Sunday, November 1, 2015

A rant on Elite Dangerous before I review it next week

Thank you Frontier, from a fan of space-sims

About 10 years ago when I was just venturing out on my own into the unknown world for the first time. At that time I picked up one of the first games for PC that I earned myself. I am proud now that I chose Freelancer for my first PC game back then. Granted I had played PC games but they were always on my parents PC or a friends. This was my first PC and the first new game I played on that PC. It was amazing. The degrees of freedom in that space simulator were above and beyond anything I had experienced before. If you haven't played it before I highly suggest trying it out because it truly was one of the best games of it's generation and garnered a huge community and brought a lot of young adults from my generation to the genre. 

Every time you jump your first introduction is to the local star
(white dwarfs and black holes included)
Then years passed, I did a stint in the military, and became a father. After some time I forgot how much I loved the space-sim genre because nearly no quality games came out in that time period that gave the definite experience of space travel. Then in 2013 Star Citizen and close after Elite: Dangerous were announced and I got very excited. I wanted to follow the development of the games and for a time I did. Then some months passed and I happened to forget about my dogged devotion to developer diaries until Elite: Dangerous appeared on sale on Steam a couple months back. So I picked it up and put some time into it. I also got involved in discussions on reading boards and delved into the community.

What I discovered is that the community is half the game. Some of the content of the boards are focused at the developer but other content are just stories or arguments between factions. Cries for help from traders or requests from bounty hunters are met with the in-game terminology and much of the advice is phrased as if it were given freely between Commanders. This community building isn't something I'd seen since Freelancer in Space-Sims (some might argue that EVE Online has a much bigger commitment to community but I don't consider that quite a space-sim. I'll explain in a later article).

The community involvement is important because this game is an MMO Space Sim. That and there is no story mode. The trade off is that there is a life-size galaxy to explore. Something like 400 million different systems to visit. All completely generated and logged for exploration. This means that the entire game and your own personal progression is up to you entirely. There are so many things to do that it was immediately overwhelming for about a week for me. Trying to figure out what I needed to do and how I needed to go about getting money was work in itself. The same way that you might research how to get a job or do said job to get paid. It was very much a reflection of real-life in a space-simulated environment. 

Sights like this are regular, and always amazing
For lots of people I saw on the boards and have talked to it seems that this is not very "gamey" from the developers. The main complaint is that they've created a wonderful environment for a game to take place in but haven't included much of a game. However I find that this kind of dedication to world (in this case galaxy) building has been lost over the years, and to see Frontier be so dogged in pursuing this type of purity is refreshing. No there aren't any story elements unless you count paragraphs of text from mission boards or political posts. However if you were sitting in your ship at dock this is how you would access this information anyway. There aren't many (or any) open comms online unless you count between other commanders, but that may well change in the 8 years left in the development cycle of the game. 

That's right, the game has a 10 year development cycle plan. There are going to be annual "season passes" that allow access to the next years worth of development content. To some of the backers this leaves a bad taste in their mouth which I can understand. The wording at the beginning of crowdfunding made it appear as though the first purchase would lead to the entire games worth of content. However after a few months the next "season" was announced which made a lot of people leave cursing Frontier. 

I personally don't have a problem with the next few years of content being behind season passes. I see it as a very complete game as-is and if you want to add on to that by paying for some new content (some of which will be implemented with vanilla anyway) then you can. Otherwise you can play the vanilla game that you paid for. This is viewed as catering to the corporate greed by most, but I see a 10 year development cycle and understand the ridiculous amount of raw cash that will take and what kind of endeavor this is. It's insane. Really it is. If you don't know how much development costs, just watch this video from Mike Zaimont, the main developer of SkullGirls. He breaks down how much exactly making a video game costs and how it may require different pricing models for more content. It's just a pure and simple fact. You can't make a 10 year game from a one-time cost or the price would be well over $120 for the initial game. It's much easier to split that into multiple years and keep a very dedicated but growing fan-base from your initial release. For the purposes of this project it just makes more sense.  

I may leave Elite:Dangerous for a while but I'll be back for sure
I bought the game for just over $25 on sale. And I don't regret getting involved in the first year of development in the slightest. There are so many things about the game that bring me back to my Freelancer days. Staples that I'm talking about are constantly shifting economy, unlocked space combat/movement, massive space structures, planetary exploration, FTL travel, impressive sound engineering, and highly entertaining space-combat. Honestly everything I have been looking for in a space-sim in one place. Forget the lack of a story mode. It's the emptiness and freedom of space that I want. 

The way I see space though may be different than most. I suppose lots of people see space as just a science fiction setting. I see space the same way that explorers saw the ocean. It's the frontier between civilization and the untamed. However in our generation we won't most likely be able to explore it, Simulating it is the next best thing that I can hope for. And Elite:Dangerous is the shining example for the simulation that I want to play. It's exactly what I look for when I want to just be in the expanse of space where everything is quiet and dangerous. 

I'm going to thoroughly go over what makes Elite:Dangerous a good game later, I just wanted to get this out now because of a lot of the controversy surrounding such a gem in the gaming community. 

(If you have a different opinion or want to suggest a game to play and review, let me know @Big_Dad_Gamer on twitter!)

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