Stellar Relic

Author - James Murff

Elite: Dangerous: Job Placement In Space


You’ve finished Elite: Dangerous‘ tutorial, learned how to fly the average spaceship, and dropped into the cockpit of your very own loaner Sidewinder. It may not look like much – it is the smallest class of ship – and you don’t have much in your pockets to improve it – a mere 1000 credits – but you’re free. Free to explore whatever role you want.

This complete lack of direction, and the wide array of potential roles to fill in Elite: Dangerous, can result in some choice paralysis. Thankfully, there’s are a few roles that you can definitively settle into, learn, and master. Just remember that nothing is set in stone in Elite: Dangerous; if you want to do something, just do it!

Elite: Dangerous


The soldier profession, while extremely dangerous, is a fine way to grind both reputation and money in the early game. It also teaches you the principles of fighting groups of enemies, including ships that are much larger and more dangerous than you are, which is important if you intend to become a pirate or further your bounty hunting career past small-time pilots.

To get started with being a soldier, head to a conflict zone. These zones only appear in systems that are currently at war, so you might have to search your local cluster of systems to find one (which can take hours). Once you’ve entered the system and flown to a zone, shift your focus to the Functions (4 on your keyboard, by default) and select which side you’d like to represent. Now pick a side, but be ready: all ships of that faction will become friendly, but all other ships will become hostile. If you aren’t careful, you can quickly be overwhelmed by the sheer number of combatants coming for you, and losing a ship is a semi-permanent deal in Elite; you can get another via insurance, but if you run out of money, you’re stuck with the loaner Sidewinder again.

The clear upgrades for a soldier are, of course, combat vessels. The Eagle, Viper, and Vulture are fine choices, as is the Cobra. Your end-game ship is the Anaconda, a behemoth of a ship that can annihilate just about whatever pisses it off. Most soldiers transition into becoming bounty hunters once they understand the combat and have some money to spend on a combat ship.

Bounty Hunter

Arguably the most profitable profession you can claim in Elite: Dangerous, bounty hunting is very similar to being a soldier. The main difference is that instead of going to conflict zones and picking a side, you’ll be going to Resource Extraction Sites (such as the one in the screenshot above) and scanning people for bounties.

As bounty hunting is dangerous work amidst fields of asteroids and debris, you should have something better than the loaner Sidewinder. Even if you simply increase the Sidewinder internals to Rank A, and add beam lasers, that should be enough – at least for basic bounty hunting. You should also grab a kill warrant scanner; it’ll let you grab bounties beyond just the system you’re in, including bounties for the superfactions (Empire, Federation, Alliance). It’s roughly a 15% increase in income, and if you are destroying heavier ships (Dropships, Anacondas, and Pythons are the usual suspects), you can earn a nice extra 20-30k per kill.

The upgrade path for a bounty hunter is identical to the soldier: multirole and combat ships, ending with the Anaconda. Many hunters stop around the Python, however, as the heaviest ships are so slow that chasing down bounties becomes far more difficult.

Elite: Dangerous


Want to make a lot of money in a short amount of time? Trading isn’t for you. However, if you enjoy optimizing routes, aiding local economies, and establishing a business empire, trading is the most lucrative and consistent method of earning income.

While you can putter around in your cheap hauler grabbing regular goods like food and metal, rare commodities are where the real money is at. These commodities are found in only one station in the entire galaxy, and are understandably mega-profitable if you discover an effective route. Players have already found one such loop, dubbing it the “Silk Road” after the historic trade route between Asia and Europe. In a decked-out hauler, this trade route can bring you millions per hour; however, you must also contend with many pirates (both human and NPC). Once you master escaping interdiction, though, you’ll be set to make a living plying the trade routes of the stars.

If it isn’t abundantly clear already, traders thrive on cargo space; the more racks, the better. Thus, your upgrade path is all about getting bigger and heavier ships to haul all that precious cargo.


