Sunday, January 30, 2011

‘Explosive Information’

Freedom's Force from the rear. Nice view.
The preceding story mission was:

The following story mission is: ‘Mutilator On Lustra’

The first story mission in a new system. If you don’t get a little thrill of anticipation from that thought then you may as well stop playing. This launches the Mizar storyline off in an unexpected direction (literally) and reintroduces a beloved enemy.

It’s more story than mission but that’s okay. After struggling through ‘Rise of Vendetta’, ‘Turret Threat’, ‘Project Detonation’ and ‘Operation Liberation’, it was refreshing to get through this at the first attempt. In fact it felt almost indecent, and who doesn’t love a little indecency.

You’re told that the artifact was sent here to a Dr Copernicus, and that you need to try and find him. This might be the first you’ve heard of this. I don’t like the fact that you can get to this story mission straight from ‘Operation Liberation’, bypassing ‘Imminent Detonation’ and ‘To The Mizar System’. Hardly an outrage but such plot holes niggle me. Anyway you get down to the surface and discover that the much lauded forests of Baumer seem to be missing. You are given an area to search, with the warning that the ‘Mantis are tough’.

After looking around the marked area for a while, a second much smaller one is identified. The Mantis are indeed tough and you’re probably still in a Gemini ship, so it would be best to stay out of trouble. Keep your finger on the Afterburner. While getting to this second area you come across some Baumerian Fighters in nicely camouflaged ships. Around here you will also find Ethan Copernicus, the son of Doctor Copernicus. You may well fall foul of a Death Squad here, but if so don’t panic as the Baumerians are capable warriors. Just stay behind them and add your guns to the fight, remembering to steal any loot that appears.

Ethan will tell you that his father is dead, tortured to death by Vicius the Mutilator. Then Natassia Ivanova lets it drop that you captured Vicius, who is now held prisoner on Terasa. This turns out to be the eponymous Explosive Information, as on hearing it Ethan swears to kill the Mutilator and launches into orbit. Blabbermouth Natassia sends you off to stop him, or at least stop him getting killed.

So you’ve just set foot on Mizar and now you have to jump back two systems to Terassa. Once on the surface you have to escort Ethan on his way to the Carl Sagan laboratory. He’s got a nice ship, named Freedom’s Force, and there are just the standard Terassa Mantis hanging around so there’s not much risk of getting podded. Once at Carl Sagan then the sticky stuff hits the fan.

Ethan gets to Vicius. How? Never mind, obviously we don’t need to know. Instead of getting killed, the Mutilator convinces Ethan that his father is still alive and held captive on the Mantis home world. Ethan brings him aboard the Freedom’s Force, but then Vicius overpowers him and takes over the ship. I started blasting at him without effect, but then realised that I was supposed to collect a pod. Turns out Vicius chucked Ethan out of his ship. Once you’ve picked Ethan up he explains what happened while the mutilator does a runner.

So that’s mission over. You are mostly a spectator but it’s a nice introduction to a new story arc. I was in a storm and you could probably be in any ship, but a tank might be best just to keep you alive. Enjoy it because I’m sure things get harder from here on.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cheating? Or Paying Your Way?

Freebooter - Another name for a Pirate and a posh font
I find myself considering the rights and wrongs of the various boosters, memberships and charges available for purchase in Pirate Galaxy. Is it right to pay for an item that will give you an advantage in the game, or is that cheating? On the other hand is it fair to keep playing the game without paying, effectively free loading off SplitScreen's hard work and the financial contributions of others?

PG is a game created by a private company in order to generate profit, not a charity. If no one paid for gold to acquire the various items than there would be no PG for us to play. Playing for free while trying the game out only makes sense, and if you’re an occasional player why pay £34.99/month for just 2 hours at weekends?

So is it fair to be a hard-core player putting in 20+ hours a week without contributing financially? Yes. PG claims to be, and is, free to play. Their aim is to reel you in with a quality gaming experience so you are prepared to pay, to get an edge over the game or other players. If they haven’t convinced you to put your hand in your pocket then that’s their failure. It’s not like you’re pirating or hacking the game.

