So you suck. You've been playing the game for three weeks and can't even hit a wall, let alone a 100-bounty player. Or you maybe you just installed the game this afternoon, and are frustrated by miners, neg-killers, and pbomb-throwing demigods. Although it is certainly true that some amount of natural talent is needed to succeed in this game, practice and experience are eighty percent of what makes a good pilot. There are dozens, uncountable legions, of people out there that could be much better than they are now, save for the fact that they don't listen, they don't learn, and just don't care.
It really isn't that difficult to survive in SubSpace. A few simple tips and pointers will get you to the point where you have a powerful enough ship to fight. From there on, mastery of a few basic strategies will put you ahead of at least 75% of your opponents. Once you are comfortable with those, and can hold down a 1:1 win/loss ratio, move on to the more advanced strategies. Tackle those high-bounty players. Practice that long-distance pbombing. Play the flag game if you want. Above all, remember that all of us were once as inexperienced and frustrated as you are now.
It is frustrating, isn't it? Your ship begins with close to nothing, forcing you to spend a good fifteen minutes gathering the green before you have a hope of winning any important fights. Unfair as this may seem, the process of upgrading and downgrading is an integral part of the game's design; patience is something needed in spades if you want to succeed. While you are weak, pretend the gun and the bomb keys do not exist. Leave the more powerful ships alone, and they will leave you alone. Most of the time. As you become more experienced, you will often find yourself plagued by negs who follow you around for no other reason than to snag a lucky kill. Countless times I have fired a bomb at an opponent only to have it detonate on one of those nearby pests, lowering my average instead. Such behavior benefits neither party; you may feel some satisfaction out of seeing the guy with 12 flags dodge your level 1 bullets and plow straight into a minefield, but your gameplay, score, and reputation will suffer for it.
When you start with a new ship, your ship begins with a bounty of 50. Generally, any ship under 60 bounty is referred to as a 'neg', a term held over from the old days when ships used to start with -12 bounty. Most pilots respect a target bounty limit that can be set with the target feature. You can either set the target within the game by typing "?target=#" or in the Options screen before playing. On your radar, enemy ships below this bounty will appear as dark blue and ships above this bounty will be light blue. The more skilled a pilot is, the higher he will set his target. However, it is absolutely unacceptable to set it below 60, and most good players will become pissed if you set it below 80.
People are neg for a reason - to discourage others from killing them. It is simply a fact that nobody can put up a decent front against a high-bounty, reasonably good player with a ship that has less than 50 or 60 bounty. You can't fight, and you can't run if a bully decides to chase you. Think about it, is there really any reason to kill a negative player? Points are certainly not the reason. Yes, it does increase your win/loss ratio, but at the expense of your score and your rating.
There is little or no actual fun in blasting away a weakling. You are not displaying any effort on your part, and you are wasting his time and yours. Wait until he has powered up, and then meet him in a fair fight. By getting killed by that pilot in an equal match, you will learn more and become a better player than if you had destroyed him when he was a neg. Of course, it is perfectly acceptable to annihilate a neg who attacks you first, but whether you wish to ruin your average kill rating in this way is up to you.
The issue of neg killing is closely related to that of engine shutdown and 'Mavis Beacon' killing, as they all involve the killing of a defenseless, or near defenseless, ship. 'Mavis Beacon' killing refers, of course, to the attacking of a pilot who is obviously typing, and thus unable to defend himself.
A player who decides to compose a love poem in the middle of a battle has no excuse when someone marches up and pops a cap in his ass. However, if you find a ship in some far off corner that just seems to be drifting, be a nice guy and just leave him alone. One of the most despicable breed of vermin you will find are those Spider pilots who will cloak and follow around a ship until he stops to type, at which time they will unload with a stream of L3 bullets.
Please don't shoot at anyone who has picked up an engine shutdown. How can you tell this? If your opponent picks up a green, and then suddenly coasts in a straight line, he probably picked up a shutdown. If you are the victim of the unlucky green instead, rotate your ship to signal to other players that you are defenseless. Engine shutdown vastly decreases your rotation speed.
There are two common ways in which 'newbies' will get themselves killed. The first involves the dreaded 'one-shot' kill. Basically, our newbie will find himself with level 3 multi bullets, a very powerful but very energy-consuming weapon, and will home in on the nearest high-bounty player and proceed to fire a dozen or so rounds in his direction. More often than not the 'victim' will step to the side, and as the newbie passes nearby, he will let off one or two shots and the newbie will explode. The most common response to such an event is a whine that goes like this: "He killed me with one shot! That's not fair!" Yes, he did kill you with one shot, but no, it was not unfair. The most important thing to remember in a fight is that your weapons draw upon the same energy source as does your 'life'. Whenever you fire a bullet, a little bit of your life-force goes along with it, a force that can only be recovered over time by recharging. It is all too common to see someone waste so much of his energy firing ill-aimed shots that he is easily killed by a pilot smart enough to conserve his power.
Firing bombs to a close target will cause you to lose energy, and will not harm the opponent nearly as much as it will harm you. If someone does this to you simply fire a few shots and more likely than not the suicider will die (having reduced his energy to zero with the bomb).
Be very careful when and where you fire your bombs. Bombs are an extremely dangerous weapon, both to the bomber and the bombed. On average, a bomb will exert an energy drain on the bomber of about 70% of the damage it will cause the victim. Also, of course, your bomb is equally likely to do damage to you if you aren't a safe distance away. The more powerful a bomb is, the farther away you should be from the point of detonation. Luckily, due to a feature called the pbomb fuse, you are required to be a certain distance from another ship to fire a bomb, but this distance isn't large enough to serve as a substitute for good judgment.