Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
The Future of Games with David Braben
View All     RSS
October 21, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 21, 2014
PR Newswire
View All

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

The Future of Games with David Braben

March 19, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

If anyone has the right to say "Been there, done that", it's Frontier Developments founder David Braben. Of course, you may know him better as the guy who co-created '80s space trading classic Elite while still at university, or the man behind Virus, the first game to ever use 3D lighting effects.

For the last 18 years, Braben has headed up Frontier, where he has led development on the likes of the self-titled Elite sequels, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, LostWinds, Kinectimals, Kinect Disneyland Adventures, and many other games on various platforms. He has seen hardware go through multiple interations and gaming genres rise and fall.

With so many years under his belt, it's understandable that the industry veteran is not only knowledgeable in all fields of gaming, but also has plenty of opinions ready to let fly. Gamasutra visited Braben at his Frontier headquarters in Cambridge, UK, in the hope that these opinions would fly, and was not disappointed.

Smartphones are the way forward, casual games "a bit shit" and OnLive's day is yet to come, reckons the Frontier boss. Read on for David Braben's opinions on everything and anything gaming.

Microsoft has released Halo Waypoint and an Xbox Live app, but it hasn't released a full game on iOS before...

David Braben: Until now!

Exactly! So when you released Kinectimals for iOS, I was a bit surprised and thought "What's going on here?" Because iPhone is a competitor to Windows Phone. It just seemed like quite an odd move.

DB: Well, it's not my place to comment on what Microsoft choose to do, but obviously from Frontier's point of view, we developed the game for 360, Windows Phone 7, and on iOS, and it is logical to go on multiple platforms. But also if you look at what Microsoft have done, they have published games on Nintendo DS before... so I think it's really, in terms of getting maximum eyes to a game, it makes a lot of sense to come to multiple platforms.

So do you think it is something that we'll potentially be seeing more of from Microsoft -- again, not talking for Microsoft in particular -- and maybe from you, as well?

DB: Well from us, we've just released LostWinds; that came out just before Christmas on iOS. It had previously come out on Wii, so we're covering very broad platforms. The very fact that, just as we shut down for Christmas, we had five games in each of their respective top 50s, which we're very proud of. And part of the way that happens is by being cross-platform.

Are you also planning to go for Android as well?

DB: Well... obviously, we would be stupid not to consider it...

In terms of mobile development, is it more of a case of testing the water at the moment? You know, what with Kinectimals and LostWinds both being ports or remakes of games you've already done before. Are we going to be seeing new IP from you on mobile platforms?

DB: We are going to be seeing new IP in 2012 on mobile platforms, but we haven't announced what that is yet. But the thing to think is, we have done tests in the past - in 2003, we did a game called Darxide EMP (an enhanced version of Darxide for the Sega Genesis) on mobile platforms. Because there was a lot of talk then about how successful mobile platforms were... but actually they weren't. So that was actually a toe in the water. And we did it again in 2005 with our Wallace and Gromit game.

I think the problem was that the market then was very confused, whereas nowadays its far clearer. Of course, a lot of that is hats off to Apple, but also the principle of the App Store, which is fantastic. And that applies to a lot of platforms -- it applies to Android, and it now applies to Mac OS, and it's been announced for Windows 8... and I think that is a very interesting realignment of the stars.

But the other point is that I'm not so sure that this time we've actually shifted to mobile... I think mobile has shifted to us. What I mean by that is, if you look at two years ago, mobile platforms were fundamentally 2D, and they had a lot in common with Flash games, but very little in common with console games in terms of how they worked, what the content was, how sophisticated they could be.

But what's happened, with the recent Apple devices especially, is that we've seen the capability of mobile devices come much closer to consoles. We've now got devices like the iPhone 4S and the iPad with performance very close to things like the Wii.

And I think that is a very interesting transformation. Because one of the things that we did as a company last year is that we now have our tool chain completely cross-platform, so that includes iOS, Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3, Android... so the point is, that move for us is very good going forward, because it means we can then make a decision about what platform would each specific game be suitable for -- we can easily go between platforms, which I think is very attractive.

But the way I see it is actually, mobile platforms have very much come to us, because I think this Christmas for the first time, we've seen the high production value games coming to mobile devices. Things like GTA, Kinectimals... I mean, they're not necessarily the same game. Each is engineered for the platform. But one of the great advantages from a developer point of view is that you can potentially share, or at least leverage, some of the assets so that some of the work you've done creating animations and models can, to some extent, be carried over.

And I think as the mobile platforms get even more capable, I think this year now will be very exciting.

