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29-04-3303 Your universe needs you, CMDR!

Posted by on 10:36 am in Announcements | 10 comments

With a lot of healthy speculation around the 29th event, some press coverage, various stream interviews and with the help of my fellow conspirators, I thought I’d provide a little more background to the structure of the event. Many thanks to CMDR Erimus in particular for his help here.

The original event that we envisioned many months ago was a chase from A to B, across the frontier worlds and into the bubble. We looked to see if this was feasible and interesting enough given the game limitations and instancing mechanics.

We came to the view that it wasn’t, at least not in such a simplistic manner. One of three things would occur with that scenario:

  • All the protagonists would die in the first 5 minutes
  • All of the protagonists would leave everyone in their wake and be gone in a flash
  • The servers would melt with having so many people gathered in one location at one specific time (the Distant Worlds Sag-A* showed that is one scenario FD won’t appreciate!).

So the event is designed to transpire as follows:

The protagonists will leave 46 Eridani and attempt to reach their destinations somewhere central within in the core worlds (bubble), and those aligned to them, or opposed to them, are encouraged to spread out across the frontier and deploy fleets to areas that the protagonists will attempt to run through.

People who want to help and be involved them can fight for superiority in those areas and prevent blockades and camps from forming, while those who are opposed to the protagonists can attempt to chase down and outmanoeuvre the fugitives, or gain control of the hotspot regions that allies will be patrolling.

This allows several things. Firstly if players follow these guidelines, the event will be spread out over a larger area so the whole thing isn’t based on one single focal point and stressing the servers.

It allows players on both sides to use some tactics and strategy to out manoeuvre each other, they can deploy scouts and use intel to spy on each other (which is already happening), they have an opportunity to use tactics, deception, and put some thought into ship loadouts other than simply taking the fastest thing they have.

Rather than a simple chase, we have a series of factions, fleets and ships jockeying for position between 46 Eridani and the core.

Groups and alliances have been forming for the last few weeks, on both sides. Individuals and lonewolf players are taking part and finding roles for themselves, be it scouting for either side, or infiltrating the various discords to gather intel that suits them if they’re an opportunist bounty hunter.

Instancing remains an issue, but we can’t do anything about it on the technical level – hence the guidance here. Anything on this scale will always be at the mercy of that.

In saying all that, there’s a chance that all the protagonists will die in the first 5 minutes, but there’s also a chance one or two of them could make it to their destinations too.

Whatever happens people need to understand that nothing of this type or scale has been tried before (that we’re aware of) so there is no blueprint to work from.

We don’t know how it’ll pan out – Regardless, not everyone will be happy. That’s the only thing we’re 100% sure of! We’re appealing to the community to get stuck in and make it the best it can be. You all get to write on, Commanders.

If you want to get involved there are discord servers set up on both sides where you can find more information.

PC Allied Server : https://discord.gg/7fnxgex

XBOX Allied Server : https://discord.gg/VhcwSTa

Those who want to see the protagonists fail, please feel free to open your own servers and get organized, there’s still time. Or seek out players that have already done that for you. If ‘anti’ forces have discord channels or similar we will update this page and promote them, please let us know here in the comments below.

29-04-3303 FAQ

Posted by on 3:16 pm in Announcements | 22 comments

To all Elite Dangerous CMDRs.

I am nearing the end of putting together the next official Elite Dangerous novel, Premonition.

My original book, Reclamation, was written long before the game was available, and the story was set by the limits of my own imagination.

This time it’s different.

This book isn’t aiming just to be a compelling story, nor is it just a chronicle of what happened after events in-game. It has been and is still being written ‘live’ as the story develops and continues to be steered by player actions.

Many of you will have been present in notable events, influencing them one way or another, sometimes drastically, sometimes subtly.

Whilst the story of Elite Dangerous itself will continue, a book must have a beginning and an end. That end is approaching and it’s only fitting that the finalé is determined by the players themselves.

To mark this, I am inviting all of you to take part in an in-game event, the outcome of which will decide how this chapter in the Elite Dangerous storyline concludes. The book will be written by your combined actions, for good, or for ill…

Write on, Commanders.

Drew.

Mission Directive

CMDR Salomé, formerly the disgraced Senator Kahina Tijani Loren, is wanted by the Empire.

She is accused of terrorism and is a convicted criminal, found guilty of the attempted assassination of Fleet Admiral Denton Patreus.

Her co-conspirators;  CMDRs Raan Corsen, Tsu Singh and Yuri Nakamura are also wanted for aiding and abetting her in her plans to destabilise the galaxy.

