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Piloting the lander is similar to flying other types of ships (the default controls can be changed in keys.cfg):
- Use LEFT and RIGHT to rotate the lander counterclockwise and clockwise respectively.
- Use UP to go forward. Unlike space-faring vehicles, the lander stops moving forward as soon as you let go of the thrust key.
- Use RIGHT CTRL or ] or ENTER to fire the blaster. Use this to shoot life forms, but make sure you don't shoot valuable mineral deposits.
- Use RIGHT SHIFT or [ or ESCAPE or SPACE to return to the ship if the lander's storage is full or you're in trouble.
Deciding whether to land or not
What's to gain
You might want to land on a planet if it has lots of good minerals, biological life forms, or energy signatures on the surface. Run an Auto Scan (Mineral, Energy, and Bio Scans one after another) to check.
- Check the "Cargo" menu option to remind yourself which colors of mineral are most valuable. You get more Resource Units per part from mineral types near the bottom of the list, like Radioactives and Exotics.
- There's more to planets than just minerals. Life forms (revealed with a Bio Scan) provide valuable data. Use the lander's blaster to stun the life form (it may take a few hits) and pick up any capsules dropped. Keep an eye on the blue "DAT" meter on the right, though — like minerals, your lander can only hold so many capsules at once. Note: Predatory animals can be dangerous to your lander.
- Occasionally, you will find an energy signature on a planet. An energy signature could be a building, a ship or a useful device, so the size of the object on the surface varies. Energy readings are rare and indicate a point of interest in the game. They are almost always worth checking out, even if conditions are not optimal.
There are a number of dangers — dangers that affect both your Lander and its crew — to be cautious of while exploring a planet's terrain. Many of these dangers can kill members of your crew. If the entire Lander's crew of 12 die, the Lander will explode; retreat before your Lander's crew is completely obliterated. Returning the Lander to the Flagship will recrew your Lander, provided you have crew to spare.
Of the dangers facing your crew and Lander, atmosphere and seismic activity are rated on a scale from 0 to 8. Hazardous elements begin to appear above 2, and 7 & 8 are extremely dangerous. Fire storms appear when the surface temperature is above 100°c and exploration is possible under 400°c, depending on your skill. When formulating a landing strategy, try to keep the following factors in mind:
- Atmospheric ratings greater than 2 indicate lightning storms on the planet. Lightning storms are unavoidable and will kill crew when they hit your Lander. Try not to land on planets with atmospheric activity unless you must.
- Seismic ratings greater than 2 indicate earthquakes on the planet. Earthquakes are visible and localized to a small area; it is possible to avoid them. You may be able to navigate planets harboring earthquakes with a magnitude of up to 5 with no loss of crew, depending on your skill.
- Temperatures on the planet's surface depends on the color of its star and its distance from that star. Extremely high surface temperatures spawn dangerous fire storms on the surface that can harm your crew. Fire storms begin to appear with surface temperatures above 100°c and exploration is generally possible below 400°c, depending on your skill. Colder planets are safer, though their mineral saturation will be extremely thin compared to their scorching bretheren.
- Life forms may attack your Lander, killing your crew. Take note of which life forms are aggressive and dangerous, and plan your navigation appropriately.
- Fuel usage: It takes fuel to land and lift off from a planet. The bigger the planet is, the higher the surface gravity, and the larger the fuel cost. The exact fuel amount required is shown when you select a place for your lander to set down. You can still abort at that time. The amount of fuel used is 2 times the surface gravity, though never more than 3.0 fuel units. Make sure it's worth it and remember to keep enough fuel in reserve to return to Sol.
- Distance to Sol: Carrying back the gathered minerals to the Star Base costs fuel and time. Make sure it's worth it. If you're far away from home, you should not spend your valuable cargo space on common minerals.
Remember that you can jettison your less valuable minerals (using the Manifest/Cargo-Menu) to make room for more valuable ones if you run out of cargo capacity.
Tips for surviving semi-dangerous planets
- Keep a finger on the escape button. If you are running low on crew or get into trouble, return to the ship before your lander gets destroyed. All minerals and data you had on your lander will be destroyed along with it.
- It is wise to carry more than one lander at a time, in case one gets destroyed. This is especially important early in the game so you don't have to interrupt your scavenging session and use valuable fuel flying back to Sol to get a new lander.
- Don't risk landing on very dangerous planets. Getting rare minerals is useless if your lander gets destroyed before you make it back to the ship. A capable pilot can maneuver around some obstacles, but an experienced pilot knows when it is best to give up and come back later. Make a note of the planet's hyperspace coordinates and the planet/moon number; you can come back when you're better prepared.
- If a dangerous planet has large pockets of exotics and a low gravity, it may be worth hopping down to pick up just one deposit, and taking off again immediately.
- It is possible to navigate class-7 earthquakes with minimal losses after practicing upon planets with 5/6 tectonic ratings. Think like a bug. Also, keep your eye off the scan-map and just head in the general direction of the mineral, avoiding the quakes. Don't be afraid to stop-go-stop-go-turn-turn-etc.
- If an earthquake begins immediately in front of you, you may be able to zip by if it is still a pinprick. If you swerve on fairly high-earthquake planets, you risk running into another earthquake.
- Fire on hot planets moves in straight channels. If the temperature isn't ridiculously high it is very possible to avoid the fire. Move parallel with the lines, stop-go, turn at sharp angles. Think super-Frogger.
Carrying Capacity Tips
- If your lander's mineral storage (the red bar on the left) is nearly full, return to the ship and come back for another load instead of trying to cram in that last bit. If you try to pick up more minerals than you have room for, the extra minerals will be lost forever. The same is also true for bio data (the blue bar).
- Remember that while your ship can hold much more than a lander can (as long as your ship has at least one Storage Bay), it still has a limited capacity. If you are near the limit, your lander won't be able to pick up very much. Head back to Sol and talk to the Starbase Commander to unload them.