These past few weeks have given us a remarkable number of new space sim titles where previously the genre was pretty devoid of anything new or decent (see Strike Suit Zero and Star Citizen for more info). And this trend continues with another blast from the past, the Elite series. I only ever played Frontier Elite II which came out in 1993, but I remember how awesome it was. It was the first space sim I had played which had such an open and free-form sandbox world where you could go and do whatever you wanted. Now one of the original creators of the game, David Braben, has announced a Kickstarter project to attempt to revive this once great series. And whilst I welcome this news with caution, I’m actually rather concerned.
Why am I concerned? Well its simply because of Brabens track record on attempting to continue the Elite series. Ever since as early as the year 2000, Braben has been ‘promising’ us that a new Elite was on the way and each year he claimed things were happening or some changes were being made. As time went on, Elite 4 has widely been considered vapourware and has been under development longer than Duke Nukem 3D and we all know how well that one turned out. I have not seen a single screenshot or proof of concept for Elite 4 and its various stages of development over the past twelve years and so I really can’t help but view this announcement with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Even now as this Kickstarter project gets underway, there are absolutely no screenshots, concept art pictures, details on how the game will work or anything to show us some concrete evidence of development of this title. I’m not saying there hasn’t been any, but us gamers like to see these things to assure us of the potential of a game we might want to invest in. As a result, I have nothing to show you on this article art wise other than the logo for the new title and some old screenshots of the original games to fuel nostalgia.
Braben himself at least seems somewhat aware of this; “I’ll be frank – we have had a couple of false starts on this over the years, where progress wasn’t as good as I wanted. Also, understandably, other projects have been prioritised – projects with announced dates or other commitments. Up to now “Elite” has been worked on by a small team as a ‘skunk-works’ activity in the background as availability permits. Nevertheless, we have been preparing; laying the technology and design foundations for when the time is right. And that time is now”. It’s understandable that projects get left behind in favour of others, but I’m not sure having an on/off development cycle over a twelve year period is in a games best interest either, especially when you consider how fast technology progresses and changes. Think of how games looked and played in 2000 and compare them to now. And look what a protracted development cycle did to Duke Nukem 3D.
So what might we expect from Elite: Dangerous? Well from what I’ve read, it sounds pretty much the same same as the original games. You have a ship, a basic amount of resources and you’re sent off to do whatever you like, be it trading, pirating, bounty hunter and so on, in a procedurally generated universe with maybe millions of potential star systems to visit. It basically sounds like Frontier Elite II but with modern technology and obviously making it a more multiplayer experience. It could basically be another EVE Online in the making. But I couldn’t tell you because there are no details on how it will all work.
Pretty much all massive multiplayer games rely on some sort of levelling system which leads to a massive grindfest to get to the top and then that’s it. EVE is an exception here, using only a real-time skill system which doesn’t require any effort from you allowing you to train skills to fly certain ships or use certain weapons. The only grind comes from making in-game money to buy what you need, but EVE offers unique gameplay in that the universe is persistent as one world and player actions matter and have consequences. This is ultimately what makes EVE brilliant, its emergent, unscripted gameplay and the fact that one person can shape the entire game world with his or her actions. This is what I’d like to see from a game like Elite or Star Citizen when it comes to their multiplayer components.
I do believe Braben when he says he really wants to make this game happen, but I think he needs to be alot more forthcoming and open with the community to regain its trust. He says he’s aiming for a release of around Q1/Q2 2014 which is not that far off really, a similar timescale for Planetary Annihilation which achieved its Kickstarter funding campaign and then some. The main difference there being Planetary Annihilation gave us an awesome concept video for the game and other gameplay concepts whereas Elite: Dangerous has… none.
Despite all this clearly alot of people want to see this happen, as on its first day, its already got over $200,000 of its $1.2 million goal with 59 days to go as of writing this article. For me personally, Braben has alot of work ahead of him if he wants to convince us this is a game worth investing in other than just banking on nostalgic feelings. I wish him luck.