Elite Dangerous: Tales From the Black


Author’s note

Part of the human condition is the need to explore. At a fundamental level our primitive brain’s reproductive success is based on sampling the world around us and making prognostications and observations that improve our chances to whelp more humans into the world. To the majority of people this drive to see beyond the horizon has been tamped down to a trip to Disneyland and the occasional guilty pleasure of watching Eurotrip.

Fortunately, there are some few remaining heroes who still feel the relentless wanderlust that drove explorers and seafarers alike. While the railway traveler’s journals of the 19th century have been replaced by The Travel Channel and Natgeo binges of the 20th century, which in turn have been supplanted by students blogging their experiences backpacking through Germany; it is those authors and telecasters who prove that the spirit of exploration not yet dead. Anecdotally, I clearly recall a week trapped in a Tasmanian bed and breakfast where the discovery of a “local does well” travels journal led me to get out of the hotel and really do some searching for these quaint and off the path places.

For many of us, video games provide a healthy, cheaper and ultimately much safer way to exercise those demons of exploration. And game designers know it. The first generation MMO’s like Ever Quest have evolved from their inviable walls with fixed zone points into the sweeping open space of Eve and Elite. And dreamy idealistic games, like Star Citizen and No Man’s Sky promise even more in the way of worlds to explore. By catering to our need to “Go There” and have an adventure when I arrive designers have monetized virtual exploration.

In homage to the great travel writers of the last generation and the travel shows of today I am writing this travel log of a fresh rebirth within Elite Dangerous. Of all the current platforms, E:D seems ready made to supply a story of travel and exploration to any interested journal writer.

Additionally, with more than 1000 hours logged between the Beta and Released versions of E:D, this story can also be used as an overly wordy starters guide as well. I will be taking some creative license here and there to move along plot points and down play the grinding parts, but it will be a fairly accurate depiction of good practiced ways to get started and on your feet while playing E:D.

I hope you enjoy reading these journals as much as I have enjoyed writing them.

Farmer’s Son

I don’t know what it is about a fresh vehicle cockpit that excites the imagination. There is the obvious new smell that clings to all the fresh plastic and synthetic leather, and the over firm feel from the unbroken rubber in the seats. But there is more to it. A feel of potential unrealized perhaps, or of exploring the limits of the craft. Whatever it is, just opening the door to my little space craft was enough to evoke that old feel of mingled joy and respect.

Even back home when my papa would finally destroy another sub-t harvester with years of abuse and neglect, no matter how cheap or expensive the new tractor, he would have me sit in it with him for a few moments before starting it up. An almost ritualistic moment of excitement and solemn wonder to appreciate the new machine before he would take it back down into the subterranean fungi farms that were his life’s work.

It very nearly was my life’s work as well. The Chumail family have been farming this rock for a very long time. While the planet’s mineral composition is not ideal for growing much, there was a very important role for the local mining operations. Bio reducing fungi gets imported from off-world and then used to break down the wastes of the mining operations. The fungi then dies off and can be reprocessed back into fuel for the mining rigs. This important middle step in the process puts a high demand for farmers willing to seed, cultivate, and then harvest the fungi in the harsh environments of tunneled out cave systems. Enough so that any motivated farmer can keep his family comfortable and in a little bit of profit.

I can practically feel my Papa’s ghost as I move into the tiny space and sit for the first time in a craft of my own. Papa’s health had been failing and his attention wasn’t where it should have been when the last in a progression of sub-t harvesters rolled over during a cave in. The life support on the beast of a machine failed and Papa asphyxiated alone in the dark while the farm was getting dug out. I can hear Papa’s frustration wishing that I would go back to his trade and take up the yoke of farming that had been the family legacy for generations. He had never quite understood my desire for new places and wider and wider vistas. Yet at the same time, even Papa’s ghost was now observing the moment of silence and respect for a new ship.

For me quarterly trip to the spaceport at Baker’s prospect was my chance to embrace the possibility of more than working the farm. I could watch as the transports and big heavy haul Pythons conducted their stately dance to reach their assigned moorings. A few smaller craft would flit about, but as Baker’s isn’t a major trade port, they were infrequent wonders to watch them flit back and forth around the bulky transports bringing food and fungus and leaving with holds full of minerals.

I would spend the hours that it took to fill our heavy crawler with lichen spores loitering in the spaceport lounge listening to the commanders and crew of the haulers enjoying natural gravity for a bit and bragging about escapes and exploits across the galaxy. I would scoff at their claims of wealth and riches knowing full well that if they had those kinds of funds they wouldn’t be here in the lounge, they would have been part of the mercantile entourage that passed through the space port only as far as it took to reach the private accommodation decks. I would listen and dream until such time as Papa would come find me to follow behind the lumbering crawler to watch for problems in the farm’s little buggy.

