Was that part of the attraction of Kickstarter: that it would enable you to test the level of public interest in a new Elite?
It gives us a lot of freedom and, like I said on the Kickstarter page, helps us verify that the market is there. This is a game that I want, and that a lot of the people here at Frontier want, and back when Ian [Bell, Elite co-creator] and I did the original Elite, we made our choices based on what we wanted, not what some imagined audience would want. What I hope the Kickstarter campaign shows is that there a lot of people who are like-minded.
Was there ever any genuine worry at the back of your mind that people wouldn’t want to buy and play a new Elite game?
With any project, and bear in mind that we need a reasonably big team for this, you have to make sure there isn’t any scepticism. And this addresses that. You can say “Look, if this many people have put up this much money, that is a hell of a market already, and we can build on that”.
The original Elite and then Frontier were massively influential on the space sim genre. What sort of elements are you intending to include in Elite: Dangerous to take the genre forward again?
Well, Elite was influential not only on the space-sim genre. It was hugely influential on publishers, and I think that what we can do again this time is bring a new perspective, along with a lot of the other Kickstarter games.
With Elite, I saw it as a sort of open-world game, not as a space-sim, in the sense that you could go where you like and do what you like. Gary Penn [of DMA Design, which later became Rockstar North], when he was working on what became Grand Theft Auto, described it to me as “Elite in a city”, which I thought was quite funny.
It depends on what you see in the game. Before Elite, almost all the games that were commercially available were clones of arcade games. After Elite, there was a sudden expansion of games that had accompanying novellas, games that were big, that took days and weeks to play rather than minutes.
I mean, we were told by the publisher – and this is one of the reasons I don’t want to go to a publisher with Elite: Dangerous – that Elite should have a score, three lives and take ten minutes to play, and that’s the way games should be. I was told by Thorn EMI when we pitched Elite to them that they wanted us to change it to include those things. And that was such an anathema to what we were planning that we didn’t go with them.
And that memory has played a part in going on Kickstarter, to avoid that sort of meddling?
That’s right, along with experiences I’ve had with publishers in the meantime with this kind of game. Because so much of the game is new, the publishers go “oh, we don’t want to do that, it’s too risky”. That would be an issue.
And amongst what is new in Elite: Dangerous, multiplayer is the big one, and it feeds into so many different aspects of the gameplay.
There’s been some confusion as to exactly what the multiplayer in Elite: Dangerous will entail, whether it will be a full-scale MMO or more like a large-scale drop-in drop-out co-op. The game that people keep using as a point of comparison is EVE Online…
It’s not [like EVE online]. One of the things I’ve done today is to put a load more stuff on the FAQ explaining how it’s different and how, in some ways, it’s an MMO, because we expect a massive number of players to play it. But in most ways that people will judge it, Elite: Dangerous is not an MMO.
You can save, you can load, you can reload your position. All of these things are not MMO-style things. You can choose who you are playing with, so you can create groups. I think the closer parallel would be the way Call of Duty plays. If you look at the way the later Call of Duty’s are played online there is a lot of persistence, in terms of prestige, unlocked weapons and so on.