I’ve set myself a challenge, playing the PC game Space Engineers in ‘survival mode’. Stranded alone on an unpopulated planet, I must struggle to survive and escape my isolation using only my wits and the resources to hand.
If you missed the previous episode in this series, you can catch up here.
Today is a Sunday, so I’m going to take a break from mining and refining to build myself a hover-bike.
Yeh, I know, it’s an alien planet, and I haven’t really been here a week, but it’s got to be Sunday somewhere, right?
This will actually be the first atmospheric craft I’ve ever built, so it’s a bit of an experiment. I’m used to building in the microgravity environment of space. Apart from Skeleton Bob, the only vehicle I’ve ever built inside a gravity field was on the moon, where the gravity is much lower than it is here. I crashed and died.
I start by building a simple, lightweight frame and adding six vertical atmospheric thrusters. I’m using ‘small atmospheric thrusters’, but I soon realize that the larger variety would have been a better option for generating lift. Oh well, I’ll just add more small ones so as to not ruin my design.
Well done if you’ve noticed that I’m building all these engines the wrong way round. It took me a while to realize.
It’s important to have thrusters pointing in all directions, for breaking and manoeuvring. I thought I might get away with not having any sideways thrusters (it’s a hover-bike after all, so I don’t mind it skidding around a bit), but that plan didn’t go so well. The bike immediately veered sideways and toppled over.
I had to start again from scratch.
Another essential block for any flying vehicle is a gyroscope. This allows you to steer, controlling your yaw, pitch, and roll. Big, heavy ships often require multiple gyroscopes, but I should be fine with just one.
Like my rover, this design lacks a cockpit, so I’m adding a ‘remote control block’ instead. Climbing into the seat, I won’t have instant control. Instead I’ll have to open the terminal, find the control block, and click ‘control’. It’s a minor inconvenience. Later on, if I build an antenna, I should be able to send the bike to any location either by remotely controlling it or providing the autopilot with GPS coordinates. That’ll be fun to try.
Note: It’s important to orient the control block correctly. Building it upside down will result in all the controls being reversed. I learned this the hard way… twice.
I’m actually fairly happy with what I ended up with, even though I had to modify my design on the fly.
I’m surprised by how much thrust is required to keep this thing airborne (natural gravity is still a relatively new concept in this game). I’m also surprised by how much power it needs. I’ve had to install 4 small reactors, and even now I get an overload warning when I accelerate hard or turn at high speeds.
I’d planned on christening this the Fly-Cycle as a reference to Larry Niven’s Ring World, but it’s much larger, less elegant, and actually much more stable than I’d anticipated, so I think it needs a beefier name. I’m open to suggestions.
Building the hover-bike took longer than I’d expected. So I’m going to pretend that it’s still Sunday and take the beast out for a test drive.
Since it’s powered by refined uranium, I’m going to head across the lake and grab a little more uranium ore.
While I’m here, I decide it’s an opportune time to explore that canyon I spotted during my initial landing. Atmospheric thrusters are less effective at high altitudes, but surprisingly my hover-bike has no problem climbing high enough to squeeze through the cleft in the mountains.
Wow, this place is great, and much bigger than I thought. I’d love to build a base here at some point, maybe building into the directly into the mountainside. The mountains would provide protection from meteors, though I doubt I’d get many hours of sunlight for my solar array. I’ll add that to my list of goals.
While I’m about the business of exploring, I push on far to the south, where I discover this strange mossy pinnacle.
Trust me, this is much more impressive in person. The sense of scale is astonishing. I’m calling this Finagle’s Peak, because anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and I’m bound to crash into it eventually. There’s a steep valley behind it with some rocks containing silicon. You can guess what I’m calling that.
I end up flying all the way around – and even over – the mesa, where I’m struck by the size of the surrounding desert and the amount of mineable resources available to me (those dark spots on the desert floor). My next project is definitely gonna have to be a flying mining rig.
It’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the epic size of this map, this planet being one of three in the system! That it’s all made from destroyable voxels is a wonder of modern computing.
Back at base I add a spoiler and a small cargo container. This is never going to be able to carry large loads of ore (because of weight restrictions), but it’s great for a quick trip to the shops.
All in all, it’s been a grand day out.