BallisticNG: My Impressions

As a latecomer to the WipEout franchise of anti-gravity racing video games, I was born too late to play the earlier games. To my surprise, it may not be too late since BallisticNG by Neognosis is available on Steam.

BallisticNG 8_01_2018 8_59_09 PM

Lining up at the back of the grid at Marina Rush. From here, the only way is up. The spectators get a great view from the glass-clad art gallery, or the viewing pods.

BallisticNG bears a strong resemblance to Wip3out in terms of graphics and gameplay. It is developed by a small group of enthusiastic developers. It was originally free to play, but the increasing workload of development meant that it has transitioned to a paid game (only $6.29 NZD). I can understand the motivation for doing this and I was only too happy to re-purchase the game to support the developers.

Let’s start with the positives:

  • Despite the similarities to Wip3out, the ships and tracks are original and satisfying to race in their own special way. My favourite track is Arrivon XI (video by developer Vonsnake), which has a very fast, twisty downhill, followed by a sharp turn with a narrow exit. It’s very rewarding to get this bit right. My favourite ship is the Nexus, which is essentially a fast FEISAR.
  • The pick-up items have some great features, such as firing missiles backwards, and a shield that deploys automatically if you are attacked while carrying a shield pick-up. The autopilot also includes a shield and will stay engaged during corners so it won’t timeout in an awkward position.
  • The BNG modding scene is very healthy, there are lots of great fan-made ships and tracks that have been added to the Steam workshop. These include ports of WipEout ships. And nary a microtransaction or loot box in sight!
  • The unique soundtrack is great and adds to the atmosphere.
  • The game loads very quickly and my computer runs very quietly when the game is running, in part because the graphical processing requirements are quite low.
  • The custom races are highly adaptable. There are a range of speed classes to challenge all types of player, different levels of AI difficulty. I especially like the ability to set extra AI, and extra laps. Two different physics models are available: 2159 which is like the older games, while 2280 is reminiscent of WipEout Pure and WipEout Pulse. There’s something for everyone.
  • The drag ships and tracks are a creative addition where ships race at supersonic speeds around large open circuits (with great sonic boom sound effects). I prefer to do drag mode with 2280 physics since wall contacts are much softer, but there is the risk of falling off the track.

BallisticNG 9_01_2018 8_48_18 PM

Going for a supersonic stroll through the Lujiazui Park track in Shanghai. The buildings in the background are (L to R): Shanghai Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, Jin Mao Tower.

Speaking of walls, here are my criticisms:

  • Wall contacts are very unforgiving with 2159 physics. You can scrape along the walls with no problem, except for the awful sound it makes, however collisions send the ship ricocheting between the barriers, eating away precious shield strength. This problem is infuriating in the drag ships and needs to be corrected.
  • The 2280 physics mode includes more forgiving wall collisions, but this is outweighed by being able to go through walls and fall off the track. The ship is stationary when it respawns; I would prefer that ships respawn at speed so that you can carry on without losing too much time. Even better, make it so that the ship CAN’T GO THROUGH FUCKING WALLS!
  • The campaign includes mirrored tracks. I can’t stand mirrored or reversed tracks!  It’s really confusing to learn a track one way, only to have to race it in another way.
  • Energy walls launched by opponents are really frustrating and disrupt the fast flow of the game, I would prefer them to be removed from the game.
  • The AI in the Campaign mode are all over the place. In the knockout modes, the AI is far too powerful and I’m unable to complete these challenges in hard mode.
  • For the 1 lap 1v1 races, I’ve found that you need to get in front very quickly and the AI will fall behind you. If you don’t, then it rockets ahead into the distance. Use the shield draining speed boost at the start to get the upper hand. Be prepared to restart these challenges a lot.
  • In the endurance races, the AI is unbeatable for the first 5-6 laps, but you can then reel them in the last few laps. While this is a very nice turtle/rabbit story, it’s quite unrealistic. If I can maintain a steady pace for 10 laps, why shouldn’t the AI?
  • For 2159 physics,  you get a boosted start if the throttle is at ~75% when you start the race. Since the AI get this automatically, I think the boosted start should be standard.

