These are the voyages of 500 Elite: Dangerous (opens in new tab) players. Their 12-week mission: to explore strange new worlds, to expand the Galactic Mapping Project (opens in new tab), to boldly go where only one man has bothered to go before.
Distant Worlds is the codename for a player-driven mission on an unprecedented scale. At 20:00 EU time on January 14, a vast flotilla will leave the Pallaeni system on course for Beagle Point—a lone star on the edge of the galaxy. It's a scientific mission in homage to the Distant Suns, Commander Erimus' five-week trek to the limits of Elite's universe in the DSS Beagle documented in a 12-part video series (opens in new tab). The fleet will trace a similar route, but instead of pressing doggedly onward, it will explore and document every system and planet it passes, contributing its data to the Galactic Mapping Project.
The mission was never intended to be so ambitious, but pilots have been helpless to resist its pull. I caught up with the Distant Worlds masterminds (there are no leaders on the expedition), Erimus and Dr Kaii, to talk over the allure of the great unknown.
"The initial idea was for the two of us to wing up and retrace the Distant Suns expedition but this time explore the worlds along the route," Kaii tells me. "One or two other players took an interest and it was suggested that the idea be posted on the explorers forum. Within a month we had 100 people—especially after Frontier took a huge interest—and within two months over 500. It has become a real team effort."
They predict attrition. I once saw a documentary called Battlestar Galactica and can tell you that a lengthy trip to the arse-end of the galaxy will have casualties. Despite having worked on his Deep Space Surveys (opens in new tab) series, Kaii considers personal fatigue the biggest threat, while 500 pilots landing and colliding lightyears from a repair station comes a close second. Erimus himself once lamented the grind of scanning, travelling and repeating in an interview (opens in new tab) with Kotaku.
"The main reason why this expedition is so appealing is because its going to include many other players," Erimus says. "Exploration on the whole before [season of expansions] Horizons (opens in new tab) was often a lone wolf game-style with players heading off into the depths on their own—Distant Suns was an example. Distant Worlds is going to embrace a much more social aspect."
"Flying from system to system, imagining the histories and stories of the people there, the wars, the governments, the interactions between them," Kaii adds, "it is all very Stargate-esque, and it really keeps me coming back to the game and dreaming about it when not playing. Distant Worlds is going to get a very Star Trek experience out of the game. Travelling as a big unified group, with the goal of boldly going out and seeing what there is to find."
The spirit of the expedition is bang in line with the wide-eyed exploration of classic sci-fi: a social endeavour for the good of mankind, chasing knowledge for knowledge's sake. If you'd like to volunteer your ship and embark on an endurance mission the like of which never before seen in Elite, you can sign up right here.