When I spoke to Elite Dangerous’ devs at this year’s Frontier Expo 2017, the company’s first fan expo, they admitted that communication went dark for a time. But it wasn’t for any worry-worthy reason: No, it was because the devs were preparing for Beyond, the big update road map for 2018 that was revealed on stage at the con. And what a reveal it was! The crowd was quite excited about the announced features spanning four updates throughout the year, including squadrons, fleet carrier ships, a codex, new ships, improved mining, revamped planetary graphics, and more. As Lead Designer Sandro Sammarco said, “Elite is an ongoing project. It’s not finishing any time soon.”
Along with the big news reveal, I also spoke with Chief Creative Officer Jonny Watts and Producer Adam Woods about these updates that focus on three areas — core game, narrative, and new features. This is what I learned.
Anyone remotely worried that Elite Dangerous is “done” can breathe a sigh or two of relief. Watts told me that the team has a long, long conceptual road map of plans that could stretch into decades if it includes everything. Of course, he cautioned, anything too far out is simply an outline or thought; any and all development up until that time could alter the details or even feasibility of said plans. But the closer the time frame, the better fleshed out the road map is. And 2018 is admittedly pretty close.
Players have four main updates to look forward to during 2018. Collectively called Beyond, Q1 and Q4 have very significant expansion-esque updates, and two smaller ones fall in between. Q1 will focus on a number of quality of life improvements to core gameplay, expand the narrative, and add new features. The non-exhaustive list includes making sure engineering upgrades always turn out better that what players have, giving system authority ships “more teeth and tactics to much better support the concept of consequences and criminality across human space,” and access to much better trade data. Additionally, challenging wing missions will be introduced. Expect even more and more details revealed over time.
Things won’t end there. During the year the two smaller content updates will roll out, not the least of which is new ships and even more narrative. Devs emphasized that there are many ways that players can and will participate in the various narrative threads, and one focus of Beyond will be continuing the Guardians narrative thread. Sammarco explained on stage, “When we’re talking about narrative, we’re talking not about just words, we’re talking about experiences, we’re talking about people engaging in groups — having CGs, going out there hunting, working together, uncovering things.” One of the great things being added into this global narrative progression is a personal narrative progression. The devs teased a few images of items that players could be unlocking as their personal progression unfolds, but didn’t explain anything about their purpose; players will discover that later.
Did you think that would be the end of it? Nope. Galnet news will be voiced with Galnet audio, enabling players to listen to it as they traverse the universe. More new ships will also be involved, “a lot more ships” according to the devs (Alliance ships, plural, was noted, eliciting excitement from the audience.). FX17 attendees (and those viewing via Twitch at home) got to see a sneak peak of the Chieftain and Krait ship concepts.
The big 2018 finale
Coming at the end of next year, the Q4 update may understandably not be quite as fleshed out as the first update but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a boatload of content goodness included. On stage, devs described it as the biggest update of the year.
A very exciting feature is the implementation of squadrons. Basically large clans/guilds, these will bring enhanced communication options for groups. Folks will be able to modify the structure and management of squadrons. More than that, squadrons will be able to purchase fleet carriers, massive dockable ships that will be mobile bases of operations. Squadrons will be able to dock and refuel, respawn, and rearm.
As perhaps one of the most fascinating and enticing new features to me, I spoke with Sammarco and Woods to learn more details about fleet carriers. Sammarco indicated that the idea is that squadrons could encompass hundreds of players, and that fleet carriers will be able to support all those ships. So we’re talking about a massive ship! Could these carriers be self-sufficient, allowing a group of explorers to just continually push out into space? Possibly. Could there be smaller versions for smaller groups? That’s an idea. But devs don’t know the answers yet.
Much of the development depends on what the community wants. Everyone emphasized that the details are just getting hammered out and it will be a joint venture with the community; community input is crucial. “It’s all about giving players the tools that they want so they can enjoy the game as much as possible,” Sammarco said. Even though there are bound to be restrictions and development barriers/technical challenges, Woods added that it is a tool for the groups and they want to make sure to get it right.
I even asked whether Frontier has a plan for making sure to get full community feedback for these things and not just the “vocal minority” that tends to represent loudly on forums and such. Woods admitted, “I think it’s going to be a challenge to make sure we do get the right medium of feedback. There are ways like with the ship transfer where we went a step further and actually actively mailed out to people because we knew it would affect so many people.” Woods also emphasized that the devs work very closely with their community team that knows players very well. “Together I think we can come up with a good idea on how to get a good response from the players,” he said.Q4 also has an art target of improved planet graphics. This includes not just a more color variations and better lighting model but also more details — details such as dramatic detailed topography to “make the environments much more compelling to navigate.” Additionally devs will be working to implement localized ambient effects like fog and vapor to increase depth. The frozen landscape image above is concept art that demonstrates the target devs are aiming for this update.
All this additional beauty sounds great, but even better for an explorer-at-heart like yours truly is that the beauty will extend out well beyond known space; a plethora of new anomalies and phenomenon will be out there waiting to be discovered and experienced. A new feature called the codex will compliment exploration, logging players’ discoveries. Beyond just recording, the codex will offer players more details of their discoveries as well as provide hints as to what else they could possibly find out in the black.
On top of all this, mining will be receiving love and attention, fleshing the feature out with better detecting and extracting methods and tools and more get situational experiences to elicit more of a wild west prospecting feel. Imaging finding a mother load! In all it will be a more “fully fledged feature that players can aspire to progress through.”
As huge as all this is, this list of features for the year is nowhere near complete! Players can expect to learn more with even more details as the updates get closer, so be sure to stay tuned to MOP to keep up-to-date on the Beyond series of updates that will all be completely free to Horizons’ players.