Elite Dangerous: Tips for explorers

If you’re not into, or don’t have the equipment to go bounty hunting, exploring in Elite Dangerous can be a lucrative way to make money.  Here are some tips for Commanders wanting to have a go.

You will need a detail scanner which costs CR250,000.  You can explore with just the basic scanner, but it’s much harder.  Assign the scanner to your secondary fire group. It you want to explore deeper space, then you’ll need a fuel scoop, too.   You can get by without a scoop to start with but it means you need to be careful not to stray too far from an inhabited system.  It’s a good idea to keep track of the last inhabited system you were at, if you start to run low on fuel, head back.

Pick a system where there’s no navigation information available, look for the red system information icon in the galaxy map. Systems with an actual name rather than a designation are likely inhabited.

As you jump into the system, whilst still in witchspace, set the throttle to zero. You’re going to arrive very close to the local primary and don’t want to get too hot.  As soon as you exit, press and hold secondary fire to charge the scanner, it takes a few seconds before firing.  The first object you’ll immediately pick up is the star, point the ship at it and hit your “target ahead” key.  You’ll see your ship start scanning it, this takes a little while.  If your detail scanner picks up any other nearby bodies, you’ll get an alert telling you.

Target each unexplored object in turn, working from closest to furthest away.   Anything within 5ls you can scan just by rotating your ship and pointing at it, however at some point you’ll need to start moving around the system.

Be careful near the star, it’s easy to overheat your ship.   If an object is on the other side of the star just point your ship away from the star to get some altitude and, when the heat levels decrease, gradually turn to get the target in your sights.

Learning to jockey the FSD’s autothrottle is essential.  If you keep overshooting objects then you’ll just waste time.  Once the object is in your sights, push the throttle forward until the power line turns blue and leave it there.  Your ship will now automatically accelerate and decelerate for you.  You’ll need to get each object within range to scan, the distance depends on the mass of the object.  Stars can be scanned from a long way out, gas giants from about 100ls, planets from around 20ls or 10ls and rock belts 5ls.

Not all systems contain planets, or they might be out of the range of your detail scanner.  You can try looking round the sky for objects moving relative to the background, I don’t bother and just move on the the next system.

Data you gather can be sold at any station provided you’ve travelled at least 20LY from where you got it.  The least you’ll get is a few hundred credits, however even a single star explored will usually net you around CR1200.   More interesting systems, with high metal content planets, will net you much more.  The highest I’ve seen to date is CR53000.  There seems no point in hoarding the data, the price doesn’t change regardless of distance.

Every so often, seems to be about 1 in 20, you’ll get an interdiction attempt.  It’s up to you whether you fight or flee but if you lose your ship, you will also lose any navigation data you have not sold.  If you get something juicy, it’s probably worth making a deliberate trip to an inhabited system to cash it in.

As you travel around a solar system, you’ll see blips on your scope marked Unidentified Signal Source.  If you investigate these then you may be lucky and it’s free cargo (albeit it will be marked stolen), or it may be dumped toxic waste, or it may be a trap.  The traps are not usually hard to evade if you don’t feel like a fight.  Stolen cargo can be offloaded at the black market, you might have to carry it around for a while before you find one.  I usually limit myself to investigating one USS per system, usually once I’m done with exploring.  If it turns out to be a trap then I just jump to the next system.

 

Buying a custom gaming PC from Overclockers UK

My current workstation and gaming PC is slowly disintegrating. I built it myself from components some 6 years ago and it’s simply wearing out.  Several USB ports don’t work and Windows sometimes bluescreens with errors that suggests bits of the motherboard are getting tired.  I don’t really have the spare time needed to build a high-end PC and make a great job of it, so I decided to treat myself to a pre-built custom system.   After hunting round, I settled on Overclockers as the company to buy from.

Their system configurator didn’t quite give me what I wanted, so I contacted them and asked if they could customise further which they could.   I put together my list of requirements, they send back a price.  I paid, cash wired to their bank account, upfront and sat back and waited for my new shiny liquid-cooled PC to arrive.

