Alpha Papa Chat: Elite: Dangerous Alpha In December

By Craig Pearson on October 18th, 2013 at 3:00 pm.


The floating space head of David “Orson” Braben is transmitting more details about Elite: Dangerous. This is a particularly important dev diary, because it announces the alpha stage of the game. The backers who pledged to be part of the alpha will be getting the first new taste of Elite in nearly two decades this December. It’s not the whole game, though: the alpha will be a series of test segments, enabling Frontier to tune parts of their space epic before the general public is allowed in. The first test will be of the combat systems. Being two months away from new Elite got me a bit excited, so I asked a courier to deliver a package of questions to Braben’s home system, and he delivered it on time. Braben’s space responses, and the alpha dev diary, are below.

RPS: The alpha is the first time the public will be playing a new Elite in nearly 20 years, which means you have both a legacy to live up to and a clean slate to start over with. How has that driven the design?

Braben: The main factor for me is creating a compelling ‘world’ – ie a galaxy – that I want to explore and inhabit. The ambition for me is just as it was with Elite and Frontier, but now we have far more capability to do things that we couldn’t even consider before.

Fundamentally it has been a balance between the ‘clean slate’ and embracing the heritage. The latter has provided a great framework, and we have expanded this hugely with a very rich tapestry to the world – something we didn’t have before – detailing everything from how food is made, transported, consumed, how electoral systems work, what is in people’s homes, who the corporations are and what they do, in addition to the obvious elements like what the spaceships look like and what goes inside them, the technology of the time and its underlying physics. This may seem like superfluous detail, but it helps provide invaluable information for the associated fiction, for the subject matter of missions, and also in the whole immersion of the worlds.

RPS: Actually, given how long ago it was, and how the space genre waned over time, how many people on the team have a grounding in Elite and space games?

Braben: Many of the team have a grounding in either “Elite” or “Frontier” – take a look at the ‘Meet the team’ interviews on our forums for more info, and the few that didn’t – they do now!

RPS: What role do you play in all that?

Braben: My role is to champion the game as a whole. To look at individual design decisions, and to try to make sure they are going to work well together – and that the eventual game will be one we will all want to play.


RPS: Any difficult decisions you’ve made? Cutting something the fans of the previous games might expect to be included? Will we all still be chatting on an intergalactic BBS system?

Braben: We make difficult decisions every day!

I think the most controversial is not to include landing on planetary surfaces in the first release. This is because as a player you expect there to be so much there; bustling cities, rich vistas, verdant forests full of exotic creatures, and so on. You expect to be able to get out and walk around. All of those things we want to, and plan to do with time. But not at first release.

RPS: And a sort of mirror of that question: with your initial design goals, has any part of the game expanded beyond how you initially envisioned it?

Braben: Yes. Just about everything has expanded beyond our original design plan – but that is the process of making a rich game.

RPS: I understand the design forum has seen a lot of discussion between the team and the community. How much information have you given them? How have you been using their feedback?

Braben: It’s been incredibly useful. We have changed features, reworked features, and tweaked features. We have even added whole new sections of the game. I called out ‘Super cruise’ in the latest video where players want to be able to experience travelling between planets in a similar way to the way they could in Frontier using fast forwarding of time – clearly something not possible in a multi-player game – but we have come up with a method where it can work – and this will now be in the game, as we think it is a valuable addition – but it has meant large elements of the game have had to change as a result. And it will be better for it.

RPS: I think the most exciting thing for me is being able to play the game with friends. Will the alpha have multiplayer or co-op?

Braben: The first combat test build will not, as we want to test combat with AIs first, but multi-player testing is a key priority for us so you can be sure we will get onto that soon.

RPS: What sort of uptime can people in the alpha expect? I understand you’ll be testing various components. Will it allow people to keep playing (through the alpha and beta) to launch?

Braben: Yes – people should be able to play pretty much throughout – though through the alpha a big portion of what we are planning are stand-alone feature tests, and also there may not be continuity of data structures across the alpha and beta – ie you will probably not be able to save data from one and reload in the next – for some stages at least.

RPS: What about ships and customisation within the alpha. Will people have the opportunity to choose their ship and how it’ll be fitted, or is that separate component for testing at a later date?

