Elite: Dangerous Seeks Out New Exploration Features

Elite: Dangerous has a continuing mission: to be regularly updated with new features until it’s a robust space sim. Right now the purchasable beta includes 55 star systems to visit, some trading to trade, some combat to combat, but there’s a lot that’s still to come. Including, hey, around 100 billion more star systems. For all that new space terrain to mean anything though, there needs to be a set of mechanics in place which make exploration fun and rewarding. Features aiming to do just have been explained in the latest newsletter, and I’ve picked out the salient details below.

Firstly, exploration is about more than just visiting a location:

So, true system exploration is a bigger deal than just visiting that system. Players must scan it to determine what number and sizes of planets are present, and to get the next level of data they must travel to at least the vicinity of each body to investigate. A system will only be ‘partially explored’ until all major bodies (planets and moons within a certain distance of the central star(s)) have been scanned by someone and the data returned home. There are different levels of scanning, both passive and active, that can be done from orbit, to determine basic planet types, their chemical composition, mineral deposits, surface liquids, interesting anomalies, and even indications of the presence of indigenous life.

Scanning is dangerous, as the power consumption required to use the tools alerts any nearby ships to your location and may draw enemies towards you. The risk is worth it because, armed with any scanned data, you can return to a “data claim registration facility” and log the data to earn money. The amount you earn will depend on the type of planet you’ve scanned:

Discovering a world with indigenous life is incredibly valuable, but even scanning seemingly worthless moons has value – both for completeness of maps (verifying there isn’t something there is still useful), but very rarely, something interesting may be there after all – maybe even a strange artefact. A wise explorer will buy the latest such data before leaving – to see which systems have been explored first, so as not to duplicate the efforts of others.

Federation and Empire factions don’t share information with each other, which means both sides will need to buy and sell data in order to advance their knowledge of the galaxy. That also means that there’s competition between players for who can be the first to scan and sell their data, as it’ll be worthless should someone else do it before you.

Which all sounds exciting and lovely and I really need to get back to playing the game. The newsletter also included this 4K screenshot for those who like giant space stations. And who doesn’t?

There’s no word on when these mechanics will be added to the game, though there’s promise of more detail in future newsletters. For now, check out Alec’s interview with David Braben and his nostalgia prompted by playing the game with a joystick.


  1. badirontree says:

    I love Elite but i don’t think they will be ready by end of this year … So many big things are missing …
    Thank god i got All the future expansions :P

    • Rich says:

      Yeah, I mean it’s been in development a few years now and they’ve only got 55 systems. With a 100 billion more to go, that deadline is looking pretty tight.

      • Janichsan says:

        Well, the remaining 199,999,999,945 star systems* already are in the game (as you can see on the galaxy map), you just cannot visit them yet. It’s not as if they have to manually create each and every one of it.

        (* The game will actually feature 200 billion systems, not “just” 100 billion.)

        However, I concur that it’s somewhat doubtful that they will release the game this year: the October date that was floating around lastly is definitely out of question, and since they (to my knowledge) want to go through at least two or three more major beta versions, I no longer think they will be done before January, if not later.

        There just is too much stuff that isn’t implemented yet: most of the ship classes, some equipment, mission types, most aspects of the dynamics in the game’s world, some gameplay mechanics (like the described exploration), etc.

        • Antsy says:

          Whoooooosh! ;)

        • PaladinGunn says:

          That’s 400 billions :D

          • Janichsan says:

            You’re correct.

          • gabrielonuris says:

            Whatever, even if it was just a hundred (not 100.000, 100, a hundred, cien, cem, hundert, сто)…. I won’t be able to see even half of them, lol…!!!

          • K_Sezegedin says:

            No no no its 100 Billion Star SYSTEMS which comprise about 400 Billion STARS due to binary, trinary, quartenary etc etc, systems.

            Frontier even got this wrong in their own E3 Trailer, which promised 400 Billion Star Systems.