If you are prepared to pay, how do you feel about boosters for Firepower or Blue Prints for example? These give you an undeniable advantage in the game, along with Cryonite Protectors, Clan Size boosters and of course the Ueber Hack Pack. You can’t call these cheating because SplitScreen creates and encourages their use. You may argue that the game is balanced to make non-payers find it frustratingly hard, designed to be played with a little boost here and there generating honest profit for the company.

If you like, the freebooters are playing the game on the ‘Hard’ setting, while those who use boosters are playing in the ‘Standard’ mode. Perhaps those who get the Ueber Hack Pack are on ‘Easy’ and those who are shepherded through the systems by a clan are in cheat mode.

What if you want to contribute financially in order to secure the future of PG but still want to play in ‘Hard’ mode? Simple, there are items you can buy that don’t give you an in-game advantage. Fancy having a ship that glows blue? Buy an Ion skin. Maybe you wish you’d named your pilot Steve Zodiac rather than Nigel_1987, if so buy a Rename Pack.

One final question. Do Energy Boosters and Memberships give you a playing advantage? I admit to having used Energy Boosters to get me over the line in a couple of particularly tough Story Missions, so in those cases yes. If however you use Energy Boosters and Memberships to avoid the tedious collection of E, then you’re doing it to spend more of your game time having fun. Very occasionally your E runs out in a mission but that’s rare. In a PVP fight someone usually wins before the E is gone. Maybe in Conquests it is more of an advantage, but who cares about Conquests anyway?

At the moment you can buy 105,000 gold for £86.07, and you can get Ultimate Membership for 66,000 gold. This means that for £54.10 you can use all of your items, Hyperjump across the systems, and repair your ships for Zero Energy. That sounds very tempting now I’ve worked it out. You’ll be helping to make sure that PG keeps going by making it worth SplitScreen's while, and best of all you won’t be cheating.

Friday, January 14, 2011

'Interplanetary Travel'

The preceding story mission was: ‘Speedy Escape Strategy’

The following story mission is: ‘Facilitating Corruption’

Now you’ve got an Afterburner it’s time to try a little space travel. Nothing too taxing, just down to the shops and back really.

Jake Rattenbury tells you that the cargo you picked up in ‘Ore Smuggling’ needs to be delivered to Axiom. Bill Darius helps you use the star map, though he annoyingly doesn’t explain that use of the F8 key brings it up without having to click on the Nav-comp. You then get your first view of the Vega system, perhaps your first view of any system in PG. It does give you a good idea of the scale of the game, up to this point you’ve just seen the orbit and square surface map of Kalabesh.

Now you have to send off your first probe to explore the route to Axiom. Thankfully it only costs 5 crystals and takes 2 minutes so it’s not a great hardship. Once the route is explored you can make the jump. I love interplanetary travel. The visuals are great and there is a nice feeling of speed and stress on the ship. This is a short trip but usually this is where I check the ladder, clan notice board, profile messages etc. Good for a Pinkle Pause too, as our German friends say.

So you enter the orbit of another planet and you get to see Axiom’s red orb burning beneath you. Nice change from Kalabesh. When I arrived at Axiom I gained enough experience to reach Level 4. I noticed that my energy cap hadn’t increased, still at 1,000.

And that’s it. If you manage to stuff that up then I’d love to know how. 24 crystals for old rope, even if you have to spend 5 to get them. This approach does introduce you to interplanetary travel earlier on in the game compared to the old Vega system. That may be a smart move if impatient players felt restricted on Vega 2 early on.

So now you’re at the home planet of the Colonial Administration (Boo!) and the next task is to go down and deliver the ore canisters. Maybe the real action is about to start.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Loot System

Split Screen has posted on the forum their plans for a significant change to the loot system. Read the post here.

There’s been some discussion on the forum about it, for and against. It’s hard to judge when you haven’t seen it. But what’s the point of having your own blog if you don’t speculate wildly.