So far they have evaded justice and remain at large. Intelligence reports indicate that they will be attempting to reach an unconfirmed destination in the heart of the core worlds (the bubble) for reasons unknown aided by disaffected factions and other malcontents.

A bounty of 5 Million credits is offered for Salomé’s death. 2 Million credits is offered, apiece, on receipt of similar proof of her conspirators’ demise.

Consider all of them armed and extremely dangerous.

They, and those helping them, have been sighted in and around the Col 70 Sector, in the vicinity of the 46 Eridani system.

Do not engage in communications. Show no mercy. Kill them all on sight.

Details

29 / 04 / 3303
Game-time / UTC : 18:00
UK BST: 19:00
Western Continental Europe : 20:00
US East Coast 14:00
US West Coast 11:00
Australia East Coast 04:00 (30/04)
Australia West Coast 02:00 (30/04)

FAQs

Do you need the Elite Dangerous Horizons expansion to take part?

While it is not essential, we recommend the use of Horizons. Players with access to Horizons will have the advantages of engineered ships. This is likely to be crucial in terms of survival. The event is not scripted, so whilst we intend to keep all the action in space, we cannot guarantee that planetary landings will not be utilised as events unfold.

Is this PC only?

No. Whilst we are aware of the limitations on Mac users, we will do our best to ensure that they can access the event. PC/Mac users share the same universe and characters should be persistent within them. Xbox players cannot share the same galaxy instance due to technical limitations but we want to include this player-base as well. As a result, Salomé, Raan and Tsu will be present on the PC/Mac, with Yuri appearing on the Xbox.

Will this be played in ‘Open’ mode?

Yes. We understand that some players prefer solo and private modes for all sorts of reasons. However this is the only way to allow a live community event with access to all.

What about bugs?

Whilst there are some known issues, we believe we can work around them. We may update this with some specific guidance to players, please review before the 29th for specifics.

Will the characters re-spawn if they die or disconnect from the game if they are attacked?

No. There will be no combat logging from these characters. If they die, they die. We are playing the primary characters in ‘iron-man’ mode. We have created multiple characters to cater for as much flexibility in peer-to-peer instances as we can. We cannot guarantee instancing availability, but hope this offers the best possibility of meaningful interactions. (We are currently reviewing how the impacts of known bugs with certain weapons can be mitigated and may update this statement to reflect that outcome.)

They can die? Really? What if players kill all the characters?

So be it. That is a valid end to the story. The player-base decides the outcome. Our view is that in open mode everyone is ‘role-playing’ even if they’re not consciously doing so. From a story perspective there are some contingency plans for continuity if this occurs.

What type of event is it?

It is not a CG or a long range exploration quest. We advise participants to be prepared for combat.

How do I support Salomé?

You can be assigned a role here in Discord.

And if I want to kill her?

We’re sure you’ll find a way to get organised.

Can we ‘friend’ these characters in game?

You can ask. 🙂 Unfortunately the friend mechanism gives an unfair advantage to players by providing the precise location of the individual CMDR on the galaxy map, so we will be selective in whom we accept.

However, the individuals can be identified in open as:

CMDR Salomé

CMDR Raan Corsen

CMDR Tsu Singh

CMDR Nakamura Yuri D

Where is this happening?

As revealed by the video clue, the event begins in the 46 Eridani System.

Will this be streamed live?

Yes, the following streamers will be covering the event:

CMDR DJTruthSayer

CMDR Hughmann

CMDR Malic

CMDR Selezen

CMDR Nicou (En français)

CMDR Rithwald

What do we need to do?

You don’t need to do anything. If you feel you wish to do something, do what you must and what you think is best.

Deep in the Formidine Rift…

Posted by on 9:43 am in Announcements | 7 comments

In the early hours of this morning, the combined efforts of uncounted numbers of Elite Dangerous players came to a head with the discovery of an abandoned ‘mega’ ship far out in the depths of the galactic void.

Clues to this discovery date back to January 2014 when I put the finishing touches to my original Elite Dangerous book “Reclamation“. Now, through a series of unravelled clues, player investigations, long searches and sheer hard work by the player community, the mystery alluded to within has unravelled.

First it was an off-hand conversation, a passing mention of something called the “Formidine Rift” by an old lady in a hospital. Later a vague trajectory plot found in secret Imperial data banks. “Take a line from Reorte to Riedquat to the edge of the arm … and keep going.”

Players went looking, triangulating the course as they uncovered other clues. Beacons, bases, puzzles, obfuscation and misdirection… 3 years have passed. Players also changed the outcome, and have yet to decide the resolution of this particular premonition.