Braben: To some extent – more details to follow.


RPS: Will it be available to all alpha-backers at the same time?

Braben: Yes.

RPS: Was the alpha access always scheduled for a year after the Kickstarter? What’s the projected timeline for the beta and release date?

Braben: Yes. It was always scheduled for December 2013. Thereafter we will take an ‘it’s ready when it’s ready’ approach. As we’ve seen with the DDF input, it’s incredibly valuable to get feedback from players, and we are trying to take full advantage of the opportunity we have here to get the best possible end result, so we want to have the flexibility to react to feedback for the overall good of the game.

RPS: How playable is the game? Any interesting stories from your time with it?

Braben: As I said, it’s not a coherent whole – yet. Elements are playable, others are not. For me it is a fantastic release to be able to start doing the things I have wanted to do for a long time. One example is improving on the planet generation in Frontier – building a rich galaxy with an accurate night sky, where you can visit every visible star in it. There are already billions of stars in the game, created with careful attention to detail so that they match real life physics, including the approximately 120,000 stars that comprise the ‘night sky’ as seen from earth with the naked eye and telescopes.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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39 Comments »

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  1. MrSean490 says:

    What do they mean by “first release” in relation to the planet stuff?

    Will it be patched in later on, or will an “Elite: Dangerous 2″ have it?

  2. Artist says:

    *drool*
    I feel no conflict beween Star Citizen, Elite and X-Rebirth! Must have them all!
    Let me hug you, glory new Spacegame future!

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      Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      No! Don’t open the airlock! It’s… too late.

      Ewww, nasty. Explosive decompression is never a pretty sight.

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      DarkLiberator says:

      No love for Limit Theory?

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        Cinek says:

        No.

      • Artist says:

        Yes love for Limit Theory (his devlogs are cute), Pulsar, StarMade and Space Engineers.
        Maybe, but just maybem even Shores of Hazeron will fix its horrible laggyness and start to shine finally! So much potential killed by this…. Curse you alpha-states…

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          Matchstick says:

          Can we add in some love for Enemy Starfighter as well ?
          http://enemystarfighter.com/

        • SuicideKing says:

          You’d think that Deep SIlver, Volition and Interplay would realise that there’s a market for the third FreeSpace game, wouldn’t you?

          They don’t, it seems.

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            FriendlyFire says:

            Volition still remembers, but I think they have their hands tied. Interplay especially seems adamant on making the stupidest decisions imaginable, always.

    • derbefrier says:

      Very much this. So we have star citizen dog fighting alpha and elite alpha in december with x rebirth landing shortly before that. What is this madness?

  3. Premium User Badge

    amateurviking says:

    I remain an extremely interested, but uncommitted, outsider. Watching carefully. I look forward to when this and Star Citizen are actually finished. In the meantime I shall scratch my space-itch* with X-Rebirth.

    *I ran out of space-ointment.

  4. Tams80 says:

    I came here expecting Alan Partridge. Give me my Alan Partridge!

  5. Themadcow says:

    I’m glad they aren’t doing planet landings on initial release, Elite just doesn’t need it.

    What it also doesn’t need is acurate star mapping, realistic physics and all that kind of stuff. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t bothered about those things when I was playing the original Elite in the mid 80’s and I’m pretty sure I’m not bothered about it now. Classic Elite was all about 3 things:

    – Fun Dogfighting (not the RSPCA bothering kind)
    – Trading
    – Upgrading your ship and status
    – OK, maybe also the Blue Danube Waltz

    Now I appreicate that gaming has moved on since then, but the above 3 things are still the fundamental building blocks of the Elite experience. From what I’ve seen so far, this game is shaping up brilliantly but I’m very keen that the basic fun gameplay is prioritised over accurate simulation. Frontier was not half as enjoyable as Elite for a lot of reasons, but the change from ‘unrealistic’ (fun) dogfights to ‘realistic’ (dull) newtonian physics based fights was the biggest problem.

    Gameplay must take the priority.

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      amateurviking says:

      I don’t know. For me planet landings were a big big part of what stamped Frontier all over my subconscious. Starting in Ross 154(?) parked up on the surface of a moon orbiting a massive ringed gas-giant (which was conveniently rising at the time you start playing) is, for me at least, an indelible moment in my gaming experience.

