Elite: Dangerous — the essential kit for explorers
Showing Elite: Dangerous to some friends was a moment of excitement, seeing their interest and curiosity. That led me to prepare an “essential kit” for them to better explore the universe. It was the trigger for this article, sharing the information with others interested. Here is what you need.
Elite: Dangerous may be in a kind of limbo now, but unlike other space simulations, offers a infinite number of experiences, whether you want to simply explore the galaxy, trade, fight or become a galactic miner. I keep going back there, just for the pleasure of exploring planet after planet, do some errands available at space stations, and that fit in my plan for the next trip, and generally having fun just being there, continually impressed by the sensation of loneliness you can fell in some of those vast expanses of sky, or even moving on the surface of planets.
I shared all those moments, using my words and the training missions in Elite, with a couple of friends, father and son, that visited me recently. The key reason was Virtual Reality, and the new Oculus Rift S I convinced my friend to buy. He was/is amazed with the experience, but wanted to see how it worked with simulations, after I told him of my adventures. Key simulations to check, X-Plane 11, DCS and Elite: Dangerous.
X-Plane 11, DCS, and Elite: Dangerous
My friend is a commercial pilot, a captain with many years flying for Air Portugal, going there directly from the Portuguese Air Force, where he was a pilot. I wanted to have his feedback on X-Plane 11, which by chance had just received an updated beta version with some radical changes to the flight model, the day he came to visit. I also promised him a ride in DCS, because of the different experiences, available, and he was amazed with the glimpses of the F/A-18 Hornet, the cockpit of the Aero L-39 Albatros, the visibility of the AV-8B Harrier and the helicopter Bell UH-1H Huey, which is a challenge for pilots of fixed wing aircrafts, and something he wants to explore further in the simulation.
The unanimous approval of DCS came after his son also tried the Huey and flew the Christian Eagle II, which is a nice aerobatic plane but really needs some extra work to make it go up to the level of other DCS modules. It’s a pity the developer has not kept its promises of updating the module. We did not have much time, so these experiences were short, but it was interesting to see a real pilot pick the HOTAS and, even without knowing all the keys and commands in this interface, work in sync with the machine. Great moments of the visit!
X-Plane 11 also received a positive note, both for the scenery and planes — he tried the Cessna 172 Skyhawk, and the VSKYLABS Phoenix Air U15 S-LSA Project, which I acquired recently and its a great flyer, although I would like to see the canopy reflection effects slightly reduced in the new version, or the option to simply remove them. The scenery used was Anacortes and Washington, from Orbx’s TrueEarth series. My friend was so amazed with the views that he decided we will have to visit the area when he flies to the United States. He even said that now he already knew what Anacortes looked like from the air, so it would be easy to land there. Again, it was great to see how he handled the planes, despite being limited to a few controls, as he is not used to a HOTAS system, and the “blindness” that comes with Virtual Reality.
Yes, we used the Oculus Rift S for these flights, because that was the idea. It radically changes the way you fly, and my friend and his son both agreed that after the experience, it is hard to go back to a flat screen for this type of software.
Hooked on Elite:Dangerous
Having worked through the flight simulations, I showed them Elite, using some of the training missions, as they are a good way to show newcomers what ED is all about. The images I’ve captured and the articles I’ve written helped them to make an idea of the potential of the simulation, but when they sat on the cockpit and saw in in VR, they were hooked. They want to try this too…
I promised to give them some hints and suggestions, to make their journey easier, so I picked a series of apps that I use, added the links and sent them the information. Then I looked at it and said; this can be a good guide to anyone wanting to start exploring Elite Dangerous. So, here is my Essential Kit for Explorers. This “explorers” means anyone who wants to take the plunge and buy Elite Dangerous.
One first note, and this is my opinion, for Elite: Dangerous and the other software mentioned here: if you’ve a chance, buy it free from any gaming platform you may be using. In the case of DCS and X-Plane 11, you get updates and access to beta versions earlier, an important aspect for me. I don’t know about Elite Dangerous, but for me, all the simulation software I own — except FSX-SE, which I am not using now — is acquired outside of any gaming platform, even if I have to pay more for it. Just my two cents!
