Ruminating on flying multi-crew ships:
After finally getting the chance to fly a couple ships for an extended period of time in the recent release of Arena Commander 2.0, I've come to the conclusion that operating a ship has a tough learning curve. Piloting mechanics and crew mechanics will be tough to master, but will be needed to survive. As I have discovered, pilots cannot easily manage their entire ship's system without issue during combat. It is my attempt to state, though somewhat obvious, notes that players should consider. For what it is worth, players can learn at their own speed and on the go.
1.) Prioritize: Identify Your Control Play Style & HUD Distribution
For pilots, mastering the controls of choice will require you to decide on what portion of the controls is key to your play style. The pilot must know what role the ship is built for and what kind defensive system is in place. As of the moment, there are at least 3 function key modifiers, so most buttons have a secondary or third function when connected with a function key. The pilot must specialize. If the ship, like the retaliator, has the majority of its weapons attached to turrets, the pilot should consider learning how to allow his gunners to successfully use the guns.
In the case of multi-crew ships, this includes but is not limited to the what you delegate to the secondary positions within your ship. If your ship has an engineering position, whether it is attached to the RIO position or the designated engineer position, the pilot must focus on a certain set of HUD panels. As some of you may have not noticed, CIG has implemented the HUD into the ship control panels. This has caused a problem where players must now prioritize what information they need the most. This is where the offloading of information comes into play. Who should receive what type of data? Presently, the engineering officer/ RIO has little control over the ship systems, but this will change over time. Power distribution, shielding, damage information, and data warfare are example of roles that will be available to secondary positions.
For the case of pilots of single seat ships, this prioritization is even more important. This is where the pilot must decide what he must worry about first and foremost. This is where you must learn the keybindings to maintain the ship systems. If you have a three top panels that are most obvious while flying, it might be a good idea to have health and shields on the left, radar in the center, and target information on the right. Many other options can be cycled on the bottom panels for use while not in combat. This is an example of prioritizing.
Please keep in mind, pilots and turret gunners, radar contacts are not completely identified and displayed for the turret gunners. It is the responsibility of the pilot to target the hostile so as to mark the target for the gunner to attack. It is also important for gunners to call out status of their turret. It is possible for turret gunners to be sucked into space if their turret gets heavily damaged. Garthra can attest to that.
2.) Decide on Controls
As for pilots, please pick the type of flight controls you wish to use. There is no shame in using a cheap $20 or $30 joystick in addition to the keyboard and mouse. There are many different ways to fly. In fact, though it was not initially presented to be played this way, it is possible to use a number of controllers at once (even the hard to use xbox controller). You can heavily customize your flight system-- dual joystick configurations that also use your keyboard and mouse (some even use foot pedals). This game allows you to use both the complicated stock keyboard and mouse controls while using joysticks and HOTAS. Remember, this all comes down to what you want to do. Are you going to be a pilot or do you want to be a crewman?
So far, in my opinion, I have found joysticks to have one or two things going for them--button placement and the option to have your ship remain steady if you take your hand off the stick. In no way do I suggest buying one just because I support joystick piloting, but it is my answer to prioritizing. For a number of you, learning how to fly will be a daunting task. I have no doubt that you will at one point or another get frustrated.
As I flew this past night, I discovered that the hardest part of flying is actually learning how to use the less obvious functions, such as using the landing computer. At one point, I tried landing my retaliator on a small repair pad, which ultimately failed, resulting in a damaged ship. The first big hurdle after launching my ship was discovering the button to shift flight modes "V + throttle increase."
3.) Opinions on AC 2.0
As for my opinion on Arena Commander 2.0 and the Universe mode, I will leave you with a few simple things. Universe mode is very fun when it works. It is not complete and there are many bugs present. Maximum server population is small, so joining a friend or contact is tough, especially during peak hours or if you have more than two people looking to meet up. Depending on the connection, the server, and the game itself, you will find yourself not always able to enter the ship or you may fall through a collision detection hole inside your ship. Ultimate verdict on 2.0, for those who cannot patiently play the game, wait for the upcoming patches that are soon to come. The patches should stabilize the game and optimize hardware performance. Patches will come out once a month.
For some funnier moments, my flight with Yack found us needing to glitch through turrets to enter bugged ships. As of now, if players wish to completely crew the retaliator, they must glitch through the turrets. This process is relatively entertaining to watch. In a recent video, both of us display such behavior. This was also demonstrated when a bug involving the lack of the helmet caused Yack to not have access to his jet pack. I was required to properly maneuver to get him close enough to glitch through my turret.
During my flight with Mogul, Garthra and Yack, I discovered that the cutlass base configuration is not completely useless, if properly manned. You can easily take down hornets. The cutlass is equipped with two suckerpunch distortion cannons (anti-subsystem/EMP guns) which is meant to destroy shields and disable system. This may sound trivial, but with the onset of strong shields, removing shields quickly is important. This is where the turret gunner comes into play. The turret of the cutlass black currently comes equipped with a pair of ballistic repeaters, which can easily rip any hornet to shreds.
This may sound biased, but from my experience, I've had more fun learning how to fly by using the smaller cutlass than I have with the larger constellation or the retaliator. For the members who wish to learn combat piloting and combat crewing, look for people with a cutlass and or freelancers. These ships can give you a good chance to view how combat works and how to support your shipmates. The other nice thing is that generally, you don't have to worry about losing your ship if you can drop off crew members at the target.
As of this moment, I have no real idea what to say or do with Star Citizen. It is fun and they are going to release the freelancer in the official 2.2 patch next month. Catch me if you want to play.