Dav Stott; Senior Server Developer
What does an average day at work look like for you?
If there was ever such a thing as a typical day, it might start about 8.30 with a coffee (decaf, aeropress, as black as I can get it).
In an ideal world, you should never notice that Elite Dangerous' Online Services team exists as much of our work is behind the scenes engineering that joins the up a lot of moving parts into the living galaxy that we all love.
My mornings are usually spent catching up with the servers’ overnight reports, making sure the rest of the team has everything that they need and triaging any new features, bugs or support tickets. If things have gone well, then I can settle down to some new code or data wrangling to support the next release.
Sometimes lunch takes a back seat if there's a particular fix that we're keen to get into our players' hands, such as if a lot of people have become stuck and cannot get online. Otherwise, we often break out a game or two, such as a quick Nidhogg tournament or some alien stomping in XCOM. Artemis has started cropping up in conversation after this year’s LaveCon and we’ve even been known to pop into the live Elite Dangerous galaxy as our own Commanders.
Afternoons are normally the time to put on headphones and really get stuck into something, such as building out a new feature, deploying some code or data updates to the live galaxy, or chasing down some rare and unwanted emergent behavior. After an hour or two of poring over code, data and logs, I’m told my screens start to look like I’m staring at the matrix, but the patterns really are there!
We have players from all around the world so while the Elite Dangerous servers never rest, developers do like to sleep occasionally, so we've invested a lot in transaction reliability and server automation. Still, running a galaxy that scales for all of our players doesn't always give as great an experience as we'd like during our busiest times, so very occasionally things sometimes need a prod from home on an evening or a weekend.
What aspect of the game have you’ve worked on that you are most proud of? I come from a Science and Engineering background, so it’s got to be the background simulations that run the commodities markets, stock the shipyards, conduct wars and generally bring the galaxy to life.
What's your favorite thing about Elite Dangerous?
It has to be the amazing sense of immersion that you really are a lone Commander out doing your own thing in the galaxy. I was so inspired by details like the cockpits and the creaks from my trusty Cobra when it boosts out of a starport, that I built my own custom controller last year. It turns out that simple things like changing targets, deploying hardpoints and activating the Frame Shift Drive are much more satisfying when activated by missile switches and flashing arcade buttons.
What was the biggest challenge you came up against during game development?
You’d think that nothing would hold any fear after implementing the background simulation, but it turned out to be quite tricky to keep track of whether players are online or not as their presence moves around the various galaxy servers. This might seem trivial, but it’s really important information that supports many features from friends lists to voice communications.
What have you learned from working on Elite Dangerous?
Working on Elite Dangerous’ servers has been a great opportunity to improve my experience of working with distributed data systems. Tracing and optimizing game transactions can take a bit of concentration to follow through multiple levels of caching and across different databases that scale to our load. Also, Fig Rolls are a surprisingly valuable and rare commodity.
Federation, Empire or Alliance? And why?
From all the time spent flying from the Alioth system in Frontier: First Encounters, it has to be the Alliance of Independent Systems for me. I’ve found there are a lot of opportunities for the right independent pilot in a coalition that depends upon cooperation.
Tell the community a fun fact about yourself.
I once spent a week at a distillery on Islay learning to make Single Malt Whisky. Oh, and the Big Red Button really does launch the game servers.
If you could ask the community one question, what would it be?
If you wanted just one more piece of information to be displayed in the game from any of the simulations, what would it be, and why?
Got an answer for Dav? Answer it on the forum thread here!