David Braben – Elite Dangerous Interview
While at Gamescom 2014, we managed to not only get a hands-on of the Elite Dangerous beta with the Oculus Rift, but we also got an interview with the man behind it all, David Braben. Although some of the interview was lost to the altar of dodgy technology (it’s corrupted), most of it can be found below. In short, Braben is a deeply passionate man that really loves his game. He plays it frequently while he and his team constantly work on fixes and updates.
- Why is such a big map so important to Elite: Dangerous?
This is the beautiful thing, we’ve got such a big galaxy: all the time things are changing and unfolding; rebellions are starting, rebellions are finishing, people are being assassinated. You are given contracts to assassinate people which we might give out to multiple players and you’ll fight over it.
- Would you give other players the role of defending the target?
What’s great about assassination missions is they tend to daisy chain. What happens is if you take someone out that go ‘who is that [profanity]?’. As a player you can do that, you can put a mission on someone. For which you would have to provide the money.
- So you can put up a bounty of someone who killed you?
Yeah. And what you’ll find is some players have really high bounties on their heads, which we will then put on the news wires. So you don’t want to get too high a bounty otherwise you’ll start attracting too much attention.
- What happens to you when you get assassinated or killed?
So you have insurance of your ship, and you will get the ship back but you will lose whatever you had on you. So you do lose something, you don’t want it happen, because you do get punished for dying. It’s not in yet but we also have a concept for an Iron Mode where death is death. You’ll start right back from the beginning again every time you die, no matter what. But I think people will be respectful of each other, and death will mean a lot more in Elite then it does on other MMOs.
- But with the enormity of the map won’t bumping into other players be quite rare, especially away from the core worlds?
But that also makes it special, I love the idea of heading out into the unknown. If I see a player its like ‘Dr Livingstone I presume?’ Don’t forget you can hail them now with voice commands, which is lovely. Or with text comms if that’s what you prefer because not everyone has a microphone set up. Its really nice just being able to hail someone, not everyone answers there hail but thats another thing, and thats maybe because they don’t have microphones.
- So not communicating could be tense in itself, if a ship doesn’t response you’ll have no idea if its friendly or not?
Exactly! But responding could be dangerous too, they might hear your voice and go ‘Oh he’s English lets get him!’ A lot of people have similar names to their forum names so if you don’t like them in the forums you might be able to get them online. On the very first day when the pre-alpha went live I was killed by someone. And a few days later I saw it on Youtube! He was youtubing it at the time, and he said on the video ‘Oh I killed someone called Commander Braben but I’m sure it was some random player’ but I am the only Commander Braben.
- Was there a bounty on your head?
No! It was only day one! I think it was just for the fun of it! But it was fun, it brings it home that these are real people. Because I didn’t really think about it at the time, I just thought he was being a bit of a bugger but then I came round. But that’s why we’re doing this in the open, because its very very interesting. Obviously we’ve been developing for the publishers for a very long time. And several things happen that I’ve seen but people don’t get to see it. Things that, in my opinion might well be wrong decisions, but you never get to know whether the people thought so. There’s something quite good about being in the public eye because you have to nail your colours to the mast. I don’t think anybody else, any other development team is being as open and honest at communicating to the community as we are.
- Well looking at other games, like No Man’s Sky, which is similar in that it’s a space exploration game, there’s next to nothing known about it, but here, with you guys, there’s everything. There’s so much information out there.
It’s like a firehose isn’t it? Well people are playing it, they’re making their videos, streaming their own content. Frontier aren’t controlling what people get to see. Some of its funny, and some of it is other stuff we need to look at. There was one that I tweeted about, it was Scott Manly where he was doing this brilliant docking, he was going really slowly and describing exactly what to do, when some bugger did essentially a handbrake turn in front of him and did this beautiful landing, and he [Manly] went ‘Wow. Okay obviously I’m doing this way to slowly’ and I tweeted this and thought ‘great video’ and he replied to this and said ‘hey I live in San Francisco can I come up to GDC?’ and he did. He did a live interview with me. Which is great fun, and it shows that it is all real people. Which I think means that people are much less unreasonable with each other. When they realise that these are real people, the world changed.
In a good way. I think there is less instances, because we’re showing the real thing, because they’ve got their hands on the real thing. So whatever bugs, whatever the find is developing in there and they can see that. Hopefully we’re turning them around really quickly. People have been really good. So when there are things reported, and there have been problems reported. There was a problem with ATI cards for example, first we put in a quick patch to make them not crash and then eventually fix the problem. It was a legacy driver problem in the end. But all the feedback has been brilliant from that perspective hasn’t it? We’ve been able to test so many different configurations.
And the configurations we have do seem to work, but in that case we had a problem with much older drivers. Actually one of the funny ones, one I was surprised at but actually when you think about it it’s not that surprising is network. People update their machines, they update their network connection to high speed but if they’ve got a hub at home they don’t update it. So there are people at home with ten year old hubs which don’t support the new protocols. So we’ve had to do work-arounds for that. But its only really those things that you can discover what in the wild. But in a company there are people actually looking after the tech, so the tech is working.
- Thank you for your time.
For more on Elite Dangerous, and our experience flying a spaceship with the Oculus Rift (Spolier alert: It’s really cool) stay tuned to Worlds Factory. And if you think this is cool, maybe you should think about buying a star online.
Elite Dangerous will release on PC Windows in late 2014, with a Mac version scheduled three months after that; David Braben also commented that it would be stupid not to thinking about next generation consoles, and Frontier has experience with console development (mainly for Zoo Tycoon), so it’s likely that we will see the game on PlayStation 4 and/or Xbox One at some point.