Elite Dangerous player uses Commander Creator and VR to stand next to his deceased brother once again
"I'm not going to lie - it was rough."
An Elite Dangerous player has used the in-game Commander Creator to recreate his brother-in-law who tragically died two years ago - and now flies through the galaxy with him by his side while using a virtual reality headset.
Cedric O'Neal Paris, of San Diego, California, died at his home in 2015 aged just 42. He and his brother-in-law, 29-year-old Redditor Tuuvas (he asked us not to use his real name), were particularly close, having grown up together playing video games. "I do not have a single memory of when he was never around," Tuuvas tells me.
Elite Dangerous recently released an in-game Commander Creator (it's currently only available to players with beta access to Elite Dangerous Horizons 2.3. Dubbed Holo-Me, the powerful tool lets you create your own character's appearance. Before Holo-Me, players had to make do with a simple default model that consisted of a black suit and a black helmet.
What Holo-Me does is project an in-game holographic image of what your character looks like inside of your cockpit, which lets you examine your character's face without feeling like you're disembodied. It's a nice in-universe touch from developers Frontier.
Tuuvas used Holo-Me and his Oculus Rift headset to recreate his brother as best he could. In the game, usually you're tied to your pilot's seat, but since nothing is keeping you from walking around in the real world, in VR it feels like you are walking around your ship. In Tuuvas' case, it feels like he can stand next to his brother - he just has to avoid kicking his cat by accident.
"I actually always thought this was an interesting topic in psychology," he told Eurogamer. "Especially with the advent of virtual reality.
"After Cedric's death, this idea kept poking at me in the back of my mind. There are definitely some good arguments against doing something like this, but come on, Cedric was a gamer. He would have loved to be immortalised in a game world. If there's any mental consequences as a result of this, I'll deal with them later."
Working to recreate his brother was a tough experience, Tuuvas admitted.
"I'm not going to lie - it was rough," he says. "The beta for Elite Dangerous Horizons 2.3 had already been out for about a week before my Reddit post, and I hadn't touched it all that time because I knew the Holo-Me feature came along with it. I wasn't sure how I would react to creating Cedric in virtual reality with my Oculus Rift on my head.
"As I progressed on Cedric's character, I could feel a knot welling up in my throat every time I took a step back to review the progress. Although the final results aren't perfect, it was definitely enough to get me to say, 'Wow, OK, VR is becoming pretty personal now.' I was definitely happy with the end results, and last I checked my mental state seems to be OK! Bonus points!"
Tuuvas says he spent a couple of hours getting the in-game face just right. He found the editor easy enough to use but powerful enough to create an accurate representation of his brother. This in contrast to previous efforts that had fallen flat - Tuuvas had for some time hoped Elite Dangerous would provide an easier way to bring Cedric into a game world.
"Cedric's death was pretty recent in my mind at the time, and this whole idea of creating a 3D model of Cedric was getting rough," Tuuvas says.
"Originally I tried to practice 3D modeling using Blender, but my skills only ever grew as far as being able to create an apple or an alarm clock, much less a human figure.
"I guess you could say I was getting pretty upset that my skills weren't advancing as quickly as I would have liked."
Now, the Elite Dangerous community has reacted positively to Tuuvas' effort, with one Redditor creating an Elite-themed illustration of his brother.
Another player performed a wing dip salute to Tuuvas's brother in the game.
Even Frontier boss David Braben was moved to comment, calling it "a touching story".
"When I made my Reddit post, it was about 1am my time and I wasn't even sure if I should be doing it," Tuuvas tells me.
"I wanted to show my sister first, but something in the back of my mind kept telling me I should post it anyways."
In researching this story, and reading through the original Reddit post, one thing I had wondered about was whether the 3D character recreation would get in the way of Tuuvas' real world memory of his brother, or maybe create a disconnect.
I ask him, are you worried at all about it perhaps being a tad unhealthy?
"This has always been an interesting topic to me," Tuuvas replies. "But as a result, I was also hesitant about going through with this as this may not exactly be the healthiest thing for anyone to do.
"In the end, after following through with what I planned on doing for so long now, I do not regret it. Now that Cedric's character model is more or less finished, it feels more like what a picture or video does for anyone else when missing a loved one.
"Although the in-game model can move ever so subtly, or even look directly at me, it still does not move like Cedric did, nor does it have the exact same facial features. It is not Cedric.
"It is however another medium to remember Cedric by, except using this along with VR, I can feel like I'm standing next to him again."
So what's next for Tuuvas? He's hoping Frontier create a way for players to create actual characters in Elite Dangerous.
"Elite Dangerous, its developers, and the Elite Dangerous community have all earned a much deeper place in my heart thanks to all this," he says.
"As for myself, nothing is really going to change now that I've brought Cedric into the game world. I'm thinking about asking the developers for a way to use his model in-game as a legitimate character. But I want to make sure it's a character that will last forever. We'll see how that goes though."