The system shipped.  It shipped to the wrong address.  I had provided Overclockers with a billing address and a shipping address.  They shipped to the billing address which is almost guaranteed to be unoccupied during regular working hours.

A simple mistake.  It happens.  I contacted the courier who were unable to redeliver again that day, but promised they would deliver it to the shipping address the next day.

Next day, my new shiny PC arrives.  I opened the smaller of the two boxes, one for spare components and so on, and immediately see a problem.  The spares and cables and whatnots are not branded with anything I specified, wrong motherboard and wrong graphics card.  I call Overclockers who suggest that the component boxes may have been mixed up and can I please open the main box and check. I do.  It’s someone else’s computer.  I later learn that my system has been shipped to somewhere else.  Overclockers’ mistake?  Courier’s mistake?  It doesn’t really matter. Overclockers have a courier come and pick up this system.

Meanwhile, my system makes its merry way back to Overclockers’ HQ and I, confusingly, get an email asking what I’d like done with it.   I suggest shipping it to the shipping address and could I please have an AM delivery so I don’t potentially waste a whole day.  I offered to pay for whatever that was going to cost.  Overclockers said it was no problem.  Super.

My PC finally showed up at Friday 8pm.   The more astute amongst you will spot that 8pm is not exactly an AM delivery.  Overclockers’ mistake?  Courier’s mistake?  I have no idea, the question has not yet been answered.

I unpack my new PC.  The first thing I notice is that there is a bolt rolling around in the bottom of it.  Stuff can come loose in shipping, so what.  I find that the bolt belongs to a radiator housing in the bottom of the case, there’s a hole, a loose radiator and tool marks around the hole.  Not ideal, but the system’s not going to be moved around much so no big problem.  Despite being an SLI system, there was no SLI cable installed linking the graphics cards.  Simple to fix, but a silly thing for an expert system builder to miss.

One of the customised things I asked for was the pre-cabling of some SATA drives bays: one for a blu-ray writer and two for a pair of big SATA disks I use for bulk local storage.   None of these were done.   I call Overclockers about this, and the loose bolt, and they say there’s not much that can be done without returning the system to them.  As I’ve no interest in another game of couriers, I grumble a bit but then do the cabling myself.

Over the next day or so I had almost no chance to really push the new system.  It ticked over happily, was lovely and quiet and lovely to look at too.  On Sunday night, though, the headphones went on, the office door was closed and I got on with a bit of GRID 2, with all the visual effects turned up to maximum.  I settled down for a couple of hours of hard racing.   After about an hour, the screen froze, went black, and all the system fans kicked into life.

I powered off, reached for my mini-torch and opened the case.  What I saw sickened me: liquid coolant leaking from the CPU block, down onto a graphics card and spilling on to the motherboard.  It was impossible to tell whether the CPU had simply thermally shut down or if the coolant had shorted something expensive.  It kind of didn’t matter.

The next morning I called Overclockers who arranged to pick the system up.  I asked if they could sort of the cabling and the loose bolts while they were at it.  They agreed.

A couple of days later, I got an email saying the system had been repaired and was on its way back to me.  The next evening I get a call from the owner of the billing address saying that a courier had tried to deliver something with my name on it.   They had shipped to the wrong address. Again.

I had now run out of patience and I asked for a full refund.   To their credit, Overclockers didn’t argue on this and they said one would be arranged.  As it was convenient for me, I asked to keep the Windows 8.1 licence and the SSD.   As it was convenient for them, I agreed to pay for these again separately, they would then issue a refund for the full amount of the original transaction.  I didn’t ask, but I kind of expected they would simply wire the cash back to my bank account.

After 3 days or so, nothing had showed up, so I called and they said that processing a refund might take up to 7 working days.

Today, 10 days on, nothing had showed up, so I called them and they said a cheque had been issued on the 4th and had been sent to……. you guessed it, the wrong address.  The owner of the address had not had a cheque arrive.

They offered to send a new cheque to the right address.  I suggested they simply wire the money to my account, I was told this was impossible due to the people who would have to do that being in Germany.  No, makes no sense to me either.  I asked if the cheque could be sent by special delivery, for which I was happy to cover the costs.   This was, of course, not possible.

