The $14K Elite: Dangerous Immersive Rig (And How To Build It)
Want to know how to build an Elite: Dangerous rig to dial the immersion up to 110%? Here’s how (but it will cost you).
The thing I love about this cockpit setup is it doesn’t try to look like it came off of a production line. It looks like the creator, Redditor Exigeous AKA Ross, built it not to create something beautiful (though, it is), but to meet his immersion requirements. You can see the individual pieces of the puzzle coming together, and the guide below helps to show the journey.
I’m a gamer on a budget, so everything you’re about to read is pretty much out of my budget and may be out of yours, but hey…it can’t hurt to add a few things to the wishlist, right?
(Don’t forget to read our article about the stunning custom Elite: Dangerous controller you can make yourself.)
Here is the extensive guide by Exigeous:
I’ve spent a lot of time researching various ways to make Elite Dangerous as immersive as absolutely possible. Personally, I play in VR so a large part of my goal is to never need to take my Rift off to keep from breaking immersion.
While I feel VR is a HUGE addition to Elite: Dangerous, this guide does not necessarily require you to use VR nor is it meant to be a discussion about the merits of VR. Hopefully, each section should benefit players on an individual basis, and while some components compliment others, you certainly don’t need them all to enjoy their benefits.
Table of Contents:
- Displays / VR
- Motion Platform & Systems
- Flight Controls
- Racing Controls / Button boxes
While my PC is fairly nice it was built a few years ago and there are far too many options to fully discuss the best computer setup for Elite Dangerous. You could spend far less or far more on your PC than I have, that said here are the main specs of my system:
- Asus ROG Hero VII Maximus board
- Core i7 4770k 3.5ghz
- 32 GB DDR3 RAM
- 2x Zotac AMP!Extreme GTX 1080 GPU in SLI (SLI disabled while in VR)
- 2 Samsung EVO 850 SSD RAID 0
- 1TB 3.5″ SATA HD
- Intel Gigabit Ethernet
- Onboard 5.1 Audio
There are many small pieces of software that I use to make things not only easier to use but add significantly to immersion while playing Elite (and other sim games such as racing). Here is a list of all the various things I use specifically for Elite
- ED Engineer – If you’re doing or plan to do Engineering you owe it to yourself to use this little gem. In short, after an initial sync where you tell it what is in your cargo/materials/data from that point forward, it tracks everything you acquire and everything you use/sell/jettison. It then uses that information to show you what you can craft with each Engineer and what you need to acquire for the blueprints you can’t. You can add the blueprints you want to do to favorites and build a shopping list where it will show you how much of what item you need to obtain for that modification – oh and it will give you information on where best to find that information. I could go on about this for an entire post, I’ve gushed about it to a few friends but none were doing any engineering at the time. Finally, a buddy said, “okay, damn were you right, EDEngineer is amazing”. While you still have to grind a bit to acquire some items this makes the planning of that so simple that for me I went from never touching engineering to doing it quite a bit. Every so often I’ll glance at it to see what I’m close to being able to do that’s on my favorites list and when I see I’m close I’ll stop and go get the needed items. Again I could gush about this for days, please PLEASE go have a look! – NOTE: I’ve put this first on the list as if you try one thing here this is the one to try. Trust me now and thank me later!
- Windows 10 Enterprise (I use Enterprise instead of Pro simply for work )
- Oculus Debug Tool (to set 2.0 Supersampling – more on this later)
- Windows Media Player (for tunes while flying around)
- WMP Keys – allows hotkey control of basic WMP functions
- JoyToKey – This FANTASTIC little application is KEY for HOTAS/Joystick players. In short, it lets you take any joystick or button box input and turn that into any kind of keyboard or mouse output. I use this extensively – one simple example is the “Brake Bias” knob on my dash button box (to the right of my steering wheel) can be mapped so that each click to the right executes “Ctrl+Shift+U” and to the left “Ctrl+Shift+D” then those hotkeys are added to WMP Keys allowing me to have a physical volume knob for WMP separately from the main system volume. It also allows you to use any joystick/button input into games that can only read from a single device or don’t support Joysticks at all (like say No Man’s Sky) TRULY FANTASTIC
- VoiceAttack – You must know what this is. I’ve built many many custom commands for myself, such as “Share Screenshot to Discord”, etc. There are MANY threads on this fantastic piece of software, must have for Elite
- EDDI (Elite Dangerous Data Interface – This is easily my favorite free app/mod for Elite and is one of my favorite immersion apps that I use. It’s a free app that either runs as a plugin to VoiceAttack or standalone. It does a wealth of things, a few are: Logging all your jumps/trips to EDSM (Elite Dangerous Star Map), responds to questions about ship status “damage report” and my favorite it will give you a ton of stats about the upcoming system while you’re jumping in Witch Space. As you jump you’ll get “You next destination is the SOL system, you have visited this system 14 times. SOL is home to 9.8 billion souls and is currently in a state of boom, as such there may be great trading opportunities found here”. Those are just a few little examples of what this wonderful app does – you owe it to yourself to give it a try, oh and did I mention it’s free?
