Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Fingerbob's guide to Exploration in Elite Dangerous

Hi! Welcome to my very fast guide to exploring in Elite: Dangerous. I'm assuming if you're reading this you're either pretty new to E:D or you've got terribored by the grind that is commodity trading (and if that's the case, I don't blame you).

If you do want to learn about trading, take a look at my beginner's guide here.

If you've never done any exploring yet, then we're about to go through the basics. The galaxy is full of beautiful and wonderful sights. Put the time into a bit of exploring and you'll realize just how incredible space can be. Frontier Developments have managed to put a huge number of known stellar objects into the game and seeing them with your own eyes is often very rewarding.

So, without further ado - let's explore, commander.

Kit out a ship!

You'll need a ship to explore with. You can do this in a Sidewinder if you desire, but I'd recommend something a little more suited to the job. That means ideally an Asp, or potentially a Hauler or an Adder. You can honestly explore in any ship though, if that's your thing.

The reason I suggest an Asp is because it's designed to explore - the jump range is phenomenal and you can easily kit it out with all the goodies you're going to need - and there's a couple of basic things that really you don't want to be without. A Hauler can also be kitted out with a great jump range and can just about squeeze in what you need, so if you want to do it on a budget that's the ship to pick.

The main thing you'll need is a good jump range. That means the best class FSD you can afford - ideally the A class for your relevant ship.

Next up, you should be packing two scanners. You should get the Advanced Discovery Scanner - the other two (Basic DS and Intermediate DS) are pretty much useless if you're intending to go out into the wild black yonder and find things, because they have a limited range. The last thing you want to be doing is flying around in the dark, literally, trying to spot planets and stars via parallax motion. The Advanced Discovery Scanner is pricey (at 1.5 million credits) but it will pay for itself within a couple of hours.

You should also take along a Detailed Surface Scanner because it provides more information when you scan a planet or star - this translates into more knowledge for you, and more credits when you sell the information to the cartographic service.

You'll be sundiving to refuel regularly while exploring - there isn't anywhere for you to stop and refuel. Pick the largest fuel scoop you can afford, as it will save you valuable time and make scooping less of a heated affair. In an Asp, you can get away with a 3A scoop, but if you can find a class 5 (or better yet, 5B or 5A) you'll not regret taking it. If you fit a class 6 scoop you'll often be done refueling faster than you can scan.

You might normally find a shield booster or extra hull armor useful. However, the goal is not to take any damage at all, so if you want to squeeze the most out of your jump drive, then don't take them with you. Shields don't work in supercruise and you'll be spending all of your time cruising unless you make a mistake.

Jump range is always affected by what you're carrying, so try and slim down your ship to the basics. Don't take anything with you that you won't need, such as Kill Warrant Scanners, heavy plating or loads of weapons. I'd recommend taking a couple of guns just in case you get in trouble in the fringe systems before you leave the Sol core, but most explorers don't carry them. You'll also not need any cargo space, so feel free to remove any unnecessary cargo bays to lighten up your ship.

If you're set on getting your jump range as high as possible, then you can reduce performance in some of the systems you'd normally want to max out. For example, you can get away with a smaller power plant, as long as you pick the A class (which has the best heat dispersion, which is crucial when scooping). You can also pick a smaller class of thruster, as they don't affect performance in supercruise.

I'd highly recommend carrying at least one (and possibly more) Auto Field-Maintenance Units. These allow you to fix any module damage that happens when you inevitably crash into a star or overheat yourself when fuel scooping.

I'd also recommend carrying a Heat Sink Launcher, for that one-in-a-thousand time where you fly into a binary system and arrive inside one of the stars. Yes, folks, this can and does happen.

Example loadouts

Here's a good conversation about the best Asp loadouts. Pop over to EDShipyard and work out your explorer spec before you head out.

As an example, here's my current Asp explorer loadout. You can slim it further quite easily by skimping on systems and weapons. The absolute stripped explorer spec will hit 35LY or more depending on what you want to leave behind.

Cmdr Aygen has recommended the following loadout, which is considerably more optimal than mine! You'll see that he's gone for multiple (AFMUs) which can repair damaged systems if you do get into trouble when out in the stars. He's also dropped his power plant and power distributor right down to the bare minimum.

Here's an example Hauler loadout that will hit 30LY.

You can also push an Adder to nearly 30LY but you'll be sacrificing everything to get there.

Go Explore!

Once you're kitted out, then it's time to go exploring. For your first trip, I'd recommend heading out from the Sol sphere to the sides, or up, or down - don't go into the centre just yet. The galactic core is a very long way from Sol and it will take a day or two of real travel time to get there even if you don't stop to look at the sights. It's also where most people start heading first, so you'll be waiting a while for discovery bonuses. Pick somewhere between 500 and 1000LY away, set your jump to fastest, and head on out.

