Elite: Dangerous Newsletter #21 - From Frontier Developments
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Hi Commander,

Welcome to Elite: Dangerous Newsletter #21!

In this issue we are going even deeper into some of the features you will see in Alpha 4 and we announce the date of the final stage of the Alpha process.

We explain how Alpha 4 manages to deliver the entire galaxy using Cobra, Frontier’s proprietary 64-bit enabled software technology.

We also look at the night sky as seen in Elite: Dangerous and explain the different and dangerous modes of travelling through our vast Galaxy.

Table of Contents (click subject to jump forward):


In-coming - Alpha 4 release date announced

The final stage of the Alpha, Alpha 4 will be released on May 15th and will be followed two weeks later by the first stage of the Premium Beta on May 30th.

“The end of Alpha is now in sight and it is amazing looking back to see how far we have come since the start of the Kickstarter campaign. Support from you all has been fantastic, and input especially from the Design Discussion Forum has been a great help – in fact we are about to deliver one of the features we changed very significantly as a result of discussion on the DDF – ‘super-cruise’. Premium Beta backers already have access to the combat test, and we look forward to welcoming them when the Premium Beta itself starts, and seeing many more people actually playing the game. We couldn’t have done this without your support, which is something we really appreciate.

Thank you!”

David Braben

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Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore…

Lave. Diso. Leesti. Zaonce. The classic systems in the original Elite game evoke fond memories.  Elite was the original ‘open-world’ experience, and one of the very first 3D games. It famously used every byte in the legendary the legendary BBC Micro computer to create 8 ‘galaxies’ using just 22k of program and data memory.  Yes, 22 kilobytes – that’s probably smaller than just about any email you’ll get today.
Crucially, though, it used amazing techniques that allowed a generation of gamers to experience something unique as they carved their own path through a dog-eat-dog, go anywhere, do anything galaxy and worked their way to the most iconic rank in gaming history – Elite. Those techniques were further expanded in Frontier a decade later, fitting an even bigger, richer world into 512k.
And of course, as everyone reading this newsletter knows, with Elite: Dangerous we are taking another huge step for today’s hardware. Detail and accuracy has taken another great leap, but, we have a confession to make: Alpha builds 1, 2 and 3 have all used a ‘skydome’ – a static, painted backdrop around a 64 bit play space roughly 1 light year across. Within that all the planets and stars are still modelled, but the galaxy beyond was not. Until now.
Alpha 4 genuinely contains over 400 billion star systems.  And they are all moving correctly; spinning, orbiting each other in an incredible astronomical ballet. We are also modelling interstellar molecular clouds, and though some of the detail in these (particularly for nebulae) will come after Alpha 4, wherever you are, the ‘night sky’ is accurate. Beyond our galaxy, perhaps surprisingly we do still have a ‘skydome’ - but it is now a staggering 100,000 light years away, containing all the other galaxies, including the Magellanic Clouds. That’s one heck of a draw distance…
If you go to Earth (not available to travel to in Alpha 4 – but you can see Sol in the galactic map), you’ll see our familiar constellations. In fact over 130,000 objects in the night sky – including all stars visible to the naked eye – are modelled. We can even show those joined-up Solar-centric constellations when viewed from elsewhere – which become stretched and distorted due to parallax. Want to travel to Orion’s belt and see what good old Sol looks like from there? Do it.  Or just sit and marvel at the local sunrise (yes all the planets are moving too) over the rings and moons of a gas giant you’ve just found.
To achieve this, we start out with the precise locations all the known stars, exo-planets, celestial bodies and phenomena.  Beyond that, procedural techniques are used in conjunction with real, ‘hard’ physics to model the other hundreds of billions of star systems – the star’s location, type, temperature, chemical compositions, what planetary systems there are, etc.
Each individual aspect of the vast galaxy is also represented with unprecedented visual fidelity, making the most of the latest lighting and ‘physically based rendering’ (PBR) pixel-shader techniques along with procedural algorithms that leverage our talented artists’ efforts.
You can seamlessly go from being pressed up close against an asteroid, thermal systems ‘buttoned down’ as you stalk your prey, to super-cruising at super-luminal speeds through a system to travelling through hyperspace across light years of galaxy.
And then there is the networking traffic which communicates the location, velocity and status of your and other players’ ship, bullets, missiles, lasers, heat-sinks, shields, current thermal profile, cargo, and of course all the AIs etc.
The sheer, raw scale of the galaxy means that even being able to accurately represent the position and vast scale of planetary objects, asteroids, ships, missiles and so on is a huge challenge in itself, requiring the use of very high numeric precision. The 32 bit tools and technology of the previous generation of computers and engines is simply not up to the job.
Being able to compute everything we need to, from the motions of those 400 billion star systems worth of stars, planets, moons, rings and asteroid fields, to the lazy whorls in a gas giant’s atmosphere and the precise self-shadowing surface detail of that small asteroid you are currently hiding behind, is a similarly Herculean task.  As is fully communicating all the necessary information between players.

