Elite Dangerous History: Frontier Elite 2 (FE2)

Posted by on Feb 16, 2017 in Lore

This is one of a series of guides to the Elite Dangerous Universe. You can read the others here. In this second of series of history articles, I take a look at the second game in the Elite series. Frontier Elite 2, commonly abbreviated to ‘FE2’, came along almost ten years after the original game, being published by Konami in 1993 (rights later sold to GameTek) and primarily written by David Braben, although Ian Bell provided some algorithms for drawing planets and design work on control methods. Some work on ‘Elite 2’ had started long before this, with both Ian Bell and David Braben involved in creating a possible sequel to the original game on the BBC and C64 microcomputers in the late 1980s. Reports differ on why this didn’t come to fruition, though it seems that the 8-bit hardware was too limited and enthusiasm for the project, with other interests taking their toll on time, ultimately put paid to the work. When FE2, the second game, finally did appear, it was exclusively a 16-bit affair, being made available for the major platforms of the time, the PC, the Commodore Amiga and the Atari ST. It also featured one of the most cinematic game intros that had been seen up until that point. It’s still worth watching today, to get a feel of how the game introduced itself. Some original music, particularly the intro theme tune featured above, was composed by David Lowe. For many this is still the definitive ‘Elite’ theme. Other classical works featured in the game too. The game featured considerable advances and changes over the original. Gone were the simplistic wireframe vector graphics, replaced by fully filled polygonal spacecraft with moving parts and articulated undercarriages. The universe was now semi-realistic, with ‘real’ stars, orbited in real-time by multiple planets simulated with real astronomical detail and a nascent 1:1 scale galaxy convincingly represented – although space had turned ‘blue’ for some reason. A political background was introduced, with the game having a particular date it was set in, the year 3200 (the original game had no fixed date but has been assumed to have been set in the year 3125. In FE2 you played a great-grandchild of the original player). The Federation and the Empire appeared as two galactic superpowers vying for territory, the player able to rank up with them. This was a significant departure from the original game which appeared to be set in an imaginary series of ‘galaxies’ controlled by the mysterious Galactic Cooperative or ‘Galcop’. This was, perhaps, the first major ‘retcon’ of the Elite universe. FE2 did include a small subset of the original game systems, collectively known as the ‘Old Worlds’. Players will still be familiar with Lave, Diso, Riedquat, Reorte and Tionisla. There are a number of others from the original game still featured in Elite Dangerous even now. This led...

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Elite Dangerous History: The original ‘Elite’

Posted by on Feb 1, 2017 in Lore

This is one of a series of guides to the Elite Dangerous Universe. You can read the others here. This is a rather ambitious series of articles, and will probably see some updates as folks let me know of all the bits I’ve missed along the way. Strictly speaking this isn’t a ‘lore’ document, as it is the history of the Elite games in ‘our’ universe. I haven’t seen a complete series charting this story from beginning until now attempted anywhere else, so I thought I’d have a go. The Original Elite, 1984 – 1992 It’s hard, at this stage, to return to the pre-Elite days of computer gaming in the early 80s. Back then games were largely simplistic, clones of arcade games or following very closely in their designs. Games were specifically designed to play through in a few minutes, featuring ‘lives’, ‘scores’ and ‘levels’. There were games that broke this mould, but they were few and far between, and often easily forgotten. The Acorn Computer BBC Microcomputer System (the ‘beeb’ or BBC) was the ‘posh kids’ computer and heavily geared to educational use (benefiting from government subsidies, and thus appearing in many schools in the 1980s). Gaming was certainly not something its creators had as a primary design goal – it had no sprite hardware like the later Commodore 64. It was expensive (£335 in 1981 – the equivalent of around £1,400 today). The story starts with Ian Bell having brought such a machine with him to Cambridge university where he was studying Mathematics in 1982. There he met David Braben, studying Physics. Both were computer aficionados of a type becoming common in the 80s. At that stage, Ian was working on a game known as “Freefall”, which was later published by “Acornsoft”, a relatively small publishing house, compared to Thorn EMI, in 1983. David had a written a demo of 3D wireframe spacecraft, and a scrolling starfield on an Acorn Atom (a more primitive precursor to the BBC). This led both to discussions on the limitations of ‘then’ current game design. They were not the first with the 3D ideas, but they were the first to couple the idea with a purpose, a goal and something beyond just a score and ‘another go’. Elite was born out of the dissatisfaction with the confines of traditional gaming. With no score, what was the purpose? The Thatcherite years of the 1980s provided the answer – money. But money isn’t a score, you can spend money. On what? On upgrades… so your ship had to be inferior to start with. What would be the purpose of upgrading your ship? To defeat other vessels. Why would those other vessels attack you? Because you carried a cargo… so trading was required alongside piracy. There was always a reason for the game mechanics, and the concept developed from there. The true genius, however, lay...