As you travel, you'll see that most of the systems you arrive at will be fully scanned by other commanders - their name will be on the stars and planets in the system. The first person to discover a stellar object is given a name credit, as well as a discovery bonus when their data is sold. As you push out from the core, you'll start to find more systems where only the primary star is tagged. These are good systems to grab a credit if you want to get your name on something - but remember, you don't get the name tag or the money until you return to sell your data.

You don't need to be the first person to find an object to be rewarded for scanning it. The cartographic service will still give you a hefty cash reward for scanning something even if it's been seen before by someone else.

Once you start travelling past a couple of hundred LY out from the core, you'll begin to find the occasional entire system that's undiscovered. Depending on the direction you pick, you might find you need to travel 500LY or more before you get lucky. Don't get frustrated, just keep pushing on out and enjoy the sights.

Once you find yourself in true virgin territory, that's your opportunity to start claiming credit for everything you see. Unless you have a specific goal in mind, then switch over to efficient jumps and explore the area, scanning as you go.

If you're not sure where you'd like to travel - pick something pretty and start flying towards it! The Orion nebula is an obvious first candidate. Pick HIP and HR stars on the way to your goal and you are guaranteed to see some wondrous sights.

Don't forget your fuel scoop, and don't forget to keep your tank topped up.

Always remember : FOG! KBAM! if you fly too far into the unknown, you're going to crash.

(There's loads of other mnemonics, like KGB FOAM or various poems, to help you remember which stars you can scoop. You can also turn on "show by star class" in the galaxy map and select only the ones you can scoop from, to help ensure you don't run dry).

Scan things!

How do you discover stars and planets? Simple! you scan them.

Before you set off, set your discovery scanner on a fire group (not the same group as your weapons) and try it before you enter supercruise. You can use the discovery scanner in supercruise as long as it's been previously used in normal space.

The first thing you should do on arrival at a system is fire off your scanner. Assuming you have an Advanced Discovery Scanner, this pings the entire system with a lovely braaaap noise and tells you what's available to scan. You'll get money simply for performing the initial scan, but you won't get a discovery credit until you actually scan objects. If you have a Beginner or Intermediate scanner, you'll see objects within scan range (500Ls for the basic scanner, 1000Ls for the intermediate). You will most likely be missing a load of objects that are further out in the system - you'll either need to ignore them or fly out and repeat the scan. This process is tedious and time consuming, so (again!) I highly recommend you get the Advanced version.

Really, the ADC should be called the Advanced Discovery Pinger, because it doesn't actually scan anything - it just pings the system and tells you what's available to scan. This was pretty confusing to me at first. Once you've done the ping, you then have to actually scan objects.

To scan something, you simply target the object (either by using your controller to target, or by selecting an object from the navigation system list). Point your ship at the object, and if you're close enough you will begin scanning the object. Nothing else is required.

If you're not close enough, the scan won't start. Simply fly closer to the object. The mass of the object doesn't affect scan distance, but radius does. You can scan something at a distance of 4,000 times the radius of the object you're scanning. Of course, normally, you're far enough away from something that the distance is measured in Light Seconds (Ls) instead of Km. remember that one Ls is approximately 300,000 Km.

Most planetary bodies have a radius that's measured in thousands of Km - for example the radius of the Earth is 6,371 Km. If you're trying to get a distance in Ls and you're using a radius in 1000 Km, then you just need to multiply the radius by 13.3 to get a rough scan distance.

Here's some examples:

Radius (1000 Km) Scan distance (Ls)
0.5 6.67
1.00 13.34
2.00 26.68
5.00 66.7
6.371 85.0
10.00 133.4
20.00 267
50.00 667
695.8 9282

You'll see the Earth and the Sun are both coloured here. One solar radius is 695,800 Km. When scanning stars, you can use this as a guideline for how far you'll need to be from the star. Half a stellar radius will normally scan at around 4500Ls.

The closer you fly to an object, the faster you'll scan it. Sometimes you will want to do this at close to minimum distance (for example the last planet you scan in a system). Normally, you'll actually want to scan from half maximum distance or further, because the closer you get to the planet, the further down the gravity well you travel. When you're close to an object, your maximum speed gets limited, which means travelling to the next planet will take you longer (and the closer you get, the slower you go on the way out).

A good approach strategy is to fly to 7s with the aim of slowing to a stop once you hit maximum scan range - look at the radius in the system map for the object you're heading towards and work out the max scan distance before you head there, or while you're in transit.

