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.

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