A two-year-long storyline in Elite Dangerous ended with a bang this month. Actually, there were two bangs in Update 13: the first was the firing of a superweapon in an attempt to destroy the alien Thargoids… quickly followed by the second bang of the Thargoids totally not being destroyed and blowing that superweapon into space-smithereens.
These disastrous events, which were viewable to players via an in-game cinematic, bring Elite Dangerous into its next story arc, Aftermath, as the fallout from the failure of the superweapon opens up new events and plenty of questions for players. What exactly went wrong? What will happen next? How will the galaxy, its factions, and players react after the catastrophe?
I recently spoke with members of the Frontier Developments team about the future of Elite Dangerous, and what Update 14 will mean for the long-running simulation of Milky Way Galaxy. Naturally they prefer to let the story unfold for players instead of straight-up telling me every single detail (darn), but they did drop a few hints about the ongoing alien threat, as well as something they themselves find threatening.
"As we move towards Update 14, and the Aftermath, we'll be really escalating the Thargoid threat, to the extent commanders have not seen before," said senior producer Samantha Marsh. "I think everyone can see that bad things are coming. But the Aftermath will continue to kick that into higher and higher gear, and we're really excited to see exactly [how] everyone deals with it.
"And it's definitely safe to say the galaxy won't be the same," she added.
The in-game cinematic that ended the Azimuth Saga was a new way to share a story with players, but it's not the only tool Frontier Developments will be using as the events of Aftermath are slowly revealed.
"There's also the part of Elite that's the exploratory storytelling, and people who are sort of uncovering elements of the story and piecing it together," Marsh said. "And we love to see the players doing that part of it. I think it's really amazing to see what they find."
"Yeah, [we] love putting little mysteries in the game for players to solve," said Luke Betterton, lead game designer. "One of the things that we do quite a lot of is pretty hefty kind of narrative consideration behind a lot of what we create. So for people to be able to piece together what that narrative is when we're not quite upfront with it, for players to get those theories, all the cogs are whirring, they're trying to figure out exactly what is happening here. What's what is coming next? That's a great joy of mine."
Speaking of threats, there's a new one when it comes to Elite Dangerous, but it's not of the alien variety. It's from right here on Earth. I asked the developers if astronomers—real world astronomers, that is—making new discoveries about our galaxy have an effect on the simulated Milky Way Galaxy of Elite Dangerous.
"If you're asking whether the James Webb Telescope is terrifying for Elite Dangerous' future? Yeah, it is, yeah," said Betterton, laughing. "If they start seeing stuff that we then have to retrofit into the game, that's going to be a challenge."
"We're not going to overhaul the whole galaxy if there's loads of different new discoveries, but it certainly does influence what we do," said Marsh. "I can give you an example of something that NASA renamed, I think it was a galaxy, I really can't remember exactly what, but they renamed it because the original name, they found to be a bit more offensive these days. So, we actually went in and renamed it ourselves to match the new name from NASA as well."
"I think that's also what makes Elite so interesting is it's [an] evolving, living game," Marsh continued. "It has these updates and changes and it's always kind of evolving into something really new and unique, which is really cool."