[Suggestion] Exploration Development: a Galaxy of Possibilitie

[Suggestion] Exploration Development: a Galaxy of Possibilities

Pretty much every commander agrees that exploration in Elite could use some development, this appears to be an almost universal opinion among the players. Lot's of commanders currently ignore exploration due to it's lack of development, they find it boring and not very engaging. I’ve done my fair share of exploring since 1.0, spending 90% of my time (maybe more) out in deep space. Hundreds of hours utilizing the game’s existing mechanics for exploration. That’s afforded me a lot of time to ponder how I wish exploration was better in the game.

So, as a veteran of exploration in Elite, how would I like to see it improved in the future?

Exploration needs two areas of improvement: mechanics, and content. Frontier has added some content since 1.0 in the form of geysers, fumeroles, and fungal life, but explorers have no tools at all to find them, so they need to search entire planets by eye, which is not very feasible nor interactive in any way at all. They added content potential with landable worlds but as of yet haven't utilized this potential for explorers in any engaging ways. This is why improved exploration mechanics are so sorely needed. First Discovery Tags and Neutron Jumps are the only meaningful mechanics to be added to exploration since 1.0 that directly improved the game play of exploration, but one is a passive improvement and the other is a specialized mode of travel. Exploration desperately needs more interactive and engaging mechanics to add diversity and player initiated actions to the role, it also needs more risk and some aspect of survival, the fact that so many explorers currently watch Netflix while they explore says it all!!!

So here are some ideas on how exploration could be improved using the 2.3 version as a starting point, and I’ll do mechanics first followed by content which then uses those mechanics. With most of these ideas I've attempted to not suggest anything incredibly outlandish, but rather use Elite's current mechanics as a basis to build upon. In fact a lot of my ideas just modify existing current mechanics and applies them as new exploration improvements. Afterwards I'll go into the far future of Elite exploration with ideas for new planet types and such.


CHANGES TO THE EXPLORATION GAME LOOP: Here are some changes and tweaks to the main core game loop of exploration, dividing it into four main stages. The goal here is to add levels of actions, decisions, and discovery to the core exploration loop, while also providing opportunity for some new mechanics AND reducing the time it would take to complete scan a normal system. It also implements a mechanic for multicrew exploration to utilize too:


  • First Stage - The Discovery Scanner Honk. This reveals gravitational data on objects, giving you an Orrery map with "black" stellar bodies (no graphics), their orbital paths, and their gravity data. With that Orrery map you can see if the system structure looks interesting or not, how many bodies it has, etc. Infinite range on all three scanners (BDS, IDS, and ADS).
  • Second Stage - Visual Scan. Next would be the visual scan. A secondary function of all Discovery Scanners would be a turret style sensor with a full range of motion, like a vision canon / telescope. Simply flying within range of a planet or star quickly scans the object visually, discovering the Orrery map graphic (NOT the surface map!) along with planet/star type. Note you do not need to point the ship at the object, just fly within range of it. The range of the visual scanner would vary among the three scanner types. For example, the BDS might require you to fly to within 2000ls of an object to unlock it's graphical view, the IDS maybe 10,000ls, and the ADS something like 30,000ls, but not an infinite range. Seeing the Orrery graphics for very far out bodies in a system would require the decision to actually fly out there.

    Another function of the visual (targeted) scanner would be the spectrograph. Targeting any body on the Orrery map (at any range) would produce a sensor waterfall display (also visible from the cockpit too), much like a vertical version of the SRV wave scanner. Every different planet type would produce a unique sensor echo which could be used to approximate the planet type at range without a closeup detail scan. The waterfalls often contain noise data too which can obfuscate the reading somewhat, yet still give a good indication that an Earth like or Ammonia world just might be there. This way a knowledgeable commander could identify very far off worlds that they might want to explore without any hard scan evidence determining the planet type. This turreted visual scanner could also be utilized during multicrew sessions, allowing crew to point the scanners at objects and analyze their spectrographs, thereby giving an exploration multicrew a job to do.
  • Third Stage - Detail Surface Scan. Here is where you can fly within a certain distance of a stellar body (say 3K or so for large planets, like 3X the range of live currently) and perform a detail scan to get all of the body data like age, orbital info, materials, surface maps, etc. You do not need to point the ship at the object, simply target it within range. This also provides you with the Surface Heat Map which highlights large potential search areas on the planet where things can be found like geysers/fumeroles, unknown structures, life forms, high material concentrations, etc. Note that this scan would should be very fast, almost instant, to reduce time sink (the time to fly "close" to the planet should be time sink enough for the scan). This could also be used in multicrew by allowing the crew to do the targeting for the pilot, maybe even boosting the range somewhat for a crewed ship.
  • Fourth Stage - Surface Exploration. The surface heat map now in hand, the commander can choose to fly down into search zones to look for POI's. Upon entering the zone a search indicator pops up (like surface salvage missions currently use, only more intensive) to guide the player incrementally, gradually narrowing down the search area to a more localized zone where the commander would need to land and use the SRV scanners to finally pinpoint the POI.
The total time to completely scan an entire system should be equal or less than it currently takes in game due to the much increased scan distances, much reduced scan times, along with the removal of the need to fly right up to the smaller planets. The turreted DSS means a ship can sit just off the perimeter of a gas giant with a dozen moons and quickly detail scan them all without even needing to move the ship at all, but the commander needs to manually point the DSS turret at them all to do so. It is quick and active, not passive.

Each level would pay incrementally. A basic honk (stage 1) would give some credits. Visually scanning objects (stage 2) would give more on top of that, detail scanning objects (stage 3) would pay large amounts of credits, especially for ELW, AW, and TF worlds, and then landing on the surface to scan POIs or take core samples (stage 4) would pay huge amounts of credits. Reward explorers for actually exploring, but much less for just jump and honking.

NEW & IMPROVED EXPLORATION MECHANICS: There are three goals to these new and improved mechanics: to give explorers more information to prompt decision making, to give explorers more to do, and to make exploring more risky.


  • Planet Surface Heat Maps – A new feature of DSS scans, surface maps now highlight areas of interest, or search zones which can identify large areas to find things like man made unidentified objects (unregistered bases or outposts), alien unidentified objects (alien ruins, alien ship crash sites), geysers and fumeroles, fungal life, basically any unidentified procedurally or hand placed fixed POI on the surface.

