Exclusive: Frontier’s The Outsider Cancelled?

By John Walker on January 20th, 2011 at 3:00 pm.

Tis no more. Sniff.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun has received word that David “Elite” Braben’s much vaunted next game, The Outsider, was apparently cancelled yesterday.

Edit: David Braben has confirmed to us that development on The Outsider has ceased, explaining that it was due a “change [in] priorities” with regards to unannounced projects, telling us that he is “very sad” about the resulting redundancies. The full quote is below.

Edit edit: Braben has since claimed to Develop that, “There is still publisher interest in the project, and we haven’t cancelled it.” So it’s all a bit confusing. We’re currently trying to establish what “changed priorities” actually means, and have got back in touch with Braben for clarification.

Announced in 2005, Frontier Developments’ game was to be set in the present-day Washington, with you playing as a CIA agent who ends up a fugitive. Then put in an open world you would have been able to make your own decisions about how to continue, the game proposing to break some storytelling boundaries. It was intended to bring the freedom of Elite to a third-person action game, boasting an impressive new graphics engine, and proclaiming “genuine freedom” for the player to define the narrative. But our source close to the project claims that it is no more.

Struggling for a while to find a publisher to support the rest of its development, a recent tentative deal with EA reportedly fell apart very recently, with the source alleging that the game was canned yesterday.

Initially self-funded by Frontier Developments, the game was then signed by Codemasters. However, the publisher dropped the game a while back, leaving it once more seeking financial support. The aim was to release the game at the end of 2011, and required funding to get there. Recently, the source claims, a deal was “almost settled” with EA, assumed by the team to be a sure thing, with the team working under EA’s direction for a few weeks. But he alleges that this has recently fallen through, leaving the project in a situation where it can no longer continue.

There have, he claims, been relatively few lay-offs. Late last year 12 people lost their jobs, and yesterday a further 17 reportedly found out they were out of work. If true we wish them well, and hope they swiftly find new positions.

This of course does not bode well for hopes of Elite IV. An awful lot of Frontier’s own money has perhaps been lost in The Outsider, meaning the studio is unlikely to be in a position to start work on yet another enormously ambitious project. Kinectimals money will likely keep them going, but it’s hard to see them taking another gamble very soon.

We wish all the best to all at Frontier. It’s a real shame, as the ambition on display in The Outsider would not only have been a treat to play, but only further gives concern to the theory that it’s too much of a risk to step outside of the traditional AAA boundaries.

We approached David Braben for comment, and he told us,

“We have had to change priorities because of requirements on other unannounced projects. Some people have been moved, and we are very sad to have made some people redundant.”

Here’s what the game would have looked like. We hope its ideas go on to be explored somewhere.

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78 Comments »

  1. MrMud says:

    “We wish all the best to all at Frontier. It’s a real shame, as the ambition on display in The Outsider would not only have been a treat to play, but only further gives concern to the theory that it’s too much of a risk to step outside of the traditional AAA boundaries.”

    Or perhaps you should try to avoid games spending 6+ years of development unless you really know what you are doing and have solid financial backing (see blizzard or valve).

  2. Henk says:

    What a shame…

  3. Ging says:

    Boo, I know some of the people who worked on this – they were understandably pissed off last night having just been told that 3 years of their lives were to be “shelved”, especially as they could see an end in sight.

    • Kadayi says:

      Well sounds like the management need to go knock on a few doors (like Bobby Koticks for example) and see if they can get someone to rescue the project. Making a deal with the devil might not be that appealing, but it’s better than having all the work end up for nought.

    • tempest says:

      @Ging:

      Well, it’s not like they were working for peanuts all these years. As long as they got their paychecks during those last 3 years, it’s not up to them what happen with the results of their work. That’s the way it works. It sucks if you’re not a zombie, and these guys definitely don’s seem to be zombies given how awesome the project seemed to be. Unfortunately, most people go to the office, do what their bosses ask of them, get their paychecks and move on. I don’t agree with this way of going through life, but the sad truth is that is the way most people do it.

    • Ging says:

      @tempest: They weren’t working for peanuts, but it’s still something of a gut punch to see 3 years of work end up not going anywhere, that associated with the 17 guys released from the team is a pleasant double whammy for a group who believed they were happily resting in the giant, warm bosom of EA.

