The X series through Albion Prelude provides examples of the following tropes:
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Sacrificial Lamb: In Terran Conflict, Jesan Nadina is a mercenary fighter pilot who brings the player aboard for Operation Final Fury, a privately funded effort to finish off the Kha'ak before they can mount another invasion. He is killed in action offstage two missions into the plot.
Sapient Cetaceans: The X-Encyclopedia mentions the Wenendra, a sapient whale race on one of the Boron planets. Its location is a state secret for said cetaceans' protection.
Save Game Limits / Save Token: Until you buy Salvage Insurance, you can only save when docked at stations. Salvage Insurance lets you save anywhere, but each time you save, you use up one Salvage Insurance. The player is also limited to ten save slots (and 3 autosave slots, which are made when you dock at stations).
Save Scumming: Almost a requirement when attempting to board enemy capital ships. Especially Xenon ships, where The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard — to the point where there is an achievement for capturing a Xenon frigate, something that people spend hours training their marines for.
Schematized Prop: Every ware has a very detailed preview shown in the freight window, and some of them have in-depth descriptions as to its function or how it's made. Advertising signs that one can sometimes find outside of stations show schematized hamburgers, foodstuffs, and satellites.
The "Difficulty" shown on mission menus is based on your combat rank, and often seems completely random. At higher level combat ranks, an escort mission with a difficulty of "Easy" might end up spawning dozens of enemy frigates to kill a single freighter. Said freighter will outrun your own capital ships, forcing you into corvettes or fast frigates instead of a proper destroyer needed to deal with the swarms of enemies.
Any "Covert Operation" mission that involves the target traveling through a Xenon-infested sector: the robots will either kill you or kill your target and cause you to fail the mission. Thanks to this, CO missions are the second most hated missions among players next to Escort Missions.
In-Sector versus Out-Of-Sector combat, particularly in Terran Conflict. To save on processing power, OOS reduces combat to ships taking turns firing a single, point-blanknote 650 meters or thereabouts volley from all guns at once at a single target. All other variables (area-of-effect, weapons recharge, and so on) are taken out of the equation. This skews combat in favor of Wave Motion Guns to the point where recommended loadouts are often drastically different for IS and OOS. OOS is also skewed in favor of weight of numbers, to the point where a mob of M5 Jaguars can kill an M2 Python with about 20% casualties, something that Artificial Stupidity makes impossible IS. Albion Prelude rewrites the algorithm to make OOS and IS results match up better.
Even scripted plot missions follow no clear difficulty slope. A combat mission with a supporting NPC squad against a pack of heavy fighters and a frigate can be easily followed by a "patrol" mission on your lonesome against several heavy carriers. And then it's back to killing fighter squads again.
Some of the slowest ships can actually be outrun by a basic passenger car, and that's before you account for air friction, making you wonder why the races in the setting even bother with spaceships for gate travel - they could set up a cable/rail/something public transit network, or tow the gates closer together and build a single space station around them.
Oh, and your ability to hail other ships and stations is cut off abruptly at 25 kilometers.
Energy: Shipboard weapons and shields are much weaker than anything in a sci-fi setting has a right to be. Most transport ships and fighters as of Terran Conflict have no more than about 100 megajoules of shielding. Burning a gallon of gasoline releases about 130 MJ. There is, of course, a difference between releasing 130 MJ over the course of burning a gallon of gasoline, and releasing it all at once, but the point remains.
A somewhat better comparison: 1 MJ is about the energy released by a current-generation hand grenade. No M5 has more than 5 MJ of shields.
The most powerful weapon in the game, the nuclear-tipped Hammerhead missile, releases 1.2 gigajoules (enough to destroy fighter swarms and all but one M6). By contrast, Little Boy, the nuclear fission bomb that demolished Hiroshima in 1945, released somewhere between 54 and 75 terajoules (at least 45,000 times more). The major powers of the X-Universe would lose to modern-day Earth.
Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: High reputation with a race lets you get away with an absurd amount of murders. You can capture their flagship, murder the crew, then sell the fighter pilots into slavery, and you'll often take only a minor reputation hit unless you started slaughtering everything else in the sector.
See the Whites of Their Eyes: Hard to avoid when the range of the longest-ranged anticapital gun is only two to three times longer than the ship is, and that the effective range is often a kilometer or so shorter. Missile frigates can blow away large targets from nearly 80 kilometers away, but thanks to the sensor range cap, typical engagement range is about 30 km unless you use another ship as a spotter.
Self-Deprecation: The achievement for getting 2 billion credits in X3: Albion Prelude is called "It Was About Time!" in reference to the fact that the player's bank account had been previously capped at that level to some players' annoyance.
Experienced players often set these for themselves. They range from "I'm only allowed to use one faction's ships" to Pacifist Runs to going to war with a faction to wipe them out.
Nuklear-Slug wrote a thread about the exploits of Squiddy McSquid, a Boron playthrough whose Self-Imposed Challenge was to fly his starting ship deep into Terran space, then set the self-destruct and eject. He then floated his way to a shipyard to buy himself a new ship and started from there.
