Interview: David Braben, founder and CEO, Frontier Developments
Frontier Developments founder and Elite co-creator David Braben is a happy man when we sit down to chat about Dangerous’s launch. His relief at the successful rebirth of the defining space trading series is clear, but it’s matched by his obvious enthusiasm for what is to come, too. Those 400 billion explorable star systems are, after all, just the beginning. Though the game is out, it’s far from finished. Are you viewing Dangerous differently now, or does it simply feel like an ongoing project? You’re right, there has been a change, but what’s really important is that the release game is a great, solid experience. For anything where that might not be the case, we’re looking at separately beta testing. For things where there is something that we need to test, we’ll do that and then we’ll make it available to everybody. I think that if you sign up for a game, you don’t want to be beta testing it, but if you signed up as a beta tester, you’ll then have a choice to either download the beta of the next thing, or stick with the game and wait until you get the new content a week or two later. It’s a new way of doing things, but I’m hoping it’s an exciting way. One of the big forthcoming updates involves player wings. How will that work? Wings is where smaller groups of players can play in the game together, and do missions together. In many ways, it’s a lot of the dream of [ Elite’s] co-op gameplay, where perhaps someone escorts a friend, or a group cooperates on a mission and can share the spoils of that. You can already do that to an extent, because you can transfer cargo, but if a third party comes along they can go, “Oh, I’ll have that!” so it doesn’t quite work as well. But there’s this whole etiquette that’s built up around that technique where people drop their shields before they do the exchange just to show mutual trust. It’s interesting that you mention player etiquette – during our time with the game, we never encountered a player who wasn’t in character. I love it. I think that’s fantastic! I really hoped it would happen, but you can never be 100 per cent sure. Griefing often spoils games, but I’ve been delighted with how well people have behaved generally. You have to seek out your own adventures, which is the sort of game I really like, and I think it may be that the sort of people who love that love playing a character as well. The very fact that you’ve got to a location where you’re meeting people suggests that you do understand the game, and therefore have a feel for it. And you are in your own wonderful world; you have a role for yourself. Some people have taken the role of trying to get the highest bounty they can by behaving obnoxiously, but there’s then been responses to it in game where [other players are] saying, “Right, let’s all go after this guy.” There are quite a few occasions where that’s happened and they’ve got them. New players have quite a grind ahead of them before reaching that point, though. I think it works, but you’re right, it is a bit too grindy at the start. And I think there are things that we can do, and are doing, that will improve that – and it will continue to get better. That’s the beauty of this way of delivering a game: we can see where people are getting stuck. It was very clear during the beta that we needed more tutorials, and so we spent a lot of effort doing those, and that was more than we originally planned because we thought [the mechanics] would be more obvious to people. We’re getting better, but we’re not yet the best we can be, and we’re adjusting that. There are other things that we will add over time to make it easier and more directed. Another aspect that some players would like to see updated is the variety of space station hangar interiors. Any word on that? Yes, there are already some variations, but I would like to see a lot more of those. And the same with ships, too – there are more of those coming. I want to see variations in stations and things like that where you can recognise it more, because you do spend quite a lot of time going in and out of stations, and you see the inside more than you see the outside. Because it doesn’t dramatically affect the gameplay, it’s not a top priority, but I would definitely like to see it. On the topic of recognising locations, will you be keeping Elite: Dangerous’s galaxy updated according to new scientific discoveries? You probably saw the recent announcement of Kepler’s discovery of two Earth-like worlds. Now both of them, interestingly, were already in the game, but I think we had to tweak one of the details because we got the mass slightly wrong. It was only a small adjustment, but it’s just nice for it to be spot on. Hopefully, people won’t mind the world slightly changing under their feet! I think what will happen is that we’ll make a judgement call, and if there is something discovered where it completely clashes with what’s already there, we’ll be open about it and discuss it. There will be some discoveries that aren’t in the game, but the sad thing is there are probably ones in the game that aren’t out there! But we’ve put a lot of effort into the science, and we believe it’s very accurate.
“You’re right, it is a bit grindy at the start. And I think there are things that we can do, and are doing, that will improve that”