Elite: Dangerous – The Other Space Sim

By now I’ve spent kind of a lot of time talking about Star Citizen. And to be honest, there’s a lot to talk about: good and bad. It’s an interesting, ambitious project by a respected industry veteran and the (hopefully) triumphant return of said veteran after a decade of absence. It’s shown off some truly fascinating art and aims to be a top-end game, pushing the limits of technology. It also presently has $48million in crowdsourced funding, which is both enough to build a hell of a game if spent wisely, and also indicative of the enthusiasm for the game. But there are definite downsides to the game as well. They’ve missed literally every official deadline at this point, sometimes just by a couple days, more often by weeks or months, though they are eventually getting things released. The enthusiastic crowd seems to have created a sense of entitlement that has resulted in the most breathtakingly toxic game forums I’ve ever participated in which is seemingly encouraged by a very ineffective Community Manager. And there’s a huge amount of talk about just how ambitious is too ambitious, because the full list of features is properly insane.

Funny thing, though. At the same time that Star Citizen was getting its crowd funding going, another game did as well: a sequel to a venerable game series that was also a space sim in the same vein as SC and its ancient predecessors, also by a respected, if less well known, industry vet. It made its modest crowd funding goals, has built a very good looking yet not bleeding edge game which has made almost all of its deadlines and is already far, far more playable than the pre-alpha Star Citizen. This game would be Elite: Dangerous.

A small amount of history is needed here. Elite was originally a very early wireframe-3D game from 1984. You’d fly about in your ship that was literally just a polygon in space, buy and sell cargo, shoot up some pirates or whatnot, and that was that. It had a couple of successful and slightly prettier sequels, Elite: Frontier and Elite: First Encounters, both from the mid-90s. The same mid-90s where the creator of Star Citizen made his fame working on Wing Commander, and the similarly-themed-as-Elite Privateer, which remains my favorite game to this day. So here again we have a return to a very old school idea, with modern technology and methodology.

So needless to say, there’s some rivalry going on here. Not between the games or developers themselves, mind you, but between the fans of the games. Star Citizen fans say it will be more ambitious and prettier (true) and that people who play Elite are traitors and the game shouldn’t be spoken about (there’s that toxic forum thing again). Elite fans point out that hey, you can actually already play this (also true), and it’s still damn pretty, and fun. Ergo, I decided to buy in and try Elite.

And oh wow, have I been missing out.

The premise is the same as the old days. You have a basic ship, you buy, sell, trade between space stations (and eventually planets, it’s still in beta), and go shoot up bad guys. You do this to buy better ships and equipment, so you can do a better job of trading etc. The idea here though was that it’d also be a multiplayer universe, which it already is, and working pretty well. The game, in spite of just being beta and missing a lot of its content, is not only completely playable in a stable manner, but is already looking very polished. Updates are frequent, bug fixes keep rolling, and new content gets dumped in on a pretty regular schedule.

The number of systems you can usefully visit is still very small, because beta, but it proves out the interaction and economy between those systems. Adding more is as simple as dumping in the new assets and updating the map: the core gameplay is already mostly there. And it’s kind of astonishing to think that in the same amount of time it’s taken Star Citizen to choke out a basic arena-based combat game, Elite has been able to build the persistent universe it will thrive on, with fluid controls and a pretty strong UI (Star Citizen’s is notable in its UI for being atrocious though they are re-working it… it wasn’t the priority when they were rushing to meet the deadline for the arena release).

And is Elite pretty? Take a look at this shot, which was taken as I rocked up to one of the space station docking ports. Yes, upside-down, you may notice. The whole station rotates so you have to try to align with the gate any way you can. This then makes docking on the interior of the station slightly tricky. But, it has to be said, also quite fun.

EliteDangerous-2014-08-01-09-56-29-993 EliteDangerous-2014-08-01-09-56-54-917 EliteDangerous-2014-08-01-09-57-00-804


In spite of being “less advanced”, it sure is a damned pretty game. And with a lot of attention to detail as well: you can kind of see the floating holographic billboards outside of the space dock which rotate in time with the station. Adds a lot of flair to it all. I’d recorded a video as well of the jump-drive sequence but it didn’t turn out well, I may reattempt that at some point (for some reason my video recording software has been giving me super poor framerates lately, gotta figure that out).

So, better than SC? Well neither’s done so it’s hard to say, but damned if I’m not going to be having a lot of fun with E:D as I watch Star Citizen’s deadlines go whooshing by.

Update: Got my video issue worked out. Here’s a simple video of me getting docked at the start of the game, with some appropriate music.

[vimeo 102349182 w=500 h=275]

Docking in Elite: Dangerous from Iridium on Vimeo.