Elite: Dangerous Part 4

In which Commander Bulk Paint spends a lot of time tinkering with controls and throws down a lot of text.

A Measure Of Control

I elected to not bring my gamepad into work. For starters, Bulk Paint: Entrepreneur isn't going to be getting into scrapes any time soon and any time on the work machine is just going to be spent lugging cargo around.
Actually, quite a bit of time is spent getting the keyboard and mouse setup just so. By default, the mouse simulates the joystick, controlling pitch and roll and the keyboard does, well, everything else. The initial keyboard uses WASD for throttle and lateral thrust, QE for yaw and RF for vertical thrust. It didn't take long for that to feel uncomfortable.
Starting with the thrusters, I felt that the yaw layout was wrong – especially for landing. Swapping yaw and lateral thrust seemed to fix that – made things a bit more FPS-y.
Now for the mouse. By default it felt a bit twitchy. I decided to try something a little more akin to Freelancer – mouse controls pitch and yaw. Moved yaw, again, putting lateral thrust back on AD and roll on QE. Again, it feels a bit more FPS-y and, even though I haven't played one of these on mouse and keyboard for a long time, it's like an old, comfortable pair of slippers.
That seems to work quite well – with a couple of caveats.
Firstly, the lack of centering. If you move a joystick, it will naturally attempt to return to the middle position. Only prolonged pressure will keep it in the position you require. When you move the mouse, it stays moved. It does not come back to the middle. FPS use the deltaXY – how far the mouse has moved that turn - to determine pitch and yaw. Elite Dangerous uses mouseXY – the actual mouse position. What this means in real terms is that to make a prolonged turn, an FPS will have you constantly moving and reseting the mouse to keep the deltaXY going whereas Elite Dangerous only needs you to move it once and it'll keep going for you. Sounds good on the surface – for starters, FPS games very rarely need you to continue rotating in a single direction for an extended period of time* so having it stop when you stop moving the mouse is cool. That sort of input just won't fly here though. Funnily enough, it's not the fact that no input will stop the ship from moving, as you often need prolonged yaw and pitch as you're flying around. Instead the problem arises when you have to stop tumbling. Instead of just letting go of the joystick, you have to manually find the neutral position. Once again, the lack of haptics** bites you in the arse.
Also, I can't seem to decide whether or not I want the mouse Y inverted or not. Normally, I'm all “Inverted mouse is king!” - push forward to nose down, just like a joystick. That changes when I have a mouse cursor on the screen, in which case pushing forward should make the cursor move up. Elite Dangerous has a mouse cursor, so I should not invert the Y... except it only occupies the centre of the screen and even fades out when you're not really moving it. This means that I find myself constantly flicking between thinking I need inverted Y and I don't depending on whether or not I can see the cursor. Writing this on the train, I can't honestly tell you how I left it.
I understand how this makes it seem like I'm ragging on the control scheme but, to its eternal credit, the game does a bang-up job of presenting you with all of the options you need to make it work. You can tell it to centre the mouse over time, giving you that an analogue for the deltaXY controls of an FPS – but then you run into the can't-constantly-turn problem. You could dial the sensitivity right down and introduce a large deadzone, making it easier to locate the neutral spot and reducing the twitch factor – but you're still going to have a small issue of knowing what mouse position results in the steering input you'd like as all mouse positions feel the same. It's all stuff you could get used to, if you want.
But I want a joystick.

Home Is Where The Joypad Is

This is where your lateral controls are really needed
Hello gamepad! I know you're not my HOTAS but you're still far more suited to this than mouse and keyboard.
I think I might have a solution for my yaw-based shenanigans though. Pitch and roll only on left stick – like a normal joystick. Then vertical thrust and yaw on the right. Throttle is on RB and LB and, in flight, there is no lateral thrust. I don't think I'll need it. This system works out very well in open space.
Of course, I could have gone full FPS – put pitch and yaw on the right stick – maybe putting vertical thrust and roll on the left, but this will do for now.
Except for docking.
I miss my lateral control when docking. Okay, maybe not the docking part, but certainly the final landing bit, which seems to be where I do the most damage.
Thankfully, ol' Elite Dangerous has thought of this. There's a section in the control options that allow you to override things whilst in Landing Mode – ie: you have deployed your landing gear. This means that I can swap lateral thrust back in for yaw on the right stick and re-enable the roll into yaw at low input on the left. As I will only ever be in this mode inside a station or on final approach to an outpost, the fact that I have to modulate my left stick to introduce yaw at the expense of roll is okay.
It works like a charm and soon I'm zinging in and out of stations like it was second nature. Perhaps it's time to put it to the test and embark on a mission or two?