      The quasi-realistic local star layout was also (for me) really evocative.

      Mind you I started with Frontier as the computer we had during the latter half of the 80s never got an Elite port (the Tatung Einstein fact fans – my Dad continues to have a talent for purchasing electronics from soon-to-be-bust companies) so it wasn’t til we got the venerable 486 SX25 that I was able to do much gaming that wasn’t Chuckie Egg.

      Sorry I’ve just had a nostalgiarism.

      • Scurra says:

        Hey, at least you got Chuckie Egg. I don’t think the Camputers Lynx even got that.

    • Pecisk says:

      Strange, because initial plans for Elite 4 was to start on planet without your own ship. FD will go down on surface, they already working on it in background.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      The realistic space flight of Frontier felt real, and for me it really made the game better. The fighting was pretty difficult though. I’d like to see a gimmick such as tractor beams or local gravity fields introduced to allow ships to do something else than high-speed jousting.

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    deadfolk says:

    Hmm…looks like £200 for alpha access.

    I think I’ll wait a bit.

    • Pecisk says:

      I suggest 80 pounds for second stage beta, you won’t miss that much, as alpha will be real alpha (with testing plans), and with this tier you get all next expansions for this game for free.

    • Taidan says:

      On the flipside, Star Citizen with give you two games with full access to all stages of Alpha and Beta testing for less than £25. (Cheaper if you know an existing backer whom you trust enough to gift you a package.)

      In the face of that, it’s pretty tough to get excited about the Elite Alpha/Beta. (Although I have backed both for a little more than I’d usually pay for a full-priced PC game, and couldn’t even begin to guess at which one I’d favour if I was somehow only allowed to play one.)

  7. Awesumo says:

    My real problem are the recent games David Braben and crew have put out are, erm, not exactly technologically challenging. To say that this is a bit of a step up for them is understating it. Recent games include Rollercoaster Tycoon rehashes, kinectimals and IOS apps.
    Also A remake of the fairly empty lifeless universes of Elite games of the past… well I don’t think it will cut it these days, and I don’t believe they have the resources to do much more than that. I loved it back then, but there wasn’t exactly much competition for my gaming hours.
    Anyway, I hope to be surprised, but I’m not holding my breath.

    • Pecisk says:

      You do what you get paid for. He wanted to do both Outsider and Elite 4, and both get canned just because publishers didn’t want to take risks. Yet, he has done ton of research, and if you follow Dev diaries and newsletters, they have left no stone unturned.

      David has created first Elite (with Ian), and Frontier: Elite 2 *alone*. Also all people hired in last six years have be done with idea they could work on ED some day. In result there’s lot of astronomy fans there. Also they are high class proffesionals. It is not about romantic “I will do Bioshock Infinite…or..or Battlefield” anymore. All of those games has sold well, and they got high marks in reviews.

      Also I suggest to check out XBox One exclusive Zoo Tycoon, and read again more interviews about it. It is good to be sceptical, but at least do some research more. Also in interview David points out that for exactly that reason that planets should be look “alive” they won’t do it in one go.

      • bill says:

        Outsider looked and sounded awesome. It’s a shame we never got to try it.

        • Pecisk says:

          We don’t know for sure, but it’s realistic that code for Outsider will be used in walking expansion.

  8. Duke of Chutney says:

    Braben should have listened to our PM and worn a jumper.

    Also, he is good at giving vague answers to questions “My role is to champion the game as a whole.”

    Perhaps he does listen to Cameron after all.

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      Llewyn says:

      Although of course neither Cameron nor his spokesman actually said anything of the sort…

      So who knows what Braben listens to?

  9. Perjoss says:

    nooo, I just realised I only have beta access, I will have to wait longer to get my hands on this.

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    melnificent says:

    First Release and ready when it’s ready… I really want elite I really do, but this is a God(us)awful and sounds like an attempt to hit the KS promised launch window with whatever is “finished”.

    • Pecisk says:

      Well, they always knew that all this considerent, they will reach Alpha deadline in time. What they didn’t know what kind of changes will happen during development via community feedback. So they aren’t sure how long testing will take. My guess we will see 1 – 2 month delay, but nothing more.

  11. Frye2k11 says:

    Good stuff, RPS!

