Computer games

Elite: Dangerous or Endangered

Right at the end of 2014 there was a discussion between the Elitists of the Pelit-magazine on the subject of who would write the review. I was quite relieved when we decided that it wouldn’t be me, because rating the game at the time wasn’t a challenge I was looking forward to – and it still isn’t. There wasn’t a grade in this world that would accurately depict both the insane addiction and excitement I felt as well as the myriad of flaws in the core design I had noticed back during the beta period.

I’m one of the untold numbers of gamers whose lives were altered by the original Elite back in the ’80s. The sequels didn’t really hold my interest – mostly due to the rather boring combat – so I didn’t even back David Braben’s new Elite project in Kickstarter. When I heard news about how the design was supposed to be closer to the original with furious dogfights and pew pew lasers I got interested, however, and joined the beta.

Let’s get one thing straight here; I am first and foremost a simulator specialist and I would love to see a “realistic” interplanetary/stellar combat game, but that would look nothing like any Elite game so far. For one thing, there’s no reason for combat starships to have windows. Let’s just say that I’m not against the idea of a realistic space combat simulator, but I strongly believe the decision to go unrealistic with the flight modeling in Elite was absolutely the correct one.

Since July I’ve played totally unhealthy amounts of Elite and it is in many ways one of the most important game releases of 2014 for me, which has prompted me to type down this rather sizable blog post. And it’s not going to be just me trying to figure out all the positive words in the English language, I have what could be described as a rather stormy love-hate relationship with Elite: Dangerous. At least it should make things interesting and this post can be considered a good test: if you have the patience to observe my sanity slowly breaking down all the way to the end you probably have Anaconda-level grinding potential in Elite. So, let’s go.

Elite: Insanely Impressive

David Braben has always been an astronomy nut and his fetish for squeezing as huge a universe into as small a space as possible has reached its climax with Elite: Dangerous. And we are talking about a modern game with gigabytes of data here. The scale is literally astronomical with the entire Milky Way galaxy of about 400 Billion stars in the game and the ones we actually know something about are even supposed to resemble the originals as much as possible.

To share some of my perspective and how I feel about this achievement let’s just say that when I first learned to read, one of my favorite things to do was to read the entry on “Stars and stellar objects” in an ancient (I believe it was written at about the time people figured out how stars actually work) encyclopedia over and over again. Through those pages the wonders of the universe came to life in an enchanting way that was more wondrous than any magic invented by human beings before or since. Later on in my life I would find out that I was no wizard, but that didn’t lessen my awe at the true majesty of the reality we live in and whose mysteries we strive to understand through scientific discovery. My view of science as the greatest human endeavor has been a defining characteristic for me since childhood.

With that said even I think Frontier Development’s choice to go the unrealistic route in space combat was absolutely correct. You can probably imagine how much I also respect and appreciate the detailed modeling of our home galaxy – and when I later suggest it might have been the wrong choice you should understand it’s not because I didn’t consider it a monumental achievement worthy of great praise in itself.

Elite: Dangerous is one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen. Vehicles and structures are modeled nicely, the lighting is done exquisitely and the rest is just raw natural beauty unrivaled by anything created by humans. Usually space games tend to look like someone ate a box of pastels and subsequently vomited on the screen, but not Elite. In Elite the real beauty of the universe is displayed raw and untamed, which makes the man made structures – gorgeous in their own right – stand out and feel so very lonely and vulnerable in the vast stretches of infinity that extends so far beyond human imagination we can barely try to comprehend with the tools at our disposal. There’s of course as always room for improvement in the visualizations and modeling of the universe, but what we have now is already immensely impressive.

Actually flying the starships in the beautifully rendered universe feels rather impressive as well. With flight assist on, the ships maneuver a lot like the atmospheric aircraft of today, making flying in general and especially combat quite interesting. You can get a pretty good feel for what the ships are doing at any given time, but sometimes they seem to do odd things I can’t quite get my head around. It’s not exactly DCS, but not bad either. Of course by turning the assists off you also get the unassisted, Newtonian flight model that seems to work as expected – except of course for the arbitrary speed cap, but there are good gameplay reasons for that so I choose to suspend disbelief as far as the flight modeling goes.

All in all, flying the ships feels nice, but I don’t really have enough experience in high-level combat to estimate if it’s e-sports quality game design all the way. To sum up what it feels like to fly in the Elite universe let’s just say that I’ve done the most repetitive and dull things imaginable for extended periods of time – and still felt that slightest feeling of wonder every time the ship took off and headed for the airlock. Unfortunately, we’ll have to get back to that “most repetitive and dull things imaginable” part later, though, for a number of good reasons.

Elite: Unfinished

Before we head into the abyss let’s make one thing absolutely clear: in early 2015, as I write this post, Elite: Dangerous is in a completely unfinished state. Traditionally it could hardly be considered beta, but today’s world of gaming is a bit different and this kind of thing is becoming the norm. I’ve seen enough game and general software projects to know what it means when patches with massive changes keep coming almost daily just before the official release and even after the game is officially out there are huge changes and bug fixes that touch core gameplay. There are surprisingly few actual bugs, though, and the stability in general is good, but a lot of the design related issues I will touch upon later result from the unfinished state of the game and the seemingly tight schedule the game was released with.

As noted earlier this is the way things work in today’s world of computer gaming and I’m not berating Frontier Development for it. There’s an upside to it in the form of a promise of extensive further development, obvious downsides and last but not least, potentially disastrous consequences due to shortcuts taken during the design and development process. Oh, by the way, in case you’ve been wondering, that’s actually the main motivation behind this blog entry: assessing the future of the game based on analysis of the existing design or lack thereof. This game is very important to me personally and I can’t help but try to figure out where it’s going and speculate on its future.

The important thing to note for now is that we are looking at an unfinished game that is expected to be in continuous development for perhaps years to come.

Elite: Arbitrary

Even more than books, movies or any other forms of narrative, games need to make sense at a very deep level. A large part of the gameplay is figuring out the implicit rules (how the game is actually played) from the explicit rules (describing how the game works). Think about chess for example, it has explicit rules such as “game ends if one side’s king is threatened without possibility of escape” which in turn result in implicit rules such as “it is important to protect one’s king from being cornered”. This is actually the point where all the richness in gameplay is born, the point where chess becomes a wildly successful classic and Elite: Dangerous probably does not, at least for now.

But we’ll get to the conclusions later. For now, let’s just say that one of the biggest problems I currently have with Elite is that it is so full of completely arbitrary things that just don’t seem to make sense. That’s not uncommon for games or any other form of story telling for that matter, but Elite has an unusually high amount of oddities and it’s precisely the kind of game – universe simulator – that so very much needs to make sense at every level. Following is a list of just a few examples through which I’ll try to demonstrate the point.

  • A number of randomly spawning AI units appear at Nav Beacons for no reason whatsoever. They don’t do anything at Nav Beacons, in fact it’s not possible to do anything at a Nav Beacon to begin with, their existence is entirely pointless – except for spawning infinite numbers of targets for the player to shoot at.
  • Speaking of random spawning; Pirate lords, random traders, bounty hunters and whatnot randomly spawn around the player, hanging around in regular space just sitting there going nowhere (it is not possible to get anywhere in interplanetary space without engaging the frameshift drive).
  • Speaking of going nowhere, after entering an economic boom of never before seen richness and wealth and staying there for a while, the systems seem to transition into extremely bloody civil wars. Just… yeah.
  • Speaking of civil wars, luckily for the inhabitants of the Elite galaxy, they have no real effect on anything, just an infinitely and randomly spawning group of ships fighting each other endlessly, wasting resources at a level probably unsustainable by the entire inhabited galaxy.
  • Speaking of unsustainable losses, let’s do some calculations. A battle worthy Anaconda costs around half a billion credits. To try to make sense of the actual cost we can compare it to the cost of about 55 million tons of gold. I’t important to note that in an interstellar economy the price of resources is probably not comparable to the price of the said resource today. However, gold still seems to be one of the more precious commodities and we are talking about ballpark figures anyway, so when this kind of ships are lost in civil wars, Nav Beacons, Resource Extraction Sites (BTW mining in Elite is a more dangerous hobby than motorbike chainsaw jousting), randomly spawned Unidentified Signal Sources, piracy and last but not least blown to bits by the stations due to parking violations, holy crab that is an incomprehensible amount of waste.
  • Speaking of calculations, remember the half a Billion credit Anaconda? Well, imagine this phone call:

“RING RING”

“Blackwater, how may I be of assistance.”

