Elite: Dangerous Newsletter #11- From Frontier Developments
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Hi Commander,

Welcome to the 11th Elite: Dangerous development newsletter! Apart from a few pieces of evocative concept art we have been keeping our thoughts on stations quite close to our chest, and we know many of you are itching to find out more about our plans for these vital trade and communication hubs.

Today we’re happy to finally lift the veil and begin sharing with you a few of our ideas. We hope this update will give you a better impression of how stations will look and operate in the final game. So prepare for docking, and cast your eyes over this edition’s bulletin board:

Table of Contents (click subject to jump forward):

Castles in the Sky: Providing Variation in Station Design

The classic Coriolis Station is as iconic to the Elite series as the Cobra MK III, and whilst we’re happy to confirm that it will be making a triumphant return for Elite: Dangerous, a galaxy cannot live on Cuboctahedrons alone!

To assure that there is enough variation across inhabited space, Elite: Dangerous will be using procedural algorithms to construct stations out of a range of modular assets. This technique will allow for a wide range of possible station designs, whilst allowing us to make the most of our library of assets.

You can see just a few examples of the very early modules that our team have been experimenting with below. These are not for use in the final game but have been created as a sandbox by our artists, to begin exploring a range of basic shapes that could be used for construction.

Beyond making it easier to provide variation throughout the galaxy, a modular approach allows for several other advantages. One such benefit is that players will be able to see stations expand over time, or in response to player-driven events.

There are various functions that a module can be designed for and all have to be designed so that they look fit for purpose. Below are two examples of modules that are currently being designed. An agricultural module, for stations close enough to a star to sustainably grow crops, and cargo pods for external storage. The assumption is that plants grown in ‘natural light’ would attract a premium price.

Beyond designs for more conventional stations, we also plan to have a few specialist station types that fulfill specific roles; each constructed using their own sets of rules and modules. This will help to establish some stylistic differences between the stations, which will make it easier for players to define what the role of one is upon approach. Some examples are below:

Whilst we know that stations will be built modularly, and we have the technical framework in place to make this happen, we are still very much in the pre-visualisation stage when it comes to the aesthetic. That said, some important philosophies that are helping to guide the design of stations for Elite: Dangerous have already been established:
  • Scientific Plausibility: a station’s design needs to be structurally feasible, and make sense practically. How people get about, the use of very low gravity for loading/unloading of ships, but higher gravity for living – typically half to one earth-equivalent in strength.
  • Functionality: The function of each element should be considered- where things are stored, where people would want to live, etc. Why it is where it is, and how would people and goods get about.
  • Gravity: Living in gravity is comfortable, so in general, space stations spin. That way eating, sleeping, sneezing, and going to the toilet, are a lot more straightforward. Some things benefit from low gravity, like unloading cargo and manufacturing. Also, lower gravity levels (say 1/3 g) could be very pleasant because, for example, a normal human could strap on wings and fly! Because of this there is no special direction (no ‘up’), so there is no need for stations for example to be coplanar – something that a lot of science fiction designs neglect.
One idea that the team are currently exploring further is the concept that a station does not need to be a single structure, but can have multiple satellite components around a central structure, linked only by rapid transport routes. This idea is not only plausible but would offer the Elite stations a unique aesthetic that would be visually striking.

As stations are such a huge part of the game, the aesthetic direction that we choose is not a decision that we’re going to rush. We have literally hundreds of ideas at this point for what we want to do with this area of the game, our task now is to choose what we believe will be the best ones for a new Elite.

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Designing a Docking Cylinder

In Elite canon the only artificial gravity that exists is based on centripetal force, or acceleration. Ships are designed to land vertically, and a good way to achieve this is having a cylindrical docking bay. This is large enough to take quite big ships, and rotates such that there is an apparent gravity of around 5-10% of that on Earth. In such a place, a human could lift a tonne unaided, but the cargo would still stay on the ground where it was placed. Everything from servicing ships to awaiting another cargo could be done here in comfort.

The design for docking cylinders in Elite: Dangerous has been established for some time and is therefore one of the aspects of stations that has been developed the furthest. The image below is one of the earliest explorations into this design and shows a simple breakdown of the main compartments.

An early artistic impression of the inside of the docking cylinder can be seen here. The basic principle is that by rotating the station around a central docking cylinder it is possible to land ships safely in a low-gravity environment around the inside of the cylinder, making full use of its surface area.