So, after this long intro, here goes the essential kit, with some footnotes to each option.
This is the first software to buy. Voice-activated control for your PC games and apps. It’s always the kind of tool you’ll want to have, even more so if you’re using a Virtual Reality helmet, as you will have a difficult time to use the keyboard. With Voice Attack you can add your voice as an extra controller with voice commands that YOU create. Give specific instructions to your space freighter, your race pit crew, your mech or your druid and give life and immersion to your games like never before.
In Elite: Dangerous in VR, Voice Attack is, I believe, an essential element of cockpit control. As the author of the app writes “many are pairing VoiceAttack with devices such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Leap Motion. The extra depth and immersive experience of voice control take virtual reality to a new level [especially when you can’t see your hands]”.
You need to create your own commands for VoiceAttack, or you can use one of the profiles available, shared by other Elite:Dangerous pilots. Once you’ve it installed it is always possible to adapt and add commands for your specific needs.
A voice for your cockpit
Windows 10 voices are better than those in earlier versions, but since I acquired a voice for my Elite: Dangerous commands using Voice Attack, I never looked back. From all the voices available I acquired Amy, an English language voice that makes my cockpit more cozy… and human. Once you get Voice Attack running, and following your voice commands, you’ll want to have replies that contribute to the sensation of being inside a real adventure. Amy gives you that, and it’s just a starting point. I mean, you can live happily with VA and Amy, but you’ll probably want more.
The link here takes you directly to the place where you can buy Amy. When there you can also check the other voices available, maybe you want something else. You only need one, so pick the one you like best. Amy is just the most popular, I believe. For good reasons.
I’ve a regular crew in my Elite: Dangerous ship. Besides Amy, which gives me the base info, I also have Orion, Vega, Carina and Eden, a growing crew that keeps me company and takes care of the different aspects of my spaceship, making everything work. My first experience was with Astra, which my son was using, and I decided I wanted something similar. I first acquired Eden, then Orion, Carina and Vega. I want to get some more — like the cat — , but I am waiting for some of the promised new things from HCS VoicePacks.
Yes, these are voice packs that take Elite: Dangerous — and other programs — to a whole new level. Each pack, voiced by an actor, introduces another human element in the cockpit and makes each voyage in a real experience taking you… where no man has gone before. This should give you an hint of what to expect. My advice? Buy one first pack and try it. If you enjoy it, get a bigger crew.
Remember you need Voice Attack for this to work. In fact VA and HCS VoicePacks created a partnership to “bring you the highest quality and value in PC software and entertainment. What better way to complement the powerful scripting capability of VoiceAttack than with the finest production of voice packs and scripts on the planet?”
HCS VoicePacks used to be difficult to install and run, but now the process is easier, and if you’re using VR and these packs, the software can automatically map commands, making the whole process easier. Once you know how t make your crew work, you’re set. Believe me, nothing will be the same once you try one of these. Follow the link to HCS VoicePacks website and explore what is available.
Once you’ve Voice Attack, you can also try EDDI, which is available for free. EDDI is a companion application for Elite: Dangerous, providing responses to events that occur in-game using data from the game as well as various third-party tools. EDDI reads data from a variety of sources to provide players with additional information whilst in-game, and also with events that can trigger such things as spoken responses or VoiceAttack actions.
I used EDDI for quite a while and might go back to it, but at the moment I’ve disabled the app, because it can become repetitive. This can be adjusted if you’ve the time and will to create a new profile, removing some of the types of info EDDI voices, but because HCS VoicePacks already cover some of that info, and have an easier interface to control what is said, I’ve gone the easy way, with my crew of four. But I do miss some of the info EDDI gives me.
If you’re on a budget, EDDI is a great choice. Also, if you’re just starting, I believe it makes sense to invest in Voice Attack, one good voice (Amy) and then use EDDI. This will give extra life to your cockpit. Explore everything offered by this trio, and then see if it makes sense. If you decide to spend a lot of time in Elite: Dangerous, having a crew from HCS VoicePacks will be your best next move.
The apps and voice packs above are just part of multiple things you’ll end buying and using to make Elite: Dangerous a better experience. I hope the suggestions made here help you enjoy the first explorations inside this fantastic universe.