A Deal's A Deal

Let's stick with the cargo stuff for the time being. Some guy wants me to take 4 units of scrap somewhere. Simple enough. The stuff gets loaded and I make use of my new-found control comfort to blast out of the station at speed, even hitting the boost as I'm in the mail slot. I can only imagine outside observers marvelling at the aesthetic of this ship as it describes a glorious arc towards jump alignment straight out of the gate.
The mission is a doddle. Stuff delivered. Money paid. Let's grab another.
Slightly different deal.. This guy wants Fruit and Veg. I'm to go and find some and bring it back. I look on the Commodities page to see where this station normally imports from – Eravate. That's only a jump away. A cinch. I sign up and hit the Black once more.
Eravate doesn't have any Fruit and Veg for sale. At all. I check a couple of stations***. Nothing. Hmm. I hit up the galaxy map. What I'm looking for is an Agricultural system. Find one, but it's several jumps away. Never mind – multi-jump routes in this are nowhere near as tedious as Eve Online. I top up the fuel tanks and away I go.
Three or four jumps later and I begin to worry. My fuel is running low and I haven't jumped through a system with a station in for a while. I elect to stop at the next services.
But the next services aren't in the next system. Or the one after that. I have precisely one jump's worth of fuel remaining.
I drop into the next system and immediately hit up the navigation. Yes! A station! My tanks are merely fume containment devices. I cruise towards the station for a splash and dash...
And I'm being interdicted.
Really? Now? You do this to me now?
Cheeky little AI pilot even has the gall to DM me in supercruise. Even though I'm pounding the escape vector like there's no tomorrow, he's got me. We drop into real space. Fangs out! It's only a Sidewinder – which would explain how he was able to keep up with my moves - and with these new controls he doesn't stand a chance.
Actually, with these new controls and those gimballed Multicannons I fitted earlier, he doesn't stand a chance. In fact, I tear down his shields and am ripping through his hull when he decides to bug out. He boosts away, spinning up his FSD. When he jumps, he's down to 4% hull. So close!
So glad docking remains tricky
Back into supercruise and I make it to the station. Some spot repairs and a whole lot of fuel later and we're good to go.
I check the bulletin board. See if there's anything on offer that I can do on the way to the agricultural system. As luck would have it, someone wants some Scrap taken to a system right next to the one I'm going to. Why not? Doesn't make sense to be flying around with an empty cargo hold. Load it up mate – I'll drop it off on the way.
A couple of jumps out and I'm lining myself up when I spot a Signal Source. Maybe I'm still flushed with confidence after that last encounter or maybe it's the feeling that I didn't quite finish the job, but I decide to check it out and maybe go looking for trouble.
There's a guy here who wants to make a counter offer. Don't deliver the Scrap to where it's supposed to go. He'll pay good money if I take it to a station in this system instead. Hmm. Is Commander Bulk Paint the kind of guy who would go back on a deal?
Actually, after what happened the last time I stuck to my (literal) guns, yes. In the name of science, I decide to see what happens if I follow this arc instead. I find the station and hand over the goods. Job done. Money in the bank. Some bars move around to indicate the shifting political balance of power in this region. I have played a part in something. What, I'm not entirely sure, but I've done it.
Now, back to the task at hand – the search for Fruit and Veg. Nothing in this system, so I need to keep on moving.

Straight To The Source

I jump again and again I'm presented with an interesting Signal Source. Why not? That last one was pretty lucrative.
Sure enough, this one is similar. Some guy says it would be better if I didn't deliver that Fruit and Veg. Instead, why don't I just go back to Eravate and speak to his people. You know what? I haven't actually found any Fruit and / or Veg, so this does appeal to me...
I accept his offer. He laughs and departs. Not sinister at all.
I begin the journey back to Eravate. There's part of me that feels bad for going back on not one but two deals, but I feel I'll be able to turn it all around later in the game when I've got something other than this entirely disposable ship. Suddenly, everything lights up – I'm being interdicted again. I do a better job of evasion this time but still to no avail. I find myself dropped back into real space and staring at a Cobra MKIII intent on doing me harm. I boost to close the distance before he can get his hardpoints deployed and brought to bear whilst cracking open my own. After that, it's a simple matter to stay out of his firing solution whilst the multicannons do their work. It takes several full clips to down his shields. His chatter is filled with bravado, but it already feels futile. More bursts pepper his hull but the damage isn't enough to seal the deal. His shields come back on and he manages to get himself lined up for a burst. My shields hold – just. Wait: were those missiles? Not sure I should let them hit.
It continues like this for a while. A dance. A ballet. One protagonist, flitting and nimble. Unpredictable. Chaotic. Lancing and probing with stabbing arcs of tracer fire. The other, burly, stoic and with one hell of a right hook****.
Something has to give. Luckily for me, it's his hull. The Cobra erupts in flame and debris. My bank account erupts with a 20k bounty. 20K! That's more money than I've ever had in this game.
I make it back to Erevate with no further troubles and still buzzing from that encounter. It finally feels like I've made it. This is what Elite is all about. I get a report detailing the political ramifications of my actions – one faction's influence has increased at the expense of another. The factions themselves mean little to me – right now, but I'm sure that's something that will improve over time as I have a better idea of where my allegiance lies.

It's All In My Head

Something is bugging me though. Where those interdictions random acts of attempted piracy or a direct response to something I had done? There's part of me that thinks the underlying system is just reacting to me reneging on my contracts by sending out disgruntled allies to teach me a lesson. It may just be random chance, of course, but the narrative in my head has me being chased down by my former patron for stabbing him in the back which is far more satisfying. Post hoc ergo propter hoc*****, maybe, but more satisfying nevertheless.
It's like the difference between reading a book and watching a film. In a film, it's presented to you as-is. In a book, your mind fills in the blanks and, if you're lucky, will do a far better job than any film can.

* Apart from Magic Carpet.
** Physical feedback – the 'neutral' part of the desk feels just the same as everywhere else on the desk.
*** I have yet to work out whether or not commodity availability is on a per station or per system basis.
**** Pretty proud of that paragraph. I should write it down somewhere for the future...
***** Glib Latin phrases as well. I spoil you people sometimes.



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