If you're flying towards a gas giant with orbiting planets or moons, you will normally scan the gas giant a long way out, before you're remotely close enough to scan the orbiting bodies. Keep heading towards the planet rather than stopping, and try to park yourself above the gas giant with the rest of the moons orbiting around you, ideally 20-30Ls above the planet. this will give you a good view of where to head to scan things, and you won't get caught up in the gravity well of every moon as you fly past it to the next one.

If you get lucky with alignment, you can fly-by scan larger objects like Jovians, keeping your speed up as you go. If you get unlucky with your alignment (all the planets are scattered around the star) then don't simply head to the closest one over and over - spend a bit of time planning a route out and back in if necessary. If you're not sure where all the planets are in space, then head up from the ecliptic so you can see the orbit lines.

once you've finished scanning objects in a system, you can select your next jump destination by finding the highlighted item in your navigation list, or by binding a key to "Target Next System in Route".

Make some money!

All stellar objects are not created equal. Some things are incredibly valuable - Earth-like planets, water worlds, black holes, neutron stars. Planets that are candidates for terraforming give a decent price bump. Tiny ice rocks orbiting distant gas giants are virtually worthless and asteroid clusters are actually worthless, so don't ever scan those.

Here's a lovely graphic created by Dubardo, based off Nutter's excellent work (and Nutter's exploration guides are a great place to get you started after reading this).

Various folks, including Cmdrs Corporate Shill, Exploration and Aygen, have pointed out that the prices on this graphic are no longer correct. Commander Girsi has done the most recent pricing analysis that I'm aware of, with this graphic telling you the kind of rewards you should actually expect.

Depending on your play style, there's a couple of different ways to make money exploring. If you're not bothered about your money per hour, then just head on out and scan just about everything. Anything coloured is worth at least 5K and worlds that look vaguely earth-like are always worth more than that.

It's nearly always worth scanning the star you arrive at, because you'll likely need to scoop anyway. Fly in far enough to get your scoop slurping, point directly at the star, select it, and start scanning. While you're doing this, ping the system.

Once you've done the ADS ping and you're scanning the star, take a quick look at the system map to see what's there, and then take a quick look on the navigation pane to see how far out everything is. You often find you can target close planets (either metal planets close to the star, or occasionally gas giants under 700Ls from the star) without having to move while you're scooping. Secondary stars are also often close enough to scan without moving.

Here's a video showing my normal process whenever I arrive in a system. I hold the ADS ping button as I arrive, and slow enough that I get into comfortable scooping range before stopping. While the primary is scanning, I quickly check the system view and the distance to any other objects that might be worth looking at. If there's nothing cool to see - move on to the next system.

If your scan shows stars over 5K Ls, or a load of ice planets, then you're normally best off moving to the next system (unless you simply have to put your name on everything). If the scan shows Earth-likes, or water worlds, or close Jovians - head on out and discover them.

If you're looking to make the absolute maximum cash you can, then you're often best simply jumping in to a system, scooping and scanning the primary, ADS pinging, and if there's nothing that looks like Earth, head on out to your next system. On average you'll get maybe 10 objects per ping, which is 5-10K, and including scooping and primary scanning you can be in and out in just over a minute. That'll run you around 400K/hour. Add in some decent worlds every couple of hops, and you'll be getting closer to 700K/hour. Not as good as RES farming or T7 hauling, but you're here to explore, not to make huge money. Don't turn exploring into a grind, or the fun will drain away pretty quickly and you may find yourself a long way from home wondering why the hell you are out there. Just take your time, enjoy the sights, and appreciate the beauty of good ol' Via Lactea.

When you come to sell your data, you'll get both money and faction reputation with the faction controlling the station where you sell the data. You can use this to help you improve your standing with minor factions allied to the major factions, which might be useful if you intend to grind reputation with the Alliance, Federation or Empire.

I'd love for Frontier Developments to improve the mechanics of scanning - allowing you to scan while you're orienting, or adding something to boost active scan range, or exploration probes you drop off and pick up on the way back through - we can only hope they improve this part of the game in the future.

Sights to see

There's literally billions of stars, each with potentially hundreds of planets. There's obviously cool places to visit by simply zooming around the galaxy map, but you'll also find some excellent spots to visit by looking through the Gliese,  Hipparcos (HIP) and Bright Star (HR) catalogs - or you could do a tour of the habitable exoplanets. Do a bit of reading up, and you'll find something out there to pique your interest.

Alternatively, pick a direction and head out - see what you find on the way. The ends of the spiral arms, Sagittarius A* in the galactic core, the Great Annihilator, Galactic north and south, or try looking up systems from your favourite Sci-Fi stories - you might be surprised what you find on the way.

Don't ignore the systems you fly through, either - there's nothing quite as spectacular as a pair of Earth-likes orbiting each other around a neutron star, and they're out there to be found.

Happy exploring, Commander!