I may have written this story, but it was brought to life by the incredible development team at Frontier Developments. Voice acting (provided by the amazing Amelia Tyler and Jay Britton), music, sound effects and the amazing ship model itself were created to bring the story to life in such a grander way than mere text can convey.

Spoilers ahead then, so avoid if you want to visit the ship yourself. Video courtesy of CMDR Shabooka of the Brocast.

Elite Dangerous Premonition – First Draft Complete

Posted by on 2:54 pm in Progress Report | 5 comments

Something of a milestone today.

Having pledged to complete the first draft of Elite Dangerous Premonition this week, I have in fact completed it today. A big push over lunch-time was sufficient to finish off the last remaining scenes, details and some of the major glaring inconsistencies I knew were lurking in the manuscript.

The novel stands at 140,707 words. It took 236 days (7 months, 24 days) to get to this point.

So the book’s ready then?

Not so fast!

What happens next is that I need to re-read the entire story from beginning to end, tweaking and adjusting pace, dialogue, tense, viewpoints, making sure characters ‘pop’ and keep on looking for typos, mistakes, continuity errors and so on. Right now, the book is not even close to ‘ready’, there is still a lot of work to do…

…Not to mention that last chapter that you will all be writing on the 29th of April!

However a first draft is a significant point in the creation of a book. It means there is definitely something very tangible already in existence, the overall story is told and it’s now a case of polishing, refining, tweaking and adjusting.

The second and third drafts will follow in due course, but we are getting close. Many names will be immortalised in the canon, lore will be established and many mysteries revealed.

For now, I write on, Commanders.

 

Elite Dangerous Lore: The Federation

Posted by on 1:09 pm in Lore | 9 comments

This is one of a series of guides to the Elite Dangerous Universe. You can read the others here.

The Federation is the oldest and largest of the ‘Big Three’ super powers in the human occupied universe of Elite: Dangerous. It has been in existence for over a thousand years. The Federation can trace its origins back to the year 2060.

Even as far back as the early years of the 21st century, many large corporations controlled financial and human resources on a scale far bigger than some countries. In the years following the devastation of World War III in the 2040s, the influence of corporations increased dramatically into the 2050s onwards.

After the war, the dominant power was the United States of the Americas, and as the remaining other countries joined it over the next few decades, it was renamed the Federation of the United States and later “The Federation” as the implied reference to one of the pre-war powers was a block to the remaining countries joining it. It had a constitution and laws derived from the earlier powers, but much simplified.

Industrial activity led the way and ultimately became a founding ethos of the Federation. A base on Mars was constructed and the moon was heavily industrialised by 2080. This activity was primarily driven by the need to rebuild the shattered economy and ecology of the Earth after the depredations of war. Industrial activity quickly spread through the solar system. The stage was set for the purest interpretation of capitalism that humanity has ever known.

Interstellar probes were launched and the remarkable discovery of life in the Tau Ceti system spurred humanity to reach for the stars. A colony was set up thirty years later. Colonies were quickly set up in other locales in close proximity to Sol. Life was also discovered in the Delta Pavonis system, but almost immediately was made extinct by the actions of colonists there.

Similar problems were noted in Beta Hydri and Altair. Humanity began to spread unchecked, in an echo of the problems experienced in the previous century. Tau Ceti was warned by Sol to ensure the preservation of local lifeforms, but silence was the only response. Reports conflict, but independent records of the time (which generally favoured the Tau Cetians) indicate that the colony suffered under very harsh conditions and was simply unable to comply with Sol’s excessive demands. Over the next decade various ultimatums were sent, but they were all ignored. Sol’s patience eventually ran out.

The situation culminated in the first ever interstellar battle in the year 2241 between the forces of Sol, having endured a long voyage to reach the Tau Ceti system, and the rebels of Tau Ceti. The battle was inconclusive, forcing the Sol system to accept an unwelcome agreement to form a union of systems with a common agenda and independent rights – thus was the Federation born. Sol would dominate the affairs of the Federation for centuries, but the founding members were systems in their own right: Sol, Tau Ceti, Delta Pavonis, Altair and Beta Hydri.

Further systems were colonised in short order as humanity spread out amongst the stars. A notable colonisation target was the Achenar system in 2310. A leadership coup resulted in Achenar refusing to join the Federation and this defiance led to the birth of the Empire, during a series of wars that started in 2330 and lasted 50 years between the Federation and the colonists of Achenar. A treaty was signed in 2380, but was largely ignored hereafter.

The Federation ceded several systems to religious groups, notably Van Maanen’s Star, which was given to the ‘Guardians of the Free Spirit’ in 2480. The system remains permit locked even today. The years between 2500-2900 were marked by the increasing dominance of the corporations and the commercial and industrial exploitation of systems increasingly further from Sol. Many colonies were established for the purposes of mining and extraction, remaining major profit and loss centres even now.

