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Creative Minds: David Braben

Feature: Elite creator talks new frontiers

David Braben is one of the true pioneers of British game development. After creating Elite (alongside Ian Bell) and Virus his name had already become synonymous with groundbreaking game designs capable of pushing technology in previously unforeseen directions. And while his company, Frontier Developments, has focussed on 'family' titles since the turn of the millennium he's back with his most ambitious game to date: The Outsider.

In the third in our Creative Minds series David explains why cut-scenes can't cut it any more, how Rockstar is ruining the industry and the possibility of Elite on PSP (though don't get too excited just yet).

Let's pretend for a moment that Elite never happened. Do you think you'd still be in the industry making creative games, or might your life have taken a different path?

David Braben: One of the things that fascinated me with computers in the early days was what you could do with 3D graphics. The very first thing I tried, written in BASIC, was a 3D star field. It was horribly slow, so there was no sense of motion as the scene updated. This was one of the driving forces for me to learn 'low level' programming to get the required speed.

I suppose the real answer to your question would depend on why Elite never happened. Looking back, there are so many things that might have gone differently, but I would like to think I would have come into the industry via a slightly different route. I might have written a different 3D game, perhaps working with someone other than Ian Bell or even working alone, and it might not have been so successful, so who knows?

If I hadn't gone anywhere in games, then I imagine I would have ended up as a research scientist instead, perhaps in astronomy, or perhaps I'd have ended up in computer graphics for the film industry.

You are Chairman of Frontier Developments; what does this role entail and can you still remain highly creative?

Braben: My job title is fantastically ill defined, but essentially I oversee all the games we produce at Frontier. This is the ideal role for me in the whole industry as far as I can see. I have perhaps the most freedom now that I have ever had in producing games - the systems themselves are way less restrictive than they were 25 years ago, and with the large teams of today we can create interesting things far more quickly.

Looking back at the games you've made which showed the most creative flair and why?

Braben: It's always tricky looking at creativity - especially in your own work - sometimes it is hard to see past what seemed like the biggest obstacles at the time. Nevertheless, I think the games I have been involved with were creative in their own unique ways. With Elite we had to be very creative with our use of the machine's memory. This was a very visible game, so I think we got more praise for it than for games where the creativity is less 'in your face'.

For example with the Wallace and Gromit games it was producing a beautiful, consistent world that fitted well with the characters; with Dog's Life it was looking at our world in a very different way. RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 was creative in the way it embraced 3D, and Thrillville to finally bring the world of theme parks to a console in an enjoyable way. Overall, though, I'd probably say The Outsider shows the most creativity, even though it is not yet out.

Speaking of which, tell us about The Outsider and what fresh ideas or design features it will bring to gamers.

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