For my next randomly* chosen concern over Elite Dangerous I thought I’d have a look at** exploring and scanning.
Let me share with you a wee secret about exploring in Elite Dangerous: it can be a little dull. Shh! don’t tell anyone I said that or I’ll be kicked out of the club, but it’s true. Flying about the galaxy looking at stuff can be a little repetitive and uninteresting because once you’ve seen one class M star and flown through its flare to scoop fuel, well it’s more or less the same the next fifty times you do it. Of course this isn’t the point as if looked at like that everything up to and including breathing could be seen as a dull waste of your time and of course exploring is not about just going out places and ticking them off a list, it’s about risking all to see things no one has seen before and gathering data that you can feed back to the rest of humankind so they can use it to expand and move outwards across the face of the Milky Way! Exploring is about feats of daring do and noble self-sacrifice, damn it! Exploring is for real men (and women!) and don’t let anyone tell you different!
Which is why it’s a shame that exploring in ED is a bit of a dull anti-climax. Given a couple of weeks, some measure of self-restraint and some luck anyone can get across the galactic disk and look back over the thousands of light years to where Earth would be and think “Oh. Well that was easy. Erm. Right then, best head back I suppose…” OK, I’m simplifying it a bit but back when ED was still waiting to launch its Alpha test upon a slathering fan base, some people decided they were going to set up a group of travellers and explorers called The First Great Expedition to plan, resource and execute the first cross galaxy expedition. When the game was launched some bloke got to galactic centre on day one on his own. That’s just not good.
Still, you might argue,there is planetary scanning and that should slow explorers down as they stop to gain detailed planetary scans of the system bodies. Indeed there is, I might counter, and do you know what that looks like in practice? Do you? Well let me tell you…
You jump into an unexplored system and apply the anchors so you are far enough way from the star to target it without cooking and you let the automatic scanner scan the big hot ball of plasma automatically. At the same time you fire up the top of the range scanner you have undoubtedly fitted and a few seconds later it lists every single body in the system. You can then choose the ones that you want to scan and set sail for them to complete a detailed scan of their surfaces. At this point you might think that to obtain a detailed surface scan of a planet you’d have to get pretty close and set up some form of orbit pattern to, oh I don’t know, scan the surface but you’d be wrong. In fact all you have to do is point your nose at it and the automatic scanner scans it automatically for you and from such a great range that many bodies are little more than dots surrounded by targeting circles on the HUD . That’s right folks, to scan the surface of Earth you can sit in your ship somewhere by Mars and wait for the dashboard countdown to finish and baddabing you have obtained a detailed surface scan of the planet.
Now you tell me, is that what you were expecting when you imagined the life of a journeying planetary surveyor, because it sure as hell wasn’t what I was imagining and every time I do it as I jump in between systems I feel like a fraud – a feeling not helped when finding a system marked as wholly unexplored and then discovering there are three stations orbiting bodies in it! Unexplored? Really Frontier? Really? So nobody scanned and recorded these systems before mankind built several stations here on the off chance there were planets to orbit and they weren’t about to explode or whiz off in an erratic orbit or spew forth a horde of flappy bastards with teeth, claws and a liking for human eyeballs and testicles?
Sigh, look, before I do end up ranting here’s what I think they should do to make exploring fun:
1) Make exploring hard – bloody hard! Make ships take lots of wear and tear damage meaning they have to have resources and tools for repairs. Force they to mine asteroids (and then land on planets to gather resources once we can land on planets) to get materials to feed the auto-repair devices. Trying to explore without these should – must – spell certain doom for those foolish enough to try. Exploring should be one of the hardest, harshest, toughest things in the whole bloody game because that’s exactly what exploring is!
2) Make system scanning take time and effort. No more total scans of whole systems – that’s bullshit. Give the scanners a 500ls, 1000ls and 2000ls range and make people travel out to see if they have found everything.
3) Make planetary scans require that the ship orbits the body whilst scanning and add a display in the same place as the cargo scoop display that shows the planet and the area covered by the scan as the ship passes over and only when the entire body has been scanned is the scan complete.
4) Make the data worth something! Complete scans should be worth a lot more than incomplete, first time scans should be worth a lot more than subsequent scans (although they should always be allowed so as to provide funds to future players). Factions and political powers should want this data and they should act on this data.
5) Make the reason for exploring and scanning more than just “because its there” for the simple fact that such a motivation only ever applies to a small number of people. The factions a powers and even the august Universal Cartographics should offer jobs to players to gather this data. Hell there should be a careers path as a planetary surveyor! I would want to be a UC surveyor!
6) And while we are at it – why does the system scanner and the planetary scanner occupy different slots? For the love of all that is holy make the planetary scanner part of the top of the ranger system scanner – it would free up a slot for one thing! Hell, you could combine both in each scanner type but make them both weaker in the lower end ones and better in the high end ones – the system scanner half of the combined unit should getter better in terms of range and smaller body sizes it can find, and the planetary half would offer basic body composition at the lower end up to life and the habitable data at the top end.
As always I should point out I’m really enjoying the game, these issues may well be on the development radar, and I could be wrong (although I don’t think I am, of course :-D) so what do you think?
* The first thing I could remember I wanted to post about – I really should start a list.