“Hello there, this is the US government! We have a job proposal for you.”

“Ok, let’s hear it then.”

“Well, we have this terrorist group that has approximately half a Billion USD worth of the most modern military equipment manned by highly trained elite (pun intended) forces and they are causing us quite a lot of trouble as you might imagine. We need you to take them out.”

“Ok, that’s quite a task. What kind of compensation are we talking about?”

“$200 000, after and only if you succeed. No costs or losses covered.”

In Elite, you’re fully expected to shout “Hecks yeah!” and eagerly grab the great opportunity with both arms.

  • Speaking of opportunities, that is the biggest payout for a combat mission. Like all other careers besides trading itself, combat earns an order of magnitude or worse less credits than trading.
  • Speaking of trading, one of the most profitable endeavors I’ve done was to trade “performance” enhancers from one station to a couple of ships parked a planet’s width away from it, with a massive premium in the price. Their combined cargo capacity of 2000t easily handled the millions of tons of stuff people took to them from the station whose supply of 50k+ didn’t budge.
  • Speaking of taking stuff from one place to another, the ship’s computer is perfectly capable of calculating the approach trajectory to any station at faster than light speeds, but for some reason it will overshoot every time unless you manually tell it to only use 75% of the throttle it intended to.
  • Speaking of stations, why on (or off?) Earth do the massive space stations have a single, smallish entry/exit hole in them, causing constant hazards and traffic jams? I doubt the stations could actually handle the kind of traffic required to supply them and run their day to day operations with the logistics as they are now.
  • Speaking of exits, why are there blast deflector plates on the landing pads in front of your ship and why do they need to be lowered before you can take off, but not when you’re landing?
  • Speaking of deflectors, why does one sort of a shield give much higher level of protection on a big ship instead of a small one? And vice versa in some cases? Why does it not say anywhere exactly how much protection any given shield provides?

Much of the above was mentioned just for good fun, a lot of more or less important stuff was left out because even I have limits to how much of my brilliant ideas I care to type in one blog post and most of all you would kind of expect things like this even in a good, finished game, let alone one still in the making. Some of the things not, however, and the issue with Elite is that it’s so full of weirdness and inconsistency that it’s becoming an epidemic. And my greatest fear is that there’s a certain, potentially extremely damaging reason behind all the inconsistency.

Elite: Endangered

Someone on the official forums mentioned that Elite: Dangerous feels like a puzzle whose parts just don’t seem to fit. I agree and I also believe that the reason for this is that the pieces were not cut from a single plywood board that had a certain picture on it.

When I look at Elite, I don’t see a coherent design behind it.

The reason it’s not outrageously crazy to expect someone to take out a half a Billion credit Anaconda for 200k credits is because neither the price of the Anaconda nor the reward for its destruction are derived from a coherent design in the background. The reason those few ships can offload infinite amounts of “performance” enhancers produced without limits by the station is because there is no economy; nobody actually produces anything and nobody is dependent on the products, at best their prices are determined by shallow algorithms based on the type and size of the economy. The reason massive amounts of lives and resources can be lost without consequence in the meat grinder we call business as usual in the Elite universe is because nothing is actually lost or produced, in fact besides the human players nobody and nothing exists beyond the short moment they appear as randomly spawned company at one of the momentarily populated instances in the game.

If you were observant enough you may have noticed that I used the rather toxic word “random” above quite a few times. To understand randomness and why I feel it’s so badly abused in Elite, let’s think about what randomness is in reality and in game design. First of all, there’s a big difference between something that is random and something that merely appears random. In the real world you actually have to go to quantum physics to find true randomness (or so we/I believe at the moment), everything else is a result of physical laws – we just don’t know all the variables and even if we did the interactions would form such a complex web of cause-effect relationships that we still wouldn’t be able to predict the lottery numbers or even which number the ball will land on in a game of roulette played for example a hundred years from now. Or if roulette is still a thing at the time or if the humankind still exists.

However, although the future will never be very predictable with human resources, being based on laws of physics rather than randomness has a massive upside. As I mentioned earlier I’m a massive fan of all things science and all of that is based on the fact that the world is based on coherent rules we can try to figure out. It is possible to make observations, figure out what’s behind them and make predictions based on the conclusions. During the last few years this process has brought us planes, trains, automobiles, computers, Elite, Frontier: First Encounters and Elite: Dangerous. Among other more or less useful things. If everything was just pure randomness, it would be impossible to progress beyond the starting point.

Games are a bit similar – and although randomness does play a role in many games its role needs to be considered very, very carefully. Games like chess have no randomness in them at all. Chess is actually a perfect information game, as all the participants have full knowledge of all the rules and events of the game. Randomness has a major role in many successful games, such as for example a famous imperfect information game, poker. Again there is an important consideration regarding the nature of randomness in imperfect information games, however, since instead of being simply random they usually – like poker, Elite: Dangerous or life itself – rely on managing probabilities. Hidden information, even when based on random elements, can provide extremely compelling gameplay elements, but pure randomness has an element of danger to it that threatens to take meaningfulness away from the game.

And that’s precisely the problem I have with the design or lack thereof in Elite: Dangerous at the moment.

Everything in the game can be summed up in a few numbers. First of all, there’s the player’s bank account, which is obviously quite significant for the game’s progress. Second, there are (rather meaningless) figures for the player’s relations to the major and minor factions in the game. The factions also have numbers for their influence within a system that result in a few different outcomes – for example the already mentioned civil war that seems to happen when one faction has completely taken over a system. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but that’s precisely the point: things that are hand-made by designers instead of being the result of higher level rules may very well not make any sense whatsoever in the context of the game.

The main point here is, however, the extremely basic level of interaction between the player and the universe as modeled in Elite. Everything that happens has an effect on a few abstract numbers and even those are fairly meaningless. The last number mentioned – the one about faction influences – kind of affects what happens in the universe, but then again it’s completely out of the scope of what any single pilot can hope to really influence. The level of interaction between a single player and the universe in Elite: Dangerous is ridiculously shallow.

In a game of chess, the first move you make determines the course of the rest of the game, just like each consecutive move after that. The end result is a game that has compelled people for millennia, because although games are somewhat predictable on a high level, there’s incredible amount of room for variation. Then there are games like go that are even simpler to describe than chess but result in so much emergent complexity that not even supercomputers can handle a skilled human opponent.

Elite: Dangerous on the contrary is comprised of short, simple and thoroughly inconsequential loops of gameplay that always immediately return to status quo, only affecting the aforementioned numbers in a relatively insignificant way. The random Unidentified Signal Source events are spawned completely randomly and only exist if a player actually visits them. After the player leaves everything is as if the events didn’t exist (because they didn’t, actually) except for the few numbers we already talked about. The same goes for every single mission and instance type in the game. Every single type of interaction between the game and the player at the level where a single person could actually have significance is reduced to completely meaningless and repetitive grind. Well perhaps aside from exploring, which kind of works the way it should, since you wouldn’t expect very high levels of interactivity from stars or planets in reality, either.

