Elite Dangerous

Back in the mid-80’s, I played the original version of Elite. To describe the game as ground-breaking is to significantly underestimate its impact.

Elite, 1984 screenshot
Elite 1984 screenshot

So, when one of the authors of the 1984 version announced he was publishing a sequel for the 21st century, I jumped on board. I was one of the premium beta supporters back in 2014, paying an insane $150 US for the revamped game. And I have to say, I don’t regret it at all.

Elite Dangerous screenshot
Elite Dangerous screenshot

I’m not going to do a detailed review of the game. For that, I’d direct you to ArsTechnica’s writeup, or perhaps to the Zero Punctuation video. Instead, I’m going to try to explain (or justify?) why I keep playing the game.

Yahtzee describes the game as “a bit of space trucking”, and that’s pretty much right on the mark. Very much key to the game is that you are not the most important person in the galaxy. You are just a space pilot. That’s it. One of thousands. You can choose your path, you can earn your elite status, but whatever you do, you’ll just be one space pilot out of thousands. There are brief moments of excitement, but long periods of contentment. And I enjoy that. I mean, I love games like the Mass Effect series, but there’s something relaxing about being just a small cog in a big universe, just trying to make your way.

What really completes the experience is my combination of my Oculus Rift, my GTX 1080 to drive the graphics, and my Saitek X-55 HOTAS setup. With these, I feel like I’m sitting inside my cockpit, actually in outer space, actually living the life of a space pilot. It’s not even so much the 3D as the sense of presence. I can look around and see the inside of my ship. I can land on a planet and watch the sun rise. I can sit a few light seconds away from a star, collecting fuel. I can just go out exploring. Sometimes, the views take my breath away.

Saitek X-55 Rhino HOTAS
Saitek X-55 Rhino HOTAS

I’ve done hundreds of missions. I’ve helped out the Federation in their ongoing conflicts with the evil Empire. I’ve traded. I’ve fought for my life. I’ve smuggled goods. I’ve explored. The game is massively larger than it was when I started playing it, two years ago, and it’s continuing to grow. It’s not for everyone. It’s probably not for normal people. But if you want to live the life of a mostly-anonymous space pilot, it really is the best damn spaceship game I’ve ever played.

My Computer – 2016

What better place to start this blog than a survey of my computer hardware? So, here’s what I’m running for my desktop computer in 2016Q3. Most of the hardware was purchased in 2013; I figure it’ll do for another year or two.

CPU: Intel Core i7-4770, Haswell. My previous computer was an i7-920 (Nehalem). This was a fairly substantial upgrade while using less power.

CPU cooler: I don’t recall the aftermarket cooler. My guess is it’s a Coolermaster Hyper 212 EVO, but I could well be mistaken on that.

Motherboard: Gigabyte Z87X-UD5H. I like the Gigabyte motherboards for their dual-BIOS chips. EVGA would be another strong contender.

RAM: 32 GB of DDR3. I don’t remember the brand. I spend a lot of my workday inside a virtual machine so 16 GB would be a bit constraining. You never want to be short of RAM, but this would probably be overkill for most people, even today.

SSD: Samsung 840 series, 500 GB. Since I bought this, SSDs have made major strides. These days, I’d go with a 1TB drive and look seriously at the NVMe interface.

Mechanical drive: Western Digital Black 3TB. Also, another WD 3TB and a Seagate 8 TB drive, both hooked up via USB for backup duties (of my desktop but also my NAS).

GPU: EVGA GTX 1080 SC. This was a wonderful upgrade to my old Radeon HD 6970.

Monitors: Dell 30″ U3011, 2560 x 1600. This is getting a bit long in the tooth. I like the size and the resolution, though. Dell 27″ U2713HM, 2560 x 1440. Decent for a secondary monitor but a bit small for a primary.

Keyboard: Coolermaster Quick Fire Pro mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Brown switches. Appropriately clicky.

Mouse: Logitech Performance Mouse MX.

Power Supply: I can’t remember what power supply I have. I’m pretty sure it’s an 850 Watt supply and I know it’s rated at 80 Plus Platinum.

HOTAS: Saitek X-55 Rhino HOTAS. This appears to have been replaced by the X-56. I really love my X-55. Makes Elite Dangerous lots of fun.

VR: Oculus Rift. I probably need to do several blog posts on the Rift. Why I went for that instead of the HTC Vive, the good and the bad of VR in 2016, etc. Really, though, I bought this so I could feel like I’m sitting in a spaceship in Elite Dangerous. And it delivers.

USB: So, I ran out of USB resources. My motherboard provides a number of USB2 and USB3 connectors and I had a couple of hubs. I ended up having to get a PCIe USB card which Belarc Advisor claims is made by ASMedia.

UPS: I have a couple of the CyberPower CP850PFCLCD PFC Sinewave 850VA which I really like for the LCD readout. I also have a cheaper CyberPower model without the LCD readout. Three UPS’s? Yes. Total overkill, but I have a lot of devices to plug in.

OS: Windows 10. I significantly prefer the UI in Windows 7, but Windows 10 has enough improvements behind the scenes to justify the upgrade. DirectX 12 alone is probably enough to force the upgrade.

Alternate OS: I also run Debian 8 inside a VMWare Workstation Pro environment. This is for work. I’ve run all kinds of Linux distributions, stretching back to 1994. I ended up with Debian 8 because it’s sufficiently close to our production environment and sufficiently updated to run as a desktop OS.