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Escape Velocity Nova
EV Nova is the third game in Ambrosia Software's Escape Velocity series. It was developed in collaboration with ATMOS Software and released on March 18, 2002. Nova features better graphics, an improved game engine, and detailed, immersive descriptions of the universe and story events. With a mix of top-down space combat and RPG elements, the EV series is known for its flexible, open-ended gameplay. However, EV Nova adds six major story lines with well-defined end points.

 

Pirate run: 0:14:31 by Nathaniel 'NMS' Stalberg, done in 40 segments

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First I'm going to talk about the game mechanics and the strategies I used to play as fast as possible. If you're only interested in explanation of what I did, along with a humorous, but mostly accurate summary of the plot, just skip ahead to the segment by segment.

Game speed:

Unlike previous EV games, there is no speed slider in the settings in Nova. The caps lock key still causes gameplay to be twice as fast though. (This is why there's a 2X icon in the top left.) I keep this on at all times, of course.

Jumping:

You can only jump if you're at least 1000 pixels from the center of the system (unless the system is empty). When you initiate a hyper jump, your ship first turns to face opposite to its direction of travel, then turns to face the direction of the destination system, then begins the actual jump. So there are two main stats that affect jumping time: jump speed and turn rate. Top speed and acceleration affect how quickly you travel between planets and the hyper limit.

Route selection:

The easiest way to choose the system you jump to is to bring up the map screen and lock in a route to your final destination. Then you can just hold the jump key until you arrive. However, the rest of the game is paused while the map is open, so I use it as little as possible. Instead, I use the hyper select key to cycle through the adjacent systems and choose the destination for each jump. (This brings up the minimap in the top right of the gameplay window.) When I jump into a system, I hold down the reverse key, while selecting the system for the next jump, then start the jump. If I do this before the ship finishes its 180 degree turn, it doesn't slow me down at all. I only use the map if I don't have time to select the right system before I drift too close to the center of the system and become unable to jump.

Controls:

I use the keyboard almost exclusively, because with practice it's faster than clicking on buttons with the mouse. There are dozens of different controls and shortcuts scattered all over the keyboard, though. So you may occasionally see a brief pause as I hunt for the right one. Just realize I would need four hands to play perfectly.

Starting strategy:

I have two objectives for the early part of the game: get a fast ship and get 300 combat rating, which is required for the first Pirate storyline mission. By far, the best available ship for speedrunning is the Mod Starbridge. It has max jump speed (150% of normal), very nice speed, acceleration, and turning, decent shields, and adequate cargo space, upgrade space, and energy capacity. Ideally, I would capture one, but this is insanely improbable. First, one would have to spawn at the same time as a pirate that can defeat it, but wants to board it before killing it. I would have to board it first, succeed at capturing it with my 1-crew shuttle, then escape from whatever disabled it in a badly damaged ship. So instead, I'm going to buy one. This means I need about a million credits. Hauling cargo is for chumps, so I'm going to go to the most dangerous system in the Federation, steal money from vastly more powerful ships and then kill them for combat rating.

Luck manipulation:

This run uses a lot of luck manipulation. Obviously, the defeating pirates with my shuttle and the battles at the end took a lot of tries. But even some of the simple looking segments often had to be restarted over and over because missions, ships, or outfits that I needed were randomly not available, or the randomly placed ships in a system screwed me over, or I just messed up my piloting. Fortunately, the segments are very short.

Segment by segment summary:

1: I create a new pilot, skip most of the introduction, manipulate the starting system closest to Gefjon, land, refuse the tutorial mission, unload my useless light blaster, and replace it with two raven rocket launchers.

2: I manipulate a mission to a planet that's on my way, then go complete that mission and recharge.

3: I spend all my money on ammo and jump to Gefjon. That mission earned enough for 50 extra rockets.

4: I stumble on a disabled Manticore, steal its money, and blow it up.

5: I find two opposing Manticores racing to board a derelict Leviathan. I use a bunch of rockets trying to take out the derelict, but don't succeed. Oh well, I have lots of rockets. One of them boards the Leviathan and they start fighting. The Leviathan blows up, nearly disabling me and unfortunately taking out one of the Manticores. Still, the other is disabled, so I rob and kill it.