StarSword made it a goal to build an impenetrable blockade against all Xenon sectors, a strategy that involved devoting a considerable percentage of his profitsss to the construction and equipment of Osaka destroyers.
Spaceweed Adict wrote a thread chronicling a war he waged against the Terrans. He succeeded in taking and holding every sector save Earth, where the computer is a cheating bastard.
The "main" game start in each game has gotten progressively easier (or less Earn Your Fun, depending on who you talk to). Beyond the Frontier starts you off in a painfully slow ship with no weapons or shields, The Threat starts you off in an upgraded Argon Discoverer scout ship, Reunion starts you off in a somewhat upgraded Argon Buster interceptor ship, Terran Conflict starts you off in either a Terran Sabre interceptor or an Argon Elite advanced interceptor. Albion Prelude starts you off in an Argon Enhanced Nova, and gives you a free 9 million credit corvette within the first hour of the plot.
Never mind the Enhanced Nova. The Terran start in Albion Prelude starts you off in a Katana corvette. However, it should be noted that both Terran and Argon military starts are meant for players that want to quickly jump into action, without lengthy buildup. There are additional starting profiles that start with the traditional piss-poor characters in a crappy ship.
Shaggy Dog Story: Arguably the Terran Conflict. As the Argon start The Big Push into Sol, the Ancients shut down the whole gate network to corral the Xenon, leaving everyone in the known universe trapped where they are.
The Shepherd: Most of the more senior forumgoers. X, especially the later games, is a complicated and time-consuming series with iffy documentation and players don't forget their noob periods.
Shiny-Looking Spaceships: The Paranid ships are basically flying mirrors, and the Terran ships are blindingly white, more so if you have Glow/Bloom enabled in the options.
Short Titles: A single character! As such, the series is usually called the X-Universe, or the name of the latest numbered version (X3).
Almost all of the Aldrin sectors are named after the Apollo program astronauts - (Buzz) Aldrin, (Neil) Armstrong, (Pete) Conrad, (Dick) Gordon, (Alan) Bean. This is an expansion on the planets in Aldrin and Aldrin 2 in basic TC being Aldrin and Armstrong.
The sector Black Hole Sun shares its name with a song by Soundgarden.
Sinister Geometry: Where fighters used by the other factions look airplane-like to varying degrees, Khaak fighters are sets of tetrahedrons in various combinations (fighter, interceptor, scout). Their space stations are clusters of dodecahedrons on sticks, and their capital ships have spider-like arms around a spherical core. Then there's their stationary defense platforms.
Sink the Lifeboats: The AI will shoot at the player if he ejected from his ship, and tries to spacewalk to safety. In Xtended Terran Conflict, the player can shoot down the escape pods that flee from destroyed capital ships and corvettes, though you don't accomplish much of value by doing it.
Snipe Hunt/Urban Legend of Zelda: New players are often recommended to find the elusive UFO base, the source of the UFOs that players sometimes see flying around at high speeds. The UFO base allegedly sells every ware in the game (and especially the ones not in the game) and all ships at dirt cheap prices.
Space Battle: Ohh, maaan. Despite frequent cases of Artificial Stupidity, the games feature some spectacular fights. Special mention to the Battle of Aldrin (end of the Terran plot), Operation Final Fury, and the Aldrin Expansion in TC.
Space Clouds: Very dense nebulae show up in many sectors - in some sectors, visibility is less than 10 kilometers. Albion Prelude gets rid of most of the visibility restrictions on nebulae, instead making it an atmospheric effect that doesn't limit your vision. The nebulae have no effect on your ship's sensors.
Space Cold War: Terran Conflict. The Terrans distrust the Argon, and the Argon fear the Terrans' extremely advanced technology. Goes hot when the Argon blow up the jewel of the Solar System, Earth's Torus Aeternal, in Albion Prelude.
Space Elves: Concept art for the Split in the X-Encyclopedia gives them a strong resemblance (though the guy who designed the in-game character portraits apparently didn't get the memo). One forum thread speculated that it hearkens back to the original Germanic myths that inspired the Tolkien elf, but there's no official word on the subject.
Space Flecks: In X3, which also features a variation in which star flecks are accompanied by region-themed clumps of other stuff, such as red nebula gas.
Space Fighter: All the races have their own set of Space Fighters. They have good speed, decent cargo bay, and can operate autonomously without the need for refueling or pilot rest. Most of the game starts have you start out in a fighter of some sort. Space Fighters come in several flavors:
M3+ Heavy Fighter: Like the M3, but slower with more guns and shields.
M3 Fighters: The most well rounded and arguably the most useful. They have good cargo capacity, mediocre speed, good firepower, and good protection, with the ability to mount jumpdrives.
M4+ Heavy Interceptors: Like M4s, but with a bit more firepower at the cost of speed. Bridges the gap between the M3 and M4
M4 Interceptors: Midway point between M3s and M5s. They don't have much firepower, but they have good speed and can mount jumpdrives.