Miners are the slower, duller brother of the trader. Instead of making their money trading between stations, they fly out to a belt, deploy their drones, and sit back to enjoy a cup of tea.

Mining, like trading, is all about the biggest and best items. For a miner, that means a pristine metallic asteroid belt. These belts provide rare metals for the forges and factories of the various factions and sell for a significant amount of cash. If you don’t know where one of these belts is, players are kind enough to chart some for budding miners to try their hand at the honest work of shooting rocks for dosh. These spots tend to attract pirates, though, much like the highly-profitable Silk Road trading route.

Mining follows the same upgrade path as the trader, with one exception: guns. Miners can fit more guns and utility systems than traders, as they don’t need as much cargo space. Kitted right, miners are far more dangerous than your average trader and can perform their mining duty in relative peace.

Elite: Dangerous


Pirates are an unloved profession, a dirty, no-good collection of scoundrels and thugs that bully traders and miners into giving up their hard-fought (or bought!) merchandise. They are also the most difficult profession and offer a thrill that no other profession in Elite can.

The goal of the pirate is, naturally, to track down NPCs and players, interdict them, and murder them. As such, pirates need a combat vessel equipped with a frame shift interdictor (which pulls people out of frame shift drive, Elite’s version of warp speed) and a cargo scanner to see if their target is carrying anything good. Once they do, though, they can bounce around a system, ripping apart (or ransoming) poor souls unlucky enough to cross their path.

The upgrade path for the pirate is identical to the bounty hunter. Indeed, many pirates are bounty hunters in different systems; once the heat gets too strong, they take a break picking off bullies on their home turf instead of ransacking transports. Combat gear, cargo scanners, interdictors, and limpet drones are a must.


If the pirate is the bounty hunter’s evil twin, the smuggler is the trader’s. Smuggling may not pay appropriately for the vastly increased risk that comes with transferring illicit and stolen goods, but making that run into a space station under the nose of the local police is incredibly satisfying.

Smugglers operate much like traders, with two important restrictions: they can’t be scanned before entering a station and they have to sell their goods at a station with a black market. The most common cargo among smugglers isn’t usually contraband, but rather salvage; anything taken from a derelict or destroyed vessel, regardless of how aggressive the original owner was, counts as stolen. Smugglers often make their way as the scavengers of space, as most players don’t want to get caught with stolen goods and anybody can scoop the canister.

Smugglers follow an interesting upgrade path, in that they need to be big, but they also need to defend themselves and have a relatively low profile for station runs. Any mid-class ship (like the Cobra) or one of the smaller haulers is usually the clear path for a Smuggler.

Elite: Dangerous


Do you want to chart the stars alone? Fly around space with your tricked-out ship, jumping vast distances and attaching your name to various planets and stars? Do you want to be paid terribly for your effort? Be an explorer!

Exploration is the very definition of tedium. Explorers take a vessel with a large jump range, strip everything out, attach some exploration-specific gear such as a surface scanner, and fly out to a random spot of their choosing. Most of the systems visited along the way – and, indeed, at the destination – will be mostly valueless, containing nothing more than hunks of ice and rock orbiting a quiet star. Every once in a while, though, it all pays off; a spectacular trinary star system here, a cluster of black holes there, and you’ve made the trip worth it for yourself. Just don’t expect to hit the mark every time.

Explorers have only one upgrade path: get a Cobra, then an Asp. The Asp has the furthest jump range of any vessel in Elite: Dangerous, a lovely wide-view cockpit, and enough slots for most exploration components. Unfortunately, exploration is not a beginner profession. Explorers need to have some seed money to buy A-rank gear, the Asp is prohibitively expensive, and low-level exploration doesn’t pay nearly enough. Pick another profession here and come back to exploration later; you’ve got the time.


Don’t wanna stick to any one profession? Then don’t!

