Ever wanted to explore a real, 1:1 model of the Milky Way, but just weren’t sure you could afford all that expensive uranium for your Mr. Fusion unit? So did Elite: Dangerous’ creator David Braben – who, fortunately, came up with a better solution than actually traveling into the future.
Braben’s team at Frontier Developments has actually digitized a to-scale model of our galaxy – complete with real data on more than 100,000 stars – into Elite: Dangerous, announced earlier today as coming soon to Xbox One. More than just a massive game world, Elite: Dangerous promises you something infinitely more valuable: the freedom to engage with that game world in any way you choose. Play alone or with friends or with Elite: Dangerous’ massively multiplayer community. Make money through mercenary contracts, or piracy, or bounty hunting, or exploring unknown parts of the galaxy… or even by simply buying goods low and selling them high. Or any combination of those things – it’s entirely up to you.
Of course, that means the galaxy can be a dangerous place. Other players are out there, and you’d do well to work together… or just become too badass to be beaten. But, it goes beyond that: Your actions can have consequences far beyond what you might believe is possible in a video game. Frontier Developments has written and rewritten scripted events in Elite: Dangerous based on player actions. In one section of the galaxy, as you read this, players have overthrown the local government in a coup. That wasn’t a scripted raid or a pre-planned event; it just happened. That’s what playing Elite: Dangerous is like.
But don’t take our word for it. Xbox Wire sat down with David Braben and picked his brain on Elite: Dangerous. Read on, and learn why we’re so excited about this unique, massive game.
Xbox Wire: Let’s talk first about Elite: Dangerous’ origins. Tell us a little about the original Elite, and how Elite: Dangerous grew out of that.
David Braben: Elite was the first open-world game ever, released back in 1984. Ian Bell and myself wrote the game while we were at university, as a reaction to the games that were around at the time. In Elite, as opposed to what was out there then, players had freedom.
So, winding forward to Elite: Dangerous, it’s the third sequel to Elite – and it’s a game I’m very, very proud of and have wanted to make for a long time. In Elite: Dangerous, you take control of a spaceship and then go and do whatever you like. You can be a pirate, join the military, all sorts of things – it’s a one-to-one, real galaxy. Every single star in the night sky is there, and you can visit it, and you can have exciting adventures there, with your friends.
The other great thing is that Elite: Dangerous is a connected world. You can adventure with your friends, or you can go against other players. But most of the ships you’ll meet are actually non-players; they’re controlled by the computer, so you can blast away with moderate impunity. But what works best – and what the game is designed around – is cooperating with your friends.
Xbox Wire: So is Elite: Dangerous a massively multiplayer online role-playing game?
David Braben: Well, it’s some of the things in that acronym. It is massively multiplayer. But you can cooperate with just your friends, or with very, very large groups – it’s up to you. And you can even do things such as overthrow governments… which, actually, has already happened in the game.
There was a system called Lugh, where players worked against the government there, because they wanted to support a minority party. And a big part of it was that players actually wanted to test our system. They wanted to say: “Hey, if we actually do this, will it work?” And it did work. They were able to overthrow the government and install their own favorites.
Xbox Wire: As awesome as that sounds, overthrowing whole governments sounds like it might be a tall task for a new player. Let’s say I pop the game into my Xbox One, and have never played before. What does my life look like then?
David Braben: Your life can be anything you want to make of it. You’re given a small amount of money and a not-terribly-good spaceship, and you can get on with it. You can go out, do missions for people, trade, work with other players, etc. The richness of the world – and it’s becoming richer and richer with time – comes in large part from interactions with other players.
Some of the things players do in Elite: Dangerous just amaze me. For example, your ships are all fly-by-wire, but you can turn off a lot of those automations and aids if you want. Seeing some of the things players have gotten up to with even small details like that is just amazing.
Xbox Wire: “Fly-by-Wire” sounds fancy! Will we need some kind of extra controller for Elite: Dangerous?
David Braben: Not at all! In fact, when we were developing Elite: Dangerous, I played on an Xbox controller, mostly. And even now, I still do. I mean, I do play on the big hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) controllers from time to time as well, but to be honest, they’re hard to take around – and the Xbox controller is already a great experience. So there’s no need for anything else, and the game plays wonderfully with it. It feels natural to me to hold a controller and play the game, even on PC.
Xbox Wire: Awesome! In that case, how will the Xbox One experience of Elite: Dangerous be different from the experience on Windows 10, if at all?
David Braben: Apart from the controller aspect, it won’t be much different. We’re very excited to be able to play the game on the Xbox One. I can tell you that Xbox One players will be getting the complete and unabridged Elite: Dangerous experience.
You’re connected to the cloud, whether it’s via Xbox One or anywhere else, so it’s the same galaxy on any platform. And we’re offering great new features right out of the box for the Xbox One version. “Wings,” the latest update for the PC version, will be on the Xbox One version of Elite: Dangerous right out of the gate. We’re also announcing that the third free update, called “Power Play,” will be coming to the Xbox One version, as well.
See, what a lot of people don’t realize is that the Xbox One is a wonderful platform to write for. With a PC, there are so many configurations, so many graphics cards… it’s a big challenge. The experience of Elite: Dangerous is subtly different from one PC to the next. With the Xbox One, everyone has the same setup, so we can tune it precisely to how we want the game to look and play.
Xbox Wire: Tell us a little about the updates you mentioned. What kinds of stuff do they contain? How are they different from the original release?
David Braben: These updates contain things like community events, where we allow the entire Elite: Dangerous player base to get together and work on a single goal – doing things like, for example, building a space station to move the borders of a country further out, or building a capital ship to help protect the frontier. These projects require huge amounts of resources to complete, and so it takes many, many players over a long period to make them happen. And there are rewards here, too. So, on the capital-ship community event, for example: The person who contributed the most to the project’s success gets to name the ship. Others are financially rewarded for taking part, but there will be that one person who gets the very best, top reward.
Now, the new update “Wings,” which just went into beta, will contain updates for cooperative play. Players will be able to see the status of their friends’ ships, and you can share bounties and rewards from joint missions with your friends.
Xbox Wire: We can’t think of too many games like this on any system. If someone were new to Elite: Dangerous, what might you say are some games that share similarities with it?
David Braben: Well, the real truth is, there’s nothing out there quite like Elite: Dangerous. You might take the expansiveness of something like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – but obviously in a totally different setting – and combine that with some of the freedom you can get in the world of Grand Theft Auto, but in a truly, truly giant world.
Xbox Wire: So what’s going on in the world when we join the story of Elite: Dangerous?
David Braben: Well, there are two major factions at work when you join up: There’s the Federation, which is what might occur if you were just to wind forward from present-day America and make that into a space empire. They’re a big superpower.
Then, there’s another group that set off a thousand years before the events of the game in a space-age wagon train, to go as far as they could from the Federation, because they didn’t like it. They then settled on a star system called Achernar, more than 100 light years away. Then they developed an empire themselves – based not on capitalism, but on patronage, which is the system that the Roman Empire was built on. These are very, very different from the values of the Federation. And this new society grew; over the centuries, the space they occupied increased until they rubbed up against the Federation.
So you have this state of cold war between these two superpowers, and cold wars are great from an individual player perspective. You don’t have to believe in the politics of either side; it just creates a lot of friction that an individual person can manipulate.
Xbox Wire: What’s the one thing you’d say to potential players to tell them “Hey, this, above all, is why you should try Elite: Dangerous”?
David Braben: This is another step in gaming, in a completely new direction – and one that is completely its own. It’s a game I’m very proud of, and one that I think you’ll enjoy, and won’t find anywhere else.