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The 100k Barrier

Posted by on Jan 25, 2017 in Progress Report

Something of a milestone in the writing this week, the first draft of Elite Dangerous Premonition has hit the 100k mark against an approximate target of 140k. Now some folks will point out, quite rightly, that word count isn’t everything. The old writing cliché – “Don’t worry about word count, worry whether your words count” may apply. Is the story working, is the plot sound, are the characters appropriately differentiated? All good questions. I’ll let my previous track record in writing speak to those points, I don’t intend to disappoint my readers. You can assume that is all in good shape, though there’s plenty of work left to do. I use word count as a progress indicator because it’s straightforward and easily accessible. It works for me. Sometimes an author has the luxury of putting out a book ‘when it’s ready’, but often I see that as an excuse for ‘late’ or ‘never’. I find I work best under pressure, so I set myself word count targets and track progress against them. So far so good. 100k is a good slug of work and with just over 70% of the draft written it’s appropriate to ask “So how’s it going, Drew?” On balance, I think it’s coming together well. I don’t encounter ‘writers block’ myself (I put that down to good planning), so I’ve been able to continue on at pace. I’ve been capturing player events as they occur and usually get to write those up a week or so after the event. My biggest concern at present is two fold. The first is the character arcs. There are quite a few in Premonition by necessity and I need to ensure they all make sense and have a purpose. This isn’t currently the case in many places. It’s an editing job, but a big one. The second is ensuring I wrap up certain threads in-game and from my previous book in a satisfying way. I’ve made a bit of a ‘rod for my own back’ on this one, because I weave in multiple meanings and layers and like to leave readers with a few unanswered questions. The trick is finding a balance between how much to reveal directly, how much to leave for readers to infer and how much to leave unanswered. I will say, however, that this has been a much tougher assignment than my previous Elite Dangerous book ‘Reclamation’. That felt, at the time, quite ambitious, but it’s child’s play compared to the task of ensuring that ‘Premonition’ works well. Premonition is not only a book, it’s part chronicle, part lore repository… but it has to excel at all three without compromise. Polishing this up to a real shine is going to be a hard job. Here’s what I’m juggling at present in addition to all the ‘normal stuff’ required to produce a book: Monitoring social media and...

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Elite Dangerous Lore : Hyperspace

