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Elite: Dangerous’ trading system’s tested by hundreds of AI merchants

Elite alpha launches today

While the early alpha releases of Elite: Dangerous have focused on combat there’s been a huge chunk of Elite that’s been worked on behind the scenes at Frontier. Trading will be at the centre of Alpha 4. With good reason, too, it’s what ties together the thousands of systems in Elite’s universe.

While real players have been lacking, Frontier have used a team of hundreds of AI merchants to test their system.

Elite: Dangerous’ economic simulation is an involved, complex beast. To test that it works properly would take hundreds of players weeks of game-time to log the hours needed to fly between the stations, make the trades and collect the results. That’s where MiniElite comes in.

MiniElite is “a stand-alone program that enables us to quickly iterate on and refine the galactic economic market,” write Frontier. “It uses AIs to test the optimal trade routes at any one time, packing weeks of gameplay into just a few seconds.

“MiniElite draws on data from thousands of populated systems and their economies, and shows us exactly the supply capacity, stock level, buy and sell price for each commodity. Then it unleashes AI traders at the markets, who travel between systems, buying and selling according to certain sets of behaviour profiles, upgrading their ships as they are able.”

Check it out in action:

While complex, you can still get a grasp on how Elite’s economy works. “The rules are, of course, simple and universal: buy goods cheaply, where they are made and there is plentiful supply, and then sell them where prices are high, in a location that has a high demand for your cargo.

“In Elite: Dangerous there are thousands of star systems with commodities markets – and some with multiple markets. Each of these markets exist in a starport – generally an orbital station or stations far above the planet surface.

“Each star system has a different basic type of economy – for example Agricultural, Industrial, Hi-tech, Extraction, Refining or Service, and some have a mix of these basics – such as extraction and refining are often (but not always) in the same system. From a commodities perspective all but a service economy produce items for consumption. This creates an active trade network.”

Using that simple data you can start creating trade routes, finding goods one system has, goods another needs, and all the way buying and selling so that you never travel with an empty hold.

“The type of government in each system helps define the legality of individual goods in that particular market; ranging from anarchies where ‘anything goes’, to theocracies who have their own idiosyncratic strict proscriptions, and many points in between.” So if you want to trade slaves you’ll be able to do it legally in some regions and on the black market in others. And if you’re wanting the best price you’ll want to be working in those places it is outlawed. It’ll be a tad more dangerous, mind.

“The kind of planets, chemical composition, temperature, presence of asteroid fields, and other celestial bodies govern the resources that are prevalent in system, and hence what drives the economy and what goods are produced.”

“As in today’s world, supply and demand drive prices. Elite: Dangerous’ galactic market uses a server-based background trading simulation as a foundation. Initial supply and demand levels are influenced via trading between local systems. In this way, markets are not isolated but affect their near neighbours; if there is an increase or decrease in the supply of a particular commodity it will have a knock on effect on the pricing in other local systems too, as traders (AI or player) rapidly level the prices a little based on supply and demand.”

You can affect the markets, too. “The smaller the market the more you will be able to influence that market through trading. The more valuable a commodity the more rare it will be, and therefore the more susceptible to your influence.

“All your individual trades are added to the whole, and even mid-sized economies can be influenced by concerted efforts between groups of like-minded individuals. So you may find your ‘milk run’ dries up for a time, forcing you to look elsewhere for the deal.”

Alpha 4’s release date’s still to be announced.