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

"I'm a backer of Star Citizen"

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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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Alec Meer

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