    Upon flying down into a heatmap zone and entering glide, a bouncing search designator routine begins just like what is currently used for surface salvage missions, only requiring many more “iterations” to narrow down. Once the commander finalizes the search routine they then must land and use the SRV scanners to exactly locate where the POI is. Once these POI’s are found by the commander they then become “known” to them and from then on are no longer marked with heatmaps but instead with the normal surface designator icon, like bubble surface content currently is.

    The idea is not to make things super easy nor fast for explorers to find, but to add some layers of interactivity into the process via several mechanics working together. Finding things should require a hunting process and not be magically "detected" by a passive radar function.
  • Solar Flares – Fuel scooping is now more dangerous! Occasionally there can be solar flares and star corona ejections while fuel scooping, which have to be avoided or the ship could experience sudden drastic heat increases, and even take shield damage, and if the shields drop then hull and module damage. Adds some interactivity and danger to a common but mundane task of exploring.
  • Natural Signal Sources – New version of a procedurally placed fixed USS but all naturally occurring stuff, like comets, very large landable asteroids, wandering asteroid fields, and even rogue planets (more below). Some NSS’s contain things which can be scanned for data (gets more valuable with distance from SOL), others can be mined for materials. NSS can spawn anywhere, even in the bubble too, but they get much more valuable with distance from the bubble.
  • Module Wear & Tear - Modules would very gradually degrade over time with use. For bubble players this would be a non issue, simply hit the repair button every dozen docks or so and it's cheaply fixed, but for deep space explorers this would make the AFMU necessary equipment, adding some survival management to exploration. During long trips explorers would have to restock the AFMU, which would eventually force them down to planet surfaces to hunt for materials in order to keep flying. The idea here is to break up the rythym of exploring with other tasks, and to prevent ships from flying forever without some effort required towards maintaining the ship in working order.
  • Exploration Missions - Add a new section to the Cartography page at bases where explorers can browse for exploration missions. This would require the mission generator to work in tandem with the Stellar Forge in order to create mission targets that actually exist but are undiscovered yet. These could entail tasks like:
    • Fly to a specific system and perform a full scan of all stellar bodies.
    • Search a specified sector for a specific star or planet type, matching certain criteria. Scan it and return.
    • Search a specified sector for a certain type of volcanism, scan it and return.
    • Full scan some random amount of planet types.

NEW EXPLORATION CONTENT: These suggestions are intended to give explorers more things to search for in tandem with the above mechanics, plus additional tools using existing mechanics.


  • Rework Geysers / Fumeroles / Fungal Life – Simply update these to work with the new DSS heatmaps, and add scan points to the sites which marks their location as "known" and makes it sellable data. Once a pilot finds one of these sites they will forever be marked in their nav panel and easily navigated to again if desired.
  • New Natural Surface POI’s – These are not fixed POI’s like geysers, but a new category of randomly generated instanced POI’s (like cargo dumps and mat nodes) which are located via the SRV scanners. Gives explorers things to find while driving around on planet surfaces in deep space which can be scanned for valuable data. Things like geologic formations, meteor impact sites, more kinds of fungal life, and surface core samples (more on this below), all in varying degrees of value and quality. These data scans become more valuable with distance from SOL, this encourages explorers to get out into deep space while rewarding the time and effort to get there.
  • SRV MkII (The Rhino) – This is a new, slower but slightly larger version of the Scarab, with a weaker main turret but much more cargo space. The MkII also carries a surface drill rig which can be used for various things, like surface ore mining, and collecting surface core samples!
  • Surface Core Samples – These are rare random locations found in conjunction with the SRV scanner and heatmaps which allow the commander to use the drill rig on the SRV MkII to drill through the surface and collect a planet core sample, which takes 1T of cargo rack space and can be flown back to civilization and sold for large credit values. Again the cores increase in value with distance from SOL. The new DSS heatmaps can be used to locate areas on planets with the best chances of finding surface core spots, but much SRV searching will still be required to find them. In general though they will procedurally spawn around areas of increased surface terrain geometry, like large canyon or mountain networks or inside craters.
  • Caves - Implement caves as random procedurally fixed terrain features. Accessible by both sinkholes (surface holes like on Earth's Moon) or by sloped entrances in craters/mountainsides/canyon walls. Large enough to drive the SRV in, some might even be large enough to fly the ship into, and with a high probability of finding materials, fungal life, surface ores, scannable geologic formations, etc within. Also prime locations for surface core collection points!
  • Rogue Planets - Fully landable but very rare planets found in the new Natural Signal Sources, with potentially everything that can be found on normal planets, but with much more robust terrain geometry. These planets have gone through hell, so they can potentially have very extreme terrain features and crazy POI clusters. Extremely valuable surface core samples, as long as you can locate them!
  • Exploration Internal Slots – Certain ships get additional internals that can be used for exploration related modules; like both scanners, fuel scoops, and the AFMU.
  • Neutron Battery – New utility slot module, can store one (or more) charge of a neutron jump for the FSD, to be activated by the pilot at their discretion. This could allow explorers to potentially use neutron stars to jump into very remote systems which would normally strand the ship with no way to return. Filling the battery takes longer than normal FSD charging though, thus more time spent fighting the jets and much greater damage done to the ship. Plus activating a neutron battery can potentially overload systems and cause additional random module damage.

All of the above is meant to add some interactivity to exploration making it more engaging while also giving explorers more to do, more options of what to explore for, and also adding more risk to exploration too. It's a foundation of interactive mechanics enabling additional future content to be utilized for gameplay purposes, not just eye candy.

Here are a few more additional ideas for exploration to improve it even further:


EXPLORATION ODDS & ENDS: Quality of life improvements, just nice to have stuff that really effects everyone, but more so explorers.


