Braben On Star Citizen, Elite 2 Bugs & Rude Planet Names

By Alec Meer on July 24th, 2014 at 2:00 pm.

A short while ago I ran the first part of my recent interview with Elite co-creator David Braben about space, VR and other Dangerous-related topics; here’s part two, in which I mutter questions from RPS readers at him, on topics ranging from Wallace and Gromit to obscure Elite 2 bugs, before posing my own questions about his take on Star Citizen, and exactly who all these people throwing shedloads of money at space games are.

RPS: @badgercommander says “Any chance of a sequel to Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit?”

David Braben: I loved working with Aardman and Nick Park. Obviously it’s Aardman’s property not ours, but I would love to do that, or even to bring that game up to date for modern machines, but it’s unlikely.

RPS: Wallace and Gromit on Oculus Rift?

David Braben: Well, you never know [laughs].

RPS: @edwardo_ka says “Ask him what the plan was for the contact binary star (Beta Lyrae [-146,85]) in Frontier: Elite 2 that would crash the computer.” Does that mean anything to you?

David Braben: Yes, it does. So it was a special shape, a contact binary, which we are doing in Elite Dangerous, and due to a bug when I’d done some optimisation stuff, the shape it got wasn’t in the resource set, so it crashed when you went to it. And that was just so frustrating and so upsetting – these days you could just very easily patch it, and most people wouldn’t even know it wasn’t there. I think the problem is that, in those days, QAing something, especially in Frontier with so many systems, you couldn’t visit every system and check. Because that one was a special case we should have done, but didn’t.

Beta Lyrae conceptual image from Wikipedia.

RPS: Is it too late? You could push out a shock Frontier patch. That would make a lot of people’s day.

David Braben: It would take me such a long time to even work out which version of the code was the latest, and work out how best to patch it.

RPS: @sombrero_kid says “I’m looking forward to the sandbox, I expect I will need a campaign to frame it, what ratio of development is sandbox to campaign?”

David Braben: Well, we don’t have a campaign as such. The game is the game. Your campaign is your story. So the two are the same. So 100%.

RPS: @glowingslab asks “How much was Elite influenced by the Traveller RPG?”

David Braben: Not at all. It was influenced by RPGs, because there were quite a few around and I had played a few, but not influenced at all by Traveller. I think Ian played Traveller a little bit, but I’d played Fantasy Trip which is essentially men in tights fantasy, there was Space Opera, there were lots around. They from people like Steve Jackson, who went on to do GURPS, although that wasn’t released at that time, and all sorts of others.

RPS: @touzimsky asks “Will the physical addons from the Kickstarter campaign be made available at some point?”

David Braben: Well, the ones that are specifically available for Kickstarter are specifically available for Kickstarter. There are some things on our website that are available now, like badges, keyrings, mugs, and there will be more available in time. Hopefully things that people will like. Things that I love too.

RPS: Our own John Walker asks “do you ever boot up First Encounters for a quick game?”

David Braben: Yes… although it doesn’t work any more, because one of the Windows updates seems to have broken it. It says “this application isn’t 64-bit” or some such.

RPS: There’s probably a fix for it.

David Braben: There probably is, but I haven’t had the time to rathole finding out why it’s not working anymore. I wish I hadn’t taken that update.

RPS: @andrewdoull asks “How are they checking for swear words in the planet names for the new version of Elite? (they did it by hand in the original)”

David Braben: We’re less worried now, because we’re independent [giggles]. The way we’ve generated them is very different, it’s much more systematic, so it’s obvious what is a procedurally-generated world. Also, don’t forget that people will name worlds, and someone will look at those names just to check that it isn’t obscene, but they come in as people discover and name new worlds. We also offered that to backers, so if anything was particularly rude we wouldn’t have allowed that through already. Some of them are strange, but none of them are obscene.

RPS: @WTFMiles asks “you hop between dogfighting velocity range, supersonic, interplanetary. Will there be hot locations that feel like a Warhawk (ps3) map?”

David Braben: Well, there are already combat zones that you can jump into and participate in on either side. That’s the nearest, I wouldn’t call it a Warhawk map, though. Usually it’s some disputed ship under attack or something.

RPS: ‏@Shivoa asks “Those LostWinds games seemed to review well. They’ve started to come out on phones but still nothing on PC. Chances of a port?”

David Braben: [Long pause, smile] It would be good, wouldn’t it?

RPS: A good answer. A few last questions from me, then. What can you tell us that we don’t already know about future update plans for Elite Dangerous?