- Ivona Voices (Emma) – I’m a huge fan of all the vocal feedback you get not only from Elite but from tools like VoiceAttack and EDDI. While the standard Windows 10 voice Zina (IIRC) is rather good the Ivona voices, specifically Emma are rather incredible. It’s extremely hard to tell it’s not a human, I get questions on it all the time while streaming. People don’t understand how I got someone to record all the dialog and are rather impressed when I point it out. It is $45 for a voice and while expensive that’s a rather small drop in my rather large bucket.
- ShareX – Simply put the greatest screenshot application out there. Highly scriptable and customizable, if there is something you want to do with screenshots you can do it with ShareX. Per above in combination with VoiceAttack I can say “Share Screenshot to Discord” and ShareX snaps a screenshot of Elite, selects Discord, moves my mouse to the chat input box, right clicks, moves to “Paste”, clicks (ShareX uploads the screenshot to Imgur and puts the URL on the clipboard automatically) and then presses enter – pasting the screenshot into Discord to share with friends. I can do all this without ever taking off my Rift and without breaking immersion.
- Discord – Again you must know what this is, currently the most popular voice chat application out there
- JoyFocus – This is a simple little AutoHotkey script that watches for Joystick/Throttle/Pedal input and when anything is moved focus is set to the Elite window. When playing in non-fullscreen mode (very common for VR players) this is key as it’s common for other applications to steal focus. When this happens your view in headset continues to function but your controls go dead until you get the keyboard/mouse to regain window focus breaking immersion badly (and if it happens during combat your life!) It does require AutoHotkey to be running but that’s a fairly small price to pay for this little gem
- OBS Studio – Another app too large for this guide, OBS allows you to stream to popular game streaming services like Youtube Gaming and Twitch. You can also use it to record high-quality local videos. Note: Using this in VR isn’t great as every tiny movement you make with your head is recorded and the output video is *very* shaky, just is what it is.
- VoiceMeter – This is a small audio mixing application that allows you to route different audio sources to different output devices. This allows me to have OBS record audio from the game and not from other applications like Windows Media Player or Discord. Very handy if you want to produce a video while playing but still want to listen to music or chat with others online
- Motion Systems ForceSeat – specific to my Pagnian 2DOF motion system. Unfortunately Elite doesn’t support external telemetry like racing titles (and some flight like War Thunder) but it can track my flight stick input and act accordingly. More on this later.
I also thought I’d list most of the games that I play on this system. I’m excluding shooters and other “non-simulation” games, only including racing and flight. Basically, those games that take advantage of a large portion of my system.
- Elite Dangerous Horizons (obviously)
- DCS World
- Descent Underground
- House of the Dying Sun
- Eve Valkyrie
- MechWarrior Online
- Star Citizen
- Void 21
- War Thunder
- Assetto Corsa
- Project Cars
- Dirt Rally
- F1 2013
- rFactor 2
- Euro Truck Simulator
3. Displays / VR
When I first built my system VR wasn’t available so I went with 3 27″ Asus curved 1080p LCD monitors. I chose them due to the curved display with the hope of creating a wrap-around effect adding to immersion in racing titles. While they are nice monitors the curve is essentially useless and at the distance they are and way they are mounted I have to point it out to people for them to even notice. I wish I’d instead gone with high refresh rate gaming monitors instead, that said they are still nice displays. I actually prefer them to VR for racing titles as the field of view is wide enough for what I need to see and the image quality is so much higher. While you do look left or right at times in racing for the vast majority of the time your looking forward so VR is far less important than in flight titles with combat.