First of all, does the existing system need changing? There’s speculation among players that the change is to address imbalance in the Draconis system. Maybe. I’d love to see a poll of Draconis level players on if they’re happy or not. There’s lots of moaning on the forum but any community has a vocal group of dissenters. Have player numbers gone up, dropped or stayed steady? Has SlipStream’s income risen? Maybe I should look at the corporate site to see if there’s any data.

For me I can only speak from experience at Gemini, Antares and Vega. I don’t see any need for the Cryonite drop rate to be changed. When you get to a new system you usually have to grind hard to get the ships and armour, but what do you expect? It takes a bit of dedication and focus but is doable. The existing system works fine for me.

Blue Prints is a different matter. In my career I’ve only come across 2 rares, but there are many players who seem to do much better. With the frequency being so rare and only one Blue Print needed for a weapon, it’s to be expected that there will be a lot of variation between players. Some will kill a 1,000 Mantis and still be waiting, while another pilot could get 2 rares from just 50. It’s this variation that winds people up. There has to be some random element but one that is more consistent between players.

If I understand the proposal correctly, there’s a bigger chance of getting BPs but you need more than 1 to get a fully functioning piece of equipment. If the BPs for an item are identical i.e. not split into sub components such as barrel, targeting system, power supply etc, then it should work. If they are sub components then it would be worse, as you may collect 5 BPs of all but one component of a Remington Kill-o-Zap 357 Blaster, not being able to find the BP for the curly lead. If all of the Remington BPs are identical and you just need a certain number of them then it should even out the luck between players. Cryonite has a more frequent and lower drop value than BPs and no players complain about other players being more lucky, just about the time it takes to collect a certain number.

There are other changes coming in such as a higher energy cap (hmmm, why?), ‘ignore’ list (hooray!), hover in place (good), new log in process (we’ll see) and a few others. They are planed for the 26th January update. Get ready for the howls of protest in the forum as this goes live.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

‘Operation Liberation’

Podded again
The preceding story mission was: ‘Project Detonation’

The following story mission is: ‘Imminent Detonation’ or
'Explosive Information'

This is a biggy that is sure to frustrate many a player. It certainly annoyed me before I completed it, as I posted here. You need a squad for this one which is the first hold up. However the recent change to the chat so it to covers the entire system makes this easier. I have my clan The Ghost Warriors to thanks for getting me through. Pirates UKiller, Borgh and Housedevil all joined together and we made it.

This mission is where Isaak in The Vendetta attempts to rescue the prisoners, including hopefully his wife, held in the floating cages. You are advised to split your force into two, one to create a diversion while the other escorts Isaak. I’ve taken part in both forces and in the successful attempt I was protecting The Vendetta.

The diversionary force is given a group of targets at a set location to destroy. There’s 11 or so tough mantis there of various types so be prepared for a hard fight. A timer starts as you are on the way there, giving you 5 minutes to kill them which seems impossible. Luckily it turns out that you only have to get to 54% of the total before the evil Lord Fam Doom comes out of his hole to give you a kicking. After that the timer stops and the task is to destroy Doom’s ship. If you can do this then you get the Astrogation Chip that unlocks Mizar. He’s a tough blighter but two or three Storms or Tanks can take him out.

While all of this fun was going on I was escorting The Vendetta, which at first seems quite easy. A few Mantis take shots at him but he has the sense to stay on route, not like in Rise Of Vendetta, and he can withstand quite a pounding. His rockets are formidable so he has teeth too. Further on in the journey the Mantis show up in greater numbers, enough to put me in my pod. Ukiller was with me but he had his hands full so I had to resurrect, as the journey from the Hangar would have taken too long. I had to cash in some gold to buy an energy boost which is sort of cheating, but the only gold I have is that awarded to me by SlipStream for free so I don’t feel too guilty.

So I got myself back up and running then chased after The Vendetta again. The fight with Lord Doom was well underway by now, but my clan mates seemed to be handling it okay. Isaak was showing some damage by the time I caught up with him but he was mostly okay. I escorted him into one of the tunnels and got fried by a group of Pyros. Back in the pod again. I cashed in some more gold and tried to catch up again with The Vendetta. By now he was at about 50% damage so I was starting to worry.

