Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Elite Dangerous: #SoloOfflineGate

Who'd have thunk it that Braben was a fan of DRM?
Well, the signs were there apparently.
Seriously, what is up with all the things suffixed in Gate recently?

I've avoided blogging about Elite: Dangerous, and probably will do a review of the current build at some point this month. It's actually not a bad game, albeit one that still feels empty, unbalanced in places (piracy, exploration and mining are just not worth the time compared to trading and bounty hunting) and a little repetitive.

Frontier Developments announced, via an offhand mention in the 49th newsletter, a mere month before release, that Elite: Dangerous would not support offline play. This upset a lot of the backers, who, as fans of the original games, are apparently outside of the usual internet-obsessed demographic. Somehow these poor deluded fellows gotten the idea that the game would support offline play, just as Elite, Elite 2: Frontier and Frontier: First Encounters had done. I just don't know how they got that idea...

(and references continued in forum posts up until 4 days ago).

I backed E:D at the early bird digital price of £20, before being tempted by Beta and Expansion passes when footage from the game was released. I'd reservations from the very start of Elite: Dangerous's Kickstarter as Frontier seemed to be taking cues from the EA school of game publishing. The Kickstarter was not particularly well run in my view, being empty of any non-textual content initially, and the cost of the some of the perks seemed absurd - with in-game rewards such as starting with ships up for grabs. Other absurdly highly priced perks included  the £60 'DRM Free' Boxed edition, £90 for the Deluxe Boxed Edition, £500 for a model of the Cobra Mk III). Later the EULA mentioned dynamic advertising in-game (some space stations have fictional corporate adverts around them that could be easily retextured to include ads for Coke, Pepsi or Wonga.com). Lastly, and most irksomly, the inevitable microtransactions like the £2-£10 textures for your ships began to appear in the Elite store that apparently aren't included in the Expansion pass. Such as this 'bargain'...

Game - £20. Texture - £10.
Did I mention the game has no external camera so you can see your ship yet?
Or that the Viper's default hyperdrive capability is broken, making it a risky in-game purchase.

Personally I haven't seen much gameplay enhanced by the online servers during my Beta playing. While seeing other Commanders occasionally is fun the economy is a lot less predictable than in earlier Elites. I've turned up at stations whose major imports are allegedly medicines to discover, presumably because of other players, they do not need any medicine. Not exactly a 'feature', and real-time stock exchange data is not available in-game. Earlier builds were terminably slow if you selected Open Play. Routine transactions such as buying cargo need to be approved on the server, leading to absurd occurences where I've not been able to buy things in space dock due to either my connection or the server's being less than perfect.

A lot of the time when the servers were laggy and I sat reading a web article while the hyperspace animation played endlessly I often thought, "Well at least the offline version of this will be almost instantaneous." Silly me.

I'm lucky. I have a relatively stable internet connection so I will still be playing. However I'm not a big fan of the online-only model. I fail to understand why similar games in 1984, 1993 and 1995 did not require a client-server model while E:D does. This may be because I've clearly not experienced these new online features that will, presumably, appear on launch. However not everyone is so lucky, and some people are requesting a refund. Including, possibly, one backer who pledged £5000. I hope he gets it all back frankly.

Saturday 22nd November is Elite Dangerous's launch party in Cambridge (ticket available from the Elite: Dangerous store for the kingly fee of £50 naturally). I wasn't planning on paying it much attention but with many of the backers in the community up in flames I'm looking forward to seeing the Twitch footage to see if it is the main topic of the evening or censored.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Dr Stu on Doctor Who

With Season 8 of Doctor Who over it's time to give my thoughts.

Capaldi is a great Doctor and a departure from the often seemingly identical user-friendly personas that Doctors 9, 10 and 11 have had.