While there are a lot of criticisms (mostly to do with the campaign mode, and wall contacts (or the lack of them in some cases)), BNG is still an enjoyable game when you set it up to your liking. It’s still in early access, so there are still changes that will be made. In particular, wall collisions need to be made more forgiving. If you’re adept with the WipEout games, interested in AG racing on the PC, and looking for something that’s quick to load up and get racing, then I can highly recommend BallisticNG to you.

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Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis: My Impressions

A while back, I had dinner with an old friend who works in the Wellington beltway. He had recently gained a small amount of publicity for a study into the then government’s 90 day “fire at will” employment policy. The Tories sold this to the public under the guise that it would create jobs by encouraging employers to take a chance on people.

My friend’s research showed that the policy failed to increase the hiring of workers. We then joked about how then Prime Minister John Key tried to dismiss his findings by  using anecdotal evidence!

I also remarked that it was fascinating that academic economic research tended to support many left-wing policy viewpoints in contrast to the right-wing framing of concepts presented at the level of ECON101. I saw it as a sign of the validity of the political left, much to the amusement of my friend who would never deal in such broad generalities.

This attitude explains my interest in Yanis Varoufakis, the academic economist-turned Greek Minister of Finance following the 2015 election victory of the left-wing SYRIZA party. In principle, having an academic as a government minister to implement evidence-based policy is ideal. Varoufakis’ 2017 book, titled Adults in the Room explores his time as Minister of Finance, and reveals that things aren’t so simple.

The book makes clear the horror of the debt repayment/austerity regime imposed by the EC/ECB/IMF troika. Austerity has eliminated Greece’s ability to repay its debts, and despite the sacrifices made by the Greek people, the repayment bill keeps growing. As Minister of Finance, Varoufakis seeks to reverse this disastrous course of action. But he has an almighty struggle ahead against intransigent EU functionaries.

Perhaps Compromise isn’t so Bad After All…

Moderation and compromise formed the backbone of Varoufakis’ negotiation strategy with the troika. However, he was clear to highlight the difference between compromise and being compromised. When the troika refused to budge, the answer was not to make more concessions, but to be prepared to proceed with a deterrent preferable to staying in the debtor’s prison.

This approach simultaneously confirms and challenges my uncompromising attitude to politics. I now appreciate that compromises may be necessary as part of reaching a very specific end goal. Similarly, I felt vindicated in my belief that genuine compromise with authoritarians is impossible since total acquiescence is what they are looking for. Credible threats against their own interests are required to progress.

Varoufakis knew this and had a strategy in place to haircut SMP bonds held by the ECB, a move that would have legal ramifications for the ECB in its attempt to save the Euro by purchasing debt. A parallel currency would also be introduced to buy time should Greek banks close. Varoufakis has a great capacity for self-reflection and even identified when he should have put this plan into action (following the teleconference ambush on 24 February 2015).

We Haven’t had Enough of Experts!

The strength of having an academic as Minister of Finance was evident in some of the innovative plans that Varoufakis drew up to counter tax evasion, contingencies in the event of Grexit and reassuring Chinese investment in the Port of Piraeus.

If Varoufakis represents one side of the expertise coin, then the other Eurogroup ministers, the ECB, and the IMF belong on the other side. As I see it, these functionaries were able to mask their lack of expertise by stonewalling, or by instantly dismissing all of Varoufakis’ proposals.

Some interesting examples of troika incompetence include the German double act of Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble. Schäuble is impervious to reason, sees Grexit as inevitable, and ultimately wants the troika in France. Merkel is more focused on progress being seen to be made and makes disjointed interventions for the sake of seeing progress. She was able to win the confidence of Prime Minister Tsipras, which eventually caused SYRIZA to surrender to the troika.

