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Thread: Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted - An Introduction to the Gameplay of Elite Dangerous

  1. #1

    Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted - An Introduction to the Gameplay of Elite Dangerous


    - An Introduction to the Gameplay of Elite Dangerous -


    Someone once asked what's so fascinating about Elite Dangerous. My answer was liked well enough by some members of the forum, but the truth is, it fell kind of short in actually being helpful – it was an answer about what I find fascinating, not what other's can find in it for themselves.

    Let's face it, some people are put off by this game. By the sheer scale, by the lack of guidance, by the conspicuous absence of all the bells and flourishes usually associated with video games these days.

    On the other hand, there are people like me who love it for the exact same reasons. It is my hope to explain (in this pretentious piece of liberal arts mumbo-jumbo that waxes pseudo-philosophically) what to expect of the game, what kind of mindset myself and other's have to enjoy it, and what it can't, won't and doesn't want to deliver.(Yeah. I'm not only psycho-analyzing myself here, I'm psycho-analyzing a video game. Hubris galore!)

    And because I like to keep my readers alert: There are between 23 and 47 pop cultural references hidden in the text, the first one to find them all will win five tons of Palladium. Just PM me.

    Part I:
    You are Standing in a Maze of Hyperspace Routes, All Alike

    So, you've just paid fifty bucks of your local currency for this cool new video game. Spaceships! 'Splosions! Spinning! (It's a good trick.) A one-entire-galaxy-wide MMO! Ready for you, tempting you with hours of quests, sidequests, subquests and EXP, with axes and grues and credits to grind! Yeah!

    And then you smash your starting Sidewinder smack into the middle of the glass walkway around the docking port. You know, that thing that looks like it belongs in a Seaworld Aquarium. (It's the 34th century, and people are still watching captive Orcas in artificial environments.)

    Sidewinders are free, so no biggie, right? You kick the Sidewinder vending machine, and a free one drops out of the slot. "Fine," you say, "I'll remap the boost button and do a mission next. There's one where I can make 150,000 credits? That's, like, 150 times the credits I have! I'll take that! How hard can it be? I'm still a Level 1 Space Pilot, they wouldn't tempt me with impossible quests at this stage, would they?"

    One single shot from an annoyed Anaconda later (but hey, congratulations on understanding the USS system!), you begin to suspect that there is something wrong with this game. Or with yourself.

    Take a deep breath, have a seat and a cookie, and read on.

    There is nothing wrong with the both of you. Sure, neither of you is perfect, and only the game can be ridden of bugs and updated, but that's not the point here.

    Elite Dangerous is different. You have to accept that (or move on, there's no shame in not liking a game, I threw away Force Unleashed after two days). A lot of things may come that change the game, but at its core it will remain very different from most current mainstream games. Why? Glad you asked.

    Part II:
    Death & Gravity

    Part II, 1: It Is Extremely Easy to Die
    (and most of these deaths will be your own fault)

    Yes, your fault. You read that correctly. Everything is permitted. Right from the beginning. Fly to the center of the galaxy (and die of an empty fuel tank), put the pedal to the metal inside a five-kilometer long space station (and become a non-purchasable decal), fight a spaceship ten times the size of yours (guess what happens?), and you will die. Why shouldn't you?

    Because you do not expect games to behave that way (anymore). You are used to linear progression, to "this quest is only available for characters of LVL 30 or higher", to "I don't want to see this warning again" checkboxes. None of these things are there. In Elite Dangerous, you can simply warp into Mordor. No one will stop you. No one will warn you. And you will die.

    Elite Dangerous puts you in the role of a fully qualified spaceship commander. It does not, however, put you through any kind of Starfleet Academy to get there. It assumes you already know that space is a) vast, b) even vaster than that, c) dangerous and d) humans are really, really bad at judging distances and sizes on that scale. And it's cheeky enough to make you learn that the hard way.

    Part II, 2: It Is Extremely Easy to Die
    (out of sheer boredom)

    So there you are, you read the manual (and believe it or not, it's quite short compared to handbooks from the last millennium), watched the youtube tutorials, and started doing ... stuff. "Look at me, I'm doing stuff!" you shout - and no one listens, only Carl shoots you an annoyed glance. So you keep doing ... stuff. Why are you doing stuff? So you can get more money! What do you do with more money? Do more stuff!

