Elite: Dangerous Exploration Data Woes, Plus Here’s What Horizons’ Planets Look Like

Elite: Dangerous [official site] developers Frontier have already announced that the Horizons expansion would bring the ability to explore planet surfaces – along with multi-crew ships, a character creator, and more – but below is the first glimpse of what those planets look like. It’s a short 23-second clip, but it looks nice.

It’s just a shame that it arrives at the same time as a rough weekend for the main game, which might have resulted in some player data being permanently lost.

Last Tuesday, Frontier mentioned that they were upgrading the server which stores exploration data. Exploration is one of the main activities of Elite, whereby players earn in-game spacebucks by scanning new planets and spacestuff, then selling that scanned information at space stations. Every piece of scanned data, including duplicates, is stored in a database with “67 million lines”, according to Frontier’s head of community management. The server upgrade was designed to make this data more efficient to store and access.

Unfortunately, a few days after the server change, Frontier discovered a bug that was causing new exploration data to not be stored. They consequently recommended on Friday that people temporarily stop exploring while the bug was fixed, which had apparently happened by Saturday. Exploration data gathered from Wednesday through Friday is still absent however, and it remains to be seen how much, if any, can be recovered. That linked forum thread is 61 pages long at the time of writing and has seen Elite developers answering questions through the weekend.

That sucks for all concerned, but hey, look, planets!

Horizons lets you explore planet surfaces using a dune buggy and is the next step in expanding Elite’s accurate simulation of our actual galaxy. The planet’s are procedurally generated, and mostly atmosphere-less and barren, though apparently there will be earth-like atmospheres to discover out there amidst the inky black of space.

So far, there’s no release date for the Horizons expansion beyond a window of ‘holiday 2015’ for the first part.

82 Comments

  1. TillEulenspiegel says:

    However, this means there may be some discrepancies in the exploration data until the update is finished.

    Yikes. That’s from before they started the upgrade. That’s really not how database migrations should work.

  2. Kefren says:

    I like the knobbly planet, reminds me of the egg on the cover of Alien. Planet landings in Captain Blood were one of my favourite things in the 16 bit era.

    As to data loss – here’s a crazy idea, but maybe if the game had some kind of offline option where players’ data was just stored on their own PC or something, and they were responsible for it themselves and didn’t have to depend on other people’s servers, things like that might not happen? I know, I know, crazy idea, DRM-free offline single-player games… Surely there’s no market for that…

    • Arkayjiya says:

      Cheating would be a problem, and Elite is a game that put people directly in competition. At least in Diablo 3 you could argue that there is little to no pvp and it’s 100% voluntary so you don’t necessarily need the “always online” -although since the rift and season it’s not the case anymore…), but here the race to exploration (which is a form of pvp, just not an aggressive one) would be destroyed

      • Chalky says:

        Yeah, if they had an offline option it wouldn’t solve this problem at all – you can’t just let players upload data from an offline version of the exploration database saying “trust me, I didn’t tamper with this data!”.

        Even if offline was available (which would be a really challenging thing to achieve given the system requirements for running and maintaining data on a galaxy of this size) it wouldn’t make the online aspects any easier!

        • SaintAn says:

          Or, you know, have a separate singleplayer version of the game. But it’s not like this game is an MMO, so it shouldn’t be a big deal if some people cheat like they did in Diablo 2.

          • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

            You have a point, in some way Frontier forced every single player to the online route.

            Who knows how many people would choose that over “online solo”, probably many. I understand that freedom is a great thing, but the persistant universe features, community goals, first explorer achievements, powerplay and so on would suffer greatly from this split.

            It was a hard decision for Frontier, they simply went with what would go along with their design. I think this was the right choice, although one can’t deny their blemished reputation after the broken promises.

          • Tim the Corsair says:

            This game is literally an MMO, just with garbage instancing and an inexplicably half-arsed “single player” mode.

        • LionsPhil says:

          You can’t just let players upload data from an offline version of the exploration database saying “trust me, I didn’t tamper with this data!”.

          I’m not sure how buffering or not buffering this changes your ability to trust it.

