As I've mentioned before, there are various contradictions between the Elite or Oolite setting as derived from books such as the Elite manual and the Dark Wheel, and what actually happens in game. While thinking about these I decided to work out what might have happened if the setting had just been based on the original Elite game - no significant flavour text in the manual, no FE2/FFE follow-up games.
Some of the results of this ended up being background material for Extracts
, and the setting of the Altmap test OXP is very loosely related in a "what if" way to them too. The notes themselves aren't in an especially readable form at the moment, so what I've done is tidied up the very first part of them - if there's interest I'll do more of them.
Any setting for stories is basically about people, and it was people that first got me thinking along these lines, when I went through the planet list and added up all the populations. In total, there are 7100 billion people registered.
So, what can we start concluding from this?
The setting is a long way into the future. Around half of the planets are listed as Human Colonials population. Whether that's "sole", "dominant" or merely "single largest" species we're probably looking at around 4000 billion humans (possibly if it's "single largest" you could argue for half that, but it doesn't make a lot of difference).
Not only is Sol not on any of the charts, but neither are any other recognisable star names. Certainly something like "SAO 12345" or "HD 1280" - or even "Rho Tauri" - might be expected to have been named something more interesting now it has a billion-plus inhabitants, but it does suggest that the region of space is some distance away from Sol - either by a jump like the galdrive which you can't make in-game, or a long straight-line distance from a chart edge. (Another hint at this is that the stellar density is quite a bit higher in the eight charts than in the region immediately around Sol)
From a human population of 6 billion in 2000, you'd need around 10 doublings of population to reach 4000 billion, without any significant disasters. Unless initial colonisation is really straightforward, you probably can't double population on new worlds all that often. We also have no way to know what fraction of the human population is in the eight charts - but the evidence suggests it's probably not a very large fraction.
Assuming doubling every 30 years (which is fast and certainly not known to be sustainable on a scale of centuries) that means it's at least 2300 (assuming hyperdrive is discovered tomorrow and everyone goes to the eight charts) and probably considerably later - something like 4000 or 5000 would be entirely reasonable if you allow for disasters, start with a relatively small initial population for the region, and so on.
It's also worth noting that planetary populations are in a fairly narrow range of approximately 1-6 billion, with higher-tech planets correlated strongly with higher populations. This suggests that the colonisation of the eight charts was completed some time ago - all the colonies are clearly well-established - which also suggests that the current rate of population growth is slow or stable ... which implies that even low-tech worlds have the ability to control population well. (And without any major disaster: even the worlds with deadly civil wars or various natural hazards have populations measured in billions)
It's not likely to be the environment controlling population: the low tech worlds tend to be agricultural, which suggests they've been terraformed rather than extensive use of artificial habitats which might have severely limited space - even though "minerals" and "radioactives" being on the export list suggest that it might be "agricultural and mining" they all export plenty of animal products too.
So, in summary:
- it's at least 500 years in the future even with extremely favourable assumptions. 3-5 thousand or so seems more plausible to me. The original Elite timescale of 3100ish isn't completely impossible with extremely fast and focused population growth, but seems unlikely.
- colonisation is not currently going on and probably hasn't been for a while
- all systems have been colonised (or had native life, but that's in a bit of the notes I haven't tidied up yet)
- populations are now fairly strongly controlled by one means or another
- terraforming has made all systems inhabitable (and may well have been the limiting factor on colonisation speed)