it's all relative

  If you've read my Combat guide, you will have already have seen my lament about how people just don't know how to fly when they arrive at TSCA - not due to lack of aptitude or intelligence - they just haven't learned how to fly relative to other objects in the vacuum of space. This is why a bounty hunter who learns how to fly properly in the vacuum of space before engaging in combat will be at a simply massive advantage. I really can't stress this more. I will now try to explain in detail the whole concept of flying relative. I'm constantly amazed by how many people saying "Oh, you're going so fast you can't steer and intercept the enemy ship" after a combat experience in deep space. Why do people say this? It's because they've grown up planetside and have never been really confronted with relative movement in this way before. It is not a hard concept to grasp, and once the concept is grasped, it just requires practise to use this knowledge in a way that makes you an Elite combateer. Of course, having "space dust" switched on in your HUD display does not help either - it just causes confusion most the time. Switch it off, it's tacky anyway!

  For our first exercise, we'll consider chasing a cargo container. A good way to do this is to buy a tonne of rubbish, fly to some unpopulated area where you won't get fined for dumping and jettison the said item. Since there is a saying "a picture says 1000 words", let's consider this. We've found a piece of rubbish near Nirvana. We want to get close to it and blow it up to keep Phekda tidy. It's currently a few k's away, and we want to get within a few meters, because the explosion is much better when you're close...


  So you are now in the vicinity of the object. This is the situation. You are hurtling towards Nirvana at a speed of 28,000 kilometers per second. The common misconception that people have is that they are going so fast, they can't change course to intercept the rubbish. This is 100% WRONG!

  The rubbish is *also* hurtling towards Nirvana at 28,000 kps! It is utterly unimportant how fast you are going relative to Nirvana. You could be doing half the speed of light relative to Nirvana - it wouldn't matter one whit (unless, of course you are about to get a faceful of planet, but we'll ignore that for now. Combat usually occurs far enough away from any planetary or stellar mass that this is not a concern). What matters is your relative speed to the rubbish. In this case, it's a sedate 10 meters per second. By judiciously firing your thrusters you can manoevre your ship anywhere you want *relative to the rubbish*. You'll still be hurtling along (either towards or away from, depending where the planet is) towards Nirvana, but who cares. Your sole concern is the lump of rubbish you're about to vaporise with your laser. To manoevre relative to the rubbish, think what direction relative to the rubbish firing your thrusters will move you. For instance, if the rubbish is moving across your screen to the left, what do you have to do to stop it? Simple, you have to add some velocity in that direction. Turn your ship so that the rubbish appears directly to the right on the scanner. Quickly fire your thrusters (and I mean quickly - just a small correction) and turn round to face the rubbish again, and see what change it had. Experiment with things like this until you can do it without even thinking.

OK here's an exercise for you to do. Follow these instructions to practise:

  • Go out into deep space, with 1 ton of rubbish in the hold.
  • Get up to a high speed relative to whatever planetary/stellar object you're currently showing relative to.
  • Jettison the rubbish.
  • Manoevre a bit so you get a bit of relative speed difference with the rubbish container.
  • Turn the engines off. I cannot stress this part more highly. If you don't, your ship's computer will be trying to adjust your speed relative to the stellar body, and you'll get nowhere at all!
  • Locate the rubbish on the scanner. Select it with the mouse or the auto-targetter.
  • Experiment with using the thrusters and retros to see the effect. Think carefully what thrusting in a particular direction will do relative to the rubbish.
  • Repeat until you can proficiently get very close to the rubbish and hold your position with it.

Enough talk; here's a demonstration.
Found and
  selected the rubbish We've found a piece of rubbish and selected it. As you can see, we are whizzing towards Nirvana at nearly 9,000 km/h. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that we aren't closing on the rubbish - the container is moving away from us. We want to get closer to the rubbish. To do this, a short burn on the thrusters whilst facing the rubbish is needed.
Getting quite 
  close We aligned ourselves with the rubbish, and have now got quite close. Note that although we've moved much closer to the rubbish, our relative speed to Nirvana hasn't changed much - demonstrating that it doesn't matter what that speed meter says! In this picture, the rubbish was tracking left to right slowly. To stop this you can do two things: you can do what's about to be done in this picture - point the nose slightly right of the container and give a short burn on the main thrusters to slow this movement and at the same time increase the closure speed...or you can point the nose to the left of the object, and give a shot of retros to slow our closure rate at the same time as correcting our drift from the object.
We've caught
  up with it We have now got really close to the rubbish. You can actually read "Rubbish" written on the side of the container as it slowly spins. We are only 50 meters away and in a great position to see a cool explosion with a quick blast of laser.