In 2994 another conflict broke out between the Federation and the Empire in the Alioth system. The destruction wrought by this conflict, which raged off and on for over 200 years, resulted in the birth of the Alliance, when the residents of Alioth revolted against both super powers and pushed them out of their system.

A Fleet of Federal Farragut Class Battlecruisers

By 3300 the Federation remains the largest power, holding sway over dozens of star systems within the ‘bubble’ of space known as the core worlds. It maintains a significant military force in its navy, the pinnacle of which is the ‘Farragut’ Class battlecruiser, a vessel some 2 kilometres long. A deployment of this vessel tends to quickly end anything other than a very major military engagement.

The Federation remains driven by the corporations. Some of the most famous of them have histories entwined with the Federation. The Sirius corporation, perhaps the biggest of them all, operating out of the Sirius system, has a virtual monopoly on power generators and hyperdrive technology. Other manufacturers are famed throughout space; with names such as Core Dynamics, Lakon Spaceways, Whatt and Pritney, Durn and Resner, Faulcon DeLacy, Zorgon Peterson and Saud Kruger. These so called ‘mega-corporations’ control the birth, lives and deaths of their employees, providing for their every need and expecting absolute loyalty in return.

Technology is a major part of any federation citizen’s life, and the economy is driven by quite conspicuous (and often compulsory) consumption of new and exciting mod cons, luxuries and consumables. The society is very much ‘throwaway’ with the new and exciting replacing the ‘old and outdated’ often within months of acquisition. This drives a constant demand and supply culture, with employees spending the money they earn, further driving the success of the corporations. Strictly speaking the Federation is composed of ‘States’, in a similar manner to the U.S.A. of 21st century Earth, but on a much bigger scale. States can still be countries, but they could be entire systems. The Federation retains a presidential electoral system, but corporations influence this dramatically, expecting their employees to vote according to the corporation’s wishes. Corruption, bribery and underhanded influence are rife. Individual freedoms are suppressed in favour of profit. Greed is good.

The Federation’s capitalist model retains the economic advantages and disadvantages of its predecessors. There are many rich people, but there are many people in grinding poverty too, in such debt to the corporations that they can be regarded as wage-slaves.

The current president of the Federation, Zachary Hudson, was not elected by popular vote, but rather by a vote of no confidence in the liberal leadership under the then missing former president Halsey, prompting observers to postulate that the corporations are likely to be driving the agenda under a thin pretense of democracy.

Regardless, the Federation will continue to have a dramatic, and arguably the most significant, effect on the future of human inhabited space.

Elite Dangerous History: Frontier Elite 2 (FE2)

Posted by on 12:43 pm in Lore | 10 comments

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.

Frontier Elite 2

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.

It is very… blue, in space.

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.

The FE2 Galaxy map

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 to the lore that marked the demise of ‘GalCop’ itself, which was explained as a socio-economic collapse of that political entity sometime prior to 3200. Players had the option to start in the Lave system as in the original game, but had to pay a fine if they wanted to enter the territories of the Federation or the Empire. Another option was to start on Mars. Most players would start the game on the ice-moon Merlin in the Ross 154 system, with a basic Mk1 Eagle.

FE2 also featured a game engine capable of rendering travel through astronomically accurate and realistically sized space and down to a 1:1 scale planetary surface which, though sparse in detail by today’s standards, was convincingly represented with billboards, roads, houses, mountains, clouds, craters and rivers. You could land on all planets with solid surfaces, regardless of whether they had an atmosphere or not.

Analogue clocks were still popular in 3200 AD 😉

Various planetary and stellar types were represented, with different effects being applied to atmospheres, gas giants, and even planetary rings. The same engine was able to render a clock tower (with a working clock) at point blank range. The game also featured a sophisticated external camera.

Most controversially of all, the flight mechanics of the game were based upon newtonian physics rather than the traditional ‘airplanes in space’ trope common to most space flight games. This certainly gave a sense of realism, but was a controversial choice for game-play, often leading to a ‘jousting’ style of combat and a certain difficulty in flying your ship, necessitating the almost mandatory use of an autopilot for navigation and docking for most players. Alas, the autopilot was not all that reliable, meaning that a fiery death dive into a star or planet was a frequent occurrence.

The Orrery has yet to make a return

The mechanics of space travel were also quite different. Gone was the space-skip or Torus drive featured in the earlier versions. Ships in FE2 travelled through space in real-time, taking days or weeks to reach their destinations. This was rendered playable by use of the ‘Stardreamer’ which accelerated time from the perspective of the player. Ships travelled in hyperspace or traditional space using their engines, accelerating and decelerating to their destination by use of their main thrusters.