What this means in practical gameplay terms? Well, let’s take for example my fully kitted combat Python that kicks arse and takes names (something between two and three thousand so far, just imagine the loss of life and resources by my hand alone!) like nobody’s business. Yet there’s nothing of any significance I can do in the Elite universe. I can’t even really make money with it unless I load it up with stuff I take from A to B. I’m literally a god among insects among the AI population, but the game’s interactivity offers me no possibilities whatsoever to even turn that kind of power into wealth. I could wipe out small factions, take all their riches, blackmail stations into submission – except I can’t, because all of those entities are represented only by infinitely spawning, inconsequential randomness.

I believe this all boils down to the fact that the design is actually ad hoc to a very high degree. There is no big all-encompassing design or ruleset you could derive smaller gameplay details from, all parts of the game are basically separate and unconnected. From the bounty for killing an elite Anaconda to how much protection a class 6 shield provides to a Python compared to for example an Imperial Clipper to how much a trader seeking “luxuries” is willing to pay for the commodity are singular hand-made decisions without dependencies to other features. What this means is that there is no intricate design for players to discover and more importantly there are no intricate chains of cause-effect relationships to enrich the gameplay beyond what a human being can script in a few moments. Writing every detail and event by hand will seriously limit the amount of variety and gameplay Elite: Dangerous can ever hope to provide, especially since it has to work for a million players at the same time – none of who can become more important than any other, which limits the possibilities even compared to other entirely hand written games.

At times like this when it may seem that I’m slamming the game design rather heavy handedly (perhaps because I am), it’s important to understand that I’ve played the game a lot and actually enjoyed it a least some of the time. I’m not writing about a total lemon here, I feel strongly that Elite: Dangerous is a solid effort with some serious flaws in it, but also immense untapped potential. What Elite also is is a multiplayer game, but unfortunately that side is kind of problematic as well.

Elite: Grievous

There are three main modes of gameplay in Elite: Dangerous; open play, private groups and solo play. Due to my experiences during the beta and my view on the game mechanics I have played the release version mostly in the private PvE group Mobius and my own group with some friends. What I’ve read on the forums has reinforced my view on the subject, but I want everyone to understand that I actually have fairly little recent personal experience with the PvP side of Elite: Dangerous. However, much of the controversy is tied to the general design issues I mentioned earlier and for the purposes of this discussion my experience should be sufficient, so please bear with me for a while as I explain my views.

One of the main topics in the discussion forums for months now has been so called “griefing”, which basically means trolling and generally spoiling the game experience for other users by abusing game mechanics or otherwise acting purposefully in ways that are detrimental to other users’ game experience. This occurs in pretty much all online games and Elite: Dangerous is no exception. For example in World of Tanks you can grief people by shooting and blocking friendlies, revealing their positions or blocking their shots. In general it’s not so easy to find ways to actually grief your opponents, though, because making life as difficult as possible for them is kind of the name of the game to begin with. I’m not counting verbal abuse as griefing here, because I consider it a separate issue entirely.

I find Elite somewhat problematic when it comes to griefing due to the major flaw I mentioned earlier; lack of coherent design. In fact I don’t think there’s currently a functional framework for PvP contact at all. Since the AI are only random generated, utterly meaningless and inconsequential target drones, there has been no need to create a coherent framework for participants of the game world to interact on a more equal footing. Except of course if you factor in the multiplayer part of it all, which you kind of should in a game like this.

To me it really seems that there is no reason whatsoever to engage in player on player action in Elite if you look at it purely from game design perspective. It is by far not the most profitable endeavor (trading is), in fact it might be the least profitable one of all. Especially with the higher-end ships the risks are tremendous whereas the rewards are minimal, in fact due to out of this world operating costs simply interdicting someone can mean that both parties will suffer a loss no matter how the conflict ends. In fact I would estimate that player to player conflicts are a pretty major money sink where on average everyone loses.

Except of course if you factor in the thrill and fun of fighting an actually challenging opponent – who also happens to be a real human being instead of an utterly meaningless temporarily random generated piece of code. That’s of course not griefing, how could it be when both parties want to have a good scrap against a worthy opponent. However, how could it not be griefing, when the other party is not as willing a participant? A trader peacefully running his route has all the right in the world to wonder why someone would pirate or outright murder him when gameplay-wise it would make more sense for his opponent to simply run a trade route like him and make massively more money – or at least engage the meaningless AIs or at least willing opponents. To me this kind of disparity of viewpoints is a direct result of a non-existent framework that would provide context for such encounters  so that everyone could at least assess each others motives and achieve an understanding of when and where PvP are likely or even desired. In my opinion they should also strive for a situation where PvP encounters are desirable and profitable – or at least not detrimental to all involved. An indication of just how bass-ackwards the system is right now is the way highly populated core systems are the most dangerous places of all – if you want to be safe you have to go to the outer rims of civilization. And that makes just no sense whatsoever.

If done right, good fights between players can be the highlight of any game. Multiplayer gaming has shown its immense potential during the early 21st century and it’s not wrong to look for depth and longevity for an Elite game in that direction. In this case I even believe that both multi- and singleplayer enthusiasts would benefit from the exact same thing: a framework that could govern interactions between more equal participants, including contacts between players as well as AI characters modeled as capable and important actors within the context of the general gameplay. However, there are potentially fatal problems in the way.

Elite: The Future

During the last days of the beta stage Frontier Development dropped a bit of a bomb on the community when they announced that there would be no offline mode. A number of people got understandably upset when a promised feature was being cut – and I can understand them, I’ve had internet connection issues and it’s annoying not to be able to play something when your connection is out. I was actually quite upset, too, but not for that particular reason.

Elite:Dangerous has a peculiar technical approach to multiplayer, with everything being run on the players’ own computers. This leads to multiple simultaneous instances of for example our home system, Sol. Unlike for example in Eve online there could be a million people in Sol at the same time but in parallel universes so that only a few of them could see each other. However, all of these parallel realities are connected. Remember those weird numbers I mentioned earlier? They are the connecting factor as everyone’s activities whether or not they are in one of the parallel multiplayer universes or just playing alone in solo mode affect the same abstract numbers. These numbers may well be the lowest possible common denominator between all the different instances. And you know that when someone mentions the word lowest common denominator in the context of computer gaming  it’s not going to be good. And it’s not good this time either, since those numbers being the lowest common denominator might well mean that

everything below that level will forever be by technical necessity meaningless, random, inconsequential crab.

Whether or not you agree with my assessment of the situation you at least probably understand why I’m so worried for the game I think has so much promise of greatness in it. If the scale of the universe is too big for it or if the joint multiplayer universe doesn’t allow for Space Rangers 2 -style AI actor modeling I will gladly switch into a smaller scale galaxy and limited multiplayer in a heartbeat to get a proper Space Rangers 2 from the cockpit -experience. If you don’t know what I’m talking about check out the game, it’s somewhat uneven and a rather weird mix of features, but it does the living universe part just brilliantly. It’s been a while since I last played it, but I think all the AI units are actually modeled doing their stuff in-world and if there’s a bounty on a pirate lord there’s also an actual pirate lord who has done bad things to deserve the bounty out there. And taking him out will actually be an epic achievement, it will mean that an actual AI being is now out of the game and the universe will surely take note of your monumental achievement.

It’s usually fruitless to fret about what a game could have been like, but in this case I feel this is all about what really should have been and hopefully of what could still be. I mean, games like Eve Online, the X series and Space Rangers 2 exist and they have shown what cause-effect modeling or supply chains -based economy in a virtual universe is at least supposed to be like in the early 21st century.

