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Elite: Dangerous beta makes exploration profitable

elite dangerous beta pc frontier developments

Elite Dangerous has lots of ways for would be space pilots to make a living. There are those that peaceably trade goods across the galaxy or, at the other end of the spectrum, hire themselves out as a mercenary and lend their guns to the highest bidder.

Frontier have turned exploration into the middle route.

Explorers will search the distant ends of the galaxy, scanning planets for minerals and artefacts, taking in the glory of the universe. Bringing those secrets back to civilisation. But, if anyone gets in their way they’ll blow two holes through their life support system.

“True system exploration is a bigger deal than just visiting that system,” Frontier write in a recent newsletter. “Visiting a system is not really exploring it except on an extremely superficial level, so our plan is, we will not count the system as explored at that point.”

Instead, a quick visit to a system simply tells you how many different explorable bodies are in a system – how many planets and moons are present. To get the rich data that you can sell you need to then visit those bodies and perform a more detailed scan on each of them. “There are different levels of scanning, both passive and active, that can be done from orbit, to determine basic planet types, their chemical composition, mineral deposits, surface liquids, interesting anomalies, and even indications of the presence of indigenous life.”

The makeup of a planet decides how powerful a scanning tool you’ll need to crack its secrets. For instance, if the planet has an atmosphere you need to use a powerful ground-penetrating radar beam and it’s worth scanning as much of the surface as possible. You don’t want to miss any alien cities, after all.

elite dangerous beta pc frontier developments

Once you’ve completed a scan you’ll want to hottail it to the nearest civilised system and sell your data to either The Federation or The Empire. If you’re particularly canny you can sell the same data to both but “woe betides the player who is discovered doing this – which can happen if both mega-powers send a research team to investigate!”

Frontier have done a great job of tying exploration into Elite’s other systems, particularly heat. Heat pops up everywhere in the space sandbox. All your ship’s systems produce heat and the hotter you are the more visible you are to other ships. The scanners used to penetrate a planet’s surface are very power intensive. You’ll likely have to shutdown shields and other important systems to perform the scan, maybe even your proximity scanners. That means you run hot, blind, and unprotected throughout the scan. You’re a beacon to anyone who drops into the system.

If you spot someone scanning a planet then the odds are that they’ve got a data bank filled with information that can be sold to system cartographers. You can lock your weapons, open up a channel, and demand they transfer all the data to your ship’s drive.

Of course, exploration data’s only valuable if you’re the first person to obtain and sell it. So if you spot anyone else scanning in the same system as you it can become a race to get the information back home first. You might be tempted to hinder the other explorer with a friendly missile or two.

Most players will likely throw a bit of exploration into the pot along with other means of making cash but it’s excellent to see a developer spend the time to make sure it’s an interesting pastime in its own right.

Elite Dangerous’ release date’s still hasn’t been announced but you can get access to the beta by buying a copy through Frontier’s site.