Elite Dangerous: Going to “The View” and NSV 1056

I’ve been able to get a little more time in Elite Dangerous, the space exploration/trading/combat game that I’ve written about before. The latest update (2.3) was released a couple of weeks ago. There are now megaships and asteroid bases in the game, which are little more than rehashed stations. There is another passenger liner ship called the Dolphin, which is great fun to fly. Players can now join other players ships with the multicrew feature.

While very exciting in principle, multicrew has been very poorly implemented, with a combat focus. There is an exploration mode, but there is nothing for crew players to do but watch, e.g. they can’t use SRVs. The lack of things for crew to do stems from the lack of things for pilots to do while exploring apart from scanning systems, scanning objects and stumbling across points of interest on barren planetary surfaces. One can hope that the developers will get around to adding more gameplay sooner rather than later. I had a go with multicrew and my computer crashed after a minute of sitting in someone else’s ship. As with the rest of the game, Frontier needs to spend more time fixing the cause of these problems.

There is also a avatar creator, which is a bit of a lark. I tried to make a version of myself, but it looks like a fuzzy memory of myself in a mirror. Still handsome enough to pass muster. Other players have complained about the lack of body types (with a focus on certain areas in particular). The developers would do well to ignore these strange demands and focus on actual gameplay.

The avatar creator does highlight one of my biggest qualms about Elite Dangerous and modern gaming in general: microtransactions, where users have to pay for additional content. I’m an old-fashioned kind of guy, who remembers when you could pay for a game once and that was it. Sometimes there was free downloadable content (DLC), sometimes there wasn’t. Some of my favourite examples were:

  • BMW M Roadster and M Coupe additions to Need for Speed: High Stakes.
  • Porsche 928GTS, 959 and 911 GT2 and GT3 additions to Need for Speed: Porsche 2000.
  • The Classic2, Delta  and Gamma packs for WipEout Pure (the best game in all of human history), which nearly doubled the amount of tracks and craft available in game. There was also the Omega pack, but I found it so disturbing that I removed it from my Memorystick.

Things started to go downhill afterwards, some examples of paid DLC that I stumped up for were: the megapack for Test Drive Unlimited, which added ~45 cars to drive around Oahu; and the add-ons to WipEout Pulse*, which weren’t as plentiful as those in Pure. Elite Dangerous takes this to an obscene level, your ship is available in one colour, unless you pay for more skins for your ship. You have to pay to change the colour of the ship laser beams. You have to pay for avatar flight suits and tattoos.

Update 2.3 (which is DLC in itself) then took this to an even more ludicrous level with ship naming. Sure, you can name your ship. But if you to display it on the exterior, you have to purchase a name plate with real money! This is pathetic, they advertise features coming to paid DLC which are only fully available as a further microtransaction. Disgusting!**

In my last Elite Dangerous post,  I travelled ~12 kLY to a pair of binary Earth-likes orbiting a neutron star. Following that, I decided to take a shorter passenger mission, this time to “The View”. Now this has nothing to do with the homonymous daytime television show The View. From the mission description it was not very clear what “The View” is. It was only 1000 LY away; after about 25 hyperspace jumps, I was there.

It turns out that “The View” is just an area of extreme natural beauty. An O-class star and a neutron star nearby each other. There is a tourist installation below (or above?) the neutron star, where I took the animation below using what is probably one of the best parts of 2.3: the camera suite.

Neutron

My ship isn’t actually in the ejection cone of the neutron star. The camera can now be easily moved to the right place. Think of it as one of those “holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa” photographs that annoying tourists take.

To finish the mission, I had to scan the appropriate tourist beacon. Unfortunately, it was on a 3.3g planet! I had to face my high gravity world fears to get to the beacon. I took it steady and came in to land like an aeroplane. I managed to land successfully, although I overshot the beacon by 65 km! I can see why they call it “The View”, there’s an O-Class star, a neutron star and a planetary ring all in one image.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 26_04_2017 10_44_22 PM

Once I had spent enough time looking at “The View” and taking jumps in the SRV (the boosters don’t get you very high obviously), it was time to leave. This isn’t as easy as one would expect. Pointing away from the planet and boosting would probably cause a crash at high g. I targeted a system just above the horizon, lifted off with vertical thrusters and slowly gained altitude. I yawed towards the target and then charged up the hyperdrive, which generated a lot of heat close to the planetary surface and set off all kinds of alarms, but I made it and jumped into the safety of hyperspace. To make it less stressful, I could have picked a system at a lower elevation angle before I launched.