So, when Frontier Development announced that there would be no offline mode because they had this wonderful online dependent shared universe thing that would be needed to provide all the content I couldn’t help but read it “there’s not going to be any kind of proper low-level interactions modeling, we will have to inject all relevant events by hand for all eternity”. And lo and behold, they announced the soon to arrive “community events”, which are, unsurprisingly, the exact same kind of grind based on percentage figures the game consists of today. They are a bit odd, though, since the “performance” enhancer rallies of recent weeks have proven beyond doubt that the game is kind of already capable of generating community-based events like this all by itself.

I would really, really like to end on a high note, but the best I can do right now (early 2015) is to leave everything open, grasping at the fact that the game is still very much in development. I would hope that talks about features such as planet landings (which is probably a huge resource hog and adds little to the game) and especially first person mode (which will bring nothing to the game in its current state) will soon give way to discussions about deep interactivity and proper gameplay mechanisms.

I already explained why I fear this will not be the case, but I’m not giving up all hope quite yet. The Wings update (that is supposed to enable co-operative play) is coming and probably being designed right now. This design process should uproot a lot of the issues with the current multiplayer framework (or the lack thereof), forcing another look at how things should actually work. There’s no question that Elite: Dangerous absolutely needs a robust framework for multiplayer interactions and as I mentioned before, if you plan a way for equals to interact in reasonable ways within the context of the game that should also open up ways for the AI to assume roles beyond simply being target practice drones.

Let’s try to end on a high note despite everything. After all, now that I’m done writing this post I’m about to hop into a starship and go shoot some baddies. At least we know that the team did have great ideas during the development and although not that much of it all made it to the release version, perhaps the designs aren’t buried away forever. Of course things like an actual design framework isn’t something you just inject into a game, since everything depends on it and is derived from it … aw crab, guys, I promise I tried, I really did. Let’s give it one more go:

I firmly believe that Elite: Dangerous is a true love child for Frontier Developments and they will do whatever is in their power to create the game they envisioned years back when they begun the effort. The development experience will help them in their endeavor and they will emerge wiser and more experienced from every setback and painful compromise.

There, that’s much better, right?

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48 thoughts on “Elite: Dangerous or Endangered

    • I don’t really agree with this assessment, despite the flaws Elite is still fun to play – at least for a while. And if you consider the length of an average game that’s probably not such a short while either.

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    • I wouldn’t go that far. This blog article is spot on, the game is fun to play but has flaws. Hopefully they will be addressed so the games longevity can be upheld..

      You should try X:Rebirth…now that’s a jacked up game.

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  1. Travis Perkins says:

    Thoughtful and fairly accurate summation of the current state of play.

    FWIW, I’ve been in since ‘premium beta’, and have almost completely given up on the game. The offline thing was a red-herring: it’s obvious that they just didn’t design the game that way.
    What we ended up with was a soulless, disjointed and plain ‘fake’ galaxy, with precious little to do.
    Essentially I’m bored with it, and considering the way the whole thing is designed, I’ve little confidence they’ll be able to rescue it.
    Sad about it though. What a wasted opportunity.

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    • Yank31 says:

      I’m sorry, did you say summation?

      Besides that, yeah I enjoyed your blog. Even though I was alive and well in 84 – bit small tho, I did not enjoy the first Elites. No beta either, bought it on release.

      So what I’m trying to say : even without the heavy emotive background, I still do feel quite the way you described. The “game”… this thing is not… right. This is not right. Yet I’m still pumped by all the potential.

      Quite a weird feeling, it’s like I must criticize it because it’s only fair, but then I mustn’t, because there’s great power at hands, too.

      Hmm. Cmdrs, 07

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  2. LaRokka says:

    Hi there.
    I was that “Someone on the official forums” who said the but about the puzzle pices not fitting together.
    It was in the “Tenche” thread actually, i think 2 days ago when the luxury run collapsed all of a sudden without any ingame indication as to WHY. I feel a little famous now 🙂

    Anyhow, well thought out post and goes in perfect rythm with a current thread on t he forums. https://forums.frontier.co.uk/showthread.php?t=109788&page=11

    The bubble did just burst.

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  3. Good to see a well reasoned break down of where Elite Dangerous currently stands and I agree with a lot of what’s been said.

    Fundamentally there could be a great framework in place, the real question is what they do going forward. There does seem to be a feeling that the current Beta is just for testing injected events but I have a feeling that we are seeing the beginnings of the real background simulation.

    Yes the mechanism is being tested manually at the moment but there is no reason that, having tested it out and shown that it doesn’t have some sort of cascade affect, then these things can’t be completely automated, triggered by in game behaviour of the players (If Frontier aren’t shooting for this then the game may already be dead in the water!).

    Personally I am still playing it as Space Truck Simulator 2014. I have high hopes that it will develop beyond that.

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    • Well this is kind of what I’m hoping to see myself. However, as I mentioned it might not be easy (or at least painless) to implement at this point, because the all-encompassing background system whatever it may be would probably have an effect on pretty much everything. Just as an example I think that if FD suddenly started tracking actual economy and all the events in the universe the galaxy would quickly run out of ships larger than about Cobra size, because the AI simply could not afford to buy, run or let alone lose them. I’m not going to lose hope, though and I’m willing to suffer any kind of transition pains if FD actually have something like this up their sleeves.

      Like

  4. I rant enough on the forums to just say to this you’ve pretty much nailed it.

    It’s now February and already I’m off finding other non-Elite things to do, when I thought I might get the same level of engagement out of this as Eve.

    Sadly not and if Frontier don’t get their act in gear before the end of the year I don’t see this game lasting much longer.

    Like

  5. Arithon says:

    A good article.
    I’ve played ED since the Beta in July and I really enjoy the game. As a software developer I see a number of things that I’d like to fix or add and I hope to see some of these in the game. It’s assuredly a work in progress. I find that preferable to something like BF4 that was released as “finished” when it wasn’t. Ever. Just released in expensive pieces.
    My biggest gripe with Elite is that a vocal minority seem to be getting their way influencing changes to the game (Python over-nerf) that are not positive, or as critical as other issues that do need addressing, such as group administration, player communication and interaction, risk/reward balance (as the ailomaki has stated) is not sensible. For example, if I fly my Python, I can’t afford to let the shields go down or the hull damage cost would far exceed any bounty the combat would raise. I would need to switch to a trade ship and run cargo to re-inflate my bank account. That’s a far bigger issue than if the Python can turn quickly or has tougher shields than a one-man fighter that cost 50M Cr less.
    The game otherwise is loads of fun and highly addictive. I wouldn’t have bought an X52 and a DK2 to play it otherwise.
    Elite has been a tonic to cure the ever dumbed-down FPS franchises that are built only to scratch the ADHD itch.
    Despite its faults, Elite is an amazing game and one I cannot stop playing.The good thing I took from the Beta experience between July and November is that Frontier DO FIX THINGS and the game continues marching forward.

    Like

  6. iron flax says:

    Given how badly this game has been hacked, I have no confidence in it’s longevity.

    In a few days, it’s going to be the latest running joke in the genre, as every aspect of gameplay has been hacked due to flawed design choices. Insta kill, invulnerability, teleportation, it’s all there after one google search.

    Every painful lesson FDEV is learning has been learned before (since 1996) with multiplayer online games (both persistent and not). They have not learned from history, and they ARE repeating it.

    Also, for those that are not aware: Early backers of the game were granted a special permit (The Founders World perk). Prices at that location were supposed to be 10% less. Everyone who exercised their early backer perk, and bought a ship at the founders world, were accused of cheating. Some players were notified, some were not.
    Some players were later exonerated from the accusation of cheating, but here’s the rub; FDEV nuked their progress back to zero, on the day they bought the ship. So all their progression in combat, exploration, and trading was reset, and never fixed, from that point on.

    Yeah. Classy, I know.

    Like

  7. Good read. I envy you in a way, as you have the luck of having been waiting for a new Elite. I was on the other side, waiting for a new Frontier, so you can imagine how *that* feels.

