Digital daydreamer James Sheppard samples the software that can take you to the stars and beyond…
There is something about computer games that continues to amaze me. The level of detail and sheer hours of work that go into producing a title that we, as geeky consumers, choose to immerse ourselves in, is staggering. Sneak peeks at early alpha and beta builds are as sought after as the final game itself, as the hype train exhausts and excites me in equal measure. However, one wrong piece of code or a broken promise, and your game will not only be ridiculed and canned, but your studio will be blacklisted and hated until you redeem yourself. I’m looking at you space bore fest No-Man’s Sky……
But still, I keep coming back in the hope that a developer will create something beautiful, something vast, and something that captures every last drop of Sci-Fi imagination left in me after being bullied as a geek for decades. I cry out for something thought-provoking. I shout my need to see attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I scream to re-enact every space opera I’ve ever seen.
But in space, no-one can hear you in space.
It may be the wrong quote, but it is much more fitting to the huge galaxy spanning world of Elite: Dangerous.
Published by Frontier Developments, Elite features space adventure, trading, piracy, mining and a plethora of things only limited by the physics of the galaxy and your own imagination. You can explore a realistic 1:1 scale galaxy based on our own Milky Way in a massively multiplayer persistent universe. You take on trading missions or pirate bounties to earn credits to outfit your ship, or purchase a whole new one. The game has constant updates and listens to the community feedback incessantly. Never before have I been so excited to experience a Sci-Fi game, plug in my joystick, jump in my ship the: “Muddy Water Sparrow”, and pilot into the unknown…..
What’s that? There are key bindings just to open the cargo bay doors of your ship? And separate buttons to turn on ship lights and lower landing gear? And calibrating the joystick for horizontal, vertical and lateral flight just so you can safely take off from a planet without crashing in a ball of fire is recommended? I’m sure there can’t be that many buttons. This won’t take long. Let’s fast forward to day number three.
Using a combination of grit, determination, YouTube guides, and a third party program called Voice Attack, I was ready to face the great unknown of the galaxy. Starting off in my little Sidewinder spacecraft, the mini metro of intergalactic travel, I was prepared to adventure across the stars. The game highly recommended doing the training missions first, but I had waited days for this opportunity; how hard can it be to fulfil my own space-venturing dreams?
After spending twenty minutes stuck in the orbit of the beginning planet, not knowing my hyperspace from my supercruise, my ship spinning around erratically, I decided that the training missions, though obviously only a recommendation, may have been a good idea. Being the bull-headed geek that I am, I spent a further twenty minutes flying back down to the planet’s surface with the intent of docking at a spaceport, determined not to be beaten by a mere game.
As my ship broke apart, flames and sparks blocking out my view of the uncaring vacuum around me, I realised that flying directly at a planet at 300mph may have been an error. I decided to do the training missions.
Though I hate myself for admitting defeat, they were a great help. I learnt how to dock at space stations. I learnt how to mine and process ore. I learnt how to fly an intergalactic space ship slightly better than a troupe of overexcited chimpanzees. And, I learnt that there could be space pirates everywhere.
Jumping in the: “Muddy Water Sparrow V2”, I restarted and set off again. I received a space mail telling me to go to Dahan to receive a little bit of starting capital for my commercial empire, but had also picked up a trading mission to transport some bio-waste to the nearby system of Eranin. It may have made me an interstellar dustbin man, but it’s a small moneymaking step to galactic dominance. I planned my route, warmed up my FTL drive, and prepared to enter hyperspace.
It was beautiful.
From the background sounds, to the swirling madness of the hyperspace jump, everything was decidedly Sci-Fi, and distinctly unique. It was hypnotic in its tranquillity, and wondrous in its visionary inspiration. I felt like I could travel like this forever, safe in this little hyperspace tunnel taking me from one star-system to another. Then, with a jolt, my ship slipped out of hyperspace and I almost crashed into a sun. A yellow burning monstrosity had apparently come out of nowhere, unbeknownst to any of my onboard systems or computer A.I. Panicking wildly, I pulled my Sidewinder out of its roaring flames and headed to my destination.
Getting use to some of the quirks of interplanetary cruising, I overshot my target several times at faster than light speed, only to make a solar system spanning U-turn and try again. When I finally managed to slow down enough not to wildly miss my destination, I calmly requested landing permission, flew to my designated landing pad, and coolly touched down to make my delivery. My first space trucking escapade was complete, and my commercial success would soon be recognised.
What actually happened was that I forgot to lower my landing gear, bounced my hull off the landing pad and careened into a fellow interplanetary delivery boy. The knock-on effect led to me being declared a pirate, and vaporised by system police ships as I tried to make a run for it.
Time for the: “Muddy Water Sparrow V3”.