6: This must be the most hilarious thing to ever happen in EV. A pirate Manticore and an Association Carrier are trying to board a marauder Valkyrie. I kill the Valk, and the Manticore tears up the Carrier. I already have enough money so I just kill it. Meanwhile, its fighters disable the first Manticore and another that jumps in before heading to fight something on the other side of the system! Jackpot. If something this absurdly lucky had happened earlier, I could have done this part in fewer segments and saved a bunch of time. Still, I get tons of combat rating. In retrospect, I shouldn't have slowed down to kill that last Manticore, but it was a reflex.

7: I should have recharged earlier, but I forgot, so I have to land and do it now. Then I head to Earth for energy and licenses.

8: I go to New Ireland, the only place you can buy the Mod Starbridge. I grab vectored thrust (saves tons of time - see above), auto-recharger (saves time), gravimetric sensors and IFF decoder (make radar useful), some batteries and solar cells, and an afterburner (consumes energy for a temporary boost to acceleration and max speed).

9: I go to Viking and meet my uncle Olaf Greyshoulders, a notorious pirate shipwright. He promotes me from pirate-killer to errand boy.

10-16: I run some errands for Olaf. While I'm on Misfire, I pick up the horizontal booster, which lets me jump twice as close to the center of the system. Some people start trying to kill me or something, but I'm too fast to hit.

17: Olaf sends me to haul cargo for the Rebels, in exchange for assistance that I will refuse when they offer it. Fortunately, everyone except Federation Intelligence knows how to find the Rebels' hidden base. I get a port and polish there, which gives a small boost to speed, accel, and turning. It's probably worth it, but hard to tell the difference.

18-25: I do some odd jobs for the Rebels. The second two missions go to random locations, so I manipulated them to be the minimum distance (3 jumps away). The Feds get pissed, but I don't care.

26: I decide I've helped the Rebels enough, even though there's no indication that I'm done and should go back to Uncle Olaf. I have to bribe traffic control because I don't have a mission to Viking. The crazy number of different keys I had to press in quick succession forced me to change my controls so I control my ship with the number pad, allowing me to control the afterburner with the same hand. In retrospect, I should have done this way sooner, because it allows me to use the afterburner more (although it causes more failed segments due to hitting it too much).

27-31: Olaf sends me to pick up a blind guy, a pervert, and a pair of goofy slackers. Some more pirates try to kill me, but I ignore them.

32: When I get back, there's a surprise party! Olaf has built a souped-up Pirate Carrier, the Unrelenting, just for me! Actual quote: "Olaf approaches you and smiles at the stunned look on your face... You feel tears spring to your eyes". Oh, Olaf, you shouldn't have. No, really, I don't want a carrier. It's too slow. What happened to my old ship? You sold it!? WHY?!?!? Oh well, I'll just grab this Valk for now. What's the blue book value of a unique super-carrier? 11.23 million. Since you never see me flying the Unrelenting, someone who doesn't know the plot and isn't watching closely would be wondering why I just bought a worse ship and gained 10.73 million credits.

33: Sooooooo sloooooooow. Well, it's faster than the Unrelenting (or the Shuttle), but it's just to get me back to New Ireland. Adding on an afterburner would actually take more time than it saves. I get a new Mod Starbridge, sell all my weapons, then buy all the stuff I bought here before, plus more batteries and solar cells and a carbon fiber armor. I end up not needing the energy so badly, but I might have.

34: Back to the urgent mission, finding the missing convoy. It seems they all got disabled somehow.

35: Better report to the Rebels, rather than my uncle, who sent me here. I pick up a port and polish and horizontal booster again. Good as new. And what's this? Thunderhead lances. They make up for their cripplingly short range with crippling damage.

36: Now I'm leading another convoy back to where the first one was attacked. Because, obviously, we think they think we're stupid enough to walk into the same trap twice. I get hit by an EMP torpedo, but it doesn't slow me. I love this ship!