    The letdown of the many multiplayer-oriented compromises is even more painful when it seems that at the end of the day, they’re not even thrilling the crowd they were supposed to please.

    I’ve been trying to enjoy it for what it is, a rather pretty arcade space game, trying to go past the awkward nonsense you mention (nav beacon NPCs…) and it worked for about a week. But then the heavy instancing and bubbling of the galaxy ended up killing that immersion and i’m struggling to log in.

    At this point the game won’t ever be saved for me, the game over sim compromises are way too heavy for that. But i really hope FD can get their act together and start pleasing the multiplayer fans. They sacrificed a considerable part of their community to get there, the least they could do now is to stop dithering and push all the way to please the other.

    Like

    • It would be interesting to test a fully realistic space simulator, unfortunately the audience would probably be pretty small so I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for one. However, what I’ve decided to do is to check out a few of the existing indie space trading games and see if they’re any good – and if they are, try to get reviews published and spread the word.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Can’t argue with much of that. The game could be so much better. I have some faith that it will be.

        “At least we know that the team did have great ideas during the development and although not that much of it all made it to the release version, perhaps the designs aren’t buried away forever.”

        They certainly aren’t. They’re here: https://forums.frontier.co.uk/forumdisplay.php?f=36 . It was always the plan to release the base version of the game initially and then continuously improve it with free and paid expansions. They could have probably done with another 6 months before releasing but, you know, Christmas…

        One thing that I completely disagree with in this blog is the implication that the only worthwhile thing to do is to make money and so anything other than trading is pointless. You make much of how everything is just a meaningless number in the game (which is true), so why does the number of credits take on any greater significance? You could as easily pick any other number from your stats and grind that instead of doing trading.

        Alternatively set your goal as “having fun” and do whatever you find fun at the time! I’ve done 3 trade runs since release. I’m mainly pootling around the Old Worlds – Lave et al trying to increase the reach of the Alliance to new worlds.

        When I get bored of political machinations, I do a rare goods run, or a bit of exploration, or pirate hunting in resource extraction sites, or join a civil war, or…

        BTW have you heard of Kerbal Space Program? You mentioned a couple of times that you’d love to see a realistic space sim. That’s it.

        Like

  8. Kerrec Snowmane says:

    You have a well written and fair blog there. I agree with you for most of your “randomness” gripes, and disagree with you on some minor topics. Such as:

    The navigation computer is not there to fly the ship for you. If 100% throttle produced the perfect maximized flight duration to a destination, there would be nothing to aspire to when flying in supercruise. FDev’s implementation is actually brilliant, if you think a bit deeper about it. Let me elaborate: In theory, if your ship continued to fly at multiples of the speed of light, such as going 50c without slowing down, your human reflexes would be inadequate to observe your destination arriving and react to slow down. If you were perfectly aligned with your target, you would simply slam into it without realizing you needed to be slowing down. Hence the navigation computer slowing you down based off gravitational forces felt by the ship. It is simply there to make sure you actually have the time to react.

    Now, the decision to make 75% throttle the straight line maximum throttle to arrive at a destination without overshooting provides room for player skill to shine. Did you know, if you intentionally overshoot and skim by a planet, you can slow down much faster, much later and cut your flight time to final destination drastically? If you’re trying to avoid a player interdiction, that knowledge is vital. If you’re just trying to maximize your trade route profit, that knowledge gives you the edge over someone that doesn’t know. That is actually “depth” in supercruise gameplay. And here you are using it as a “this game has silly pointless features” fodder.

    Not to say some of your other points are not right on the money.

    Like

    • I don’t really disagree with the general idea that the navigation computer should have some gameplay elements to it, perhaps even more than there is currently. Also as some other participants in the list of arbitrary and odd things it isn’t really a serious detriment to gameplay either and I don’t even really mind the way it works currently. I think the question why the computer won’t just give you the optimal approach velocity is valid, though. The answer is of course that it’s a gameplay thing and adds a (small) element of skill – and I feel the way it’s currently done is indeed somewhat odd and arbitrary.
      But I think it’s a fair point to make that there’s actually nothing seriously wrong with the way frameshift computer is done and it does create some interesting gameplay. I definitely didn’t mean to say that there was something seriously wrong with the frameshift computer.

      Like

      • Kerrec Snowmane says:

        It does give you the optimal approach velocity. You just have to learn it. Which is good game design.

        When the “instantaneous” time to desitnation (that number below your destination) reaches 0.06, you are at the optimal approach velocity. Actually it is lower than 6, but because the display rounds the speed down to 2 decimal places, you can’t fine tune further than 6 and be 100% sure you’re OK.

        When I started writing my response yesterday, I ran out of time and had to leave my PC. So I wrapped it up and submitted what you see above. In general I agree with the majority of what you say. It’s just that some of the things that appear random, and I’m talking about the background simulation and the different states a sub-faction can trigger, may not be that random. I personally just think they’re broken, not working as intended. And badly designed, where the simulation runs and ends in the same end condition. Numbers were released in the FDev forums for the quantities for each state: BOOM was way up there, followed by CIVIAL WAR. And I’m fairly confident I can explain why that is. It’s not a randomness thing, it’s a bad design thing.

        Anyway, I feel like I’m all over the place on this. So let me finish by saying, good article. I agree with it. I hope ED gets overhauled because I love the game, and am disappointed by it in equal measures.

        Like

  9. Andy Smith says:

    I enjoyed the read and am saddened to say I mostly agree. Saddened because I Kickstarted this game had been playing since Prem Beta last year – until very recently.
    Despite bugs – some of which are truly depressing – I have tried to keep these rose-tinted gameplay glasses on and convince myself that this dried and underfed bud will flower into something truly beautiful.
    But I don’t think it ever can now.
    There are so many things about ED that sadden me, I don’t really know where to start. I think what catalyzed my thoughts – and was mentioned in your article – was the iconic ‘letterbox’ on Stations when someone on the official forums pointed out their basic poor-utilitarian design (and don’t fob me off with ‘lore’ tales of keeping atmospheres in stations – they aren’t real, they’re 1’s and 0’s).
    I understand the significance of the letterbox and its historical status. FD also understand those aspects and thought having a letterbox entrance to stations would be embraced and welcomed – and they were. For at least the first two hours of players having to go through them.
    Having had the poor design choice of letterbox entrances pointed out I couldn’t help but think ‘FD didn’t think at all about designing a logical way to move dozens of ships in-out of space stations quickly, efficiently and with minimal fuss. They simply thought ‘yeah, we’ve gotta have a letterbox, because that’s what we had before in all those single-player versions of the game where traffic through them was minimal’ – and which you could avoid with the purchase of a docking computer (which was top of every player’s shopping list). The whole ED experience has smacked of ‘this feature, let’s have this feature – make it sort of work and we’ll come back and flesh it out’ without thinking ‘just because we can do it, does it mean we should?’.
    And as far as I can tell every bug-fix either re-introduces old bugs that we thought had been squished several times before or reveals gaping holes in both code and design somewhere else – it’s like trying to cover a football pitch with a beach-towel it seems.
    I now think I started playing this game a year – maybe two – too soon. It’s a stunning achievement in lots of areas – sadly these areas don’t seem to hang together as a long-term, coherent gameplaying whole and I’m not convinced anything but a ‘back to the drawing board’ approach in most of them is going to be of much help.

    Like

  10. Personally I really enjoy the game and I look forward to seeing where it is going. I don’t worry about getting the most money or the best ship I just enjoy the moment to moment gameplay. For example last night my internet didn’t, work so i kicked up the offline demo and just played around with the different scenarios (i think shooting out a surrenders drives in the ice ring and then matching course in faoff was my favourite).
    An interesting read but i don’t relate. Its all about perspective I suppose.:)

    Like

  11. I had so much hope for this game during Beta, I played it a huge amount (using an Oculus Rift helps stretch out the enjoyment). When the game was released it just felt like such a letdown. It feels like it was released a year too early. There was no big feature dump on release to make the game into something other than a roll of the dice.