Elite: Dangerous has been created using Frontier’s proprietary Cobra software technology (yes, named after the Mk III  - check out the snake’s head), which has some unique features that make this all possible. Cobra has been constantly evolved and honed to keep pushing the cutting edge over many game titles and hardware generations. It is fully 64 bit, message based and designed to take full advantage of today’s (and tomorrow’s) multi-core architectures. It has already been used to deliver an extremely wide range of games at Frontier and throughout we have been improving and honing its capabilities – it’s almost as if we have been carefully planning towards Elite: Dangerous for many years... :)

In short, this means that Elite: Dangerous squeezes every last drop of performance out of today’s (and tomorrow’s) cutting edge multi-core CPUs and GPUs from AMD, ARM, Intel and NVidia, all in the service of delivering you an absolutely unique, unforgettable experience.

Just like the original Elite did in its day, in fact.

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Peek of the Week

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Alpha 4: Boötes Camp

Alpha 4 sets you free in a 200 cubic light year volume of space in the Milky Way galaxy, far from Earth.
In fact, it's centered around the Boötes constellation. Tonight, look up and find Ursa Major / The Great Bear / Big Dipper/ 牧夫座(mù fū zuò) in the night sky.  Boötes is just to the ‘left’. In a few weeks you can go there.. No ‘maps’ or ‘levels’ here – in Alpha 4, you’re going into space.
Source; Microsoft:

In Elite: Dangerous we use standard stellar classifications, as shown in this Hertzsprung-Russell diagram (reproduced here under a Creative Commons license) which plots absolute magnitude (MV) against spectral type:
Alpha 4 is a fascinating place, and gives a taster of the delights in store in this fantastic galaxy of ours. There are five star systems: Eranin (a K3V main sequence star), Dahan (a K5D star), i Boötis (an amazing quaternary system including a rare contact binary pair and a brown dwarf), Assellus Primus (an F7V star) and LP 98-132 (a diminutive M2V red dwarf). This is just a sample of what’s to come…!

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The Need for Speed

Hopefully the details on Alpha 4 and some of the stars in the Boötes constellation have whetted your appetite for exploration.  Even if not, you’ll certainly want to trade between the systems to earn credits, as we described in the last newsletter.
But how do you get around, did I hear you say? Glad you asked! There are three modes of travel:
Conventional drives are used to manoeuvre a ship up to around 500 metres per second (just over a thousand miles per hour). Combat, docking and most other activities use this form of propulsion.
Frame Shift Drives (FSD) or ‘super-cruise’ – for which incidentally we owe a big debt of gratitude to our Design Decision Forum contributors – is a drive that warps space-time locally around the ship. Acceleration to superluminal speeds is possible by effectively appearing to shrink space around you. This allows us to have super-high accelerations without turning pilots into a mush on the back wall of the cockpit…  We refer to this mode of travel as ’super-cruise’. It allows you to free-form travel the real distances within a star system (and between them if you really want – though it will still take an inordinate time) without taking up your whole evening (or weekend... or month!).
Earn enough credits and you’ll be able to upgrade your FSD with an extra unit that gives it an upgraded warp capability to perform full hyperspace jumps to span the massive distances between different star systems.
Of course, there are tradeoffs. The additional mass and energy demands of the FSD compromise your ultimate level of agility and performance in a dog-fight against someone who is loaded out without one. But you can console yourself that you can explore the system, mine and trade and maybe have bigger and better weapons. The situation, both positive and negative, is further exacerbated if you opt for the additional capability and mass of a hyperspace-capable drive.
As you set your destination, you also need to be aware of mass-locking. This effect is already present in an early form in Alpha 3, whereby you can’t jump to any of the scenarios if you are too close to any large structure.
A hyperspace jump cannot be engaged by a ship that is too close to a massive body, whether space port, moon, planet or star. You’ll need to use your conventional drives to put some distance between you and it to escape the mass-lock effect.
After a significant charge-up period your ship’s hyperspace drive warps space-time and you travel almost instantaneously to the primary star of the destination system, whereupon you are spat out of hyperspace at super-cruise speeds, kicking out an extraordinary amount of heat; this announces your arrival in no uncertain terms to anyone who may be glancing at their scanner.
When already in super-cruise, the drive charges up much faster than for a hyperspace jump.
An FSD can also be targeted and attacked and may malfunction, temporarily preventing its use. You can purchase and fit various different FSD modules, with different fuel consumption, range, speed, control and charge time performance envelopes.
The theoretical speed limit whist super-cruising is two thousand times the speed of light, but in practice journeys will likely not see your ship travelling more than tens of times the speed of light. Top speed varies during a journey, being affected by the proximity to the mass of nearby stellar bodies. This prevents a ship from accelerating past an upper speed threshold, and imposes a temporary localized slowing effect as you can feel the effect of mass-locking starting to kick in, which also helps smooth your arrival.
You can drop out of super-cruise at any time, though your ship will suffer dangerous and debilitating effects if you drop out whilst travelling too fast (temporary loss of control, damage, etc.); such an event is called a crash-drop. Flying too close, too fast to a stellar body or phenomena can also cause a crash- drop. In extreme cases (e.g. flying towards a planet at hundreds of times the speed of light) the ship may suffer catastrophic damage when it emergency-drops out of super-cruise.
Depending on where you are and what you have been and are doing, no two super-cruise journeys will be the same. If fitted with a suitable module, aggressors can interdict you by targeting your FSD and pulling you out of super-cruise. Or you may detect an intriguing signature on your journey yourself that you decide to explore and exploit. Both aggressor and the target are dragged out of super cruise, back to normal space near to each other. Interdiction attacks can also purposefully (or inadvertently) drag nearby vessels into the engagement, creating the potential for tactical formation flying in super-cruise.
As we begin to roll out beta releases, there will be an increasing variety of ‘passive’ events, NPC/phenomena and player-to-player interdiction.
Watch this space for more details… and bon voyage!