          • Chalky says:

            Or, you know, have a separate singleplayer version of the game.

            Even if they did release a separate version of the game with 1% of the star systems, reduced AI entities and other scaled down elements to allow your desktop to cope with both the galaxy simulation and running the game client…. that would be a different game from the one that had a database upgrade issue in the article so I don’t get your point. If you were playing a different game you wouldn’t have this issue, I agree.

            I’m not sure how buffering or not buffering this changes your ability to trust it.

            Simple, you can perform sanity checks on real time data feeds. If someone says they just explored a system, is there ship currently in that system on the server? Do they have the exploration modules equipped? Etc etc.

            You upload a week’s worth of exploration data to the server, how do you expect server side verification to be done?

          • Chalky says:

            I hate this forum software, one of these replies is not meant for you but I can’t edit it out and put it in the right place. Welp!

          • LionsPhil says:

            Either you track the movement of a player in a close approximation of real time, or you track the movement of a player when replaying a buffer. Either way you have the same constraints (is the player, for example, getting between systems unreasonably fast?)

          • EhexT says:

            Ah there’s the old “you couldn’t run Elite on your PC!” line. You can. You already have in other games. It’s the same line EA fed you about Simcity being only possible thanks to “the cloud” and it’s just as ridiculous with E:D as it was with Sim City. Doing an offline version of E:D would be EASY, they simply chose not to (after promising to do it).

        • AriochRN says:

          Hmmm, how big is 67 megalines converted into bytes? I’ve got a 256GB memory stick knocking around if they want to borrow it for a bit.

      • Kefren says:

        I don’t understand the cheating – I’m talking about being able to play it as an offline, single-player game. Like Elite. So you would gain credits from the game for exploring, in the same way you would for shooting down pirates or Thargoids. You’d never be connecting to other players, or servers, or an economy. If you wanted to cheat (if it was possible) it would only be your own game you affected, which isn’t an issue for anyone else.

        • Chalky says:

          It takes quite a lot of computational power to simulate the millions of stars and AI entities in the E:D universe. It’s unlikely that a player’s desktop would be capable of this even if it didn’t have to also worry about running a game client at the same time. In order to achieve an offline version, you would need to dramatically reduce the number of systems and the AI presence in the universe. You’d also need to reduce the fidelity of the client and the number of entities being shown to the user in order to handle running both the galaxy simulation and the client at the same time.

          This is totally doable, but the offline version would be so different from the online version that it would basically be a completely different game – albeit one that shared some of the same graphical assets and audio.

          So, as a mechanism to avoid server database upgrade issues, it would probably not be an effective use of development resources.

          • EhexT says:

            No you wouldn’t. ED doesn’t simulate tons of AIs all over the galaxy. It doesn’t even simulate tons of AIs in the 200 LY radius that actually has AIs. In a system without a player in it, there are no individually simulated ships flying around. Everything that’s not in view of a player and hasn’t been recently encountered by a player is abstracted out, and that’s something desktop PCs have been easily doing for a decade.

          • Kefren says:

            I’d probably argue that I would rather have hundreds of interesting stars than millions that I’d never see, that are similar apart from names and colour schemes, and which rapidly become boring.

          • AriochRN says:

            Procedural generation ftw! 20 years ago they managed to fit the Frontier Elite 2 galaxy onto a single floppy, though admittedly it was only around a billion star systems (planetary landings, NPCs, simulated economy, orrery systems views etc etc. included though).

          • Janichsan says:

            …around a billion star systems (planetary landings, NPCs, simulated economy, orrery systems views etc etc. included though)

            Yeah, well, 513,982,470 star systems, a completely static economy, and planetary surfaces that consisted of mostly nothing… ;)

          • aleander says:

            Well, it just so happens that simulating of that stuff at any reasonable level is just completely impossible. No matter if it were simulated on your toaster or in a Google server room. Which why they’re not doing it. It’s all abstracted into oblivion, to the point where it could, easily, be ran on said toaster.