For VR, I have the Oculus Rift. Discussing the difference between the Rift and Vive is way outside the scope of this guide, I chose the Rift as I was a Kickstarter backer and prefer it due to the lighter weight. I also game sitting down so don’t need nor care about the hand controls. That said, when Oculus releases them I’ll likely pick up a set to see if I enjoy using them for other styles of gaming.
While there are many disadvantages to VR, again outside the scope of this guide, I will say the immersion it adds in Elite is incredible. For me it is the difference in playing a video game and flying a spaceship, it’s that huge. It’s easily dismissed by those that haven’t lived with it for at least a short time, when my Rift arrived I was so disappointed I posted it online within hours of opening it. Once I got an offer I thought, “I should try it and my Warthog with Elite at least once just to see” and from that point on I was sold and told the buyer sorry I was keeping it. VR in Elite is simply incredible, plain and simple.
A note on Oculus Debug Tool mentioned above. Again there are many guides on getting the best quality out of the Rift while playing Elite Dangerous. As my Zotac AMP!Extreme is one of the fastest of the GTX 1080 series I run Elite in 1.0 Supersampling then run the Oculus Debug Tool in 2.0 Supersampling. I find that this combination along with Elite set in full Ultra settings makes everything very crisp and easily readable. Is it as crisp and beautiful as on my 1080p displays or 4k – of course not but the trade off for immersion to me is well worth it. In fact saying it that way doesn’t even remotely do justice to what VR adds to Elite
Recently an application was released that allows for an application overlay inside the VR environment. This allows you to bring virtually any other application into the VR world and place it anywhere you please. A few examples would be overlaying a web browser just below your scanner/dash or to put a small video window up on your dash like having a TV in an RV.
Oculus Rift users have to go through several steps to get everything working but it is definitely possible. There is also a commercial application in the works titled simply “V” from HelloV.
These applications can add greatly to immersion as they allow you to use additional resources without removing your HMD and breaking immersion. I’ve also used this in conjunction with VoiceAttack to create scripts such as “Launch Overlay” to open an overlay window with a browser and “Close Overlay” to then close that window. Using this means you need only grab a keyboard and touch-type to keep the immersion strong.
HELLOV TIP: Currently HelloV only supports control from an Xbox controller so if you’re a HOTAS player it is a pain to have to keep your controller nearby as you can’t just use the hats/etc. on the HOTAS to control HelloV. Well, I finally “fixed” that by using some emulation software that does allow me to use my stick.
In short, I use JoyToKey to send keypresses for individual hat/moves on my stick, that then goes to vJoy that converts those keypresses to a virtual joystick which then sends that to a feeder app called vXbox. While a bit convoluted once I got everything configured properly between those apps and Elite it works extremely well. I glance up to the top left to bring up its menu and then navigate everything having never taken my hands off my stick and throttle. Immersion on top of immersion.
The chassis/cockpit system I use is the Obutto Ozone distributed in the US by Main Performance PC (who also build custom gaming PCs, etc). It’s an extremely well-built system with high-quality tube steel that is all powder-coated black.
The system is very modular allowing you to customize the various add-ons you’d like. The seat is very comfortable, even for long gaming sessions and it on sliders allowing forward/back adjustment with an adjuster for seat angle, just like a car.
I have the following modules for mine:
- Triple Monitor Mount
- Warthog Flight Stick Mount
- Cup Holder (included with the main system now I think)
- Articulating Keyboard/Mouse tray
- 5.1 Speaker Mounts
- Shifter Mount (included with the main system now I think)
One last thing to mention with the chassis is, as I hope you can see, I’m a complete freak when it comes to cable management. When I added the motion system recently I decided to pull apart the entire system, every cable, and part and put it all back together with great attention to detail paid to hiding any and all cables. There are easily 50 zip ties back there (pictures below) and likely much more than that. When looking at the system you can see the main power cable, a power/network cable running out my window to my network upstairs (old house, only way to do that) and the cable for the Rift headset. Everything else is either zip tied to the chassis or routed in cable management tubing (between the chassis and chair base). While I can’t see this while in VR knowing it’s so clean adds to my immersion.
