Elite Dangerous Preview

The year is 3300. Humanity expanded beyond the reach of Earth and has gone outside of its own solar system “Sol” in search for resources, new species and trading opportunities. Expansion however was very slow until 200 years ago, when the technologies of frameshift and hyperjump were perfected, giving rise to faster than light travel and making the journey between stars a question of fuel rather than time. As these technologies became affordable to civilians, trading and exploration vastly benefited and grew giving clear passage to the members of pilots federation to explore, trade and hunt.

These members of the pilot’s federation are called Commanders and they rank anywhere from Harmless to Elite and now you too can take part in the exploration of the Milky Way Galaxy. Welcome to Elite: Dangerous.

Note: Everything seen in the video above is in-game footage.

Elite

Disclaimer: This is a preview of a game that is currently in testing (Beta) and is by no means a complete product. Aspects and features of the game are subjected to change and this article may not accurately reflect the state of the final release, but does reflect the current state of the game as of 02nd of July 2014. This article is by no means a review of a finish product, but merely a peek into the future. Sit back, relax and enjoy the read.

Elite: Dangerous is a Massive Multiplayer Online First Person Space Combat, Trading and Exploration simulator set, as mentioned, in the year 3300. The reason why it’s defined as first person is because, unlike most other contemporary space simulators it does not allow for a 3rd person view. The whole game is experienced strictly from the Pilot’s perspective.

The sandbox (yes sandbox) is set in our own Milky Way galaxy which, when complete, will have a full 400 billion star systems to explore. Most of these systems will be uninhabited but the game creators “Frontier Developments” have promised rewards for exploring there systems.

It’s hard to talk about Elite as a whole so instead I shall attempt to present as many aspects about it as I can so that the game can be better understood in its entirety. For any information that I have missed in this article I ask the fans for their forgiveness, but there is too much of it in order to fit it in one article.

Space Simulator

As an independent Commander in the pilot’s federation you start off your journey in a somewhat old, simple yet effective ship: The Sidewinder.

Sidewinder: Taking on the universe on a budget

Sidewinder: Taking on the universe on a budget. Image Source

One look at the little ship and you can tell it was not designed for any particular purpose. It has two hardpoints ( = slots for front-facing weapons ) one utility bay and 4 cargo spaces. It is average in every aspect which makes it a great starting ship: small, maneuverable, light and (when this feature will be implemented in an expansion) aerodynamic which allows for it to enter planet’s atmospheres and land.

Unlike EVE online, this is an actual space flight simulator as well, which means you have direct control to “fly” your craft. The flight mode is Newtonian: if you user your lateral thrusters to spin, you will keep spinning until you decide to counter act the motion. Momentum in any direction is kept until there is a new force applied to change this momentum.

As you can see in the video above, every movement is kept until counter-acted. As you can imagine this makes flight extremely difficult so a computer and thruster-assisted mode has been implemented in the game, that makes your ship behave more like a plane. This mode is called fly-by-wire and while it does make flying slightly easier, it compromises in ship maneuverability as the thrusters are constantly counter-acting the momentum of your ship.

The actual control of the ship can feel slow and heavy at times, giving you the feedback that your ship is no toy but an object with great mass that is very hard to control. The sidewinder which is a small ship is very maneuverable but a bigger ship like the Anaconda is very hard to control.

Ship size comparison from smallest to largest: Federal Fighter, Sidewinder, Cobra MKIII, Anaconda

Ship size comparison from smallest to largest: Federal Fighter, Sidewinder, Cobra MKIII, Anaconda. Image source

And to get a better understanding of the size of one ship relative to a human:

Human compared to a Cobra MK III

Human compared to a Cobra MK III

First Person

Everything you do is achieved through the eyes of the pilot: You fly through the cockpit view ONLY, all the menus are centered around the pilots perspective, all the stats are shown on the dashboard.

