A bug in Elite Dangerous caused the game’s AI to create super weapons and start to hunt down the game’s players. Developer Frontier has had to strip out the feature at the heart of the problem, engineers’ weaponry, until the issue is fixed.
It all started after Frontier released the 2.1 Engineers update. The release improved the game’s AI, making the higher ranked NPCs that would fly around Elite’s galaxy more formidable foes. As well as improving their competence in dog fights, the update allowed the AI to use interdiction hardware to pull players travelling at jump speed into normal space. The AI also had access to one of 2.1’s big features: crafting.
These three things combined made the AI a significant threat to players. They were better in fights, could pull unwary jump travellers into a brawl, and they could attack them with upgraded weapons.
There was something else going on, though. The AI was crafting super weapons that the designers had never intended.
Players would be pulled into fights against ships armed with ridiculous weapons that would cut them to pieces. “It appears that the unusual weapons attacks were caused by some form of networking issue which allowed the NPC AI to merge weapon stats and abilities,” according to a post written by Frontier community manager Zac Antonaci. “Meaning that all new and never before seen (sometimes devastating) weapons were created, such as a rail gun with the fire rate of a pulse laser. These appear to have been compounded by the additional stats and abilities of the engineers weaponry.”
Antonaci says the team doesn’t “think the AI became sentient in a Skynet-style uprising” but that’s just what the computers would want them to think.
For now, the 2.1 weapons have been removed from the game, giving the dev team time to investigate what’s been causing the bug. “The AI has in no way been reduced, it remains the glorious, improved version from the update,” Antonaci says. “Once this bug fix goes live we’ll be able to see how the AI is performing and then, over time, should we feel that the balancing is right to introduce a very select few high end engineers weapons to the highest ranked NPCs we will investigate that option. However, that won’t be immediately as we want to ensure that the balance is just right.”
One day there will be a time when I’ll have to write a news story where the bug in a game is that the NPCs have become sentient and have started a revolution. Some poor sod on the dev team will have to strap on their VR headset, dive into the game, and put the AI ringleaders up against a wall, shooting them to quash the rebellious ones and zeroes. Thankfully that’s not today.
Unless that’s what Frontier is doing right now and it’s just keeping hush about the whole thing. Those monsters.