David Braben's just turned his pockets inside out and shrugged defeatedly to camera, before winking a big spinning Kickstarter logo out of his eyes and doing a triumphant freeze-frame fist-pump like out of the end of The Breakfast Club. He's crowd-funding the new Elite 4! Hooray! It's now called Elite: Dangerous and we know nothing about it besides "computer graphics" (and what he's told us in our David Braben interview). But what features would we like to see this new space sim? Here's a bunch that I've just thought up.
Persistent laser beams
Technological limitations at the time meant that, in previous Elite games, a laser beam would simply vanish when it reached a certain distance from your ship, which is both a violation of the laws of conservation of energy as well as a little bit rubbish. Elite: Dangerous could harness the incredible power of my Radeon HD 5700 to realistically track the path of every laser blast as it whizzes through the galaxy at light speed. A menu option should then let you view all of your laser beams in real-time. For example, one laser beam might land in a foreign alien dignitary's posh hat at a presidential dinner, where another alien will surreptitiously attempt to remove it without being spotted, only to accidentally push the alien dignitary's head into her bowl of alien soup, spoiling the dinner for everybody. Another laser beam might fly past an alien hobo, who'll rub his eyes and look at the bottle of alien whiskey he'd been drinking before throwing it over his shoulder.
Procedurally generated stuff
Procedural generation is a technique whereby game content is created using rules and maths rather than designed by an inferior, fallible human hand. This means that an effectively infinite universe can be created using just a few lines of careful code. For example, in Elite: Dangerous, if you wanted a delicious sandwich you would simply write a basic maths formula that says that between any two slices of wholegrain bread there is a forty percent chance of a Bernard Matthews turkey slice appearing. Building on this basic law of the game universe, we can instantly create entire planets populated with realistically positioned and sized meatball subs. Once this system is in place, it's trivial to add features such as chutney modifiers and logarithmic sweetcorn differentials. I think procedural generation can do mountains too, which might also be useful.
A fluctuating, dynamic economy
Thousands of years in the future, the human race has unshackled itself from its birth-rock, side-stepping global extinction by skittering off into the galaxy in every direction like a collectively invincible, exploding egg sac of baby spiders. We have mastered faster-than-light hyperspace travel, powerfully destructive laser technology, advanced robotics and healthcare. We are edging civilisation to its very apex, the dazzling peak of all achievement, an inflating balloon of our realised potential is stretched taut as the limits of humanity touch every cubic inch of known space. Our expanding knowledge of the universe, the rapidly loosening knot at the centre of everything, is outpaced only by our rapacious desire to learn more. Despite this, a lamp costs four times as much if twelve people buy one within the space of an hour and the most lucrative careers involve selling lamps to people who don't have very many lamps.
That multi-player booty
"Cooperate on adventures or chase your friends down to get that booty," wrote David Braben on Elite: Dangerous's Kickstarter page, betraying a keen understanding of why the game he co-created was any good. But what is that booty? Braben is playing coy, refusing to say more of that booty for which we so enthusiastically chase down our friends. It's certainly not ladies' bottoms if that's what you're thinking. No, it's probably diamonds. Great swag bags of diamonds that you tow behind your ship.
In the Frontier: Elite II, pilots must first procure visitor permits to enter certain systems, such as those containing holy grounds or prison planets. Failing to do so meant you'd risk a criminal record. Just like what happened with Star Wars, this pencil-pushing bureaucratic detail made the game universe more believable and therefore more brilliant. Elite: Dangerous can take the excitement of paperwork and form-filling even further, starting you off in the Lave system with 100 credits and setting you up as a named driver on your mum's Eagle MKII. After two years you may apply for a full pilot's licence, which requires completing a 200-question theory test about hydrogen fuel scoops.
Relativistic Newtonian physics
Elite famously utilised "proper" physics to depict interplanetary travel, with journeys of hundreds of millions of miles taking the appropriate number of in-game weeks and requiring you to activate your ship's time acceleration. A real-world side-effect of near light-speed travel, however, is the relative contraction of space-time around the observer (or something) meaning that the faster you go the more time accelerates around you. Real astronauts who've spent time whizzing around the earth in the International Space Station, for example, are fractions of a second younger than they ought to be (this is a real scientific fact). Anyway, if Braben wants Elite: Dangerous to be at all realistic, he'll need to factor this science into development of the game. Here is an example scene he can have for free:
YOU: "Hello, I'm here to deliver these luxury goods on time. I have travelled at near light-speed for four months to do so. Can you just sign for them here please?"
MISSION GIVER: "Luxury goods? I didn't order any luxury goods, but my great, great, great grandfather did. I seem to remember reading something about it on his very ancient tombstone which I happen to still keep over here."
YOU (READING ALOUD): "Mission Giver Snr. 3782-3863: Died tragically due to chronic lack of the two tonnes of chaise longues and ornate lampshades that he'd ordered."
If it's going to be an MMO we'll probably need some sort of snooty sci-fi elven race in here. They should have sails on their spaceships instead of engines. They should also be nomadic, having blown up their homeworld centuries ago with nuclear weapons. Yeah, that's exactly what those bastard elves would be like.