David Braben, official gaming legend (see that pic up there on the right) and of course the co-creator behind the true gaming classic which was Elite. The space trading/fighting sim stood head and shoulders above the pack as one of the true giants of the early days of gaming. It's credited with capturing the imaginations of a generation, unlocking gaming's potential to a whole new audience (it certainly had jaws on the floor on the BBC Micro at our school's computer club back then).
Of course, Elite appeared way back in the mists of gaming history - well, 1982 - and Braben followed its success by writing numerous other early classics including Elite II, Frontier, Zarch, Virus and V2000. Braben then went on to found Frontier Developments - responsible for innovative titles like A Dog's Life, as well as Aardman adaptation Wallace & Gromit and Rollercoaster Tycoon 3.
Well now Braben and Frontier Developments are back with a new Wallace & Gromit game, Curse of the Were Rabbit, and freshly announced Xbox 360 title The Outsider. An ideal time then to speak with Mr Braben about the Were Rabbit, his next-gen work and, for the first time in a long time, the possibility of a new Elite.
So tell us a little about your new next-gen title?
David Braben: "The Outsider" is a gripping, high-tech thriller played out against the backdrop of a living, crowded city based on present-day Washington DC and its environs including the CIA HQ at Langley, Andrews Air Force Base and Newport News Naval Dockyard. As a CIA operative the player has a mouth-watering arsenal of technology, combat talents and weaponry available to him. A shocking opening scenario wrongly makes him Public Enemy Number One in the eyes of the media and the public at large, but leaves many different ways to proceed: to wreak ultra-violent revenge, to turn the tables and exploit the shady organisations he is mixed up with for his own ends or crusading to clear his name.
How did you first get the idea for the game?
David Braben: As with "Elite", I wanted a back story that did not dictate where the player has to go next; I wanted the player to have their options truly open to carve their own path through the world. Of the many scenarios we considered, I think this one works best.
Why did you choose such a contemporary modern setting for the Outsider? Does
it reflect on current events in the wider modern world?
David Braben: The Outsider design idea has been there for quite a while now; it is nothing to do with current world events, more the opportunity for a rich story. The modern setting is important for the grounding of the story; the feeling that these events really could happen tomorrow, that give the 'thriller' feeling to it.
The 'character-driven non-linear' game mechanic sounds fascinating, how will
this work in practice? How will it directly affect gameplay?
David Braben: It brings a great deal of freedom to the player - moving away from the gameplay-cutscene-gameplay-cutscene format, which gives the player little choice but to follow the proscribed path, and it avoids the uncomfortable problem where you might go to a location to meet a character - but the character doesn't yet exist as the cut-scene hasn't yet played.
With this new approach all the characters exist in the game from the start, and their future actions are not pre-determined - their involvement can be pre-empted by the player, making for some interesting gameplay mechanics second-guessing what is going on, and novel replay value. If you're a contrary gamer like me, who is always wanting to go down the side route, to shoot the character giving the long speech-to-camera, to do the unexpected, then this is the only way forward.