  • Greater Diversity in Planet Coloring - Get rid of the galactic beige plague that has infected 97% of landable high metal content and metal rich worlds! It's fine to have some monotone planets, but there needs to be interesting looking planets with color diversity too. Exploring planets with interesting and varied terrain is much more fun than monochrome worlds. You only need look to our own solar system to see plenty of real life examples. (Frontier has already stated they want to improve this eventually, as of March 2017)
  • Black Hole Accretion Discs - Make large black holes look more scenic, more like the physicist Kip Thorne predicts they do. Like the movie Interstellar's black hole!
  • Planetary Ring Shadows - Yeah it's probably not an easy one to implement into the Cobra Engine, but it would be so much more scenic and immersive if planet rings cast shadows on the planets, especially down at the surface level.

ADDITIONAL PLANET TYPES: As more planet types are enabled for landings even more content can be added to exploration, bringing greater depth to the role while also bringing much greater dangers too.


  • Volcanic Worlds - Explore planets with magma flows, lava oceans, superheated geysers, and volcanos of many sizes. Magma and lava can inflict great damage to SRV's but surface core samples from these worlds can be incredibly lucrative, so pilots must take care when driving around searching for them. Also flying the ship through superheated geysers or volcanic eruptions can ruin a day real quick, but the interiors of volcanos can be exceptional locations for scans or core samples. It's wiser to find caves and enter volcanos in the SRV that way, but great care must be taken when doing so.
  • Gas Giants - Flying down inside beautiful gas giant atmospheres can be dangerous, but profitable. Fuel scoops can be used to collect valuable atmospheric samples which take up 1T of cargo space by locating "pockets" on the radar and flying into them, this is time consuming though. Terribly strong winds can buffet the ship making controlling flight difficult, and huge storms with lightning strikes can cause great damage quickly, even causing module malfunctions. Some worlds also have very acidic atmospheres as well which can damage the ship over time. However, some rare gas giants also have life forms flying inside of them, and these can be scanned for incredibly valuable data.
  • Atmospheric Worlds - These planets are rich in resources and very scenic to explore, some even have life, but atmospheres can cause problems too. Some worlds are plagued with very strong storms of various types: electrical, gale force winds, acidic, and particulate. Lightning can cause terrible ship damage, winds can throw ships around like paper planes making landing or flying low dangerous, acid rains can eat hull away. Heatmaps from the DSS can show weather systems on the planet, so the pilot can fly to elude them and be safe, but weather is often unpredictable, so diligence while exploring is necessary, and a hasty retreat back into "safe" outer space may sometimes be prudent. Despite the dangers though, everything on these worlds are valuable: materials, data scans, surface core samples, ores to mine, etc.
  • Dark Systems - These are planets or planetary systems out in space that do not have main stars, thus no light in them at all nor any huge mass sources other than planets. They would not show in the galaxy map due to not being indexed, Stellar Cartography doesn't know they exist due to no light sources so they aren't in the computer nav banks. The only way to find them would be to search the nav panel on the ship's left console while traveling through space and look for any systems labeled as "UNKNOWN", as the ship's sensors would detect a mass jump point but wouldn't recognize it. (Possibly have a message pop up on the HUD when the ship detects an unknown mass source out in deep space?)

IN-GAME STELLAR CARTOGRAPHY GALACTIC RECORDS LEADERBOARD:: This would be a new competitive (non-combat) multiplayer feature for explorers where the game keeps track of discovery records for things like "oldest M type star", "youngest black hole", "largest ammonia world", and so on for dozens of categories. Each record would list the system and object name, the CMDR who discovered it and the date. The current record holder list could be accessed from anywhere via a Stellar Cartography button on the ship's GalNet menu under the cockpit's left UI panel. Whenever a CMDR scans a planet or star which broke a record they would be notified via a pop up after scanning, but in order to actually log the record and get credit for it the pilot would need to hand in the exploration data and sell it.




There, those are just some ideas I've thought about for improving exploration over the past two and a half years. In summary, I'd just like to see exploration made more engaging and interactive overall, and less passive and "instant scan" like. More gameplay in the role, less tedium.
 
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Pretty much every commander agrees that exploration in Elite could use some development, this appears to be an almost universal opinion among the players. Lot's of commanders currently ignore exploration due to it's lack of development, they find it boring and not very engaging. I’ve done my fair share of exploring since 1.0, spending 90% of my time (maybe more) out in deep space. Hundreds of hours utilizing the game’s existing mechanics for exploration. That’s afforded me a lot of time to ponder how I wish exploration was better in the game.

So, as a veteran of exploration in Elite, how would I like to see it improved in the future?

Exploration needs two areas of improvement: mechanics, and content. Frontier has added some content since 1.0 in the form of geysers, fumeroles, and fungal life, but explorers have no tools at all to find them, so they need to search entire planets by eye, which is not very feasible nor interactive in any way at all. They added content potential with landable worlds but as of yet haven't utilized this potential for explorers in any engaging ways. This is why improved exploration mechanics are so sorely needed. First Discovery Tags and Neutron Jumps are the only meaningful mechanics to be added to exploration since 1.0 that directly improved the game play of exploration, but one is a passive improvement and the other is a specialized mode of travel. Exploration desperately needs more interactive and engaging mechanics to add diversity and player initiated actions to the role, it also needs more risk and some aspect of survival, the fact that so many explorers currently watch Netflix while they explore says it all!!!

So here are some ideas on how exploration could be improved using the 2.3 version as a starting point, and I’ll do mechanics first followed by content which then uses those mechanics. With most of these ideas I've attempted to not suggest anything incredibly outlandish, but rather use Elite's current mechanics as a basis to build upon. In fact a lot of my ideas just modify existing current mechanics and applies them as new exploration improvements. Afterwards I'll go into the far future of Elite exploration with ideas for new planet types and such.


NEW & IMPROVED EXPLORATION MECHANICS: There are three goals to these new and improved mechanics: to give explorers more information to prompt decision making, to give explorers more to do, and to make exploring more risky.


  • Planet Surface Heat Maps – A new feature of DSS scans, surface maps now highlight areas of interest, or search zones which can identify large areas to find things like man made unidentified objects (unregistered bases or outposts), alien unidentified objects (alien ruins, alien ship crash sites), geysers and fumeroles, fungal life, basically any unidentified procedurally or hand placed fixed POI on the surface.

    Upon flying down into a heatmap zone and entering glide, a bouncing search designator routine begins just like what is currently used for surface salvage missions, only requiring many more “iterations” to narrow down. Once the commander finalizes the search routine they then must land and use the SRV scanners to exactly locate where the POI is. Once these POI’s are found by the commander they then become “known” to them and from then on are no longer marked with heatmaps but instead with the normal surface designator icon, like bubble surface content currently is.

