Continued From

An ISS Captain peered round the corner of the door, laser pistol in hand. He acknowledged Border and holstered his weapon before pulling out a scanner. Two junior officers appeared behind him in the doorway. As he viewed the screen of his device it spoke – “Border, Jaxon, recognised; bounty hunter co-opted to assist ISS in this sector.” “Clone, 22nd in series, Anson, non-resident; possible suspect in crime.” It stopped speaking. The Captain waved it over Jenckque’s body in an irritated fashion – “Damned thing – must be on the blink!” then, pointing to one of his subordinates – “You read the victim!”

The young officer took on a bemused look as his scanner also registered nothing. “Captain Hoathe” Border interjected – “Perhaps the two bodies down the corridor?” Hoathe nodded and turning to leave prompted his team “Don’t let the Clone leave – probably our man!” I didn’t protest – this was Border’s show and I felt I could trust him to see me right. Border turned to me – “You’re sure that’s your friend Jenckque? No mistake?” “He’s changed a lot but I guess I’m sure that’s him… I recognised his voice.” Border frowned – “He’s not appearing on the Citraxx system – I’m not reading him either – even dead he should be there!”

A new face appeared at the door – glasses held in place by an extended forefinger… “Hi Jaxon… Chief finished in here yet?” Border shook his head – “He’s having scanner problems and he’s checking the two down the corridor.” “Damn – clear weapons fire Terminates… should be straight forward.” Said the doctor – “those two down there yours?” Border nodded – “they were shooting when I arrived – I didn’t have much choice!” – He said, grimacing, and the doctor looked back down the corridor as the Captain started making his way back.

“This is damned stupid – those two don’t exist either…!” He waved his tablet around for all to see – “What the hell’s going on Border?” “John, I think someone has erased these from the Citraxx system.” Captain Hoathe stared at Border – “You’re givin’ me crap…” He said. “Do you have another explanation?” asked Border. “Have you scanned these bodies Border?” “No, but I did tag the two down the corridor a day or so back – got their info on my tablet. I’ll pass it to you – just watch out for overwrites. Those guys existed yesterday!” After a minute or so Hoathe looked at the files – “That’s amazin’ – These guys aren’t real… they’re angels and they’re shooting?” “Where do you fit in and who’s this?” he said, finally involving me in the investigation!

“I was waiting here for my friend…” I said, pointing to Jenckque’s body. Border caught my eye with a quick shake of the head – (don’t tell too much). “Just came down to my quarters and these guys started shooting at us!” Hoathe looked at me carefully – “I guess that’s the truth then – or you’ve spent too much time with Border!” He broke into a smile… “Don’t leave the station until I give the ok. I probably want the full story from the pair of you tomorrow after the autopsies have been done. Doc, All yours!”
“C’mon,” said Border “You need a beer and somewhere else to sleep.” We wandered off to Dayzee’s.

British (English) Monarchs have required The Royal Navy (along with other Commonwealth navies) to present the fleet for review on important dates during their reign. The first ‘Spithead’ reviews took place in the Medieval period when England sailed to war against France. Henry V’s review was the first to be recorded but somehow slipped from the pages of Shakespeare’s play! Because of the difficulty involved these reviews occur infrequently and are often tied to events such as visits by important foreign dignitaries or in commemoration of past victories such as the recently celebrated Battle of the Atlantic.

I thought I’d hold my own Spithead review of the active vessels in my Elite fleet. And I present each of those in current active service for you to review 🙂

HumouristMy Cobra mkIII named Humourist. The story behind the name is a bit complex. Humourist was a Horse that won the Epsom Derby in 1921. Tragically he died not long after from the effects of undetected tuberculosis. In line with its naming policies, the LNER named one of its Gresley A3 pacific locomotives Humourist after the race horse. My Grandfather would tell you these were fine machines as he drove them. I chose the name for my fictional ship in a story that I started writing prior to Elite Dangerous – see The Delivery. It seemed only natural that my first newly purchased ship in the new Elite should take on the name. And it reflects the character of the Cobra mkIII – a real joker. She is a jack-of-all-trades and very good at a lot of them with speed as her key attribute. Interdicted by a pirate she can fight well or run very well. Her only limitation is her size which limits her trading ability. Despite my doubts about her suitability I currently have her fitted out as a mining vessel – that speed comes in handy when pirates attack and the max load of 32 tons means you don’t die of boredom!

