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30 in 30: Frontier Developments

A member of the ELITE

It all began, as we all did, floating alone in space - with nothing but a mining laser, a cargo deck full of slaves and three more hyperspace jumps to Diso. Elite and Commander Jameson, named after the whisky, were the founding fathers of Frontier Developments - alongside, of course, Mr David Braben.

Since those early days Frontier have had a high output of intriguing titles - a charming mix of the work-for-hire fun and own-brand cleverness. First, however, came the space epics. Elite's sequel Frontier was seen by many as an all-time high - full of realistically sized planetary systems, orbits and cities visible from space. Then, however, came the buggy nightmare and protracted lawsuit engendered by the third follow-up, First Encounters. It was a game so riddled with loose ends and wrongness that PC Zone felt duty-bound to celebrate it with an image of a turd wrapped up in a pretty yellow bow. Not a high watermark for anyone involved...

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After a few lower profile games like V2000 and Darxide, Frontier set their docking computer to bring themselves into alignment with a younger audience and well-loved brands like Wallace and Gromit. Fascinating third-person dog simulator Dog's Life, essentially Zelda with bum-sniffing, also came along for the ride - while the company truly excelled in bringing the RollerCoaster Tycoon license back with the colourful third iteration of Chris Sawyer's creation.

Recent history, meanwhile, has seen Frontier making a move to the hardcore with LostWinds on WiiWare (essentially 'My First Metroid') which, fingers crossed, should be making an appearance on iOS fairly imminently. With sprawling US-based conspiracy thriller The Outsider on hold, meanwhile, the rest of Frontier's Cambridge offices have knuckled down and focussed on motion control and family gaming. Outside of Microsoft and its satellite studios, they're practically the Kinect Kings - with this holiday season's release of Disneyland Adventures.

There's only one thing, however, that we all want to know. Just when the hell will we see hide or hair of Elite IV? At the last count, when asked whether it was still on the drawing board, Braben replied "Yes, it would be a tragedy for it not to be." Keep watching the stars people.

OVERVIEW

Founded: 1994
Location: Cambridge
Killer quote: David Braben: "It is not just my stamp on the games here. We have a large team and a great many people help make our games what they are. Internally, we have a great many fantastic game designs, but we only get to do a few of the possible game ideas we want to do. There is no shortage of creativity, but I am still part of the design and production process on all our games from start to finish."

KEY PEOPLE

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David Braben

If there were a games industry's nicest man contest then it would come down to a charm-off between Peter Molyneux, Charles Cecil and David Braben - all simultaneously trying to let each other go through a door first.

He famously created Elite alongside Ian Bell while at Cambridge University, and is also celebrated by acolytes of Acorn computing for Zarch (aka Virus on later, lesser, machines). He's now also a proponent of better access to computers in schools - armed with a cheap computer the size of a memory stick called Raspberry Pi.

FRONTIER GAMES WE LOVE

FRONTIER: ELITE 2

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Whether it was the thrill of freelance piracy, gun-running or that remarkable planet where precious jewels were outlawed (and as such they paid you to take them away as contraband) Frontier was a gem of a game.

The fact that the Elite model of free-form space trading and combat is no longer prevalent in gaming remains one of modernity's most abhorrent crimes.

LOSTWINDS

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A platformer in which you wave a Wii Remote to control the wind wafting through the level, LostWinds and its sequel were brave gems on an all-to ignored Nintendo Wii Shop-ping system.

Toku's journey is soon to be revisted on iOS systems, and CVG's train journeys will be all the better for it.

ROLLERCOASTER TYCOON 3

"It is not just my stamp... We have a large team and a great many people help make our games what they are."David Braben

Rollercoaster Tycoon creator Chris Sawyer did the PC conversion of Frontier: Elite 2, so it was a matter of affairs coming fill circle when Braben and co. were tasked with the development of the hugely successful third iteration of the Sawyer's theme park creation suite. Still a great game.

KINECTIMALS: NOW WITH BEARS

"Tchkittles! Where are you Thkittles?" We might not be the target audience for Kinectimals, but it cannot be denied that these cats are some of the cutest things ever pumped out by a 360. And as for the simple genius of the 'Now with bears!' tagline, we can only hope that the rest of the games industry follows suit. 'Call of Duty: Now with five extra multiplayer maps!'

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THE FUTURE

With The Outsider in hiatus and Elite IV's Cobra Mk III still lost in space, what can we expect next from the Braben bunch? Rumour has it that a return to Rollercoasters is in the offing - and if that turns out to be Rollercoaster Tycoon IV mixed in with the Theme Park visualisation of Disneyland Adventures. Well, that could be quite the game. One day with Frontier, however, we'll break out of the Sol system. We just know it...

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