    The idea is not to make things super easy nor fast for explorers to find, but to add some layers of interactivity into the process via several mechanics working together. Finding things should require a hunting process and not be magically "detected" by a passive radar function.
  • Solar Flares – Fuel scooping is now more dangerous! Occasionally there can be solar flares and star corona ejections while fuel scooping, which have to be avoided or the ship could experience sudden drastic heat increases, and even take shield damage, and if the shields drop then hull and module damage. Adds some interactivity and danger to a common but mundane task of exploring.
  • Natural Signal Sources – New version of a procedurally placed fixed USS but all naturally occurring stuff, like comets, very large landable asteroids, wandering asteroid fields, and even rogue planets (more below). Some NSS’s contain things which can be scanned for data (gets more valuable with distance from SOL), others can be mined for materials. NSS can spawn anywhere, even in the bubble too, but they get much more valuable with distance from the bubble.
  • Module Wear & Tear - Modules would very gradually degrade over time with use. For bubble players this would be a non issue, simply hit the repair button every dozen docks or so and it's cheaply fixed, but for deep space explorers this would make the AFMU necessary equipment, adding some survival management to exploration. During long trips explorers would have to restock the AFMU, which would eventually force them down to planet surfaces to hunt for materials in order to keep flying. The idea here is to break up the rythym of exploring with other tasks, and to prevent ships from flying forever without some effort required towards maintaining the ship in working order.
  • Exploration Missions - Add a new section to the Cartography page at bases where explorers can browse for exploration missions. This would require the mission generator to work in tandem with the Stellar Forge in order to create mission targets that actually exist but are undiscovered yet. These could entail tasks like:
    • Fly to a specific system and perform a full scan of all stellar bodies.
    • Search a specified sector for a specific star or planet type, matching certain criteria. Scan it and return.
    • Search a specified sector for a certain type of volcanism, scan it and return.
    • Full scan some random amount of planet types.

NEW EXPLORATION CONTENT: These suggestions are intended to give explorers more things to search for in tandem with the above mechanics, plus additional tools using existing mechanics.


  • Rework Geysers / Fumeroles / Fungal Life – Simply update these to work with the new DSS heatmaps, and add scan points to the sites which marks their location as "known" and makes it sellable data. Once a pilot finds one of these sites they will forever be marked in their nav panel and easily navigated to again if desired.
  • New Natural Surface POI’s – These are not fixed POI’s like geysers, but a new category of randomly generated instanced POI’s (like cargo dumps and mat nodes) which are located via the SRV scanners. Gives explorers things to find while driving around on planet surfaces in deep space which can be scanned for valuable data. Things like geologic formations, meteor impact sites, more kinds of fungal life, and surface core samples (more on this below), all in varying degrees of value and quality. These data scans become more valuable with distance from SOL, this encourages explorers to get out into deep space while rewarding the time and effort to get there.
  • SRV MkII (The Rhino) – This is a new, slower but slightly larger version of the Scarab, with a weaker main turret but much more cargo space. The MkII also carries a surface drill rig which can be used for various things, like surface ore mining, and collecting surface core samples!
  • Surface Core Samples – These are rare random locations found with in conjunction with the SRV scanner and heatmaps which allow the commander to use the drill rig on the SRV MkII to drill through the surface and collect a planet core sample, which takes 1T of cargo rack space and can be flown back to civilization and sold for large credit values. Again the cores increase in value with distance from SOL. The new DSS heatmaps can be used to locate areas on planets with the best chances of finding surface core spots, but much SRV searching will still be required to find them. In general though they will procedurally spawn around areas of increased surface terrain geometry, like large canyon or mountain networks or inside craters.
  • Caves - Implement caves as random procedurally fixed terrain features. Accessible by both sinkholes (surface holes like on Earth's Moon) or by sloped entrances in craters/mountainsides/canyon walls. Large enough to drive the SRV in, some might even be large enough to fly the ship into, and with a high probability of finding materials, fungal life, surface ores, scannable geologic formations, etc within. Also prime locations for surface core collection points!
  • Rogue Planets - Fully landable but very rare planets found in the new Natural Signal Sources, with potentially everything that can be found on normal planets, but with much more robust terrain geometry. These planets have gone through hell, so they can potentially have very extreme terrain features and crazy POI clusters. Extremely valuable surface core samples, as long as you can locate them!
  • Exploration Internal Slots – Certain ships get additional internals that can be used for exploration related modules; like both scanners, fuel scoops, and the AFMU.
  • Neutron Battery – New utility slot module, can store one charge of a neutron jump for the FSD. This could allow explorers to potentially use neutron stars to jump into very remote systems which would normally strand the ship with no way to return. Filling the battery takes longer than normal FSD charging though, thus more time spent fighting the jets and much greater damage done to the ship. Plus activating a neutron battery can potentially overload systems and cause additional random module damage.

All of the above is meant to add some interactivity to exploration making it more engaging while also giving explorers more to do, more options of what to explore for, and also adding more risk to exploration too. It's a foundation of interactive mechanics enabling additional future content to be utilized for gameplay purposes, not just eye candy.

Here are a few more additional ideas for exploration to improve it even further:


EXPLORATION ODDS & ENDS: Quality of life improvements, just nice to have stuff that really effects everyone, but more so explorers.


  • Greater Diversity in Planet Coloring - Get rid of the galactic beige plague that has infected 97% of landable high metal content and metal rich worlds! It's fine to have some monotone planets, but there needs to be interesting looking planets with color diversity too. Exploring planets with interesting and varied terrain is much more fun than monochrome worlds. You only need look to our own solar system to see plenty of real life examples. (Frontier has already stated they want to improve this eventually, as of March 2017)
  • Black Hole Accretion Discs - Make large black holes look more scenic, more like the physicist Kip Thorne predicts they do. Like the movie Interstellar's black hole!
  • Planetary Ring Shadows - Yeah it's probably not an easy one to implement into the Cobra Engine, but it would be so much more scenic and immersive if planet rings cast shadows on the planets, especially down at the surface level.

