Elite Dangerous: Getting to Those Hard to Reach Places

Slightly relevant music recommendation: Reach High, The Commodores.

You didn’t think with the election going on that I had forgotten about Elite Dangerous?  Of course not, I’ve had the time to take another trip to explore another part of the Milky Way. This time  I travelled in a direction normal to the galactic plane, i.e. I went upwards; or was it downwards?

Firstly, a bit of background to exploration: Whenever you complete a discovery scan (also called “honking” because of the noise made when the scan terminates), accessing the system map will give you the gamer tag of the first player who did a detailed surface scan of a body and cashed it in at a Universal Cartographics. An object which has never been scanned and submitted will have a blank space where the gamer tag should be. These systems are up for grabs by whoever scans them first. If you have even a gram of vanity, you will not be able to resist finding undiscovered systems so that you can get your gamer tag out there for all to see.

Around the bubble, virtually all unexplored systems will have been “tagged” by another player. For those starting out, it looks like a several thousand LY trip is in order. However, there is a trick. Most players tend to travel along the galactic plane, leaving many systems above and below the bubble uncharted. If one travels upwards and outwards, they will likely encounter undiscovered systems much sooner than if they just travel in-plane.

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While doing another trip to a several nearby nebulae (clockwise from top left: Pipe (Bowl) and Pipe (Stem); Pencil Nebula; Eight Burst Planetary Nebula; Seagull Nebula), I identified a neutron star, PREAE THEIA QY-Y D1-0 A, a heady 1054 LY above the galactic plane during another sweep of the galaxy map. If nobody had been there before, then I could claim my first neutron star! It was also an opportunity to use the updated route plotter introduced in update 2.4 which can now plot routes up to 22 kLY in length!

While using the route plotter, I encountered a problem. A route could not be plotted because the distance between stars exceeded the ~52 LY jump range of my Asp Explorer. Away from the galactic plane, the density of systems reduces, making travelling between them either difficult or impossible. What can I do to get to my target system?

Fortunately, there are a few ways to temporarily increase the jump range of your ship. The first is using materials (i.e. atomic elements) to synthesise an FSD injection which can boost the range by 25%, 50%, or 100% depending on the materials used. Materials can be collected on planets while driving an SRV. The other option is to supercharge the FSD by flying through the ejection cone of a neutron star or a white dwarf star. The latter option was not viable since there weren’t any neutron stars along the way.

Twice on the trip, I stopped by planets that had Cadmium, Niobium and Polonium. Polonium was critical for synthesising the 100% boost which was the only viable option close to my destination. This means driving the SRV along the planetary surface looking for objects which yield the materials. Metallic meteorites give the best yields, I was lucky to twice encounter groups of three which gave me more than enough materials to do all the necessary boosted jumps.

One thing I learned to appreciate when travelling through the low stellar density region high up above the galactic plane was that the amount of fuel carried was an important factor. Jump range increases as fuel goes down, there were a few occasions where a jump was almost possible, but I was carrying too much fuel and had to use a higher grade FSD boost than I would have liked. Some kind of fuel dump mechanism would be a great addition to the game for when users are in these situations. Some creative players bring along a rail gun or plasma accelerator with an engineered plasma slug effect. Ammunition is created from fuel, one just needs to fire the weapon until they have the fuel level that they require.

Eventually, after manually navigating between  stars with the appropriate level of boost, I made it to my target. Given the difficulty associated with getting to it, I was pleased to find that it was indeed undiscovered. My commander now has a neutron star added to his collection of first discoveries.

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One thing I noticed while parked near the star was that it made a ticking noise. Cool. It’s hard to tell looking side on, but the main jet in the ejection cone moves about in a precessing motion. Getting a bit closer, the helical form of the jet becomes clearer:

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Nearby ~100 LY away (just within reach with a 100% FSD boost on low fuel), there was another neutron star, PREAE THEIA TJ-X D2-0 (1096 LY above galactic plane) which I also got to tag. It’s unlikely that these stars would ever get close enough to collide as we have just observed in real life. While I was up here, I got to admire the view of the galaxy below, or above? It reminds me of looking down at the luminous nighttime Christchurch skyline from Dyers Pass Rd:

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On they way back to the bubble, I found some more interesting nebulae in the galaxy map which I’ll be sure to visit in the future. Following my experiences way above the galactic plane, I went straight to purchasing and engineering an Anaconda, once done, it should have a maximum jump range of ~63 LY, which will be necessary for getting to even harder to reach places.

