Interview: David Braben

Interview: David Braben
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Atomic: What do you think of the commercial, freeware, remakes, and open source re-creations that Elite inspired, like Vega Strike, Privateer, Freelancer, Hardwar etc?

David Braben: Some are good, some less good, but they are still remakes of a game that is more than 20 years old! I think the sad thing is – more often than not – that they add little new to the mix.

Atomic: Would a future Frontier game still make use of procedural content, considering how far technology has come? Or would it use it in a different way, like generating graphics?

David Braben: Frontier used procedural generation differently to Elite. Absolutely, it would be used in a different way. We already have a number of technologies working, planned for Elite 4 that use procedural generation.

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Atomic: What makes an open-ended game in your opinion and how difficult is it to achieve this?

David Braben: It is very easy to write an open-ended game, but very hard to make it compelling and fun. The challenge with genuine open-endedness is making sure that either there is the density of ‘content’ in there so that going in any direction is interesting, or that the player does know which way to go to achieve particular objectives.

Atomic: Do you play Eve Online? Do you believe there will ever be another single-player Elite-style game?

David Braben: No I don’t play Eve. As for another ‘Elite-style’ game, it depends what you consider makes Elite, but certainly we will be making a single player Elite game.

Atomic: At the dawn of gaming Elite created a desire for games that allowed the player to explore an unlimited world without specific goals. Why do you think there have only been a small handful of such games in all the many years since?

David Braben: Marketing departments seem to hate the idea of a game without specific goals. Received wisdom is that such games don’t sell, and that those that do are lucky aberrations. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, of course, as the marketing people do make a big difference, and if they are not behind a game, it may bubble under for a long time before it is truly successful – or disappear altogether.

Games like Elite, RollerCoaster Tycoon, The Sims, all were games that only got reluctant publisher support initially, but went on to stellar success. It makes you wonder what other games never saw the light of day but fell into this category.

Atomic: The simple graphics of Elite and other early games forced or allowed the player to use their imagination. Do you feel that current games rely way too much on pretty graphics and fail to develop game worlds with any substantial creativity?

David Braben: No. Modern games are much better. It is very easy to adopt a rose-tinted view of the past. It is true that a great deal was left to the imagination, but the imagination is still there. Just because more of a scene is fleshed out doesn’t prevent you using your imagination still.

Atomic: Kittens or puppies?

David Braben: Puppies.

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This feature appeared in the September, 2006 issue of Atomic Magazine

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