M5 Scouts: Pathetic firepower and shielding, but ridiculously fast top speeds. Only a few are capable of mounting jumpdrives.
Normally avoided apart from Space Friction and Space Clouds, but there is the odd quirk that the majority of capital ships have their anticapital guns on the forward and flank batteries, with the flak guns above, below, and astern. Certain forum members also have a tendency to use nautical terms like port and starboard.
Also avoided in that the Terrans use army ranks for their space forces instead of navy. Kyle Brennan, the Player Character of X: Beyond the Frontier, holds the rank of Major, while X3: Terran Conflict's Terran plot has you working under the overall command of General Ishiyama.
Space Is Cold: Albion Prelude has a Steam achievement titled "It's Cold Outside" for forcing another pilot to eject.
Space Is Noisy: Weapons and explosions make noise (and a lot of it, too).
Space Madness: Flavor text for the Oort Cloud in Terran Conflict mentions that those who work there sometimes fall victim to "Oort's Curse", a madness with no known cause or cure.
Space Marines: Starting with Terran Conflict, you can train these as units for boarding ships, and can only use them while piloting an M7M ship; the thing is, you're going to have to devote yourself spending hours in real time to get them trained to five-stars, because due to how the RNG works in boarding operations, especially against Xenon ships, you're very likely to lose your marines and have all that time spent on training wasted in one fell swoop.
Space Mines: In several flavors. SQUASH mines are your standard explosive mines, Ion mines deal damage only to shields, Tracker Mines... track stuff, and Matter/Antimatter mines are like SQUASH mines but with more boom. Except that in the game there is no difference between all of them beyond the name. None. One of the most effective tactics with mines is to get a huge swarm of enemies chasing you, drop all the mines, and order one of the mines to self-destruct. Big bada boom.
Space Navy: The Terran United Space Command and the AGI Task Force, its special forces equivalent.
Space Police: All the main races have Border Patrol and Police ships. They buzz about, scanning ships for contraband, and they harass pirates (and lose terribly, because they have peashooter weapons.)
Space Pirates: Swarms of them, and they have space flamethrowers. The Pirates paint up their ships with spiffy flame paint jobs and graffiti, then start slapping on all sorts of weapons on them, such as the aforementioned flamethrower. Some of their communication portraits even have the stereotypical eye-patch. Composed of all the races (yes, even the Boron and Paranids. Except for the Terrans, who remain vehemently isolationist, and the Xenon/Kha'ak, who both operate as a Hive Mindbent on destroying anything that isn't them).
Space Station: Loads and loads of them. There's mines, factories, solar power plants, military bases, shipyards, and warehouses, to name a few. And the player can build and own most of them.
They're the only thing in any of the games that the player can actually land at. Which sort of justifies the fact that none of the ships can reach escape velocity (as mentioned above).
Xtended Terran Conflict adds several new life forms; a Space Dragon, a space rock-eating beetle thing, and space jellyfish that feed on energy cells.
Spam Attack: Fighter drone swarms. The player gathers hundreds or thousands of fighter drones into a freighter, flies into a enemy sector, drops every one of them into space and orders all of them to attack enemy capital ships. For the enemy, this counts as an almost-instant game over.
Spare Body Parts: Paranid have from 1 to 4 eyes (this even determines status and rank in their culture). Many of the Paranid the player talks to have 4 eyes in the communications video, however.
Spikes of Villainy: Xenon capital ships typically have dozens of spike-like antennas scattered across the surface of the black and red hull. Split capital ships also have a large mass of spike-like antenna mounted on the nose of the ship.
Splash Damage Abuse: Area of Effect weapons deal damage based on how many of their damage "squares" touch enemy ships. In other words, larger ships take exponentially more damage than a small ship. As such, capital ships take absurd amounts of damage from Phased Shockwave Generators. The good news is, PSG are strictly short-range weapons (as well as capital-only from Terran Conflict on), so unless the player is at the controls of the PSG-armed ship, a ship with dedicated anticapital guns (PSPs or PPCs) can keep them at arm's length long enough for this trope not to matter.
Squishy Wizard: M8 Bombers and M7M Missile Frigates. Both have mediocre/bad amounts of shielding (for their size), mediocre speed, and pathetic point defenses (Boron M7Ms don't have any point defenses). However, both have the amazing ability to put out hundreds (or in the case of the frigate, thousands) of missiles which can easily wipe out sectors.
Stalking Mission: One of the optional, randomly generated missions that players can take in Terran Conflict. A few pop up during the game plots, but they're usually mercifully short.
Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: Scouts, Interceptors, Fighters, Corvettes, Frigates, Bombers, Destroyers, Carriers, and 4 different types of freighters (Space Trucker, Space Yacht, giant freighter that can carry entire stations, and freighters with most of the cargo bay ripped out fighter docking ports).
