Elite: Dangerous Newsletter #9- From Frontier Developments
Hi Commander,

Welcome to the 9th Elite: Dangerous newsletter! The galaxy Elite: Dangerous is set in will be vast, with billions of stars and orbital bodies to explore. In this newsletter we will share with you some of the challenges and solutions that the design team, artists and programmers are facing to make a game world that will be truly colossal in scale. With that said, here is this week’s list of galactic features!

Table of Contents (click subject to jump forward):

The Hitchhiker’s Guide: Developing the Galaxy Map

One challenge of having a game world as huge as ours is providing players with the right tools to effectively navigate it. For Elite: Dangerous this does not mean simply knowing that Planet-A is called X and Station-B is named Y; it is about providing players with a wealth of information that can help inform their game play, whether they’re looking at an entire sector or a single remote station. With this in mind, the design team summarised their intentions for the galaxy map with the following set of goals:
  • Provide the player with understanding of their current location
  • Provide useful information to enable the player to make interesting decisions
  • Encourage the player to visit new locations
  • Easy to use
  • Be a fun tool for exploring the scope of the galaxy
  • To be used to ‘print’ the night sky skybox on arrival in a system
  • To provide a compelling backdrop for interstellar travel

The image above is the work station of Chris Gregory, the art director for Elite: Dangerous, who is leading the visual design of the galaxy map. There are four map states that players will be able to move seamlessly through, ranging from a view of the entire galaxy down to a single station or orbital body:
  1. Galaxy View: view key landmark systems and celestial objects, as well as factional space and other points of interest.
  2. Sector View: Displayed in the image above; individual sectors of 10 x 10 x 10 light years in size can be searched for by their coordinates and viewed.
  3. Orrery View: Each star system can be viewed as an orrery, clearly displaying every orbital body’s relative position to their star.
  4. Single-Mass View: Each singular mass can be viewed individually and will display a wealth of information relevant to the player. This could range from the natural resources present on a planet or moon, to the factional allegiance and available markets of a particular station.

The image above represents our current development for the Orrery View, however David keenly noted that the comet trail from Thais is pointing the incorrect way to be scientifically accurate, so there are still some amendments to be made! The map is designed to be as information rich as possible, providing players with a range of various views, filters and search options that can be configured to their own play style. To help illustrate the flexibility that it will give players, the design team came up with the following hypothetical scenarios:
  1. I want to plot a hyperspace course: Generate an automatic course to your destination using the 'quickest route' or 'safest route' parameters, or manually plot each stage of your jump coordinates yourself.
  2. Search by name for a system, planet or station: Type the target name into the search box
  3. I have a cargo hold full of beans that I need to sell: Activate the trading data filter and set it to highlight non-agricultural systems. If your cargo is small, perhaps select a small/low traffic system where prices are likely to be highest, and plot your course.
  4. I am a bounty hunter looking for new targets: Set the filters to highlight high piracy and low security level, and then head to such a system.
A lot of development has already gone into making the galaxy map as useful a tool as possible for players, whatever their role. The current design proposal is full of additional information on how the galaxy map will work, so head over to our forum for the full design summary.

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"We don't need the whole universe, just the Milky Way."

Igor Terentjev is the lead programmer on Elite: Dangerous and one of the people that were working secretly on the project, long before the idea of running a Kickstarter campaign was even suggested. As lead programmer the colossal task of procedurally generating an entire galaxy fell on his shoulders, here is his own account as to how he went about it.

 "We don't need the whole universe, just the Milky Way." Where to start?

When deciding how to create the galaxy, both to be fun and as realistic as we can make it there are a number of substantial challenges that need to be overcome. First and foremost of these is the simple technological issue of how to represent efficiently something the size and scope of the Milky Way.

400 billion stars - that's a large number; and they need to be generated on demand, quickly. And they need to look right. We start with a density map of the Milky Way spiral – something we try and match up to real life data as best we can, and this results in an approximate amount of mass in each sector. We then use a sector's address to seed the random star generator. Some stars are big and rare - too big and rare to be generated in a 10LY cube, so we need a hierarchy of sectors, 8 layers deep. But we got there - one Milky Way, sir, just like you imagined.

The second problem is the realism of what is generated. It is fairly simple to pluck random numbers from a seed, but these need to distribute in such a way as to make the galaxy genuinely representative of what's there in real life. Generating a properly distributed single value of nebula mass required some extensive research into modern thinking on Initial Mass Functions. This tells us the mass at which a star enters the main sequence and begins hydrogen fusion.

My task was to design a series of processes that would generate the properties of stars, which would present a realistic galaxy. There are physically understood relationships that link the original mass and composition of a star-birthing nebula, the mass of a star, its size, temperature, brightness, colour, lifetime, and what the fate of the star will be once it runs out of hydrogen in its core to fuse. It was challenging to design an efficient on-the-fly process to take a single input, an amount of nebula mass, and create values for every other parameter, but it was also enjoyable to dig through astrophysics textbooks and papers to refresh memories from University. It was satisfying to see the testing tool I created to examine the results of my random generation processes outputting scientifically sound distributions of the parameters mentioned above.