ADDITIONAL PLANET TYPES: As more planet types are enabled for landings even more content can be added to exploration, bringing greater depth to the role while also bringing much greater dangers too.


  • Volcanic Worlds - Explore planets with magma flows, lava oceans, superheated geysers, and volcanos of many sizes. Magma and lava can inflict great damage to SRV's but surface core samples from these worlds can be incredibly lucrative, so pilots must take care when driving around searching for them. Also flying the ship through superheated geysers or volcanic eruptions can ruin a day real quick, but the interiors of volcanos can be exceptional locations for scans or core samples. It's wiser to find caves and enter volcanos in the SRV that way, but great care must be taken when doing so.
  • Gas Giants - Flying down inside beautiful gas giant atmospheres can be dangerous, but profitable. Fuel scoops can be used to collect valuable atmospheric samples which take up 1T of cargo space by locating "pockets" on the radar and flying into them, this is time consuming though. Terribly strong winds can buffet the ship making controlling flight difficult, and huge storms with lightning strikes can cause great damage quickly, even causing module malfunctions. Some worlds also have very acidic atmospheres as well which can damage the ship over time. However, some rare gas giants also have life forms flying inside of them, and these can be scanned for incredibly valuable data.
  • Atmospheric Worlds - These planets are rich in resources and very scenic to explore, some even have life, but atmospheres can cause problems too. Some worlds are plagued with very strong storms of various types: electrical, gale force winds, acidic, and particulate. Lightning can cause terrible ship damage, winds can throw ships around like paper planes making landing or flying low dangerous, acid rains can eat hull away. Heatmaps from the DSS can show weather systems on the planet, so the pilot can fly to elude them and be safe, but weather is often unpredictable, so diligence while exploring is necessary, and a hasty retreat back into "safe" outer space may sometimes be prudent. Despite the dangers though, everything on these worlds are valuable: materials, data scans, surface core samples, ores to mine, etc.
  • Dark Systems - These are planets or planetary systems out in space that do not have main stars, thus no light in them at all nor any huge mass sources other than planets. They would not show in the galaxy map due to not being indexed, Stellar Cartography doesn't know they exist due to no light sources so they aren't in the computer nav banks. The only way to find them would be to search the nav panel on the ship's left console while traveling through space and look for any systems labeled as "UNKNOWN", as the ship's sensors would detect a mass jump point but wouldn't recognize it. (Possibly have a message pop up on the HUD when the ship detects an unknown mass source out in deep space?)

IN-GAME STELLAR CARTOGRAPHY GALACTIC RECORDS LEADERBOARD:: This would be a new competitive (non-combat) multiplayer feature for explorers where the game keeps track of discovery records for things like "oldest M type star", "youngest black hole", "largest ammonia world", and so on for dozens of categories. Each record would list the system and object name, the CMDR who discovered it and the date. The current record holder list could be accessed from anywhere via a Stellar Cartography button on the ship's GalNet menu under the cockpit's left UI panel. Whenever a CMDR scans a planet or star which broke a record they would be notified via a pop up after scanning, but in order to actually log the record and get credit for it the pilot would need to hand in the exploration data and sell it.




There, those are just some ideas I've thought about for improving exploration over the past two and a half years. In summary, I'd just like to see exploration made more engaging and interactive overall, and less passive and "instant scan" like. More gameplay in the role, less tedium.
Well, you know from previous posts that you have my 100% support. Had my first foray into proper exploration 2 weeks ago.....& all I could think was how much more immersive & engaging it could be.....with the proper tools. Even if they only meet you half-way on your suggestions, that would still be a *massive* improvement.
 
[*]Planetary Ring Shadows - Yeah it's probably not an easy one to implement into the Cobra Engine, but it would be so much more scenic and immersive if planet rings cast shadows on the planets, especially down at the surface level.
Considering planets don't cast shadows on other planets (not really anyway), I doubt this will happen.

I like the natural signal sources idea, but I'm not sure how whole planets wouldn't just show up as a planet in the Solar system after a ADS honk. Unless this planet is light months to light years away from the starting point. And why wouldn't landable asteroids be permanent? Just add landable astroids and comets.

And I'm always wary of suggestions to make exploration more dangerous. "Hey, let's take the profession that takes months and months of data and work and increase the risk of them losing EVERYTHING." More likely it'd just encourage shorter trips. At least Neutron Star boosting is optional. But making fuelscooping annoying wouldn't be. The only way this wouldn't make me just bang my head against the table would be if hull damage was reparable with the AMFU or synthesis. OR a module that direct links with UCC to upload data.
 
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Considering planets don't cast shadows on other planets (not really anyway), I doubt this will happen.

I like the natural signal sources idea, but I'm not sure how whole planets just wouldn't show up as a planet in the Solar system after a ADS honk. Unless this planet is light months to light years away from the starting point. And why wouldn't landable asteroids be permanent? Just add landable astroids and comets.

And I'm always wary of suggestions to make exploration more dangerous. "Hey, let's take the profession that takes months and months of data and work and increase the risk of them losing EVERYTHING." More likely it'd just encourage shorter trips. At least Neutron Star boosting is optional. But making fuelscooping annoying wouldn't be. The only way this wouldn't make me just bang my head against the table would be if hull damage was reparable with the AMFU or synthesis. OR a module that direct links with UCC to upload data.
Hmm, I wouldn't put regular planets or even asteroids in as Natural Signal Sources. I'd class things like Meteors, Comets, Stellar Remnants.....& stuff like that. It could also be a way to put in the more believable "natural" phenomena of Star Trek into the game as well....like gaseous anomalies.
 
Great suggestions, OP. Rep++

Also, the Asp Explorer should have a larger jump-range than the Anaconda, which is supposed to be a general-purpose ship. I'd like an Asp Explorer Mk II, with a larger FSD, larger fuel tank, and replace 1 of the size 2 cargo slots with 3 size 1 slots. There's absolutely no reason to not have some size 1 slots on an explorer ship, when all the scanning modules (and docking computer) only need a size 1 slot. Keep the iconic shape and the bubble cockpit canopy; just make the ship a bit larger to hold the larger modules. It should still be a "medium" size ship. Basically, I would like to be able to skip through all the "found" stars near the bubble and get to interesting areas more quickly.