Redgauntlet_05Redgauntlet – My Vulture. The ship looks like a mailed fist and fights in the same way. The name Gauntlet would have fitted well, but as a Scotsman’s son it had to be Redgauntlet from the works of Sir Walter Scott. I have run this ship as a multi-role vessel and found her capable of doing light cargo and courier missions. Fast and very manoeuvrable she looks after herself well against most ships regardless of size. After initially using her in that multirole mode, I’ve rebuilt her to what she should be – a space superiority fighter and she can kill just about anything out there – just don’t be tempted to try tackling three well armed Anaconda’s on your own though!

Rosefinch climbing away from the rings of SWOIWNS HV-D C2 12Rosefinch is a Diamondback Explorer. Not as manoeuvrable as the Diamondback Scout she gives a bit more flexibility allowing, as the type name suggests, long range exploration. I’ve used her for that role and also for exploration and fast courier missions within human space where the risk of pirates is greater. She is another ship that can run or fight – a large pulse laser can do a lot of damage to an opponent’s shields and the twin multi-cannons rip hull very well. With a surface reconnaissance vehicle on board she has the ability to perform additional mission roles. I chose the name because she makes me think of a small bird as painted by a cubist and the colour is a subtle pink.

Dark of Night departing Bruce's Folly, Maiden SystemDark of Night is my Cobra mkIV. I love the way this ship is hated by so many other pilots… In my experience she can run (slowly), fight well when the target isn’t too fast and shift 48T of freight whilst carrying two surface vehicles. She’s also a joy to land on planets away from bases. The name came from the free colour scheme provided by FDev on Black Friday which I think suits this vessel very well.

Nyati docked at Rich OrbitalMy latest addition to fleet. Nyati is a Lakon T6. The first vessel that I have bought since the Vulture that is really aimed at a single role. This ship is a trader and I’ve equipped her to run when attacked. She’s the only ship in my fleet to carry heat sinks, chaff and ecm to protect her from attacks from pirates. She looks like a rounded house-brick and handles as you’d expect – leave lots of time to slow down for a landing. The Lakon T series ships tend to be referred to as Space Cows so I chose to name mine Nyati – That is Buffalo in Shona.

I play my computer games using mouse and keyboard – at least I have done up till now. In the majority of games I play the mouse is ideal. It was working fine for me in Elite Dangerous – that was until an xBox player posted that they were changing over to a brand new PC setup and sought advice about Joysticks. The conversation was very constructive with lots of advice from the PC members of the community about Joystick options. It got me thinking about whether I too should be getting a Joystick and, whether my gameplay (for that read Combat ability) would improve as a result.

I have owned a Joystick before – back in the late 1990’s. It was a good one that translated vibrations to the stick – Ideal for flying aircraft in Flight Simulator, or so I thought. Sadly, at the time I was flying real aeroplanes and things didn’t feel right. For one thing the Joystick was Right Handed and could not be adapted for LH use (Fixed wing pilots of any non-single seat light aircraft fly from the LH side of the Cockpit and use the left hand to fly the aeroplane). Can’t blame the ‘stick manufacturer for that though – the market was with ‘imitation’ fighter jet pilots who’d never checked a propeller for nicks in their lives and wouldn’t know! 😉

The other issue was landing a light aircraft in the simulator world… There’s one thing that was very difficult to do in computer games back then – it was important to simulate how real textures look to the Pilot. I was taught that on final approach to land, while I’m watching the runway ahead, I’m looking for those blades of grass in my peripheral vision to become distinct – to become individual blades of grass! When they do, it’s time to flare and get the aircraft into a landing attitude. That worked fine for me in the real world for 15 years. Never looked right in flight sims though. So – putting the history lesson away… I chose to get a Joystick for use with Elite Dangerous. After all… there ain’t a lot of grass out there on the planets and most of our flying takes us between stations.

What have I bought? There are a lot of Joystick and throttle options out there ranging from a few pounds for a joystick alone to hundreds of pounds for a full suite of controls including stick, throttle and peddles. I opted for the Thrustmaster T Flight Hotas X. It is a joystick and throttle combo and comes in at the surprisingly low price of around £35 in the UK. A lot of players on the Elite Forum recommended it as a good starting option and given that the next credible option is the Saitek x52 at £110, it seems a sensible choice for people like myself that don’t know whether they will use a stick in the long term or for those who have only a single use requirement.

Before making my choice though, I did some research amongst the youTube posters who play Elite Dangerous. My favourite of these is AdoredTV – a braw bonnie Scotsman whose honesty is evidenced him happily showing his disasters in game. I love his approach to explaining things for beginners and seasoned veterans alike! Check out his Mouse to Hotas Video. If you follow the breadcrumbs in youTube you’ll find his review too. But this is my review… Hopefully, as a fellow Mouse to Hotas player I can be equally honest!