Varoufakis relays one instance which beggars belief. The troika used the outputs from an economic model to justify their demands for austerity (in this case increasing VAT). The problem was that they failed to account for price elasticities. A superior model was developed by Varoufakis’ team that incorporated this assumption, arguing that VAT should be reduced to discourage tax evasion. Of course, it’s not enough to be correct when you are arguing with the troika and Greece was imposed with a VAT rate that made its tourism sector less competitive at a time where tourism revenues are crucial to the Greek economy.

Whose Side is the Troika on?

The demands that Greece should prioritise debt repayments over pension payments to it’s citizens, and the Bank of Greece engineering a bank run in anticipation of SYRIZA’s election win were just two examples to show that the troika was not on the side of the Greek people. The troika’s loyalites are made clear when one spectacular act of economic self harm was committed following Varoufakis’ resignation:

To combat the endemic tax evasion that was hindering Greece’s recovery, Varoufakis introduced a scheme where electronic transactions were analysed to flag up undeclared income. Following Varoufakis’ resignation, the MoU for a third bailout loan included the elimination of the algorithmic hunt for evasion, which was about to net billions in revenue for the Greek government.

Hanlon’s razor comes to mind: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. Given that the counterproductive actions of the troika always benefit the Greek oligarchy at the expense of European citizens, it is fair to describe the troika as not only incompetent, but also malicious.

Summarising Thoughts

Even though Varoufakis is no longer an MP, he is still campaigning to bring about constructive change as a co-founder of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25, which regular commenter Old Deuteronomy has mentioned before). Opposing the ascendant far-right does not require alignment with an uncaring establishment, instead left-leaning collectives such as DiEM25 offer a participatory approach for citizens to reclaim the dignity of all their European compatriots. Adults in the Room perfectly illustrates the need to take action to secure economic and social justice for Europe.

 

 

 

Gambling in Games: Some Hope for the Future

Not long after I expressed my irritation about the random number generator (RNG) based gameplay in Elite Dangerous, the video game world was shocked by the release of Star Wars: Battlefront II. The game consisted of opening loot boxes with the possibility of  unlocking more powerful characters. Accessing loot boxes could be done either by spending a lot of time playing, or by purchasing more loot boxes with real money.

This was a slap in the face to gamers considering the price of the base game. EA’s attempts at damage control were a spectacular failure, they have since backed down and removed microtransactions (for now).

The whole affair caught the interest of regulators in Belgium, The Netherlands, Hawaii and Victoria, to name a few. The aspiration to ban loot boxes from the European Union by the Belgian Minister of Justice is particularly encouraging. It is a refreshing change from the prevailing viewpoint by regulatory agencies that loot boxes are not gambling, such as the ESRB, PEGI, and New Zealand’s OFLC.

Of course PEGI’s retrograde viewpoint on this issue comes as no surprise, I finally heard back from them following my complaint about the Engineers in Elite Dangerous (their bold):

the moving images must “encourage and/or teach the use of games of chance that are played/carried out as a traditional means of gambling”. This refers to types of betting or gambling for money that is normally played/carried out in casinos, gambling halls, racetracks. This does not cover games where betting or gambling is simply part of the general storyline. The game must actually teach the player how to gamble or bet and/or encourage the player to want to gamble or bet for money in real life. For example, this will include games that teach the player how to play card games that are usually played for money or how to play the odds in horse racing.
Elite Dangerous does not contain content that would trigger a PEGI gambling.

This definition is too narrow. Of course Elite Dangerous isn’t going to contain traditional gambling, it’s set in space 1300 years in the future! To me, it’s clear that PEGI isn’t that keen on protecting the public.

This comes as no surprise when one considers PEGI’s owners are the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE). The ISFE represents the interest of software companies, including members such as Activision, EA, SEGA, and Ubisoft. How can we trust a ratings agency created by the software industry to put the interests of consumers before those of their backers? As their response to the loot box saga shows, we can’t.

The IFSE sees PEGI as little more than window-dressing by working “to counteract negative connotations or moral panic“. It’s insulting that gamers concerns about quality gameplay and extortionate economic practices are dismissed as a moral panic. As I have commented before (in the context of television broadcast standards), self-regulation doesn’t work. Self-regulation didn’t stop loot boxes in Japan. Leaving it to PEGI and the ESRB won’t stop them either, there’s money to be made!