Standard Sci-Fi History: The X-Universe has gone through The Cycle of Empire twice. In both cases, the Decline and Fall was due to somebody creating artificial general intelligence. The first time around, the Terrans nearly destroyed themselves, only surviving because the commander of their space navy lured the terraformers through the Earth jumpgate, which was destroyed behind them. The survivors of said commander's fleet created a new civilization in the X-Universe, the Argon Federation. In the 2940s, under threat from Earth, the Argon created AGI warships and unleashed them on the Terrans, sparking an interstellar war that forced the Community of Planets the Argon were a part of to divert the military forces holding the terraformers (now called the Xenon) at bay. The Xenon went out of control, forcing the Ancients to shut down the jumpgate system. This caused Galactic/Societal Collapse. X Rebirth is set during the Interregnum about a thousand years later.
Standard Time Units: Time is measured in Sezuras (1.7 seconds) Mizuras (96 Sezuras; 2 minutes and 43 seconds) Stazuras (96 Mizuras; 4 hours and 21 minutes) Tazuras (7 Stazuras; 1.27 days) Wozuras (7 Tazuras; 8.89 days) Mazuras (7 Wozuras; 62.23 days) and Jazuras (8 Mazuras; 1.36 years). Many players did not like this, so X3: Reunion has a ratio to the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) units used in Real Life.
In Terran Conflict, the "-zura" based system was dropped in favor of Earth time units.
The XTC Mod (Xtended for Terran Conflict) brought it back again.
The Boron◊. They're aquatic, squid-like aliens whose home planet has an atmosphere of ammonia.
The Kha'ak are so alien that the Commonwealth races are physically incapable of communicating with them. They're Bee People that have characteristics of both birds and insects, are roughly 75 centimeters in size, and communicate by gestures and pheromones.
Starfish Language/The Unpronounceable: "Boron" bears no relation whatsoever to what the species actually calls itself. That would be kind of difficult when you consider that the Boron language consists mostly of clicks and pheromones. Similarly humans can only approximate Paranid words because our vocal structures are different. The Split are close enough physiologically to humans that we can speak the spoken language, but the sign language that complements it requires six digits on each hand.
Starter Equipment: The different game starts available from X3: Reunion and later games change your default starting ship, gear, and reputation. Typically, you're given either a M5 scout ship, M4 interceptor, or a TS small freighter, along with a small amount of credits, a few guns, and poor or neutral reputation with the various races. Terran Conflict offers a few better-equipped starts, such as the Bankrupt Assassin, who starts off with a M3 fighter, or the Terran Defender, who gets a M4+ heavy interceptor. Albion Prelude goes even more extreme, with Terran start start off with an M6 and 200k credit in bank.
Strawman News Media: All of the race specific news sources in Xtended Terran Conflict have a dose of this, but it's most readily apparent in the Terran and Aldrin news sources, which are essentially flanderized Fox News in space. The Terran news source constantly reports on how inferior the Aldrin colonies are, and the Aldrins report that the Aldrin military is the most well trained in the universe.
Stupid Evil: Pirates will try to blow up pretty much every ship that enters their sector, even if said ship is trying to sell much-needed resources to Pirate stations.
Your wingman at the end of X2: The Threat, who rams the Kha'ak doomsday weapon to destroy it. All well and good, except that his kamikaze run doesn't seem quite as noble when you've got three capital ships, laden with multiple Wave Motion Guns and entire squadrons of fighters, sitting in firing range.
Or, y'know, if it wasn't actually possible to remotely control any ship you own even while extra-vehicular. Sure, by all means send your ship to its destruction, but there's nothing in the rules that states you have to be in the damn thing, y'know.
Saya Kho's destruction of the Torus - the colossal ring station around the entirety of Earth - in Albion Prelude intro may arguably fall into this category from a political standpoint. The Argon and Terrans are locked into a cold war with localized conflicts. The Torus was a hybrid military and civilian installation, providing defence for Earth, but it did not threaten Argon interests directly. Blowing it up constitutes something between Hiroshima bombing and 9/11 in space, as it had a staggeringly high casualty rate among both military and civilian personnel, not to mention those killed by debris falling to Earth. Naturally, this incident became the spark for a full scale war. Saya Kho is previously portrayed in the series as a reasonable person and is said to show remorse for the deed (she could evacuate the Torus in time but chose not to), but no justification is provided for her deed.
Subspace Ansible: In addition to allowing starship travel, the jumpgate network acts like a subspace ansible, allowing lightspeed radio signals to travel across the galaxy fast enough for real time communication. (This is mainly because a sector's gates are rarely more than 100 kilometers apart.) The fact that this is not true FTL communication becomes a plot point: after the gate network shuts down following X3: Albion Prelude, interstellar communication in real time becomes impossible and all organized interstellar governments in the X-Universenote except the Earth State, whose population is mainly confined to the Sol System break up instantly.
Subspace or Hyperspace: Many ships make use of "subspace compression" to store vast amounts of stuff in relatively tiny spaces. Special life-support units can make it possible to store living creatures in this manner (otherwise the compression is instantly fatal), but it's nevertheless quite unpleasant.
Subsystem Damage: Ships with critically damaged hulls will have their on-board cannons, missiles, cargo, and software suites destroyed. Some weapons are designed specifically to do this, such as the Ion Disruptor.