    • Gusdor says:

      @tempest they work in games. Of course they were paid peanuts. Relatively speaking.

      This looked genuinely good so I am miffed. Its a real bugger not getting to show off your finished work and have credits. That is one of the big draws of the entertainment industries after all.

    • Mad Hamish says:

      Zombies get paid more peanuts than people working in a studio. What drives you to work long hours on a game is the final reward in the end. Which isn’t peanuts. I can’t imagine anything more crushing than having your game canceled so near the finish line, especially because your publisher is afriad of loosing peanuts.

  4. BobbleHat says:

    Damn shame. I’d been looking forward to some news on this game, as it sounded awesome. Perhaps it was just too ambitious for it’s own good.

  5. Inigo says:

    You had hopes for Elite IV? Oh, you are just adorable.

    • Urael says:

      I know. The biggest and longest cock-tease in gaming history. Sensible people had seen the writing on the wall for that little dream many years ago. But Pioneer will do for now.

  6. Unaco says:

    This is a shame. I had only read a few articles about the game, but I was always a little excited when I did read about it. Shame.

    As for Elite IV… I don’t think Braben would have any problem getting money for it. Heck, someone is getting $1 Million just for making a whiny, begging YouTube video. If Braben were to twot out “OK, we’re starting Elite IV development today. Who wants to give us money?”, Microwave Pizza and Mountain Dew sales would plummet, and a lot of nerds would be going hungry… but Braben would have enough to make Elite IV – IX.

    • Kadayi says:

      Does Elite really mean anything to anyone these days? Sure back in the day great (if slightly broken) game, that boggled the mind given the size of it, but as IPs go it’s more archaic that most. The value lies purely in the name. Also given The Outsider just face planted after 5 years in development hell, I suspect that any likely financiers (whether that be Publishers or venture capitalists) are going to make some stiff demands regarding time scale and delivery. That EA passed on backing The Outsider doesn’t bode well tbh.

    • tempest says:

      If they don’t manage to find any more funding for completing The Outsider by normal channels, what they could do in order to make it see the light of day would be to open-source its development and let the community finish the development. I bet that there would be more than enough talented moders or devs or artists with time to spare for side projects in order to make it see the light of day because, to me at least, the whole design seems too awesome to be locked away in some storage facility just in case someone will come along to fund it, sometimes during the next decade.

      Of course, they will probably keep hoping that, at some point, someone will come along and fund its completion. That may never happen, but even a remote chance of that happening (see Duke Nukem Forever or Prey) is likely to stop them from open-sourcing it. Which is kind of shame because The Outsider doesn’t have the same brand recognition as Duke Nukem Forever, so they may keep hoping for something that will never happen.

    • Unaco says:

      “Does Elite really mean anything to anyone these days? ”

      Yes. It does. It means a great deal to a great many people.

    • Napalm Sushi says:

      I think that what Kadayi was trying to say was: what would Elite IV really have done that, for example, Infinity: The Quest For Earth and Evochron aren’t already attempting? As settings go, Elite was massively generic, and others have since turned their hand to the genre it once defined. Maybe it’s healthier to just accept that we already have a few spiritual successors.

    • BobsLawnService says:

      I can’t believe I’m posting this. Maybe it’s because I’m just so burned out on open world space trading/combat games that have turned out to be utterly disappointing. Here goes : I’m over the idea of Elite style games. I just can’t be bothered. The passion for the genre is gone. All I want is a tight, middish/high budget, mission based space combat game in the mould of Wing Commander, Freespace or Tie Fighter.

      It’s even more depressing to think about the fact that I must have played Frontier Elite 2 for two years solid.

      *sob*

    • Urael says:

      Napalmsushi, there are NO spiritual successors to Elite. Nothing has come close to it, not the X-series, not your Freescape, Wing Commanders (ok, maybe Privateer did come a little close), I-War or Freelancer. As of right now Frontier and FFE remain unchallengedas the kings of that particular genre, with only indie-effort Pioneer (a clone of Frontier) daring to take the mantle (and that by building on the shoulders of giants)

      However, Elite IV is as much vapourware as half the mod projects you find on the internet. Braben has no will to produce another one, as his lacklustre efforts for the recent 25th anniversary proved.

