For Elite: Dangerous, Frontier Developments went to a lot of trouble to simulate our galaxy in as much detail as possible. The recent New Horizons flyby of Pluto is one of the first opportunities we've had to see how good Elite's modelled facsimile is to the actual dwarf planet and, well, the studio did an excellent job.
In the game's latest newsletter, there's a special section covering New Horizons and its effect on Elite's representation of Pluto (and its largest moon, Charon). Turns out they're a good match for NASA's photos, validating the developer's efforts to use algorithms and data to generate the planets, rather than making them completely by hand:
You'll notice Pluto and Charon look a little different in Elite: Dangerous, though we're pleased by how closely our simulation has matched the 'smooth' heart-shaped area on Pluto. Our simulation assumed a more dramatic effect from the mild volcanism caused by tidal heating from interaction with Charon, which would uniformly refresh the surface over time.
It's mentioned that there is 1300 years between Elite's depiction and the real Pluto, equalling "five more orbits and five more heating/cooling cycles", so we'll have to check back in 3300 to see if Frontier got it right.
You might be wondering now that images are available of Pluto's surface, why the developer doesn't just update the planet's in-game look? The answer is a little complicated:
"All our planets are built using a sophisticated simulation so that one day you can get close to them. Really close," [assistant art director Jon Bottone] says. "Right now every planet can only be observed from afar, but Elite: Dangerous is designed for the future ... In short: we're leaving Pluto and Charon to the simulation for now because we want to land on them someday, but we'll improve the simulation when we have the necessary data because flying along that four-mile deep canyon on Charon looks irresistible. Thanks to NASA's hard work, that day may be closer than ever.
So nothing is going to change in the short-term because it doesn't really need to. And I'm sure the Frontier guys are pumped that their hard work in getting the simulation right has paid off (and will hopefully continue to do so).
Elite: Dangerous Newsletter #83 - From Frontier Developments [Elite: Dangerous, via Vgamerz]
Top image: Aimicara