Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Elite Dangerous Space Bar - starting a second account.

Hey Space Cadets, what is going on?
I'm Cmdr TwingTwang and welcome to the space bar. In today's article I'll be reflecting on the undersung sidewinder. This is a story all about how my life got flipped - turned upside down. And I'd like to take a minute, sit right there, to tell you how I got my second space plane in the air.

I'll make no excuse, I didn't fly the infamous sidey for very long.  I traded up and got into a little ZP, where I could load sixteen tonnes and start turning a profit. I ran freight for a while and that set me on a long path as a Lakon owner. I used the wealth to buy a number of vipers, and I love taking my vulture out for a spin in a conflict zone but I've never been a "combat pilot".

The decision to start a second account has been a slow one, and on my mind for a while. I was disappointed that I couldn't start a second pilot on a normal account and the entitlement to play it my way was pretty strong. I haven't gone exploring yet because I play regular games with my crew and don't want to be gone for weeks unable to play socially.
At first, not having a second account was a relief - the huge time I put into grinding profits for just one ship was enough and the thought of doing that again wasn't attractive. But after a discussion with other pilots, I was ready to go.

So I started a new account so I've still got a way to fly with the fleet my main ship is off exploring the galaxy. And found myself at LHS 3447 in a stock sidewinder with a thousand credits to my new name.

Economy of Scale
The stock sidewinder mentality is very different to a high-tonnage hauler, and I went from rounding credits to the nearest million to counting hundreds, tens, and units. Every decision I make in this journey is going to affect my profit bottom line. A repair bill is now a big deal, however with no capacity to carry cargo and no currency to buy it there could be quicker profits to be had as a bounty hunter.
I've written posts about using a cheap sidewinder or ZP to start earning serious money running rare cargo across the galaxy, so I just need to spec that ship and claim some bounties.
The entry level rare runner ship needs a good range and a little cargo space.  I talked about entry level ships in my original Rare Runs article - and I'll be picking one of these and trying to follow my own advice on a simple straight route. I priced up the cheapest one around a little over 100K, which is my initial earnings target so I can get on my way.

Classy Class-E
After everything I've done, the starting sidewinder is long forgotten and its Class-E stylings and duracell laser pointers are barely even a memory now, and getting into it feels dis-empowering. But I screwed my balls on tight and plotted a course for the neighbouring conflict zone.

I've got to say the stock sidewinder doesn't fly very well, but I learnt a lot from its shortcomings and I'm armed with a little experience at outfitting ships.  The Class-E sidewinder is not not quick enough on the turn to stay safe and not fast enough on the boost to get out of trouble. You put all your chips in on every hand with this ship. When you commit to a fight you have to know - not fear - that it's going to be a fight to the death.

Play to your strengths
The sidewinder has to play to its strengths, few and far between as they may be.  In a rough and tumble fight there is only room for the quick and the dead, so you have to get in close to make your mark without getting tagged, and then spiral out to mid range to angle in for a new attack run. The sidewinder is a constant juggle of throttle and turn to stay out of fire arcs, and it keeps you on your toes. While this the same mechanical motions of flying a vulture, doing it as the underdog has a different feel entirely and even the slightest mistakes can really put you out of position.

Laser pointers
The next thing you notice in a Class-E ship is that the laser banks deplete straight away. Now my accuracy wasn't actually that bad. I didn't land every shot on target but did better than I expected with its pair of fixed forward E1 Pulse lasers, and the banks draining were a testament to me keeping my crosshair filled for decent durations.
But humble bragging aside, the laser banks will drain to nothing - hit or miss - and require a four-pip top up.  The most difficult moment in a sidey is when your enemies shields come back online - it feels like so much hard work down the drain and signifies another roll of the dice.  This I found a real problem with fixed-forward - The gimbals I've grown used to make it easier to finish off wounded ships, or to target modules like the shield generator or power plant.

Eggshell Shields
The tiny Class-E shields and tinfoil hull of the sidewinder don't do you any favours and both will be reduced to nothing after even a shot burst from a larger ship. A larger power coupling is a must to keep the shields and lasers topped up and once but even then not getting hit is your best strategy.