You can do just about anything, from hauling to bounty hunting to exploration. All this means is that you haven’t decided on a career path that makes sense to you. Don’t feel too guilty; there’s a lot to do in Elite:Dangerous and you should dabble in everything, as you never know what you may want to do in a week. Grinding out bounties in asteroid belts is only thrilling for so long, after all.

These are just the major roles in Elite: Dangerous. You can specialize, generalize, or go any which way you please. The only rule in Elite: Dangerous is the same rule of life: do your best and don’t die. Everything else is just where you happen to fall.

Point/Counterpoint: The Legacy of MMOs

World of Warcraft

MMOs are destined to die. It’s a fact of life that we as MMO players don’t often like to acknowledge, but at some point every company will either a) crash and burn and take the servers down with them or b) transition to other genres and take the servers down with them. The question isn’t ‘what if EVE Online or The Secret World were to go down forever?’ – it is instead ‘what should happen to MMOs when their parents need to pull the plug?’ Some, like Mr. Murff, believe MMOS should be archived so that players can still experience them after closure; others, like Mr. Andrews, believe intellectual property rights should remain intact. 

James Murff

I’m very much a big proponent of games as historical artifacts (in the same way as painting, or books, or music, or what have you), so I am, of course, a damn dirty liberal hippie. Here’s how.

MMOs are an essential part of the gaming landscape, and offer people experiences they can’t get anywhere else. Games like Warhammer, City of Heroes, and Star Wars Galaxies left an indelible mark not only on the MMO genre, but also the people who played them, some of whom did so for almost a decade.

By allowing companies to wholly control these games to the point that they can shutter them, forever, never release the source or software to the community, and generally freeze all attempts at historical archival, it creates entire sections of gaming history that are arbitrarily “lost.” This is unique to games-as-service too; in books, movies, and even non-MMO games like Halo, archival is always an option, because there will always be a copy somewhere that can be backed up. Not so much for the religiously-guarded servers of MMOs.

I think it’s fully within a company’s right to shutter an MMO if it’s not performing. That’s fine! But I think that there should be a legal mechanism or organization in place to gracefully transition those games into “archival”; that is, they are no longer subscription-based or require purchases (except the clients, much like a normal game purchase) and the original company no longer maintains or updates the game in any way, but you can still play them.

Whether this is done through a full transference of property rights, or via negotiated licenses (such as Creative Commons) is a valid point of contention, as is which games should be selected for archival. But I don’t think it can be said that these games shouldn’t be saved in some capacity. Otherwise, what’s the point of playing them? All MMOs die eventually, after all.

I do think it’s fair to say that the source shouldn’t be released, or released under a limited license. However, it’s not like companies haven’t been sued for source theft before; Dennis Dyack’s company was destroyed because Epic sued them over the unauthorized use of Unreal Engine’s source code.

This isn’t an emotional response, it’s a historic one. We have a duty to preserve gaming culture and history. Archival is an important aspect of any creative medium, and games are a creative medium. Imagine if we didn’t strive to preserve books, or movies, or paintings; many classics would be lost to time. This is no Library of Alexandria, of course, but the preservation of games should be an important aspect of contributing to the medium. MMOs are the only games with this unique problem – all other games can be archived, either digitally or physically – so I think it’s only fair that we put measures in place to give them a measure of archival as well.

I absolutely believe it is the right of a company to shut down and no longer support an MMO. But I also believe we have a duty to preserve games – or at least the games that had such a huge impact on our medium – and MMOs fall under that category.

As for intellectual copyright, there’s all sorts of problems with how companies and the government handles copyright in the United States. The foremost, though, is that we give people and companies copyrights to their products for almost 100 years after the dissolution or death of either. If you have an estate, you retain the copyright forever. There’s a reason why alternative rights contracts – such as Creative Commons – have sprung up over the years in the wake of modern copyright law.

Part of a creative medium’s value is in how we transition the concept of private creation into public creation. Many beloved characters and stories exist within this public domain – Sherlock Holmes, the Cthulhu Mythos, Dracula, etc – and the stories that have resulted are some of the best we’ve seen.