      Oh, and it’s been recently established that Infinity is being built to sell the engine, nothing more. I’d stop holding out for that one too if I were you. Evochron’s decent though, in a fairly lo-fi way.

    • Kadayi says:

      @Unaco

      We’re talking about a game that came out in 1984 and the last iteration of it was some 16 years ago and ran in DoS. Sure popular at the time (PC gaming was yet to hit its peak), but I think it’s a stretch to presume there is a large, ready (and more importantly profitable to pursue) audience still eager for it on the basis of the name alone (people move on in life). Any release is not only going to have to usurp the efforts of all of the games that have adopted and built upon it style since as Napalm mentions (and lets’s not forget about Eve and Black Prophecy on the MMO side of things), but it would need to really capture the wider public’s imagination. Space trading games aren’t exactly the big draw they used to be (Eve makes a profit, but it’s still very niche in terms of user scale).

      If anything ‘Elite’ is more profitable as a legacy identity. Take the star system from the original and strap it onto a mass effect style game (IE ground exploration & some 3rd person shooting, brawling and sexing Kirk style), throw in a few detailed locations & NPCs, and a heap tonne of procedurally generated ones, with maybe the odd galactic war/uprising or two (and hidden super secret here and there), and a bunch of patron missions. Also ensure everything is covered in awesom-o-vision gel. Do that and maybe (just maybe), you might sell the 3-4 million units necessary to justify heavy investment. No small order tbh.

      @Urael

      Sure none of those games captures the vast (but fairly empty) scale of the original, but what they lacked in scale they made up for other ways. The only place where you’d be able to get away with the pure simplicity of Elite nowadays is on a mobile platform like the Iphone/Ipad

      @tempest

      At this point in time I think the thing people are least worried about is the fate of the game Vs the fate of the company. Also no going concern is going to release a project that’s cost millions to make as open source whilst it’s potentially still a viable financial asset.

    • Chris D says:

      When I got my first computer (Acorn Electron, looked down upon by both Spectrum and BBC owners. Could have been worse, it wasn’t an Amstrad), Elite was one of the games that came with it. At that time its contemporaries were Pacman, Space Invader and Frogger clones and the occasional text adventure. None of these were in the same league as Elite. They weren’t even in the next one down.

      It was in three dimensions, you had freedom to choose how to play, it was ongoing instead of three lives and you’re out, and it squeezed an entire galaxy into 64k (48k on the Electron, but no Thargoids). And it came with it’s own novel.

      Elite was so far ahead of it’s time the box it came in should have been bigger on the inside. In the history of gaming there are few games more important than Elite. So, yes, the excitement about another one is understandable.

      All that said I don’t think Elite 4 could ever be the spiritual successor of Elite. No matter how brilliant it might be it would still be derivative of the original and everything that came after it and Elite is one the truly great games because it broke entirely new ground. A spiritual successor would have to do the same again, something I’m not sure is possible in a medium that has moved on so rapidly since then. Then again, I don’t think many people would have predicted Elite before it happened, either.

      On the other hand, spiritual successor or not, I’d still like to see a few more space sims around.

  7. Scroll says:

    I guess either way we will probably have some leaked footage and concept art over the next few weeks, this seems to be too common place in the last year or so to have the corpse of a project regurgitated over time showing all the wasted potential.

  8. BlueMaxima says:

    Elite 4 will exist. Anybody who says it won’t should get shot in the face.

  9. sneetch says:

    Was this game intended for PC? The Frontier site lists Xbox 360 and PS3 as the platforms.

    Regardless, it’s sad to hear of people losing their jobs.

  10. jRides says:

    I always wanted them to finish this game, just so they could be then free to get on with Elite IV.

  11. MartinNr5 says:

    I predict no less than eight “What a shame!” comments for this article.

  12. Nero says:

    What a… sad thing to read. Though reading about it it doesn’t really interest me at all, but hopefully they will put out another LostWinds game in the future since I love those games.

