Checkpoint

Distant Worlds

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #111. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Corey Milne stands at the intersection of gaming and world history to see what he can see.

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It’s the beginning of the year and I’m preparing for a trip. If all goes well, it’ll be the longest single journey I’ve ever been on. Give or take a few weeks, the entire round trip is estimated to take 10 months to complete. The route will take me through the very center of our galaxy, through vast, uncharted seas of blackness and out onto the very edge of known space. Until we set down at Beagle Point, humanity’s farthest outpost over 65,000 light years from the Sol system and our home here on Earth. Myself and 7,000 other Elite: Dangerous commanders will be setting out on the Distant Worlds 2 expedition on the 13th January. Six days out from launch I’m wondering what exactly I’ve gotten myself into.

There’s a real sense of occasion around the event. The original Distant Worlds was the largest player run event Elite had seen, but this second trip seems utterly gargantuan in all areas. Elite: Dangerous itself is a different game to what it was during the first expedition. Through several large updates its exploration and mining mechanics have been completely overhauled, all of which are being fully implemented into this event. The primary objective is to set up a scientific hub at Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s centre. Beyond that the goal is to map as much undiscovered space as possible and find out what weird and wonderful things could be waiting for us all out there.

Everyone will have a role upon joining the fleet. While most will simply be explorers, more specialized roles are available for the more adventurous. Distant Worlds 2 will be a motley crew of cartographers and astrophotographers who will try to make sense of the vast emptiness before them. Groups like the Fuel Rats will be there to help many whose journeys might otherwise have ended prematurely. The greatest fear and all too real threat for many will be the thought of becoming stranded so far out, watching the oxygen meter deplete and hoping someone will come to your rescue.

There will also be a cadre of miners and mechanics who’ll provide additional support, while fighter escorts will be present to protect against any possible human or alien threats. There are even various surveys being run to map out material rich asteroid fields, or plot and collate those infrequent luminous green gas giants, whose eerie green glows are a rare but arresting sight.

For my sins, I’m heading out to photograph the void. I’ll leave the more hands-on roles to more capable and responsible commanders. It’ll just be me and my screenshot function trying to find sights hitherto unseen. Everyone will have their own reasons for signing up. There is, of course, money to be made. The sheer scale of the trip means that the wealth of raw cartographic data will run into the millions of credits for commanders who survive to turn in the data.

There’s a real sense of discovery though. With the new planetary mapping systems in place, players will be making a permanent mark in Elite’s world. Their call signs will be associated with newly discovered planets and phenomena. It’s the sense of community that’s made all of this possible, without which an endeavour like this would fall at the first hurdles. Like with any MMO or online community, there are those who push to take it further and allow the rest of us to follow in their path. So that after all is said and done, when veteran pilots are sharing stories they can bring up a map and say look, I was there.

All of this to say that I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time tinkering with my chosen ship for this voyage and I’m still not sure if I’ve done any of this right. My Imperial Clipper, the Roisin Dubh, is a re-purposed pirate ship. Large and jet black, it’s big guns have long been removed. I’ve swapped modules around. Engineered what I could given the time and resources to hand. I’ve stripped what I could from it’s bulk and the stripped it of more even then. There might be some screws missing here and there, but I’m pretty confident the power plant’s casing is still thick enough to shield me from most of its radiation. What’s 10 months of minor gamma-ray exposure? She’s a dependable vessel though. I’ve banged her off asteroids, shorn off the paint job when I got too close to a star and on several occasions come in a little too hot on high gravity moons. There are old wounds from her days punching holes in hulls and cracking apart cargo bays, mixed in with newer scrapes and bangs, but the Clipper still flies just fine!

Maybe I’m starting to have doubts about my ability to survive out there, this close to the launch. In the past I’ve made it about halfway to the galactic core before getting cold feet and turning back. This time though, on a journey many times its length there’ll be 7000 of us to lean on when we get lost. No doubt the returning numbers will be fewer, but if there was ever a time to fly dangerous, it’s now Commanders. See you out there.

Signing off,                                                     

Cmdr Quantum Hawk
7th January, 3305 A.D.

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Corey Milne is an Irish freelance writer who likes to poke at that strange intersection where games meet history. A roundup of his writing can be found at coreymilne.com. You can join his Rad-Lands motorcycle bandit gang on Twitter @Corey_Milne.

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