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The Elite: Dangerous game universe operates in real-time, at a 1:1 ratio, with a time offset of "UTC +1286 years".

This means, in general, that if the real-world UTC date is 2016-09-22 (as it is for the initial version of this post) then the in-game date is 3302-09-22.

At first, this seems all well and good from a logical standpoint. Just add enough full years to real-time, and you can make translations between the current date and in-game events fairly simple.

However, I'm worried it might break down when things like leap years come into play. (Assuming the game runs long enough.)

As we're most accustomed to experiencing them, leap years are fairly easy to follow - just expect a 29th day in February every four years. If it were this simple, then there would be practically no problem with syncing a game's future setting with our current calendar. You'd just pick a year that's at the same point in that four-year cycle as the real world is, and be done.

Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. The Gregorian calendar skips leap years every hundred years, unless the year is divisible by 400. See the below psuedocode from Wikipedia, for another way of understanding this schedule:

if (year is not divisible by 4) then (it is a common year)
else if (year is not divisible by 100) then (it is a leap year)
else if (year is not divisible by 400) then (it is a common year)
else (it is a leap year)

If that hurts your brain like it does mine, maybe CGP Grey can help.

In any case, this would appear to set us up for years that will end up being leap years in the real world which shouldn't be leap years in-game (or vice versa) unless the time offset of the game universe was specifically planned to account for this. Sure, this could take a few centuries. But it still seems fairly possible.

So, I guess my question can be summed up as this:

Will the in-game calendar ever fall out of sync with the real-world calendar due to leap year differences? If so, when?

P.S.: We're not even gonna get started on leap seconds - for the purpose of this question, let's just pretend they don't exist.

  • I don't know if we can prove this without somehow examining the code of the game, or get the information from the developers. Or, we wait until a leap year. Put it this way, the calendar is still in sync as of today yes? There was a leap year this year. So what does that prove? – Timmy Jim Sep 22 '16 at 14:50
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There has been a thread on this matter on the Elite dangerous forums. This actually has happened already, on February 29th of this year. In this case, apparently it just showed... 29th of February 3302. https://forums.frontier.co.uk/showthread.php/222371-29th-Feb-3302-doesn-t-exist-%21 has some images on the final page, although I can't access them right now because I appear to not be able to login with my own Elite credentials. They actually had an event on that day where you could turn in cartographic data for a reward.

They appear to just be adding 1286 years, without regarding the effects on the accuracy of the date. And honestly, it doesn't matter. Leap days are a purely artificial construct to deal with the fact that days and years don't quite sync up. Days and years themselves are artificial constructs as well, being based on observations made by humans who lived thousands of years ago. You're not dealing with such things in space. In fact, there's a lore explanation that, whenever a pilot exits Witch space, the clock automatically syncs with the most commonly used time in the entered system.

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  • Technically it could still fall out of sync in 2018, since it's not a leap year but 3304 is. I mean, I bet that you're right and they add years without care for date accuracy, but it is possible. – Deltharis Sep 22 '16 at 15:03
  • I'd totally forgotten this year was a leap year already, and so it didn't hit me that 3302 shouldn't be. Nice catch. Thanks! – Iszi Sep 22 '16 at 15:21
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As Nzall has pointed out, we've already had an instance of a real-world leap year that shouldn't have been an in-game leap year. That happened on February 29th of this year (2016).

This seems to have been resolved by simply adding a February 29th to 3302 in the game universe - however inappropriate that may be by current calendar conventions.

Deltharis also has noted that 2018 / 3304 is another near-future case where we should encounter this issue, but in reverse.

After further consideration, the answer to my question is actually quite obvious: The real-world calendar's leap year cycle will always be out of sync with the game-world calendar (rather, what the game world calendar should be according to the current real-world leap year algorithm) because the time offset (1286 years) is not evenly divisible by four.

If the developers wanted the real-world and in-game leap years to properly line up at all, they would have had to start the game world's calendar two years earlier or later than they did. (Or at any other time offset that was a multiple of four.) Then, we could have probably gone for a hundred years or more before encountering a leap year sync issue.

Instead, (based on the one case example we have so far) it seems that the developers are just defining the in-game date by adding 1286 to the year portion of the real-world date - without any regard for whether or not things like leap years will line up.

Since the year offset is evenly divisible by two, but not four, then it seems that we will be running into this issue about once every other year. That is, every two years for as long as the game is live (at least, until 2100 / 3386 if it should last so long) the in-game calendar will either skip what should be a February 29th, or add a February 29th where it shouldn't be.

For those with access to the Frontier forums, this thread (link from Nzall) appears to have some confirmation with screenshots provided. I searched Google and INARA for some public screenshot sources, but couldn't find any.

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