While the efforts of the aforementioned politicians are important steps in removing loot boxes from our games, people power still has an effect. Disney, the owners of the Star Wars IP, were allegedly concerned about trending memes associating “family-friendly” Disney with gambling (a brilliant strategy move) and may have had a role in canning the microtransactions. It’s important that society continues to let game developers know who is in charge.

Regarding Elite Dangerous, Frontier has revealed their plans for revising Engineers. I am broadly happy with it, it is more deterministic in the outcome and players have the choice of special effects. I am not too concerned with the progression, it’s better than gambling and material trading should soften the tedium of the grind. Bring on the Q1 update!

To conclude, fuck PEGI and the corporate interests who bankroll it. Public opinion is firmly against loot boxes and RNG gameplay; the sophistry about how it isn’t gambling hasn’t fooled anyone. Politicians around the world are taking action seeking to end the scourge of gambling in video games. My own complaint may have come to naught, but there’s a lot to be hopeful about.

 

Paradise Papers Reveal Absurdity of GST

As if the Panama Papers weren’t enough, we have had more information about the barely legal and unethical dealings of the super-wealthy following the release of the Paradise Papers. Much of the focus has been about how individuals and corporations with the help of tax havens are able to structure their affairs to minimise their tax bills. In effect, they are stealing from taxpayers who bear an undue brunt of the cost for keeping their respective governments functioning.

This scandal has largely gone unnoticed in New Zealand because the corporate media is too busy recapping events in reality TV shows such as Couples Spend More Money Than Anticipated on Ego Projects, and  Ignorant White People Discover That Arranged Marriages Aren’t That Great After All. So I’ll need to turn to international media again. The Guardian is the most prominent Anglophone newspaper that has covered the Paradise Papers and has put out too many articles to cover in any great detail, but I would like to discuss one that particularly caught my attention:

2017 Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton avoided paying up to £3.3 million of VAT (value added tax, known as GST in New Zealand) when importing a Bombardier private jet. The jet was made to look like it was available for charter, by doing so VAT can be claimed against the purchase and running costs associated with business operations. VAT can not be reclaimed when jet was used for leisure purposes. Depending on the breakdown of business and leisure travel, Hamilton may have been required to pay a proportion of the £3.3 million in VAT.

My disdain for the wealthy avoiding taxes is not limited just to Hamilton, but to everyone who has been caught out in the Paradise Papers. If you want to live in a civilised society, someone has to pay for it. It is only logical that those with the most wealth are liable for most of the taxation levied by governments. The quality of life of the majority of the population suffers when governments are not able to provide high quality services such as education, healthcare, and security.

Furthermore, the wealthy are only wealthy because of public infrastructure, an educated and healthy workforce, state-funded research and enforced intellectual property laws. Were it not for strong and effective government, they could not have achieved what they have been able to do. It is in their best interest to support government, and that means paying taxes. Weak arguments such as “the government would just waste money anyway” are just shallow excuses made by sad individuals trying to allay their guilt.

Of course it one thing to insist that the rich should pay their full amount of taxes voluntarily, but no one listens to me. Instead it is up to governments to close down the loopholes in the law that have been exploited. What I find interesting about Lewis Hamilton’s case is that he was able to avoid VAT, a consumption tax like GST.

GST has been defended by neoliberals because it was seen as “simple”, “efficient” and “hard to avoid”. The Paradise Papers have shown that all of these arguments are a complete sham. GST is nothing more than a regressive ideological act of faith that puts more pressure on ordinary people while allowing for the rich to become richer. Even worse, there are mechanisms which allow wealthy people to actively avoid GST on big-ticket purchases!

Governments are largely paying lip-service to the idea that something must be done, but don’t expect the oligarch-funded centre-right to do anything about it. Meaningful change starts by electing solid left/centre-left candidates to national office. It’s encouraging to see Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn come out against the practices highlighted in the Paradise Papers. The British government should also intervene in their overseas territories to harmonise the tax structure within the UK. That action alone would close so many loopholes featured in the Paradise Papers.