Super-Persistent Missile: Unless they're of the unguided dumbfire variety, missiles will always continue to pursue their targets, so long as they have fuel. The only way to stop a missile is to shoot it down or outrun it. Missile Frigates fire especially long-ranged missiles which are Robo Teching, recursive, and will target new enemies upon the destruction of their original target; which can lead to fighter craft spinning around wildly, attempting to avoid the hundreds of missiles spinning around them furiously and attempting to out-turn the fighter.
Super Prototype: "Prototype" ships in Terran Conflict and Albion Prelude are almost always superior in almost every way to the standard production models. They can only be gained by capturing them, or by doing plots (such as the Corporation missions). Their rarity and power are usually handwaved as being too costly for mass production. In practice, despite their rarity, they actually can be reverse-engineered in the Player Headquarters, contrary to what most players think. The only problem after reverse-engineering these ships is the humongous amount of resources needed to produce a single ship, and depending on the ship, it will take about more than a full day to both reverse-engineer and construct it.
The Prototype Terran weapons built by the Aldrin colony, on the other hand, are actually inferior to the mass-produced (and more advanced) versions.
The Boron Campaign, the first time the Commonwealth governments had a full-scale war. The Split invaded Boron space and pushed the squids all the way back to their homeworld Kingdom End. Then the Argon, needing a new ally after having a falling-out with the Paranid, came to the aid of the Boron, throwing most of their fleet at the Split and driving them back.
By the time of the games, the Boron have become respectably badass by necessity. It's not uncommon to see a Split strike force enter a Boron sector and promptly get shredded.
Suspiciously Specific Denial: The "Mercenary" Information Network in Xtended routinely puts out articles like "How to set up your base" or "How to spot a good haul", with a vehement denial written at the bottom of every article stating that they are not telling you how to set up a Pirate Base / Pleasure Palace, how to raid traders, or how to spot police informers.
Take That: Xtended Terran Conflict's in-universe news system has a report on a new cult of Split who believe that "The Eve" is coming, which will cause the collapse of all governments and cause people to begin to constantly murder and backstab each other with no second thought. The newscaster calls it crazy.
Target Spotter: In Terran Conflict and beyond, M7Ms' Macross Missile Massacre has a range of a little less than 80 kilometers, but the ship's sensor range, even with the best scanners available, is under 30 klicks. To get maximum range out of the missile frigate you need to use another player-owned object (ship, satellite, space station, whatever) as a spotter.
Technology Marches On: Real Life example for X3. During the first half of the 2000s, CPU processing power (the main limitation on the game engine) was jumping upwards rapidly, and apart from graphics the X3 engine had barely been updated since its original incarnation in X: Beyond the Frontier. If the trend of increasing processing power within a single core had continued, we'd have no problems with more player assets slowing games. Then the industry standard changed to increasing computer speed by way of multiple cores in a single CPU, cores that were often slower individually than the single cores the X3 engine worked best on. To make matters worse, the engine is 32-bit, meaning it can't take advantage of more than about 3 GB of RAM. These two factors make the restart point for an all-plots-finished Terran Conflict player not "whenever I get bored", but "whenever my installation becomes nearly unplayable".
The latter point in time even happens occasionally before the player finishes all the plots.
The change in industry trend has prompted Egosoft to build a new game engine from the ground up for X: Rebirth, one that is multicore- and 64-bit-compatible. This also gave them an excuse to advance the timeline by a thousand years.
Tele-Frag: Ships travel between different sectors of space through jumpgates. Jumpgates are two-way, meaning that ships both enter and leave sectors from them. Meaning, you can use your jumpdrive to jump to a distant sector for a mission... right as a five-kilometer-long vessel is entering the jumpgate's event horizon (where you are). The Terran sectors in X3: Terran Conflict are notorious for this, as they have very active military patrols which fly between the smaller Terran gates very often.
The solution to this problem is using the autopilot to fly through gates whenever feasible (obviously this is not a good idea when under attack). The game features a "traffic light" system at each gate pair, and only the player has the ability to run a red, so to speak. The autopilot always waits for the light to turn green.
Teleporters and Transporters: A couple different varieties. The Portal Network allows interstellar travel. Meanwhile, ships can be equipped with a Transporter Device that allows you to transfer people and cargo from one ship to another (provided they're no more than five kilometers apart) without needing to dock both ships at a station.
Teleport Spam: Possible in the Xtended Terran Conflict mod for... Terran Conflict. Battleships / Motherships (M2+) mount Point-To-Point jumpdrives, which lets them jump anywhere in a sector after 10 seconds of charging. This allows players with enough energy cells to jump in circles around enemy ships, whittling them down while taking almost no damage.
Theme Naming: Some ships in X3 have names of swords. Others use names from Earth mythology, biology, or geography. The full list of naming conventions is as follows:
The Theocracy: The Paranid Empire is ruled by one Priest-Emperor Xaar, with each Paranid settlement having its own priest-duke.