  2. Sp4rkR4t says:

    I thought in the that you mentioned was going to be in the beta 2 launch in some form, at least that’s what I got from the recent writings coming from Frontier. The bit’s I’m most looking forward to are remote/external camera’s for sightseeing duty, or just some way to turn off the ships UI but having a controllable remote camera/drone to take photo’s would be superb and you wouldn’t have to break immersion.

  3. TechnicalBen says:

    That’s it. They just sold me the game (though I’ll hold out for release for both cost reasons and dear me… my pc might MELT!).

    • Martel says:

      Hah, I was just thinking I hope the release slips a little so I can better prepare my gaming box for it

    • Zenicetus says:

      I’m running a fairly mid-level system (i7 2.67 GHz, 9 gigs RAM, GTX 560Ti) and it’s very easy on the system. Frame rates are so smooth I haven’t bothered to check the numbers. It feels like a lighter footprint than Rise of Flight, and definitely lighter than X-Plane with medium-high settings.

      Like most space games, even though it looks impressive it’s not actually rendering *that* much onscreen as you’re flying, and in combat. The starfield is real-world accurate for where you are in space, but it’s pre-generated as a static skybox each time you jump into a system, so even that doesn’t eat CPU/GPU power. If you can fly most of the current air combat games, this will probably run even better. The main problem they’re having right now is more on the networking side, where there are some hiccups in the full multiplayer mode.

      • stkaye says:

        The fact that you feel comfortable describing a rig with “i7 2.67 GHz, 9 gigs RAM, GTX 560Ti” as ‘midlevel’ immediately indicates that I’ve *really* lost track, rested on my laurels, and have fallen far further behind than I thought. Your computer sounds like an impossible dream machine from where I am!

        • Zenicetus says:

          Ack! Sorry about that. It’s been almost 3 years since I bought this machine, and I think it was last year that I upgraded the graphics card to a 560ti. My main gaming interest has always been flight sims, both air combat and civilian, and those are so hardware hungry that it probably distorts my perception of what a mid-level PC for gaming is. :)

        • gabrielonuris says:

          Ohh I feel that too, you’re not alone. Take a look at my specs (which I thought were kind of “midlevel”): i5 2400, 8gb RAM, GTX 650…

          Now I feel like an addicted crying my faults and problems on a support group…

        • LionsPhil says:

          Core 2 Quad, reporting in!

          Still not been pushed hard enough to bother upgrading.

      • BadCatWillum says:

        I’ve got the same system, coupled to a 20″ 1600×1200 IPS monitor. Stop reading now if you want to stay satisfied with it. I’m guessing you’re running on High graphics quality settings. Fly in front of a station, stop, set the graphics quality to Low. Enter the station, look around, and notice how silky smooth everything has become. Now you want a faster graphics card too so you can have that smoothness without the ugly Low quality lighting, don’t you?

        PS Ctrl-F so you can see the difference in framerate.

      • Flank Sinatra says:

        I’m playing it in 1440p on a GTX 770 and it runs quite smoothly. Of course, this is just an early beta. There are graphics effects and details planned for the final version that, according to Braben, will cripple even the most powerful modern PC.
        link to gamespot.com

        And if you want to play it in VR with the Rift, get used to low settings.

        PC games are pushing graphics beyond the limits of current PC hardware, something I haven’t seen since the first Crysis. This is a good thing!

  4. Bart Stewart says:


    I’m happy to see the report of planetary exploration. I’ve always wanted a space game with that in it, and even enjoyed the driving simulator bits of Mass Effect 1 because they felt a little like learning more about an alien world.

    But I can’t get past what to me is an excessively complicated flight control scheme for a space game that’s supposed to be about more than just combat. Using mouse+keyboard to control the default ship was at the same time painfully sluggish in turning and impossible to finely steer. If I wasn’t turning, the cursor was all over the screen like a mayfly on speed (even after using all the options); if I was turning, it was so ponderous that there was no way to succeed against even the puny tutorial-type opponent ships.

