BRIGHTON--As one of the creators of Elite, David Braben is one of the most revered developers in the UK games industry. Perhaps just as importantly, he's also survived the 24 years since then, and heads up one of the country's most successful independent development houses, Frontier. He attended the Develop Conference & Expo this year to talk about some of this experience, as well as drop hints about upcoming games The Outsider and Elite IV.
Not much is known about The Outsider, other than that it will be an open-world action game. Braben contrasted it with his studio's last game, the WiiWare title LostWinds, by saying that the two games are "at opposite ends of the game-design spectrum." The challenge, he claims, is in the nonlinear story and in the interactions between the player and the enemies in the game. "When [players] believe in what they hate, once you give the player the chance to talk to [enemies], there is the scope to have a character feel a lot more three-dimensional. If you have a baddie taking out US buildings, the reason may be sound. You have to have a lot of backstory in order for that to make sense."
When questioned by the assembled throng of developers, Braben conceded that development on Elite IV is scheduled, but not until he's finished current projects. "We started, we stopped, we started, we stopped," Braben said with a hint of frustration. "We do have people working on..." He paused, seemingly not wanting to reveal too much, but then went on: "...it's a very difficult game to realise. The plan is to do it after The Outsider. I know it's been an awfully long time, but we are, in terms of technology, very nearly there."
Aside from these games, the main thrust of Braben's presentation was the quality of games and the cannibalisation of the market by pre-owned games. "There are fewer bad games around these days than before," he said, citing the supposed "golden age" of gaming such as the original Elite. "Innovation sells," he claimed, giving the success of LostWinds--the best-selling WiiWare game in Europe and the US--as an example. He also bemoaned what he called "retail piracy," and individual copies of games that go through the pre-owned cycle up to 10 times. Nevertheless, he offered some good news for the UK games industry, with 26 percent year-on-year sales increases to look forward to, despite the UK being "the most expensive place in the world to develop games."