Thou Shalt Not Kill: The Boron are a pacifistic race (though not in the same manner as the Goners), but due to constant conflict with the Split, they've taken a slightly more militant yet defensive stance in their culture. If they get threatened with death, they will not hesitate to pay back their offenders with the same price, all in the name of peace and their Queen.
Time Dilation: Every ship can mount a "Singularity Engine Time Accelerator" which can speed up the flow of time up to 10x, depending on the game settings. Activating the device at high settings is heavy on the CPU and tends to cause Artificial Stupidity.
In in-game lore, malfunctioning SETA drives can supposedly crank up the effect to several thousand times normal speed: back in the days of X2 and X3 when stations had bulletin boards that featured news articles, one story covered a pilot who lost a year's worth of time when his SETA device went haywire and took several hours for him to shut down.
Time Skip: X2: The Threat takes place 22 years after X: Beyond the Frontier. X3: Reunion is set a year after X2. Terran Conflict is three years after Reunion. Albion Prelude is just over a decade after TC. X Rebirth is a millennium after AP.
Too Awesome to Use: The Xperimental Shuttle is available in Terran Conflict. It's one of very few ships that cannot be reverse engineered at the Player HQ. You'll fly it around the universe once, then park it someplace safe and never touch it again.
Took a Level in Badass: Each race's military in Albion Prelude. In previous games, they'd sort of ignore the player unless he got very close to them. In Albion, they'll jump around the universe to respond to threats to their space. If you jump into a Split system and start blasting civilian ships and the stations, they'll send ships to kill you. The more damage you cause, the more likely they'll send something big to kill you, like a destroyer, or in the Terrans' case, the ATF Valhalla or USC Kyoto.
Too Dumb to Live: Ships generally take the shortest route to their destination. Even if said route lies directly through a Xenon sector and they don't have a jumpdrive to hop over it with.
Tractor Beam: In X3: Reunion and later games, tractor beams are a player-usable weapon, used mainly for towing ships and moving stations around. In a symptom of those games' broken economy, the factories that create them sometimes disappear before the player can buy one, forcing one to build a factory for an item the player only ever needs one of.
Interestingly, tractor beams are programmed to be incapable of locking onto non-player-owned objects. This is mainly to prevent the obvious exploit where the player drags enemy vessels into stationary objects like asteroids. This restriction can be modded out.
Translation Convention: All the races speak in a version of Japanese (it's backwards), but the player hears them as English (or whatever language they have selected).
Tron Lines: Pirate Buzzards have orange neon lights lining the hull panels.
Try And Follow: A decent pilot with a small enough ship can invoke this trope. Simply fly through tight gaps in space stations (the bigger the station, the better), or (if the opportunity presents itself) make like Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back and fly through an Asteroid Thicket. The AI's collision avoidance software will force your pursuers to give the obstacles a wider berth, while you open the gap.
Twenty Bear Asses: One category of missions for the corporations randomly picks up to three types of missiles for you to deliver to them. About half the possible missiles are only available as random drops from destroyed ships.
Unexpected Gameplay Change: The starship race course in X3: Reunion's plot, which in early versions was extremely buggy and difficult. As of the final patch, it's still a pain in the ass because the NPCs are able to fly the course flawlessly every time. Reunion also has an on-rails mission set on a planet, where the player uses a hilariously overpowered cannon to blast ships chasing them through a futuristic city.
Unique Enemy: The Hyperion corvette and Agamemnon frigate in Terran Conflict only spawn once, and are both very potent ships in their class. The only way to acquire them is to board them with marines. In-universe, their rarity is attributed to them being one-off prototypes whose production was killed off due a recession. Several other unique ships only spawn once, like the ATF Vidar, but they are typically rewards given to the player. Xtended also has the Xenon Raven, which is a Pirate Tepukei frigate which has been converted to fire Xenon weapons, with the flame paintjob replaced by a gray fuselage lined with glowing red lines. The Raven only spawns once, deep in Xenon sectors, making it extraordinarily difficult to capture.
United Space of America: Averted. The games describe the Argon government as having a president and a senate, but the X-Encyclopedia clarifies that said president is the president of the senate. In other words, he/she is really a prime minister rather than an American-style president.note This is probably a case of Lost in Translation resulting from the fact that non-English-speaking European countries tend to use the local word for "president" in place of "prime minister".
Nividium is a valuable mineral mined from certain asteroids (rumored to be fragments of the Kha'ak homeworld). What the NPCs use it for is unclear.
Teladianium is a ceramic used mainly in structural components.
Unusable Enemy Equipment: Orbital Weapon Platforms, AGI Task Force fighter craft, and Kha'ak capital ships cannot be acquired normally by the player; ATF ships never bail, and Kha'ak ships and weapon platforms cannot be boarded. Xenon and AGI Task Force capital ships in Reunion were impossible to capture normally as boarding did not exist at the time.
Used Future: Many of the Teladi and Pirate capital ships ships as well as some Pirate stations are crude and worn-down in appearance, and some look like random bits and bobs and ship hulls were duct-taped together. (In the case of most pirate ships and stations, they actually are.) Argon fighters use this to a lesser extent, as most of them have rust spots (in space) and scorch marks from welding, despite being bought brand-new from a shipyard...
