Elite: Dangerous Meta Musings

TMC Archives 2016-01-25

With the recent release of the second season of Elite: Dangerous, Horizons, Frontier Development’s space sim has been attracting a lot of new attention. Horizons adds planetary landings and approaches, as well as improvements to the mission system, and widespread combat rebalances. Despite this, some players have said that Horizons takes a game widely criticized as being “a mile wide but an inch deep” and makes it, at best, two miles wide and an inch and a half deep. Elite is a game seemingly trapped between eras. Much of the gameplay appears to be more of an attempt to recreate gameplay from 1984 in a modern engine than a game designed with today’s market in mind. In response, players have largely taken it upon themselves to fill the vacuum of space.

Third-Party Tools

One of the most frustrating issues of Elite is the economic experience, with no in-game functionality existing to look at the inventories or prices of commodities at stations. It is difficult to plan routes for traders, and outfitting a ship can be an infuriating process. Players often find themselves flying from station to station looking for that one last vital piece for their desired ship build. Planning a build itself can be a difficult process, as the outfitting menu does not provide some vital information on how certain equipment works, and there is no way to plan ship fittings in-game.

A variety of websites and applications have stepped in to solve this problem. Perhaps the most popular of these is Coriolis.io, a shipbuilding application. It allows players not just to design models to work towards, but to test if builds will meet power requirements, and see how far they’ll be able to travel. It also provides standard quantitative measures of shield strength and armor, which are not visible from the outfitting menu in-game. Rounding out this functionality, Coriolis allows for saving builds, a functionality conspicuously missing from the game itself.

The Coriolis.io shipbuilding tool for Elite Dangerous

Once a player has used Coriolis to design their ideal fit, and ensured they have sufficient money, it is time to build their ship in the game. In Elite, players can see a station’s economy on the navigation map. Certain economies are more likely to have certain ship components.  Unfortunately, the game simulates an economy with scarcity, and there is never a guarantee that the last needed component will be at a station, regardless of its economic type. There are few things more frustrating than buying a fifty-million-credit spaceship and finding the station lacks the A-rated frameshift drive you need. E:D Trade Database is a tool that alleviates this problem.  While it is player-maintained, and therefore not guaranteed to be fully current, it lets players know for certain that at some point, someone was able to find the ship or component they want at a particular station.

In the past, Elite was predominantly a trade simulator, with intermittent combat. Trade routes had to be discovered by the players, and a lucrative trade route meant a fast path to riches. In an always online multiplayer universe, however, players don’t want to spend their time finding good trade routes by trial and error. Working together, players now maintain a trade database that not only shows commodity prices, but can calculate lucrative trade routes based on selected criteria.

Player Factions and Organizations

Third-party websites have supplemented many of the functions of the game itself, but one feature is conspicuously missing from the game: player organizations. Players can move up the ranks of the Federation or Empire. In PowerPlay, a system added in the 1.3 update that attempts to simulate galactic intrigue and cold war, players can choose to support a character in the struggle for control over settled space. However, PowerPlay is still computer-driven, and may not necessarily provide the sense of engagement found in player-run groups. In any multiplayer game, players will seek to work together towards common purposes, and Elite is no different.

Many diverse player communities have come about for a variety of reasons, using popular websites (such as Reddit) to organize themselves.Groups have formed to support each other in in-game activities (such as trading or piracy), as social organizations from other communities, or to roleplay as supporters of in-game factions. With the 1.4 content update, Frontier added player factions to the game at the request of pre-existing player organizations. While they belong to players in name only, and are simulated like any other NPC faction, they provide a rallying point for organizations interested in manipulating Frontier’s background simulation, and are much more controllable than PowerPlay factions.

A bulletin board in Elite: Dangerous showing missions issued by a player faction.

Player organizations also exist to support various roles and style of gameplay.  The Code, a pirate organization, has frequently been in the headlines for interrupting community goals. Code famously blockaded Hutton Orbital during a goal to transport goods to Hutton, a platform which takes some 45 minutes of supercruise flight to reach. Other organizations, like the Hutton Orbital Truckers, exist to support players roleplaying galactic commerce. Even rescue operations are supported by player organizations. Fuel Rats is run by a group of player volunteers who will respond to requests to bring fuel to a stranded player anywhere in the galaxy. Notably, they once rescued someone as far as 15,000 LY from the populated sphere.

In a galaxy filled with pirates and competing factions, privateers and mercenaries are a necessity to assist in getting things done. The Diamond Frogs are a group of mercenaries who serve no greater good except their wallets. They are frequently hired by groups like the East India Company to support their game activities, such as providing event security at their Halloween Onionhead event, or helping support Space-PETA in the protest of the Carnoeck Bacon Festival.  In the spirit of capitalism, other mercenary groups such as Triadium have now begun offering similar services.

Though the game does not provide any method for the transfer of credits from player to player, these kinds of for-hire bounty hunting or mercenary groups often accept payment in the form of transferred goods which can be collected and sold. Unfortunately, because this takes a lot of time, it is a tedious method of wealth transfer.  It is to be hoped that Frontier will eventually reconsider and add a method of payment transfer, though the developer has so far been silent about this.

A Python tediously scoops cargo as ships exchange goods.

The game also lacks any way to affiliate with other players officially, but again, third parties have delivered. Many player groups use Inara to organize with other players and maintain rosters of their membership. Inara also provides a means for players to keep visual statistics on their progress, journals of their adventures, and photo galleries of their fleets.  Inara provides tools not only for organizations, but also for regular players.

A Game Seeking an Identity

While Elite is already a finished game, it remains in crisis, with players searching for gameplay and quality of life elements that are simply lacking. Despite playing its developmental goals and plans close to the vest, Frontier has usually been responsive to player requests for changes and features. While careful to avoid over-promising features it does not plan to include, Frontier does consider most requests, especially those which come from larger player communities.

On the holiday stream in December, the developers promised to look at player organizations more closely in the coming season. With a list of minor factions (which player factions are a part of) being considered for promotion to a PowerPlay “Power,” and a preview of the commander creation tools coming so quickly after the release of 2.0 and the return from the holiday season, Frontier has started the year on a high note.

It seems likely that this season will finally herald official support for the player community meta that has already developed.  With that, this may be the year that Elite finds itself and blossoms into its full potential.

This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by Paramemetic.

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