          • AriochRN says:

            Yes, I’ve seen that figure on link to jongware.com but also I’m sure I’ve read FDev say it was around a billion, so I suppose it’s a very flexible “around” :)
            Planetary surfaces consisting mostly of nothing sounds quite like the upcoming expansion and as for the static economy, well, I only tend to play Solo when I occasionally flash the game up and I think I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. An RNG could be stuck on the economy for all I can tell.
            FDev could have done the static offline galaxy but chose not to. I’d have been quite happy with the static model to be honest, it was what I was expecting when I backed the KS.

          • schlusenbach says:

            Those huge numbers of stars are kinda silly anyway. If you had ‘only’ 10.000 planets and would visit each one for 5 minutes you could play for 833 hours straight. Considering that a player normally would want to do other stuff than visiting one star after another, in reality you’ll never see more than a few thousand planets at best even with hundreds of hours of gameplay.

            It would also be possible to simulate an economy for several hundred systems around the player. X3 Terran Conflict did this (even agent-driven) with a simple economy for two hundred sectors and a lot more stations. That would have been enough.

            A modern single player Elite would have been no problem.

          • Janichsan says:

            Planetary surfaces consisting mostly of nothing sounds quite like the upcoming expansion…

            Well, there is a difference between an actual landscape with mountains, craters, and canyons – even if lifeless and barren – and millions of square kilometers of literally nothing. Except for the rare settlements, the planetary surface in Frontier really were nothing but flat, unicoloured surfaces.

          • AriochRN says:

            Ah yes, Frontier only had the occasional stick on mountain or city, didn’t it? I did like the cloud shadows though, more games should have those. I must’ve been thinking of the First Encounters landscapes – I got that on CD so I’m not sure how many floppies it came on, but it was still a proc gen galaxy in a box.

            Yes, it’ll look much prettier now (it has been 20 years, after all) but it’s still going to be mostly empty…

    • PoulWrist says:

      Basically it’s built as a multiplayer game, so that’d be kinda hard to accomplish. Also cheating would be rampant. And, would you really care about the stored data anyway if you were playing offline? You wouldn’t be going back to a planet going “oh gosh, I discovered that!” in a singleplayer game after reading the little blip about who discovered it…

      • Kefren says:

        Hopefully my comment above clarifies what I meant – singleplayer offline (never connecting your game to any online version). Exploring would be something you’d do for fun (and credits), nothing to do with other people’s games, or having things marked as discovered by you – if it is on your map when you play, then you discovered it; if it isn’t, then it is still in unknown space. Whenever I hear about it being impossible to strip out core functions of a game from the online element it always reminds me of what happened with SimCity (2013)…

        • Janichsan says:

          Whenever I hear about it being impossible to strip out core functions of a game from the online element it always reminds me of what happened with SimCity (2013)…

          And that’s some justified reason for suspicion, but in the case ED it’s really so that significant portions of the game are handled server-side. That’s not to say that it would not be possible to make a (somewhat simplified) offline version, but that would require major rewrites of the client.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Which is all the more damning in terms of broken promises.

            You do not make a singleplayer version of the game technically infeasible by some careless accident. You plan for it, and to hell with those who backed it based on that condition.

            Then people on the Internet will leap to your defense, because y u so mad lol?

          • Universal Quitter says:

            I don’t know if you’re mad, Phil, and I don’t really care, but Kickstarter is not a contract. They delivered on the vast majority of their promises, and it isn’t reasonable to expect that all backers and fans would treat this one issue as their dealbreaker, like you are, nor is it reasonable to expect any kind of solidarity from fellow consumers.

            If you want to treat this like the second coming of Peter Molyneux, that’s fantastic, and you have plenty of gamers willing to agree with it, but it’s childish to do the “here’s my angry rant. Now fanboys will argue with me” straw-man.

            It makes people like me go “well, I used to empathize with these people, but now I want to buy TWO copies of the game, just to stick it to the whiners and folks who look before they leap, financially.”

          • LionsPhil says:

            Nobody is calling it a contract. That’s why the “cost” to them here is bad press on the Internet (oh nooooo) rather than any meaningful legal action. (As far as I know various attempts in that direction came to naught.)

