It’s now just over a month until Frontier Developments launches the full version of Elite: Dangerous, the anticipated virtual reality (VR) compatible space simulation experience. The PC title has been subject to extensive Beta testing throughout 2014 in which fans have been able to sample large portions of the videogame ahead of its release to ensure that it is as feature-complete as promised in the title’s hugely successful Kickstarter campaign that ended last year. However it appears that one feature mentioned in that campaign that won’t be making it into the full title is an offline mode.
Frontier Developments founder David Braben first hinted that the offline mode was dropped in this week’s edition of the Elite: Dangerous newsletter: “Going forwards, being online lets us constantly both curate and evolve the galaxy, with stories unfolding according to the actions of commanders,” he said. “Exploration is also a key factor, too, and it is important that what a single player explores matches what other players explore whether single or multiplayer – a complex, coherent world – something we have achieved. Galaxy, story, missions, have to match, and it does mean the single player has to connect to the server from time to time, but this has the added advantage that everyone can participate in the activities that can happen in the galaxy. A fully offline experience would be unacceptably limited and static compared to the dynamic, ever unfolding experience we are delivering.”
Braben’s comments have led to the creation of a new thread in the Elite: Dangerous forums that has amassed over 1,500 comments since its creation on 14th November 2014. As forum members point out, the original Kickstarter campaign that raised some £1,578,316 GBP towards the development of the title does mention that it will be possible to play the title without an online connection. “Update! The above is the intended single player experience,” the Kickstarter FAQ reads after describing a single-player mode that is still connected online. “However it will be possible to have a single player game without connecting to the galaxy server. You won’t get the features of the evolving galaxy (although we will investigate minimising those differences) and you probably won’t be able to sync between server and non-server (again we’ll investigate).”
Fans in the thread have suggested that Frontier Developments isn’t delivering on what it promised in that Kickstarter campaign, with some now asking for refunds. However executive producer Michael Brooke has been defending the company’s decision in the same thread: “As mentioned in the newsletter thread the game has changed a lot since the initial kickstarter,” Brooke said. “One of the biggest changes is the importance of the the offline component to manage the galaxy and interactions. This isn’t something we can translate into an offline experience as we’d effectively have to make a new game world – we couldn’t share the same world and that throws out the intent for a shared universe. [sic]”
He later added: “The problem is that the galaxy mechanics all sit on the online servers. The data set and processes are huge and not something that would translate offline without considerable compromise to the vision. Trust me we didn’t sit down and think what would annoy people the most! It’s a choice we’ve had to make and so we’ve taken it.”
Brookes explained that Elite: Dangerous needed to connect online whenever players need to carry out a ‘server moderated transaction’ such as trading. Without an online connection, features such as this would not be possible. As for the mention of an offline mode’s inclusion in the Kickstarter campaign, he explained, “At the time we didn’t think it would be a problem.”
Speaking in the general newsletter thread, Brooke noted: “It’s not a decision we took lightly. We would much rather keep everyone happy (if such a thing were possible), but trying to do an offline version compromises what we’re doing with the online version and we have said from the very beginning that is how we intended the game to be played. Of course some people are upset by the decision, we’re not happy with it either but it’s the decision we’ve had to make for the good of the game.
“We’d essentially have to make two games (with some commonality like graphics and assets),” he noted.
As Frontier Developments mentions in its newsletter, Elite: Dangerous is still delivering more than what had been promised in other parts of the Kickstarter campaign. For example, the title will eventually contain 30 ships for players to pilot, five more than had originally been promised. Players can use these ships to explore the title’s many star systems, some of which have been created using real-world astronomical data. The experience also features full support for the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD). It is set to launch on PC on 16th December 2014 with a Mac version following next year.
VRFocus will continue to follow Elite: Dangerous in the run up to launch, reporting back with more on this story and any other updates.