    Yeah, that isn't working for me, either. The game itself is working for me, perfectly in fact, but I could not, for the life of me, stand the grind just for the grind's sake. I need goals. I have goals, in fact.

    "Yeah, you over there, you have a question?"- "Tell me, son, where did you find these goals? There's nothing but the same old missions, the same old stars, the same old factions, and the same old old guys who blindly love the game for nostalgia's sake!"

    Ouch. That hurt, I'm not that old. (And four-year old me is no one to be nostalgic about, no matter how cool the games were that the older kids played.) But, to answer your question:

    I set them myself. And I am at a slight advantage here, allow me to let you in on a dirty little secret of mine and tell you why: I am an experienced pen & paper roleplayer.

    "Another question? Yes?" - "Didn't you mention you have a girlfriend and kids in another post?" - "Yes?" - "Aaand you have tabletop RPG experience." - "Yes?" - "Just asking..."

    At one of its hearts (it has quite a few), Elite Dangerous is a pen & paper RPG. You have to read background material. You have to take notes. Lots and lots of notes. You have to use your imagination. You have to create your own character. You might give her a backstory (I haven't... yet), you might give her a home (I have), but you should definitely give her something to do that YOU want her to do. You have to believe in asking yourself, and then answering: Who am I? (In the game, that is. Else, do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.)

    Because the game is definitely not going to tell you. As some reviews say, this game does not care about you, and they are right. The sandbox does not care about the kid. Bring your own shovel, bake your own mud cake, throw sand in another kids face, throw up or a tantrum, the sandbox does not give a single airborne expletive.

    And that's a good thing for some. For me, definitely. For others, not so much, and they might still enjoy some aspects, even enough to love Elite Dangerous, but I believe it is easier if accept the fact that you are not playing a game, you are playing in a game.

    And you're not Captain Picard. You're not Admiral Adama. You're not even Han Solo. On your best day, you are Malcolm Reynolds on his worst. You are the truck driver, the foot soldier, the cartographer tucked away in his cabin, measuring latitudes and scribbling notes, while the grand explorer you're working for get's his name into the history books. You can reduce piracy in your local system, but you cannot eliminate it. You can weaken the local regime, but not topple it, at least not without a lot of commitment. You can fight the famine on the station next door, but not feed the entire population.

    Elite Dangerous simulates the entire known milky way galaxy. (Which is only a mote of dust in our known universe.) Any game that attempts to do that and still gives its players the feeling that their actions matter on any kind of grander scale would not only be hypocritical, it would be lying through its teeth.

    If Elite Dangerous even tried more than giving me the feeling of being more than a very small being in a very big 'verse, I wouldn't love it so much. Because if nothing what we do matters, all that matters is what we do. Character is what you are in the dark. Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.

    "You keep on saying that! What does it mean?" - "I don't know. Something I heard in a game once. Sounded smart."

    It is, quoth Enzio, "an observation of the nature of reality. To say, 'nothing is true', is to realize that the foundations of society are fragile, and that we must be the shepherds of our own civilization. To say, 'everything is permitted', is to understand that we are the architects of our actions, and that we must live with their consequences, whether glorious or tragic."

    Part II, 3: It Is Extremely Easy to Die
    (because you think you are a pilot, but you are a captain)

    But don't worry, I do that as well. It's normal. But: Elite Dangerous is one of the few games that do not shy away from the fact that commanding a spaceship (even a very small one) is, in some ways, more akin to commanding a submarine than it is to flying a plane.

    You may doubt that because the dogfighting is – at least in my humble opinion – an amazing experience. You're living the Star Wars dream, boosting through an asteroid field, with a sprinkling of Above and Beyond's, Babylon 5's and Battlestar: Galactica's Newtonian physics on top, and frostings of “Lasers”. But you are also living the Star Wars illusion: There are no fighter planes in space. In fact, there cannot be any, not in any meaningful sense. Planes changed the modern battlefield, both at sea and on land, by adding another dimension to what was, in essence, a very two-dimensional affair. (To a lesser degree, submarines did that, too.) But all the capital ships and fighters in space are already operating in the same, three-dimensional environment.

    And unless you have a TARDIS stowed away somewhere in your Sidewinder,you simply cannot add another dimension to space combat. I hate to bring it to you, but you are not flying a fighter plane. You are commanding a fast attack boat, or a torpedo boat, in later times maybe even a corvette or a small destroyer, automated to a degree that it can be operated by one person.

