One of the major features of the upcoming expansion for Elite: Dangerous, and one of the biggest drawcards for the latest round of space simulators in general, is the ability to land on any planet you discover.
David Braben, founder of Elite Dangerous developer Frontier Developments, posted a video on the weekend showcasing how the creation of planetary landings was coming along. And going off the footage, there's a fair way to go.
In the YouTube video, which only runs for 22 seconds and is captured without sound, the footage shows the crash site of one planet, with little detail on what Braben calls the "potato-shaped planetoid". The textures look a tad shiny in the way a lot of games in the last 5 or 6 years did, and there's not a great deal of debris on the planet. But it does illustrate the game's growing scope — and some of the difficulty faced by modern space epics.
Braben said the footage was captured using a "debug camera on an SRV" and was a "quick-and-dirty un-edited capture". "There are tons of little details we plan to tweak or fix, but I thought it would be great for you guys to see where we’re up to with this," he added in the video's description.
The planetary landings are due to be patched into E:D before Christmas, although it's pretty clear from the footage that what's added will be pretty threadbare. And when you consider the level of detail that players want and expect — everyone is still chasing the Freelancer dream of being able to roam around on the planet, or something with a little more activity than wandering around rocks — it's obvious that planetary landings might take quite a while.
It's certainly a lot more interesting than the dreary platforms in X: Rebirth. But even Egosoft's atrocious release in late 2013 highlighted the supreme difficulty of allowing players to fly around a gargantuan universe and the planets that inhabit it.
It may be the case that by the time the full vision of E:D's planet landings are fully realised, No Man's Sky will come out and scratch the itch that space tragics (my new term for people who can't get enough of flying, trading and dog-fighting their way around virtual galaxies) have been tolerating for so long.
Will it be too late by then? I guess we'll find out in December.