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Elite: Dangerous Newsletter #15 - From Frontier Developments
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Hi Commander,

Welcome to newsletter number 15, the latest communication from the Elite: Dangerous team! Following the recent release of the Alpha Phase One – Single Player Combat build we’re doing something a little different with this newsletter. We’ll provide some highlights from the build as well as comments from some of team.
 

Table of Contents (click subject to jump forward):

Dev Diary #9 Released

The latest dev diary video has been released announcing the release of the Alpha phase one – single player combat test. David talks about some of the features as well as including some clips from the build to give a short glimpse of what our intrepid Alpha backers are experiencing. You can view the video here:
 

We have two important aims for the alpha process. First and foremost we wanted to gain useful feedback from our enthusiastic backers on specifics of the game - this first build is centred on single player combat and includes a number of different situations that will allow us to get feedback on usability and controls. Over the course of the Alpha process we’ll release new builds that focus on further specific features and add more core features for testing and feedback.

Secondly, we wanted to make sure that the build itself is and remains fun, and as polished an experience as possible -  as anyone involved with development knows this is can be quite a challenge when you’re in the process of developing the game and the ‘hood is up’ on various systems!

Elite: Dangerous is in the capable hands of a very experienced, enthusiastic and dedicated team and we thought you’d like to hear about the Alpha Phase One build from each of the main disciplines to get their take on it.

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Art: Shiny Ships in a Jewelled Sky

When people check out a new game, the graphics are often the first thing that they notice. Creating a good looking game takes more than the ability to render lots of polygons or textures. It is how that fundamental capability is used that makes a game stand out. For Elite: Dangerous we have a strong art vision stemming from the concept of plausibility, and of course drawing upon the heritage of the previous games.

Nowhere is more evident than this than with the ship designs, as can be seen in the render of the build’s ship line up below:



“It's an exciting day here in the art department as we get to show you the current state of the ships, FX and GUI ‘live’ for the first time.

I'm especially pleased that we can show you some more of our ship designs. Updating the beloved designs has been a challenge but the team has found a great balance between the old and the new.  The SideWinder, Anaconda, Cobra and the Fed Fighter are finally off the drawing board and ready for their first flights.  If you could all try not to scratch the paint work, that would be appreciated.

Chris Gregory – Art Director

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Audio: Tune and Boom

A game’s audio is a key part of immersing the player in what they are doing and providing vital feedback during gameplay. Again success hinges on having a strong ‘vision’ for how the audio will work.

HUD audio: "Our approach is that the cockpit has a built in "HUD" audio system to provide the pilot with useful audio information like flybys, weapon fire, explosions etc. The idea is that the HUD recreates a soundscape for the pilot from sensors on the ship’s exterior. It makes much more sense for the pilot/player, and allows for some interesting effects when the cockpit loses air pressure.

Experiments with the purist’s "no sound in space" approach in practice proved an unsatisfying experience, particularly where combat was concerned and we found that the game generally lacked energy because of it. More importantly, there is a lot of useful information that the player simply misses out on if they have no perception exterior sound.” Joe Hogan – Sound Design Lead


Engines: "When there are no stationary objects nearby, it can be very hard for the player to judge their speed and acceleration. So the player's engine sounds are pretty vital in conveying this to the player.

It took some time to settle on our current Sidewinder sound set. We abandoned rocket and jet type sounds fairly quickly, as they tended to fill the mix with much more noise than we liked, especially when layering and manipulating multiple components at once, and so we settled on a more stylised approach instead. The key aim was to make it feel responsive and dynamic, but never overwhelm the soundscape.

Different ships and manufacturers have a sonic character of their own, but the initial sound set here has allowed us to define the principles of how the sounds behave according to pitch, roll, yaw, acceleration, velocity, power configuration and boost, so we have a good framework to build on.”
Jim Croft – Head of Audio

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Code: The Glue That Binds It All Together

The code weaves the design, audio and art together into a single experience. The code team has people with a wide variety of skill sets,ranging from low level code optimisations to make the game run well on as a low a spec machine as possible, through system architects who engineer the hundreds of thousands of lines of gameplay code into a flexible, maintainable whole, to gameplay coders who work closely with the designers to make sure that flying the ship feels right or that the weapons work as they should.

Elite: Dangerous brings some unique challenges that are not usually an issue for many games, the most obvious one being the sheer scale of our 100 billion star system galaxy.  This will become evident later in the testing process – the Alpha Phase One takes place in a small number of locations with no long distance travel.


 
For myself it's been one of the best experiences to work on this game and see it coming together from the first few lines of code, to what it has become. It’s been some time, and here we are – starting the Alpha process! There is a very great deal more coming, and it's unquestionably worth the wait! I and the team wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year, and as the timeless saying goes: Right on Commanders!”
Igor Terentjev – Code Lead

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Design: Touchy Feely

In many ways design are the frontline for the game’s development, the player’s most visible representatives on the development team, working to make sure that the experience is enjoyable for the player. Our core tenets are accessibility plus depth; to reward a player’s improved skill as they progress through the game.