As long as you hug close to the ship shooting at you, you've got a good chance of being able to keep out of its fire arcs and keep those shields topped up. As soon as your shields get tickled, you've got to give them more pips before they flash and the constant energy management typifies the wing and a prayer combat feel of the sidewinder.

After a couple of trips to the conflict zone, I've upgraded my Power Distributor which felt like the most wanted component, and I've upped the shields too. I never had enough power for my shields, the weapons ran dry and I couldn't boost frequently.

The power distributor and shields are likely to take more upgrades too, followed by thrusters and weapons. I'd like gimbals and boosters for the shields too. One more trip out will fund a rare run, so my time in the sidewinder has all but come to an end.  Its been an educating time and I can claim with some confidence that I've played the underdog card. Not having the safety net of a hundred million credits has made this more real that I'd expected

I didn't have sidewinder nostalgia before today, and while I'll be very happy to get into a ship with a bit more punch, I won't take my vulture for granted having flown toe-to-toe against ships several times my size.

Until next time, fly casual.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Elite Dangerous Space Bar - Cobra Cosmetics

Hey space cadets, What is going on?
I'm Cmdr TwingTwang and welcome to the Space Bar

In this simple roundup we'll be looking at the Cobra Colours. I'm not going to detail different Cobra outfits - The final ship I flew was this Classic Cobra Outfit that we used on a recent Tourist Trip to Sol in advance of the upcoming Earth Day on April 22nd, 2015.

The serpent cobra is a professional looking two-tone design that really plays of the strength of the cobras iconic form factor. The strong diagonal lines mirror the wing shapes and compliment the design of the ship, and the dark trim and vents work really with the colours.

Available in a black body with bright red panelling or a two-tone yellow with dark panels the serpent cobra looks sleek and stylish. The coloured panelling displays subtle shifts in colour that help pick out the detail of the ship in close up inside the broad geometric shapes.  Its a tragedy that there aren't more serpent options, nor a serpent scheme available for other vessels as this would make a great fleet colour.

Both the broad base colour and flat panelling accept the pale decals very well, and present your rank with pride and purpose.

The red and yellow options both look good in a variety of lighting, although I found the yellow more versatile overall. With the only complaint I could level at the Serpent being that I wanted more, this is a paint scheme to look out for in the galaxy.

The rattler features a bold central racing stripe and is available in blue or orange.  While the Blue variant looks better in promo shots and in the store and its tones look just grand in the outfitters bay, the striking orange and white has more definition in game and looks cleaner under a larger variety of lighting conditions.

The cool racing stripes on the rattler look great, the clean flat areas accept decals well.  The blue rattler comes out better in this regard with the white decals accented with sky blue cutting a strong contrast to the blue body and black stripe.  The Orange rattler sports yellow decals that somehow lose clarity on both the orange body and white stripe.

Overall I think the orange rattler looks great in space, its got an industrial feel and looks great contrasting against bright suns of dark planets alike.

The Urban and Polar Camo patterns available for the cobra differ in style to the choice of Urban, Polar and Jungle camo paints for the Eagle and Sidewinder but can still be considered a single theme. I'm going to go ahead and say its a different artist on the Cobra, or at least a different brief, when this was put together.

Noteworthy here is that the cobra camo patterns are bespoke - the Urban and Polar patterns are different compared to the lowly Sidewinder where the same camo pattern has been cheaply recoloured to produce three products.  This additional attention to detail, along with the different palette of colours used sets the cobra camo aside.

The polar camo cobra includes black trim around all of the wing tips, vents and utility mounts and shows good attention to detail. While the promo shots provide a splash of colour, the gloss camo pattern doesn't really break up the outline of the ship and it becomes apparent that there is no practical purpose to the camo pattern - its there because camo is cool.

Decals appear a little out of place on the camo, although as observed its a decorative rather than practical camouflage pattern and the presence of the decals isn't too jarring. The decal colours don't stand out very strongly, although the white decals on the polar camo look a lot better than the pale metallic feel of the decals on the urban variant.