The player could now change their ship and many of the ships from the original game were featured, along with new ones, though only one ship could be owned at a time.

Remarkably, and once again due to the magic of procedural generation, all of this was contained on a single floppy disk (around 720 kilobytes on the PC version). The game originally being written in 250,000 lines of 68000 assembly code (native for the Amiga and ST) and ported to the 80286 processor for the PC by Chris Sawyer (Anyone familiar with these two processor architectures will appreciate the herculean task involved!). The game taxed those early machines, with performance being quite poor on the early iterations, particularly on the Amiga and ST, though later editions of the hardware solved this successfully. The Amiga version had the virtue of the best music rendition and sound effects.

Stories of life on the Frontier

Once again the game was accompanied by works of fiction, a collection of short works entitled “Stories of life on the Frontier.” and a gazetteer of particular worlds.

There was also an interesting flaw, the so-called ‘wormhole’ bug. Due to a miscalculation of jump range, the player could jump multiples of 655.35 lightyears without using additional fuel. By clever triangulation, vast distances could be covered by judicious plotting.

Thargoid ships at a military base…

There were some curious omissions too. The ubiquitous bad guys, the Thargoids, were almost totally absent from the game and none of the original mysteries such as Raxxla and the Dark Wheel were expanded upon.

Whilst the open ended nature of the game was true to the original, there were no obvious scripted missions present in the game, though there were various simple missions ranging from assassination contracts, passenger missions, to military photographic reconnaissance.

The FE2 BBS

These missions were given by ‘photofit’ style individuals, and the player had a series of prompted responses they could give to queries. Also introduced were new bits of technology such as the ‘hyperspace analyser’ allowing you to track ships and intercept them at their destinations.

Most reviews of the game were positive, with many citing the scale, realistic physics and sheer ambition of the game. A few commented to the effect that gameplay was ‘boring’ as a result of the newtonian mechanics. Certainly some of the visceral nature of the combat from the original game was missing, though it definitely has its loyal fans. Somewhere near 500,000 copies were sold. For many players this was their ‘first’ Elite.

It would be followed by another sequel within two years…

 

Elite Dangerous History: The original ‘Elite’

Posted by on 2:53 pm in Lore | 22 comments

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

The original Elite by David Braben and Ian Bell

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 in providing the player with choices. Yes, there were pirates out there, but you could become one yourself if you so desired. You had moral choices in the game, with no predetermined path.

The 2001 docking sequence that inspired Elite.

The 2001 docking sequence that inspired Elite.

Inspiration from Star Wars and 2001:A Space Odyssey are obvious in the action packed combat and more reserved, if very tense, docking sequences. Even Douglas Adams gets a nod with the “Mostly Harmless” rating – a microcosm of 80s zeitgeist.

Adams would probably have been quite enchanted with the other bit of genius design. Applying the limited, but still effective, power of those early 8-bit computers with the observations of one Leonardo Fibonacci (1175 – 1250) provided a means for a convincing representation of thousands of planetary systems using a technique later dubbed ‘procedural generation’ – far more data than the machines could actually store in their memories, but repeatable on demand.

Elite, now a working prototype, was pitched to Thorn EMI, one of the biggest games publishers at the time. The result was a disappointment (and a mistake on Thorn’s part similar to the chap from Decca who failed to sign up the Beatles). David and Ian were sent away with the recommendation that they simplify the game, something which would destroy the very essence of what they were trying to achieve.

Elite on the ZX Spectrum

Elite on the ZX Spectrum

Their next stop was the aforementioned Acornsoft, with whom Ian already had a relationship. They were a small outfit, but to their credit, they grasped the genius of Elite. In a canny move, David arranged for Acornsoft to only have rights to the BBC version, allowing the possibility of lucrative ports to other platforms once the BBC version was released.

The game was refined further, and the only real goal, that of becoming ‘Elite’, was added at this stage. The game was originally to be named ‘The Elite’, but in conversation it eventually found its ultimate form. Simply, Elite. The cleverly realised scanner-scope was a last minute addition that required late-in-the-day alterations to the game manual.

Two missions were added, giving a taste of the sort of in-game story telling that would pave the way for future games. One was to hunt down a stolen ‘Constrictor’ spacecraft, the other to ferry some top secret documents across the galaxy.