So do you think from the perspective of the average gamer, it's the high-quality graphics that are pulling more people into mobile gaming? Do you think those gamers feel like the visuals in a mobile game are finally on par with those of a console game?

DB: I don't think we're quite there yet, but I think that some of the sentiments are there. What I mean by that is for some games, it actually feels quite appropriate. Playing lovely games like Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet on 360, that obviously lends itself to other platforms as well. And there are so many like that -- but that's because it has a style that already happily goes across to other devices.

And I think what we're seeing now is more and more of a blurring of the boundary as devices become more capable. I think interface is the one thing at the moment that provides more of a challenge. Because I think the iPad 2 can draw a lot of the things that a console currently can.

And what's more, if you look at the things that Apple has been doing with AppleTV, where you could have a 4S in your hand, and a 1080p picture on your TV, no wires or anything, you start thinking, "How is this not a console?"

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

Related Jobs

Trion Redwood City
Trion Redwood City — Redwood City, California, United States

Senior Network Game Engineer
Cloud Imperium Games
Cloud Imperium Games — Austin, Texas, United States

Server/Backend Programmer
Cloud Imperium Games
Cloud Imperium Games — Austin, Texas, United States

Concept Artist
Bandai Namco Studios Vancouver Inc.
Bandai Namco Studios Vancouver Inc. — Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Senior Software Engineer


Freddy Hajas
profile image
Elite! OMG! I played alot on MSX... good times! :P

Vladislav Apostolyuk
profile image
There is a good news in terms of the for-ages-awaited "Elite 4"! David, look at the It seems like what is needed to finally complete the title.

Brian Tsukerman
profile image
Quite an interesting article. I agree with a lot of what he brings up here, especially the parallels between Flash games and the lion's share of mobile titles and the importance of broadening the user base past hardcore gamers.

However, I'm still not convinced by his explanation that used-game sales are the reason why retail prices remain as high as they are. Do you really expect me to believe that core game companies would actually have dropped the price of full games, if only it weren't for the rights that the First-Sale Doctrine grants consumers? I'm of the opinion that he is mistaken in this, and that if anything, game companies would have simply raised prices even higher, knowing that there is no alternate market for obtaining games.

Still, if someone can direct me to an unbiased, current model that supports this claim, I would be more than happy to reconsider my assumptions.

Joe McGinn
profile image
There is no reason to expect used games have affected game *prices* one way or the other. What they have affected is revenue to the developer - or rather the lack thereof. If games were $10 more or less it wouldn't have any effect on used sales - the used game would still be $5 less, and shortsighted businesses like Game would still be aggresively pushing the used version.

Joe McGinn
profile image
I disagree that the Kinext investment "doesn't mean less for core gamers". It absolutely does. While great for the new audience Microsoft is chasing, and buttonless, non-feedback, slow-response control system does not work for the vast majority of core games. That's an ergonomic fact, it's not "being conservative". And as Microsoft's investments have overwhelmingly been in casual Kinect games the last while, there are not no XBox 360 exclusives coming down the pipe for core gamers.

Joshua Darlington
profile image
I LOVE Kinect. The game EDEN proves that it can handle action registration and lag requirements. Most of the best games are dance games. You may see this as a limitation and call dance games casual. I look forward to seeing the first AAA story game based off of dance. Beyond dance, the Kinect opens new doors for macromovement based entertainment. Your human body likes to move. It will make you happy. Perhaps if you are a hardcore couch potato (rather than a hardcore gamer), you might see this direction as threatening? Dunno. Otherwise, the Kinect is MAJOR. It progresses the potential for broader language interfaces for things like replacing awkward menus with simple voice and gesture commands. As the technology gets better it can allow games to read players emotion (boredom/frustration) and provide a more balanced (funner) experiences.

If you want anything resembling a holodeck in your living room, Kinect is an essential step.

Chris MacDonald
profile image
I appreciate his comment likening a 4S connected to a TV as a game console. I completely agree with this. Sure it's not as powerful as a current gen console, but it's fairly darn close to PS1 quality models with shaders.

Off topic to this, I love that I purchase a game or app once for the iOS and Android and don't have to purchase it again when better hardware comes about. I can't fathom how Microsoft, Sony, and their publishers will lure those of us who are starting to take this for granted. Really, I pay $60 for this game, I can only use it on one device and it isn't guaranteed to work on a future device. Whereas my iOS games that were bought on sale for $.99 work now and probably will on a future device. As a consumer, that console game better have a very high ROI to get my purchase.

I'm not about to say consoles are going to die anytime soon, but the current business model definitely will.