explorer-class vessel, and it does excel in this role. Currently, I'm flying an Asp with an A-rated Frame Shift Drive, carrying out star-by-star tours of my favourite constellations. With an FSD range in excess of 30 light years, the Asp is the only ship big enough and resilient enough, and with long enough hyperspace legs, to reach the parts of the Milky Way other ships cannot reach. It's the Heineken of ships. Completely stripped down to the bare bones, you'll get 33.5 light years out of it with a full fuel tank, but it's worth sacrificing a few light years of range to put in basic weapons, a shield generator and a Field Maintenance Unit to give you some protection against random NPC encounters and navigation mishaps when refuelling. If you're gripped by wanderlust to see the sights of the galaxy, then the Asp is the ship to have.
It's also passably good fulfilling other general purpose roles. It has large enough internal compartments to be a decent trading vessel (especially a Rare Commodities trader), plus it has a whopping six weapon hardpoints (four Class 1, two Class 2), giving the Asp decent combat power. The Asp's agility isn't fantastic - I found that it's high hull mass works against it in a dogfight against smaller opponents - but its relative lack of mobility can be compensated for by gimballed weapons. The Asp's high power plant capacity is also helpful in taking advantage of the new Shield Booster units and being able to equip high-tier, power-hungry weapons and modules without worrying about having things shut down when you deploy your hardpoints. The view from the cockpit is also one of the best in the game, so if you've got headtracking (such as TrackIR or Oculus Rift), combat becomes a lot easier, thanks to your ability to padlock-view the target. It's an excellent ship, that will be the mainstay for many a player wanting a single ship to fulfil various roles, without having to break the bank.
Why you should ditch it: Unless your raison d'etre is trying to find unexplored planets and star systems to stamp your name on for all eternity (and at the moment, mine is - I'll probably reach Elite in the Explorer path first), there are plenty of good reasons to trade up out of an Asp. The Type 7 and Type 9 can haul more cargo and are more profitable traders. The Vulture and the Python are more potent combatants, with much more stopping power than the Asp. Regardless, at some point, you'll want to have an Asp slithering around in your hangar.

Imperial Clipper:
Cost: 21,077,784 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout 1 (Trader): x2 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Lasers, x2 Class 2 Gimballed Multicannons
Recommended weapon loadout 2 (Bounty Hunter): x2 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Lasers, x2 Class 2 Gimballed Cannons
Recommended weapon loadout 3 (Large Ship Assassin): x2 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Lasers, x2 Class 2 Fixed Plasma Accelerators
Why you should fly it: LOOK AT IT... JUST LOOK AT IT. Do I really need to say more? I do? Really? REALLY?? Okay, then, suit you... SUIT YOU, SIR. OH! SUIT YOU!

Not convinced yet? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
Sigh. Okay, I get it. You need a rational argument. Here goes, then. It's gorgeous in just about every way. Visually, sonically, this is a supermodel of a ship. Every design aspect of the Clipper practically screams "CLASSY!". Stodgy handling aside, the Clipper represents amazing bang for your buck in terms of trading capacity and combat ability. It's arguably the best of the multi-role ships to date in the game, and it's certainly going to give you the most elegant screenshots. With two Class 3 and two Class 2 weapon hardpoints, the Imperial Clipper is immensely potent in combat, especially given that its powerful thruster engines give it a higher top speed backwards than most ships can travel forwards. Put gimballed weapons on your Clipper and Sir Robin your way to victory against small opponents like Sidewinders and Eagles, who will simply wither away under the weight of your fire. Its speed is also a telling factor against larger ships, such as Anaconda, against whom you can employ fixed weapons to smash vulnerable subsystems into obliviion, without having to whittle down their hull first. If you want the versatility of being able to make significant amounts of money trading, while still being able to more than hold your own against any ship in the game, then you want an Imperial Clipper. It really is that good.
Clipper Eclipse
Why you should ditch it: Obviously, the biggest problem with the Imperial Clipper is that you have to achieve the rank of Baron in the Imperial Navy to be able to buy one. For some players (i.e. the ones that like to roleplay), this will be anathema, due to certain ethical issues with the Empire's stance with regard to slavery, etc. For morally unscrupulous commanders (like me), on the other hand, other - more practical - considerations will come into play. Firstly, there's the issue of cost. To kit out an Imperial Clipper to its ultimate potential is not cheap. Admittedly, it's only about a tenth of the cost of maxing out an Anaconda, but the difference between being able to afford a Clipper and being able to make it resilient enough to take out into Open Play is rather substantial. Another problem I have with the Imperial Clipper is the relatively short hyperspace range. It might make a decent enough explorer vessel towards the core of the galaxy, but if you want to reach the fringes of the outer spiral arms, the Clipper simply doesn't have the FSD legs, which is unfortunate, because it's exactly the kind of ship you'd picture the Empire wanting to use to plant their flag on valuable fringe systems on the frontier. Finally, there is one significant flaw in the design of the ship. Those lovely, elegant wings and engine nacelles have one unfortunate consequence. The Clipper is only able to land on Large pads, meaning that you won't be able to land at Outposts, only Coriolis, Ocellus and Orbis starports. Not so much a problem if you're sticking to the core systems, but it does mean that you have to be careful picking up cargo transport and courier missions. There is also a secondary consequence in terms of the design with the weapon placement. The wide spacing of the weapon hardpoints limits the utility of fixed weapons, especially on the large, Class 3 hardpoints on the engine nacelles. So be careful when equipping the ship, otherwise you might find yourself being picked to pieces by smaller, more maneouvrable ships.

