Elite: Dangerous, David Braben Executive Producer Speak About The Game - Games Weekly

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Elite: Dangerous, David Braben Executive Producer Speak About The Game


Braben has been Working on the elite series since he created it 30 years ago. we caught up with him for a high-level look at the game…

Can we call it an mmo? this is the first mmO-thing on this generation of consoles.

Well, potentially quite a few firsts. We’re releasing a very broad game it’s not just that it’s an MMO, it’s that you can do what you like and you’re not too directed. I really hope the console audience will love that. Some people will I mean, to be honest, I would love to play it on a console, because the issue with pc is that you never know if it will run, or if it will run slowly, if it will stutter, if certain features will work at all. With Xbox One I’ve got confidence that the experience you get, save for extreme cases, will be the same that we get.

how do you think these new players will cope with the complexity of the game?

Any game where there’s complexity will be a challenge, whether on pc or Xbox. holding any audience in contempt is always a bad idea. there are players who’d rather have a more simple control scheme, to switch off in the evening, so we are bearing in mind that you might come at the game differently. even on pc the learning curve has been difficult, but we’re continuing to improve it, and all that will be folded into the Xbox anyway. But, hey, there are people who’ve played over 1,000 hours! In a game that’s only been out 90 days! that’s more than ten hours a day. that’s MMO players  trying to complete the game, get to max level. except there’s no ‘complete’ with 400 billion stars.

You seem to be leveraging your studio well and getting lots of stable content out very quickly. that’s extremely unusual, and bodes well for the exclusive content at the Xbox One version’s launch. and the discovery of secret content like the ‘unusual artifacts’ and voyager is exciting.

The beauty of that is I’d rather people found out from each other. I love this kind of thing the mythology can start up around secrets, which isn’t true but it’s quite fun! When I play a game, I love discovering something. It’s amazing, even if I just hear about it from someone. there was one in frontier, about a mythological ship, which wasn’t true, but the mythology grew and grew, even with screenshots of it that were faked up.

What about the long-term plot can players affect that?

Yes! for example, there was a slave rebellion in the game, where the slaves had taken control of a system and the oppressors arrived with big warships. you could do things like running guns to the oppressed or fighting alongside the oppressors to take out the rebels. Oddly, many more players sided with the oppressors, because they were a much bigger faction, so you got benefits across many systems, rather than just there. It’s selfish versus altruistic. I had expected players, en masse, to side with the uprising, and then the system would become a free system. the story works both ways, but what the players are saying is, ‘Let’s enslave the galaxy and make some money.’

The players are becoming the evil empire…

It’ll be very interesting to see whether people will engage on Xbox in the same way. Because you’re still engaging with morality, just on the side that’s slightly dirty.

Will the story restart for the Xbox version? and will there be cross-platform play?

No, it won’t. and we haven’t said if there will be cross-platform play, but we know that there won’t at some times. We don’t want any one platform to be held back, but one platform might lead another in individual features, because that way we don’t have to roll out updates across all platforms on the same day, which just has technical risks, so we’d stop cross-play at that time. So technically we can do practically it’s not certain one way or the other. It’s the same galaxy, the same world and the same story you can contribute to. If you’re contributing to building a space station in a particular mining area, you’re still doing that and getting the benefit from it.

It seems to me that the heart of elite Dangerous is your love of science.

A lot of people here also have a love of science. the way I see it is that it doesn’t take a lot of time to put in, but I love the fact that it’s there. We haven’t done black holes with accretion discs, because they’re quite rare, but there are a lot of suggestions that black holes are pretty common. But we have no way of seeing them, except if something flies into one, when you get a burst of gamma rays. If a spaceship flew into it, that would work, but that’s no fun for the player in the spaceship.

Given that love of science, does it hurt to not have the game be purely Newtonian to have the audio propagate in a vacuum, and so on?

The audio isn’t propagating in a vacuum it’s being recreated in your ship. But I take your point, and we did look at that but it’s important that it sounds real. Given that in 2015 we can create great sound, I can believe that in 3300 we can create great simulated sound in a spaceship that helps pilots. there’s already talk in planes to recreate sounds, as at the moment warning systems are a cacophony. the air france disaster showed that there were so many contradictory alarms going off that the pilots were confused. Where as if you make a sound simulate the problem, like having the sound of a plane from the right direction, that is a more understandable alarm.

But what about compromising the reality of the sim in general?