Also, I'd like to see the "computer rack" idea implemented (as described elsewhere in the Suggestions).
 
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Pretty much every commander agrees that exploration in Elite could use some development, this appears to be an almost universal opinion among the players. Lot's of commanders currently ignore exploration due to it's lack of development, they find it boring and not very engaging. I’ve done my fair share of exploring since 1.0, spending 90% of my time (maybe more) out in deep space. Hundreds of hours utilizing the game’s existing mechanics for exploration. That’s afforded me a lot of time to ponder how I wish exploration was better in the game.

So, as a veteran of exploration in Elite, how would I like to see it improved in the future?

Exploration needs two areas of improvement: mechanics, and content. Frontier has added some content since 1.0 in the form of geysers, fumeroles, and fungal life, but explorers have no tools at all to find them, so they need to search entire planets by eye, which is not very feasible nor interactive in any way at all. They added content potential with landable worlds but as of yet haven't utilized this potential for explorers in any engaging ways. This is why improved exploration mechanics are so sorely needed. First Discovery Tags and Neutron Jumps are the only meaningful mechanics to be added to exploration since 1.0 that directly improved the game play of exploration, but one is a passive improvement and the other is a specialized mode of travel. Exploration desperately needs more interactive and engaging mechanics to add diversity and player initiated actions to the role, it also needs more risk and some aspect of survival, the fact that so many explorers currently watch Netflix while they explore says it all!!!

So here are some ideas on how exploration could be improved using the 2.3 version as a starting point, and I’ll do mechanics first followed by content which then uses those mechanics. With most of these ideas I've attempted to not suggest anything incredibly outlandish, but rather use Elite's current mechanics as a basis to build upon. In fact a lot of my ideas just modify existing current mechanics and applies them as new exploration improvements. Afterwards I'll go into the far future of Elite exploration with ideas for new planet types and such.


NEW & IMPROVED EXPLORATION MECHANICS: There are three goals to these new and improved mechanics: to give explorers more information to prompt decision making, to give explorers more to do, and to make exploring more risky.


  • Planet Surface Heat Maps – A new feature of DSS scans, surface maps now highlight areas of interest, or search zones which can identify large areas to find things like man made unidentified objects (unregistered bases or outposts), alien unidentified objects (alien ruins, alien ship crash sites), geysers and fumeroles, fungal life, basically any unidentified procedurally or hand placed fixed POI on the surface.

    Upon flying down into a heatmap zone and entering glide, a bouncing search designator routine begins just like what is currently used for surface salvage missions, only requiring many more “iterations” to narrow down. Once the commander finalizes the search routine they then must land and use the SRV scanners to exactly locate where the POI is. Once these POI’s are found by the commander they then become “known” to them and from then on are no longer marked with heatmaps but instead with the normal surface designator icon, like bubble surface content currently is.

    The idea is not to make things super easy nor fast for explorers to find, but to add some layers of interactivity into the process via several mechanics working together. Finding things should require a hunting process and not be magically "detected" by a passive radar function.
  • Solar Flares – Fuel scooping is now more dangerous! Occasionally there can be solar flares and star corona ejections while fuel scooping, which have to be avoided or the ship could experience sudden drastic heat increases, and even take shield damage, and if the shields drop then hull and module damage. Adds some interactivity and danger to a common but mundane task of exploring.
  • Natural Signal Sources – New version of a procedurally placed fixed USS but all naturally occurring stuff, like comets, very large landable asteroids, wandering asteroid fields, and even rogue planets (more below). Some NSS’s contain things which can be scanned for data (gets more valuable with distance from SOL), others can be mined for materials. NSS can spawn anywhere, even in the bubble too, but they get much more valuable with distance from the bubble.
  • Module Wear & Tear - Modules would very gradually degrade over time with use. For bubble players this would be a non issue, simply hit the repair button every dozen docks or so and it's cheaply fixed, but for deep space explorers this would make the AFMU necessary equipment, adding some survival management to exploration. During long trips explorers would have to restock the AFMU, which would eventually force them down to planet surfaces to hunt for materials in order to keep flying. The idea here is to break up the rythym of exploring with other tasks, and to prevent ships from flying forever without some effort required towards maintaining the ship in working order.
  • Exploration Missions - Add a new section to the Cartography page at bases where explorers can browse for exploration missions. This would require the mission generator to work in tandem with the Stellar Forge in order to create mission targets that actually exist but are undiscovered yet. These could entail tasks like:
    • Fly to a specific system and perform a full scan of all stellar bodies.
    • Search a specified sector for a specific star or planet type, matching certain criteria. Scan it and return.
    • Search a specified sector for a certain type of volcanism, scan it and return.
    • Full scan some random amount of planet types.

NEW EXPLORATION CONTENT: These suggestions are intended to give explorers more things to search for in tandem with the above mechanics, plus additional tools using existing mechanics.


