Choose My Adventure: I am Elite: Dangerous

Elite: Dangerous

Space is not a very good place for people to hang out. Humans have a specific list of things that are needed for survival, and space is in a continual state of being fresh out of all of them. Thus, the space race isn't just about firing objects into the universe and seeing how far they can go but about building contraptions that deliver enough tender love and care to keep folks alive for the journey. Space travel is immensely expensive and complicated; humanity is still decades or even centuries away from easily accessible personal spacecraft.

Space sims like Frontier Development's Elite: Dangerous let you skip ahead a bit to see what things might be like when launching yourself into space will come with all the grandiosity of running to the store for some bread. "Yeah, you have a spaceship," Elite says, "but what exactly do you intend to do with it?"

In this, the second week of our Elite-focused Choose My Adventure, we'll be seeking an answer to that very question.

Tom Supercruise

In my brief time thus far with Elite: Dangerous, I've learned a fair few things about getting around in space. I've learned that space stations prefer you ask for permission before you attempt to swing into the bay and park your ship (death number one). I've learned that momentum is an important factor when calculating how one should best approach a massive, spinning structure (death number two). And I've learned about interdictions, which occur when one ship forces another ship out of supercruise mode to shake it down, scan its cargo, or simply blow it up (death number three -- in the current beta only NPCs can perform interdictions).

Elite: Dangerous

Once I had a grasp on the basics, I set about carving my path to fame and fortune by exploring Elite's mission offerings. Missions are straightforward in design and minimal in presentation; pop into a space station, check out the bulletin board, and accept anything that looks interesting. Missions range from smuggling illegal substances to blowing up pirates to delivering simple messages and all are presented with a text explanation that includes the pertinent details. I focused on delivery missions, which are as simple as entering a destination location into your nav pane and completing a few quick lightspeed jumps. Strangely, many of these missions offered higher rewards than tougher sounding combat missions.

Navigating space in Elite: Dangerous is a bit different from navigating space in a game like EVE Online or Mass Effect. It is a multi-step process that requires precision and patience. First, you lock your destination via the navigation panel, initiate the lightspeed jump (assuming you're not too close to any large structures), point your ship in the right direction, and punch it. There's a very satisfying countdown sequence that marks the transition into lightspeed, followed by a warp animation. When you pop out of hyperspace, you'll still be millions of kilometers from your destination, but your ship is in what Elite refers to as "supercruise" mode. In supercruise mode, you're free to explore the objects populating each system, which include stars, planets, asteroid belts, space stations, and more.

Elite: Dangerous

Supercruise is an interesting idea that helps bridge the gap between systems without turning travel into a boring string of warp screens. You can drop out of supercruise at any time, even if there's nothing particularly interesting around you. It's even possible to supercruise from one star to the next without engaging lightspeed, though this would take days or weeks according to the Elite: Dangerous wiki. Supercruise speed is determined by your proximity to objects in space, and supercruising too close to an object will engage an emergency stop that dumps you spinning into regular flight mode with warning sounds blaring.

To dock and complete a delivery mission, you'll need to supercruise as close as possible to the station (much harder than it sounds) and pop your ship into regular flight mode. From there you approach the station at regular ship speed, request permission to dock, and complete the not-so-easy task of putting your ship down on the docking pad you have been assigned. Open the bulletin board, collect your credits, and move on to the next mission.

Elite: Dangerous

Frontier is banking on the idea that you'll find managing and mastering all of this minutiae interesting on its own rather than view the game as (to borrow a stream-goer's criticism) a parking simulator. I have so far, but I'm anxious to see what else there is to do in the game besides zapping from one station to the next and fiddling with some menus.

Have ship. Will travel.

Last week's poll questions were designed to give us a broad starting point from which to approach Elite: Dangerous's complicated universe of computer systems, physics simulation, and space exploration. The fate voters chose for us was relatively simple and direct: get online, see what there is to see, and don't be afraid to let the computer help you out a little bit by leaving the flight assist turned on (a move that stands out as exceptionally sympathetic). We weren't challenged to make any sort of career for ourselves or to investigate any particular area of the game.

Elite: Dangerous

This week, we're going to start dialing in on some of the more specific career paths available to pilots in the current beta version of the game. We can start picking up combat missions, continue working as delivery pilots, try our hand at the commodities market, or fire ourselves deep into space to discover its hidden secrets and probably get eaten by Unicron or that thing from The Fifth Element.

Terrible piloting skills aside, I'm down for whatever you want to throw at me. How should we earn our keep?
We have Elite streams set to go each week of this CMA, and I want to know what you want to see and what you want explored. Streams are one-offs for your entertainment, so remember that they don't have to sync up with our overall CMA path. What should I make an effort to showcase?
Finally, one simple decision that will have a dramatic effect on my fortunes in the game. If I am interdicted by a hostile target, should I stand my ground (and possibly die) or run like hell (and possibly die)? Not all interdictions are hostile; some are just feds checking cargo and stomping all over our freedom. Some things never change, even in space.
Get your votes in by Saturday, September 13th, at 11:59 p.m. EDT if you want a hand in steering this ship. And don't miss our next CMA Live stream on Thursday, September 11th, at 7:00 p.m. EDT to see our adventure in action.

Mike Foster is putting you in the driving seat of Choose My Adventure, the Massively column in which you make the rules, call the shots, and take the blame when things go horribly awry. Stop by every Wednesday to help Mike as he explores the ins and outs of games big and small and to see what happens when one man tries to take on a world of online games armed only with a solar keyboard and the power of spellcheck.