Vendor Trash: Most of the ships/weapons/items you sometimes obtain tend to fall under this. Examples include the Teladi Vulture, any abandoned ship whether or not it was piloted, the Fragmentation Bomb Launcher, any dumbfire missile that isn't the Tornado, and Nividium.
Lampshaded by Mahi Ma at the end of the Hub plot. Said Big Dumb Object lets players link up to three gate pairs at their discretion, which lets them shorten the voyage between major regions of their trade empire. It also lets them give four Xenon sectors free passage to a populated area.
If another pilot ejects from his/her ship (whether because you bought it from him/her, or because s/he offered his/her ship in exchange for you not finishing him off), they'll start floating towards the nearest space station in their spacesuits. You have the choice of leaving them alone, using them for target practice, or scooping them into your cargo bay and enslaving them at pirate bases.
A work-in-progress script allows you to utilize slaves for a variety of useful tasks, like ship repair. When they repair the ship, you eject the suited-up slaves into space, and they start repairing your ship with repair lasers - sometimes they'll break away and try to escape, and you can just slaughter them or kill them. You can extort slaves for money in exchange for their freedom - or you can just extort them, promising them freedom, then keep them anyways.
Videogame Flamethrowers Suck: Very, very averted. The Plasma Burst Generator is a strictly short-range weapon, but range is everything that separates your target from a quick, crispy death. Or as one forum member rather succinctly put it, "OMGWTFBBQ."
Wake-Up Call Boss: The Xenon squad at the end of the first mission of Terran Conflict's main plot seem to be there to show that, no, it is not a good idea to rush in and engage the enemy. The Xenon's powerful lasers can shred you in seconds, and its far better to stick with your squad and work together to defeat the enemy.
War Was Beginning: Terran Conflict's opening cinematic tells the roots of the titular Space Cold War. Albion Prelude's cinematic tells how the cold war turned hot.
Warp Whistle: The Jumpdrive is a relatively expensive module fitted onto ships that allow them to jump to any known jump gates while expending some Energy Cells. The jumpdrive works anywhere and has a set charge time of ten seconds, though one should be aware that it can be destroyed if the ship's shields go down while trying to escape. The Unfocused Jumpdrive gained through the Goner plot will dump the player into a randomly generated sector in intergalactic space, giving them a breather from combat or allowing them to find the Goner Aran. The only limitation to the jumpdrive is that it cannot warp to Terran Trans-Orbital Accelerators, as they're glorified Gauss guns that shoot ships between points of interest in the Sol system. The Xtended Terran Conflict mod adds Point-To-Point jumpdrives for the M2+ super-destroyers which can jump anywhere in a system, but requires good relations with the sector's owners, locks the ship's controls for several seconds, and drains energy cells at a phenomenal rate.
Wave Motion Gun: The Boron M7 Thresher can mount ten photon pulse cannons on its Fixed Forward-Facing Weapon slots. PPCs are normally mounted only on M1s and M2s. In OOS combat, this gives the Thresher absurd firepower since weapons energy is not an issue. IS, it's something of a Glass Cannon because the PPCs drain its energy fast, and the Thresher is larger than class average and has weaker-than-average shields.
Lasertowers in Terran Conflict. In theory they can defend locations quite effectively: good range, very small target. In practice their DPS is comparable to heavy fighter lasers, and they traverse so slowly that they often can't target faster ships especially at close range. Couple this with their weak shields (bomber grade at best) and they're only effective in huge numbers, and then only during in-sector combat. They got a major buff in X3: Albion Prelude to make them useful in their intended role, at the cost of a lengthy setup time that makes them difficult to use in the alternate niche developed in TC: a Superweapon Surprise for pursuing ships.
Very, very averted with the turrets attached to the Torus station ringing Earth. Their extreme long range and high damage give them the ability to one-shot a fully shielded destroyer. Which is why the Argon resorted to sabotaging the Torus itself when Albion Prelude's war broke out.
Stations pop out fully-built from TL ships - and always exactly where the player orders it built, regardless of distance. Cheap factories like Wheat Farms are commonly used to "station-bomb" enemy capital ships - by building the station inside the enemy.
Because gates both receive and send ships through the same portal, one can easily wipe out entire squadrons of Pirates or race ships as they enter or leave a gate, by ordering a capital ship to jump through the gate right before the targets cross the event horizon, causing the ship to go barreling through the gate and telefrag anything in its way. Terran Conflict (thankfully) made this more difficult, as smaller ships approach from the rim of the gate rather than the center.
We Are as Mayflies: Varies by race. The X-Encyclopedia says the average Boron's life expectancy is about 35 years, whereas the average human, whether Argon or Terran, lives to about 110. The Split invert or avert depending on sex: males generally don't live more than 50 years, whereas their womenfolk usually top 80. Played straight with the Teladi, who average 250 years with the record being 400.note The Teladi are actually functionally immortal, but tend to get tired of life around the middle of their second century and choose to die. No word on the Paranid.