  • Rework Geysers / Fumeroles / Fungal Life – Simply update these to work with the new DSS heatmaps, and add scan points to the sites which marks their location as "known" and makes it sellable data. Once a pilot finds one of these sites they will forever be marked in their nav panel and easily navigated to again if desired.
  • New Natural Surface POI’s – These are not fixed POI’s like geysers, but a new category of randomly generated instanced POI’s (like cargo dumps and mat nodes) which are located via the SRV scanners. Gives explorers things to find while driving around on planet surfaces in deep space which can be scanned for valuable data. Things like geologic formations, meteor impact sites, more kinds of fungal life, and surface core samples (more on this below), all in varying degrees of value and quality. These data scans become more valuable with distance from SOL, this encourages explorers to get out into deep space while rewarding the time and effort to get there.
  • SRV MkII (The Rhino) – This is a new, slower but slightly larger version of the Scarab, with a weaker main turret but much more cargo space. The MkII also carries a surface drill rig which can be used for various things, like surface ore mining, and collecting surface core samples!
  • Surface Core Samples – These are rare random locations found with in conjunction with the SRV scanner and heatmaps which allow the commander to use the drill rig on the SRV MkII to drill through the surface and collect a planet core sample, which takes 1T of cargo rack space and can be flown back to civilization and sold for large credit values. Again the cores increase in value with distance from SOL. The new DSS heatmaps can be used to locate areas on planets with the best chances of finding surface core spots, but much SRV searching will still be required to find them. In general though they will procedurally spawn around areas of increased surface terrain geometry, like large canyon or mountain networks or inside craters.
  • Caves - Implement caves as random procedurally fixed terrain features. Accessible by both sinkholes (surface holes like on Earth's Moon) or by sloped entrances in craters/mountainsides/canyon walls. Large enough to drive the SRV in, some might even be large enough to fly the ship into, and with a high probability of finding materials, fungal life, surface ores, scannable geologic formations, etc within. Also prime locations for surface core collection points!
  • Rogue Planets - Fully landable but very rare planets found in the new Natural Signal Sources, with potentially everything that can be found on normal planets, but with much more robust terrain geometry. These planets have gone through hell, so they can potentially have very extreme terrain features and crazy POI clusters. Extremely valuable surface core samples, as long as you can locate them!
  • Exploration Internal Slots – Certain ships get additional internals that can be used for exploration related modules; like both scanners, fuel scoops, and the AFMU.
  • Neutron Battery – New utility slot module, can store one charge of a neutron jump for the FSD. This could allow explorers to potentially use neutron stars to jump into very remote systems which would normally strand the ship with no way to return. Filling the battery takes longer than normal FSD charging though, thus more time spent fighting the jets and much greater damage done to the ship. Plus activating a neutron battery can potentially overload systems and cause additional random module damage.

All of the above is meant to add some interactivity to exploration making it more engaging while also giving explorers more to do, more options of what to explore for, and also adding more risk to exploration too. It's a foundation of interactive mechanics enabling additional future content to be utilized for gameplay purposes, not just eye candy.

Here are a few more additional ideas for exploration to improve it even further:


EXPLORATION ODDS & ENDS: Quality of life improvements, just nice to have stuff that really effects everyone, but more so explorers.


  • Greater Diversity in Planet Coloring - Get rid of the galactic beige plague that has infected 97% of landable high metal content and metal rich worlds! It's fine to have some monotone planets, but there needs to be interesting looking planets with color diversity too. Exploring planets with interesting and varied terrain is much more fun than monochrome worlds. You only need look to our own solar system to see plenty of real life examples. (Frontier has already stated they want to improve this eventually, as of March 2017)
  • Black Hole Accretion Discs - Make large black holes look more scenic, more like the physicist Kip Thorne predicts they do. Like the movie Interstellar's black hole!
  • Planetary Ring Shadows - Yeah it's probably not an easy one to implement into the Cobra Engine, but it would be so much more scenic and immersive if planet rings cast shadows on the planets, especially down at the surface level.

ADDITIONAL PLANET TYPES: As more planet types are enabled for landings even more content can be added to exploration, bringing greater depth to the role while also bringing much greater dangers too.


  • Volcanic Worlds - Explore planets with magma flows, lava oceans, superheated geysers, and volcanos of many sizes. Magma and lava can inflict great damage to SRV's but surface core samples from these worlds can be incredibly lucrative, so pilots must take care when driving around searching for them. Also flying the ship through superheated geysers or volcanic eruptions can ruin a day real quick, but the interiors of volcanos can be exceptional locations for scans or core samples. It's wiser to find caves and enter volcanos in the SRV that way, but great care must be taken when doing so.
  • Gas Giants - Flying down inside beautiful gas giant atmospheres can be dangerous, but profitable. Fuel scoops can be used to collect valuable atmospheric samples which take up 1T of cargo space by locating "pockets" on the radar and flying into them, this is time consuming though. Terribly strong winds can buffet the ship making controlling flight difficult, and huge storms with lightning strikes can cause great damage quickly, even causing module malfunctions. Some worlds also have very acidic atmospheres as well which can damage the ship over time. However, some rare gas giants also have life forms flying inside of them, and these can be scanned for incredibly valuable data.
  • Atmospheric Worlds - These planets are rich in resources and very scenic to explore, some even have life, but atmospheres can cause problems too. Some worlds are plagued with very strong storms of various types: electrical, gale force winds, acidic, and particulate. Lightning can cause terrible ship damage, winds can throw ships around like paper planes making landing or flying low dangerous, acid rains can eat hull away. Heatmaps from the DSS can show weather systems on the planet, so the pilot can fly to elude them and be safe, but weather is often unpredictable, so diligence while exploring is necessary, and a hasty retreat back into "safe" outer space may sometimes be prudent. Despite the dangers though, everything on these worlds are valuable: materials, data scans, surface core samples, ores to mine, etc.
  • Dark Systems - These are planets or planetary systems out in space that do not have main stars, thus no light in them at all nor any huge mass sources other than planets. They would not show in the galaxy map due to not being indexed, Stellar Cartography doesn't know they exist due to no light sources so they aren't in the computer nav banks. The only way to find them would be to search the nav panel on the ship's left console while traveling through space and look for any systems labeled as "UNKNOWN", as the ship's sensors would detect a mass jump point but wouldn't recognize it. (Possibly have a message pop up on the HUD when the ship detects an unknown mass source out in deep space?)

IN-GAME STELLAR CARTOGRAPHY GALACTIC RECORDS LEADERBOARD:: This would be a new competitive (non-combat) multiplayer feature for explorers where the game keeps track of discovery records for things like "oldest M type star", "youngest black hole", "largest ammonia world", and so on for dozens of categories. Each record would list the system and object name, the CMDR who discovered it and the date. The current record holder list could be accessed from anywhere via a Stellar Cartography button on the ship's GalNet menu under the cockpit's left UI panel. Whenever a CMDR scans a planet or star which broke a record they would be notified via a pop up after scanning, but in order to actually log the record and get credit for it the pilot would need to hand in the exploration data and sell it.




There, those are just some ideas I've thought about for improving exploration over the past two and a half years. In summary, I'd just like to see exploration made more engaging and interactive overall, and less passive and "instant scan" like. More gameplay in the role, less tedium.
This right here would do a world of good. Exploration tends toward the highly dull end when it isn't interesting. There, currently, is no middle ground outside of Cannon and Researching Xenobiological Activity (watching fungus grow is mildly entertaining the first few times).
 