The Dark Wheel, by Robert Holdstock

The Dark Wheel, by Robert Holdstock

Added into this mix was packaging that was significantly more ambitious than was normal for a computer game. Acornsoft really went to town with a manual, keyboard overlays, ship identification charts and even a specially commissioned novel by Robert Holdstock written to set the scene. The Dark Wheel was the starting point for the legends of Elite such as Raxxla and the Tionisla Orbital Graveyard.

Development stopped at some point during the summer of 1984. Thorpe Park (a small amusement park in the UK at the time) was hired out for the launch. It was well in time for Christmas that year, the 22nd of September 1984. It garnered gushing and ecstatic coverage in the popular press and television. Success was virtually instant.

Elite on the Commodore 64.

Elite on the Commodore 64.

Ultimately 107,898 recognised copies were sold for the BBC B Micro alone and eventually the game would go on to sell something like 600,000 to 1M copies across all the platforms it was eventually ported to, including the popular home computers of the time such as the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and the Amstrad CPC. David’s foresight in reserving the rights for other platforms paid off in a big way.

The ZX Spectrum version was ‘ported’ by Torus and published by Firebird (a brand of British Telecom) with the Commodore version being undertaken by David and Ian themselves. The Commodore version introduced ‘Trumbles’, a nod to Star Trek’s Tribbles, along with the familiar Blue Danube music when docking. The Spectrum version featured 5 new missions involving Supernovas, Rogue Asteroids, Thargoids and Cloaking devices. Each version of the game had its own unique foibles and differences to the original BBC version.

Ports continued, with the new and more powerful 16-bit machines of the late 80s getting their own versions. The Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, the PC itself, the NES console and (full circle) the Acorn Archimedes. Apparently there were 16 ports in the end, perhaps one of the most ported games in the history of gaming, lasting into the early 1990s.

You can see the details of these ports on the excellent FrontierAstro site.

Arguably one of the most significant computer games ever, Elite changed the face of computer gaming dramatically with its combination of believability, considered design, compelling gameplay and longevity. Many have tried to ape it, copy it, improve upon it, but an actual sequel didn’t arrive until 1993…

…and when it did, it was a very different beast indeed.

The 100k Barrier

Posted by on 2:00 pm in Progress Report | 6 comments

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 forums for updates about events occurring in game, summarising the important ones and deciding whether to (and how to) incorporate them in the story
  • Liaising with Frontier on story elements to ensure they’re correctly realised in-game, catering for delays resulting from bugs and planning in order to align with their release dates (in-game changes may require server and/or client updates to ED – which can only happen at certain intervals)
  • Contacting individual players and establishing information on their CMDRs so they can accurately be covered in the story
  • Maintaining a list of significant player impacts on the story, and re-writing elements to cater for their actions
  • Liaising with player groups who have been impacted by events in the story and providing them a little guidance on what that might mean for them
  • Taking time to join in twitch streams and podcasts, partly to promote the book, but mostly to stay in touch with the player base.
  • Generating GalNet articles to align with player events and overall story arcs and then going through a review process to ensure they tally with other GalNet content (this has to be done in way in advance)
  • Checking, and occasionally revising, lore in regards to Elite Dangerous, publishing what I can here when time allows
  • Playing the game to ensure I’m au fait with what’s going on and am familiar with new features
  • Maintaining an occasional presence on the forums etc.
  • Doing stuff which which I’m not allowed to talk about 😉

And don’t even mention the day job. 😉

Fortunately, being a ‘planner’, I’d worked out what this was going to look like before I started so I was ready for it, but it’s not been easy and, truth be told, I’m quite looking forward to it coming to a close. I’m not scared of hard work, but constant 60+ hour working weeks do take a toll. It has been a tough assignment, quite draining and stressful at times – and not just for me. My family deserves a huge vote of thanks for accommodating me whilst doing this, as do the all the fans who’ve cheered me on.

A point is approaching where the book must end. I expect the first draft to be complete at the end of March. This will be the end of ‘Premonition’ – a title which was chosen with great care to reflect the mood of ‘what happens next’.

Beyond this point the story of Elite Dangerous will obviously continue, as to whether that gets chronicled or not, we’ll have to wait and see. Feedback on how well ‘Premonition’ is received and the approach I took in creating it will doubtless have a bearing on how Frontier approaches such projects in the future.

For now though, I continue to write on, Commanders!

Elite Dangerous Lore : Hyperspace

Posted by on 11:49 am in Lore | 12 comments

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 any particular direction, requiring multiple jumps for even relatively short hops between systems. The mechanism had its own unique fuelling system, independent from other ship’s systems.

Those original hyperdrives were powered by a fuel known as ‘Quirium’, a fuel that was unique to the Galactic Cooperative.