It was then an uneventful series of jumps back to Conway dock, where I got to pocket a mission reward of several million credits.  Another tantalising mission was already available on the list. This time the trip would take me to a planetary nebula, NSV 1056. The tourist beacon was orbiting a volcanic moon. Once I had travelled further away from the system, I could get a better view of the planetary nebula. A pleasing radial iris of orange and blue.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 19_05_2017 11_27_59 PM

Want to know what it looks like on the inside? There’s a Wolf-Rayet star at the centre which I can jump to. Here’s the view from inside: It reminds me of the ripple patterns you can see looking at an outdoor swimming pool on a bright sunny day.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 19_05_2017 11_32_58 PM

And that’s just two places, there’s a whole Milky Way of wonders to travel to. These trips illustrate why I like the passenger missions, they are not combat focused, show off the best looking parts of the galaxy and they pay well. For all of the faults with update 2.3, passenger missions are well served by the new Dolphin ship and the improved camera suite. Frontier is annoyingly vague about what update 2.4 will bring. Atmospheric planets and bug fixes would be nice, but I know that is wishful thinking.

*In Pulse, you could even design ship liveries online and download them to your system. For free!
**As a protest, I have given my ships names such as No Microtransactions!, Not Paying for Extras and I Like Free Stuff. There’s also a 22 character limit, which is simply not enough for fans of Iain M. Banks.

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The Simulation Hypothesis: Please, Make it Stop!

Those important questions (1) Why are we here? (2) Where did we come from? With no complete answer at the time of publishing this post, humankind has had the opportunity to run wild with their imaginations in order to come up with an explanation. While pursuit in the fields of developmental biology and astrophysics represent the cutting-edge in giving a credible partial-answer to these questions, that hasn’t stopped us from coming up with other ideas.

Recently, The Guardian published a piece about the idea that we and the world around us are mere elements in one giant simulation. I don’t subscribe to this idea and having worked with computer simulations involving fluid flow and granular materials, I feel that I can offer some insights into the issue:

  1. Simulations inevitably involve some element of simplification. Phenomena are described using mathematical models. These models were derived by humans and are only in good agreement with the natural world according to human perceptions. For example, the continuum hypothesis works well for CFD modelling of fluid flows. However, it postulates that fluids exist in an infinitely divisible form, when in reality they don’t.
  2. Simulations are very slow. All those calculations add up. For me to simulate tens of thousands of spherical particles for 5 seconds of activity can take over 24 hours in real time. If you scoop some sand up in your hand, there would be many more particles than in that example. Considering how many particles there are in the world, the computation required to simulate the motion of all the particles in the world would require an incomprehensible amount of computing power.
  3. Simulations have boundaries, where are ours? Gagarin found that it didn’t stop at the edge of the atmosphere. Voyager 1 found that it didn’t stop at the heliopause. If the world is being simulated, there would be no justifiable reason to waste computational resources on the stuff outside of it.

A proponent of the simulation hypothesis would be able to “tear apart” my objections. (1) the simulators created these mathematical models to govern our universe. (2) The simulators would have access to incomprehensibly powerful computers that make all of the calculations in a flash (if so, I want one!), so running a subatomic particle dymanics* simulation of the universe isn’t a big deal. (3) There are other things being simulated beyond Earth/ space is there to trick us into thinking we’re not in a simulation! When you put it that way, it becomes clear that the simulation hypothesis is nothing more than reconstituted creationism. It relies on analogous unfalsifiable arguments which require faith in order to be accepted.

But because “God” isn’t mentioned anywhere, it is an attractive proposition for the Dunning-Krugerite Silicon Valley Hipster Billionaires™. PZ Myers wrote a very entertaining post on this exact topic, where other people can be perceived as non-playable characters (NPCs) in a video game. I think that such solipsism is dangerous since it leaves believers indifferent to the needs of others, justifying acts of harm and greed.

If the best that simulation proponents can do is Diet Creationism™, then they have nothing. For their sake, I hope God doesn’t press CTRL+C.

*I’m pretty sure this is a thing. Yes it is. I think the abbreviation SAD would be rather appropriate, or SPD for my German reader(s)!

**On an unrelated note, Iain M Banks’ addresses some relevant themes in his books. Solipsists get into some wacky adventures in Against a Dark Background and the decision-making process of the Culture Minds is covered in The Hydrogen Sonata, where they run simulations are so detailed, it would be an act of murder to stop running them. Sean at Replicated Typo covers this in more detail. Which reminds me that I need to read The Player of Games at some stage.