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Elite: Dangerous Newsletter #3- From Frontier Developments
Hi Commander,

Welcome to the third Elite: Dangerous newsletter! As production ramps up we hope to continue bringing you as much insight about the development process as possible. In this edition we’ll be showing you the early stages of development on a completely new ship for the Elite universe, as well as considering the designs of a few things we have not yet shared with you.

Table of Contents (click subject to jump forward):


Scourge of the Federation: Designing the Imperial Fighter

In the last newsletter you may remember that we showed you some concept thumbnails for smaller Imperial Ships. This exploration has since been expanded into an early design concept for what will be the Empire’s staple fighter-class ship.



The sleek, predatory appearance of this ship very clearly follows the design principles of the Empire. Much like everything designed for Elite: Dangerous, functional considerations also need to be investigated. In the above image you can begin to see how early designs for the functional elements of the ship are being considered; the most unique features of the ship being its retractable arms and the bike-like seating position.

Whilst the retractable arm gives the Imperial Fighter an extremely distinctive feature with some practical applications, such as for landing and storage in carrier bays, the proposed seating position was raised as an area of concern as it would create a number of technical and aesthetic challenges.

Whilst the design of the Imperial Fighter is still very much in its early stages, the team are extremely happy with the direction it is going in and we’ll make sure to keep you updated with its progress in future editions of the newsletter.


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Time Crumbles Things: Implementing Deteriorating Ship Conditions

During the Kickstarter campaign we alluded to the idea that players would be able to see the condition of their ship deteriorate over time. This means that whether you’re the sort of player that has carefully run the same trade route a thousand times, or the type to constantly botch docking attempts and get into scraps with the local authorities, your ship will eventually begin to show signs of wear and tear.

The left-hand side of the image below is a paint-over of the Sidewinder model that was made as a reference for the rendering programmers, to represent the level of detail that the final effect will hopefully achieve. Within this image you can see examples of edge-based and directional wear, burn marks around thrusters, the flaking of paint and decals, as well as dirt and stains. All of these things will help to really communicate to other players the experiences that your ship has gone through.



 
This effect will be achieved by blending authored textures and procedural masks. The first step of this process is for our artists to define what each ship will look like in their painted and raw-material forms. The shader will then use procedural masks to remove the painted texture in chips, scratches and flakes, revealing the ship’s metal hull in areas where directional or edge wear might take place. A similar process will also take place for additive effects, such as dirt, stains and burn marks.

The technique above describes how this effect will be achieved, but there also needs to be a rule set by which this technique is implemented. This will be done using logic that prescribes additional layers of detail by factoring in the encounters that a player has experienced with a chosen ship, as well as the length of time that a player has owned that specific ship. Overall this should add another level of immersion to the game and really allow players to see upon first glance just how much they and their ship have been through together.


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Always Prepared: Conceptualising Life Support Systems

In a galaxy where a hostile ship may jump out from behind the next asteroid at any moment, and turn the hull of your ship into a piece of Swiss Cheese, it made sense to give players some assurances. One such assurance will be an emergency personal life support system.

After going through some possibilities, it was decided that the life support system design should fulfil some simple objectives. Firstly, from a practical perspective it should provide a temporary air supply to the user, but also protect their eyes, nose and ears if their ship becomes depressurised. Secondly, the system should be designed to be wearable at all times, but also wearable with the pilot’s regular clothing. Here was an early sketch of some of the ideas:



The most obvious problem with the above proposals is of course that none of them protect the pilot’s ears. The second concern was that with their various straps and modules they did not look like elegant solutions for life support and would perhaps not be simple enough to activate in a crisis.

The proposal in the top right of the picture did throw up two ideas that the team were keen on though. First of which was the idea of the life support system being a thin film that sticks air-tight to the pilot’s skin at the seams, and second was the idea of a simple button or clip as the release/deployment mechanism. Taking these ideas forward, a wide range of new proposals were drawn up.