Unfortunately the secret formula for the manufacture of this high energy density material appears to have been lost in the collapse of the Galactic Cooperative and the Quirium hyperspace technology became obsolete as a result. Rumours abound that Quirium fuel was reverse engineered from captured Thargoid vessels.

Unusual modifications to these systems provided rapid transit to other parts of the galaxy, some even claimed they allowed you access completely separate galaxies. Little is now known about these so called ‘Galactic Hyperspace’ units, though they were reportedly expensive and in short supply.

The system was similar in operation to the Faraway jump drive, with an equivalent rapid transit time measured in seconds.

3200 AD – Cloud (Hyperspace Type 2b)

With the demise of the Quirium based hyperdrive technology and the collapse of the Galactic Cooperative, hyperspace capabilities regressed somewhat. The Federation and the Empire possessed inferior technology which, whilst certainly more reliable and less prone to ‘mis-jumps’, was noticeably more pedestrian in performance.

Fuelled by common hydrogen, these jump systems often took many days to transfer ships between two points, sometimes up to an entire week. Pilots, crew and passengers were fortunately able to take advantage of the ‘StarDreamer’ technology introduced in 3145 to remove the tedium of long term spaceflight. ‘StarDreamer’ compressed time from the perspective of an individual, by slowing their metabolism, giving them the impression that time was passing far more quickly than normal.

These hyperdrive mechanisms scaled to the size of vessel they supported, in some cases requiring many tonnes of shipboard space to be consumed during installation. Various sizes (or classes) of drive were available, but ship size still limited their installation. Jump range was proportional to the size of the drive and inversely proportional to the mass of the ship. Hyperdrives ranged in size from the class 1 at 6 tonnes, to the enormous class 8 at 600 tonnes.

Ships also needed large reserves of hydrogen fuel to power the drives. This could be stored in the conventional cargo space, rather than the specialist fuel tanks previously required.

A variation on these hyperdrives was the ‘Military drive’. This provided a vastly improved jump range per unit of installed equipment, but with two major downsides. 1. The equipment was very expensive and consumed a specialist ‘military fuel’ and 2. The fuelling process itself generated a by product in the form of radioactive waste that was costly to dispense with, though nefarious Commanders would dump the waste in uninhabited systems.

A major disadvantage to this Type 2b drive technology was that the ship involved in the jump would leave behind a conspicuously visible hyperspace ‘cloud’ at both the entry and exit point from hyperspace. With appropriate technology these ‘clouds’ could be analysed and the destination or arrival point inferred. This gave the opportunity for faster ships to arrive at the destination earlier and ambush the slower vessel as it arrived.

These type 2b hyperspace mechanisms did have one advantage over the previous types however, jump ranges were extendable by class of drive, far exceeding the 7 lightyear limit. Ships were able to travel dozens of lightyears in a single bound.

In rare cases it was noticed that these hyperdrive mechanisms were able to take advantage of strange undocumented wormholes in space. It has been reported that jumps of distances of over 655 lightyears were achieved by judicious plotting.

Research into better forms of hyperdrive technology were underway throughout this period. One event stands out as particularly poignant. The Antares was a starliner fitted with a prototype fast hyperspace drive. It launched on its maiden voyage in 3251, but was lost on its inaugural hyperspace jump and never heard from again and no wreckage has ever been found. The loss of the ship, the resultant investigations and the application of safety recommendations as a result, delayed the introduction of the current hyperspace technology for many years.

As an historical note, Sirius Corp claimed to have discovered the wreckage of the Antares in January 3302.

3290 – Frame Shift Drive (Hyperspace Type 3)

In the late 3290s a fast hyperspace mechanism was perfected that immediately made the Type 2b systems obsolete. Jump times were restored to mere seconds, but the advantages of longer range jumps retained. This was based on the, previously discredited, fast jump system developed for the ill-fated starship Antares. By 3300 virtually all of the type 2b drives had been decommissioned, with the loss of a number of ship classes that could not be retrofitted with the new systems due to design constraints.

These new drives required large quantities of the element Tantalum as a raw material in their manufacture, causing something of a ‘Tantalum rush’ in the closing years of the 33rd century. This precipitated a number of hostile land grabs in systems where Tantalum was discovered or known to exist, including the well documented Reclamation of the Prism system by Lady Kahina Tijani Loren.

Jump ranges greater than 50 lightyears are now possible, and transit times remain within mere seconds. The result is that the galaxy has been dramatically opened up to explorers at much lower cost than before. The Frontier has been pushed back, and systems that used to be on the fringes of civilisation have found themselves in the suburbs of the Core Worlds once again. Trips that were hitherto considered impossible have now been achieved in relatively modest vessels. Notable journeys have included visits to the Sagittarius A blackhole and crossings to the far side of the galaxy itself. This technology has caused significant upheaval in the Core Worlds and the major powers, as the tactical situation with respect to the ability to deploy ships has dramatically changed.