We also wanted to ensure that the alpha backers started from something we were happy with, and we are very eager to hear the feedback and evolve things as more and more people are exposed to the alpha phases and then beta.

“Spaceships, laser guns, explosions, dog fights, adventures in the void - hell yeah! Basically, working on this game has been an amazing, and demanding, experience so far. But seeing stuff really come together for the first alpha release has been something else altogether; I feel incredibly privileged to be part of such a great team.

As the alpha goes live I have the distinct impression of being in the world's scariest roller coaster, just as it reaches the first summit. Excitement, fear and caffeine might be making me light- headed, but I'm extremely happy and proud of the start we've made and can't wait for the alpha backers to join the ride.”
Sandro Sammarco – Design Lead


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GUI: I See What I Need

In Elite: Dangerous your cockpit is the centre of the action, all of your interactions are (for the moment!) based around this central hub. GUI provides the vital feedback enabling you to make the decisions you need to make while playing. Beyond this obviously vital role it provides the setting for the game, you’re a lone pilot in your own ship bathed in light from your holograms in the depths of space, but at your fingertips are some of the best ships available in human space and the GUI is your interface to that ship that allows you to trade, fight and explore.



“Our biggest challenge was to provide a cockpit UI that displays the information the player cares about in the cleanest way possible, without dropping all those little touches that 'sell' the sci-fi fiction of the whole cockpit.

We’ll continually improve and polish it over the coming months. The feedback we get from the Alpha will help us to focus on the improvements that really matter to the players.”
  Jon Pace – GUI Lead

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Production: Hard Taskmaster

Production provides the management that binds the team together to complete the game. They work closely with all of the disciplines so that everything comes together in a cohesive whole.
 


“The role of a producer is to make sure that the team is able to do their job - we have a lot of talented people working on the game and that makes my job as a producer an easier one. So I’ll use this opportunity quote here to thank everyone on the team for their hard efforts so far and to say that I hope that all of the alpha backers enjoy what we’ve put together!” Michael Brookes – Executive Producer

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Render: Making Shiny, Really Shiny

The render team is a specialised part of the coding team that puts together the technology the art teams needs to bring their vision to life. Elite Dangerous has some interesting requirements. There are massive celestial bodies that illuminate space around them, there are also large numbers of ships visible in a scene as anyone who has played the Factions scenario in the first alpha build can confirm!

“It's been really exciting over the last few weeks to see all the different parts of the game getting tweaked and balanced to work together in preparation for its debut.  We've done several passes with the art leads, adding and removing all manner of fake lights, fudge factors and other tricks, trying to reconcile the stark contrast of space with the need to be able to find the ships you're shooting at. We still have more tricks up our sleeve, so I’m confident you’ll notice things getting ever better as we progress through testing.

The cockpit especially has received a lot of love recently, with high-res shadows, dozens of tiny usability tweaks being made on the radar, and a whole collection of different effects applied to the canopy to allow it to get dirty, frosty, and occasionally start to crack open.”
  Ben Parry – Render Lead

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VFX: Things that Make You Go Boom!

Visual effects help bring the game to life – these guys, work closely with the art and render teams, adding the lights and the particle effects like trails needed to make the game feel vibrant.  As with other aspects of the game their focus is twofold, not only do they make the game look great, but they also create key visual feedback for the player such as enemy ship movement and damage to shields and hull.
 


“Working on this game is brilliant and challenging. We’ve already made so many different types of effects from engine drives, to explosions, to putting lens flares on everything, to seeing how many particles we can get away with using before we're told off for using up too much memory...

The most fun aspects for me have been creating the damage and impact VFX, making sure they pack plenty of punch and really give an aggressive feel.”
Selena McCabe – VFX Artist

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Comms Chatter

The Kickstarter campaign by our Elite authors to get printed and audio versions of their books produced is still ongoing, but needs some more support to get over the line! If you would like to help out Drew Wagar, Allen Stroud, John Harper, and our 15 Elite Anthology writers, then head over to their Kickstarter page now and give generously!

In other news, you may have noticed that phase one of the alpha is now out! This has led to the creation of a new private alpha discussion forum, where we would love to hear all of your feedback about your experience with the alpha so far. This sub-forum is for alpha members only, but if you are in the alpha and cannot see the alpha forum yet on our site, email abarley@frontier.co.uk and Ashley will update your permissions.

Lastly, a huge thank you to community member Psykokow, who sent our Elite team ‘Thargoid and Fer-De-Lance’ mugs this week! In celebration of this act of kindness, here is a photo of us modelling our new mugs for your viewing pleasure! Click the image to view a larger version.



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Our New Online Store Opens for Business

The new Elite: Dangerous online store is now open for business - as well as offering early access to the Alpha phase and pre-orders for the beta and final game, it provides the download and support channel for the newly released Alpha and will continue to do so through the various phases of the game’s development. You can visit the store here either via: http://elite.frontier.co.uk or go directly to http://www.zaonce.net


We’ll be adding a range of exciting new products to the store soon, so stay tuned for more news.

Until next time Commanders...


 
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