We Buy Anything / We Sell Everything: Averted. Each station will only buy the resources for the products they manufacture, and will only sell these products (and that is if the owner allows trade for the station). Trade Stations are slightly more permisive, as they will buy and sell for the average price all wares in their stock list; the list varies greatly between host races and slightly between the stations of a given race. Equipment docks will buy any kind of missile, shield, or weapon, but will only sell a limited selection of race-specific weapons.
We Will Spend Credits in the Future: The Teladi backed the creation of the unified currency between the Commonwealth races. Prior to that each race used its own currency. The Terrans presumably changed to credits between the events of X3: Reunion and X3: Terran Conflict.
What the Hell, Player?: Hit non-hostile ships or stations enough times (whether accidentally or on purpose) and the sector police will warn you that if you keep it up, they'll attack. Continue, and you'll get a message saying the Space Police are coming after you, after which The station or ship will turn hostile and the sector police will attack. This becomes fairly annoying during station defense missions, where friendly fire to the station you're protecting is a constant hazard.
And then you can usually prevent an encounter with the police by opening a comm channel with them and blaming the weapons' targetting system. Thankfully, stations gone hostile from friendly fire while you are protecting them become friendly after completing the mission.
Wide Open Sandbox: Very wide open. So much so that the devs included options to disable the plot altogether, so the players can have their fun merely by interacting with the open universe. The X series is practically the very definition of this trope.
With This Herring: The majority of the games start the player out in a poorly equipped (or just plain bad) ship, with a pittance of credits to your name.
Terran Conflict's Goner Witness starting scenario takes this to a ridiculous extreme. You start out in a Goner Ranger, the worst ship in the game, with 350 credits. Seriously.
Word Salad Title: X3: Albion Prelude. "Albion" refers to the player ship of X: Rebirth, the Albion Skunk, while Prelude is Exactly What It Says on the Tin: a prelude to the gate system shutdown that gave the dev team an excuse to do a major timeskip.
Writers Cannot Do Math: The intro to the Encyclopedia says that it is designed to set the canon in stone. It does that for the most part but introduces a couple new problems. For example, page B-29 says that the Torus Aeternal was blown up in February 2948, then the next gorram page says the gate network shut down in December 2947. So either the Argon Fleet can teleport, or somebody got a date wrong.
In X3: Reunion, three games and several dozen years later, the Solar System is reconnected to the X-Universe's Portal Network at the end of the main plot. By this time, Kyle Brennan has a grown son in the X-Universe, is a war hero, and is the head of a multibillion-credit company (Terracorp). At best, he'd likely be a Stranger in a Familiar Land.
According to the X-Encyclopedia, Kyle Brennan did eventually return to Earth, and tried to work towards improved diplomatic relations between the Terrans and Community of Planets. It didn't help much.
The Xtended Terran Conflict mod takes place in an entirely new gate system — the only preexisting sector is Aldrin. The Terrans allow races to send their ships into the gate system, but they refuse to let them go back to the original gate network. As such, every ship in the new gate system can't go home again.
You Nuke 'Em: The Hammerhead missile is a miniaturized nuclear missile, which can be fired by any ship larger than an interceptor. It's the single most powerful weapon in the game (aside from the Torus defense cannons), and can be used to kill entire squadrons of enemy fighters or corvettes. The Hammerhead is balanced out by making only occasionally Random Drop from killed Pirate and Xenon fighters, and by making it extremely dangerous to fire at close range - one lucky shot from an enemy and you'll have a nuclear missile detonating 10 meters from the nose of your ship
You Require More Vespene Gas: Wares can be broadly defined into Energy, Minerals, Bio, Food, Tech, Military (weapons, shields). There is also Secondary factories. Each race has their own unique Bio, Food, and Secondary wares, which are used by their own stations. Some Tech and Military factories are race-exclusive.
Energy is made by Solar Power Plants, which have no ware requirements to build Energy Cells (Except for player power plants, which need Crystals). All stations require energy cells.
Minerals (Ore, Silicon) are mined by breaking up asteroids and picking up the debris, or by placing a mining station on them. They only require Energy to work. Ice and Nividium asteroids are also present, but Ice is only used by the Terrans, and neither type has mining stations available to the player.
Not legally, anyway. Sometimes TLs labeled "Terran Ice Miner" have ice mines in the hold. Capture the ship, and you've got a mine.
Bio (Meat, wheat, etc) are used only by Food and Secondary factories. They only require Energy to work.
Secondary factories (Warheads, food spices, etc) are usually not essential to the economy except for a few Tech factories. They need Energy and Bio to work.
Food (Space burgers, MREs, etc) requires Energy and Bio.
Tech (microchips, crystals, etc) requires Energy, Food, and Minerals. Some require a Secondary resource in place of Food.
Military (lasers, missiles, food) requires Energy, Food, and Minerals. Military equipment is bought by Equipment Docks or installed on ships.
Zerg Rush: Common Xenon and Kha'ak tactic. The Khaak Cluster is a self-contained Zerg Rush; upon approaching it breaks into about a dozen scout ships and a heavy fighter.