E3 2014: Hands-on with Elite: Dangerous and the Oculus Rift

Is it possible that a hands-on demo of Elite: Dangerous and a talk with Frontier Development's Adam Woods, producer, and David Braben, CEO, would make a space sim fan out of me? Yes! I liked what I'd heard about the game before, but after experiencing it for myself at E3 2014, I can definitely say I am hooked. And it isn't just because of the Oculus Rift. I got a tour of the newest playable build, a sneak peek of the upcoming system and space station, and watched a brand-new trailer on top of the VR time.

Expanding universe

Before donning the goggles and getting free reign to fly, Woods and Braben gave me a tour of Elite's recently released premium beta. One of the newest features is trading. "Previously you could have a pirate, a bounty hunter, or a combat mercenary style of play," Woods explained, "but now you can be trader as well." With this new system, players can buy goods from the commodities markets at starports and ship them to sell in other markets. Different starports have different goods at different prices, all depending on what type of economy is present. Through trading, players will be able to impact the economies of the systems in real time. Woods noted, "Players can actually influence and destabilize the economies by taking lots of the goods from one system out and sending them on to other places."

Hand-crafted model of Elite: Dangerous ship

Other major additions include five new star systems and more ships. Instead of just choosing between two decent combat vessels, pilots now can select from craft with more cargo capabilities, better combat capabilities, or a mixture of both.

The other main feature included in the premium beta release was the galaxy map. This map not only shows players where they can go, but it also offers more information for each system, such as economies (ideal for knowing where to unload your latest cargo,) and allegiances. One peek at the map and you can see that the game has basically limitless exploration potential. To give an inkling of the scope of space, Braben emphasized that no player could ever travel the entirety of this game and visit every planet. "There are 400 billion stars, and each one has planets," he said.

Of those stars, 150,000 are actual stars from our galaxy. Literally every dot that players see is a star that they can visit. Although most people will be concentrated in human space, which consists of only a few hundred thousand systems, a few are expected to venture out into unknown space.

Sneak peek

For the next release of Elite, players will enjoys a new type of station that is significantly larger than the ones already in the game. In the words of Braben, the new stations are "more flamboyant and higher tech."

While at one new station, which happens to be located in a new system, players are above the dust of our galaxy and able to see multiple galaxies clearly in the distance. My first impulse was to try and fly out to one, but the clarity was deceptive; the other galaxies are much too far away to travel to.

Really in the cockpit

By this time, I was already more impressed by and interested in the game. But that feeling paled in comparison to playing on an Oculus Rift. Talk about an immersive experience! When I first put the goggles on, I was immediately blown away by how much I felt like I was in the cockpit of that ship. The depth was so palpable, I fully expected to see my arms enter my vision when I raised them. Swinging my head around, I saw everything from the flight controls to the cockpit door. And nothing on a flat screen can compare to the anxiety that hits when you catch sight of an enemy flying by out of the corner of your eye or watching cracks spider-web along the glass of your cockpit while your controls literally blink out.

It's not just visuals that immerse you with the Oculus Rift, either; sound plays an important role and greatly enhances the experience. When using the goggles, players choose between headphones or speaker sound setting. The two settings are necessary because sound is experienced directionally.

If anyone has an opportunity to check Elite out on the Oculus, I highly recommend it! You won't regret it (though your wallet might once you decide you must have the goggles).

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 10-12, bringing you all the best news from E3 2014. We're covering everything from WildStar and Landmark to Skyforge and H1Z1, so stay tuned!