Elite Dangerous: A Burro muses on the boredom of exploration in 1.0

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?


This is exploring the exciting way…


…whilst this is not. Can you spot the 8 subtle differences?

* The first thing I could remember I wanted to post about – I really should start a list.

** Rant.



  1. I understand where you are coming from, but your solutions are far from perfect. Exploration at the moment is terribly dull, mostly since almost anything you can find out there is auto-created and somehow “all the same”.

    But let’s take a look at your solutions:

    1. Making it hard by wear and tear doesn’t do anything but making it less interesting. I mean, every ship is hit by wear and tear, no matter if you fly around as trader or explore far away. But if you then don’t want to kill the complete playerbase, you again have to provide general methods of compensating for it. Back to square one.

    My line of thought would rather be: jumping blindly into a system where no human ever was before is hell of dangerous. No nav beacon, no information at all, you might jump right into a planetoid circling the sun and be shattered seconds after leaving hyperspace. Of course, i don’t propagate some random mechanic like “5% chance to auto-die when jumping into an unexplored system”.

    One thing which on the other hand could be done would be a “long range observation” required for a target system before you can jump to it. And actually for a save trip, you would not only need to observe it from one system but from several systems within a certain range, so you can progress to that next system.

    This way you could not simply “jump-jump-jump” and be lightyears in unknown area, but would rather have to push the boarder forward by scanning from several systems.

    Unfortunately while exploring would now be much harder and time intensive, it would be no bit more interesting.

    2. Yes, that would make scanning more cumbersome. Would it make it more fun? I don’t think so.

    3. Again, cumbersome and time consuming, but not making it more interesting in my eyes.

    4. I agree here. It would still be mostly “all the same space, just a new name of the star”, but at least it could be worth doing.

    5. Yea! That thing is a good start! Exploration missons, a progression path and in the run of time more and more curiosities hidden out in the unknown.

    When i watch youtube and find that somebody found something interesting, it’s always in frequently visited systems. From a developers eceonomical point of view this is absolutely reasonable. I mean, why invest time and effort for a curiosity 2000 light years away, which one player might once see in two years, if you can rather put something in which many players can see and enjoy? But if exploration missions “guide” players to interesting spots, creating them suddenly becomes much more viable from an economical point of view.

    6. Hmm, i am indifferent here. I mean, if you sacrifice your cargo space (which an explorer doesn’t really need), any ship which can be equipped with a reasonable jump range can also fit in everything you need for exploration. (I consider the Cobra MK III the minimum for exploration due to the jump range. )

    For my “allround trader”, where i scan systems on the go, when moving to a new trading destination and just passing a system i never visited before, your suggestion would be a great improvement. For a dedicated exploration ship, on the other hand, the slot limitation should not be the big problem, i think. (I can’t tell for sure, i am not a dedicated explorer, i might also be completely wrong here. )

    1. Hi Sylow – thanks for your thoughts on this 🙂

      1) I like the idea of scouting out an area first. I’m not really into making exploring super hard for no reason just as I’m not into slowing people down for an artificial grid, but when someone in a sidewinder can zoom across the galaxy then something seems wrong to me. That would be the equivalent of a speed boat circumnavigating the Earth; unlikely 🙂 True it *could* be done but it would be hugely hard and dangerous and I don’t get that feeling in ED. What I really want from exploring in ED is for it to feel special – if climbing Everest was easy then it wouldn’t be special 🙂

      2 & 3) I’ve seen comments over on the Google+community for ED that deeper planetary scans are planned for future releases so this might one day be “fixed” but right now scanning is too quick and far too divorced from the objects – it’s a chore of menu clicking rather than a skilled task, which is what Frontier wanted all of their ‘mini games’ to be (landing, scooping cargo, interdiction). Scanning feels like cheating.

      The bottom line for me is that when something should take a dedicated effort of will to achieve but is then done with such ease that a kids could do it, then something rich and rewarding is lost from the experience.

      1. I understand you quite well. But for me the current problem with exploration is not that it’s too easy. It just is not interesting at all. Making it financially more rewarding is not the solution, moneymaking is best stored on the more economy oriented professions of trade and piracy, along with some bounty hunting for good measure.

        The reward for exploration should rather be the feeling to find something new and special, but the current procedural content creation results in “all the same, all over the world”. Unfortunately filling billions of worlds with manually created content to make exploration really interesting might be a little more work than their team can do, so i don’t see a quick fix for this problem. 😦

      2. And on the Sidwinder doing exploration: yes, it is possible, but it even with current mechanics seems like a bad idea to me. I am not sure if higher quality scanners can be fit into it. The fuel scoop it can mount is sufficient but with the scanners along the ship is full. There’s no backup systems and then you crawl through the galaxy with your rather short jump range.

        It is possible, but i really would not do it. The Cobra MK III with Type A FSD for good jump range would be the minimum in my eyes for starting any exploration.

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