So, 5 weeks after placing a cash order for a high-spec custom PC from Overclockers UK, I have no PC and they have a large amount of my money.

Please consider this post next time you’re thinking of ordering from them.

 

(Update: 15/4/2014:  A handwritten cheque arrived from Overclockers this morning. )

Game review: Sniper: Ghost Warrior

Sniper: Ghost Warrior is a standard first-person shooter based on the Chrome 4 engine.  The marketing suggests this game is aimed at those who prefer stealth and strategy over outright shoot’em’up action.   After a brief, optional, training run you are dropped into the action, sniper rifle in hand.

Visually I find the game very odd.  Environments are very rich indeed and this game features some of the best foliage I have seen in a PC game. Certainly better than Just Cause 2, somewhat better than Crysis, and yet, at the same time, you look at scenery such as buildings and vehicles and are disappointed.  There’s none of the beautiful detail that JC2 set the standard for.

As you start the game, it’s all pretty obvious, move from point A to point B, perhaps shooting some baddies on the way.  You quickly realise just how tightly scripted the game is, and how shallow some of the segments are, and you very quickly feel hemmed in by the tiny (I’ve been playing JC2) sections of world you can explore.

It’s when you start to move around that the worst part of the game makes itself obvious.  You are a sniper, wearing a ghillie suit and moving slowly and quietly around in dense jungle foliage.   Bullets will start pocking around you, you won’t have a clue where from bar a very vague red arrow in the middle of your screen.  What’s happened is that you’ve tripped over some enemy AI who’s managed to pick you out from a distance of about 150 meters.

You won’t be able to see him, but he’ll cheerfully keep shooting at you, not often hitting, until you stand up so your head is out of the undergrowth and eventually work out where he is.  By this time you’ll have moved enough that more eagle-eyed AI join in.  You die, you get to do it again.  It’s very very dull.

At this point you’ll realise that the sniping system is confusing and not very good.  Other than the target’s movement there are no real visual clues as to why the bullet mark is where it is.   It feels a bit random and sterile.

You’re not always just sniping, there are some sections of standard let-rip-on-full-auto.  You’re a fully trained, fit, agile sniper clearing out an oil rig.  Yet you somehow cannot make it over a knee-high rail to go down some stairs.  Eventually you’ll realise there’s a small panel you have to shoot to make a section of the rail disappear.  You’ll check your calendar to make sure it’s not 5 years ago.

The bullet camera is a straight ripoff, accidental or intentional, I don’t know,  of that given to us by Sniper Elite back in 2005.  Given the choice between the two games, I’d suggest picking up Sniper Elite and playing that instead.

If you’re really intent on buying this game, I’d just wait a bit.  It’ll be reduced in price quickly enough as it really is fairly poor.

Game review: Prince of Persia: The forgotten sands

“A PERMANENT HIGH SPEED INTERNET CONNECTION AND CREATION OF A UBISOFT ACCOUNT ARE REQUIRED TO PLAY THIS GAME.”

Won’t be buying that one, then.

Dear Ubisoft,

I didn’t buy Assassin’s Creed 2 because of the insane DRM. I didn’t buy Splinter Cell: Conviction because of the insane DRM, and now I’m not going to buy the new Prince of Persia because of the insane DRM.

I speak as someone who has bought a fair chunk of your software. Did you wonder why you’re losing sales yet?

An open letter to Ubisoft

Dear Ubisoft,

I was just in my local branch of Tesco and was delighted to see that Splinter Cell: Conviction had been released.  I can tell you, I have been a long-time fan of the Splinter Cell series and was looking forward to adding this title to my collection of Ubisoft games.

Alas my fears that you would have not learned from your previous failings with regards to what is reasonable copy protection for your software were entirely well founded.

Look at the stack of games in the picture above.  As I tend to buy games I want as soon as they come out, I usually pay a premium price. That stack of games represents something like £200 of hard-earned money that I was delighted to part with. I buy software, I don’t pirate it, I am not the person who you should be alienating with copy protection crap.