    "What does it matter?"

    Good question. Again, this guide is not about being good at playing Elite Dangerous, it is about one way of looking at, enjoying and playing in Elite Dangerous. Which brings me to the second, hopefully shorter part of this essay. Take five, everyone, grab a Raktajino.

    Part III:
    Take Your Time (It's yours, anyway)

    Part III, 1: A Captain Is You

    "All of you settled back in? Good."

    The question was how it mattered that we are all commanding spaceships instead of piloting spacefighters. It matters because a lot of the design decisions are supposedly based on that, design decisions that seem questionable at the first glance. Why do I have to look to my left in order to request docking? To the right to deactivate a system? Why isn't all that information part of my HUD?

    Because you are only sitting at the CONN, standing at the helm, manning the wheel when you're looking ahead. If you turn to your left, you're doing another job: You have now became the radio operator, the navigator, a little bit of Sulu, a little bit of Data. (Oh My! Lifeforms!) Same thing if you look to the right: You're in main engineering now, among other places. Divert some power to life support, go change the polarity of something, and while you're at it, have a talk with the guy on deck 15 who's counting the number of stars you have visited.

    And do that before you take her into battle. Set condition one throughout the ship, stand down from battle stations afterwards, whatever your lingo, treat her (yes, her) like a ship and yourself like a Captain, and it will be easier and more rewarding to get a feeling for the game. (And gain an understanding for it's design choices.) The flying might be X-Wing stuffed with Newton's apple, but the simulation is more along the lines of Dangerous Waters or Silent Hunter.

    Oh, and give her a name. She's a ship, not a throwaway fighter with a tail number. (Free Sidewinders notwithstanding.)

    Part III, 2. Just Sit Right Back

    If you're still with me this far, let me talk for a moment about patience and curiosity. Here's a practical task for you: If you've had the game for a while and don't get along with it, or if you are a complete newcomer, just take your seat in a Sidewinder and leave your hands off the controls. Don't request permission to take-off, just look around. And then ask yourself: Do I know what all this stuff is? Have I seen every control tab, tried out every function, understood what the purpose is of every single display, button and indicator is?

    If the answer is "no", take your phone or a tablet or second screen and learn it. There's a manual, there's youtube tutorials – but don't Alt-Tab out, stay in the cockpit. Familiarize yourself with your ship. Imagine you have a flight manual lying around in the cockpit. Most pilots do. (See? Happens to me as well.)

    If you've done that (or the answer was "yes, I know what all those little gizmos do, can we move on?"), would you kindly take off, leave the station and stop at a safe distance? Do the same procedure again with all the functions and displays that are unavailable when docked. What do those squares and triangles mean? Why is the red thingie moving toward the blue thingie? How do I put them in front of me? Dump some cargo, turn on the lights, fly into the forbidden hangar on a scientific outpost.

    Dare to be stupid, to fool around, to ask questions. Making money can wait. Exploration can wait. Combat can wait. None of these things will be fun if you don't know what you are doing, and there is no shame in having to learn something. The game isn't going anywhere without you. You're not in a hurry to get your 50 bucks worth out of it.

    Part III, 3. Your Reward Is Clothes

    So, what's in it for you? I don't know. There is a certain divide in gaming culture these days, a somewhat subtle difference between the need for gratification and the search for satisfaction. And a somewhat less subtle difference between the wish for instant fun and long-term pleasure.

    I like my instant fun, instant fun is great. I don't usually need video games for that, but if I do, I'll go to Ravenholm, race and rampage through Panau, or I'll take the Jackdaw out ("Nothing is sacred, and everyone is committed.").

    I like stories as well, though I'm more a passive media kind of guy in that regard. But, again, if I look for that in video games, there are games that provide that: the realms of SHODAN and GLaDOS, Assassin's Creed II and IV, even some strategy games like X-Com. But I can cry only once over Mary Read's death. (Okay, maybe twice.)

    I prefer, however, video games to provide me with long-term pleasure and satisfaction. For that, video games have to be difficult, because pleasure can only come out of a sense of achievement, and they have to be hard, because satisfaction can only come out of a sense of risk. (The resurrection of iron man modes and permadeath games –I'm a DayZ backer – is one result of that phenomenon. Elite Dangerous is kittens and puppies in that regard.)