The short-lived onionhead is fresh punky design and the first paint pack to include custom decals, however its asymmetric design does little for the eye, doesn't respect the shape and contour of the classic cobra.  While its random paint-can style is initially eye-catching, its perfectly clean factory finish is a reminder that this "alternative" style is going to leave you identical to all of the other pilots who want to look different.

I don't like the colour, I don't like the way the base black is lost against the darkness of space and I don't like the poor decal placement.  For a pack that provides additional decals, I really wanted something that "goes together", but the provided decals don't have space to sit and be admired on the visually busy wings. Firstly one wing already contains a decal pattern, and neither wings have space to accept the lime colour decal with any clarity.

The pirate skin is another departure from symmetry, and while both the Camo and Ignition packs were asymmetrical and spanned several different ships, the Pirate scheme rightly claims the crown as the first faction paint.

The matte black and gloss red colours look good by themselves and the white skull motif, although a little squashed, complete the look and feel and compliments the colours.

The cobra stands out in being the only pirate ship with the Skull painted on the right side, making it a mirror image of its six counterparts.  This oversight jars me more than it should, and a simple mirror image of it would really help.  However, I have no intention of ever flying pirate colours so while that counts against the image, it's not going to make me less likely to fly it.

Lastly the decals are a disappointment on the vessel. Their placement isn't really respected by the black, red, or white areas of the ship and the blue colour is lost among the other patterns. Lack of pirate specific decals bring home that we are also missing Federal, Imperial and Alliance decals too but hopefully faction paints and decal sets for these are not far behind.

Like the Camo before it, the Ignition series spans both several ships and colour variants. This made it possible to fly a wing of different Ignition ships, so long as Sidewinders and Eagles are your style. The striking ignition patterns with its matte black to gloss red sunburst is also available in an all-gloss maroon and orange base, both with metallic flames.

The gunmatal trim finishes the scheme, and while its far from subtle the Ignition cobra looks good both docked or in flight.

The general badassary of the ignition patterns put it as a contender for my top pick. Both the orange and red base look good, both have great front gold decals although the wing decal spots are a a little visually busy with the flame. Its a minor complaint, but a little more clearance for the wing decals would have been appreciated.

Lastly, the vibrant cobras are available in six shades - Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Purple. Out of all of the other patterns, these look the worst in the store. In fact, the store and promo images look fairly poor. However, once on a ship they look surprisingly good and play to the strengths of the retro solid geometric roots of the game.

The trim and decals all work well with the vibrant paint packages and are tinted to match the overall colour.  There is subtly and variation in the design in different lighting conditions that doesn't show through on the storefront pictures. Unlike many of the other options the vibrant packs allow you to match your fleet together from the smallest sidewinder to largest lakon and everything in between.

Being able to match colours with other ships is a really strong selling point on the vibrant pack, and hopefully it paves the way for more cross-ship paint schemes that will really help to bring the galaxy to life.

And finally...
The cobra paints give the ship new life and form a link to the past and eye to the future of Elite. The Cobra is a versatile ship that is fun to outfit and fly, and with a choice of colours you can make it feel a little more your own. The development team were obviously listening when we asked for a set of paint schemes that looks the same across multiple ships, and here's hoping that the vibrant range gets complimented with Serpents, Ignition, Camo or other great faction designs so that we can fly in style.

I'm Cmdr TwingTwang, and this has been the space bar. What is your favourite ship and colour combination? Do you love the versatility of the Vibrant paint or hate its simplicity? If you got a ship, loadout or paint you'd like to see then drop me a line.
Please, like, favorite, +1, share and subscribe.  Until next time, fly casual.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Elite Dangerous Space Tourism - Sol

Hey space cadets, what is going on?
I'm Cmdr TwingTwang and welcome to the Sol tourist board!

I'm afraid I don't have any hard stories for you this week - its just some shots from a jaunt across the galaxy by some Alliance Pilots.  In this iconic journey we took the Classic Cobra detailed here and headed out for the second star to the right, linking together Elite, Frontier and Elite Dangerous in an old-meets-new retro revival.

This week we took a wing to Sol to see the sights.  The trip from Lave to Sol isn't that far and even a reasonable vessel can make it in a few jumps with a single stop to scoop fuel.

