Screenshots and video of Elite: Dangerous, the PC exclusive due out in 2014, are coming, David Braben has promised.
The Kickstarter for the game launched this morning with just a logo and a few hundred words from the Frontier boss, who is asking for £1.25 million to fund the project.
This bare bones launch, and Braben's admission that the Kickstarter is "a means of test-marketing the concept to verify there is still interest in such a game that extends beyond the individuals who regularly contact me about the game, and raising the funds to do so", drew some criticism.
Speaking to Eurogamer today, Braben acknowledged this negativity, but insisted the reaction has been “mostly positive”.
“I've replied to a few of the posts on Kickstarter and elsewhere,” he said. “It's mostly positive. As with everything there's been some negativity. You develop a thick skin over time. I know people care. And the fact people care is always a good thing, even when they say, 'oh no, don't do it this way,' or, 'why is it like this?'
“We will put more content on it with time. We didn't want this to be a one shot thing. But that is definitely something we will be doing.”
On the Kickstarter page Braben reveals Frontier has been working on Elite: Dangerous as a skunkworks project up until now, with other games taking priority as they required it. So what, exactly, has been made?
“We have the key underlying technology,” he said. “The things I see as the primary risk factors we've already addressed. We've got the online already working using scalable server architecture.”
As for the game itself, “we have some of it in order to test the infrastructure,” Braben said.
The debate on Elite: Dangerous hasn't dampened donations. At the time of publication 3299 backers had pledged £165,353 after only a handful of hours. Even at this early stage it looks certain Braben will hit his target.
“We wanted to judge the interest out there,” Braben said of the initial Kickstarter push. “Seeing the direction of the comments is useful. People assume this is something to do with the Chris Roberts game [Star Citizen] he put on Kickstarter as well, and it doesn't. We waited until Kickstarter came to the UK. That was the reason for us to do it now.”
Interest in the Elite Kickstarter is primarily fueled by nostalgia for the original 1980s space trading classic. In 2004 Frontier released RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 for PC, then, two years later, Thrillville. Then, in 2008, it released WiiWare platformer LostWinds. After the launch of that game Frontier made three Kinect exclusives for Microsoft: Kinect launch game Kinectimals, follow-up Kinectimals: Now With Bears and, most recently, Kinect Disneyland Adventures.
Sandwiched in there was the ongoing development of Elite 4, which is now Elite: Dangerous, and the “on hold” The Outsider.
“We've got a long track record of really different games like RollerCoaster Tycoon and Kinectimals and Disneyland,” Braben said. “I think we've got the tech experience and the confidence that we can do a great Elite game. It's very very exciting. I really hope I can please all of these people.”
Braben won't say how many people are working on Elite: Dangerous right now because he expects to ramp up staff as the Kickstarter takes shape. But we do know 235 people work for Frontier across two studios, one in the UK, the other in Canada. The game is PC exclusive for now, but if the Kickstarter goal is exceeded significantly Frontier will work on other platforms, including Linux, Mac and mobile.
Some fans have wondered why Braben required crowd-funding for the project in the first place. He told Eurogamer he has refused to ask a publisher to fund the game for fear it would be changed as a result.
"If you're trying to do something different to what's gone before that's always a problem from a publisher mentality," he said. "The original game would probably have had three lives, a score and take 10 minutes to play if we'd have followed the recommendations of publishers. Now, obviously they're not the recommendations they would do today, but they would say, 'oh, you need this sort of a story.' You would get driven down a very different route and it might not be the game people want.
"This is the game I want, but it's the game we want. It's the game so many people would want to play, which may not be what a publisher would say. 'Oh no it's got to be like that for it to be successful because that was the last game that was successful' - that's why we see so many clone games around."
Millionaire Minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson was easily convinced, though. “Well, ok then! Throwing all my money at a new Elite game by David Braben,” he Tweeted earlier today. But how much? “I'm not sure it's on to reveal such things,” Braben said, laughing, “but it's fair to say it was more than £5.”