Some forms of copy protection are merely inconvenient, like requiring the CD or DVD to be physically in the drive.  I don’t want to load content off a slow CD or DVD.  I want to read it off the 10,000 rpm Raptor disk I have for exactly the purpose of making games load quickly.  I don’t want to have to keep a stack of game boxes lying around in case I need the activation key you so very expensively printed on each one.

For Assassin’s Creed 2 you decided that a standalone game would require an Internet connection to work.  I wrote at the time that I couldn’t countenance such stupidity and that I would, for the first time ever, not buy a Splinter Cell game if it was similarly protected.  It is, so I didn’t.

Let’s spell this out Ubisoft,  I didn’t buy Assassin’s Creed 2. I didn’t buy Splinter Cell: Conviction.  You have stopped someone giving you money because you have this insane idea that one day you’re going to create some kind of copy protection that actually works (despite decades of evidence entirely to the contrary) and paying customers won’t mind the inconvenience of the ever-more-desperate ideas you come up with. Your system here has already failed, look here.

People who want to buy your games will do so anyway.  People who want to pirate your games will do so anyway, and are waaaay smarter than you.  I am reminded of this comparison from the world of movies.

So, tell me, Ubisoft, which game of yours would you like me not to buy next?

Game review: Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 is a game that has been on my “buy it as soon as it’s released” list since its initial announcement.  Finally we were going to get the seamless large-area free-roaming game that developer after developer has promised and, usually, failed to deliver.  The last best attempt was perhaps Far Cry 2 which did an admirable job, but JC2 manages so much more.

Before I get into the praise-singing, could I take a moment of your time to tell you the one thing that has irritated me about JC2?  Thank you:  Steam’s pricing.  I like Steam, really.  JC2 on Steam retails for £29.99. A physical box containing JC2 costs £24.99 from Tesco.  Tell me, @steam_games, how can it possibly cost more to deliver a game over Steam online than to deal with a physical product?

So I did what I usually do, bought the box set and downloaded the “no DVD” crack.  When will you chimps learn?

If you liked Far Cry 2 at all then you are going to just love JC2.  It’s all that’s promised in terms of free roaming adventure and when you’re bored with exploring you can deign to follow the storyline.  Graphically it’s utterly beautiful though even my fairly high end games machine struggled when I ramped all the settings up to maximum.

The controls are a tiny bit fiddly and driving vehicles with the keyboard is very imprecise.  This is especially a problem when flying the jet aircraft.  There is support for using an Xbox controller but, crazily, there’s no support for using a regular joystick making a number of the aircraft-based missions decidedly tricky and much less fun than they could be.

Weapon choice is a bit limited and, teethgrindingly, there’s no ammo purchases.  You can pick up ammo from departed enemies, if they had the same weapon as you, but your black market dealer will only sell you a whole new weapon with ammo, not just the ammo itself.  For some of the missions this becomes expensive but is somewhat mitigated by you being able to pick up certain turret weapons which inherit infinite ammo.  The drawback here is that your movement is severely limited when wielding these puppies.

One of the touted features of the game is the double grapple: attach anything to anything.   This works less well than it seems it should.   Attempting to attach aircraft together seems to work poorly, for example.

Overall, you should buy this game.  It’s fun, it’s fast paced, it’s big and it’s beautiful. What are you waiting for?

Game review: Assassin’s Creed 2

Following my original review of the first Assassin’s Creed game, I was dearly looking forward to reviewing the new episode in the series. Alas Ubisoft have taken the skull-smackingly stupid decision of making a single-player game need access to the Internet to work.

Don’t buy this game, you will be funding idiocy if you do.

What next, Ubisoft, will you be making me not buy the upcoming Splinter Cell, too?

Game review: Velvet Assassin

This game should have been the one that made me forget about the likes of the early Splinter Cells and Thief III. This game was born in the era of the expectation of hideously overpowered graphics cards, tons of memory, multiple cores and physics processing units.

