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.
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.