And I'm always wary of suggestions to make exploration more dangerous. "Hey, let's take the profession that takes months and months of data and work and increase the risk of them losing EVERYTHING."
Increased dangers does not need to equal immediately deadly, and in the case of exploration it most definitely should not. Losing a ship while exploring should be difficult to do and only result from extremely poor judgement or negligence. Added dangers though can do a lot to improve the experience of exploring by:


  • Make players weigh decisions and their consequences against risks, to make choices.
  • Give players the need to do more than just honk and jump while exploring deep space. More frequent repairs due to damage from hazards would add new activity to the gameplay loop of exploring, making it more than just mindless "jonking".
  • Force players down to planet surfaces or to mine in asteroid rings to collect materials to resupply the AFMU, now that ammo is regularly used.
  • Create drama and tension while exploring, two things that it currently mostly lacks.
Making exploration more dangerous isn't about killing explorers, it's about adding spice and variety to actual exploration.
 
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Really??! What do you think the lunar cycle of the Sol/Earth/Moon is?
I'm talking about in the game. If you fly to a planet that is in the "shadow" of another planet (Look for a moon behind a gas giant), it will be completely lit as if it's in sunlight until YOU fly behind the gas giant, then suddenly the planet will go dark. And if a moon is in front of a gas giant, there's no shadow on the surface of the gas giant.

Also... The lunar cycle of Sol\Earth\Moon is us seeing only parts of the moon that get sunlight. Not the moon casting a shadow on the earth. It's the eclipses are when shadow's of planets on other planets come to the picture. And in elite if you were in space, still in sunlight as the moon passed into the Earth's shadow, it'd still be completely bright with no shadow at all.

Increased dangers does not need to equal immediately deadly, and in the case of exploration it most definitely should not. Losing a ship while exploring should be difficult to do and only result from extremely poor judgement or negligence. Added dangers though can do a lot to improve the experience of exploring by:


  • Make players weigh decisions and their consequences against risks, to make choices.
  • Give players the need to do more than just honk and jump while exploring deep space. More frequent repairs due to damage from hazards would add new activity to the gameplay loop of exploring, making it more than just mindless "jonking".
  • Force players down to planet surfaces or to mine in asteroid rings to collect materials to resupply the AFMU, now that ammo is regularly used.
  • Create drama and tension while exploring, two things that it currently mostly lacks.
Making exploration more dangerous isn't about killing explorers, it's about adding spice and variety to actual exploration.
  1. Fuel scooping isn't a decision. It's a requirement. You can't explore and not scoop. So the "decision" and "choices" involved here are explore or not. Additionally, I think there's a difference between exploring and travelling. You're slowing down travel more than helping exploring. If solar flares and ejecta played into some scanning of solar activity with a "Detailed Solar Scanner" to get more data on the star, that'd be cool. Or have only certain stars have extra activity, with a warning when you jump in (or when you are about to jump, like how it warns about the state and star type it could add "detects period of high solar activity") so you'd know not to scoop when travelling). That would at least give warning to travelers.
  2. See 1 about Travel vs Exploring, and also, I don't really think turning to the right panel, choosing repair on a specific module, and waiting is a huge improvement to the gameplay loop. If AMFUs didn't do ALL the work, and it was more interactive, that'd be cool, but right now it's just an extra point and click. More inconvenience than addition.
  3. This I have no issues with.
  4. I agree with this, too, but again, it's not based on choices while exploring, it's based on the choice of whether to explore or not. This is why super jumping is different, it's actually a choice whether or not to make use of NS or WD. You don't have to superjump or go to those stars every time you leave a few jumps away from the bubble. You do have to scoop.
 
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Great suggestions, bumping for interest.
Thanks!


I added a section on core game loop changes today. The idea behind them is to divide the main loop of exploration into stages, adding levels of action, decisions, and discovery to the core loop of exploration.
 
I found my way here from the directions at the bottom of another post you made, our difference of of opinions on that post aside your suggestions here echo mine with added chocolate,

One way to get to the starless systems might be through a 'missjump' though this in reality should occur more often than not outside the bubble... (that way there would be less chance of a million players suddenly finding a host of new systems in the back garden) the missjump could occur at any time in the 'tunnel' and be similar to the interdiction though keeping the target in the circle would only lessen the pain of emerging with minor random system damage, there upon finding a rogue planet, massive interstellar comet or even a whole ststem (sans star) or even perhaps a black star.

One colour or 'silhouette' first views would be top of the hate list for many 'non explorers' who just wan to grab the ELW and run, but was similar to my thoughts when I came across the blatantly obvious glory grabbers a few years ago,

As for scanners why can we not use the weapons slots... after all we mostly don't have weapons (with the exception of a mining laser) and they are just sitting there empty.

A little bonus for us might be a battery pack so we can drop planetside and switch off the Power plant and mend it.

I hope ED get a thorough read of your proposals and hits us with at least some of them... because I feel the only players that will be long term'ers will be Explorers... though I could be wrong.
 
Increased dangers does not need to equal immediately deadly, and in the case of exploration it most definitely should not. Losing a ship while exploring should be difficult to do and only result from extremely poor judgement or negligence. Added dangers though can do a lot to improve the experience of exploring by:


  • Make players weigh decisions and their consequences against risks, to make choices.
  • Give players the need to do more than just honk and jump while exploring deep space. More frequent repairs due to damage from hazards would add new activity to the gameplay loop of exploring, making it more than just mindless "jonking".
  • Force players down to planet surfaces or to mine in asteroid rings to collect materials to resupply the AFMU, now that ammo is regularly used.
  • Create drama and tension while exploring, two things that it currently mostly lacks.
Making exploration more dangerous isn't about killing explorers, it's about adding spice and variety to actual exploration.
Looks very interesting on a first glance (too tired right now to read the whole thing). Just my 2c about danger in exploration: personally I would be all in favor for increasing risk of ship loss (in black holes for instance) if exploration data conversely would be permanent, even after a ship loss. It simply makes no sense and is highly inconsistent that all Engineer data and even material(!) is persistent, but exploration data is not. I've not much hope though in this regard, as we already had this discussion a long time ago but to no avail.
 
and explorers wish list WOW hope the devs see all of this and if they could at least implement 50% of all of this to start with hell yea..
 
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