It’s always darkest just before dawn, so they say, and it was at that point that the colonists arrive on the scene, presumably in their powered up ships. They take over the escort of The Vendetta back to Prosperous, leaving you to join in the fight with Lord Fam Doom. In my case the rest of my squadron had destroyed his ship by now so the mission was complete. Magic.

I think that if you can stay with The Vendetta and keep yourself alive, or keep resurrecting as I did, then you are taking some of the pressure off Isaak. He’s tough enough to take severe punishment and dish it out too. The diversionary force has to get to its 54% within the 5 minute countdown at the same time. This is a tough mission but not as bad as it first looks.

The mission ends with the happy news that Sara was amongst the prisoners and has been reunited with her beloved Isaak. Aww!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year, New System

In the early hours of December 31st 2010, I entered the Mizar system at long last.


How I got there is a bit of a bugger’s muddle. I managed to get in a squad taking on ‘Operation Liberation’, the climax of the Gemini story in which you free the prisoners and defeat Lord Fan Doom. I have to thank Duintje88, Rinstroem, Sweet and YodaYoda who were part of the squad with me, plus fellow Ghost Warrior UKillerwho gave fire support from outside the mission.

Our first attempt was a failure, so we tried again and put most of our force into the attack/diversionary group. This went reasonably well and we eventually killed all of the targets we were assigned. We then wasted Fan Doom’s ride which causes him to drop an Astro-Navigation chip, unlocking the Mizar system.

‘Result’ we all thought, but then the mission seemed to simply stall at 91% complete.  Whatever we did the mission wouldn’t finish. We searched Technatoria and found two stray prison pods which we destroyed, but still no completion. I suspect that the Vendetta was destroyed before it collected all of the prison pods, but the mission didn’t then fail as you’d expect.

Eventually I had to log off, but not before noticing that I had access to the Mizar system even though we hadn’t completed ‘Operation liberation’. I suppose the story logic makes sense, we got the chip even if the Vendetta was destroyed. What spoils the theory that SlipStream planned for this possible scenario is that once I entered the Mizar system I was awarded the Gemini Story Completed achievement. This is despite the fact that ‘Operation Liberation’ still shows up as my next story mission and there’s two more to complete after that. I think that once you enter Mizar the game assumes that you’ve completed all of the Gemini story missions.

Of course I jumped to Mizar and started exploring straight away. First stop was the Star Base so I could look at the shiny new ships that I couldn’t afford. Then I explored to Baumar where I found the first story mission of the system, ‘Explosive Information’, ready and waiting. I decided not to try it as it just seemed wrong to do so while I still had yellow missions in Gemini. This resolve may soon crumble if I get hung up on 'Operation Liberation' too long.
Afterwards I went back to Technatoria and made sure that ‘Operation Liberation’ was still there, which it was. I could of course just ignore it and throw myself into Mizar but that’s just not me. Now I have to keep an eye out for others who need this mission while grinding towards the 7,494 crystals I need for the Mizar Tank. There are still white missions and PVE achievements in Gemini to keep me busy. I’m still irritated though and should raise a bug report, though they may then take Mizar access off me. Still it will improve the game for other players so I’ll do it anyway. How noble of me.

Incidentally I was bitching about all of this to Lool, a reader and commenter on this blog. One of Lool's ships has a snowflake pattern, won during one of the Christmas invasions. Very nice and I'm jealous. It almost made we want to hang around for one of the invasions which I've haven't experienced yet. I'm probably out of time though as we're into 2011 now. The Christmas invasion, snowballs, santa skull etc. are nice and festive but haven't grabbed my imagination overmuch. Nice idea though. I hope SlipStream keep up the seasonal events.

Finally I'd just like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. Enjoy Pirate Galaxy whatever your involvement, and may your 2011 be  festooned with Cryonite and filled with the shattered hulks of your enemies.