The station menu appears as a hologram on top of your ship's dashboard

The station menu appears as a hologram on top of your ship’s dashboard

Your navigation instruments appear as holograms on your dashboard

Your navigation instruments appear as holograms on your dashboard

This was a deliberate design decision for immersion and realism purposes. The game tries its best to stay scientifically accurate without compromising on gameplay experience. To provide such an example when realism has been taken a little to the extreme think of the following: In space there is no sound, as there is no air to propagate the sound waves but a game in complete silence is not too entertaining, thus the sound is produced by a system of speakers within the ship’s cockpit. This also means that this sound system can be damaged and rendered inoperational during combat, thus finding yourself in complete silence during battle. In a future version the will also add features to adjust the volume of this system or turn it off completely, leaving you with just the engine noise and the squeak from your chair.

Another such example, if the windscreen of your ship is shattered in battle, you cabin gets depressurized, an oxygen mask falls on your head to provide you with air for 2 more minutes and all the targeting aids (the circles showing you your targets) can no longer be seen as they were generated by your windscreen (which can make navigating… difficult).

Combat

The Elite universe is not a forgiving one. There are pirates, bounty hunters, wars between factions and worst of all: bored players; out to steal your cargo, send you to CMDR heaven and destroy your engines just for fun. The only thing keeping others from tearing you to bits are the bounties that get inflicted on them for doing so and the armed response sent out once a crime has been committed thus, no particular place is 100% safe.

So one must be adequately peppered, and there are options: All ships (thus far) have weapon slots (known as hard points) and these hardpoints have a class. The weapons come in 3 main categories so far: Fixed, Gimbaled and Turreted. Fixed weapons are your standard pointy-shooty, manually targeted but can be very powerful. Gimbaled are a half and half, they will automatically track a target as long as it’s in front of you and was selected, however they can fall of target due to sudden changes in direction and it takes a second until they lock on again.

Turreted guns are complete 360 degrees tracking but they are very week. These types are mostly designed for Anacondas where it’s unreasonable to have all your weapons shooting forward.

Turreted weapon. It was a bug to have it on the Cobra MK III but shows what one looks like

Turreted weapon. It was a bug to have it on the Cobra MK III but shows what one looks like

The general combat feels very deliberate. The ships don’t move very fast so when fighting you are relying more on precision and well calculated attacks rather than sharp turns and  fast-paced battle. A Cobra for example is perfectly capable of taking down an Anaconda if it is equipped with the right weapons (say, heat seeking missiles) but a smart Anaconda pilot could have their own missiles on board which can make very quick work of the Cobra. All of this can turn a dogfight into a highly calculated and strategic battle.

How the rocket launchers look on a Cobra MK III. Click for image at 10240x5670 resolution

How the rocket launchers look on a Cobra MK III. Click for image at 10240×5670 resolution

But regardless of your approach, battle locations can become a thing of beauty and are usually very good fun, especially with the right ship and equipment.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DQpk2yrg2o Trading

Currently trading is very limited and early in its development. Each populated star system will have one or more space stations. These stations contain multiple resources in demand and multiple resources in supply. Your job is to fly between them and make a profit by buying low and selling high.

I could describe the whole process but instead I will let you admire this lovely video of a complete tread run between two stations. Enjoy!

The best ships for trading right now are the Hauler, the Cobra and the Lakon Type 9:

With it's 16 cargo spaces it's the smallest trading ship in the game so far. It has only one weapon slot but it is very maneuverable for a cargo ship.

With it’s 16 cargo spaces it’s the smallest trading ship in the game so far. It has only one weapon slot but it is very maneuverable for a cargo ship.

With it's 440 cargo spaces the Lakon Type 9 is a massive trade ship. It does handle like a dead cow though...

With it’s 440 cargo spaces the Lakon Type 9 is a massive trade ship. It does handle like a dead cow though…

EVE Online fans have a hard time with this trading system as it is very simplistic and basic. Personally I am hoping the system in this game will evolve over time until the final release date otherwise it may become a secondary feature of the game which would be a shame.

However due to it’s direct control (as opposed to EVE’s point and click) it presents a lot of interest to players as it is a more immerseve experience into a futuristic existence.

Exploration

This is as well in it’s very early stages. Frontier have stated that the game will have a 400 billion star Milky Way for us to explore and they have created the Star-map to prove it:

Picture of the Elite Glaxy map. All 400 billion stars.

Picture of the Elite Glaxy map. All 400 billion stars.

But as of now, the game is limited to only 7 star systems while in testing.

Unfortunately, the Beta is currently restricted to only 7 star systems. Click for 10K resolution image.