    Elite Dangerous can provide loads of instant fun – fire up the client, head for the next RSS, blast away. But it takes a while to get there, you can do that only after you got the satisfaction of learning the game. That is, probably, why it is attractive to the simulation community in a wider sense, people who have mastered aerial refueling in Falcon (I hated that KC-10!) or can reliably place shots at 800+ meters in the ArmA series. (Can I has Dragunov for that?)

    Elite Dangerous doesn't give you much of a story. That's your part, and mine. It's an empty book, but a huge and beautiful one. It gives you freedom – including the freedom to dislike it, of course. Maybe your princess is in another castle. It doesn't even require your imagination, but using it helps a lot.

    If you are uncomfortable with making your own choices, however, with the risk of making mistakes, with punishment for mistakes, with the requirement of gathering your own data before you can even make informed choices instead of mistakes, than you might have a problem with the nature of beast.

    But if you can take care of your own story, this is a game for you, and the devs can keep on taking care of our world.

    See you out there (or not - choices, remember?).

    Yours Truly,
    CMDR Kuroshio, Black Tide Foundation, Gibson Gateway, Cuachini

    Disclosure & Addendum: I am not a backer of the game (I would be if I still could, but alas), nor am I in any way affiliated with Frontier Developments. And I am aware of all the problems surrounding the development of the game, the kickstarter campaign, et al. I am also and sometimes painfully aware of some of it's technical and design shortcomings (and, of course, bugs), though I think that a lot of these are matters of taste. The text above is not concerned with these things, but that doesn't mean I am blind towards them. Kindly keep that in mind in any (warmly welcome) criticism.

    Addendum the second: I spend half an hour fixing missing spaces in this text, only to have them reappear after looking at the preview. So I did it again. And I am not sure I found all off them this time. Sorry. My thanks go to CMDR Evyl Minkey for feedback & proofreading, any mistakes left are mine, not his. I'm not a native speaker.

  2. #2
    Excellent post, best read I've had on these forums since last year.

  3. #3
    You have truly discovered the 'Zen of Elite'.
    Domo arigato Kuroshio san.

  4. #4
    Oh so true. You have managed to put clearly what is so different about his game from others. It not easy to explain to players these days, they are all for the instant action, hand holding guidance or mindless smashing of most of today's games. This is not a fast paced action game nor a linear quest base game it's a Lifestyle game, one where you get too choose the life you want. I believe one of the worst mistakes FD have made when advertizing this game is claiming it's an MMO, IT IS NOT, at least not in the traditional sense of MMO's. It is also not a traditional Sim game either although it has allot of similarities. The best term I can come up with is it's a Lifestyle game.

    Still congrats mate for your post. I hope it helps clarify things for new players..

    +1 rep.

  5. #5
    just..... a damn good read !!

    +1 Sir

  6. #6
    Originally Posted by DoubtOutLoud View Post (Source)
    And because I like to keep my readers alert: There are between 23 and 47 pop cultural references hidden in the text, the first one to find them all will win five tons of Palladium.
    Does the "23" already counts towards the 47 references?
    Great post, have some rep!

  7. #7
    Well... i needed to take a deep breath and a sip of hot tea while leaning back in the chair with a smile after reading this.
    Its simply the most clear, neutral and honest review i have read of this game so far. The only thing i could accuse you off,
    is keeping me in front of my desk when i should have been gone to bed half an hour ago.

    Itīs really nice to have people around who actually understand and like, what Elite is offering.

    Glad to have you on board commander!

  8. #8
    What an amazing post between all those whining and misconceptions. So refreshing.
    Have a rep (only can give you a +1, you surely deserve more)

  9. #9
    Really enjoyed that read. Very well written. Thanks for taking the time to type it up!

  10. #10
    I loved the BTVS and AC references!

    A truly inspiring text... thank you so much for taking the time!

  11. #11
    Excellent post - love the Hassan I Sabbah reference and I couldn't agree more.

  12. #12
    Best thing I've seen on these forums for a long time.

  13. #13

  14. #14
    Well done, sir! Took the words right out of my mouth...

    Have some rep!

  15. #15
    Thank you for such a concise presentation of what a good attitude for this "lifestyle" looks like.
    Originally Posted by Ervig View Post (Source)
    Bump for great justice.
    This just keeps getting better

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