The box formation is a little difficult to hold steady, although we got by with only a couple of bumps and scrapes along the way.  Formation flying is useful and practical in a combat zone, but tight boxes like this are insane under the heat of fire.  We were kissing inches from each other to get everybody in shot, although looking at the picture we had loads of clearance.


Three of us in a wedge formation, gazing at a tiny blue marble we once called home. Holding the wedge formation is easier than the box, even with the Cobra restricted cockpit view.  Like a predator, the ships view is biased toward looking forward, but as long as the two wingmen are in the right position behind the leader then it all works well.

After earth, we took a trip to Mars High to sell the cargo holds full of rares we all carried - this was our way of paying for the trip - and then headed out to Jupiter.  The wing beacons and nav-lock system worked a treat for keeping us coordinated and while it could always do with some improvements, the few times we got interdicted we were able to drop in as a wing and sort out any trouble.

Jupiter looks weird no matter how you look at it.

Just how close can two Cobras get without touching? The answer, is VERY close indeed. We needn't have been so worried about the formation shots - there is loads of clearance between to Cobras.

Overall we learnt a lot, got a team route in over 100Ly jumping together, had a few interdictions, payed off my federal fines, took some good shots but had a huge amount of fun on our first Space Tourism trip around Sol.

The next trip will be more coordinated, and we'll probably take a couple of wings out for maneuvers to flex the Alliance Fleet a little and get some great formation flight practice in.

I'm Cmdr TwingTwang, Fly Casual everybody!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Elite Dangerous Rules of acquisition - Trade Wings

Hey space cadets, what is going on?
I'm CMDR TwingTwang and welcome to the Rules of Acquisition!

In this article we'll be talking about Trade Wings, and trying to break them down.  Formation flying has always been slower than jumping alone, and while the wings update really helped streamline the process there will always be a fleet management overhead.

The Wings update allows you to fly (up to four) ships together in a wing, and provide trade bonds as an incentive to trade together. When somebody in your wing makes a profitable sale, you get a trade bond worth 5% or that profit - the bonds can be cashed in for credits at the station.

However the reality of trade bonds is that they aren't the free money you'd think... 

I've flown a couple of trade wings to try and get an impression, and one thing that strikes me is coordination is key. For example, with my regular fleet, The XO is pretty slick at calling launch, charge, jump, etc... so we can trade with minimum delay.

However I  managed to fly in a pug wing with some other Type-9 Pilots. With three Fat-9 ships you'll be earning a free income of 5% from 1000T. While your exact results may vary, I'm going to run the numbers on 2000Cr/T at four trips an hour and say that each pilot is going to earn an extra 400,000 credits per hour just for being part of the wing. 
With a fourth T9 that would be about 600KCr/H, or on the other hand if that fourth ship were a fighter escort it'd earn 400K/Hour as a salary on top of any bounties it collected from blasting bad guys. Not a bad incentive.

I didn't stopwatch the run, which I will do next time. Its 10% extra income (up to 15% with four ships) but its slower to manage, especially with multiple jumps, and I'm not sure if it took more or less than 10% extra time to complete.  While my back-of-envelope calculations assume fifteen minutes for a long trip and twelve minutes for a short, fast run, leading to either exactly four or five trips an hour the reality is that a Type-9 Transport is going to be making well over a thousand credits per second and asking me to slow down - even by a little - is going to cost real amounts of money.

Like a Sixer or T7, the Fat-9 is going to benefit from the highest tonnage you have the courage for and running four 532T ships on the same route also risks rocking the market, driving the prices away from profitability and eating into your own profits as a victim of your own success.  To counter this, you'd have to have several routes and commodities planned, and either rotate evenly between them or run one until the margins drop and then switch.  Route planning is all the responsibility of the XO, but the entire wing have an interest in the best route.

So the crux of the matter for me is that trade bonds aren't a free money cash bonus,I don't know how many minutes per hour were lost to the wing, but between zero and six minutes the trade bond is a salary for coordinating a wing.  Above six minutes its a compensation for lost earnings.

