Elite Dangerous: A Burro drones on about drones (arf arf, see what I did there?)

Now bear with me as I take you on another wee flight of fancy to illustrate a point but imagine you walked into a computer game shop to buy a new game and the conversation went something like this…

You: Hello shopkeep, I would like to purchase a copy of GTA X, please!

SK: Of course, that’ll be £1,000, sir.

You: *splutter* What the chuff? A grand! A GRAND!

SK: Yup, £1,000 for the game computer. And another £40 for the game source data.

You: Oh! Ah, the computer… No, I just want the game.

SK: Yup, the game computer. You buy the game computer and the data.

You: What?

SK: It’s simple. All games now use the same resources and therefore come on a single data source but the computer is what decides exactly what game will be played.

You: But… that’s insane!

SK: You’ll need a new table too…

You: Fu…

Erm, I’ll leave it there but suffice to say if that happened you’d think the world has gone mad and yet that’s exactly how drones work in Elite Dangerous – you buy multi-use drones that each take up exactly 1 ton of relatively valuable cargo space and then use up a far more valuable module slot with a use-specific controller unit and that means if you want to use two types of drone (why have two? ohhh I don’t know, if say you’re prospecting and also want to collect maybe) you’re going to have to sacrifice two module slots. Why? Why does a drone need a new controller? It’s madness! The controller should be universal and it should be the drones that are specialised – not only does that make logical sense (why would a fuel drone be the same machine as a prospecting drone? And what if they ever introduce repair drones?) but it makes better play-sense too as it frees up module slots allowing greater flexibility of ship use.

If you ask me (let’s all pretend you did) I think the decision taken is possibly due to Frontier needing cash sinks in the game (due to a flawed economic model, but that’s got another post) and also to give players a path through the shipyard. The problem is I don’t want a path through the shipyard. I want to play in a sandbox and I want as much flexibility as possible which means I want to make better use of the (arbitrary) module slots on each ship I fly so I can play the way I want to.

So, in summary, the number of controllers is too damn high. Thank you.


Too many damn controllers!



  1. While i agree with the a lot of the criticism you do, i think in this case you are barking up the wrong tree. But let’s first do a short glimpse at the mentioned money sinks: FC indeed tried to bring one money sink in there by a tiny 10% loss for selling used modules. The community successfully cried this away. Of course, this is all for realism, after all i could easily sell my 5 year old car for the price of a new car, too. (Not sorry for the sarcasm. )

    But while E:D indeed could use some money sinks, the limpets are a very minor one. Note that the “ammo” is dirt cheap and even the “normal” controlers, which you buy once (and can sell again at full price) usually are bought at low classes and thus are financially not even noticed by many players. At the same time it would be no big deal if your “useable drones in the cargo” would be noticeably more expencive without the required module slot.

    As the “money sink” reason is invalid, we should take a look why they actually went the current way. Two reasons come to my mind:

    1. The game interface. The mechanics to trigger functions of weapons, utilities and modules already is implemented. An interface “launch drone” in the cargo menu is not present yet. This might be a reason, on the other hand it would be a minor modification to the already existing “abandon cargo” functionality and thus not the deciding matter.

    2. Build diversity and uses for different ships. Ships are being set up differently for different tasks. With the system you propose, suddenly several of my ships would be “all purpose”. Trade, bounty hunting, piracy, fuel service and mining, all rolled into one ship, the only change to be made is which drones i load and if i mount a mining laser or not.

    In my eyes the second reason is why the system is made the way it is. The current mechanics make sure that big ships with lots of module slots (among them several very small ones, which suffice for the limpet controlers) make the better mining ships, while the mining viper remains an oddity. At the same time, the same mechanics force pirates to either work a bit harder (by manually shooting open the cargo hatch without destroying the target and by manually collecting containers while perhaps being under fire) or use a ship which can spare one or two small module slots, e.g. the Adder or Cobra.

    That all being said, i also claim that the difference in how the limpets operate indeed is mostly in the programing. Just compare:
    – Collector. Task: fly out, grab something in space, bring it to the cargo hatch. Equipment: clamp, thrusters.
    – Hatch breaker. Task: fly out, grab the other ships cargo hatch, pull. Equipment: clamp, thrusters.
    – Fuel transfer. Task: grab something (fuel cell), fly out, bring it to somebody elses cargo hatch. Equipment: clamp, thrusters.
    – Prospector. Task: fly out, grab an ateroid, analyse what you have grasped. Equipment: clamp, thrusters and SENSORS.

    The sensors for the prospector drones are the oddity, unless you consider that finding stuff in space, be it containers, ores or cargo hatches, also requires sensors. So all in all, the limpets could really be standartised and the programing (or remote control from the module on the mother ship) makes the big difference.

    The laws of logic within a computer game are not violated, at least not compared to many other stuff.

    1. Hi Sylow and thanks for your comment – it was as well thought out as it was huuuuuge! 😀

      Here’s some replies – brief ones though as it’s late and I’m knackered 🙂

      0) Money sinks – I never really see the modules as money sinks really. Given the state of the economy I’m not even sure the game needs them – if they ever tackle the run-away nature of wealth and add a player-driven economy then more sinks will be needed, but it may well be too late now.