Companies should have the right to protect the software they create and a right to shut down a service they are providing. What I don’t think they have the right to do, though, is forever lock off chunks of history for the sake of a profit margin.

We have a historical imperative to preserve these games, just as we do to preserve other creative mediums. That means a graceful transition (how? I’m not entirely sure, the details have to be hammered out, and it will be expensive) into a state where the company is no longer supporting the game, but either players or a non-profit (non-profit is my personal favorite option) are running the server. Players should be able to play, understand, and enjoy these important dead games, without infringing upon the company’s copyrights.

MMOs are small societies, experiential games that pull together people in interesting and even studiable ways. EVE Online is considered a good avenue of study for economists, and the infamous plague in World of Warcraft led to research in how disease is spread in a society. They are indeed a product of their time, and as time goes on, these MMOs change. Saying that the experience of EVE now is fundamentally different than EVE of 2005 is not disputable.

Still, though, we shouldn’t be so quick to let the tangible aspect of these MMOs disappear. YouTube and the like only gets us so far; in order to truly understand and appreciate a society that developed and is now dead, you need access to more than just their media. You need their monuments, their cities, their real and approachable spaces. The death of an MMO is the destruction of these monuments, the dismantling of the tangible, and all that’s left are second-hand accounts.

There is a wonder in wandering these spaces, empty or full, and seeing the legacy left by both players and developers. A book without a monument lacks impact; a monument without a book lacks context. They are inextricable, and to deprive us of one is to deprive us of the whole experience. That’s why we should preserve these spaces, and perhaps even some of these societies.

Dave Andrews

This is a pretty cut-and-dried case in my mind. The companies who construct MMOs do (and should) hold all rights to their work. It is their property, paid for in the labor and infrastructure costs associated with the teams who build them, and to suggest that we are merely ‘allowing’ companies to wholly own something they made is a ludicrous argument. The only entity entitled to the ownership (in whole) is the entity who created it (or to whom the product is sold). To argue otherwise would be to argue for the dissolution of the concept of private property.

Being a long time MMO player – and having spent time with almost all of the titles mentioned above and a fair few others – I totally get the emotional response to a hobby effectively being killed by something beyond your control. It sucks, but at the end of the day you simply have to respect the rights of the intellectual property owners. If they can no longer maintain and operate an MMO and the infrastructure involved (which can be quite expensive), or no longer find it in their best interest, then they have the right to shut it all down and move on.

The other thing to keep in mind is that in the vast majority of cases, MMOs are not shut down arbitrarily. MMOs are a product/service and gaming studios are businesses. When they start consistently going into the red and the choice is either appeasing a handful of players or trying to keep your employees fed and clothed.. well, I know which option I’d pick.

Where most of this argument exists is in a very emotional place and there really is no arguing with emotion at the end of the day. However, the fact remains that source code is no less an asset than a building or an iPhone or anything else – and players are very much not entitled to that asset. As we should all know by now, when you subscribe to an MMO you are purchasing the rights to use a service and a client. You are categorically not buying the source code, server code, or anything else.

In addition, there are costs to consider. How would such an ‘archival’ solution that involves legislation be funded? In my personal experience running MMOs (backend server work, etc), I would estimate the cost of running an MMO of three thousand or fewer players to be around 27,000 USD (2015 dollars). This covers things like rackspace at a semi-decent datacenter, labor for a semi-competent engineer (who can do database, network, and system engineer work), and all the miscellaneous things that go into serving up MMO content. That doesn’t sound like a lot – but how many MMOs have had the plug pulled on them over the years? How many more can we expect to die in the next 10? Is this really something we want government funding to go towards? I realize I’m asking a lot of questions, here, but I truly don’t understand my colleague’s obsession with keeping dead things alive.