Flying a wing is a lot of fun, you get great banter and a pug wing is a way to meet new pilots. Anything greater than five percent would probably be crazy, but wings probably benefit fighters more than they benefit traders at the moment.

I'm CMDR TwingTwang, if you've had some experience in a trade wing or want to get started playing with others, leave a comment, let me know and share your success, advice or thoughts. Please Like, +1, share, and let me know what you think of Wings.

Fly in a Casual wing.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Elite Dangerous Space Bar - Lakon Lessons.

Hey Space Cadets, what is going on?
I'm Cmdr TwingTwang and welcome to the Space Bar.

In this article we'll be looking at the freighter offerings from Lakon Spaceways. This isn't a complete outfitters so I won't be promoting a particular build, but I do want to highlight some of the strengths of different loadouts.  Since the Asp is a versatile ship in its own right, I'm going to save that for another day and it deserves its own article so here I'm going to focus on The Big Three.

The entry level freighter from Lakon Spaceways is the Sixer. Its a great, reliable transport and the most versatile of the three offerings.
A hundred tonnes makes it the largest small ship, almost twice the capacity of the Cobra whose 60T maximum gives sits in second place and the 1.2 - 1.4M Cr range is an incredibly cheap investment for the Million-Credits-Per-Hour freighting profits it will give you.

Stripped to bare metal and given a Class-A FSD the Sixer costs just under three Million credits and gets you a 112T internal capacity with a 19.1 - 30.3 Ly jump range.

Principally a mid-range freighter, being able to jump 30Ly when empty makes it an interesting choice for a long range galaxy hopper, and a contender for a cheap explorer.  Getting the same range out of an Asp will cost between twelve and fifteen million credits, so this really is an easy way for a new pilot to start exploring. You'll need all of the usual explorer gear, auto-repair etc.. to do this in a Sixer, and its not the most glamorous way to see the galaxy but it'll get new pilots into the void for a rock bottom price.

At 112T unshielded the Sixer is the smallest and fastest freighter able to boost at 350 clicks, making it the fifth fastest ship in the game with the Cobra, Viper, Clipper and Orca all managing to outrun it. This means its one of the few freighters that can steer clear of trouble, and its 3A Power supply can keep 3A shield generator with three Class-A Shield Boosters running which should protect your hide before you make a jump to safety, or you can add chaff in there too.
The value of speed is not to be misunderestimated, as its two small hardpoints are not going to see off any trouble. If you are trading in a Wing and are expecting to fight together, then Beam Lasers might help and anything with a Gimbals will increase your dps. I'm a fan of seeker missiles on freighters - you are unlikely to tip the balance with little laser pointers, but if the enemy ships shields drop you can unleash those hurting bombs and gain the upper hand.

I really enjoyed flying the Sixer as a freighter, which is a funny thing to say because you spend a lot of time in supercruise flying in a straight line. But the fun of it was optimising the route - The ship is a little slow on the turn its not that bad and has got a lot of pep. Coming in hot and launching fast was a lot of fun and I did a lot of stopwatch runs trying to shave every second off my trip time and maximise my profit margins. I learnt a lot about instrumenting profitability during my long stint in a Sixer and one of the big Lakon Lessons here is to fly fast and enjoy the little things.

Its long range, high speed and low price make it a rare running option too. You can hop across the galaxy in a rares loop, wheeling and dealing with the best of them and you should be able to make as much or more on rares than you do with commodities.

The price difference between the Type-6 and the aspirational Asp is in the ten million range and at one million an hour you are likely to spend a long time in the Lakons spacious cockpit if you want to trade up to a better ship. Get used to it.

Lakon Spaceways entry into large-capacity trading is the Type-Seven transport.  The price break between the six and seven is huge and its twenty million price tag seems overwhelming at first.

The first Lakon Lesson from the T7 is that nobody buys one because they want to fly it. Its a huge investment that often results in pilots selling their smaller ships to afford it, and buyers remorse is more common that you think.  Bottom line, the middle-child of Lakon Spaceways is something you buy because you are saving for a Python, or one of the big Imperial or Federal ships.
Maybe you are doing it to fund a smaller ship, maybe you are a dedicated trader wanting to pilot a Type-9, but its very rare that the Type-7 is the end-goal for even a space truckers ambition.