5. Motion Platform & Systems
There are many many different motion systems on the market and as such discussing the various choices are far outside the scope of this guide. I chose the Pagnain V2 Motion Platform sold in the US by Next Level Racing.
I chose this platform because it is very small and compact making it extremely easy to integrate into my Obutto seat. I simply detached my Ozone seat base from the main chassis and bolted it directly to the top of the V2. This raised the seat by about 4″ making me raise the rest of my system (pedals and wheelbase) to match. The other main reason I chose this system is someone was selling it locally still new in box for a drastic price reduction making it far easier. It is a 2DOF system only supporting Pitch and Roll.
As Elite doesn’t support external telemetry applications the software for the V2 (which is excellent) allows you to track Joystick input. If I stick left the seat rolls left, pull back and it pitches back. It took quite a bit of fiddling with the extremely customizable software to get it to feel natural but now that it does I can barely play without it. When I turn it off it feels like my ship is broken in some way!
I also use a ButtKicker Gamer 2 tactile transducer to add “feeling” effects to the game. As Elite doesn’t support telemetry applications I have to run the ButtKicker off the subwoofer output of my soundcard using a simple splitter. By listening to the bass channel you can set the ButtKicker to only respond to very low-frequency sounds adding a vibration effect. When using my Discovery Scanner to honk a system the vibration effect is extremely intense since that’s such a low-frequency sound. When my shields go down and I get a hull impact I can feel it in my chair. I have it bolted to the front of my Ozone seat chassis which is then mounted to the V2 from above. The two systems together add an incredible dynamic effect to the game and while the motion system is quite expensive a ButtKicker is under $150 and is a HUGE addition to immersion, I highly recommend them.
6. Flight Controls
Rather than discuss all the various options from various, manufacturers, I’ll simply discuss what I have: the Thrustmaster Warthog HOTAS.
With the main negative to the Warthog being his high price and lack of twist-to-yaw (you must use pedals) the extreme build quality and attention to detail is incredible. There is nothing that matches the feel of the metal stick and throttle and quality of the buttons and switches. While it is daunting to learn the immersion it adds to Elite is nothing short of amazing. I have every button, switch and hat mapped for Elite and still have to use VoiceAttack for some commands as there just aren’t enough inputs for Elite!
As I mentioned the Warthog doesn’t have twist-to-yaw like many of the other sticks that are just one tier down, such as the Saitek X52 which is an excellent HOTAS, especially for the cost.
For this reason, I have the VKB-SIM T-Rudder Mark IV pedals which are fantastic. They are extremely well made with a number of adjustments. They don’t offer toe brakes like many other pedals on the market but while they have that limitation the extremely high all-metal build quality matches the Warthog perfectly. They are very easy to move around using a breakout box to convert USB to Cat5 (which attaches to the pedals). This makes it very easy to move them so I can put my racing pedals in place.
7. Racing Controls / Button Boxes
I won’t spend too much time on these other than a short list with a little bit of detail on each:
- Thrustmaster TX Wheel Base
- Thrustmaster Ferrari 599XX Evo Wheel
- Thrustmaster Ferrari F1 Wheel
- Fanatec Sequential / 6-Speed selectable shifter
- Fanatec ClubSport V2 Pedals with inversion kit (no longer available, the newer V3’s are linked here)
- Custom USB Handbrake
- SimRacing Hardware TX Dash / Button Box
- SimRacing Hardware Wheel Plate (LED Shift Lights)
- Dual Android Displays w/DashMeterPro (Nexus 7 / LG G3)
- Magnetic mounts for Android displays
As for the button boxes while they were originally purchased and designed for racing I use them extensively for Elite. For example, I use the 3 large safety switches on the left (the type you lift the cover the flip the switch) for Deploy Hardpoints / Super Cruise / Frame Shift Drive.
Other buttons and knobs control ship lights, music volume, set throttle to 75% (for coming out of Super Cruise), etc. While I obviously can’t see these while playing in VR I know them by feel well enough that they add extensively to immersion.
