With community goals, Elite: Dangerous's first post-launch update let the community collaborate in an abstract, large-scale sense. For the upcoming patch 1.2, co-operation will be more intimate and immediate. It's called the 'Wings' update, and it will let up to four players group together to patrol the galaxies as a single unit.
"Players will be able to share lots of feedback across the wing—who is targeting who, hull and shield statuses, etc.—and more easily follow each other in and out of Super Cruise," says Sandro Sammarco, Elite: Dangerous lead designer. The status of your wingmen will be displayed on your ship UI, and wing members will be colour-coded on the scanner and comms window, making it easy to keep track of your squadron.
More than just knowing where your friends are, players in a wing will be able to share the bounty on any ship that they bring down together. To counteract this increase in firepower, the game will respond with tougher challenges. "In 1.2, players will start to see larger, more dangerous signal sources, where single ships would be at serious risk," Sammarco says. "Those signal sources will be perfect battlegrounds for coordinated squadrons, and they’ll find the rewards—in terms of bounties and cargo—will be suitably elevated in line with the challenge."
While the coordinated firepower of a wing will be much increased, the four-pilot limit has been designed to prevent a squadron from owning a system. "It allows multiple wings to be present at any given location and it prevents a single wing from being able to completely dominate through sheer numbers," says Sammarco of the pilot cap. "There’s always room in any star system for more players than any single wing can accommodate, but at the same time, a wing of four still represents a significant increase of capability over a lone vessel provided players cooperate effectively."
Rather than elect a wing leader, each player will act as an autonomous individual within the group. "Everyone in a wing has equal status and makes their own decisions," says Sammarco. "The wing is meant to be flexible and adaptable, always."
That extends to Super Cruise. When jumping, pilots can choose to lock-on to any member of their wing, and so automatically follow them in and out of Super Cruise. In addition, the rules around manually entering and exiting a jump are slightly relaxed for wing members—allowing them to more easily arrive in the same corner of space.
Importantly, wing members aren't forced to stay together. “Wingmen don’t need to be in the same star system all the time, " says Sammarco. "This really enhances the leverage that you can get by working together, by distributing your efforts through the galaxy. If one of you gets into trouble you can immediately call the others for help from far away.
“You can leave and join a wing at any time. Any member of a wing can invite others, and as people leave the wing others can join. Theoretically a wing could end up with a totally different set of members than it started with and persist over a long time.”
As for future support, Sammarco says that wings are now an integral part of development. "I can’t go into details on all our plans, of course, but Wings will open a number of doors for us. For instance, we could create even more dangerous encounters, both in normal space and in Super Cruise.
"We could add things like cargo depots which allow multiple wingmen to load and deliver cargo for the same mission, and offer new ways for ships in a wing to interact with one another, like having limpets to transfer fuel between the wing or allowing players to take formation around stellar bodies and perform advanced linked scans."
Sammarco assures that solo players aren't being cut out of the game's development plans. "Lone wolves will have to be able take on those dangerous encounters at great risk, and deliver those massive amounts of cargo using multiple trips. Elite: Dangerous is playable alone, and we always have those lone players in mind when designing new features."
Elite: Dangerous's 1.2 update will enter beta in the first week of March.