The current build of the game has a functional (but basic) version of the docking cylinder already, to help with development in other areas, but in its current form it is extremely lifeless. Once a principle design was agreed upon, the next stage is to find ways to bring it to life and add variety for the player.

The above image shows one such variation on the standard design, for more luxurious stations. The concept is that a docking cylinder could almost be half-garden, so that you’re landing your ship amongst lush vegetation; like a Park Güell or Garden City in space. This sort of station would of course be particularly extravagant and access would be exclusive.

At the other side of the spectrum will be the bustling commercial stations seen below; dirty, busy, and bathed in the glow of neon lights from the advertising holos and billboards plastered on and around any available surface.

There are a countless number of directions we could go when it comes to adding variety and detail to the inside of stations and we’d love to hear suggestions from our community as well. If you have any thoughts on our ideas so far, or have any ideas on station interiors of your own, then let us know over at our official forums.

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Constructing Stations through the Event System

One exciting feature that we hope to implement is the opportunity for players to be able to view a station in its various stages of construction, such as in the image above. A precursor to a new station would be the arrival of a large ship that would fulfil the role of a temporary station, or colony ship to a specific system. This would then act as the primary hub for trade and missions, until work on an adjacent static station was complete.

The construction of a station would be managed by the events system and as such would generate missions and opportunities for the players, allowing you to help or hinder the progress of a station. By helping the station you would advance its construction, opening up a potentially lucrative new trade and mission hub.

You would be able to see firstly the framework structure, constructed of metals from local asteroids or brought from afar, and gradually the station would build up from that point. The station would become habitable (and trade could start with it) long before it is fully complete- much like a house development, the extra space would gradually be built as it was needed.

Players could also opt to undertake more insidious tasks that would damage the station’s progress for personal profit. If enough players choose this route there is a chance that it will affect the project so negatively that the construction team would cut their losses and move onto the next project, leaving a half-finished station behind.

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Darken the Skies: Building a Federal Battle Cruiser

We have shared earlier steps of the Federal Battle Cruiser’s development with you, from early concept, to modelling and even lighting. The next is to show you how it looks as a fully textured model in the game:

The above image was taken straight from our engine. Despite the immense size and firepower of these capital ships they are by no means invulnerable and may sometimes get themselves into perilous situations, where players could be called upon to give them assistance.

To accompany this screenshot we also have a schematic for the Federal Battle Cruiser. Just click on the image below for a high resolution version!

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Stations will operate as homes and workplaces for many of the galaxy’s citizens and while working through the designs of these stations, the team also had to consider the implications it might have on the game universe.

One such consideration came when considering if there were ever situations when a station would not need to rotate. Research shows that a completely zero-gravity environment would be extremely uncomfortable to live in, as water would not be able to settle, so it makes sense to assume that at least a small amount of gravity is always preferable to none at all.

In the Elite universe humans have since colonised a wide range of different planets, all of which would have their own levels of gravity. This means that different colonies would have their own preference as to what was a comfortable level of gravity to live in, which may also affect their physical appearance.

A low-gravity environment is considered easier on the body, but growing up in this environment may also make you taller, but much more frail. People from this sort of colony might be significantly restricted in where they can safely travel to for health reasons. Likewise, someone born in a high-gravity environment might grow up squatter, but with a stronger heart and more tolerant of strain on their body. Retirement would likely be to a lower gravity location.  On 1/3 g and below, flying is possible with strap-on wings. Some manufacturing techniques would work better in zero g- whereas high g worlds might be a good source of certain raw materials.

This opens up a lot of exciting possibilities from a fiction perspective, that we are considering exploring further. What other differences might develop between different colonies and could these differences fuel intolerance and discrimination between different groups? If you want to provide any input on this idea, let us know on the forums.

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Comms Chatter: Party Music

If you’re a composer or musician, then community member Allen Stroud’s new Sound Cloud group might be for you! This group has been created for fans of Elite, to share and collaborate on music inspired by the series. If you like to express yourself through the median of music and are feeling inspired by the impending release of Elite: Dangerous, then why not head over to the group page and get involved!

Elsewhere in our community (our Danish community in fact) community member Commander Andersen has taken it upon himself to organise an unofficial launch party for Elite: Dangerous, to take place in Copenhagen. If you live in Denmark, are a fan of Elite, and would like to meet up with some like-minded people for drinks and merriment, then why not head over to the event’s Facebook page now.

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That’s it for another newsletter, apologies for the longer than usual wait between editions. Thank you again for following and supporting our progress so far and we’ll be back soon with another update on how things are getting on!

Thanks again, Ashley


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