Friday, 24 October 2014

Moments in Elite: Dangerous - Hidden Stars


Something that has continued to impress me is Elite: Dangerous' astroscape (I'm not sure that's a word, but if it isn't, I'm coining it). From the 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque station approaches to the vast, undiscovered planetary systems which all move and orbits in real-time, the entire gameworld is captivatingly real. It still feels spartan, but then it is space, which to be fair is not known for its dense flora and fauna. But there is an ever-present suggestion that there is always more to discover, just hidden beyond sight.

As I cruised around in the star-spattered blackness, jumping from system to system in a Sidewinder collecting data on various astronomical bodies to sell, I found the experience to be cathartic. The slow-paced, solitary occupation of the interstellar cartographer is a far cry from the adrenaline highs of the bounty hunter or the number-crunching role of the trader.

This was freedom.


Clearly it's not a playstyle that would suit everyone. Some might call it dull. Indeed, I'm sure I would tire of it if I pursued it exclusively, but from time to time it's nice to just head out into uncharted territory just because it's there.

But I became hooked when I entered a system whose star had an elliptical orbit path according to my HUD overlay. Curious. I'm no astrophysicist, but I was pretty sure that meant there must be another mass for it to orbit, yet no second star was apparent. Checking the system map confirmed the presence of a second, unknown star.

Not a binary system, just an example.
After some head-scratching, I engaged my supercruise and sped away from the visible star until I could see the entirety of its orbit path, then did a hard right. As a drifted at superluminal speeds across the periphery of the system, I scoured the backdrop, hoping my theory would prove true.

Then I spotted it. Among the hundreds of distant points of light, one crept across the darkened sky, belying its appearance as just another far-off system. By using a bit of lateral thinking and nothing more than my own eyes, I'd discovered something my instruments couldn't – the second, far smaller and less visible twin star.

Using the parallax effect to spot pixels may seem like a trivial achievement, but for me it was very satisfying and, perhaps oddly, gave me hope for Elite: Dangerous' future. It suggested to me that this won't be a game which spoonfeeds its audience with pop-ups, tooltips and walkthroughs, but one which revels in its own depth and mystery.

I'll be even happier when system maps actually look like this rather than the current beta placeholder.

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