I've seen a bit of discussion about how the Cobra engine may be too limited to deliver the features that Braben envisioned at the outset for ED, such as spacewalks, ship interiors and true multicrew.
Likewise, when pressed, community managers tend to attribute the lack of these features to an opportunity-cost decision. To paraphrase what Arf told Lave Radio, the cost in development resources and time for ship interiors would be wasted on a feature that delivers marginal gameplay.
My intention here is not to discuss which version of events is true (and neither of these possibilities is mutually exclusive). Nor do I want to discuss graphics and optimization unless it relates directly to deepening a gameplay loop. Odyssey's graphical issues are getting plenty of coverage and attention from FDev already.
Whatever the truth may be about the code base, what can Frontier do with the technical abilities we have seen so far to improve gameplay?
In other words, how do we take this game from "mile wide, inch deep" to "mile wide, foot deep"? What are 3 game loops or narrative paths you want to see FDev implement in the near term with technical abilities we have seen demonstrated by the engine?
My intention is to keep this grounded, but also allow for some realistic technical leeway, so I've divided this up into three time scales:
Now (like weeks to a month): No new tech or engine improvements, just pure iteration of what we know the game can do in its current state.
Soon (several months): Content that could be viable with some technical work, like gameplay loops that require changes to the UI, NPC scripting, voice acting, but nothing that fundamentally changes the game's systems.
Soonish (6 months to a year): Content that would require a technical investment similar to a season of Beyond. Think of the changes to the FSS and DSS, or adding assets that require 3D model work (like a new SRV) or revamping how engineering calculates upgrades.
Here are my 3:
Add the option to gain access to engineers and engineering grades through story driven missions. For example, Rahm Ta has learned that a rival of his has come across a unique guardian artifact and won't let him study it. He commissions you to infiltrate the rival's lab and steal either the artifact or what data you can find on it. One condition is that you cannot kill the rival.
When you get there, it becomes apparent from messages and a chess board in the rival's quarters that Rahm Ta is playing a game of chess over coms with his rival. They are rivals but it's a friendy rivalry. This chatacterizes Rahm Ta but it also gives you pause when dealing with him in the future.
Are you just a pawn to him? He obviously didn't care enough about the guards' lives to require the mission be no kill. He only cared about this rival who is on his "level", so to speak. How much is your life worth to him? How much is a grade 5 module worth to you? This makes the engineer a character with motivation rather than a hard to please magpie who coughs up a module for shiny trash.
The technical side for this shouldn't be too involved since it's just extending the pre-existing Odyssey mission system to engineers and linking the award state to flipping whatever variable grants access to modifications.
Replace weapon and suit engineering with an outfitting-like system. There is no narrative or technical justification for the state of engineering in Odyssey. Modular scopes and suppressors are things that exist in the 21st century. I shouldn't have to give an "engineer" 5 weapon manuals for them to figure out how to slide a scope onto a rail and tighten a screw. Instead, make normal mods purchaseable through Pioneer and let me equip AND unequip them in the loadout screen.
The technical debt would consist of some UI changes, mostly just eliminating the material paywall and then making engineered states for items available through the loadout screen. What to do with tje Odyssey engineers? I don't know. They could be reserved for truly out of the ordinary mods. They could be characterized through the afore mentioned engineer mission system. Or FDev could just trash them.
Add interiors and interaction to Horizons surface installation assets. One of the most disappointing aspects of Odyssey for me has been that creepy abandoned installations like Dav's hope and the Project Destiny sites can't actually be entered on foot. Instead they remain these sort of theme parks for your SRV to drive through.
So far the only way we interact with the story of these places is to scan listening posts to find them, then scan data points to download a short story that we read on our coms panel. Ocassionally they've recorded voiced messages that do a lot of heavy lifting to create that eeire atmosphere, but imagine how much better it would be to hear these logs as you creep through darkened corridors.
Ambient storytelling is one of the strengths of Elite Dangerous and letting us piece together what happened for ourselves would be an organic way of providing explorers with puzzles to solve. There is also an element of danger with those ships constantly patrolling above the Dynasty sites. Imagine tripping an alarm and watching through a window as a Black Flight Diamondback drops a squad of commandos to investigate.
This shouldn't incur a great deal of technical debt. It means reskinning and reworking some Horizons assets for foot interaction. We know they can do item placement, NPC pathing and computer systems in procedural settlements, so it should be possible in a hand crafted surface site. We also know that combat drops are possible. The bulk of the work would be in creating the assets, while everything else is an iteration of a system already in place.
What are your top 3 realistic improvements Frontier could make to Odyssey gameplay in the near term (NOW), a month or two (SOON) and six months to a year (SOONISH)?
Please don't put anything that would require extraordinary technical work like adding ship interiors. What can they do to deepen gameplay with capabilities they have or could have with minor technical investment?