David Braben: Well, there are some things already mentioned in the newsletters [some of which have been released subsequent to this interview], so audio comms are coming in the next update. Matchmaking and friends list. There’s so much, and obviously at the same time we’re updating the sheer content of the game. There’ll be more and more things in the game, and lots of small things that you might not immediately notice, but will over time – they’re just getting better.

RPS: How do you choose what to prioritise in a game of this scale?

David Braben: We have a huge list of content, features, and then it’s a case of which feature goes into the next update. We’re trying to make sure that the features are largely there, or at least some part of them, so we’ve got a cadence where we add this thing, then we add to it, then it adds on to this other thing. Also, what we’ve tried to do – we saw this with the alpha – is tried to address the biggest risks first. At the start of the alpha, we needed the moment to moment gameplay, and the flying the ship, that sort of thing, to feel good, otherwise we wouldn’t have a game. So we did that for Alpha 1. Alpha 2 was multiplayer, a big risk.

RPS: You said earlier about how the Rift support came about in 3 days – is that sort of quickie random inclusion happening a lot?

David Braben: Not really. Some things it’s “ooh, we can make that better by doing this”, so we’ll just go and do it. But with all of those things it was a priority anyway, to have in there early, to make us think about interfaces and things like that.

RPS: How much do you feel you’re in competition with Star Citizen? To what extent do you watch it and respond to what it’s doing?

David Braben: I’m a big fan of space games. I think that’s a great thing. We’re seperated in time by quite a lot, we’ll see how far apart it ends up. We’re in a similar field but they’re making a very different game. Theirs is a very story-based game and all those other things. I think it’s important that we do the best that we can, and I’m sure that they will do the same. I’m a backer of Star Citizen.

RPS: What about their business model? Will you seek to emulate any of that?

David Braben: We’re focused on our own thing, we will deliver our own thing and we’re confident it will be really good. We’ll make sure it’s good, we’ll make it stand out, and I’m sure they will do the same. But it will feel very different. It already does. What’s great, actually, is that the more good games come out – especially in this – we’re moving the focus of the industry. If you look at the focus of our industry five years ago, it was on first-person shooters. Because there was conspicuous success from Call of Duty, we got Battlefield, loads of others, some of which were good, some of which were less good, and two of them have won out really strongly. I think what this now is doing is showing that there’s a latent demand for space games, and the more the merrier. They’ll all look at slightly different aspects, they’ll all feel different.

RPS: This huge audience for them – were these people waiting out there all along, or is it new people who’re enjoying discovering something new to them?

David Braben: I was certainly waiting. I think that’s the point -we were writing this for ourselves, we said this is the game we want to make. The people who thought “yes, that’s what I want too” signed up to it, so we are necessarily strongly aligned. I think what has happened is the whole return on investment spreadsheet that publishers use, there hadn’t been any conspicuous successes in this area. The one game, Freelancer, didn’t do particularly big numbers, and that was from a publisher point of view it was “if we did those numbers we’d make a loss therefore we’re not going to do it.” I think that’s really what preceded us, whereas with this we’ve gone in, shown high quality, shown that we’ve got a long track record, and hopefully what people have seen is we keep hitting our dates and saying what we’re doing. I’m really pleased with what the team has done, they’ve done a phenomenal job and are continuing to do. Look how many hours of YouTube videos and Twitch streams are on the game already.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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48 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    Thirith says:

    Elite: Dangerous, Oculus Rift and the combination of the two – those are some of the things that are coming about thanks to Kickstarter, which I find absolutely amazing, and that I’m looking forward to most in terms of gaming.

    • BobbyDylan says:

      Dk2′s shipping and Beta next week. Can it get any more meant to be?

  2. Premium User Badge

    Lacero says:

    “We’re seperated in time by quite a lot, we’ll see how far apart it ends up.”

    Haha. Barbed.

    • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

      Brabed!

    • BobbyDylan says:

      What? There’s nothing in that statement, just david being a Gentleman.

      • Premium User Badge

        Lacero says:

        That’s the beauty of it :) I’m sure he’s talking about elite slipping.

        But it’s impossible to read it and not think of SC being released very late, however generous his intent.

        • Premium User Badge

          slerbal says:

          I would imagine he is commenting on the fact that Elite came out in 1984 and Wing Commander came out size years later when the capabilities and machines were very, very different. Wing Commander was ace, but it certainly was not as ground-breakingly innovative as the original Elite which pretty much blew my mind for ever :)

    • Cei says:

      Hardly. I read that as Braben acknowledging that Elite: Dangerous has a significant head start in development time over Star Citizen, and he also had a ready-made studio and engine. E:D is now in Beta, with SC currently limping up to an early Alpha. Braben is secure in the knowledge he will launch first, because he started earlier.