One last note on my racing control – as you might have guessed I use them in Elite to drive my SRV. While Elite doesn’t support force feedback to my steering wheel, making it feel rather dead, it’s still far more immersive to use it instead of the stick. As it’s too difficult to switch out my pedals for driving I simply use yaw right for forward and yaw left for reverse making them feel like driving throttle and brake. I have several buttons on the wheel mapped to things like turret fire and use the shift paddles for left and right thruster (with another button for upward thrusters). A toggle button on the wheel and stick allows me to jump between cockpit and turret and I do use the stick to operate the turret. Driving with my left hand, turret with my right and forward/reverse with my pedals is a bit tricky to learn but it does work pretty damn well and once again adds greatly to my immersion.
While my audio system is fairly straightforward, there are a few unique things I’ve setup. First I use an older Logitech z5300 THX 5.1 speaker system (I’ve linked to the current version). It sounds rather fantastic and allows for volume adjustment for each of the speakers which are key when the rears are less than a foot from your ears.
I also have the large volume knob mounted on the platform for the steering wheel just to the right so it’s within easy reach while playing (again and use it while in VR). I then have a second USB sound card, a SoundBlaster X-FI Pro USB – This is used exclusively for the ButtKicker in racing titles via Sim Commander 4. This software reads the telemetry data from virtually all popular racing titles and creates low-frequency output to a ButtKicker amp. It is extremely customizable but unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned, Elite doesn’t support external telemetry, so I can’t use this for Elite. I’ve created a small switching system using a simple RCA stereo audio switcher and splitter cables that allow me to send either the SoundBlaster/SimCommander output to the ButtKicker amp OR the bass channel from the standard audio system. That way with the switch of the selector I can use the ButtKicker effects not only in Elite but in other titles like shooters, etc. to add the vibration effects, it works very well.
I’ll also mention VoiceMeter again as this little piece of software lets me route various audio sources to various applications/speakers so I can split out my voice (Discord) and music (Windows Media Player) from game sounds when recording or streaming with OBS. There are several apps that have this functionality, I simply found VoiceMeter first and it works just fine for my needs.
Finally, for chat audio (Discord), I use the Rift headset. As the speakers/headphones on the Rift are removable I simply remove the left ear piece using only the right. This gives me the feeling of a single ear headset which is more common in real world situations, again adding to the immersion. The quality is surprisingly fantastic and the built in mic in the Rift is also great for voice chat.
To be clear, I have the game audio come out of my 5.1 speaker system and only have Discord coming out of the Rift audio. Unfortunately Elite won’t let you select different audio devices for game audio vs. Wing comm audio so as such I rarely use game comms. That’s a shame as I love the radio effects that Elite adds to in-game voice – that said, a friend did point out “so by 3302 we still haven’t gotten cell phones to sound good???” Point well made.
While this isn’t really directly related to Elite I get questions on it since my Drobo 5N NAS is sitting in the picture. I use this for both backup storage and for my rather extensive media collection. I’m a huge HUGE fan of Plex and while I won’t gush about or discuss it in detail here if you are a fan of media consumption do yourself a favor and check it out.
So let’s finally get to the big question – what did I spend on this entire system?
First let me say I’m the type that doesn’t really mind discussing money and income, it’s just never been a big deal to me. I’m not jealous of those that make more than me, that’s great for them and I try to be as generous as possible to those that make less. I just want to be clear again that the point of this post is not in any way for me to brag or show how much better I have it than others. We all have those things we spend our disposable income on and clearly this is mine.
Okay, with that said here’s the number you want to know: Roughly $14,000.
That’s all in, for everything I have if I had to replace the entire system. All the different cables and little bits I didn’t list. Realize that I built this system over about a 2 year period from when I purchased the main chassis and PC to my more recent addition of the motion system.
My PC is far more powerful that necessary for Elite, and I use it for far more than just gaming as I work in IT myself and as such wanted to build a PC that would last me quite a long time.
I should also note that the price above does not include my Drobo NAS and its disks as while that’s in the picture and I discussed it, in reality, it has nothing to do with the Elite or other gaming experiences.
Oh yeah, we all know this is why you’re really here – these were all taken with my phone so sorry for the somewhat low quality.
So, there you have it. CMDR Exigeous, I salute you. o7
…now to get back to my budget set up, pretending I never saw this incredible setup…
If you have any questions about the setup, or just want to give kudos to Exigeous, you can do so in the Frontier Forums.