E3 2015: David Braben on Elite: Dangerous


How does the guy who got motion sickness from Kirby’s Air Ride get assigned to the flight simulators every year? Yes, at this year’s E3, with my guns functioning and my ship mostly flying in an upright position, I checked out Elite: Dangerous with a few tips from the game’s director, David Braben.

Braben is interesting because he’s an old school developer from the times when PCs were certainly king and consoles were on the edge of disaster. He says he enjoys both platforms equally, though. In fact, he prefers using a controller to mouse and keyboard (at least for Elite). While you may play games in a slightly different way, Braben believes the type of game you play doesn’t change with the platform, which is precisely why he wanted to bring Elite to the Xbox One.


It needs a bit of scaffolding, though. Close Quarter Combat is Elite‘s answer to this, bridging the gap between the simple instanced tutorials and the… well, everything of the open world of everything Elite. It is, in essence, a battleground — a lobby shooter in space. That’s why it’s on Xbox One first, but still coming to the PC. The idea is that console gamers are more used to these small, jump-in-and-fight-type games with little to no permanent punishment. The weaponry is all for CQC only and cannot be brought out into the game world (though the same ships can be bought and used in the persistent world).

Note that CQC isn’t meant to pave Elite’s way into e-sports (though Braben is fine with that potentially happening). While the game’s tutorial system is interesting enough, it isn’t PvP, and CQC is meant to help get your feet wet before moving on, if you move on. Braben acknowledges that some people may stick with CQC alone; however, you can use the knowledge and skills gained from CQC and apply them to the larger game, which is something I really wish I could say about other games’ instanced combat in persistent worlds. If you want to be a pirate or bounty hunter, you’ll need those combat skills, and while you can earn them out in the “real world,” having a safe place to experiment with different ships and loadouts saves you both time and resources.

The game isn’t all combat, though. I’d heard the Power Play update also shook up the mining scene a bit, adding drones to make it more enjoyable (and profitable). The response has been quite good. But something that keeps bothering me about Elite is that it’s the same universe but separate servers. There’s no direct cross platform, which certainly saves Frontier some headaches. The studio would have to coordinate between PC and Xbox One updates to make sure neither platform had an advantage over the other, and that’s difficult to pull off.

But not impossible. For the immediate future, Brabem says, we shouldn’t expect cross platform play. The Xbox version of the game is in the Game Preview Program (GPP) at the moment, and there’s no current word on releasing the game on other consoles. After the GPP, there may be some testing, but nothing’s certain.

During my demo, I had the option to use “flight assist,” which apparently is used by players regularly, though they’ll turn it off to execute complex moves. It reminded me of Star Citizen’s tiered controls option, which allows a player to control more and more fine details. Elite in general felt a bit less daunting in terms of potential openness of control, but it also didn’t have that slippery feeling to its ships. Both games both offer quite large, expansive settings to explore with multiple options on how to play the game. I think SC is larger, but as Braben noted, one thing that sets the two games apart is that Elite is out now and SC isn’t. That was all I was able to get out of him, though. He does follow the game and knows SC‘s Chris Roberts but feels that the two games will simply have their own way of doing things, and players will choose whichever they prefer.


Braben also praised the existence of competition for its inspirational qualities. One thing Braben noted is that Frontier has had about 18 months to work on the game’s controls, which is a good point. It may be why I felt like I was able to control my ship better during this preview. If this is Braben telling Roberts to maybe feel free to take a page from Elite’s control tuning, it’s certainly something to keep an open mind about.

For my demo, Braben advised that I start from the base basics and just “stick with it” when it came to the joystick/throttle combo. Though I did try the Xbox controller a bit during my SC demo last year, the intimidating combo from Elite combined with some tips actually made my demo quite comfortable. Even for a space sim rookie, the demo made for an enjoyable experience. The throttle in particular made the “simulator” part of my experience more realistic. As much as I prefer simple controls, the challenge in the tutorials was enough to distract to the point that I literally had to tear myself away from Elite to make my next appointment. I can’t say I’m going to rush out to pick the title up right now, but if I were going to recommend a space sim, Elite would top off the list.

Massively Overpowered is on the ground in Los Angeles, California, for E3 2015, bringing you expert MMO coverage from NCsoft, Blizzard, Ubisoft, BioWare, and everything else on display at the expo!
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