      1) The fact I have to fire a module off the second trigger and therefore switch between fire groups is clunky and unintuitive. Modules and scans should be fired by another method leaving the triggers for firing weapons.

      2) I don’t think making the ships a little more flexible, especially in the comfortable middle-range, would hurt the game at all. There are bound to be other players like me who simply never want anything bigger than an Asp but would like to turn that mid-ship to almost anything and freeing up some module space (and maybe even being able to reconfigure the inner space a little more) would help us achieve that without being detrimental to players wanting to go for bigger ships.

      3) I’d be happy with a hybrid – one controller and one ‘template’ drone – the drones can be anything the controller tells them to be and the controller can only tell them to be the things you have bought the software for,

      I also thing the scanners should be lumped into one (one for scanning stellar stuff, one for scanning ships) instead of taking up separate units

      Basically give me more modules and space to make my ships more flexible 🙂

  2. 0) The current “money sinks” are ammo, fuel, repairs and some loss when selling a used ship. (But not the money of the modules -if- you sell the modules before selling the ship. If you sell the ship with modules, everything will be sold for 10% less. )

    Most of those costs are trivial, only the ships price matter. And even that is often of no relevance, as many players collect ships. Next to that, the absence of financial loss when exchanging modules very much gives you the flexibiilty you ask for.

    1) I very much agree. I would love some more “direct use” buttons. I’d also like buttons to directly switch to a fire group instead of only having the previous/next toggle. Last not least, i would love to have not only primary and secondary but also tertiary and perhaps even quartary weapons. (My imperial courier fields three different weapons, and for higher up ships i’d like to run an even more diverse sortiment, but with the current system this would be inefficient. )

    2) Some of the ships are very flexible. Take a look at Adder, Cobra, Asp, Python or Anaconda. (If you have the required ranks then the Imperial Clipper and Federal Dropship also fit into this list. ) Those are ships of all price ranges.

    Either of them can be set up for trading and some of them are actually logical stepping stones in the career of an aspiring trader. (For some of them, there are less costy alternatives available for trading, but those are not as flexible as the mentioned ships. )

    Either of them can be set up for exploration, piracy or mining, as all of them have enough hardpoints and enough module slots to allow to combine cargo space with the necessary scanners or limpet controlers.

    Either of them can be set up as combat craft and for bounty hunting. The fighting style may vary due to different combinations of agility, speed, shields and firepower, but either of them can be setup to be an effective fighter.

    Of course, there are other ships. Some (e.g. Eagle, Viper, Vulture) can only really be used as combat craft. They are specialized into that and while the previously mentioned ships are reasonably good combat crafts, the specialists offer “more combat for the same money” than the generalists, at the price of giving up flexibility. The other end of the spectrum has the pure cargo carriers with no value in combat and then there are other oddities which i couldn’t even sort in. (The most obvious one being the Orca. Time will tell what that ship will be good for. )

    For me, this system is fine. Making all ships to be generalists would kill variety. Also note that my only ship heavier than the Asp is a pure cargo carrier, while my Asp in the run of time already was set up as Explorer, Rare Goods Trader and Bounty Hunter and did well in either role.

    3) Isn’t that what we have? General purpose limpets in the cargo, and the controlers (which have the software) in the module slots. When launching a drone, it even says that it’s being programed.

    On scanners being combineable: i wouldn’t complain about that. Most of my ships “sacrifice” one slot for the advanced discovery scanner, as i simply want to see stuff in a system when flying around doing stuff, but only my Asp also carries the surface scanner. But at the same time, currently only my Asp with the scanner is an explorer, while the other ships are a cargo ship and a fifighter craft with a bit of scanning ability. With only one scanner module being required, suddenly all my ships would be explorers, no matter of what they actully are set up to do.

    So, there are specialists (Type-X, Eagle, Viper, Vulture), which are only really good for one or two roles, and others which can be built for any role. You can’t squeeze all roles into one ship at the same time, but with the current mechanic of selling modules at full price, the switch of your role always is just one high-tech system away.

    So all in all, where i fully agree is your assessment that the current usability of the modules is subpar. Some more button bindings would go a long way here, but i am afraid we will never get them due to the X-Box. The current interface already is the absolute limit on what they somehow can cramp on a console controler, so while we PC (or MAC) gamers could use some more (and would like some improvements), the console influence probably will prevent us to ever get them. On the ships and flexibility on the other hand, i think that we have the options to set up ships in very different ways for very different purposes. The present degree of flexibility is fine, more of it would actually kill the specialists and cost the game a lot of flavour.

    1. Hi Sylow – sorry for the late reply but life is hectic right now 🙂

      I take your points on the cash drains and ship flexibility – I actually *would* like to see more ships built for roles such as mining and salvaging, but I still want to feel like I am maximising my available slots. Still, there are more ships to be added and maybe one day I’ll get one I’m really happy with (I’ll call it The Flying Pig in honor of the occasion :D)

      I think I’d like to experiment with greater ship modification – removing sections and bulkheads and altering internal layouts to make a ship truly mine. The variety of shops would be endless then but I can imagine the headache it would cause the devs so it’ll never happen. But a Burro can dream 😉

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