Setting aside the copyright argument (I can’t really argue with someone who believes copyrights are culture killers) and the realities of cost (it would cost around 27,000 USD per month to run a barebones MMO from my experience), this is the most important argument I think I can make against a forced method of maintenance mode for MMO properties: the game you are trying to preserve has already died by the time maintenance mode would be an option. Think of an EVE Online with 10% of its current playerbase – how fun is that game even? If you were a newcomer looking to experience EVE Online in 25 years, you wouldn’t be able to. Hell, if you are a newcomer right now you wouldn’t gain any understanding of the previous 10 years of the game, even if you put 10 years into it.

Can anyone understand the “many whelps” of Onyxia or the context of Leeroy Jenkins even today? MMOs are an experiential piece of entertainment that is constantly shifting and requires, uniquely, a base number of players to really understand. The reason MMOs live (and die) in ways that other genres of video game do not is this simple fact. Social and cultural context are what define MMO experiences, more so than the code or the quests or the mechanics of gameplay.

MMOs are about people; it is the only real draw of the genre. How those people come together, the bonds that are built from shared experiences, the competition of being better than the other guild, or team, or realm, those are what make MMOs worth preserving – and it is also why they cannot be preserved in the manner James describes. We don’t need to preserve the ‘approachable spaces’ of a game by keeping the servers on. Comparing YouTube to the dusty scrolls of yester-millenia is facetious at best, not to mention the fact that the reason for the emphasis on preserving spaces in the real world is that those spaces often functioned as media (read: statues, plinths, triumphal arches, pillars, and columns all serve as media upon which information is written).

The digital media of the modern era is perfectly suited to record the digital spaces that function as MMOs. Without the context of actually having been there, having been a part of the zeitgeist of World of Warcraft or Star Wars: Galaxies or EVE Online, future players will be fundamentally unable to understand what made those games great. The experiences that those communities share are the only thing worth saving – and keeping the server lights on isn’t the way to save them.

There is, however, a method of preserving these experiences that exists right now. Everyone can (and many do) engage in this archival process already. It not only relates systems, art, and level design; it relates the actual experience of playing. It is called YouTube and it is free of cost to the developer. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City famously included EVE Online in their initial slate of video game inductions in 2013 and they didn’t do it by running a small server version of the game; they did it by putting together a video presentation. Game experiences change in MMOs, more so than any other category of video game. They are fluid in nature and the joy of them exists not in code, but in the people you play with and against. Better to document and record those experiences than to put up an empty shell of what used to be a video game.

To reiterate: it sucks to realize that a part of your life is now gone and can never be retrieved. That is as true for childhood as it is for a player’s alternate life in MMOs. Part of growing up and maturing as an adult is the realization that you can never, ever recreate old magic. You’ll never down Onyxia for the first time again; you’ll never win your first 1v1 in EVE Online again either. Instead, you should focus on looking forward, to making new magic and new memories and new friends in new spaces and new communities and new contexts. It is important to know and respect the legacy that past MMOs have delivered to us, but that doesn’t mean we should wallow around in their graves in a sad attempt at paying respects.

Screenshot Saturday: Wide Open Spaces


Videogames are confusing, beautiful, complicated messes, and the best way to convey that is through screenshots, whether they are beautiful, informative, or goofy. Each Saturday we bring you one screenshot each from a game we played. It’s Screenshot Saturday.

WoW is not a dirty word dammit

Dave: A few weeks ago, my wife decided to restart her World of Warcraft subscription. We have both played WoW since 2005 (off and on) and both have fond memories, particularly of vanilla WoW and The Burning Crusade. Our constant return to (and subsequent departure from) the game speaks volumes of its nostalgic power. This time, I didn’t resubscribe along with my wife – instead I decided to hop on her account and make a character to run through Elwynn Forest and Westfall. It may be 10 years since we started playing, and the visuals are a bit different now, but those old spaces still hold a certain comfort.

