Travelling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy!

Posted by on Apr 19, 2013 in Progress Report

Which space?

Which space?

If you don’t know where that quote is from, frankly I’d be rather alarmed!

A quick update on progress. We’re still on track; 28,952 words against a target of 28k. Given that includes a holiday period, I’m pretty happy with that. The first draft should be complete by late summer, early autumn.

Another milestone was 25k – this is approximately a quarter of the way through. This was hit on Tuesday this week, which gave me a chance to actually go back and read the story so far and see how it felt.

Reassuringly it felt pretty strong. I’m confident in the pacing, though I spotted a bunch of dialogue tweaks and poor sentences. That’s not unusual at this stage so nothing to worry about.

I have some concerns over differentiating the characters sufficiently, and I need to bring a little more emphasis to some of them. This is nothing that I can’t fix during redrafting.

Four chapters are written, meaning a total of sixteen is predicted at this stage. 28k words is about 82 pages of A4 at 1.5 line spacing.

So, what have I run into this week? There’s been a burst of activity on the writers’ forum. The topic du jour? Hyperspace.

We’re not talking about the mechanics this time, more the impact that Elite:Dangerous itself has had on the dynamics of hyperspace, mostly caused by the need for a multi-player game and the resulting knock on impact to representing this appropriately and consistently in the fiction.


Hyperspace in ‘Frontier, Elite 2’

To set the scene, cast your mind back to the original games. In Elite, hyperspace sent you down a shimmering tunnel when you travelled between systems. This took a number of seconds of ‘in game’ time – but there was no clock in Elite, so there was no real reference to how long this might ‘actually’ take. The Dark Wheel spoke about ‘crossing the void between stars in seconds‘ so we can surmise it was reasonably quick. In FE2/FFE hyperspace jumps were instantaneous ‘in game’ but took several days or even weeks of ‘actual’ time. This gave a faster ship the ability to ambush a slower vessel by arriving before it – a key bounty hunting dynamic.

On the writers’ forum we’ve come up with the terms ‘in game time’ and ‘fiction time’ to clarify the difference between the two measures. This is an important distinction – and not just for hyperspace. Loading your cargo bay, refuelling, fitting upgrades and so on should consume a lot of ‘fiction time’, but to avoid being utterly boring these take almost no ‘in game time’ whatsoever.

For a writer, ‘fiction time’ allows us to portray interesting events. Conversations may happen as the ship is being refuelled moving the plot along, or an unexpected piece of information might be revealed by a chance encounter during a stop over. There’s always the ubiquitous space ‘bar’ to chill out in. These are very significant for the books, but insignificant for the game itself.

Back to the hyperspace then. Information from the DDF has revealed that hyperspace will be instantaneous ‘in game’ in Elite Dangerous, mostly because of the multi-player aspect. There can’t be any time compression given the need to support lots of players interacting, so the FE2/FFE ‘star dreamer’ is out.

From a fiction perspective we now know that hyperspace jumps are instantaneous in ‘fiction time’ too, there’ll be no kicking back for a bit of lightsabre training or a round of hologrammatic chess while the stars streak past. When our fictional pilots press the big red jump button, they’ll be in the next system in a wink of an eye.

Likewise, in original Elite you had the Torus Drive, or ‘Space Skip’. FE2/FFE had the star dreamer to allow the gamer to scoot through ‘fiction time’ to make ‘in game’ time compressed. It would appear that’s not going to happen in Elite Dangerous.

The writers are very keen to ensure that their stories are consistent, so that when you read them they don’t conflict with their description of the various processes that you’ll eventually experience in game. The big discussion happened around this lack of ‘fiction time’ with respect to space travel.

Here’s an example. You leave dock, you hyperspace, you have a bit of a fight, you get to your destination and dock. Ten minutes of ‘in game’ time or thereabouts. How much ‘fiction time’ should that be?

Mrs. Miggins' Pie shop is also located at Barnard's Star...

Mrs. Miggins’ Pie shop is also located at Barnard’s Star…

At the moment, it might be actually be ten minutes. Much of our discussion centred around whether that ‘felt’ right or not. If it really is ten minutes, what does that mean for the galaxy at large? Trading would be much more rapid than it was in the FE2/FFE days, fleets could be mobilised quickly, invasions assembled rapidly, explorers could travel much further in shorter periods of time. You could jump to Sol for a day trip and be back at Barnard’s star in time for tea and crumpets. The perceived vastness of space would seem rather compressed.