Unfortunately, the Beta is currently restricted to only 7 star systems. Click for 10K resolution image.

On exploration we have a lot of features to look forward to in the future. There will be a fuel mechanic within the game in order to limit one’s reach and force them to modify their ship to be better suited for exploration while compromising on cargo space and weapons.

There will also be missions and rewards for players that set out to explore the galaxy. It is still not definitive how you are going to get to the unexplored stars but what is definitive is that it won’t be through hyperspace. Hyperspace jumps are only possible between mapped locations, thus an unexplored star system is not yet mapped. Once you reach such a system and map it you may then sell the data back to the community, enabling that location for other players to jump to and earning a profit for doing so.

Massive Multiplayer Online

And finally, this game is not single player, but it can be! There are multiple playing modes that have been announced but only full multiplayer is currently available:

  •  Single Player private universe: The full single player experience.
  •  Single Player influenced universe: The player is alone in the universe but the market and exploration data is pulled in from the persistent universe.
  •  Multiplayer private session: You and your friends are the only ones in the universe.
  •  Full Multiplayer: Everyone will see you, you see everyone, prepare to be shot.
  •  Full Multiplayer Harcore: There is a private universe only for the hardcore players. Once you die in hardcore mode, your character is dead for good. You can use that character again in the normal multiplayer or create a new character to go back to hardcore.
Another real player within the game. They appear as hollow triangles or hollow squares on the radar system.

Another real player within the game. They appear as hollow triangles or hollow squares on the radar system.

NOTE: These modes have been put together from bits and pieces of information and they may be subjected to change in the future.

The game will also contain different missions and random events that occur around the galaxy. There will also be a mechanic for player-given mission (like escort missions for players with large cargo ships) but there is not much information on that as of yet.

The Game Engine

There is not much known about the actual engine behind Elite Dangerous but I will talk about what we do know. It is called the Cobra and it’s been developed and enhanced since 1988. It’s proprietary to Frontier Developments and as you can tell from the videos it is really powerful and pretty.

It is also very efficient, surprisingly so. My system is an AMD FX 6300 with 12 GB of RAM and a GTX 660 (not Ti) –  AKA a midrange PC by today’s standards. The screen hooked up to it has a resolution of 2560×1440 and I can get 30FPS normally with it never dropping under 24. ( I can just hear TotalBiscuit shouting in a corner “YOU WHAT MATE?”). Here are the graphics settings i’m running:

My Settings   Graphical settings

You must also understand that the game hasn’t been fully optimized yet as it is still in testing.

Three more interesting things about this engine:

  • It provides full support for the Oculus Rift, both DK1 and DK2 and we will probably see support for the consumer version once it gets released.
  • It provides full support for trackIR so you can move your head in the cockpit to look around while flying.
  • When pressing Alt+F10 it takes screenshots at 4X your current game resolution. As mentioned I run the game at 2.5K so pressing the screenshot key combination yields this:
Orbis Space Station - 10K Resolution, click to enlarge

Orbis Space Station – 10K Resolution, click to enlarge

Coriolis Space Station close up - 10K resolution click to enlarge

Coriolis Space Station close up – 10K resolution click to enlarge

Coriolis Space Station from afar - 10K resolution, click to enlarge

Coriolis Space Station from afar – 10K resolution, click to enlarge

Can I take part in the beta?

Standard Beta

Standard Beta

You sure can. The game has started giving public access from alpha stage. The stages of testing have been announced as Alpha, Premium Beta, Beta, Gamma, Release. Alpha has come and gone and we are now in the middle of Premium Beta, with normal Beta starting on the 29th of July. You can buy into the testing program here but be warned, the price is really high. The price is intentional in order to limit the number of players that are going to take part in each testing phase (this writer speculates it is also because everyone likes money).

Hope to see you in game Commanders 😉

 


Howdy y'all! I'm a Systems Engineer working day (and sometimes night) to fix all of your VoIP communications problems but my heart resides with the over-captivating world of gaming. Although I can't say too much about gaming engines and raw usage of the GPU, when it comes to multiplayer LAN, WAN, MMO or CO-OP (local or otherwise) I'm your guy. Follow me on : Google + , Twitter, Facebook

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