If you've ever dreamed of being able to travel to the outer reaches of the galaxy and observe the double sunrise of a binary star over a distant planet, or see the twin ejection streams of a neutron star, or lazily graze the ice rings of a gas giant, now you can ... almost. Elite Dangerous is a game for the PC and Xbox with all the things you'd expect from a space game: space stations, combat and trading, but the part I love the most is the exploration. The game simulates nothing less than all 400 billion star systems of the Milky Way, and lets you roam among them. All of the planets, stars, nebulae we know about are there (including the recently-discovered Trappist-1 system), but that's a tiny fraction of the galaxy we know exists. The rest of the systems are procedurally generated under the cosmological principles as we generally understand them today, and you can visit every one (potentially at least). Exploration is a slow process — I'm currently towards the end of a month-long trek out beyond the Eagle Nebula — but it's relaxing in a Zen way and the views along the way are gorgeous.
The simulation is startlingly realistic: I was astounded when it became apparent as that distant nebula got larger with each jump that the background isn't a generic celestial sphere, but actually generated for each unique location you visit. If you see a star, you can head in that direction and see what planets are circling it (and even land on them). Each planet circles its star in real time, as does each moon about its planet, and each space station about its moon. But it's actually hard to appreciate the depth of the simulation in human time, because you don't typically hang around for a full day to see the rotation of a planet below. But Nicholas Breakspear used the game to make time-lapse movies of various scenes so you can see this galactic orrery in action:
If you'd like to see more, see Throttle Down 2. But for now that's all from the blog for this week. Have a good weekend — I'm going to see if I can make it to Colonia before we're back on Monday.