This week at GDC we got the chance to talk to the team of Elite: Dangerous. This new space simulator hooks you into its intense virtual reality and smooth controls. The best part is playing with the Oculus Rift which we got to do during the demo. After its successful Kickstarter back in 2012 the game continues to grow through its Alpha phases towards Beta, and backers have been getting a steady flow of game content and upgrades.
David Braben explained that the team focused on moment to moment gameplay first. This was going on early even before the Kickstarter campaign began. They wanted to have a decent playable demo. They went back and forth with U.S. and U.K. testers to give them experiences to work out any kinks. After the Alpha 1 and 2 phase the team moved to Alpha 3 back in December. Alpha 3 tested the multi-player aspects of the game knowing players would be working and flying missions together. The level of multi-player has not been fully determined yet but plans to expand into high numbers per sector, with AI filling in some roles as well. Space can be as lonely or as trafficked as you want it to be, as the social systems will take into account your friends lists and so forth. The game does augment with lots of NPCs and AI ships and factions to work with as well.
The game is now gearing up for Alpha 4 which will show the travel and trading aspects of the game. Dave explained that this will open up the galaxy a lot more. The team wants to add exploration elements to the galaxy quickly. One of the key features that David talked about was a player’s connection to their ship. To start if your ship gets destroyed you can retain it by paying the insurance "copay". That way you can always get your ship back re-equipped and designed the way you had it... if you have the money and means.
There are certain systems which you have to manage when flying your ship. The first and most important is managing the heat of the engines and systems out in space. Your ship shows on other people's radar via heat, so the more heat your exuding, the easier you'll be to find. Heat can build up quickly and cause a lot of problems for your ship. There are plenty of ways to manage heat, but the coolest one is being able to generate all your heat onto a disc and blast it away from your ship. This can act as a decoy and also allows your ship to go dark for a few moments.
You also have to carefully manage and pick your weapons. You can host several different types of weapons from gatling guns to heavy laser cannons. You have to explore to find different new weapons and make deals with merchants across the stars. You can also set weapons on different mounts to give yourself some range and also an arc of fire to chase against other ships so that they're not always just facing forward. The weapons also generate different kinds of heat as well, so if you want to be stealthy, it makes sense to go with guns that generate less heat.
Shields and Engines are the final areas you need to divert power to in order to maximize your abilities. You can shift power around these systems and weapons depending on what you need in a fight. Sometimes when exploring you will put more power to your engines and then switch quickly to go into battle.
The game will have about 25 playable ships ranging in all kinds of styles. There will be dog-fighting combat ships along with space freighters and carriers, passenger ships, and mining ships. The Cobra is the top combat vessel with the Anaconda being a huge carrier style ship, which can actually carry a Cobra within to deploy.
David gave us some details about building the game that the team wants to play. Even though it is heavy sci-fi they want the realities of flying and fighting in space. They also want interesting parts like being able to attack areas on ships like cargo ports. Which if you are successful, you will get some of the loot that ships might be carrying. This will turn you into a pirate and bring the bounty hunters after you. One of the trends they have seen is players traveling in patrols to hunt for players that attack or cause issues. But you don't have to live a life of constant fighting, either. If you want to spend your time exploring the billions of stars that Frontier is faithfully recreating, you truly can.
We were severely impressed with Elite: Dangerous and playing it on the Oculus Rift was a pure joy. Fans of flight sims will get an absolute thrill as it's fully compatible with flight sticks, but can easily be played with a mouse and keyboard, or even an Xbox controller. It was easy to get sucked into its integrated "ship" UI and travel around space looking for fights. There is a lot to do in this wide open space RPG that players will get lost in.
Garrett Fuller / Garrett is the Industry Relations Manager for MMORPG.com. He cosplays as an orc, he hits people with LARP weapons, and loves Adventure Time. You can follow him on Twitter (when he uses it) @Gfulls.
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