            You can see the “you’re just mad” in action in this very thread if you just scroll down. It is a very real (and disappointingly predictable) phenomena.

            FWIW I didn’t back it, because of a (vindicated) lack of faith in Braben. My horse in this race is objection to silencing of the discourse of something that should be a continual black mark on his reputation.

        • PoulWrist says:

          Well, basically the loss of data doesn’t impact you if you play it in the solo mode. You can explore for fun and get money etc. without anything and the online-requirement is there for you to get the benefit of a “living” galaxy by way of thousands of players taking the role of otherwise predictable AI behaviour. I’d say the game is much better off by being multiplayer and online connected, even if you never even log in to the online mode.

    • Asurmen says:

      Yawn. It’s been a year now. Get over it already.

      • Kefren says:

        Apologies. I forgot about the time limit for being interested in, or commenting on, an unfinished game’s features.

        • c-Row says:

          I don’t think David Braben reads the RPS comment section. But maybe it would make them change their opinion if you voiced your anger on an official channel of sorts like the Frontier forum or their Facebook page. People around here just get tired reading the same complaints over and over again.

          • Universal Quitter says:

            I’m sure it’s in poor form for RPS’ commenting standards, but “this.”

        • Asurmen says:

          But there is a time limit where whining about it will change anything. It’s long past that point. Bringing it up EVERY time there’s an ED post just gets tiresome. It’s irrelevant now to any discussion on ED.

          • EhexT says:

            When they keep shooting themselves in the foot over and over because they broke their original promise and it keeps tripping them up, reminding them of it is both good Schadenfreude and rubbing in that maybe next time they shouldn’t aim at that foot quite as much.

          • PoulWrist says:

            Like every other online persistent world game, they’re bound to have troubles with servers and data once in a while. The game is definitely better for having multiplayer.

        • meepmeep says:

          It’s like servicing your car – you can have 1 year, or 10,000 posts, whichever comes first.

          The point at which moaning about this adds anything constructive to the conversation is long, long gone.

        • Kefren says:

          Mmm, I’d like to clarify that I’m not angry (I can’t imagine anything to do with games would make me angry, apart from when something completely breaks and you swear at the screen – a temporary and quickly-forgotten type of anger). It’s only a game. I’m just interested in situations where promised features disappear and how developers and the community react to it; where games that once interested me become something that doesn’t appeal at all (and why); where some modern games are headed and how it ties into my interests.

          I understand that many RPS readers aren’t interested in this or are bored of it now, which is fine and I understand totally (there are many gaming topics or stances I am now tired off seeing repeated), though in that case surely it is easier to just ignore any comments about Elite’s offline mode? We all focus on what we’re interested in, and tune out what we’re not. I’m sure you don’t mean “don’t make comments that I’m not interested in any more”. I’m pretty sure lots of people are bored of this topic; also that lots of people are not bored of it. Those who are still interested should be allowed to comment on that. I’m still interested in the fall of Troy and will happily comment on Paris’s betrayal of the Greek guest contract too. There’s no time limit on what people are interested in. Just ignore it if it’s now stale to you.

          • Universal Quitter says:

            Teenagers are concerned with whether everyone is playing it cool or not, not real people. No actual human beings care if you’re “mad” or not.

            It’s the dead horse beating that’s annoying, with the snarky “isn’t this obvious, why has no one thought of it, I wonder if it’s really so hard?” attitude about it.

          • Asurmen says:

            Pretty hard to do when your post does a 90 degree turn.

            I get being annoyed by the broken promise, whether you agree with their excuse or not, I just don’t get the continuous complaint over it nearly a year later. This isn’t some retrospective discussion on its successes and failures, this isn’t some academic course on gaming history. I just don’t get why it’s brought up every time.

            To each their own I guess.

      • anHorse says:

        “Be apathetic and let developers get away with shitty games and broken promises”

      • Janichsan says:

        It’s the internet. People remain butt-hurt about past things at least for five years… ;)

        • drinniol says:

          That was the old internet. Now, people are butt-hurt about things that are yet to happen.

