RICK LANE CHARTS THE EPIC TALE OF ONE PLAYER’ S 60,000- LIGHT-YEAR QUEST TO SAVE A PILOT IN TROUBLE
Rick Lane charts the epic tale of an Elite Dangerous player’s 60,000-light-year quest to save a pilot in trouble.
Beagle Point is a nondescript star system suspended in the misty void beyond the Milky Way’s spiral arms, over 62,000 light years away from our local star, Sol. It became famous within the Elite Dangerous community as one of the most remote charted systems in the game’s simulated galaxy, discovered by a player known as Commander Erimus One during his 2015 ‘Distant Suns’ expedition to map the most remote system possible. Last year, Erimus One headed up another expedition – Distant Worlds – which aimed to chart as many systems as possible between Sol and Beagle Point. Unlike Distant Suns, this expedition was open for other players to join. One of them was Commander Felix Macedonica, a fellow explorer keen to venture into the darkest reaches of space. Little did he know he would end up stuck there. ‘I had been a part of the Distant Worlds expedition to Beagle Point and was travelling slowly back through the Void,’ says Commander Macedonica, whose real name is Francis Hagan. Hagan was piloting a Lakon Type 6E, a small cargo vessel with only a limited range, to jump between star systems. The Void is the area of space beyond the galaxy’s spiral arms, and comprises mostly black space with only a handful of stars for players to jump safely between. ‘This area of the void is a very sparse one, and I had to manually plot each jump using a tank with little fuel in it to lighten my Lakon’s mass as much as possible,’ Hagan says.
Hagan been exploring the edge of the in-game galaxy for months, and had become complacent about the risks of being so far out from most forms of civilisation. ‘I took my eye off the ball, as it were, and jumped into a remote system without checking if I had enough materials to boost my jump range on leaving.’ Essentially, Hagan ran out of fuel in a system comprised mostly of gas giants with only one planet on which you can land. His only hope was to find the required components on the planet’s surface to create enough fuel to make the jump.
‘I knew immediately I was stuck,’ he says. ‘I would normally use materials harvested from planetary surfaces to do a one-off boost to the jump range. But I was missing a vital material: germanium. Without it, there was nothing I could do. The only landable surface didn’t have germanium as a minable material. I was stuck.’
In Elite Dangerous, players who end up in such a situation have only one option – self-destruct their ship and respawn at the space station in which they last docked. But for Hagan, the cost of such a drastic move would have been enormous. ‘I would have lost all the months of exploration data – millions’ worth of credits. But more importantly, I would have lost time. It took me months to get out to Beagle Point,’ he says.
The rescue plan
At a loss, Hagan posted a message on the Elite Dangerous forums explaining his predicament. The post was spotted by Troy Medley, who plays Elite Dangerous as Commander Chiggy Vonrichtofen. Medley immediately realised the only way out of Hagan’s situation would be to use a mining laser to harvest resources from the rings of the gas giants in his system. ‘I knew the area, knew he was in a tight spot, knew very few if any [players] in his immediate area would be lugging around a mining laser. That would be the only way out of the jam he was in.’
Medley offered to help Hagan, and together they hatched a plan. Medley would rendezvous in-system with Hagan, and they would travel to the nearest gas giant. Medley would mine the asteroids inside the planet’s rings for germanium, and then Hagan would carefully manoeuvre to scoop up the resources. ‘Of course, there was no guarantee he would locate germanium, so it was all a bit of a gamble really,’ says Hagan.
There was one further problem. At the time of the distress call, Medley was surveying for Earth-like worlds in the area between the Colonius and Sagittarius A systems – over 60,000 light years from Beagle Point. Even with the game’s ability to jump between star systems in seconds,
it would take two days in real time to reach Beagle Point. ‘I thought he was mad,’ says Hagan. ‘Brilliant, but mad.’
Medley’s ship also wasn’t outfitted for such a long mission. ‘My ship was stripped to the frame – with no shields or mining laser – for extra range, and only a one-jump 8t fuel tank.’ Before embarking on the journey, Medley had to return to a station at Colonius to equip ‘a bigger tank, small shields and a mining laser’.
The journey begins
Medley began the journey the following day, making a total of 600 system-jumps throughout the day and covering a distance of 30,000 light years. When asked about the potential risks of such a long trip, Medley’s response is casual and dismissive, saying ‘the only real risk was faceplanting into a star or running into the occasional close binary system.’ Hagan, meanwhile, was able to track Medley’s progress to Beagle Point. ‘It was staggering to see his contact move so swiftly. It made my jaw drop.’
By the time Medley arrived in the system where Hagan was stranded, the story of Medley’s rescue attempt had become one of the most talkedabout events in the Elite Dangerous community. ‘The forum exploded with messages of support and encouragement,’ Hagan says. The following was so large that Hagan decided to live-stream the action, as he and Medley travelled to the nearest gas giant to mine for germanium.
Just under an hour later, Medley hit upon a seam of that vital resource. ‘That moment when the germanium finally popped was indescribable, not just because it freed me from a doomed situation, but also because so many people were watching and willing Chiggy on,’ Hagan says. ‘If you watch the live stream, you can hear the relief and exhaustion in my voice!’
The rescue of Commander Macedonica from the farthest reaches of Elite Dangerous’ virtual galaxy is a fantastic example of the emergent, player-driven play that the game aims to generate, but it’s also a rare glimpse into the positive sides of online gaming communities. ‘Sometimes, forum boards can be toxic places with people dissing or patronising posters, but this was the complete opposite,’ Hagan explains. ‘Everyone without exception was wishing me well and supporting Chiggy in his mad dash across the galaxy!’
Games, and particularly multiplayer games, are often criticised for bringing out the worst in players, but Hagan’s rescue at the hands of Medley demonstrates that they’re also capable of bringing out the best of humanity.
Hagan’s Lakon Type 6E spacecraft hangs in the void in an unnamed system outside Beagle Point
The location of Beagle Point, where Hagan was stranded. You can also see Sagittarius A, which is approximately where Medley began his voyage
The icy moon where Hagan set down his ship to await Medley’s arrival
The view of the Milky Way from Hagan’s Lakon cockpit. He played the game with an HTC Vive, which explains the camera distortion
After the rescue: Hagan took this image of a binary star from a different system