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Start Playing Today! 

Premium Beta Access
Premium Beta players can play TODAY! The countdown to the first full Premium Beta build has officially started now we have reached the month of May – T-minus 28 days to go!

You can immediately download and play a Single Player Combat build today before the end of May, so you can start practicing your Sidewinder skills.

Don’t forget you can upgrade from your current purchase to Premium Beta – just checkout with the Premium Beta in your shopping car and the correct discount will automatically be applied.

Join the Premium Beta Here!

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Comms Chatter 

– Forum user Gwenydd has been making a metal 1:44 scale model of a Cobra, complete with LED lighting and a tiny cockpit! Follow this thread, where there are loads of pictures charting his progress: Gwenydd’s Cobra MKIII metal scale model

 – Community member Flak has created a comprehensive guide to using Voice Attack with ED. This allows players to activate in-game controls using voice commands, which when seen in action is pretty cool. Here is a video example of how you can use Voice Attack with ED.

– We also have another Meet the Team Interview with Jon Bottone, Assistant Art Director, on Elite: Dangerous coming up soon! Keep posting your questions on the forum.

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Mostly Harmless Questions

In the Private Backers forum we have a thread where you can pose questions for the development team. Here are a couple of selected questions with answers from Executive Producer Michael Brookes.

SzaryWilk: How many commodities will be in Elite Dangerous ??
  • We’re still refining the design, at the moment we’re testing with around 100 different core commodities, with other specialised ones based off them. Such spaecialist or ‘rares’  are a separate type of tradable item (‘Lavian Brandy’ for example). We’ve seen the recent plea for tea and it looks like we might be adding that to the list.
Brodie: Apart from freight and possibly ammo will ship components such as rare weapons or engines drop or be salvageable from destroyed NPC ships?
  • Currently the design is that you can salvage raw materials and data from derelict ships. An idea we’re considering is that enhancement technology from specific weapons and modules can provide temporary augmentations for your equipment.
Jant: How much freedom will there be to customise our ships from a purely aesthetic standpoint (like different cockpits, paint jobs, etc)?
  • The intention is to support as wide a range of customisation as possible, we’re still working out some of the details but support for skins and decals is certain, ways to customise your cockpit are also something we’re interested in. This can be expanded further when we expand the game to allow walking around ships and stations, not only with the ship but the player’s avatar as well. In other words – yes, leather upholstery is on the cards!

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Available Now!

Elite: Dangerous keyrings and badges are now available on our store!

Stay in the game where ever you go with a discrete but detailed Elite: Dangerous pin badge.

Is your other car a Cobra? Check out the Elite: Dangerous key ring, which is perfect for keeping all your keys together, whatever the vehicle! No Elite: Dangerous fan should be without!

The first three official ELITE: DANGEROUS novels are out in just a couple of weeks in eBook, and are available for preorder now. Gollancz’s three titles will be published as hardbacks later in the year. The eBooks will be available from May 15th worldwide. There’s lots more information – including extracts – on the Elite Fiction forum.
ELITE: NEMORENSIS, by Simon Spurrier
eBook preorder: Amazon UK ,  Amazon US , Apple UK , Hive UK – support your local bookshop!
Hardback preorder: Amazon UK, Amazon US

eBook preorder: Amazon UK , Amazon US, Apple UK , Hive UK – support your local bookshop!
Hardback preorder: Amazon UK, Amazon US

ELITE: WANTED, by Gavin Deas
eBook preorder:
Amazon UK , Amazon USApple UK , Hive UK – support your local bookshop!
Hardback preorder: Amazon UK, Amazon US

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That’s it for newsletter #21 - thank you again for reading and supporting the development of Elite: Dangerous so far!

If you are new to the newsletters you can read all our previous newsletters here

As always if there is anything in particular that you’d like to hear more about, or ask a question, then please contact us at
The Frontier Team
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