Ah, the Big Lie. hyperspace. It makes space explorable, by someone who doesn’t die or have to go through the generations very quickly. there are several parallel problems. even if you could travel faster than light, the distances are so great that the acceleration you’d need would reduce you to liquid on the back panel of your ship. It’s not just a speed-of-light issue. the assumption we’ve made, which has no scientific justification, is that you can warp and punch through space, which would take a vast amount of energy, which is why we’ve said that the amount of power your ships would need is huge. It contracts the distances and accelerations. It deals with [it] in a nice ‘sweep it under the carpet’ way.

Other things, like artificial gravity on space stations, we assume that it feels the same as acceleration. Whereas with ships, it’ll be zero-G, so the linings of your shoes are electromagnetic and the floors are ferromagnetic. and all our ships are fusion reactors. So we thought all of these things, that people want to fly the ships like World War II planes, and the compromises for science other than that, are alright. 


Chris Gregory Art Director

How important was the look of the original game to you?

Vector graphics are very simple, but it’s important to remember that it was the first game to feature 3D graphics to this level. David [Braben] did a very canny job of using very simple linework to create iconic shapes that really lodged in people’s memory. I was very surprised talking to the fans at various events, how emotionally connected they are to these ships now. I think part of that is because, when they were playing the game, they weren’t seeing that. they were seeing the boxart they were seeing the dream of elite. What we had to do was deliver on that and make it relevant to today.

How do you deliver on a dream of chris foss-style science-fiction art, while staying true to real Newtonian physics?

David’s very keen on our ships being very functional in terms of thinking about what they would need [in order] to do the job that they need to in the game and the fiction, and to make sure that every ship has that on there. every ship has hardpoints to fit weaponry, thrusters all around to do cool zero-G manoeuvres, heat vents at the back…

The guns and landing gear retract when not in use. Do you actually have a design of how everything fits inside these ships?

At the moment, the game is limited to playing through the eyes of the pilot sat in this seat. Obviously, down the line, we’ve got to get out of that seat, and we want to run around the ship. So we definitely have to think about all the complex working features of the ship its ramp, its landing gear, how do people get in and out a really long list of considerations that need to be taken into account. all built to correct scale for a correct character.

Jim Croft Head of Audio

Space is, famously, silent. yet you have four coders working on sound. What are they doing?

When we first made this game, we thought, ‘Let’s give players the experience of being in a submarine, stay true to the science.’ that’s actually a really boring idea. So we came up with the idea of an audio huD. the ship’s computer builds a sonic picture of the outside environment. there are at least eight different layers of sound effects in there to describe acceleration, deceleration, mass shift. Beneath that, there’s another set; so if you fiddle with your power options, or you’re carrying cargo, that’ll have an effect on your mass, which will also affect sound. Basically, we’re getting a lot of telemetry from the game, and we’re converting that into audio. there’s also over an hour of incidental music in the game.

So the computer simulates what sounds a human would expect to exist outside a spaceship, if there wasn’t a vacuum?

Yes. In space, nothing has weight, so it’s the sound that gives it the weight. that gives us the licence to have really cool stuff, like ship flyby sounds giving all other ships their own specific sounds just makes the experience more exciting. Staying true to the fiction, if the canopy breaks, you lose that sound. you’ve got headphones, so you’re hearing your breathing inside your mask, and you’re hearing the ship’s voice through your headphones, but everything else if you shoot your guns, for example is very muted. If you try to dock, you’ll go back inside an atmosphere and the sounds will return.

How do you choose what sounds engines make in the future?

To sound, but we’ve always steered away from that. We realised quickly that rockets are just noise, which gets very fatiguing, so we reserve that for things like boost. the actual engines, well, we looked at Ben Burtt’s work the holy grail of sound designers. he worked on  Star Wars and Wall-e. In the awful first Star Wars movie, he made the pod-racing so that each vehicle had a real character about it.

So we’ve got a whole different gamut of ships by different manufacturers, with a sound designer working on each one. We started with the Sidewinder, when it was the only ship in the game. We spent a long time getting it right, feeling fun. you wanted to interact with it. We used lots of guitar effects tremolo, for example to give the sense of motion, modulating the volume as you go faster. We did lots of experimenting and found a formula, this set of eight sounds, then copied that onto another empty ship, removed all the sounds and gave it to a new person. that meant that each ship ended up with the same system but completely different sounds. So the viper sounds like a sports car, really throaty and gas-guzzling.

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