    And when I visited the E:D forum to research this, I found that many people had politely posted similar findings, to which the forum response by one of the developers can be fairly paraphrased as “STFU & L2P!”

    I backed E:D in Kickstarter. I want it to do well even if it’s not playable by me. (And I’ve happily played Wing Commander as well as a few flight simulators, BTW.)

    But with all the good stuff being announced, it’s frustrating that the developers don’t seem to want to expose that great content through a less arcane flight control model.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Hmm. It’s a tricky one. I can understand your frustration but I think the goal with ED is to let players experience what it would be like to fly a spaceship. You’re always going to struggle getting that simulator level of complete control into a mouse and keyboard set up, I hate to be one of those people but I think you need to invest in at least a gamepad, if not a full on joystick. I recently caved in a bought a Thrustmaster X-flight Hotas purely in anticipation of E:D. £35 for a stick and throttle, and it is superb, really gives you that immersive ‘I’m flying a spaceship’ feel. Yes, it’s as much as a game, but if you’re into your flight sims it’s totally worth it. ARMA3, War Thunder and Freespace 2 have all been given a new lease of life by it. Discovered FaceTrack No IR at the weekend as well, which is a whole other level of immersion.

      Freelancer nailed good keyboard and mouse spaceship flight, but it was such a slimmed down experience compared to Elite. You need to give a stick a whirl. Trust me, it’s worth it.

      • Fishpig says:

        (this was a misplaced reply to Bart in case that isn’t obvious)
        Agreed, it’s difficult, though there’s no excuse for that sort of response if that’s what you received. Removing or simplifying the skill barrier, for want of a better phrase, risks turning dogfights into predictable outcomes based mostly on your ship and loadout. At the same time I agree about accessibility. It’s a balancing act; they’ve put their fulcrum in one position and many people would prefer it elsewhere.
        Please don’t get me wrong, I’m still mostly avoiding combat and playing Solo. Using my own variant of the original keyboard controls (I knew what my parents called the “wasted summer” of ’85 would be good for something – yay muscle memory!) I can dock well, and if they gave me an obstacle course I’d do alright, but serious combat is going to wait until I get a joystick and even then I have my doubts about how well I’ll do.
        Persevere. Read around. Reddit was surprisingly (to me) helpful. Spend an evening finding controls you can live with and tweak them as you go. Spend time fannying around in the starting ship without spending money on it. I’ve found it’s a game that rewards time investment.

      • Cleave says:

        Cheers I didn’t know that you could get a Hotas stick that cheap. I’ve just ordered one for £34 on ebay, will tide me over until I can afford to waste money on an X-55.

        • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

          Excellent :) You’re in for a treat. It’s a bit plastic and there’s a slight deadzone on the joystick making sensitive movement tricky but otherwise it is an brilliant stick, especially at that price. Enjoy!

    • Zenicetus says:

      It’s annoying, and also hilarious that the “flight model” is practically a direct copy of atmospheric air combat, right down to damped rudder/yaw authority, and increasing turn radius at half-throttle.

      I’ve burned out from ranting about it, and now I just accept it. The rest of the game is fun, I can deal with it. I’ve rationalized it by thinking it’s a fly-by-wire model of atmospheric flight so pilots don’t get confused when we can finally land on planets, and fight in the atmosphere of planets. No need to learn two different flight regimes. That’s a few years down the road though, so meanwhile it’s Top Gun in space.

      • sendmark says:

        This is not fully accurate, you can turn Flight Assist Off and it works pretty closely to actual spaceflight.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          Right, minus the speed limit. I was under the assumption that Flight Assist WAS in fact “a fly-by-wire model of atmospheric flight so pilots don’t get confused”?
          Not that I’ve actually played it, but the videos I’ve watched both with FA on and off certainly don’t have me worrying about the flight model.