      • Consumatopia says:

        1. The point of complaining over a business practice is not to force the offending business to reverse course, but to serve as an example for other businesses. Go back on offline only promises? Get ready to have that be the first thing people discuss anytime your game get attention. That the incident happened so long ago but people are still talking about just drives that point home further. (The norm, of course, is not “you should make offline games”, but rather “you should tell people that your online-only game is online only”.)

        2. It’s not just that ED is in the news, it’s in the news partly for data problems. Flipping out because people bring up the offline controversy when they’re having data issues is absurd. (By all means, argue that online-only is a good design choice even in the face of problems like this, but don’t act like people are being unreasonable just for bringing it up!)

        3. Complaining about the complainers is always, ALWAYS, more tiresome than the original complaints themselves.

        • Consumatopia says:

          And, yes, 3 applies to itself.

        • Asurmen says:

          1) They did do

          2) Bringing it up yet again is absurd

          3) Wrong

        • Kefren says:

          Thanks, you justified my comment better than I did. I feel like if you’re forbidden from raising issues after a certain time, the perception would be “Oh, it was alright, people calmed down after a while” which would be a false impression, particularly for those who were very disappointed at the removal of a single player offline game.

          • AriochRN says:

            It’s only like 1 star reviews on Amazon to my mind. It’s not even been a year since the Braben’s offline quasi-announcement and the ensuing refund rigmarole some KS backers had to go through and I think it should not be soon forgotten; it’s the kind of information I look for before buying a product.

        • Kefren says:

          Having said that, I was surprised by being told off for raising it, even though it is of interest to me and many other people. I probably won’t mention it again, it isn’t worth the negativity.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Very well put.

    • Dr Wookie says:

      One thing to note is that the planetoid shown in the video is pretty small, only a few hundred km across or something, while the biggest ones are larger than Earth :).

      Frontier have said that they will make the whole galaxy available when they eventually turn off their servers, although this shouldn’t happen for many years.

      I think that the system requirements for offline mode would be considerably higher than the current requirements, since what we have appears to be a bunch of assets, with cloud computers doing the heavy lifting. The night sky is calculated on the fly every time you hyperspace, based on the actual stars near by; I imagine that this is intensive. Also, the storage required for all the different stations, and discovery data would be enormous. While The whole simulation should be easy to run for the computers of the future, I think it would be too much for most people today.

      • AriochRN says:

        I’m not a programming type, but the 3D galaxy map already runs on a player’s computer so the game could, I’m guessing, already know where all the local stars are relative to the player and generate the skybox like that. Or just make some random starfield up, who’s going to know the difference? :D

      • schlusenbach says:

        No, it’s not a problem. The cloud servers don’t compute anything, the simulation runs completely on your local machine anyway.

        And the data to store the star systems doesn’t amount to much storage space. If I’m not mistaken, Elite has ‘real’ data for about 100.000 stars, the rest is procedurally generated. The data for 100k ‘real’ stars fits on a floppy disk, that’s nothing. And the procgen stuff is just code.

        As far as I know the cloud servers only store the data for the economy and player stats. When you buy or sell something it is synched with the servers so that the economy should mimic a ‘realistic’ market. But that’s just a bunch of databases and there is no massive computation happening in the cloud.

  3. kikito says:

    Explote all the space potatoes.

  4. SaintAn says:

    If you’re losing peoples data then you are too incompetent to be running an online only game. Make it singleplayer like you told backers you would.

    • PoulWrist says:

      Pretty much every online game has had some kind of trouble like this. And the game is better off for being multiplayer, so I don’t see your point.

      • Bugamn says:

        How is it better off being multiplayer, if that means it’s a game that doesn’t work well for? At least I have Oolite.

  5. Det. Bullock says:

    You wrote “planet’s” instead of “planets” in the last paragraph.

  6. Captain Deadlock says:

    Dullest game I’ve ever bought. Crawling around on a monochrome dustball isn’t going to liven it up for me.

    • Universal Quitter says:

      This, at least, is based on the current state of the game, not some bitter leftovers for a “betrayal” months and months ago. Not sure it’s a great sign when this kind of critique feels refreshing.

      I do question how many games you’ve played, though, if this manages to be the actual most dull thing in ever, with no exaggeration.

