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.

earthLikeDiscoveries

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Elite Dangerous – Long Distance Passenger Mission

I’ve been fairly absent from the blog lately, even with lots of stuff happening around the world and locally that I would have loved to offer my take on. But I couldn’t, I’ve been busy. Busy with work stuff and much of my spare time has been occupied by Elite Dangerous. In my last post about this open-world spaceship video game, I covered how I would outfit a small ship to transport rare goods.

Well, I got bored of that fairly quickly because the Adder was slow and the cabin view was very limited. So I went back to my trusty Asp Explorer, which does everything I would like to do. I then found myself taking up the Ram Tah ancient ruins mission.

There were bits of great fun with other players (in private groups; fuck open) trawling the ruins sites in our SRVs and discovering new site layouts. For the most part, it was ruined by developer bugs, such as random data being collected in multiplayer modes and messed up terrain for AMD cards which made data collection impossible. The lack of tools to find new ruins sites was a serious limitation which Frontier partly addressed later on.

So I stopped doing that and went to do passenger missions instead. The best ones are the sightseeing missions because they play to Elite’s best strength: eye candy. No I’m not talking about the passengers themselves, but where you get to take them. They want to see all kinds of beautiful planets, or features on the planetary surface. You go to a few sites, then drop the passenger off where you picked them up and get a few million credits. If you ever go to an geyser field, try driving your SRV over one and see what happens!

There are also long range passenger missions which take you across the galaxy to an unusual system. I was foolish enough to accept one of these. My target was ~13,000 LY away from my home system of Valta*. A round trip of ~25 kLY with a jump range of ~45 LY equates to ~550 jumps, each with a frame shift drive (FSD) charge-up, time in hyperspace and refueling around stars. This gets boring pretty quickly.

While travelling, you can collect exploration data from uncharted systems and sell it on to a station when you return. Some features such as stars, terraformable planets, water worlds, ammonia worlds, and earth-like worlds are rather valuable and have high payouts. Plus there’s the ego-stroking aspect of getting your gamer tag added to show that you were the first to discover it!

I found that playing things on in the backround helps boredom from setting in. I still haven’t found any podcasts that I can listen to on a regular basis. Instead, I had some recordings that I needed to listen to as part of work, so why not listen and play at the same time?

Once I had gone through the recordings, I resorted to albums by the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), my favourite band of all time. Listening to the full albums was an enjoyable experience. There were many tracks that I hadn’t heard before and would have otherwise skipped since the introductions weren’t as alluring as their more popular songs. It’s also an appropriate choice given that ELO has always had a bit of a sci-fi feel to their songs; after all their logo was turned into a flying saucer on some of the album covers!

Now for the holiday snaps:

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Three A class stars in close formation. It can be a bit of a shock to jump into these systems since there is a heightened risk of overheating.

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My first discovered Earth-like world! PRU ASECS JB-F D11-154 6.

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The night sky looks different as you get closer to the core. These are mostly B Class stars which have high magnitudes, making them more visible from this distance compared to lower star classes.

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My second Earth-like world! FLYIEDGIAE GC-K C25-18 A 6.

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Now this was neat, a pair of binary water worlds closely orbiting around each other. My notes indicate that they were GRIA DRYE SU-A B6-10 1 and GRIA DRYE SU-A B6-10 2.

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There’s a lot in this shot. On the right, there is a terraformable planet (more credits for my commander). I’m in its planetary ring. Through the ring particles, you can see the Y-class star with its own ring that this planet orbits. They orbit around the A-class star which is the bright dot in the bottom left of the image.

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My third Earth-like world! AUCOPP II-M C10-1 A 5.

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I wasn’t the first to discover this system, but it’s still cool. The gas-giant is only 30 Ls away from the star, which is really close. It makes for a unique image.

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Here you can see my bookmarks for the journey into the Milky Way. It illustrates the scale of Elite Dangerous. Just as well players are given a month to complete long range passenger missions. I’m glad that I’m now parked up in Conway Dock**, as Valta became embroiled in a civil war while I was away. Since I’m allied to both warring factions and I’m not very good at combat, I’ll sit it out.

The long range passenger missions are a bit much, but definitely give shorter ones a go. It only requires a couple of hundred LY of travel and it’s a great chance to see the most interesting planets and landscapes in the galaxy.

*This is just roleplaying. You can pick whatever system you like!
**Most stations are named after historical figures. I have no idea who Conway Dock is named after, but I like to think it was Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway. It’s just an “alternative fact”!