        • Zenicetus says:

          No, Yaw is still damped lower than the other axes with FA Off, and you still rotate faster with your throttle set halfway in that mode. It doesn’t feel anything like using 6-axis thrusters in something like Orbiter or Kerbal Space Program.

          The inertial is also weirdly modeled with FA Off, so it’s really easy to get into pilot-induced oscillations. It’s very hard to aim and shoot anything in that mode with the PIO.

          • derbefrier says:

            was getting ready to say the same. ITs not a horrible flight model but does lose some of that “space flight” feel in my opinion. Its a gameplay decision plain and simple so dogfights are more like planes in space rather than spaceships, hell its a huge point of debate in the Star Citizen forums as I am sure it was(or still is) in Elites and there are no doubt those out there that prefer that model over something like Evochron Mercenary or Star Citizen so to each their own.

      • Rindan says:

        You realize that a “realistic” flight model would basically involve an AI flying for you while you do literally nothing, right? Shut up and enjoy the fantasy that space combat looks like World War II air combat. “Real” space combat on its best days would be a tactical thing done at millions of clicks that mostly revolves around being stealthy, seeing the target first, and deploying your weapons such that they don’t see you doing it until it is too late. Mind you, that sound like a fun game in it of itself, but that is leagues away from what Elite is even attempting to be.

        Even modern aerial combat with our primitive computers is fucking boring. It is push button game play where you knock down your opponent at hundreds of miles of away. “Real” space combat, especially in some distant future, is going to be multiple orders of magnitude more boring. Fuck realism. Give me World War II space combat. I’ll happily shut up and pretend.

          • Neutrino says:

            That web page is awesome. Bookmarked for when I make my own Elite clone.

          • Zenicetus says:

            That web page is misleading. Stealth in space is certainly possible, you just have to go fast enough.

            If an enemy ship is 10 light minutes away, where are you going to point your laser weapon? There’s a 10 light minute cone of uncertainty, determined by the ship’s angular velocity and ability to maneuver. Increase the distance and the the uncertainty increases along with it, especially if the ship is highly maneuverable. If “stealth” means not knowing exactly where your enemy is, then the lightspeed limit on sensors is the cloaking device that actually works.

            You just need ships that move fast, and engage at long distances (and probably take a long time to match Delta V and engagement distance). Homing missiles would probably be the long-range weapon of choice, followed by energy beams or mass drivers if you can get close enough to break the relativistic distance cloaking.

            No, it wouldn’t play like WW2 fighters in space. It would be more like a modern attack submarine game, with time compression in the game to speed up the course matching and engagement. It’s great that we have games like Elite D now, but one day it would be also be great to see a space combat game that treated speed and distance seriously.

          • Rindan says:

            Well; I guess I’m not going to need to visit any porn sites for a while now that I have something far more intriguing to whack off to for a while. This might be invalidating my argument, but seriously, thank you.

      • Harlander says:

        It’s not realistic, but then, I’ve seen what Braben produced with an attempt at realistic space combat in Elite 2, and frankly, I won’t mourn its absence

    • 0positivo says:

      I hear your issue, but to be fair, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

      Complexity in a video game, and particularly in space sims, is something I’ve missed for so so many years. Now that we finally get 2 of them coming, I’m very very glad they chose to adopt this path, and not the Freelancer way (which for as fun as it was, was nowhere near close to nailing that “flying a spaceship” feel… I want to have to remember to flick 3 switches to take off. I want to have to juggle power between power plant. I want to be able to fine tune just how much my radiators are open… Heck, the more I think about it, the more I want Steel Batallion in space, basically)

      • Flank Sinatra says:

        This Kickstarter game hasn’t gotten much attention from the gaming press, but this guy is making a study level Space Combat sim that is as complex as a modern jet fighter.

        link to roguesystemsim.com

    • MickeyPaul says:

      The first thing I recommend doing when playing with mouse and keyboard is going into the control options and changing mouse to control yaw + pitch and having roll on A+D (also up and down thrusters on R+F for me). Once you’ve done that the ships are an absolute doddle of joy to fly. Much like arcade in War Thunder actually.

