When NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto on July 14th and successfully snapped the clearest photos ever taken of the dwarf planet, Frontier Developments, the Elite: Dangerous developers, were among the many that congratulated NASA on their incredible achievement. They are also generally pleased “by how closely our simulation has matched the ‘smooth’ heart-shaped area on Pluto”, according to their latest newsletter.
The Frontier Development team uses real world data whenever they can to make objects as real as possible. “With a few exceptions, the surfaces you see are derived from the custom simulation based on things like the distance from the star and Newton’s second law, the object’s mass, temperature, composition, surface age, atmosphere, chemistry, tidal heating, radiative heating, impacts from other bodies during formation and so forth,” says Assistant Art Director Jon Bottone. “For familiar objects like Earth, Mars and our moon, we can use real height map data to build a truly accurate model of the surface. […] Those height maps are invaluable to making familiar planets look real, and if NASA is able to release that data for Pluto and Charon – or any other planetary body –we should be able to incorporate that in the future too.”
But why do they go through all of this for surface data? Why don’t they just paint on a surface texture based on the images released by NASA’s New Horizons?
“All our planets are built using a sophisticated simulation so that one day you can get close to them. Really close,” Bottone says. “Elite: Dangerous is designed for the future, and by sticking to the simulation and constantly improving it to make it as real as possible, we can be sure the canyons and mountains you see from space will accurately be reflected when you skim close to the surface, or even land upon it.”
So, they plan on updating the data when it’s released by NASA in preparation for the future addition which will allow you to fly along the planets’ surfaces. Is this what the upcoming Gamescon announcement from Frontier Developments is? “The Elite: Dangerous team have never been bigger, and we’re working long hours and weekends to have our major announcement ready in time for Gamescom.” Edward Lewis, E:D Community Manager posts in the forums. “It’s something we’ve be building to for a long time and something we can’t wait to reveal. You’ll hear all about that when Gamescom opens to the press on August 5th.”
The writing may be on the proverbial wall, “[…] flying along that four-mile deep canyon on Charon looks irresistible. Thanks to NASA’s hard work, that day may be closer than ever.”