37: The first battle. This is one of the most frustrating parts of the game in normal play, because you have to board the enemy flagship, and everybody in the system is trying to kill it. Your allies apparently didn't get the memo, any Fed, Rebel, or Association ships that randomly start in the system will go straight for it, and it's own allies are very sloppy about checking that their line of fire is clear. So this part usually has a high try count even if you're not going for speed. Both the flagship and its allies are randomly selected from a set of pirate ships with a large variation in quality. I luck manipulated the previous segment so that the flagship and it's escorts both chose pirate enterprises as their ship type. The escorts don't matter much as long as they're not something super dangerous, like manticores. I tried with the flagship as a pirate argosy, but it's too small and unpredictable a target. The extra hitpoints on the enterprise are insignificant against four thunderhead lances, and it's much easier to hit. I luck manipulate the battle so the flagship jumps in near me and its escorts jump in on the other side. I take advantage of a poorly documented feature to target the flagship here: holding shift while pressing target cycles through the list backwards. Since ship added to the end of the list, this is an easy way to target the most recently arrived ship. In this mission though, the flagship jumps in an instant before a bunch of other ships. So, what I do is shift-tab to the last ship on the list before it arrives, then tab to it because it's the next one on the list. Of course, I could have just clicked on it, but I needed both hands on the keyboard. I disable the flagship very quickly with a perfectly timed beam burst, and start trying to board. I have to work quickly, before someone takes him out. Fortunately, those hellhound missiles were fired by a Pirate Valkyrie - class IV (PVIV), which likes to board enemies, so they deal no damage to ships at very low armor (too bad the player can't get hellhounds like that!). They jostle me slightly, but I still manage to board the flagship, retrieve the data, and jump out just as it dies to friendly fire that was aimed at me. The time from when the flagship jumps in to when I jump out is about six seconds, so you could watch it 10 times in the time it took you to read this explanation of what was going on.

38: I took the data to the hidden Rebel base and they told me to take it to the even more hidden rebel base. While I'm there, I fill the rest of my free space with matrix steel armor, which is only available in the Auroran Empire and a few random other places. If I needed more space, I could convert some cargo space to outfit space, but the extra time in the outfitters wasn't worth it. Then I waste some game time as quickly as possible, while the Rebels decrypt the data.

39: Shortest segment. I just didn't want to have to do this at the start of every attempt on the final boss. The Rebels have decided, on the basis of the information I brought them, that McGowan must die. So naturally, rather than helping them, I decide to kill him first. At this point, if you haven't played the game, you're wondering, "Who's McGowan?" In fact, even if you've been pausing the video and reading all the mission briefings, you still don't know, because it was in a long dialog that I didn't scroll down, so you couldn't see it. McGowan is the leader of a rival faction of the Associated Guild of Free Traders (basically pirates). But I have to kill him personally for the most original of reasons: it's faster. No, wait, uh, he killed my parents. Yeah, that was it.

40: The final showdown. I dodge some shots while I wait for McGowan to show up. In this battle my target jumps in last, so I shift-tab to target him between when he arrives and when he starts launching fighters. If it seems like he goes down too easily for a final boss, bear in mind that thunderhead lances do 6 damage (against shields and armor). That doesn't sound like a lot, but beams inflict their damage every 1/30th of a second, so I do 4 lances * 6 damage/hit/lance * 30 hits/s * 2 for double speed = 1440 dps. Any other weapons I could have obtained would be a drop in the bucket next to that. McGowan has 745 shields + 880 armor = 1625 hitpoints. For comparison, a Shuttle has 30 shields and 30 armor and my Mod Starbridge has 465 shields and 185 armor (upgraded to 825 armor by the end). And I needed most of that armor, too. Did I mention that the Mod Starbridge is disabled at 10% armor instead of 33% like most ships? I fly over a bunch of non-hostile ships on my way to Harbor that would have totally wrecked me if they were enemies. I think they're supposed to be my allies, but they don't seem to help much. If you want it done fast you have to do it yourself.

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