Rule the Waves

Thomas: My current addiction is Rule The Waves. It’s June 1919; France and Austria-Hungary are at war, with French troops on the defensive in Tunisia as a naval war rages in the Mediterranean. Just west of Corfu, the French battlecruiser Duquesne spots and engages the Austro-Hungarian Taurus-class battlecruiser ArethusaDuquesne takes a 12 inch shell to the engine room early in the battle, slowing her, and the destruction of her aft turret makes attempting to escape futile. She turns and fights, and the war hangs in the balance.

All this fantastic narrative and technical complexity springing forth from a game that looks like it was designed 20 years ago. I love it.


James: Far Cry 4 has a lot of problems. The overall structure of the game is unsatisfying, the sidequests are repetitive, and the balance is thrown out the window the moment you get a silenced sniper rifle. Despite it all, though, there is one thing Far Cry 4 does extremely well: beautiful wide-open landscapes. The nation of Kyrat is extraordinarily beautiful, with lush vegetation, towering mountains, and clear blue lakes. It may be difficult to recommend Far Cry 4 on the strength of its mechanics, but it’s (almost) worth playing for the vistas alone.



Stellar Relic is the result of three people who liked working with each other at another outlet being slowly (but inexorably) let go for ‘business reasons’ – pesky things like requesting actual pay or pushing back against business decisions in editorial. James, Dave, and Thomas all love games, particularly obscure titles that don’t get a ton of mainstream coverage. Our old gigs allowed us to explore some of this, but here at Stellar Relic we’re creating the opportunity for ourselves (and hopefully others!) to spread our wings.

We want to bring together the serious and the silly in a way that makes sense to intelligent readers. We’re not here to capture the latest triple-A trailer teaser traffic; we’re here because we love games and want to understand them on a fundamentally deeper level than most gaming media. We want our readers to feel edified by reading a piece, to feel enlightened in some small way, and ultimately to share in our love of games that often don’t get much of it.

The Team

James Murff is a veteran of multiple gaming publications, including Joystiq, PC Gamer, Gamefront, and more. He likes sentient machines, obscure indie games, and dissecting game mechanics.

David Andrews used to work at Sony Online Entertainment (back when that was a company that existed) and ran a gaming media site for a couple years before his soul was crushed.

Thomas Howell is an undercredentialed dork who plays games and writes about them. He’s passionate about the intersections between gaming and history, identity, politics, and the future.

The Goal

The first and foremost goal of Stellar Relic is to give complexity a chance to shine.

We love complex games here. Whether they are dense grand strategy games put out by Paradox, or deceptively simple indie fighting games such as Nidhogg, our goal is to showcase how games can be subtle and nuanced. Whether that nuance is a number buried in a spreadsheet or a mindgame played with an opponent doesn’t matter; we want games that challenge you and push you in new directions.

This also means that we won’t be dropping old titles to focus on new ones. If a game is being covered here, it will be covered as long as the writer is interested. So many sites rely on the eternal churn of new games, new content. We would rather enrich your experience with an existing game than try to tell you about every new release. Don’t worry, though; we’ll still tell you about upcoming titles that catch our eye.

The Community

As you can see below, we have comments on every article! While so many sites suffer for this, we won’t. Here’s why:

Our comments will be heavily moderated. There is no illusion of free speech here; if you say something repugnant, whether ironic or not, we will delete your comment and ban you. There is a line here, and being overly aggressive, personal, or bigoted will guarantee a deletion and ban. We want comments to be a place where people can express themselves safely and without others coming in to ruin their good time. If you come here to do that, we won’t let your comment stand. It’s as simple as that.

As long as you abide by this simple rule, have fun! We read every comment and we love to respond to readers, whether it’s to clarify a point, encourage deeper discussions, or just make jokes.

The Fun

Above all, we here at Stellar Relic do this to enjoy ourselves, and we want you to enjoy our work and community as well. We will always strive to cover new and interesting games and media, join with you to play and talk about games, and create opportunities for you to share in our journey.

Welcome to Stellar Relic!