    I would be totally fine with the current state of the game if Frontier actually acknowledged some of these issues and released a roadmap for the next years development, but as far as I can tell they’re OK with the general foundation.

    Like

  12. This is a good article, and I even think it pulls some punches. Looking at the design decision of “randomly chosen hand-crafted/scripted encounters” look at how shallow those experiences are.

    USSes – maybe a dozen possibilities that almost all end the same way. (some offer alternative endings) You drop into a USS and see a Type 9 it’s the corporation vessel, a pirating opportunity but not a very good one. If you see a T9 with a bunch of escorts, wedding/funeral barge, you can scan every single one of them, not one will never have illegal cargo or any sort of surprise at all, it happens the same way, every time. Imagine if the dozen encounters could each work out 3 or 4 different ways depending on how the player interacted with the game! It would create several more layers of depth in an incredibly shallow game, just by putting some serious effort into each “hand-crafted encounter.” 400 billion systems with 12 different random encounters that end 1 way – how can this sound appealing if your goal is to make an interesting game?

    Economy – prices are way too tightly wrapped around this ‘average price’, you can imagine the code written with a simple standard deviation formula with a very low sigma value. Just imagine if you popped into a station and saw it buying Algae for 5K, or any other complete throwaway commodity for an order of magnitude higher than anywhere else in the galaxy – I don’t know about you but I would be genuinely excited after seeing the same prices within the same 10 – 20cr thousands of times!

    That’s two examples but you could go through each section of the game and see how it is one random level deep. Mining, exploration, pirating, etc. One of the benefits of using randomness is to create interesting combinations and surprises, but you have to actually layer it and allow wild, edge cases to happen. Instead we have Elite: Minimal Statistical Deviation on an Intergalactic Scale.

    Like

  13. Simon Jones says:

    I’ve been playing since day one of the public beta, and lost interest a few weeks ago. This blog absolutely nails the current state of the game.

    Elite and Frontier have always been the quintessential space combat games for me, and it’s sad that they have captured the combat dogfighting of Elite so beautifully, yet failed totally to create a dynamic and compelling environment in which to fly.

    Combat is purely optional. There is no fighting your way to the safety of a station with a haul of profitable cargo. This was Elite’s killer feature! All of the adventure came out of making an epic run across a star system.

    I gave up when I travelled 200 odd light years through multiple systems in a stock sidewinder, and absolutely nothing whatsoever happened.

    The multiplayer side of it has unfolded into a disaster, whoever is calling the shots with rushed mmo content like ‘community goals’ and chasing balancing issues to pacify forum metagamers has truly lost the plot.

    This is David Braben’s Phantom Menace moment. It fundamentally doesn’t work as an online game. I’m really really sad about that, but hopefully it will inspire other teams to do a better job.

    Great article.

    Like

    • You have a good point about fighting your way to the station. I played Oolite quite a bit some time ago and when I compare the classic approach to the current supercruise I can’t help but think that the former does feel a bit more interesting gameplay-wise. The big difference is of course that the old Elite/Oolite isn’t based on realistic astronomy, which I feel results in massive challenges to game designers. The interdiction mechanism was added fairly late in the betas, which is not a very good thing since interplanetary travel is such a crucial part of the game design; that’s where a lot if not most of the interaction between players and AI units happens. I can’t point a finger at any specific flaws, but I do feel that there’s room for improvement in how interplanetary supercruise is handled. And for all I know they might be working on it at the very moment.

      Like

  14. myname says:

    Excellent review and I am sad to say that I share the conclusions.

    Having all AI entities fully modelled, with own budget and agenda is highly demanding though (AI in EVE for example works basically the same way as in ED). Not an IT expert, how many entities could a game fully model? Enough for all factions in game? Enough to model independent AI ships as well and then enough to populate all settled systems in game?

    Another thing, what do you make of the more dynamic trade system since this week? It does not fix the economy (AIs still appear from thin air with nobody paying for it), but trade affects those (trade) background numbers much more than before. More fine-tuning is needed, but in general, that’s a step in the right direction, isn’t it?

    Like

    • I haven’t done very much trading recently (I mostly like to shoot at things myself) after the “performance” enhancer runs were over so it’s hard for me to say how good the system is right now. However, I believe it’s a step in the right direction and AFAIK for example the endless supply enhancer runs wouldn’t work anymore. It’s still not a proper production and consumption -based economy model, however, and that’s what I would kind of expect from a game like Elite. Hopefully something like that will be added to the game in the coming months.

      Like

    • Also about the number of AI entities; I don’t really know, I don’t have that kind of expertise in AI development. It depends very much on how the system was built, it is for example possible to simulate the events in systems that don’t have actual human players in them.
      There’s a bigger hurdle, though, in the form of the shared universe with an unpredictable number of separate instances for every star system at any given time. Whose instance should a certain NPC appear in? I have worked in a project that had to tackle similar issues in the form of potential massive multi user events where the idea was to try to have all the relevant people (mostly from different kinds of friend lists) appear in the same instance. We never did really solve that issue (our priorities were elsewhere anyway), but I do know that there are ways to at least try to get around the problem of splitting people into several instances. It’s not easy, but we might not be completely screwed even with the multiplayer system the way it is at the moment in Elite.

      Like

  15. Scott says:

    I worry that Mr braben is a little out of touch with gaming these days.

    What we have would of been more than enough in the 80’s.

    I was so gutted when I first realised that all the npc ships around me were magic spawns, that is the main issue for me, it makes the galaxy feel 100% fake.

    There are so many things that could of been done better, but its too late now.

    Like

  16. John says:

    For awhile you couldn’t hear about ED without hearing about Star Citizen, so I’ll continue in that vein – while SC is purported to lack the massive Universe Simulator feel that ED has it is expected to make up for it with realistically modeled ships and an economy system to rival EVE Online.

    The devs have talked about implementing an economy that is supply and demand based. If you have a shipping lane that starts to get hit by pirates then the items that those ships were supposed to deliver cause problems for their intended destination – supply goes down, prices go up, and the pilots who use that shipping lane begin to hire protection. If the mercenaries cannot protect the ships then they post jobs on the local jobs board about taking out the pirates. If that doesn’t work then the Imperial Navy gets involved. All of this happens outside of the human player as the NPC’s will outnumber us 10 to 1.

    Overall it sounds like Start Citizen might be more what you’re looking for. That being said it won’t be finished till mid to late 2016, so maybe ED will have all of those features.

    Like

  17. Although the blog author digresses at points, he succeeds in making the core argument that E:D has not yet developed an internal consistency that connects the experiences of each player with those of the others and to the galaxy as a whole. That connectivity is the essence of an MMO universe, and it is threatened by the current apparent arbitrariness of encounters and the game economy. In general, I concur that open play E:D at the moment is 1) beautiful and 2) lonely, but that it has vast potential for greatness depending on the direction that it is developed.

    The big question that is left as a cliffhanger: is the current fragmented state of E:D a placeholder for a more deeply integrated universe to come, or is it the foundation of sand that is designed mainly to satisfy the multiplayer engine’s technical constraints and will be extended in the future with more of the same (e.g. more ships, more weapons, more goods to trade, more isolated encounter incidents, more ways to do these things together as a private group, but no more connection among these different elements beyond the fact that all activities affect your credit balance).

    I showed my son E:D and proudly demonstrated how the trading system worked, how to dock, how to outfit a ship, etc. He asked, “Why are you trading?” I answered, “Because I want to earn a better ship to trade more with”. He replied, “Dad, you have a space job.”