The Hotas X arrives in a large square box which seems a bit odd as the shape of joystick and throttle together (as pictured in the adverts) ought to be vaguely rectangular – turns out that in transit they are packed one above the other which is handy because I can’t see a reason why you’d want to permanently fix them together just 6 inches apart for gaming purposes! After you unpack the box you find space on your desk… Sorry, that should read, you dump all the junk off your desk in the hope you can find space for your new joystick/throttle! The size of these items (and it applies to all gaming joysticks) is a real estate issue – better apply for planning permission before buying 😉 It’s a joy to set up… Just plug into a USB port and it’s ready to go. Updated drivers and a manual are available from the Thrustmaster website. From this point I have to be specific to Elite Dangerous – I don’t doubt it will work well for Fighter Jockey’s in Flight Sim.

In the Controls section of Elite the presence of the Thrustmaster Hotas X is automatically detected and is offered as an option in the controller dropdown. It sets up most single button things for you but check that your previous mouse/keyboard options are as you expect – L for example becomes Lights rather than Landing Gear. It won’t be long before you want to change some of the default settings – for example the power distributor buttons or perhaps you’d prefer the landing gear to be controlled from a button on the throttle control? Be careful… Changing the settings often results in loss of the main control settings so you may find after a change that pitch or roll have stopped responding to joystick input! So, check all the settings after you make a change in case any of the ones you didn’t mean to change have been lost. Once you are happy, it’s time to go and fly.

If you are a Mouse and Keyboard player… it’s shock time! Suddenly you have no fine control, or so it feels and your ship turns slower than a supertanker  The game hasn’t changed. Your ship still has the same rate of turn it’s just that you don’t have the instant control you once had! If you think about it – moving a mouse a few millimetres compared with pushing/pulling a stick several centimetres is quite a difference. Just docking in the beginning is a new learning experience – I suddenly understood why some new players facepalm stations with their ships though I avoided the embarrassment of doing so myself! Using the Joystick feels precise whilst simultaneously feeling like herding elephants… what a contradiction in terms and feelings!

Combat… I killed the first NPC that attacked me but, it took me ages and it was very hard work. It was a Diamondback and I’d have killed it under two minutes when using the mouse – despite flying one of the least combat worthy ships in the game (Cobra IV)! I lost the canopy in the fight and couldn’t land at the nearest station because… you’ve guessed it… Landing gear had not been assigned to a key and by the time I resolved that the Oxygen gave out and the ship destructed. I ran back home to HR 783 asap after the insurance buy back and parked up Roth Hub – that was a ‘fun’ experience – see note above re: Docking!

At this point I decided I’d had enough – not going to risk flying a ship that costs KCr500 to replace. I treated myself to a Hauler for tuition purposes – Only 2K2Cr per loss – that’s better! Guess what… Never lost it once and started to get to grips with controlling the ship via the stick. Swapped over to the Vulture a few flights later and getting better all the time. Even so – I still can’t easily shoot a sidewinder or an eagle using fixed weapons – just can’t seem to keep them in my sights long enough, which I could with a mouse! Now I’m back in the Cobra IV and feeling a bit more confident. Combat is still a bad thing compared with Mouse flying.

That’s my experience so far. Given the comparison with Mouse flying, why would you want to use a Joystick? I guess the reason is Immersion – flying with a stick just seems more real for most people. I certainly noted that there has been a greater feeling of involvement since starting using the Hotas X. The greater risk of death from interdictions and difficulty handling them has increased my joy of the game – it is supposed to be Dangerous after all! I guess that I didn’t expect that effect from buying a joystick though 😉

There is another ‘therapeutic’ effect from using the Hotas X. I get mid/lower back pains. Sitting too long in a computer chair tends to start the mid-back pain. Using the Joystick is forcing me to sit in a more upright posture while gaming… Guess what… No mid-back pain!!! Aww Shucks! – Doesn’t work for the lower back pain though 😉

The stick is a ‘joy’ to use and I’m pleased I decided to buy it. I suspect that my ability to fly well with it in combat will improve with practice. I’m just glad that there ain’t no grass to line up with in Space otherwise I could make a fool of myself 😉 There are certainly better Joystick / Throttle combinations out there but you get what you pay for (with certain caveats). The more expensive options generally appear to give more buttons to press rather than improved feel unless you go for really expensive choices. As an example of the more expensive Thrustmaster do a joy/throttle combination based on the USAF A10 Warthog and I suspect that is the Bees knees – just way outside of my budget! Initial experience tells me that the budget priced T Flight Hotas X is exceptional value and a great starting point for those of us new to Joystick control.