Scott Charles Adams' Blog

Elite: Dangerous

What is Elite: Dangerous?

It’s an awesomely cool space-game, based on an actual map of the actual Milky Way Galaxy.

The problem with space-based games (and space-based movies) is the distances. If you’re moving slow enough to fight space pirates, you’ll never get anywhere. If you’re moving fast enough to travel in a playable game, you’ll never see other pilots. This issue has plagued every space story (movie, game, show, or book) since we started telling space stories. Warp speed, hyperspace, light speed, jump space … all of these attempts to address the problems of distance require an unreasonable suspension of disbelief.

The way Elite: Dangerous addresses the problem is what got me hooked on the game. Although it breaks physics as much as the rest of them, it has established limitations and it lives by those limitations. As it turns out, the trick to playable space travel is three modes of travel.

Hyperspace

This is instantaneous travel to a star (well — nearly instantaneous … it still takes about twenty seconds). The limitations are:

  • You can only travel to a star. It’ll be huge in your windshield when you arrive. You will run into it if you’re not paying attention. It’s an embarrassing way to die. You will receive zero sympathy from your fellow gamers.
  • The distance you can travel in hyperspace depends on the strength of your FSD (Frame-Shift Drive) and the weight of your ship. Slower ships can only jump six or seven light years. Exploration ships can jump 47 light years or more. Longer trips will require going into hyperspace more than once. This works, from a story perspective. Traveling long distances should still feel like traveling long distances, even after known physics has been thrown to the quantum winds.

Super-cruise

Once you reach your target system, you’ll need to get to the planets in that system in a reasonable amount of time. That’s where Super-cruise comes in. We’re still moving at physics-breaking speeds, but you can spot and interact with other players. This is where the pirates live.

Your speed in Super-cruise will depend on strength of the gravity fields around you. This is simply brilliant. This means that a trip to Pluto (not a planet) will take longer than a trip to Mars, but not proportionally longer because you’ll speed up as you distance yourself from the stronger gravity sources. You’re safe from laser beams in Super-cruise (which makes sense, since your speed in Super-Cruise can vary from 0.1c to 100c or higher) (c being the speed of light) (newb!). However, players and pirates can attempt to interdict you. If they succeed, you will drop into normal space with them and they will commence to shoot you with their laser beams. Or their cannons. Or their missiles.

Cruise

This is normal, ordinary space. This is where you and I live and eat our cheeseburgers. Actions have equal and opposite reactions. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion unless some force acts upon them. Laser beams will melt your face. All that. All of the things you despise about gravity and momentum are true in normal space.

Your space ship has something called Flight Assist, and it’s damn-handy. When you throttle all the way down, your ship will stop. When you turn right, your ship will turn right. Pitch, yaw, and roll will work pretty-much as you expect — because Flight Assist is lying to you. When you throttle down, your ship isn’t simply gliding to a halt — your reverse thrusters are engaging to stop your ship. When you turn your ship around and head in the opposite direction, Flight Assist has to actively kill all your old momentum and replace it with a new momentum.

But, alas, physics is not left completely intact. Your ship has a top speed. What!?!? I know … I know … Newton would not approve — but space pirates gotta eat, too.

 

I wasn’t intending to go into this degree of detail about the game. I was just gonna come in here and add a bunch of links and call it day — for totally selfish reasons, I might add. If someone asks about ship outfitting or where they can mine water, I want to send them here for an answer to save on typing. And then all this happened. Dammit.

Clearly I’m going to need to give this more thought.


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