In recent years it has been discovered that the Frame Shift Drive can be significantly enhanced by the injection of rare materials – a technique provided by various ‘engineers’ located around the core worlds. They can also be ‘supercharged’ by entering close proximity to the fierce emissions of White Dwarf and Neutron stars. Many organisations are researching frame shift technology. One such company, Meta-Drive, was recently acquired by Sirius Corp after financial irregularities. It appears the type 3 technology still has considerable development potential ahead of it.

Even after all this time, hyperspace is still not well understood. The witch-space tunnel that is traversed still hosts inexplicable lights and structures within it. It seems hyperspace will hold its mysteries and allure for centuries to come. Perhaps witch-space really is haunted…

Elite Dangerous Lore: The Thargoids

Posted by on 11:35 am in Lore | 32 comments

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.

captureIn 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 technologies may have also been Thargoid derived.

There was also another race mentioned in “The Dark Wheel”, known as the Oresrians. These were portrayed as a peaceful offset of the Thargoids, but very similar in overall appearance, albeit with a warning to Commanders to “Check the thorax markings and the shape of the fourth joint on each hind leg before jumping to conclusions.”

75 years later. The year is 3200.

Curiously, by the time of the second installment of Elite (Frontier: Elite 2) the Thargoids appear to have retreated from human space almost completely. The only reported sightings of vessels within this timeframe were captured Thargoid vessels held at secret research bases across the galaxy. Other than these tantalising hints, it appeared that the Thargoids were gone. There was no record of them. They retreated from the war, they stopped ambushing ships. They had abandoned this area of the galaxy completely. We had no idea where they came from, what they wanted, where they had gone, or what they even looked like. They remained a complete mystery.

Another 50 years passes. The year is 3250.

Nothing new was heard of the Thargoids until the launch of the next game in the series, Frontier: First Encounters (FFE). Records indicate that the disappearance of the Thargoids might have been down to a covert operation undertaken by the Intergalactic Naval Reserve Arm (INRA). They had been infected by a virus and a particular type of virus at that. It was known as the ‘Mycoid’ virus, and it was produced by humans. The Thargoid hyperdrive technology was rendered useless (the virus attacked plastic polymers in the system) and there are indications that the Thargoids were also impacted, as their exoskeletons were composed of polymer like material. There were accusations that INRA committed genocide on the Thargoids. Regardless, the Thargoids disappeared. The report was dismissed as a conspiracy theory by leading political leaders.

53 Years later. The year is 3303,

Whilst alien wreckage had been spotted in various locations within Elite Dangerous, it wasn’t until January 5th that n encounter with an ‘live’ alien vessel occurred. Are these new ships the ‘Thargoids’ of old? Their similarity in behaviour, form and function to the old stories cannot be denied, but there are major differences too. Perhaps they could be the warlike Thargoids, the Oresrians, the Klaxians… or something else?

The alien vessels in question were able to interdict a human vessel directly out of witchspace (hyperspace high wake) and disable them. The alien vessel directed a beam of energy at the beleaguered human ship which appeared to move it backwards and possibly scan it. The alien vessel then departed, employing an unknown form of hyperspace technology, rotating rapidly as it did so.

What we know

  • Thargoids are insectoid and if it is true that they come from ammonia-based planets, their physiology is dramatically different from humans. For example, ammonia boils at -33 degrees C. Thargoids may well be acclimatised to temperatures far lower than humans.
  • Thargoids have demonstrated some kind of instantaneous long distance jump technology, which may allow them to move rapidly across the galaxy, across otherwise impassible rifts in space, or perhaps even between galaxies.
  • Thargoids can interdict vessels in Witchspace (hyperspace high-wake) and disable them at will
  • Thargoids are universally female.
  • Thargoids have been in space for ‘Millennia’.
  • The so called ‘war’ was likely a ‘skirmish’ from the Thargoid’s perspective. Thargoids are divided into more than one group. We know of the Oresrians and the Klaxians.
  • T. James official book “Out of the Darkness” gives the following brief (and only known canon) description of the Thargoids: “Low calibre weapons do no damage to Thargoids, even at point blank range. They have six ‘legs’ and two ‘arms’ and are strong enough to dismember a human with only their claws.”
  • Whilst their true technological capabilities are unknown, it is safe to say they are more advanced than humanity.




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All Content Copyright Drew Wagar 2006-2017 unless otherwise stated.