  13. Souldark says:

    This is depressing – I met up with a designer I know down there last weekend, and at the time he wasn’t sure what project he was getting moved onto after The Outsider. Turns out his new project as of today is “find a new job”.

  14. J. says:

    This wasn’t exactly a huge surprise, sadly.

  15. Paul says:

    What a shame.

    But it really looks like it was badly planned.

  16. Napalm Sushi says:

    There was a time when I thought that all the games of the early 21st century would look like Frontier or Deus Ex, only many times broader and many times deeper. Seems kinda silly now.

    Until some kind of revolution occurs in software automation that manages to lift almost all of the current (and ever increasing) burdens from developers’ shoulders, we’ve got an awful lot of corridors to look forward to. I only hope that procedural content generation continues to get more attention and research.

    • sneetch says:

      Whenever I see one of these games cancelled after being in development for years I normally expect to learn they were writing their own engine and true to expectations:

      “The Outsider is a true ‘next generation’ game focussed on a fresh, evolved gameplay experience, delivered with gorgeous graphics and built with key proprietary Frontier technology.

      Hopefully they can salvage that tech but had they adapted some off-the-shelf engine then the game may have made it to release.

    • Kadayi says:

      @sneetch

      True enough. I think it’s a hangover mentality, from the early days where in you had to write your engine out of necessity, but in most cases is a complete time/money sink these days. It’s like someone deciding to make a film and electing to make their own camera and film stock before hand.

  17. rocketman71 says:

    That sucks :(

  18. Wonko the Sane says:

    Was Alpha Protocol the final nail in this one’s coffin? Pity, sounded like a great game…
    (also, I am not posting comments too fast, Mr WordPress. Go and boil your bottom)

    • Urael says:

      Wonko, may I congratulate you on a fine FINE choice of name. I have a signed autograph from the chap who voiced the excellent character who once proclaimed this as his name. :)

  19. Ninja Dodo says:

    Damn. Looked like an interesting project.

  20. Harlander says:

    Sounds like Burn Notice: The Video Game.

    Which I would certainly buy.

  21. Acosta says:

    Having an anticipated game like this canned is bad enough for me, but the idea that I may never see an Elite IV is absolutely devastating.

    • Urael says:

      I offer free counselling services for those awakening to this horrific reality. Pick up a pamphlet in your local games emporium.

      You need not suffer alone.

  22. AzraelXJM says:

    I was one of the seventeen, it’s nice to see there were people out there that cared, it’s a real shame you can’t see what we had.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      I hadn”t heard of this before, but that trailer looks genuinely interesting. Shame we won’t be seeing it.

    • Hybrid says:

      Same here. I hadn’t heard of it till now, but it seemed like an interesting idea.

    • dogsolitude_uk says:

      For what it’s worth, I’ve been really looking forward to The Outsider as much as Thief 4 and Deus Ex:HR :(

      Good luck in finding a new job mate. I suppose one consolation is that having David Braben as a boss on your CV will definitely help it stand out… Hehe, just the other day I was discussing Elite with my boss, come to think of it…

  23. BobsLawnService says:

    It is unfortunate when this sort of thing happens. And here is the but…

    Development has been going on for six years so when I read stuff like “…with the team working under EA’s direction for a few weeks. But he alleges that this has recently fallen through…” the first thing I think is that EA sent a team to assess progress, it was obvious that a late 2011 release was not realistic and they decided to talk away before they took on another vapourware project.

    It looks like it could have been a great game but obviously it was far too ambitious.

    • Kadayi says:

      My thoughts also. 6 years is a long assed amount of time, esp when you don’t possess the kind of cash flow that either Blizzard, Valve or Rockstar have on hand. This situation kind of smacks of 3D realms & DNF in a lot of ways, and probably a high degree of complacency on the part of the management. Obviously a pisser that EA declined to help out with seeing it through to fruition, but in the present financial climate very few people have money to gamble and clearly their assessment team felt that’s what ‘The Outsider’ was.

  24. ninjapirate says:

    According to develop, the game hasn’t been cancelled after all. I doubt everything’s fine and dandy though.

  25. terry says:

    Wait, what?

  26. Frosty840 says:

    You can stop working on a project without cancelling it, guys. I doubt they’ve just deleted everything they’ve got, but there won’t be any more active development of it.