It’s vital to the long-term welfare of our society that it is properly funded by those who have the ability to fund it, who also happen to be those who have benefited the most from it.

I am Shocked, Shocked to Find That Gambling is Going on in the Engineers’ Workshops!

Having slogged through the stellar-dilute space far above the galactic plane while playing Elite Dangerous with my 52 LY Asp Explorer, I purchased an Anaconda with the aim of configuring it for an even higher jump range. Other players have reported jump ranges in the high 60s, I could do with that.

To get that far, one needs the Horizons expansion and needs to play the Engineers (update 2.1). The Engineers are a small group of characters littered across the Bubble who can modify ship modules to alter their performance (note that I used the word alter, not necessarily improve). The associated gameplay is objectively poor, engineers are unlocked by employing the services of other engineers and doing some mind-numbing tasks. Each modification requires the player to provide materials to trigger the random generation of new properties for the module (rolls for short).

Wait, did you say random? Yes that’s right: random. To modify a module to your liking, you may need to trigger the modification generation many times, costing you more materials each time. These materials are time-consuming and boring to collect. It comes as no surprise that Engineers is vehemently disliked by the Elite Dangerous playerbase. Other objections include:

(1) It was broken. For a while, there was a bug where players could get a powerful Grade 5 roll for the low cost of a Grade 1 roll, meaning that it was easier to get strong modifications since materials were easier to collect. This was largely kept as a secret among players and was widely used by griefers to engineer their ships. Crooked mods were even used to influence the outcome of an in-game event that would form the basis of a Frontier-sanctioned novel.

Like all secrets, it got out eventually and Frontier were able to remove all crooked modifications. I enjoyed the impotent outrage disseminated by the cheaters. It is nonetheless disappointing that a broken system, exploited by deplorables to ruin the experience of the game for decent people was allowed to persist for so long.

(2) It commits the logical fallacy of false balance. In order to pretend that The Engineers is a sophisticated piece of game design, a modification to a module will include benefits and drawbacks. Consider extending the range of an FSD for example: Improved optimised mass (usually) comes at the expense of power draw and integrity. Subsequently, I will get bad rolls where the optimised mass is lower than my existing modification, but with better integrity and power draw metrics.

Here’s the problem: I don’t give a damn about integrity or power draw, I just want the highest optimised mass so that my ship can jump as far as possible. Thus, many of my materials are wasted on modifications that are of no use to me.

(3) The outcomes are unclear. If one is extending the range of their FSD, they may want to know what the range will be once a modification is applied. Optimised mass, actual mass and max fuel per jump all matter and combine in a way that is hard to quantify. No new jump range information is given, you need to figure that out yourself. Not good enough Frontier.

Frontier has finally cottoned on to the awfulness of the Engineers. As part of the post-Horizons Beyond expansion, the Engineers will be revised. In Q1 2018, each successive roll will be an improvement upon the preceding roll.

This change is not fast enough, it could be up to 5 months away. I can’t see why it should take so long. I would suggest that instead of randomly generating an effect with a pseudo-random number generator, the effect should be generated using the equation that describes a first-order step response. Here, the independent variable is the number of rolls. The time constant could then be set to a certain number of rolls. Figure 1 shows the case when the time constant is equal to 1 roll.

Ideal Engineers Graph

Figure 1. Proposed function for generating an effect in Engineers.

In the example given above, I would only need to do five rolls to get the maximum optimised mass out of my FSD. Similar (decreasing) profiles would exist for negative effects. I would also know what the outcome would be prior to the roll, allowing me to make an informed decision about whether I want to spend time unlocking an Engineer and collecting materials.

These changes would reduce the fatigue associated with overuse of the Engineers mechanic and save me the grief of rejecting modifications which aren’t an improvement on the last roll. The reduced variability in modified modules would also make the game a more level playing field for player vs player (PVP) interactions.

