Frontier’s long-awaited multicrew update for Elite: Dangerous has been announced and will enter beta testing at the end of this month. Despite a history of critically bad decisions, it actually looks really, really good. Multicrew was announced as part of Horizons last year, but prolonged development of previous updates, partly a result of having to rework game mechanics to appease an army of posters on the Frontier forum who preferred to drown themselves in the immersive experience of egg-timers, pushed its release into this year. Fortunately, it seems as if Frontier has been quietly working on the update, and in a post last week Community Manager Ed Lewis gave us a statement from lead developer Sandro Sammarco on how multicrew will work.
The statement gives us the basic information about how multicrew will work, and frankly, it’s very exciting and promises an easy to pick up rich gameplay experience with very few barriers to play. The first and most important feature of multicrew is that it will not require waiting or coordinating ships to the same location. After forum posters pestered Executive Producer Michael Brookes to add a poll and then accommodate them with arbitrary timers when using ship transfers, many players who are more interested in playing a game than simulating the bureaucracy of real life were afraid that mechanical barriers would be put in place for the sake of “immersion.” Fortunately, Frontier has made a good commonplace decision to make multicrew a drop-in, drop-out experience. The Helm player, who pilots the ship, will be able to set himself as “Looking For Crew,” while other players can join a “Looking for Ship” queue that will automatically place them with a ship that needs crew. Alternatively, pilots will be able to simply invite their friends to join them on the ship. In either case, after matching for multicrew, the players will simply be on the new ship, immediately and ready to play.
This focus on removing barriers to the gameplay experience is extremely important as it allows players to experience multicrew and play with their friends without long and unnecessary time sinks. The “pick up and play” philosophy promises to bring new players to Elite: Dangerous. Elite is already a complicated game with a steep learning curve, but the option to immediately play with friends without worrying about needing to grind out top-tier ships first can get new players playing immediately, reduce the learning curve by letting them get a grasp of mechanics through playing, and give players an idea of what it is they are working towards. Large ships like anacondas are no longer just a bigger ship with more guns, but now a platform allowing a player to be the Helmsman on a crew.
Sensible, Fun Roles
Another concern regarding how multi-crew might work was that there was simply no way to divide all of the tasks that the single pilot already manages into multiple tasks without each one suffering. As it is now, a single pilot controls engine resources, flies the ship, fires the guns, and so on. Dividing these tasks up would simply make each player have less to do, and actually make combat more awkward as coordination would be essential, something that is difficult at best given the P2P network architecture.
In lieu of simply dividing these tasks up, Frontier has smartly created flight roles that work to enhance the experience of players playing together without diminishing the capabilities of solo pilots. While not all ships will have all the roles, and roles will be determined by a ship’s capability, the largest ships will have room for four roles: the Helm, who owns the ship, flies it, manages the power systems as present, controls forward facing guns, and the launch or recovery of the NPC fighter pilot; the Gunner, who controls turreted weapons using a third-person view of the ship; and two Fighter Pilots, who can each launch a fighter and fly it in addition to the NPC fighter.
In addition, all three crew members have an additional pip they can dedicate to the power resource of their choice. A ship with three crew members in addition to the helm therefore will have seven pips to work with, giving a ship more power to dedicate to different subsystems, ensuring that coordination will tangibly benefit ships. It also means that the Helmsman cannot simply steal all the power away from, for example, the guns, leaving the gunner locked out of play due to heat.
A fully stacked crew will be able to launch three fighters (two PCs and one NPC), fire in all directions using turrets, and fly about, creating a kind of high-stakes game of space team where everyone working together becomes a formidable force, but no one pilot sandbagging can ruin the play.
Shared Risk, Equal Reward
The insurance costs of a multicrew ship that is destroyed will be reduced to again prevent barriers to gameplay for pilots who are new to the game and do not have the vast resources of someone who can afford an Anaconda. As for rewards, all bounties, combat bonds, vouchers, and so on are duplicated rather than divided among crew. This ensures that multicrew remains rewarding without punishing players for choosing to use it. Still, the punishments are also shared – criminal actions will result in a bounty for all players on the crew. To avoid saddling people with the punishment for a misplaced shot, however, players are free to choose when they leave the crew to not accept the punishment – but they won’t get any of the rewards then, either.
A Community Confused
It is probably not surprising, given the track record of so-called “forum dads,” that this announcement was immediately followed by players on the Frontier forums calling for blockers and requirements before multicrew can be accessed. Requiring all players to be docked at the same station to join a crew has been a popular proposal. Other proposals are that players should have to have so many hours in game, or an account so many days old, before they are allowed to crew with others. This kind of nearsighted, selfish indulgence on the part of older players is a huge reason why this galaxy is not as populated as it should be. Elite is a fantastic game with, I will say again, some of the best space flight soft-sim mechanics of any game, ever. Still, many older players want to force others to play they way they want to play. While praising Frontier in the highest for how they have chosen to do this, I also want to address again why enforcing immersive only creates barriers without adding anything:
See, when players play a game, not everyone values the same experiences. Some players want to work hard for their rewards, others want to fly big ships instantly. Some players want a diversity of experiences, others want to do one thing a whole lot. Some players want extremes of realism and verisimilitude, others just want to have a fun time going “pew pew.” All of these are good and valuable ways to play, and there is no moral superiority to the players wanting realism versus those wanting a good time. “Forum dads” say the “pew pew” crowd are all teenage COD players, and ignore the fact that COD is a popular game a lot of people play (though I don’t know anything about it and have never played). The idea that the “I just want to shoot spacemans” players are morally inferior and need to learn hard lessons about delayed gratification and so on ignores the fact that most players are adults who are trying to escape from the world with brief moments of fun.
Regardless of the motivations, adding mechanics that allow players to pick up and play, to drop in and get right into the action, does accommodate those players who want a less “realistic” experience, but does not actually hurt those who want the immersion. If you, on principle, think it’s not fun to join a crew without being docked at the same station, then just don’t do that. Call your friends, tell them to meet you at a station, then join their crew. You don’t have to join it without being at the same station, you have the choice to play however you want. Start a private group where that is a rule on the group and you get kicked out if you don’t play that way. That’s fine! But by forcing that to be the only way people can play, you deny the same freedom of choice to others. You gain nothing, but others lose something; they lose their options to play. And if having the option to drop into a crew without being in the same system means you will obviously just do that, then consider that maybe your principles aren’t as strong as you thought. If you can’t abstain from doing something because it’s too convenient, then maybe consider that some players desire that convenience because real life is hard and they don’t play games to replicate that same experience.
But anyways. . .
Frontier has done a fantastic job of making multicrew look like it will be fun, accessible, and beneficial to the game. The roles are sensible and exciting, leaving nobody sitting there watching because they’ve moved all the pips and that’s all the can do. The pilot role isn’t divided up in a way that makes flying your ship less engaging. There is more to do, not less, and everyone gets rewarded for playing together, without anyone being punished for playing alone. In short, this is perhaps the best of all possible ways to implement this update. Our only hope is that it is not ruined by a group of people who want to make a game less fun, less accessible, and less engaging.
Oh, also there is a commander creator for dressing up your player doll. That was also announced.