      Not saying the “mile wide, inch deep” comparison isn’t apt, it’s just that there are a lot of shitty games out there. It’s a brown, frothy sea of terribleness.

    • frightlever says:

      I don’t have great expectations for No Man’s Sky, but it does seem people are going to be fairly disappointed if the planets with atmospheres aren’t teeming with life.

      • Jay Load says:

        Life? Don’t talk to me about life…

        I’m afraid that what we’ll get is the space equivalent of GTA’s pedestrians and vehicles – brief clusters of animated objects that look good, sound good but don’t ultimately play any greater part in their worlds that that. Animatronic un-life.

        • Xaiadar says:

          Jay Load says:

          Life? Don’t talk to me about life…

          I’m afraid that what we’ll get is the space equivalent of GTA’s pedestrians and vehicles – brief clusters of animated objects that look good, sound good but don’t ultimately play any greater part in their worlds that that. Animatronic un-life.

          Ooh, nice Hitchhiker’s Guide reference! :D

  7. Dr Wookie says:

    ED definitely is not for everyone, since it revels in every aspect of being Captain Space rather than just the highlights. Most other space games give the action highlights. I wouldn’t blame anyone for finding I dull… I find COD likes and sports games desperately tedious!

  8. Mr_Blastman says:

    This is a great game and would be even better if over half the community wasn’t a bunch of pussies afraid of confrontation who spend most of their time hiding in Solo mode. Solo mode was a mistake–Braben should have kept it as Open only like they had started designing it for.

    With that said–I love Elite, have spent 350 hours in in or so, gotten my money’s worth and the new Close Quarters Combat that came out for it is great! It is way better than Star Citizen’s Arena Commander.

    • Chaz says:

      Not content to confine that juvenile drivel to the FD forums, you have to come on here and spout it too.

    • Cederic says:

      Perhaps they aren’t “pussies”, perhaps they’re mature people that would rather enjoy their leisure time and avoid having to interact with children online.

      • WarlordBK says:

        Then you do what any responsible adult does, you slap that little punk down and leave him to suffocate with no engines or weapons.

        • Bugamn says:

          Perhaps those were people that wanted to play singleplayer and were forced into a multiplayer game against their wish and have no desire of interaction with strangers, not even to slap them.

      • Wormoxide says:

        I would prefer not to have milk drinkers wreak my ship for no reason. No one should be forced to play PvP.

  9. Uhuru N'Uru says:

    Well, comparing a year old MMO with an extremely limited Aplha test bed isn’t exactly like for like.
    When Star Citizens Persistant Universe is a year out from Final release, then compare it with this and don’t forget that will include, at least the first part, of an entire trilogy of Single Player Games that were also promised and won’t be dropped.

    I’m an old time gamer who loved the original Elite and was looking forward to Elite more than SC, they lost me in the Beta stage long before they dropped Single Player.

    I could back SC for about £25 and play, yet to play Elite they wanted about £150, I immediately lost interest at that ripoff price.

    Before anyone says some SC packages cost thousands, sure but they are all optional. All you have to buy is the Aurora Starter Ship package, which was listed as $35 back then and is now $54. Elite had only that one price, there was no other option.

    That killed Elite for me. There is no way in hell that any game in alpha or Beta should cost more than when it’s released. Especially when it’s a crowdfunded game.

    • theninthlayer says:

      Wasn’t Star Citizen supposed to be out in 2014? I have no confidence that game will ever be finished. Maybe in 2 years it’ll come out and I’ll be proven wrong.

      • neotribe says:

        Star Citizen is shaping up to be a reasonably successful employment program, if nothing else. Four studios in three countries and 255 employees as of this Summer.

    • sf says:

      “I could back SC for about £25 and play, yet to play Elite they wanted about £150, I immediately lost interest at that ripoff price.”

      er… No.
      To play the BETA of Elite cost £150, to PLAY ELITE cost just £20. And you’d have been able to play it before you can play Star Citizen, anyway. So, what “killed Elite for you” is apparently your lack of reading comprehension and overly developed sense of the dramatic.