Graphically, it is quite good. And what is used to distract you from merely “quite good” graphics is piss-poor linear game play, poor controls, sterile environments and, in fairness, excellent voice acting.

This game has everything wrong with it that you would expect when a moderately successful console games is crammed onto the PC platform by people who’ve never played any of the sneak’em’up greats. Such developers should be forced to complete Metal Gear Solid, all of the Splinter Cells and all of the Thief series before getting their hands on what should have been the best stealth FPS

ever to grace a personal computer. “Execute over 50 different brutal maneuvers to deliver a quick and silent death to enemy soldiers” the marketing says. What that says to me is I have 50 different brutal maneuvers at my fingertips, choice mine to dispatch an enemy. Bollocks. What in practice happens is you sneak up behind your unsuspecting target and click the left mouse button. That’s it.

At this point it can go two ways. 1) You take out the enemy and have time to drag to corpse into the shadows. Jolly good. However what happens depressingly frequently is option 2. Our heroine turns into Miss Stabby and goes to town. Definitely killing the target kraut but taking so long about it that you get caught by the next chap walking along. Repeat.

Then you get moments of sheer comedy:

Kraut #1) Deary me, look at this puddle with the electric cable running through it!
Kraut #2) Mein Fuhrer! Someone could electrocute themselves!
Kraut #1) Ja! Let us hope no-one throws that big switch over there while we are walking through it.
Kraut #2) Nein! That would be awful!

Krauts 1 & 2 proceed to splash about in the water.

Don’t buy this game, I did, and it’s rubbish.

Game review: Assassin’s Creed

I was slightly dubious about buying this game. I was torn between a huge variety of reviews, some loving it, some loathing it. However I’ve been waiting for so long for a good sneak-’em-up to come along (where art thou, Thief IV?) that I decided to give it a go.

I like games with a good story line, Assassin’s Creed definitely has an intriguing plot but it spoils it by requiring the player to sit though cut-scenes for a remarkable (subjectively) percentage of the game, especially during the early stages. The short version of the plot is that you have been kidnapped by a medical research facility who stick you in a machine that accesses the contents of your genetic memory. One of your ancestors was a member of a secretive organisation of assassins, by reliving parts of his life you are able to gain access to more memories which are locked away. Got that? Good.

You unlock memories by performing tasks such as saving a citizen from being beaten up by the guards, acting as a bodyguard, collecting flags and, obviously, assassinating certain people. You have nine people to assassinate but, before doing so, you must carry out investigations by eavesdropping or pick-pocketing or beating the crap out of someone to gain information about your target. Sounds tedious? Well, to a certain extent it is, except….

You will be distracted by the stunning, utterly stunning, in-game graphics. Stand atop a roof, pick a house in the far far distance, make your way towards it. No load times, no cuts, just seamless progress towards your gorgeously rendered target. But even here there’s a problem. My monitor’s native resolution is 1600×1400 which Assassin’s Creed supports but won’t allow me to turn anti-aliasing on. To enable AA I have to drop to 1280×1024 which ruins the game because it’s fixed 16:9 aspect ratio leaves thick black chunks of unused screen estate at the top and bottom of the picture.

There’s no in-game save, your progress is automatically saved at certain points along the story. Realising this, I waited until I was at a point where, to me, it would have logically saved my progress and then quit to do something else. The game hadn’t saved and I had to replay a chunk of the game including a couple of long unskippable cut-scenes. Frustrating.

In game travel is frustrating, too. You’re given a horse which can walk, trot or canter. The default speed is “trot” however if you go past a guard at anything but “walk” and he’ll immediately start hacking at you with a sword. Why? We’re not told.

The AI is pretty good but has some serious holes. If a guard is chasing you and you break his line of sight, climb up onto a rooftop and duck into one of the indicated “hiding places”. The guard will follow you up onto the roof, but won’t think to look in the covered gazebo that’s the only possible place you could have hidden. Instead he’ll wait until the game decides you’ve eluded him and then then just wander off.

This is a great idea for a game with stunning graphics that’s been let down by tedious game play. The engine is clearly capable of much more, let’s hope the next game in the series fixes the oversights.