Federal Dropship:
Cost: 18,969,990 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout (General Purpose): x1 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Laser, x2 Class 2 Gimballed Beam Lasers, x2 Class 2 Gimballed Multicannons
Why you should fly it: If you're going to side with the Feds rather than the Imperials, then this is your version of the Imperial Clipper. Except that it's not quite so good. Other than the fact that it's a little bit cheaper (well, it is now, thanks to a price update in the 1.2 release - it used to cost around 36 MCr). I can't honestly say that I'm a big fan of the Federal Dubstep (It's a big DROP-ship... Do you see? Oh, please yourselves...) - while it may be bristling with weapon hardpoints, including a Large, Class 3 hardpoint, its flabby handling negates its high shield and armour stats. At least the view from the cockpit is good - but there are more inspiring ships out there. It might make a half-decent stopgap for the budding assassin or bounty hunter on their way to a Python or Fer-de-Lance, but it's not a keeper.
Why you should ditch it: If you're after a stepping stone to bigger and badder ships, a Type 7 is a cheaper, more profitable option if you're trading your way to wealth, the Asp is peerless as an explorer-class vessel (with practically double the range of an equivalently equipped Dubstep), and the Vulture outperforms the Dubstep in almost all aspects, when it comes to combat. The only niche I really see the Dubstep filling is that of a status ship for the Federally-aligned. It's a bit rubbish, frankly.
Even the holograph projectors look like cheap Nespresso machines. The Federal Dropship: Sponsored by George Clooney - though even that can't make them appear any sexier. Avoid.

Cost: 47,798,079 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout (General Purpose): x1 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Laser, x2 Class 2 Gimballed Multicannons
Why you should fly it: Right now, it's hard to think of a compelling reason. It... looks nice?
Why you should ditch it: It's not a good combat vessel, it's not a good trader and it's relatively expensive. The Orca (and its smaller sibling, the yet to be introduced Dolphin) will come into their own once Frontier Developments implement the passenger transport mechanics in a future patch/expansion, but right now, I really can't think why you'd want to fly an Orca other than to say that you have done, or so that you can take arty screeshots of its sleek, shiny hull.

Python Outfitting
Cost: 55,171,395 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout (Multi-role): x3 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Laser, x2 Class 2 Gimballed Cannons
Why you should fly it: The Python is a BEAST. Three large, Class 3 hardpoints. Two medium, Class 2 hardpoints. Four utility mounts. Three Class 6, two Class 5, one Class 4, two Class 3 and one Class 2 internal compartments. While it may be double the price of the more exclusive Imperial Clipper, the Python really packs a punch. In the original Elite, the Python was prey for your Cobra. Now, it's a ruthless, vicious predator, capable of stripping any opponent to the bone in one-on-one combat.