Protesting the Age Rating

I decided to have a go at forcing Frontier to change Engineers now by protesting the age classification rating provided by PEGI. Horizons is currently rated PEGI 7 with depictions of implied violence. No mention of gambling at all. If Frontier wants to keep Horizons at PEGI 7, then Engineers must be changed (or removed).

As part of the rating process, publishers complete a questionnaire where they self-assess the nature of the game content. PEGI then cross-checks the information using submitted examination information. What does PEGI say about gambling? (my bold)

27: Moving images that encourage and/or teach the use of games of chance that are played/carried out as a traditional means of gambling

This refers to types of betting or gambling for money that is normally played/carried out in casinos, gambling halls, racetracks. This does not cover games where betting or gambling is simply part of the general storyline. The game must actually teach the player how to gamble or bet and/or encourage the player to want to gamble or bet for money in real life. For example this will include games that teach the player how to play card games that are usually played for money or how to play the odds in horse racing.

Let’s evaluate the Engineers against these criteria:

(1) Moving images. Check. When rolling for a modification, several sliders moves back and forth across the screen before coming to a halt. Each slider position represents the value of a property of the modified module. A gain on the starting value is represented in blue, while a loss is represented in red.

(2) Traditional means of gambling. Check. The mechanism in Engineers is analogous to that used by slot machines. Money (materials) are submitted, causing several reels to rotate (sliders to traverse). If the symbols on each reel match up (sliders land in the right-hand side of the image), then a monetary (ship performance) reward is issued.

(3) Encourage/teaching the use of games of chance. Given the clear analogy between the Engineers and slot machines, I think it is reasonable to say that Horizons teaches users how to play a slot machine. A player who has a positive experience with Horizons (i.e. some good module modifications without too much grinding) may have a more positive view towards slot machines, thus I also believe that players could unwittingly be encouraged to gamble.

A PEGI 12 rating would be more representative of the game’s content. With this in mind, I submitted a complaint to PEGI last Monday (23/10). I’ll post an update if/when I receive a response, although I would encourage other players who are sick of Engineers to lodge similar complaints in order to catch the attention of the PEGI staff.

In the event that the rating was to change to PEGI 12, I doubt that anything would happen since most people ignore the age ratings. However, I would hope that developers start thinking about developing substantial gameplay instead of a randomised mechanic which makes a mockery of the considerable effort made by players.

Frontier needs to show more respect to their customers by producing games with features that are fair and accessible.

 

Elite Dangerous: Getting to Those Hard to Reach Places

Slightly relevant music recommendation: Reach High, The Commodores.

You didn’t think with the election going on that I had forgotten about Elite Dangerous?  Of course not, I’ve had the time to take another trip to explore another part of the Milky Way. This time  I travelled in a direction normal to the galactic plane, i.e. I went upwards; or was it downwards?

Firstly, a bit of background to exploration: Whenever you complete a discovery scan (also called “honking” because of the noise made when the scan terminates), accessing the system map will give you the gamer tag of the first player who did a detailed surface scan of a body and cashed it in at a Universal Cartographics. An object which has never been scanned and submitted will have a blank space where the gamer tag should be. These systems are up for grabs by whoever scans them first. If you have even a gram of vanity, you will not be able to resist finding undiscovered systems so that you can get your gamer tag out there for all to see.

Around the bubble, virtually all unexplored systems will have been “tagged” by another player. For those starting out, it looks like a several thousand LY trip is in order. However, there is a trick. Most players tend to travel along the galactic plane, leaving many systems above and below the bubble uncharted. If one travels upwards and outwards, they will likely encounter undiscovered systems much sooner than if they just travel in-plane.

EliteDangerousNebulae

While doing another trip to a several nearby nebulae (clockwise from top left: Pipe (Bowl) and Pipe (Stem); Pencil Nebula; Eight Burst Planetary Nebula; Seagull Nebula), I identified a neutron star, PREAE THEIA QY-Y D1-0 A, a heady 1054 LY above the galactic plane during another sweep of the galaxy map. If nobody had been there before, then I could claim my first neutron star! It was also an opportunity to use the updated route plotter introduced in update 2.4 which can now plot routes up to 22 kLY in length!