    Like

  18. Dave says:

    I play almost exclusively in solo mode. I tried multiplay and it really sucked, too many kiddies trying to spoil another players game by griefing and getting pimped Cobras but only attacking players in basic Sidewinders (starter ships) or Type 6 and 7 cargo ships that stand no chance against them. It’s purely to get their combat rating up.

    The only laugh I had was when a player in a Falcon decided to take on my Type 6 and didn’t check my loadout first. My Type 6 was very agile, pimped and pretty well armed, he soon regretted it and went boom with a couple of seeker missiles up his tail pipe before he could get into supercruise to escape.

    After becoming sick of being pulled out of supercruise by fully specc’d Cobra’s on EVERY trip, I went solo and have played solo ever since.

    My biggest gripe is not having an offline mode that they promised right from the start. It’s probably the one thing that makes me reluctant to recommend the game to friends. If they are willing to renege on that promise, what others are they going to back out of? Since It appears we cannot trust FD to keep their word, I often tell my friends to wait until later to buy it or wait until Star Citizen or Infinity comes out.

    They failed to keep their word years ago when they first announced Elite 4 and even put up a web page about it with the Elite Club. That’s as far as it ever went and E4 was shelved with little or no explanation from David Braben who had made such a big deal of it. I can’t say I’m surprised that they didn’t keep their promise this time about the offline mode either. Had Braben gone ahead with his plan for E4, Elite Dangerous could well have been Elite 5. Servers come and go and if the Elite Dangerous server goes offline due to few people playing it, everybody else will lose out on the game they spent good money for. That’s the whole reason people wanted an offline mode.

    Like

  19. DarkMatterGenerator says:

    I don’t mean this to be disrespectful, and don’t think it is, but I totally disagree and think your choice of analogies are poor and your blog entry is way too long for what you are saying. I can only think that is because you want to project even more dreams onto the game but are struggling where reality impinges on fantasy.

    I can only dig out 4-5 simple points you make.

    You want Arena combat modes without risk to lose 40 hours of play earning a ship in game. You say this in like 1,000 words. You should mention insurance for those not familiar with the game and mention Arena combat just isn’t offered at the moment. It is what it is.

    You have crazy idea that huge, bustling places with vast disparities of income and equality and huge numbers of persons should result in vastly lower chances that you will be a victim of some sort of crime or see some violence? Puhleeze. Real world example of that? Downtown Los Angeles versus my sedate semi-rural home?

    Some of what you want doesn’t exist anywhere and you should own up to that – fully persistent and deep modelling of even one planet worth of billions of NPCs and economy, politics, etc. all wrapped up in a First-Person, real-time 1:1 scale galaxy? Good luck finding that to play on your laptop. Game references please? Eve is not that and the player base is small and the game has monthly fees.

    If you hit 30 hours of play time then you got your money’s worth as the average $50 game gets 20 hours of play. And Elite has no monthly fees or pay-to-win like MMO’s. It is kind of a new beast.

    I totally get the fantasy that a lot of folks have projected onto this title because of its scope and audacious potential. And for some of us a very unrealistic nostalgia.

    But I don’t regret a penny I spent on Elite Dangerous and I look forward to all the updates to come. I hope others can have fond memories in the future of their initial experiences docking in a sun-drenched Coriolis in orbit of a planet on their under-powered home PC.

    The background sim works and it is being pushed and analyzed by Players and Frontier alike and some bugs and tweaks have already been implemented. Because of the community interaction with Devs I am sure there will be more. And there is a well-thought out plan for the game. It just might not match perfectly to your specific personal desires. After all, we all face the constraints of time and money and those feed into outcomes. But at the end of the day, it is just a game… and I think anyone that plays it and enjoys it for 20-30 hours has certainly gotten their money’s worth and should not be ashamed to recommend the experience to anyone else.

    Fly safe commander.

    Like

    • I actually had to think about hits a bit, since a lot of it just didn’t seem to make sense for me, but I think I’ve at least partially understood what you write about. First of all, English not being my native language some of the points may not have been presented in the clearest possible ways – but luckily it seems that at least most have kind of understood what I was after. Anyway, I’ll try to explain myself a bit more, let’s see if I got your points correctly.

      First of all, I really don’t know where you got the idea of arena combat so I don’t really know how to reply to that. There are a number of different frameworks or designs for competitive multiplayer gameplay, but I’m sure you already know that if you have any experience in gaming. Maybe it was the WoT reference in another context? But then again I also mentioned the original Elite and I doubt anyone thought I wanted to see unfilled vector graphics in E:Dangerous. Sorry, but I’m a bit at a loss here. I don’t also quite understand the significance of mentioning the insurance mechanic, True enough it exists and even has some small oddities to it, but I really didn’t have the space for every detail of the gameplay.

      The next point is luckily a bit more clear to me. In the context of Elite we’re not talking about an analogue for cities and people, but more for ships and military forces. I haven’t been to the port of Los Angeles (I have visited the city, though, but it was a really short trip and I only saw a small part of the city center – and this is probably a bit off topic), but I doubt there’s rampant piracy in there, at least not much of the armed gunboats assaulting container vessels. If someone tried the US Navy might have something to say about that and if I was a pirate I wouldn’t want to take them on. In Elite it should be the same, the highly populated core worlds should have a massive federation/empire/etc. presence to enable trade and all sorts of profitable things to happen. Instead currently if you want to be safe you’re better off running from the populated center of civilization to what is the Elite universe version of the coast of Somalia – and that is kind of backwards. I don’t know all the starting places and some of them might be anarchies etc., but then again that would be rather poor design in itself. Also if you think about the analogy to people and cities, having been to LA but not Syria, Libya, Iraq, east Ukraine or other such spots that are currently more analogous to the distant reaches of civilization in Elite, I would definitely take my chances in LA if I had to choose.

      Again I don’t know where you got the billions of people from, in Elite you currently get at most about a dozen AI units in one place at any given time, except for the conflict zones. Modeling of masses of billions of people is actually somewhat simple, because you can do that relatively accurately with statistics. Also I don’t know if any game is really brilliant in its modeling of economy, but actual supply-production-demand games have been done and so have sizable universes with persistent and relatively intelligent characters in them. The examples given earlier, Space Rangers 2 and X games both have – if not perfect, in fact not at all – at least superior modeling of either persistent characters or economy in them.

      Not to mention strategy games such as Europa Universalis, which is of course different genre altogether, but I actually think that design of a game like Elite should begin by thinking about simple, high level board games such as Risk. First think about what is the big picture. Is it for example factions fighting for control of existing colonies and founding new ones? That could happen with for example military force, wealth or other forms of influence that can be handled on a relatively high level (still thinking about the Risk game board). Then you go deeper into details, for example building the respective navies. At that point you could for example build factories, which you need for building ships. All of this would require raw materials, laborers and other resources and the end result could be for example an Anaconda built for the Federal Navy. After applying a rather simplistic (not saying it would be totally simple to balance etc. of course) design we now have an absolutely massive difference when compared to current Elite. The price of an Anaconda is no longer arbitrary, it is based on both the value of the raw materials and other resources required to build it, but also the value of the built ship for its ability to influence the overall goals. Even more importantly, every Anaconda would actually exist and destroying one would have some kind of a meaning in the game’s reality. And of course the Anaconda is just one example; if such a framework design existed, every single trade done, ship destroyed or mission completed would actually have meaning. It’s not effortlessly simple to do, not at all, but the gameplay would become orders of magnitude more interesting and that’s why it would all be worth it in the end. And due to how everything depends on the design framework, it’s not something that can be just easily dropped in after all the bits below are done – which is the really worrying thing for me in Elite at the moment.