 


These refined designs would mean that aesthetically players would have nothing but a few small release catches on their face that would automatically read a lethal change in the atmosphere and deploy protective films over their eyes, ears, nose and eyes. This would then provide players with temporary life support so that they could either evacuate to safety or have time to make some quick life-saving fixes to their ship. At this stage of development all of this is still exploration, but the simplicity of this design is something that the team are extremely keen to explore further.


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Space Stations Thumbnails:

Much like the capital ships and fighters before, the first stage of designing the space stations in Elite: Dangerous was to generate a wide range of thumbnail sketches. In the images below you can see the eclectic mix of ideas that have been proposed so far, some that are completely original and others that will no doubt be familiar to fans of the series:





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Heart of Darkness: The Docking Bays of the Federation Capital Ship

In the most recent Progress Diary from David you may have noticed the image featured below was being used as a backdrop. This image was created to try and help realise from a practical perspective why the Federation’s Capital Ship has this very distinctive valley running through the centre of it.

The main purpose of this valley is to provide additional protection to pilots exiting and entering the docking bays, particularly during encounters such as the one in the picture. This marriage of form and function fits in well with the Federal design principles and also gives the ship a soft point that experienced fighters can aim for.




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Design Discussion- Hyperspace Travel

The second topic to be tackled by the Design Decision Forum was the subject of how Hyperspace travel would work. After several weeks of in-depth discussion, exploring all the different situational factors that might dictate how Hyperspace travel might work, the team finally came up with a full proposal to take forward into the alpha.

Highlights of the Hyperspace design proposal can be seen below, however for a better context of these decisions as well as a much more extensive list of how Hyperspace will work in Elite: Dangerous, check out the full proposal here.

Hyperspace Travel in Elite: Dangerous:

  • Jump distances are limited by several things. Available fuel, the capabilities of your Hyper-drive, and the available locations on your star map.
  • Activity heat maps that detail areas of trade, conflict, piracy, etc can help inform your journey.
  • Multiple-jump journeys can be planned out in advance. Although this comes with its own set of considerations (see the full proposal).
  • Hyper-drives take time to charge, drawing power from the ship’s power plant until fully charged.
  • Hyper-drive charge rates can be slowed by attacks or special modules that target ship systems.
  • A damaged Hyper-drive may malfunction when initiated, causing a mis-jump.
  • Jumps may go through dark systems and rogue bodies, where players may experience a range of interesting encounters, from bumping into other players to discovering unknown locations.
  • Allied players can slave their ships together and jump as a single entity.
  • Ships can attempt to ‘tailgate’ on another player’s jump by targeting the residual opening that is temporarily left behind after a successful jump. This is a risky manoeuvre which can cause damage to your ship and an increased risk of a mis-jump, as the residual opening becomes smaller.


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Elite Fiction- The Long Game, by Michael Brookes

Finally this week, we’d like to introduce a new feature to the newsletter. Each edition we’ll be bringing you a short piece of Elite fiction in the form of a Drabble (a 100 word short-story). This week our very own Michael Brookes, Executive Producer on Elite: Dangerous and writer of the upcoming sequel to ‘The Dark Wheel’ will be doing the honours. We hope you enjoy!

The Long Game, by Michael Brookes
I enjoy waiting. I like being alone out here in the cold of space. The ship is powered down; I don’t want any heat or EM traces revealing my position.

The information I needed to find this ambush point cost me more than I’ll receive from the bounty, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is the kill.

It’s dark in the cockpit, the soft hum the only sound. The blossom of exotic particles reveals the hyperspace entry of an incoming ship.

The computer confirms the target and the ship comes to life. I lock target and fire.

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That does it for this week’s newsletter, thank you again for reading and supporting the development of Elite: Dangerous so far! As I walk around the office and see the amazing work that everyone is doing right now I have no doubt that we will have even bigger and better things to share with you in coming editions. But if there is anything in particular that you’d like to hear more about, then please don’t hesitate to contact me at abarley@frontier.co.uk and we’ll try and find a way to fit it in to a future edition of the newsletter.  

Thanks again,
Ashley



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