While using the route plotter, I encountered a problem. A route could not be plotted because the distance between stars exceeded the ~52 LY jump range of my Asp Explorer. Away from the galactic plane, the density of systems reduces, making travelling between them either difficult or impossible. What can I do to get to my target system?

Fortunately, there are a few ways to temporarily increase the jump range of your ship. The first is using materials (i.e. atomic elements) to synthesise an FSD injection which can boost the range by 25%, 50%, or 100% depending on the materials used. Materials can be collected on planets while driving an SRV. The other option is to supercharge the FSD by flying through the ejection cone of a neutron star or a white dwarf star. The latter option was not viable since there weren’t any neutron stars along the way.

Twice on the trip, I stopped by planets that had Cadmium, Niobium and Polonium. Polonium was critical for synthesising the 100% boost which was the only viable option close to my destination. This means driving the SRV along the planetary surface looking for objects which yield the materials. Metallic meteorites give the best yields, I was lucky to twice encounter groups of three which gave me more than enough materials to do all the necessary boosted jumps.

One thing I learned to appreciate when travelling through the low stellar density region high up above the galactic plane was that the amount of fuel carried was an important factor. Jump range increases as fuel goes down, there were a few occasions where a jump was almost possible, but I was carrying too much fuel and had to use a higher grade FSD boost than I would have liked. Some kind of fuel dump mechanism would be a great addition to the game for when users are in these situations. Some creative players bring along a rail gun or plasma accelerator with an engineered plasma slug effect. Ammunition is created from fuel, one just needs to fire the weapon until they have the fuel level that they require.

Eventually, after manually navigating between  stars with the appropriate level of boost, I made it to my target. Given the difficulty associated with getting to it, I was pleased to find that it was indeed undiscovered. My commander now has a neutron star added to his collection of first discoveries.

EliteDangerousNeutronStar

One thing I noticed while parked near the star was that it made a ticking noise. Cool. It’s hard to tell looking side on, but the main jet in the ejection cone moves about in a precessing motion. Getting a bit closer, the helical form of the jet becomes clearer:

EliteDangerousNeutronStar2.gif

Nearby ~100 LY away (just within reach with a 100% FSD boost on low fuel), there was another neutron star, PREAE THEIA TJ-X D2-0 (1096 LY above galactic plane) which I also got to tag. It’s unlikely that these stars would ever get close enough to collide as we have just observed in real life. While I was up here, I got to admire the view of the galaxy below, or above? It reminds me of looking down at the luminous nighttime Christchurch skyline from Dyers Pass Rd:

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 23_09_2017 12_21_51 AM

On they way back to the bubble, I found some more interesting nebulae in the galaxy map which I’ll be sure to visit in the future. Following my experiences way above the galactic plane, I went straight to purchasing and engineering an Anaconda, once done, it should have a maximum jump range of ~63 LY, which will be necessary for getting to even harder to reach places.

If you’re keen on getting some hard to reach discoveries of your own, my advice is: (1) get the longest jump range that you can, use a DBX, Asp Explorer or Anaconda for this and engineer the FSD. (2) Collect materials for FSD boosts and learn to supercharge your FSD in a cheap ship near to the last station that you docked at. (3) Be judicious with fuel scooping, too much fuel will prohbit you from making some jumps, while too little fuel will leave you phoning for help. Don’t let any of that put you off, as the Commodores song goes: you can get it if you reach high, all hands to the sky. You can make it, if you really try!

NZ 2017 Post-Election Limbo: My Thoughts

One and a half weeks ago, the people of New Zealand went to the polls to determine the make up of our next Parliament. Election night was a letdown for all sides, with no established bloc able to command a majority. Like 1996 and 2005, New Zealand First finds itself holding the balance of power*.

Firstly let’s note that National didn’t win. While it’s disheartening to know that ~46% of voters are either gullible or sociopathic, the centre-right is in trouble. Its coalition partners have either been taken out or rendered irrelevant. For National to stay in government, they need to do a deal with either NZF or the Greens.