Coleman as Clara, she does a reasonable job, though as with most nu-Who companions is written with too much spunk and too little fear of the scenarios that unfold (such as when she managed to temporarily persuade a group of Cybermen she was the Doctor. Quite why this did not end with the coldly logical response of, "If you are the Doctor, you will regenerate from this near fatal shock... bzzzttt" I don't know). That said, as with Tennant, I look forward to Capaldi getting a companion that was cast with him in mind. I'd also love to get beyond the 21st Century London girl companion. By now in the original series we were seeing companions like Jamie, Zoe, Romana and Leela.

I felt the scripting in this season has been somewhat weak in places. Season 8 seemed to repeat scenarios from earlier episodes, which is worrying given this show is supposed to be able to go anywhere and anywhen. I'm not saying all the episodes were carbon clones of earlier ones, but it still seemed quite pronounced. Most aggredious of this is The Caretaker, which like School Reunion felt like a child's show set in an BBC Exec's PC view of what an urban London School should be like. Again, a show that can go anywhere in time and space and we've had 2 episodes set in a high school in London.

Of particular note:-

Deep Breath - elements of this episode were a retread of Moffat's infinitely superior The Girl in the Fireplace. I found the coincidence that the Pompadour's sister ship would have a near-identical malfunction lazy writing in the extreme. Largely this is the B-plot to the episode though.

Into the Dalek - the whole captured Dalek-in-chains scenario was done in Dalek back in Season 1.

Robots of Sherwood - nearly every episode the Doctor meets and "inspires" a historical figure. They really need to tone down these number of these episodes or humanity won't be able to cross the road without the Doctor.

Listen - Some elements of RTD's Midnight. I'm stretching with this one.

Mummy on the Orient Express - this was cribbed from the ending of Season 5. Plus the Orient Express in Space, remind you of I dunno, the Titanic in Space? The whole "contemporary-reference but in space" is getting a bit worn thin.

The Caretaker - the Doctor goes undercover in a London High School and the alien menace takes a back seat to relationship shennanigans. Now where have I seen this?

The Finale - Arguably Moffat's most RTD style finale so far, with a worldwide invasion of the Cybermen, whom no-one remembers from Doomsday in Season 2.

Deep Breath - not as solid a relaunch as the 11th Hour, this seemed to meander for me and it took a while for Capaldi to tone down the Matt Smith impressions. 3/5

Into the Dalek - despite starting off like Season 1's Dalek a very solid start for the new less-accessible Doctor we have. 4/5

Robots of Sherwood - Childish rubbish. Seriously, can we tone down the smug post-modern celebrity episodes. This was as medieval as Martin Lawerence in Black Knight. 0/5

Listen - Solid Spooky Moffat. 4/5

Time Heist - Excellent outing that suits the 12th Doctor's callous exterior well. A truly original episode for once (even if it did slightly remind me of Big Finish's 8th Doctor outing Grand Theft Cosmos). 5/5

The Caretaker - School Reunion 2. Except with Danny Pink on springs instead of Sarah-Jane. If I wanted to hang around high schools, I'd either have become a teacher or been arrested by now. 2/5

Kill the Moon - Science, common sense and the American constution take a back-seat for a reasonable ethical dilemma. 2.5/5

Mummy on the Orient Express - A great outing for Capaldi where his apparent callousness pays off again. Oh and apparently someone called Foxes was in this for 2 seconds to make it kewl for the kids. 5/5

Flatline -  A pretty good episode with an original idea for a baddy. 3/5

In the Forest of the Night - Has all the elements I love about Doctor Who - more coverage of life in school, child actors fresh off a CBBC set, the power of love trumping science and the people of Earth apparently forgetting all the weirdness they just witnessed. 0/5

The Mistress Duology - I'm not a big fan of changing the Master's gender, nor of the way post-Delgado Who seems to portray the Master - more Joker, less Lex Luthor. Gomez, who I've loved since the Blue Wing, however is more believable than John Simms ever was (not that I blame John Simms acting chops). However this was reasonable, if a somewhat convoluted finale with some silliness, like making the Doctor President of Earth or noting, "Hey the Cybermen can fly. Quick, let's all get in a plane. I hope they don't attack us in the air!" 3/5

All in all, a reasonable season but I worry poor Moffat is running low on ideas.