And it's not simply stars. There are many other interesting phenomena in the galaxy, all of which we want to account for. Bright nebulae left over after a super-nova event and the residual neutron star, black holes are just a few examples. This of course leads into the final challenge which is building the systems surrounding the star systems in the galaxy.

What I found interesting was the star system generation, as procedural generation has been a topic of interest to me for a while because I love the idea that I can create an algorithm and still be surprised by some of the results it produces. The most challenging part of this was researching the current theories on how the stars and planets form and then trying to translate those theories into a simple algorithm that can quickly generate realistic looking star systems.

Of equal importance to plausible looking systems was to arrange the algorithms so that they respect physical laws. A nice example of this is the Roche Limit or Radius... As a body approaches the Roche limit of its parent object (for example as a moon approaches a planet) it gradually loses its spherical shape, and suffers massive tidal heating. Once it passes inside that limit it disintegrates and instead of a planet or moon you end up with ring system(s).

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The Pointy End: Developing Ship Weaponry

Only the most naive of pilots would consider exploring the vast expanse of space without sufficient weaponry to defend themselves. In Elite: Dangerous we plan to give players a range of different tools to dispatch their fellow travellers, so that even the smallest ship will be able to pack a punch.

Whilst weaponry will no doubt provide the topic for a future newsletter, we thought we would provide you a quick preview of some of the visual development that has already taken place. The image below is a 3D render of one such weapon that will be available for players to buy and equip.

This model was made by one of the newest members to the Elite development team, graduate artist Joe Neville. We look forward to sharing more of Joe’s work with you, as well as all the details of how weaponry will be bought, equipped, and utilised in the future! 

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Takes Care of Business: The F63 Condor

In previous newsletters we have shared with you the designs for both the Imperial and Federation short-range fighters. Since then the Federation Fighter has undergone a lot of development to take that early concept images and create a fully functional model for the final game. We have also given it a name; the F63 Condor.

We have also created the following schematic for the F63 Condor, as well as updating the schematics for the Empire Fighter and Sidewinder. We intend to eventually release these for every ship so look out for them in future newsletters!

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Elite Fiction: Crowd Chronicles

If you enjoy fan fiction and think you have a gripping short story in you, then one of the writers pack pledges is giving you the chance to write a piece of official Elite canon! Elite Chronicles, created by Lin Chen, is a Writer’s Pack project that will be composed entirely of short stories written and selected by the community.

If you have a story you would like to tell in the Elite universe, or would just like to contribute to the review process, then head over to to get involved now!

- Elsewhere in the Elite galaxy, we have sorted through all the questions put to us by the community to find some galaxy-related questions to pitch to David on your behalf. Here are the answers to three of them:

Cathy: Are there any secret societies, chivalric orders or the like planned for the Elite universe?

Yes, secretive, certainly (which includes the Pilot’s Federation), and some only known to their members. There will be all sorts of illegal activities – even trading in illegal goods will require you to know someone who you can deal with, who is prepared to trust you – accessed through the mission structure.

Slawkenbergius: What will the political map of the galaxy look like?

Most (ie more than 99%) of the galaxy is unexplored at the start of the game. That is not to say that there is no politics there… Human politics is dominated by the three main powers. The Federation, based in the Solar system, The Empire, based in the Achenar system, and The Alliance, based in the Alioth system. In addition there are numerous independent worlds, and many powerful corporations, which are far more powerful than any single independent world, and a few might even challenge the big powers.

Andrew Sayers: The Outer Space Treaty declares space to be part of the common heritage of mankind. How did that treaty break down? Did the Americans decide the flag on the moon was a land claim after all? Did kids run off with it and cause an interplanetary incident?

The treaty didn’t so much break down; it was simply ignored. As industry moved into space and started manufacturing there, people started living there, people started misbehaving up there, and pretty quickly jurisdictions began to be established. Initially using extensions of the laws of the sea for ships or planes in international waters/air space (where the jurisdiction that applies is the jurisdiction of the registered flag of a ship/plane), but pretty soon people started laying claim to asteroids, and then claims to land on planets and moons, or more particularly to their mineral rights, as ever more sophisticated automated mining techniques emerged.

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Comms Chatter: The Cake was not a Lie

The biggest happening in the community since the last newsletter was of course the first ever LAVECON, which took place last weekend. The event held by community podcast Lave Radio hosted panels with the Lave Radio team themselves, several of the Elite fiction writers, as well as our very own Michael Brookes. The fantastic cake in the above picture, featuring David, Michael and a Coriolis Station was made by forum member Void Sun and was no doubt enjoyed by all those that attended!

Videos of all of the panels, as well as a special episode of Lave Radio- recorded live at the event, will be available soon at  Congratulations to the Lave Radio team for putting on a successful event, as well as all those fans that made the trip. Hopefully it will be one of many community events to come!

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That’s it for another newsletter, thank you once more for taking the time to read it. With the forums being more active than ever before and fan-organised events like LAVECON being a huge success, we’re continually humbled by the fantastic support we receive from our fan base and look forward to watching our community continue to thrive in the coming months and years. In the mean time, we look forward to sharing even more of the game’ development with you as we inch ever-closer to release!

Thanks, Ashley
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