What worked? Feedback, hard data and organised events; the feeling of getting better and seeing it proved in the numbers; the opportunities to learn about and exploit every advantage; and the chance to use all of this in competition.
The prototyping stage for Elite could be described as an elimination process: seeing what players used, and what they ignored. "Our initial testing started with our own team," says Sonny.
We're all CoD players and we wanted to understand how we used the features that were designed - including which we gravitated to the most, and which were unclear, or just not as fully realised as possible." Finding out what players naturally gravitated towards was the priority. "Early on, the team seemed to use the 'Prestige Calculator' most frequently. Team members who hadn't Prestiged yet, or who had focused on finding the best path to their next Prestige, repeatedly came back to this feature, watching the weeks and days tick down to that next milestone."
The telling thing about a Prestige Calculator is that it's selfish. You look at something like that to see how good you are, how far away from the next level - so, how seriously do you take killing? Serious enough to want to get better, probably, and the backbone of Elite is in giving players access to the kind of pre- and post-game data that can make that difference.
STATS AND GATS
Every stat you could ask for is collated, from an overall kill / death ratio down to overwhelmingly detailed breakdowns of your record with individual weapons. Maps can be viewed in 3D and as top-down blueprints showing the various routes to an objective and possible shortcuts along the way. Videos are currently being made that go into detail on particular routes and ambush points.
As you'd expect it's all beautifully presented, with effortless zooming and fading all over the place, but it reminded us most of the maps we used to seek out online for Goldeneye and Quake - crude labours of love, sometimes even 'drawn' in ASCII, that lay bare an oft-visited arena. Players have always looked at and
studied these maps in the kind of fanatical detail Elite caters for - and now, to borrow a rival's phrase, it's in the game.
Other games offer some of these features, but none are as comprehensive and wellengineered as what Elite's offering for free. This sounds like faint praise, but it is brilliant at presenting huge amounts of data and making it look meaningful - and will be constantly refining exactly how it does it.
"You want to provide as much data as possible, but not overwhelm," says Jennifer Puno, user experience director. "We learned a lot in the beta, and in MW3 we're going to trim down the cumulative stats or total score in career summary. So you no longer see total Kills and Deaths by default, but can hover over your career K/D and display it. That let us add more immediate stats, like a player's K/D ratio for his last five matches. The graph is pretty cool - green when you beat your last K/D and red if you didn't beat it or tied.
"Financial websites are particularly good at presenting trending information using graphical displays or percentage contribution data in a quick, visually distinct fashion," adds Sonny. And they weren't the only weird inspiration.
"We also looked at a number of fantasy sports sites to understand how they convey complex, comparative data in a way that users can instantly understand. Our team has engineers, designers, artists and production staff from a range of industries, so each team member brought a unique background to the process of designing Elite." But stats and maps, beautiful as they are, only go so far. And it's here we come to money.