Black Holes

This posting has more Elite:Dangerous spoilers, this time regarding black holes.

Generally, I don’t like TED talks much, but there are exceptions. This one is pretty cool:

The part where she shows the footage of the stars orbiting Sagittarius A* – is so cool. She talks about the way that they calculated what the black hole’s accretion disk would look like, and are assembling an image of the black hole.

In-game there are regions of space full of old stars, that are black hole fields. If you can call something where the black holes are 200+ly apart “field” – in closer to human space there aren’t very many, to reflect the absence that we observe.

For reasons I can’t really explain, I find exploring to be incredibly relaxing. Once you do it enough, you realize that the galaxy is remarkably self-similar. “Oh, boy, another star.” But it’s not quite like that: the game engine builds them according to the most realistic model that Frontier can do, right now, and sometimes you find yourself in places that just make you pause and go “wow.” That’s a water world (with early forms of life!) that I stumbled across on my way to Tabby’s star.

Some of you probably remember Myst – I played it, too, and we were all amazed by the quality of the graphics. Those were images that took weeks and months to ray-trace on the hardware of the time. Now, with the kinds of graphics coprocessors you can buy for $500, you can do that in real-time. I know that the “current crop” of gamers have come to expect this, but my brain keeps gibbering “that’s not a cut-scene! that’s game-play!”

Anyway, I dawdled on my way out to Tabby’s Star, which means you don’t just jump in-system, scoop, align for your next jump, and leave: you park for a second and look at the system map:

Jackie Silver was one of the first Elite explorers, he found all kinds of cool stuff. And he found this system, too. It’s a white giant with two black holes orbiting it, way out. What would it really look like in a system where there are two invisible monsters sweeping space around a giant star? Well, for one thing, they’re not really that close. I often get fooled when I look at the map and expect things to be right on top of eachother, but really they’re so far apart that they’re a dot in the distance.

Probably my biggest complaint about the game is that for a game called “Elite: Dangerous” it’s remarkably safe. If you fly straight at a gas giant, your computer will drop you out of supercruise (and you’ll take some damage) but you won’t be ripped apart and turned into a thin scum of compressed stuff on the surface of a singularity. If you crank through a system at 20C and pass through a gas giant’s ring, you’re not turned into a little squirt of plasma – your computer stops you and you take a bit of damage. I wish the game was more unforgiving, because part of the grandeur of a black hole is how unforgiving they are. In the video above, I flew within a few thousands of kilometers of the thing.

You know what’s the most dangerous part of the game? Parking. If you take too long docking in your assigned pad in a spaceport, the spaceport will open fire on you and blow you up to get rid of you – which is insanely unrealistic: who’d want chunks of a gigantic spacecraft exploding and whanging around inside their orbital?

Well, it’s a game.


  1. says

    Now that the anhedonia has abated enough for me to reconnect with video games I should go back and try some exploring in the cobra III I last purchased. There is still a lot of that game I have not tried out.

  2. says

    That’s just it, it’s not a matter of boring. I got parked at a commodore 64 and the original at around 7 years old. I used to LOVE space simulation games. During the last ten years my positive feelings about many things were just severed. Cleanly.

    I’m managing the Halo: Master Chief Collection at the moment (that was my “Star Wars/Star Trek”). But I’ve been watching a lot of the game footage on YouTube during brekfast. The new Thargoids are very asthetically pleasing.

  3. says

    it’s not a matter of boring

    I know you to be careful with your language, so I assumed when you said “anhedonia” you were searching for a correct word.

    During the last ten years my positive feelings about many things were just severed. Cleanly.


    I’m managing the Halo: Master Chief Collection at the moment (that was my “Star Wars/Star Trek”). But I’ve been watching a lot of the game footage on YouTube during brekfast. The new Thargoids are very asthetically pleasing.

    I have always loved the Halo series, in many ways. It’s a masterpiece of tactical design, and the architecture is really cool and consistent; it makes me very happy to be able to see a piece of gear or structure and tell if it’s human-made, or what, even from a distance. There’s a great design discipline going on there.

    The new aliens in Elite are definite;y cool. I’m super impressed by the way they integrate the sound into the gameplay, now. After the last patch, my controls are not working correctly (thanks, Frontier!) and I can no longer do screenshots or video captures (brilliant) for some reason. Imagine my frustration when I went to the alien wreck and it was very cool but I could not save the experience. Arrgh!

  4. says

    I mean the diagnosis of anhedonia. I’m as sure about the features and I’m as plain with my therapist. It is interesting though, the cut with things I tend to do for fun was so clean. I can definately tie it to learned helplessness for a specific time. There’s seems to be altered cell morphology in the striatum (reward system) that’s tied to activity changes elsewhere. I think this is tied to finally being employed.

    I loved the architecture too. I’m revisiting the previous games before playing the fifth one (and second halo wars). I was also sucked in by the back story added by the books. The more meta themes are also interesting (turning brains into AIs, storing knowledge and memory in a kind of parallel part of reality like “subspace”. The Forunner world in 4 is gorgeous.

    I always have to think that there is no way the Forunner would run so far to push buttons and insert keys though. It’s pretty but it should make sense.

    I like the experience of them in action in space. It’s like a jellyfish-starfish thrumming around and occasionally lighting up like a holiday tree. I hope they get creative with the biology as technology.