We’ve known from early on its development that heat would play a big part in Elite: Dangerous. Sensors in Elite detect heat, it’s how you find ships in the cold vacuum of space, and everything on your ship seems to create it - weapons, engines, coffee dispenser.
Frontier are just now bringing it to the fore in Elite’s alpha, though. They’re implementing some really canny mechanics that you dogfighters will love.
“There is no conduction or convection available in a vacuum,” write Frontier, “so the heat has to be radiated away to prevent overheating and degradation of system performance. This radiant heat provides a tell-tale signature that is used to provide the information on your scanner about the other ships in your local space. Unfortunately, it means you show up on everyone else’s scanners, too..!
“The operation of every module on your ship contributes to the load on your power-plant and hence your heat signature.
“Switching off your ship’s systems (even flight assist!) and using only gentle nudges of your thrusters to manoeuvre can result in a very stealthy profile, and you can combine this with the right weapons and tactics and achieve a whole new dimension to space combat.”
That means faster-than-light travel, shields, and energy weapons will all light you up like a beacon. Travelling slowly in dangerous systems or relying on kinetic weapons, like bullet-firing guns and missiles, will be good tactics for keeping your heat signature low. But everything generates heat.
Heat’s largely managed automatically by your ship. If you’re following another ship you’ll be able to see their heat vents open and close to release the heat, you’ll even see the elements glowing if the ship is running hot.
But Frontier have gone further than just vent systems. Heat-sinks “allow you to jettison heat stored by heating physical blocks to white heat, then ejecting them, having the additional benefit of acting as a decoy to other ships’ scanners and any incoming heat-seeking missiles.” That’s a genius idea, giving us greater control of our ships and how to manage their expulsions.
Plus, “in more extreme situations you can choose to ‘button down’ your ship for a short while, which stops the normal operation of the heat vents. Your shields are inoperative whilst you are in ‘silent running’ like this, and the heat that is still being generated by your ship’s systems builds up. Effectively your ship is ‘holding its breath’ and this is only a temporary measure – your ship will become disabled if you carry on too long.”
Steve’s fallen in love with Elite: Dangerous and you can read why in his preview.