It was the stories and lies of the spaceship commanders that represented real life and freedom to me. I did not long for the dark and unstable caves that had been hollowed out and processed, first for the minerals and then again for the fuel. That is what this little sidewinder represented to me. Freedom and the chance to be unique in the universe. Never mind that countless thousands of these little scout craft were produced every day and shipped by the handful all across the galaxy, this little one was mine. And thanks to the sale of my family’s stake, another point that had my ghost grumbling, I owned the ship outright and enough of a nest egg to start a whole new life and career. One without a dank cave and little white growths in it, a life where I was ever surrounded by the most open and wide of vistas.

The Business At Hand

But first thing is always first. Getting a grip on both my father’s ghost and my own wish to just be off, I settled into getting the control configuration setup. I had invested a small amount in getting some upgraded user interface and control options, so while getting them in place and in calibration was the work of the starport tech’s, setting up the functionality of the modular buttons and extra wheels and levers had to be done by hand. Setting up the bells and whistles took much longer than I expected and I ended up having to start over once when I found I had somehow mapped conflicting items to the same push button, eventually though I got things sorted enough that I could work with them, and if worst comes to worst I can reconfigure again.

The next order of business was just that, business. I had my ship and one thousand credits to my name. Now, what to do to make those credits be fruitful and multiply? The machines of bureaucracy that makes the universe work is truly an amazing thing, but despite all the technology of the age they still can’t quite figure out how to dispense with waiting rooms. In the room there was a number of different little cubicles where continuous looped advertisements and digital pamphlets outlined different opportunities to the newly minted pilot. Guides on how to get out to the rocky asteroid belts, and how to sign up for one house or another to act as servants for pay. The local legal authority and port authority also had stern reminders on how to handle one’s self when confronted by an outlaw and how, in the event you survived the encounter, how to go about claiming fines and bounties from the deceased.

Ultimately though, it was by participating in the social dance of the waiting room that I got the best advice. Most of the folks waiting were, like myself, waiting to having their simulator tests validated and their virtual pilot’s license punched. However, there were two much older hands waiting to pay their due to the system for a new passenger authorization.

I listened as intently as anyone else in the room as the two veterans whiled away the hours of waiting chatting to the novices, despite knowing that a very long time was going to lay between me and a ship large enough to do travel tours in style, the idea of cruising through known and unknown space just to see the sights, all while having a wealthy tourist pay the bill, was quite intoxicating.

Back to the business at hand though, without further musing I pulled up the contract log for the station on my ship’s console looking for a ready job or two. I started shuffling through the various listed contracts and hit upon several data transmission jobs to various locations. Knowing the limited capacity of my small little craft I thought these would make for a perfect shake down opportunity. I could get out there and see a few star systems while getting paid and not having to worry about the miniscule capacity of my little sidewinder.

My next order of business was to look over what was installed on the sidewinder and start planning out my refits. Remembering from my simulation time that mass is life when it comes to being able to save on fuel costs and maximizing jump range I knew I had to trim as much fat as I could. After having the little ship moved down to the hanger area I had the work crews tear out the little vehicle pod and buggy. My goal was to get off of a rock not to just play in a tractor somewhere else. Next I had the two basic laser pulled off to fee up considerably more weight. I hesitated a moment over the discovery scanner, after all I did want to explore the universe, but I opted to scrap it as well. The space here is very well documented and until I could build a craft to really get out of there it was just slowing me down.

I started to tell the techs to remove the planetary approach gear as well. Fortunately a grizzled old mechanic pointed out something that should have been abundantly obvious.

In a gravelly voice the mechanic told me “Since yer new here I’ll help you out.”

Clearly, when he said ‘new here’, he really meant that I was being a bumpkin farmer’s son.

“You’re here on the surface right? Well you want to get off the surface right? Well just how are you gonna do that without the approach gear?”

Taking his point, I left the thrusters and avionics in place until I was going to be sure that I was neither leaving a planet base nor going to be going back to one. I was particularly thankful for the warning since if I had removed the package and tried to take off I would have then had to pay the reinstall price for a new drive! Assuming the repair shop had one to start with.

Editor’s Note: this submission comes to us from former TMC contributor Froggy Storm, whom you may remember for such hits as his timely introduction to mining shortly after the feature’s introduction last year.

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  • Ryan

    The great strength of sandbox games is the way players interpret the content and build on what’s there. Stories are a fantastic part of that, and seeing a message from Froggy after quite some time really made my day.

    October 30, 2016 at 9:28 AM