      As for the game being worth the money spent on it I would agree, I’ve got easily enough gameplay out of it for what I paid. However, to me computer games are a hobby, passion and in some ways my job and I tend to look and evaluate them as art. I don’t even consider this a full blown review (I would rather wait a bit or a lot first to see what truly becomes of Elite: Dangerous) where things such as consumer advice would become more important – I don’t grade the game here or even offer advice on buying it other than trying to go through some of the good and bad things in the game.

      As for there being a working background sim at the moment I disagree very much, to me it seems to be a very simplistic and shallow system that relies on Frontier Developments personnel injecting much of the events by hand. That doesn’t mean things couldn’t improve in the future – and I believe they will, just don’t know how much – but instead of being very optimistic (like you seem to be) the best I can manage is hopeful.

      Like

  20. Pepijn says:

    Are you aware of the Design Decisions forum: https://forums.frontier.co.uk/forumdisplay.php?f=36 ? It’s archived now, and I’m not sure if it’s publicly accessible, but that is where Frontier designed a lot of the game together with their backers in open discussion.

    While nothing in there is a promise that it will ever actually happen, it is a good indication of where Frontier want to take the game, and there’s a lot that should give you hope. For instance stuff about persistent NPCs, who you can actually interact with and have an independent existence, making it possible to have those pirate lords that actually feel like they have an impact on the universe to kill, as well as many other ways to make the universe feel deeper and to feel more involved in it.

    There’s lots more very promising stuff. I agree with your criticism of the game in its current state, but the DDA (Design Decisions Archive) makes me hopeful that it will become much better.

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    • Yes I’ve actually read quite a lot about the stuff on the DDA forum and I do agree that there’s quite a bit of good stuff in there. Pretty much everything we got in the release was very bare bones compared to the designs in the aforementioned forum section – which is of course understandable, but it would be nice to know how much of that stuff is still in the plans and how much has been permanently scrapped. The thing that worries me most is that features such as persistent universe and deep background simulation have a profound impact on the game on all levels; they are more like the very foundation of a game, not something you just simply drop into a basically finished game. Not to say it would be impossible, however, I’m very eagerly looking forward to seeing how FD choose to further develop the game.

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      • Pepijn says:

        That’s one place where I disagree with you by the way: I *don’t* think that the 32-player “islands” peer to peer architecture means that the level of interaction could never expand beyond a lowest common denominator. The reason is that there is always also a central server involved.

        The peer to peer stuff is only for the fast-paced (mainly combat) interactions between players in the same area. Battles can therefore never (although they may raise the limit in the future) involve more than 32 players.

        I believe the reason for this architecture is that that kind of traffic represents by far the majority of the server traffic, so having to have it go to central servers would put a vastly larger strain on their bandwidth, CPU and memory resources. Running the servers would be much more expensive and they wouldn’t be able to offer the game without a subscription fee. I actually think having all that traffic go directly between players is a clever trick, although it does make it harder to prevent hacking.

        All the background simulation stuff is still done via central servers, and there is no technical reason why *they* couldn’t simulate one rich and diverse interactive universe. I’m not worried that there are technical obstacles to a persistent universe and deep background simulation. Hopefully Frontier will make good on their promise to actually build such a universe on the foundation which I think is there.

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  21. Not sure what you are talking about except for stating “it´s not really finished”. Which is what David Braben constantly repeats himself, btw.

    First of, landing on planets, walking on planets is such a cool feature I really crave for, and not a “resource hog that adds little to the game”! Secondly, if you make things big, things tend to appear random, so that´s how you simulate a galaxy settled by gazillions of humans. There are also systems which indeed allow you to change the political status of star systems, either on the rebel side or as a stabilizing force.

    I think what you really want to point out is that there is not much of a red line on what to do and how to do. A little bit of here and a little bit of there, something is missing, a missing link. Even in a sandbox you need tools to play with and you need to be able to build your sandcastle, right? You need a shovel and a bucket and right now we got the shovel-part.

    Braben stated he wants to revolutionize gaming as he did with the first Elite. It seems he is trying to do so in slow and methodical steps. Something which other actors should take an example of. Just look at Dragon Age: Inquisition; that game got game of the year awards thrown at it like nothing. And it is buggy like hell and at its core it doesn´t know what it is, either. MMO? Multiplayer? Pure Bioware character and story experience? I say Elite is much better crafted already, even if most of its potential is still ahead.

    Indeed, is it even a game anymore? Currently, Elite: Dangerous is one huge freaking tour through our galaxy – especially when you have an Oculus Rift – with some rudimentary Carribean trading and pirating along the way (although, honestly, few games can offer more and just disguise it better).

    You have to realize that Elite: Dangerous is already revolutionary by being the biggest and most immersive virtual world available on this planet.

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    • The “not being finished” means that in the case of Elite I find it reasonable to expect major additions and improvements to the game in the “near” future. No matter what the publisher says, I would consider the current game a very early beta at best with things such as co-operative play missing (mid-February).

      The planetary landings thing is pretty much a matter of opinion and I’m not saying it won’t be cool (at least if done properly), I just don’t see them adding that much to the game itself.

      As for making thing big also making things random – I hope you are not right about that, since if that’s the case I feel the current decision to make the galaxy that big would have been a mistake. I’m not looking for a red line to point you somewhere (in fact I vastly prefer emergent games over any kind of linear campaigns), I’m looking for things you could actually influence and stuff that would make sense at a level where singular players exist in the Elite universe.

      Think of Space Rangers 2; when you meet AI units in the game they are actually doing something sensible, their existence has a purpose. And when you blow someone away he gets actually removed from the game – your action actually had consequences.

      In Elite changing the status of a system seems to always happen at a scale much larger than a single person and secondly it tends to happen by repeating extremely simplistic activities such as shooting infinitely randomly generating ships or taking stuff from A to B (seemingly without any real production/consumption based economy modeling). There are virtually no cause-effect relationships in Elite or at least they are extremely shallow – and this is what I find to be problematic about the game right now and why I’m not so excited about potentially quite cool things such as planetary landings.

      I disagree a bit about Elite being the biggest sandbox out there, but I just can’t remember the name of the rather interesting looking software that IIRC modeled several galaxies (with planetary surfaces) – but that’s not really the point. What would make Elite truly revolutionary would be creating a deep gameplay experience in such an environment. And although that’s certainly still possible as I mentioned in the blog post I feel that kind of a gameplay framework should have been made first, since everything else in the game is supposed to be based on it.

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      • I can see your point. Developing a proper concept for gameplay is not a trivial task, it seems. Old games like the original Elite just got programmed because some geeks thought it would be fun. Nowadays it seems the creators need to put some more thoughts into gameplay. It seems games have indeed evolved since the original Elite and we would not go back. Maybe Frontier did underestimate this.

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  22. @Pepijn (for some reason I can’t reply directly, I’ll have to look into the issue): The reason I feel the current implementation limits frontier’s options as far as immersive gameplay goes is the existence of “alternate realities”, not so much the limit of 32 people. For example if there was to be an actual capital ship battle it would be fought in a number of instances simultaneously – meaning that in some instances the capital ship would be destroyed and in others not. What would happen in the actual universe? Also if you had persistent characters, which instance would they appear in (there are actually some answers to this, but they are far from simple)? Also if you tried to blockade a station, people in other instances or solo wouldn’t even know you were there. In my view it’s things like this that make it harder to create meaningful interactions with the game world, not the limit of 32 people per instance.

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  23. Jason G says:

    I also want to second the concern that walking on random planets or in your spaceship is a waste of resources. That in itself is a whole different type of game play that would not add much value to the game unless you were getting a Dead Space quality experience. My guess is it would be a really limited experience. Frontier needs to focus on making space more alive with more dynamic missions and more space combat with a purpose.

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  24. Pingback: Return of the Elite | Weird and Wonderful Gaming

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