The new hyperspace technology used in Elite Dangerous is a relatively new invention, fiction-timeline-wise. Things have changed a lot between FFE (3250 AD) and Elite Dangerous (3300 AD). What social and political implications would this sudden increase in mobility have? Perhaps the known galaxy would have been thrown into chaos. There’d be new opportunities, and others that were no longer viable. Piracy would be dramatically altered, trading too. It’s analogous to the jump to airliners from the old trans-Atlantic steamships. The galaxy will be a lot more accessible.

We’re still assimilating the impact this will have on our stories, and we’re very keen to ensure things are consistent and yet retain integrity in the universe at large. I’d be very interested in your reactions. How long do you think it would ‘really’ take to fly between systems? What implications for the galaxy does a much more rapid hyperspace ability have? What impacts does this have on piracy, trading and bounty hunting? Comments in the usual place.

My final pledger’s interview for now is courtesy of Alexander Jenner. There are a number of astrophysicist fans of Elite. Alexander explains what drew him to Elite:Reclamation.

Q. Tell us your name and a little about yourself, what you do, where you come from and so on.

My name is Alexander Jenner, I am originally from a little village in East Sussex near Bodiam Castle. I majored at undergraduate and graduate levels in astrophysics, studying in both the UK and Japan where I currently live. My research areas were Type Ia Supernovae in the very early universe, and RR Lyrae variable stars. I also have a strong interest in exoplanets. I am currently employed in the financial service sector and currently live in the Kansai region of Japan.

Q. What sort of sci-fi are you into? What’s your favourite book/film/show?

Being an astrophysicist by training, and very much a rationalist, I very much prefer ‘hard’ science fiction. While some artistic liberty often inevitably has be taken, the closer a story or film is to plausible reality, the better it is for me.
My favourite science fiction series is probably Asimov’s Foundation Series, although I also immensely enjoyed the vividly imagined world in China Mievielle’s ‘Perdido Street Station’ despite its somewhat ‘softer’ sci-fi approach.

Film-wise, Bladerunner (Vangelis fan also) and Alien are my favourite in the genre. I grew up as a teenager somewhat unhealthily addicted to Star Trek: The Next Generation, and although I outgrew the addiction, I still think it was an excellent landmark series.

Q. How did you come across Elite:Reclamation? Was it from the main E:D kickstarter, my previous books, or somewhere else?

I came across your kickstarter from the main Elite:Dangerous page, which I had in turn heard about from the BBC News online report. From there I then looked you up and read some of your novels.

Q. What did you think of the whole ‘Kickstarter funding a Kickstarter’ thing? Did it bother you at all?

I wasn’t aware that it hadn’t been done before, but I thought it a quite amusing and ingenious idea. Certainly it didn’t bother me, anything that helped get Elite 4 made and added to the background story was worth my money.

Q. What was it that persuaded you to pledge for Elite:Reclamation? What did you think of my kickstarter approach?

The fact that you were a published author with a history of writing several novels swung it for me. I don’t know that I would have pledged for someone with no published experience. I scanned through a few of your novels first and seeing that you could obviously write, decided to pledge something. The fact that you also happened to live not far from my home town, and are president of an astronomy society also swung me a little given my background.

Q. How important do you feel fiction is to a computer game?

It really depends on the game, but when building a game in the science fiction genre, especially as one as grandiose in scope as Elite, it is probably an essential part of the process to ensure success. When I first came upon the Elite world (via Frontier Elite 2 – I have still to this day never played the original game) the Gazetteer and stories that came in the game box really set the scene and pulled me in. I had never come across a game like it before. The entire galaxy on one disk?! Unbelievable. I used to spend hours just searching around on the map, it felt like exploration of the kind one could never do in real life. The game was literally a life-changer for me in that it steered me into astrophysics and the fiction that came with the game was an important part of that.

Q. What are you looking forward to most about Elite:Reclamation?

An entertaining novel that really sets the atmosphere for the new game, adding that feeling of ‘realism’ that I got from reading the fiction that came with Frontier Elite 2. The more plausible the whole game is, the more enjoyable it will be and good background fiction helps to built that reality.