      Also, I think you turn a lot better when keeping your speed within the blue area shown on your speed gauge. Combat is far, far, easier once you learn to manage your speed. Rolling and pitch seem a lot more important than yaw too.

      Hope that helps even a wee bit – especially as it took me about 3 hours to log in.

      OH! I’m also using 1,2,3, 4 keys to manage systems, engines, weapons power. I’m like Jimmy Shand on speed at times in combat but it’s no’ too hard. Maybe look into Voice Attack if you’re not particularly “fingery” which looks brilliant and useful.

    • Bart Stewart says:

      Thanks very much to all for the friendly and helpful responses.

      Part of my sad-puppy-dog-eyes reaction is probably from wishing that Braben & Co. had been clear about this in their Kickstarter pitch. I’d have appreciated their saying something like: “We’re designing the flight controls and ‘feel’ of piloting a starship to appeal to long-time fans of Elite. This game will be best experienced with a joystick.” While I might disagree with that design choice as I think it’s not vital enough to justify excluding some players who’d quite like E:D’s other features, I could respect it and maybe even defend it as the right choice for its primary audience that had been spelled out early on.

      That said, I may yet grit my teeth and give E:D another go… unless I wind up jumping into Limit Theory and enjoying that right away. I have a feeling that one is going to turn into a major time sink for me. ;)

    • Arithon says:

      The default control setup does not favour mouse + keyboard. You can configure a better setup (don’t use mouse to aim weapons, just for pitch/yaw and increase sensitivity).
      To be fair, I tried playing Descent: Freespace 2 again recently after buying it from GOG and found I couldn’t play it WITHOUT a joystick. But then, when I bought the game originally, you didn’t use a mouse to play games! I’d just forgotten the “good old days” when we ran Windows from a DOS prompt and games were played with keyboard or joystick.

      I have used both an XBOX 360 controller and my Logitech Wingman Joystick with Elite: Dangerous. Either works well.

      There are negatives to the BETA in it’s current form. Most notably stability in the 1.04 release – supercruise exit to desktop. But this is a real BETA – a game in development, not a demo version using the word “Beta” as a caveat to excuse release-day bugs like most EA and Activision releases of recent years.

      The game is amazing and well developed already, with online play, missions, trading, different ships, upgrades and combat.

      For instance, I dropped out of hyperspace and scooped some cargo on a remote system after detecting an unknown signal. Gold! But, I didn’t then have enough fuel left to hyperspace-jump out to a system with a stardock carrying all the extra weight. So eject cargo? No! I activated a distress beacon and a passing ship offered to refuel me (for a price) so I was able to jump out with my ill-gotten booty and sell it for a large profit.

      I don’t know when the game will be released, but when it is, it will be something I will want to play for a long time.
      Here’s a record of an evening’s play on Elite:Dangerous

    • Blackrook says:

      I agree about the mouse + keyboard. I spent about 2 hours head butting my screen trying to work it out.
      Then I switched over to a gamepad I had and everything suddenly made sense, a flight stick might be better
      but I find gamepad works well for me.

    • fredc says:

      I’m not a raging fanboy for whom Frontier can do no wrong, but I saw similar criticisms to Bart Stewart’s on the Elite boards when the beta was initially released and found them puzzling.

      Possibly people coming back to Elite after first playing it on the Beeb and not having used a joystick in the last 20 years / being generally geriatric?

      No, it doesn’t play well with a mouse and keyboard. But all you need is a simple 3+1 axis (x, y, and z (rudder) plus throttle slider) joystick from e-bay – Logitech Wingman or Saitek AV8R, for example. You can get one for £10-20.

      It’s similar in its complexity to the Wing Commander / Privateer / old flight sim control sets. Do people not remember joysticks and keyboard overlays? And do they not remember that we used to have to buy joysticks to play these games (and still do, for those still playing flight sims)?