      Of course, I also read that he backs SC and is more than happy for both game to co-exist. Don’t see why everybody else has to turn it in to E:D vs SC.

      • derbefrier says:

        That’s what I got out of it.

      • Trotar says:

        As someone who lets himself get drawn into those arguments, I think it can sometimes be enjoyable to have a passionate disagreement.
        That doesn’t necessarily mean I dislike the person I have a disagreement with.
        In fact, as long as there are no personal attacks and name calling, I have respect for people standing up for their opinion.

        I do wish those same arguments didn’t pop up everywhere tho!

  3. Geebs says:

    Isn’t having “starboard” painted on the outside of your ship a bit like drawing “left” and “right” on the toes of your shoes?

    • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

      Maybe it fulfils the same function as a “this way up” sign? A ship that looks so symmetrical might be confusing to load/unload in na environment where there is no natural “up” direction from which to orient, and if either side of the ship could be the front.

    • phanteh says:

      In space, no one can hear you scream there are still idiots.

    • Premium User Badge

      slerbal says:

      Wait… you’re not supposed to do that? (*searches for some way to remove magic marker from his left and other-left shoe*) ;)

      • Premium User Badge

        Stellar Duck says:

        That’s why you write it under the sole so others can’t see it.

      • Koozer says:

        Which one is ‘left’ supposed to go on?

        • MichaelGC says:

          Your port foot. I think.

          • Premium User Badge

            slerbal says:

            Mmmm… port… tasty! Still, I’m not convinced that storing my not-my-other-left foot in port is a great idea, but who am I to argue?

          • Crane says:

            You mean ‘larboard’ right?

          • spectone says:

            There is no red port left, I think. Never mind I’ll just go back to sailing this supertanker.

  4. Premium User Badge

    DarkLiberator says:

    “I think what this now is doing is showing that there’s a latent demand for space games, and the more the merrier. ”

    Pretty much my feelings.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Braben and Roberts have only ever been supportive of each others efforts. It’s only those vocal fans who seem to have succumbed to the blood lust.

      • Neurotic says:

        Absolutely. Look at the recent Sword of the Avatar/Star Citizen cross-promotion for another example of Roberts’ friendly nature. Dave Braben’s always been one of the good guys too.

        • Janichsan says:

          Except when it comes to Ian Bell. He’s been a bit of an a-hole there…

          • Themadcow says:

            I can see both sides of that argument. Bell feels that he was done out of a share of profits in the later Elite games, which is maybe correct in moral terms but probably not in the legal sense. I guess it’s down to your own ethical perspective whether Braben was a ‘a-hole’ to Bell or whether Bell was just a little naive. Seems they are on slightly better terms nowadays though as they both spoke at the same conference (albeit seperately) a couple of years back.

      • Premium User Badge

        slerbal says:

        It is always wise to be a gentleman, plus let’s be honest every time SC is mentioned in an article so is Elite and vice-versa – they are amazing in terms of promoting each other! Plus even the tiniest bit of competition is likely to make each team want to do strive to be better and two excellent space games is better than one :)

      • Solidstate89 says:

        As per usual, it’s the fanboys that ruin everything.

      • Stemot says:

        I’ve backed both games with substantial amounts and I’m looking forward to both of them. I’m enjoying the SC flight model more at the moment but both games feel different enough in terms of scope and mechanics that there is room for both.

      • Shadow says:

        Any reputable space sim fan should be happy both these projects exist. There’s absolutely no reason to pick one over the other. I backed Star Citizen, and I should’ve backed Elite Dangerous as well. It’s a bit outside my budget at the moment. I’m confident both will be great games.

  5. Lion Heart says:

    im so glad elite’s getting loads of press and not shoved in the dark under star citizen. such a great alpha and even better beta. nailing it everytime.

    • derbefrier says:

      Well the press seems to gush over elite every chance it gets but remains cynacal about star citizen every chance it gets. Its funny because the cynisim about star citizen is bred entirely from that massive budget, hell I have yet to seee an article by a memeber of the press that has actually played the game let alone knows morew about it other than it has all the money.

      I guess its not a big deal but it does irk me a little. Maybe once arena commander is a little farther along SC will finally win somew in the press over and the constant stream of cynasisim concerning star citizen can be put to rest.

      • Premium User Badge

        c-Row says:

        It’s not so much the budget itself but the lack of truly impressive and stable content to show being made from said budget.