Coalition negotiations have not begun yet, largely in part because special votes are still being processed and the final result may result in a few seats changing hands. Winston Peters, the leader of NZF has shown little interest in starting negotiations until the final result is clear. And fair enough, there’s no point coming to an agreement now that could be jeopardised when circumstances will change.

In this vacant period, news media and political operatives have started interviewing their typewriters and put out some truly dreadful dreck during the past week. Let’s go through those now:

National has a right to govern: No it doesn’t, and it’s unsettling that commentators are claiming that National has some kind of “moral” authority (warning: NZ Herald) to form the next government. Besides the fact that “National” and “morality” don’t belong in the same sentence, there is no constitutional stipulation that the largest party has priority when forming a government.

National/Green coalition: This idea is frankly ridiculous. Environmentalism and right-wing politics are fundamentally incompatible. When the right wing stop putting money and conservative organised religion before everything else, then there may be a case to be made. The Green Party would be nothing more than window dressing to make National look better. All of the analysis behind it is completely unwarranted as the Green Party membership can (and will) block the parliamentary Greens from coalescing with National.

Trying to read Winston: NZF has always promoted a weird mixture of left and right policy, hence both sides are quick to point out similarities and proclaim that NZF should go with them. I think James Shaw was correct to point out the common ground between Labour, Green and NZF during his election night speech. It’s much easier to imagine the three agreeing on a policy schedule that doesn’t deviate too far from what they campaigned on. Meanwhile, it’s hard to see National abandoning free-market economics and cutting immigration rates.

Peters hasn’t appreciated this idle speculation while the votes are still being counted and nobly insists that personal issues with the National Party will be put aside during negotiations. I don’t think he will be able to detach his feelings towards National and I don’t expect him to. National ran a deplorable campaign filled with lies, hollow bribes and dirty attacks that almost pushed NZF out of parliament. It’s not just a matter of personal relations, National cannot be trusted to govern fairly and transparently in the interests of all New Zealanders. It is my opinion that Peters should not reward such scumbaggery with another term in government.

MMP is Broken: Fairfax let two of their far-right headbangers out of the asylum to attack our quasi-proportional MMP electoral system (Grant’s article is here, du Frense’s is here). Their arguments are nothing more than the characteristic whining sounds made by arrogant National supporters. Apparently it’s an affront that their party has been denied minority rule. The fact of the matter is whoever can muster the support of 50% + 1 seats forms the government.  It makes no difference whether that is one, two, three, or four(!) parties. Common complaints about how small parties holding the country to ransom have popped up again. One just needs to look back to the UK in June to see that the same outcomes are just as possible in FPP systems.

That’s not to suggest that MMP is perfect. The 5% threshold has shown to be unfit for purpose. Parties such as ACT  and United Dunne Future have/had no real constituency to speak of, yet they are/were entitled to parliamentary seats. Meanwhile, NZF in 2008, Colin Craig’s Conservative Party in 2011/2014 and Gareth Morgan’s The Opportunities Party in 2017 gained many more party votes and no seats. I think the threshold should be lowered to 0.8% (i.e. 1 parliamentary seat) to mitigate the disproportionality of micro parties that rely on winning an electorate seat. A lower threshold means less wasted vote, which keeps the National Party further away from power, which is always a good thing.

With National likely to lose more seats once the special votes have been counted, I expect this week will see intensification of the corporatist demands for NZF or the Greens to give National the coronation they believe is their right. I can only hope both minor parties stay strong and will be able to make a deal between Labour and themselves. The three have already shown themselves to be a competent and responsible administration (sort of, the Greens were at arms length during the 48th parliament). We look set to be facing an opportunity for such a government again. I, along with many other New Zealanders encourage Labour, the Greens and NZF to take this opportunity for the good of our country.

*Balance of Power also happens to be the title of the 1986 album by the Electric Light Orchestra. Heaven Only Knows what the outcome will be. Stable government is So Serious, it’s good to see the parties Getting to the Point. The negotiators are living Secret Lives while the negotiation details are hidden from the media. Is it Alright that the National Party was able to run a campaign of Endless Lies?