      As for actual game difficulty, again there have been moaning posts which I find mystifying. People who actually can’t dock without a docking computer. Aim at docking port, use yaw (rudder) axis to rotate ship occasionally. Once in station, fly to platform, use thrusters for last few meters of descent. As for combat, once you understand to keep throttle in the blue band and use thrusters (hat switch on that £10 stick) where necessary, it’s basically just point nose at target.

      I’m not sure what they were expecting. Duck Hunt?

  5. Xzi says:

    I’ll be purchasing access to both Elite and Star Citizen soon enough. I’m glad this type of game is seeing a recent resurgence, because it’s right up my alley. MMO format or no. It has that perfect mix of immersion and purely joyful gameplay. I can’t wait for the consumer version of the Oculus Rift to be released as a companion to this.

    For a moment, I thought about going off on a tangent about how most MMOs just have you grinding for hours and hours to reach the the final level, where the game “actually begins,” but then I thought better of it. I’ll just say that I’m happy to see that some developers still have the common sense to avoid that pitfall.

  6. Fishpig says:

    This is interesting, particularly the exploration. Seems to me they’ll have to introduce some means of refuelling on the go (apologies if this is a given but not yet introduced, feel free to link to where it’s explained what they’ve planned), either from cargo, or from sun (as is traditional) or gas giant skimming.
    If it’s from cargo, then it gives you something else to do with group play; get a bigger cargo ship with a fighter escort out to an exploration hub system with no stations or ports, sell fuel at eye-gouging prices. Even set up a chain of fuel depots. Might get dull to play, mind.
    If skimming from the sun or gas giants, the possibilities are a bit less solid; you could try to set up a “safe habour” for fueling, guaranteeing you would protect them during what may be a vulnerable process, but suns and gas giants are big, probably easy to avoid problems unless your safe harbour doubles as a protection racket enforcing a cordon of sorts…even then, as I say, less solid.
    But still, possibilities!

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      If I remember correctly David Braben mentioned explorers will at times need to bring their own fuel, making exploration a real team effort for some systems. I think a lot of these places though will have NPC ships to refuel at, slowly being replaced by Stations, etc as the system becomes more popular. And skimming fuel from gas giants is to be in the game at some point but he mentioned there may be mechanics where there are differing levels of fuel purity to be had from gathering fuel this way, some low levels of which can really bugger your ship up.

      Sounds fun! Can’t wait to find and name a star after my cat.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Fuel scoops will be in the final game, but I don’t think they’ve announced exactly how it will work… whether it’s skimming the star, a gas giant, or what. Exploration won’t work without it.

  7. Hamses says:

    Seems like the link to the purchasable beta in the opening paragraph is malformed or missing. Here is what i see in the source:
    <a href="" rel="nofollow">purchasable beta </a>

    Because im both helpful and web-savvy i’ve tracked down the proper URL to include there:

    link to store.zaonce.net

  8. BluePencil says:

    “Features aiming to do just have been explained in the latest newsletter,”

    Missing the word “that”.

  9. gwildar says:

    I was really sceptical when I saw the kickstarter campaign, but then I started seeing the videos and couple guys at work started raving about it, so I bought the beta.

    Wow, I’m amazed at how good the game is at this stage. Yes there RE bugs and still many features to add, but the core game is all there; the combat is fun (I like the flight model), flying between system is fun, docking is fun etc. I have trackIR and the feeling of immersion is excellent. I imagine it’s incredible with Occulus.

    Keep up the good work Frontier, that’s all I can say.

  10. herschel says:

    I´d love to play it, but 60€ seems to be just a tad too much.

  11. jinglin_geordie says:

    A Speedlink Black Widow joystick is 25 quid and is perfect for this game (and for Rise of Flight et al).

  12. cederic says:

    Exploration is fun in games like this, and exploration as a source of income is a nice alternative or break from pirate hunting.

    Exploration when every system within 600 light years has already been scanned by other players is however just not fun.

    Single player only for me, sorry.