    Can’t believe I haven’t heard about this sooner because for me Elite was special. *violin plays in the background* Playing it when I was about 10 years old is one of the things that shaped my interests in 3d programming up to today. For some it might be a movie or a star football player, for me it was Elite the video game. Real 3d, wow! I had only seen that in arcade halls in some fancy apparatus, but those games were pointless, just giving your coin’s worth. *violin fades*

    I hope they preserve the “pea-shooter to nuke” progress of the old game. Hauling food in a small cargo bay to start with, scared of everything, was its charm.

    Needless to say this better be good! No pressure!

  12. wz says:

    Anyone think they backed the wrong horse? By backing Star Citizen with a higher pledge than Elite because they’d reacted with resentment that all their Elite sequel hopes came down to crowdfunding?

    Especially considering Star citizen’s screenshot eyecandy turned out to be from the Crysis engine, and not representative of the engine talent in the project or leet rendering coding work already done at that point..
    Also because there was minimal gameplay ideas hidden in the forest of hype was other than some MMO stuff, especially nothing powered by revolutionary tech..
    (Star citizen does have AAA quality ship modding in the Crysis engine, but so do the really good modding projects these days).

    Now, it also looks like Braben intends to deliver procedural planets very quickly whereas the the closest Star Citizen is likely to get is the ‘That’s no Moon, it’s a Space Station!’ quote I recall from it’s hype page.

    It turned out Elite was the bigger bang for the revolutionary-gameplay-crowdfunding buck : (.
    Star citizen will no doubt be polished with it’s epic budget, but it’s unlikely to break too much ground that EVE left unbroken.

    • DatonKallandor says:

      Except for the whole “Star Citizen actually already has playable stuff” and “Elite is still only promises and renders”.

      • Pecisk says:

        Exept for a whole “Star Citizen for now is practically FPS with one level and off-the-shell engine” :)

      • wz says:

        Mod projects typically have instant testability, whereas Braben is going on in the interview about individual engine components being developed separately…

        Serious game dev outfits are about, well, game dev..It’s a bit much to ask them to always have access to a Hollywood grade lie exaggeration hype manufacturing engine. Perhaps the next time some ‘SRS BSNS’ sounding small companies throw a boring, technical kickstarter the reception will be better.

        Probably people should be more skeptical about lots of snazzy videos and we-r-so-good hype.
        In retrospect there were some clues such as: when Star Citizen made claims about scale being unprecedented (Evochron series offers larger scales right now than Star Citizen will when it’s released), when Star Citizen claimed it was PC centric because they loved the PC (it was an MMO so not console friendly like all other MMOs due to update restrictions on consoles).

        While RPS doesn’t have a lot of specialist space game journalists, some of the other sites should have picked apart the hype..that’s what they are there for. Star citizen also claimed they had already secured x million dollars of funding at the kickstarter launch – it might have been nice for some game journalists to have checked that out, and check there was no business-y clause saying something odd like the funding was just there in case of a shortfall.

        Having said that, I’m sure Star Citizen devs are genuinely trying to create a good game and take the genre forward. Their current funding is not large by publisher standards even given Star Citizen get to keep all the rights.
        It’s just that with the quantities of surplus funding involved situations could be trivially avoided such as where devs like the Infinity dev have been held back by not having enough money to leave his job, where the Evochron dev says the stress of having to keep enough income flowing to support his family has affected his health, the Northstar devs had to drop Northstar for lack of publisher interest for want of a few million dollars (before their SOTS 2 troubles), and so on..

        Edit: It seems a bit unethical actually of Star Citizen to make claims about scales given how much a fraction of that funding would have made to the Evochron dev whose game actually has far greater scale.

  13. Freaky says:

    For those looking for something to tide them over, I strongly suggest giving Pioneer a look – it’s a rather snazzy open-source remake of Frontier.

    There’s also a really impressive Direct3D rework of Frontier: First Encounters.

    • Pecisk says:

      Also keep in mind that these are remakes of game released in 1995, and don’t represent quality of ED will bring, however, it gives a little taste of potential scale of ED. Also fair warning, Pioneer is in very alpha, and Direct3D rework of FFE won’t work on all machines and is quite buggy and incomplete too.