If you’re keen on getting some hard to reach discoveries of your own, my advice is: (1) get the longest jump range that you can, use a DBX, Asp Explorer or Anaconda for this and engineer the FSD. (2) Collect materials for FSD boosts and learn to supercharge your FSD in a cheap ship near to the last station that you docked at. (3) Be judicious with fuel scooping, too much fuel will prohbit you from making some jumps, while too little fuel will leave you phoning for help. Don’t let any of that put you off, as the Commodores song goes: you can get it if you reach high, all hands to the sky. You can make it, if you really try!

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Elite Dangerous: Visiting Remote Asteroid Bases

While I enjoy much of the gameplay in Elite Dangerous, I still tire about travelling long distances in supercruise. Supercruise is the mode which players use to move about within a star system. This involves faster than light (FTL) travel, reducing travel times to a matter of minutes. For systems with multiple stars, you arrive at the largest star when you enter the system. Depending on where you want to go the travel time can increase to about half an hour, which gets pretty boring.

One way I like to spend time while in long supercruise periods is browsing the galaxy map. It’s neat to go to the galactic core where all the stars are really squished together, or looking for nebulae. One day while I was searching through nebulae, I noticed that some of the far out systems had economies. That means human habitation. What form would habitation take ~5000 LY away from the “bubble”? I had to go and find out.

I’ve talked about the 2.3 update before. Mega-ships and asteroid bases were introduced in this update, increasing the number of assets that players may dock their ships. It also included some modifications to the Diamondback Explorer, increasing the jump range to ~60 LY, second only to the incredibly expensive Anaconda (when engineered). I took the engineered frame shift drive (FSD) from my Asp Explorer, added to a Diamondback I had just purchased and outfitted it for exploration (fuel scoop, auto-field maintenance unit, scanners, and heat sink launchers). With a full fuel tank, I had a jump range of 52 LY, compared to the Asp’s 47 LY range. If you’re travelling long distances, that means there are fewer jumps that you need to make and less time staring at the loading screen. The time saving is slightly offset by the slow fuel scooping in the Diamondback, which can hold a 4A unit, compared to the 6C that I use in the Asp.

My first destination was the Jellyfish Nebula,which is further outwards from the galactic core compared to Earth. As I got close up, I took an image of the nebula, one can see why it was called the Jellyfish Nebula, with the cloud resembling the bell at the top and the tentacles beneath it.

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the system Jellyfish Sector FB-X C1-5 had an asteroid base (Beta Site) within the ring of the gas-giant planet 7. The asteroid bases are much like large starports, many of the assets are similar to any other station, just implanted into an asteroid. It’s a shame we can’t land on asteroids like we can land on planets. Here’s a photo of my Diamondback in the station.

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Understandably, the station isn’t as well stocked as one in the bubble would be, but a few more outfitting options would have been nice as I was regretting not taking an SRV. The next stop was the Rosette Nebula, which was a red colour as any decent rosette should be! I forgot to take any shots of the nebula itself, but there is this one from within it:

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Being 5000 LY out of the bubble means that there are many systems which haven’t been discovered by other players yet, so this was a good time to get my gamer tag added to many decent objects. I was able to filter a route that took me through A-class stars and above, which tended to yield many nice systems including many water worlds and Earth-likes. In fact I discovered 4 ELWs on this trip, which each gave a good payout when the time came to cash in the data.

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Clockwise from top-left, we have: COL 107 SECTOR UE-P D6-98 A 8, COL 107 SECTOR SU-E D12-117 B 6, GLUDGAE IX-L D7-34 6, and GLUDGEIA DK-G C24-13 1 (not to scale). A detailed surface scan of an ELW nets players 600,000 in game credits, plus a 50% bonus if it’s a first discovery, that’s ~4 million credits for my commander. It’s not all about money, sometimes there are unusual and interesting things to find. For example, I came across a gas giant with an axial tilt of ~90°.

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The striped pattern of its gas clouds was perpendicular to the orbital plane as a result, unlike Jupiter, where the gas layers are roughly parallel to its orbital plane. Having seen some of the close-up images of Jupiter from the Juno mission, the in-game planet looks a bit bland by comparison.

Having returned to the bubble and cashed in my commander’s discoveries, I can conclude that the asteroid bases by themselves are not particularly groundbreaking. Nonetheless, it is definitely a good thing to increase the diversity of in-game assets. Placing bases in far-flung regions of the galaxy adds to the mystery of the in-game lore and is a great motivation for going on exploration trips. After all, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the places you’ll go while getting there.