        • derbefrier says:

          Yeah aren commander is pretty bare bones at the moment and has had a lot of networking issues since they opned the floodgates on the multiplayer. Its stil missing basic features for the flight model with only 2 small maps to fly around and progress has been slow. There’s no denying that. I think we are getting close to another big update though and there’s rumors they may unviel the fps module soon.

      • Ian Francis says:

        I’ve not backed Star Citizen or Elite, although they’re both games I will buy if the reviews are good. The general concern about Star Citizen I’ve always read seems to be more about feature creep and how getting all these different parts of a game to fit together into a cohesive whole is actually going to work, rather than feeling the massive budget is somehow wrong.

        Hopefully both these games will be amazing, I’m just cautious because as much as I enjoyed the original WC/Elite games when they came out, I want to see how they work in 2014/15 (/16…) before I buy them.

      • Arglebargle says:

        Roberts helmed two projects that were delayed by years, and way overbudget. His newfound love of games came only after his preferred Hollywood career cratered. He’s a showman whose project management is not the greatest. I know a ton of folks who worked with him at Origin, and they really don’t have much good to say about him.

        Star Citizen will live and die by the quality of the designers and middle management. I fully expect a long and bumpy ride.

        The attention that these two games have drawn to space gaming is great though, and will probably cause a spurt in design and development in the field. That’s good at least.
        .

        • Love Albatross says:

          Apparently Roberts has compared the enormous amount of time wasted on Strike Commander to the filming of Apocalypse Now.

          Bellend.

        • firage says:

          I know a ton of folks who worked with him at Origin, and they really don’t have much good to say about him.
          This sounds like a bunch of crap. They’ve had a lot of Origin veterans return to the industry just to work for him.

  6. Goomich says:

    There are some things on our website that are available now, like badges, keyrings, mugs,

    I can’t see any mugs.

    • Premium User Badge

      c-Row says:

      (yay, my question!)

      I was hoping for that soundtrack CD for non-addon backers. Let’s wait and see.

    • Geebs says:

      It’s a list of of people who bought in at the “premium alpha” level :-P

  7. Premium User Badge

    slerbal says:

    Elite is sounding more and more delicious, like a fine space-themed red wine – not sure what kind of grape that is – I look forward to an Elite binge when it is released and then dealing with the inevitable hangover of hum-drum reality afterwards :)

  8. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    In amongst all the stars they need one called Kerbol, orbited by Moho, Eve, Kerbin and so on, just as a little easter egg.

  9. Lobotomist says:

    Dont forget that Elite Kickstarter was not going very well. And Roberts made several videos asking people to pledge for Braben.

    I personally cant wait for Elite. And than I can safely wait for SC ;)

  10. TheBuff1 says:

    Why oh why did I kickstart Godus and not this??!! What was I thinking?? I’m so ashamed :(

  11. edwardoka says:

    The 13 year old me who played FE2 to death would have just disgraced himself…

    I had always wondered whether there was meant to be a special Thargoid-y encounter at Beta Lyrae that never made it into the released version, I’m thrilled to have an authoritative answer from the man himself :-)

    Thanks David, thanks RPS!

    P.S. E:D is looking utterly phenomenal and I can’t wait.

  12. MellowKrogoth says:

    What, David Braben himself can’t play First Encounters? Quick, tell him to download the D3D version of the game some people hacked up! http://www.frontierastro.co.uk/Hires/hiresffe.html

    It would be a pity if he can’t check out his older game to better remember all the things that were good about it.

  13. spectone says:

    I’m still waiting for the patch to FFE so I can shoot me some thargoids.

  14. Sigmoid says:

    “we’ve got a long track record”

    Indeed, a long track record… of BUGS!

    When I heard about Elite: Dangerous, my first, second and third thoughts were all of bitter cynicism. Elite was one of the first games I’ve played with, and I still remember how awesome it was – and how generally badly designed, and horribly buggy First Encouters has been.

    The messed up UI, the ugly and glitchy graphics engine, the likewise ugly and glitchy fractal geography generator, the glitchy simulation, the literally BROKEN storyline missions, the obvious gap between the ambition and capabilities of the dev team… And oh their horrible, antipattern use of the then new CD-ROM media…

    Even with all the bugs and unfinished indie game vibe of Frontier, FE was a step down. I lost faith in Braben long ago, let’s see if he’s grown up enough to be able to check his ambitions, or back them up with manpower. (Honestly, since I’ve read about E:D having an FPS mode planetside, with dinosaur hunting, I honestly doubt that he has.)