Art by AnuranonthecoucH
Thousands of Elite Dangerous players are stranded deep in space after a Frontier story event left them out to dry. Frontier Developments has a history of promising exciting storyline events that its P2P architecture simply can’t handle. In the “hunt for Salome,” players had to search for clues, including speaking to GM-controlled characters that only instanced with a handful of players. In a later follow-up to that event, players were asked to escort Salome, an NPC controlled by Drew Wagar and instrumental to his lore novel’s plot, across the galaxy – but again, instancing did not allow for it. This time, however, Frontier’s mismanaged story event wasn’t foiled by its game design, but by neglecting to take all of its byzantine systems into account.
Of Player Factions and Megaships
The Canonn Research Group is a roleplaying player organization in Elite Dangerous that focuses on scientific research and discovery. Without these mechanics in-game, however, it more practically can be said to be a group that focuses on exploration and unraveling the mysteries Frontier lays out in sometimes strange, ARG-like scenarios that players are expected to unravel to progress the glacial story developments. When Drew Wagar’s book and the related in-game plotline focused on the Formidine Rift, Canonn was deeply engaged in solving the mystery. When Thargoids were only being teased, Canonn was trying to discover their secrets. Generally, when players do finally discover whatever hidden secrets Frontier has placed, the story is next progressed through a”community goal.” As far as player organizations go, Canonn is one of the most engaged with the Thargoid plots.
But Frontier handles its in-game plots, and its players’ in-game presences, like the worst sort of D&D dungeonmaster. Players submit their ideas for their own faction storylines to Frontier, and Frontier runs them when, and how, Frontier likes. Recently, in an attempt to give players a real presence in the game beyond the name on a faction that was present in the galaxy but little more, Frontier gave certain player groups “megaships” – dockable stations that could be moved about. Canonn was the first to receive a megaship, The Gnosis, which is moved about from system to system based on a flight plan submitted to Frontier by Canonn leadership.
For Canonn, this means having the ability to dock at a station in places where there wasn’t before. It’s a true boon to their ability to research and explore, and allows players to go further with more options. Being able to log out in a station and let it take you somewhere can also save a tremendous amount of time in a game as vast as Elite where limited jump ranges can mean voyages to certain places can take months.
Cone Sector Investigation
It was one such flight plan that set the stage for the current situation. Canonn wanted to send The Gnosis to a small pocket in the Cone Sector peppered with “permit restricted” systems. “Permit Restrictions” are the lore justifications by which certain systems simply cannot be entered. Usually, these systems are somehow plot relevant. In Elite’s lore, the Pilot’s Federation has restricted access to them, and because every pilot’s ship has a Pilot’s Federation computer, the ship’s navigation simply will not allow the ship to go there. Right now? That usually means Thargoids.
After submitting their flight plan, and having it accepted, things got a little strange. According to a source inside Canonn, after the flight plan had been approved players were encouraged and looking forward to an interesting trip that Frontier heavily promoted. Canonn players believed themselves to have found a new clue to the Thargoid plot, and the impending voyage was heavily hyped. Pilots who hadn’t played in months were logging in and making their way to The Gnosis, while others were returning from as far as Beagle Point – the furthest system in the galaxy from the “pocket” of inhabited space.
Then, a week before the move, the system The Gnosis was planning to travel to became permit restricted as well. Canonn leadership reached out to Frontier but were assured everything was fine and would proceed as planned. Canonn continued to promote this opportunity, and players continued to dock on the ship.
The Best Laid Plans
On Thursday Sept. 6th, a few hours before the server update that would reflect the ship’s movement, a Galnet article went live reporting that the Gnosis had been stranded. When the server update happened, players found themselves not in the Cone Sector on a mission of discovery, but a mere 12 lightyears away from where they had started, and heavily besieged by Thargoid ships.
Worse, however, was Frontier’s failure to account for its own game mechanics. Many of the players had thought to prepare for a fight with Thargoids. It’s always a possibility now, with hyperspace interdiction more likely to occur in areas of interest to the Thargoid plotline, and Canonn was, after all, trying to head to a potential hotspot of Thargoid activity. But being prepared for a fight means nothing when the game’s mechanics won’t let you. Beyond the difficulties arising from player’s ships being turned off by Thargoids while still in the docking bay, those who managed to escape and begin to engage found themselves being issued a fine for shooting too close to the station. Because of the recent “crime and punishment” update this meant that they would not respawn in the megaship, but rather in a “prison colony” over as thousand lightyears away. With many of them in combat-fit ships, they did not have the equipment necessary to make the trip back. Even if a player had the patience to make the nearly 100 jumps it would take a combat ready ship to fly back, without a fuel scoop equipped for refueling off of stars, the journey would be impossible.
These players, who had already spent considerable time in getting their ships to The Gnosis, and who found themselves deeply involved in Frontier’s storyline, would not be able to return to take part in whatever Frontier has planned next for The Gnosis.
By now, Frontier’s response to these kinds of mistakes has become formulaic. In a post on their official forums, Frontier community manager Will Flanagan praised the nearly 11,000 pilots who had made the trip to The Gnosis for their involvement. With little by way of apology, he said the issues that pilots were facing were “being addressed.” Then, Zac Antonacci showed up to clarify concerns in his now signature condescending style. Responding to a question about whether the journey would not be happening, he said “The area of space (Cone sector) that the Gnosis was aiming to jump to was never a location that was able to jump to. This is because the location is specifically meant to be used for future narrative. That’s the reason why the initiative from the community was weaved into the actual lore of the game. ”
Frontier had led the Canonn Research team on from the beginning. It was never intended that players would have their adventure. Instead, Frontier gleefully set up to pull the rug out from under 11,000 players. It didn’t have to be that way. If the systems were reserved for plot, they could have simply not approved the flight plan. After all, players can’t move the megaships themselves – they can only ask the Frontier community management team nicely and hope that it happens.
But the galaxy of Elite Dangerous is a cruel and uncaring one, though no more cruel or uncaring than its devs.