Posted by on Jan 8, 2017 in Lore

This is one of a series of guides to the Elite Dangerous Universe. You can read the others here. Hyperspace. Precisely how it works is something of a mystery, certainly by the time of Elite: Dangerous it appears to be part of the dual function ‘Frame Shift Drive’, operating in a mode which allows you to travel the, literally, astronomical distances between stars in just a few seconds. But it wasn’t always thus in the Elite Dangerous universe. Hyperspace was discovered in the 2200s. But it wasn’t until the 2800s that consumer ships began to take advantage of the technology in large numbers. Over the centuries hyperspace technology has been refined. Circa 2800 AD – Faraway Jump (Hyperspace Type 0) The original hyperspace systems that were made commercially available were known as the ‘Faraway’ Jump systems. It took centuries for the complex series of monitoring satellites, branch lines, stop points, and rescue stations to be built using sublight technology along the major routes. Ultimately these hosted hundreds of channels, ‘lines’ for ships to travel through. The ‘Faraway’ jump system was noted for its complexity in operation, requiring extensive pre-jump configuration by station based “Faraway Orientation Systems Controllers” (FOSC or SysCon). Hyperspacing ships required external help to initiate the jump. They were known for a certain sensitivity in operation, with the dangers of a misconfigured jump being listed as ‘atomic re-organisation’ and ‘time displacement’. Unsupervised jumps were extremely dangerous. It was around this time that the phrase ‘witch-space’ entered the Commander’s lexicon. Its precise origin is uncertain, but it seems to stem from the risk inherent in the early hyperspace technology. Witch-space referred to the ‘corridor’ or ‘transit tube’ through which the hyperspacing ship travelled during the jump. Many traders of the time believed that witch-space was ‘haunted’ – by “the ghosts of the early ships that went in to Faraway, and didn’t come out again.” Certainly a large number of ships never arrived at their destinations, their fate unknown even today. It is worth noting that Thargoid vessels were known to be able to ‘hover’ in witch-space, and ambush vessels in transit. Mis-jumps, due to poor calculations, were a constant worry for travelers in those times. The system did have the advantage of a rapid transit time, the entire process taking mere seconds once the jump was successfully initiated. It was finally retired in 3122 and the complex support infrastructure was entirely decommissioned by 3125. 3125 AD – Quirium (Hyperspace Type 1) By the time of the original game hyperspace travel was ubiquitous, though the equipment was bulky and smaller ships were unable to host it, having to be carried through the jump by more capable ships. The ‘Faraway’ system had been retired in favour of autonomous mechanisms that could be triggered aboard ship with no external assistance. At the time, hyperspace jumps were limited to 7 lightyears in...

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Elite Dangerous Lore: The Thargoids

Posted by on Jan 6, 2017 in Lore

This is one of a series of guides to the Elite Dangerous Universe. You can read the others here. The Thargoids need little introduction to those well versed in Elite lore, but not all players of Elite: Dangerous may be au fait with their complete background. What I have attempted to do below is summarise information on the Thargoids and set it in context within the known game Lore (Elite, FE2, FFE and ED). There is a lot of fan produced content on the Thargoids, and I have deliberately not referred to it here. What is below is, as far as I’m aware, established canon. I reserve the right to edit this if I’ve missed something, or new information emerges. Summary 2850 – Unconfirmed suggestions that some kind of covert war was started with Thargoids, ostensibly by a trigger-happy Fleet Commander. 3125 – Thargoids alleged to be ‘ripping’ ships out of witchspace and destroying them. Thargoid ‘warzones’ widespread 3200 – Thargoids reportedly retreat from human occupied space for reasons unknown 3255 – Reason for Thargoid retreat was reported to be down to human-engineered ‘Mycoid’ virus which impacted their hyperdrive capability 3302 – Reports of curious wrecks of unknown vessels. 3303 – 8 sided alien ships rip CMDRs out of witchspace (hyperspace high wake) First Appearance, the year is 3125. In the original game of 1984 the Thargoids appeared to be the classic villains of the piece, the indefatigable evil of the spaceways, plucking ships out of witchspace and despatching them far from the safe zones of human habitation. The year is 3125. The Thargoids make their first appearance in the original game manual, and are referenced as “Thargoid Invaders”. Later on we are informed that their “Captains have had their fear glands removed.” and are thus fearsome combateers. An encounter in the original game was fast and brutal. You were lucky if you survived the experience. Thargoids ships were fast, heavily armed and deployed remote controlled ‘Thargons’ to supplement their fire power. There were, reportedly, 50 war zones between humanity and this “insectoid” race. They were also believed to be able to “hover” in witch-space, ambushing human spacecraft whilst using their hyperdrives to travel between systems. It was speculated that they existed as a “group mind”. Thargoid spacecraft were large, swift and powerful with multi-axis symmetry. They had no obvious drive outlets as still required on human vessels, leading to speculation that Thargoids had mastered inertialess drive technology, otherwise known as the ‘spacedrive’. It appears that Thargoid technology was significantly more advanced than ours. In-game, Thargoids tended to ambush human players during hyperspace transits, pulling them out of witch-space and attempting to destroy you with no preamble. They attacked on sight. Throughout the original game it was claimed we were “at war” with the Thargoids. Incidentally, it is alleged that ECM technology was reverse engineered from captured Thargoid ships and many other...

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