  Try and get in the positions shown relative to an object - see how much drift you can eliminate, and how close you can stay to a small object. It takes some practise. As a more advanced exercise, go to a dangerous system and blow a pirate up. Try and do the same exercise with the metal alloys or any cargo that flies out of the exploding ship. Remember to turn your engines off (once the danger has passed in combat, the computer turns the engines on again). Of course engines off is a misnomer - the engines are still actually on, they are just under manual control, not computer control. Another thing to note is the "second sight" on your screen may not necessarily come into view. This is because it's showing your vector relative to Nirvana in this case, and not the cargo cannister. Ignore this sight anyway - it doesn't indicate your vector relative to anything you care about whilst in combat.

An Advanced Exercise

  So you've sorted yourself out with the lump of rubbish. Here's an advanced exercise that'll really teach you how to fly with the engines in the "Off" position, as you do whilst in combat. The idea is simple, but rather more difficult to accomplish. If you thought that docking manually in original Elite was hard, or as "Your Sinclair" said back in those days "If you think three point turns are difficult, try docking"... then you'll find yourself in a whole new world of challenge here. Here's the assignment:

- Starting at least 20,000 km from a space station, dock with it manually. With the engines set to OFF for the whole task! Remember...engines OFF!

  You should be proficient with the Rubbish container before you even attempt this. A rubbish container will just bounce off your hull... hitting the space station can be a bit more problematical! The principles are exactly the same as with the rubbish container, of course. However, the Relative To: speed meter will eventually lock onto the space station. To make it more challenging, stick a Post-It note over the speed meter. (Actually, I once did this exercise, and the speed meter remained locked onto the planet - it never locked onto the space station!) The fact that you probably won't be in precisely the same orbit as the space station (and so the planet's gravity will change your course a different amount than the space station) helps with the challenge.

I'll demonstrate the procedure.

Heading for
  the station Engines are off, and I've got Ousey City selected. Both myself and Ousey City are hurtling around Nirvana in orbit. Once again, we won't worry about or velocity relative to Nirvana: we'll just concentrate on our closure rate with Ousey City. I'm heading more or less towards Ousey City at 1 kp/s using thruster burns of a second or two perpendicular to my flight path to nudge the ship into an intercept course. In this picture we have a way to go - about 16,000 km.
Correcting our orbit Our orbit has gone a little wide of Ousey City - using judicious thruster burns once again perpendicular to our flight path will push us towards Ousey City - but still closing with the station. Remember to never overcook it - out this far, a burn of a few seconds at a time is enough. Fire your thrusters, and watch to see what the result is. Close in, use much shorter burns. We are now just under 620 km from the station.
Getting closer and
  making smaller corrections We are now close enough that the Relative To meter has switched to Ousey City. At this point, make sure there's a post-it note stuck over the meter so you can't cheat! Keep making corrections to bring yourself closer to the station. Keep your closure rate reasonable. As you get closer, use thruster burns in the right direction to decrease closure rate - you don't want to hurtle past the space station.
Oops, overshot! Oops, we overshot. Fortunately, not by much and our closure rate was slow, so a little bit of thrusting brings the ship back on a course towards the station. We are pretty much in spitting distance now. Use small corrections, just like you did with the rubbish container.
Getting clearance. We are very close, so I requested clearance. However, we have to get around the other side of the station. We are drifting a bit too close considering we have to go around to the other side. To correct for this, we should face away from the station and give a very quick (ie just a tap on the thruster) burst from the thrusters. The ship slowly drifted to the side of the station with the docking port. Then the fun begins - align yourself with the hole and get inside!
Aligning with the hole We are now travelling roughly in the right direction relative to the space station to dock. You now have to know which way to thrust without even thinking, otherwise you could get a faceful of spacestation. Never give a long burn on the thrusters: at this stage, just small taps on the main and retros are all you want to do.
Here goes! Well here goes! Just a couple more tiny burns on the thruster to get perfectly aligned.

  If you've mastered these two, then go and do some combat. An additional proficiency exercise that will help your combat skills further is to do the following. When you next encounter an opponent in a ship that's the same speed or slower than you, try and fly formation with it. I'm not joking! Make sure no-one else is shooting at you, then anticipate his moves, get behind him, and try and stay in-trail for as long as possible. With practise, you should be able to do this indefinitely. However, it does take patience and practise. Don't give up! To be able to do this you need to know when, how long and where you need to burn your main or retros without even thinking about it. You have to understand on a deep, subconscious level how manoevering in space works if you have any hope of being a good combateer!

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