Q. Finally what feedback would you like to give me as I embark on the writing?

Maintain as much as is possible a hard sci-fi realism with characters that are believable and that the reader can really empathise with. Could I imagine myself in their situation? If I can, the whole novel comes alive.


Many thanks for the Alexander. If you’d like to be interviewed yourself for a future update, please let me know. Keep the comments coming, its great to have the interaction and I am  reviewing them for ideas and considerations in the story.

See you next week.

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  1. I’m not sure at all what to think about the “20 min round trip” concept. It has good points and bad points. I think the effect it would have on response times could be mitigated by human factors (politics, committee, discussion, public opinion etc) but the potential is there for several plot points to be generated by the response time itself. The relative decrease in travel times on a global scale hasn’t had a lot of political or military impact in the last 50 years on our own world – yes we can drop troops on a foreign border in a day, but they still have to wait for the discussions to stop before they can actually do anything.

    In addition, I think it’s potentially scientifically viable that hyperspace could evolve in 200 years (Elite time to ED time) to become faster and more efficient. At least within the “handwaved” scientific reality of Elite.

  2. personally im a big fan of ‘fiction time’ mainly because it helps make the universe feel bigger and allow more stories, maybe hyperspace is instantaneous but then system travel at subhyperspace should take time, otherwise space stops being an ocean and becomes a backyard, this is bad because you loose that frontier feeling on the fringes because without some kind of time delay your hours at most from home, it also makes piracy all but impossible as where are the pirates? there. okay jumps in huge fleet instantly engages them,

    so a combination of need to refuel combined with slow travel adds options, otherwise the scale has to expand,

    in Starwars it clearly takes hours/days to go from edges of galaxy to core, because travel is so fast a story between the federation and empire at that speed would be trivial as their respective capitals are only 66 lightyears apart,

    in short – the wild west was only wild when it took a week to get there

    • I made the same points on the forum. Game-play wise, it’s a sensible decision. No one wants it to take days of real time to achieve anything.

      In fiction though the ‘feel’ of the setting, especially when you are building alternate realities in a reader’s mind, is an important ingredient. Space is vast, and I can now go to another star system in the same time it takes me to walk to the local shops.

      Universe building wise, I have reservations too. There aren’t too many SF franchises and worlds that allow instantaneous travel. Those that do often restrict access to the technology to an privileged few (c.f. Star Gate). Space Strategy games also tend to impose time limitations on inter-system travel, and with good reason.

      Practically, players will barely notice the difference from the very first Elite or Oolite, although personally there was a real sense of achievement after an evening at the computer – it felt like I had travelled light years.

      I am interested to see how players, other authors, and readers, respond to the proposed system.

  3. Re Dave’s comment on that on the real world the compression of travel time hasn’t changed much regarding military. I honestly don’t know anything about that, but tend to disagree. The military certainly got influenced not by geographically time-compressed travel, but by the time-compressed communication facilities: A soldier in the field can request a satellite picture of the streets in front of him and gets intelligence of where opposing faction’s people are hiding. Amazing for anyone who fought 50-60 years back. Do we have any effect of compressed time of communication in Elite on the stories?

    Another idea: Time to spread any epidemics on the real life world has been strongly affected by the shortened travel time. I would expect this to be a serious issue in Elite as well. Either mankind has found a way to almost instantly screen and cure any – even unknown – remote disease by those arriving on a space station (pretty much close to what’s happened in Star Trek a lot), or it would have an influence on people’s life. Maybe new arrivals have to stay in a quarantined section for three days. Maybe there are individual “reloading pods” near the outside of a station where a traveller basically does not have to leave her own ship in order to refuel and trade cargo. New equipment may be attached to the hull of the ship and repairs been done by robots. Essentially a clean “inner zone” of the station and “dirty sections”, and possibly even small compartments where only one ship’s crew must stay until quarantine is over. That would slow down travel again if physical contact of living beings is wanted. Dificult to build into any story or game without ruining the fun part, the move-along of the story…

    • Epidemic idea is very interesting. I hadn’t thought of that. I’ll bring it into the writers’ forum.

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