A typical point-to-point flight in ED might look like this: Docked at a station, I check the Bulletin Board to see what needs doing in the area. Someone in a nearby industrial system is organising a big wedding and needs help with the catering. They need 2 units of Foodstuffs, so I switch to the Commodities Market and buy it for them. It often happens that if one person is short of something, others nearby may be too, so I check the Market again and see that I can get over-the-odds on all food items at my destination. In the online single-player game, these kinds of supply and demand situations are often dictated by, for example, one moon in a system being an industrial base and needing to import all of its food, or being an agricultural planet that relies on its neighbours for machinery and computers, etc. Whatever, I have a hold full of wedding cake and little sausages on sticks. I re-fuel my ship and request permission to depart. You can optionally choose to do an absolutely brilliant pre-flight check, which involves going through an on-screen list of all major ship functions, and pressing their corresponding keys/buttons on your keyboard etc. Like most things in Elite Dangerous, it’s both an immersive in-game activity, and a cool way of reinforcing your real-world understanding of the game. Again, ED takes every opportunity to make you feel like you’re really there.
Once clear of the station, and if I haven’t already set my course, I check my system map, lock coordinates, and jump. It’s important to note that missions have persistent, real-time deadlines. My catering gig had a ninety-six minute time limit. I could have quit the game, gone to the shops and come back home and logged back in, and the timer might have gone down half an hour, but I’d still be able to fulfil the mission. Anyway, when I arrive, I line myself up with my target station and do an in-system jump. (There’s a really neat trick to disengaging your Frameshift Drive and coming out of sub-light close to your target, that involves sliding scales of speed and distance. When the needles are in the blue zones, that’s the sweet spot for killing the FSD and arriving within a few minutes of your destination). Once I’m within 7 Km of the station, I lock on to it and request docking permission, and if granted, I’m directed to a numbered landing pad either inside the station or on it somewhere, depending on the type of station. Landings pads are marked visually with holographic numbers (all of your ship’s console systems are holographic, and the big panels are a fantastic blend of stylish Minority Report-style floating screens with that slightly old-skool Alien simplicity). Once I’ve gently touched down using my thrusters (I put ’em on the NumPad) – and again, this is represented on your board in a hugely intuitive, fun way – the station ‘grabs’ me and I can relax. I then hit my contact up through the BBS, give him his cake, get my money, sell my remaining cargo of Big Macs and Haribo at a profit, and congratulate myself on a job well done. And all of that – the buying and selling, the course plotting, the actual trip – happens quickly and easily, your fingers flying over the keys, your mind wholly freed to concentrate on the gameness of the experience, the sheer fun and imagination-filling, role-playing activity that really good stories encourage.