The most important lesson I learnt from the T7 was to save money for insurance. When I first hit twenty million I sunk it into this ship and headed for the stars.  My first trip out was fine, and paid for a couple of ship upgrades that meant the second trip was under the insurance bracket - but its such a big earner I didn't mind.  Sadly, I lost the lot and had to start the game from a Sidewinder again.

So really the Type seven taught me patience. I had to play from nothing back up to everything, and every moment aware at the credits that I'd lost.  After crashing a Type Seven, I learnt patience and just a little humility.

But the T7 picks up where the Sixer left off and a bare metal refit provides you with a 232T vessel that'll make an impressive 17.4 - 25.8 Ly and cost you a slice over 23M Cr.

Allocating 1.2M for insurance (twice) and 9K/T cargo costs you'll need to have a clean 28M Cr to your name before you buy a T7. You can just about get by on 26M if you run a smaller cargo hold and only hold one insurance claim in cash - but if you claim it you are left flying without insurance which can end badly.

Four small hardpoints and size-5 shields can give the T7 some protection as part of a convoy, and I'd like to draw your attention to quad-linked dumbfire missiles.  I've you've ever been tickled by dumbfires you'll know what it feels like and can turn the tide in a fight if you can get a good line of fire. Otherwise, quad-beams aren't so bad, and gimbals are a snap at 75K each. Turrets will cost you half a million each, and two million feels expensive given your plan is to never fire them, but if I was re-equipping a T7 now, I'd be considering the big guns.

The T7 doesn't have the speed of the Sixer and you can't outrun trouble. It's going to hit about 300 clicks on the boost and there are LOTS of ships that will carve their name in your thrusters as you try to escape.  Adding chaff and mines will help your cause, and your best bet is to submit to the interdiction and jump system.

The first rule of acquisition is maximise your profit-per-hour and the big Fat-9 from Lakon is the king of the spaceways when it comes to shifting cargo.

Unlike the T7, the big Fat-9 feels less like a temporary ship and more like a way of life. Its a flying space-slug, for sure. It only flies in a straight line and doesn't do that very quickly.  In fact, there is little to like about the Fat-9.

From the Type-9 I learned that I can push my way in - or out - of the mail slot at a station and everybody else just has to get out of my way.  When it comes to momentum, size does matter and you can dock when you want to dock... just slowly.  Apologies to the Cmdrs that I scraped, and my heart goes out to the NPC sidewinder that was trying to launch and I just pushed back into the station.  the Type-9 is an elephant in many senses of the word.

A true workhorse of the shipping lanes, Lakon have provided us with a huge vessel that maxes out at 532T and will give you 12 - 16.9 Ly at this capacity for just over 96 Million Credits.  Add an extra 10M for twice the insurance and 5M for cargo costs and you are looking at a minimum spend of 110M before you are flying.

You can buy a 532T Fat-9 with a 9.8Ly range for just a smidgeon under 100M credits, by skimping on the frame shift drive, and reduce that to 95T if you only hold enough for one insurance payout.

The total spend on the ship comes to 250M Cr. if you decide to Class-A everything, and a ship this size has no shortage of upgrade options. I'm only scratching the surface, but find myself buying the odd piece here and there.

Which brings us to the Last Lakon Lesson Learned. While true for the smaller two ships, the type-nine has really taught me that there is no shortage of upgrades to buy, and you can spend a long time at the outfitters clocking up an expensive loadout bill.  In all things moderation - for the Fat-9 like the T7 and Sixer before it I'd recommend starting off by only buying upgrades that increase your income, and leaving the rest in the bank.

I haven't flown my T9 with less than twice the insurance cost yet, and don't intend to. Its a ship I'll put a few hours in here and there to fund my other jaunts - but now I've got it my days as a freighter captain are entering a new twilight phase.

What have you learnt most from the ships you fly? Did you power through the Lakons are have you chosen to remain a fighter or explorer for now?
I'm Cmdr TwingTwang, and this has been a trip to the Space Bar. Like, share, subscribe and Fly Casual!