  27. Diziet Sma says:

    We might have to start facing facts, that Frontier (having added and removed Elite IV from their front page so many times i’ve lost count) really do have a problem. From an outsiders perspective progress on both games has been painfully slow to non-existent. Frontier developments most successful releases of recent years have been, the admittedly rather excellent, Lost Winds for Wii Ware, and Kinectimals, which they have still not updated from In Development on their website.
    I don’t know about units sold for Thrillville (which was 2006/2007) but prior to that you’d need to go back to Rollercoaster Tycoon which was 2004 and older. I hate to say it, seeing as I still wear a Frontier Elite II t-shirt with pride, but it cannot possibly be profitable/sustainable for them. :(

  28. Navagon says:

    If it does wind up cancelled (and a lot of projects in this position tend to be) I can see this getting picked up elsewhere. It’s too big to slip between the cracks.

  29. destroy.all.monsters says:

    Maybe Braben should have talked to Paradox? They have balls at least and this would allow them to branch out a bit.

  30. Ratty says:

    Always a shame to see people being made redundant :(

  31. Bilbo says:

    Struggling to consider david braben anything other than a bit of an irrelevant throwback

    • destroy.all.monsters says:

      I see what you’re saying – but ouch.

    • Kadayi says:

      Albeit it’s years since I played it, the fact that Frontier Elite II bugs, were never addressed by him has always been a bit of a black mark in my book. When you stop giving a shit about your customers playing experience, you’ve entered a state of hubris.

  32. wonkavision says:

    Stay gold, Ponyboy.

  33. geldonyetich says:

    [Latency induced double post]

  34. geldonyetich says:

    The trailer spoke “vaporware” to me, really.

    When we last left Commander Jameson, he was an exchangeable default name applied to the character you use to explore the galaxy with whilst upgrading your ship…

    … now, he’s running around around government buildings and avoiding officers in an apparent presidential assassination attempt, no sign of a ships or space to be found anywhere in the trailer.

    Hubba-wha?! It’s always a bad sign of creativity run amok when the developers have forgotten the kind of game they’re supposed to be making. The game is Elite, not Splinter Cell.

    Ah well, if running and gunning between spaceflight is what the next Elite was about, I suppose we can make due with Precursors.

  35. Poltergeist says:

    David Braben’s secret yet unannounced project is called “Bankruptcy”.

  36. RetroDLC says:

    I was one of the 17 made redundant by Frontier, this is a real shame for everyone who has worked on the project the last few years. It was one step away from completion and release but something happened (NDA) and it all fell through. Will it ever be finished? I hope so.

  37. Werthead says:

    Doesn’t Frontier make lots of tiny games for the Wii and mobile devices? I thought those kept them ticking over whilst they were working on bigger projects in the background.

    Interesting that people who worked on the game seem to be all over the place with it (based on the comments in the other article). Some are saying it was pretty much done and just needed polishing and bug-fixing, others are saying it wasn’t even close. Very odd.

  38. Grape Flavor says:

    I’m sorry, but what’s the big deal here, really? What we have here is a classic vaporware game. Clearly the publishers had no faith in the project’s future. All we really have to go on is just one completely mediocre trailer and a boatload of grand promises, and you guys are acting like your dog died.

    And yet TESV: Skyrim is a real project, with a real release date, by a reliable dev with proven ability to craft marvelous, if initially flawed, open world adventures, and all RPS can muster is skepticism and snark and insults.

    I don’t understand you guys.

    • Kadayi says:

      Don’t understand what? That people lost their jobs and people are offering their condolences?

      Also what do various peoples opinions on Skyrim have to do with anything? That’s a different thread. RPS isn’t a collective as you seem to be implying.

  39. mrrobsa says:

    Signed up to say I’d been very much looking forward to this ever since first reading about it, (perhaps on a cover of Edge no less?). So disappointed that it looks like The Outsider will never see the light of day, so often its the innovative titles that end up shelved, which is a blow not just to Frontier but to the industry as a whole.
    Good luck to all involved in making their transitions, hopefully you get to work on something challenging and exciting and which makes it to market.

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