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The Future of Games with David Braben
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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?"

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