In a multi-role specification, the Python is capable of hauling over 200 tonnes of cargo respectable distances, while still packing enough combat power to fend off marauding wings of smaller vessels. The Python is a fantastic ship, if a little on the slow side.
Why you should ditch it: It's not the best ship for exploring, since its FSD legs are a long way short of parity with the Asp, though it is more than capable of taking you inwards toward the core of the galaxy and back. The Python also requires a significant amount of cash to be a real money-spinner as a multi-role trader/combat vessel, but if you can afford one in the first place, I don't imagine that will pose too much of an issue in the long run. The only other reason to ditch your Python is that you can finally afford to buy an Anaconda...

Cost: 4,689,629 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout 1 (Frugal): x2 Class 3 Gimballed Pulse Lasers
Recommended weapon loadout 2 (Banzai!): x1 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Laser, x1 Class 3 Fixed Cannon
Recommended weapon loadout 3 (THIS! IS! SPARTA!): x1 Class 3 Fixed Beam Laser, x1 Class 3 Fixed Plasma Accelerator
Why you should fly it: Oh, MAN. What can I say about the Vulture? It's the ship you want to fly if you want to give a big FUCK YOU to the universe. The Vulture is an unsubtle bully. While I can't dispute its efficacy as a combat ship, I'm not convinced that I like it. It lacks... subtlety. Finesse. It's a dumb brute of a ship. It's cheaper and more maneouvrable and more combat effective than an Asp. With its two large, Class 3 weapons, the Vulture will scavenge its way happily through a combat zone, devouring even Elite Anacondas with relative ease (provided that you've uprated the ship's hull and shield generators). If you pick your battles carefully in a resource extraction site, you'll be able to recoup your insurance cost in under an hour. The Vulture almost matches the Eagle in terms of its agility, easily offsetting the ship's limited number of hardpoints. The Vulture's ability to turn on the head of a pin, allied with the potency of its weapons, goes a long way towards compensating for the other shortcomings in its design.
Why you should ditch it: There are only really two main flaws with the design of the Vulture, but they're significant ones. Firstly, like its stable-mate, the Eagle, the Vulture lacks power plant capacity. No matter how you want to equip your Vulture, you'll inevitably have to compromise somewhere, as it's simply not possible to A-rate every module and equip the most powerful weapons to the ship. So you're going to have to sacrifice weapon power, shield power, thruster power or FSD range; you can't have the best of all worlds. The second flaw with the Vulture is its hyperspace range. Even with a maxed out FSD and a decent fuel scoop, you will have to plan your path around the core worlds carefully, as the Class 3 fuel store will only allow 3-4 jumps at maximum FSD range, limiting the Vulture's potential as an exploration vessel - even in the more densely populated coreward regions of the galaxy.

Locked and loaded
Cost: 51,232,230 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout 1 (SPARRRRRRRRRRTA!): x1 Class 4 Plasma Accelerator, x4 Class 2 Gimballed Cannons
Recommended weapon loadout 2 (Say hello to my little friend!): x1 Class 4 Gimballed Cannon, x4 Class 2 Gimballed Beam Lasers
Why you should fly it: I've been waiting 30 years to fly a Fer-de-Lance. Broadly speaking, it was worth the wait. I'm glad that Frontier Developments had a bit of a rethink on the pricing. Initially it was over 100 million credits (more than two-thirds the cost of an Anaconda), which was fairly laughable. Now, the "Ferdel" (or "FdL") is about 10% cheaper than a Python, which still feels a little steep. I suppose the justification for the premium pricing comes from the fact that the FdL is currently the only other ship than an Anaconda that packs a Class 4 weapon hardpoint. While this does give the FdL a potentially significant step up in combat power relative to other ships of its size, I'm in two minds as to whether that makes it worth the premium you have to pay to take advantage of it. The FdL is more agile than a Python, but would you rather have 3 large and 2 medium hardpoints or 1 huge and 4 medium? It's a personal judgment call, but I think the Python edges it.
Why you should ditch it: If combat's your thing and you've found a nice, profitable RES, it's a close call as to whether you should be flying an FdL or a Python. But if you want to spread your wings and go further afield, the pitiful FSD range of the FdL is a big black mark against its ledger book. A Python will give you almost double the range of a Fer-de-Lance, and the Python is a more profitable trading vessel, with more than four times the cargo capacity of the FdL in a trading configuration.
[Edit:] In case you're looking for my original guides, you can find my Adder review here, my overview of the Anaconda and Type 9 here, and my verdicts on the Sidewinder, Eagle, Hauler, Viper, Cobra and Type 6 here.

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