Frontier's David Braben

On Thrillville, The Outsider, and defining "next-gen".

David Braben doesn't mince his words. He believes Theme Park-style games are as fashionable as shooters, and that we haven't seen a truly next-generation game yet.

But perhaps he would say that, what with being the boss of Thrillville: Off the Rails creator Frontier, the same team working on "proper fifth generation experience" The Outsider - which mysteriously disappeared from the public eye soon after its bold claims more than two years ago.

In the interest of getting to the bottom of things, we sought out Braben in the hope he could tell us how sequel Thrillville: Off the Rails will make more of an impact than the forgettable first game, and how The Outsider will knock our socks off if and when it is ever released.

Here are his words, obviously.

Eurogamer: Theme Park games are a bit old-hat now, surely - what has Off The Rails got in store to convince us otherwise?

thrill1

The old "Wooden Arm": happens to the best of us.

David Braben: How about "console games are a bit old hat now, surely..." or "Shooters are a bit old hat..."!

Thrillville was our first attempt at recreating the experience of visiting a theme park, and I think we did very well (and was very successful). We have been able to go beyond that with Off the Rails and have greatly improved and streamlined the game.

More importantly we have added a great deal, too. We have greatly extended the number of coaster pieces and also added new "Whoa" bits; these are new, extreme coaster elements that health and safety inspectors would go bananas at: cars that fire into the air, pieces of track that detach - all sorts of things to terrify the riders. Due to popular demand you can now make coasters that crash, too.

We also have lots of new mini-games, bringing the total up to 50. These include Squadron Ace, a WW1 aerial combat game with biplanes, plus a fantastic 2D motorbike game called Stunt Rider.

Socialisation is much improved, too, and there are loads of new ways to customise the park - plus, of course, new platforms to do it on: 360, DS, Wii and PC.

A theme park is the ideal basis for such an eclectic mix; where else would you get the opportunity to have such a wide range of things to do and play?

Eurogamer: What's your experience been so far of the 360 and PS3?

thrill2

People casually plummeting to their deaths in the background, there.

David Braben: The huge performance of these machines makes fantastic new things possible, not just graphically, but in gameplay too - elements we have only just begun to explore.

It is easy to lose sight of this when you are 'up against it' in day to day game development, or overcoming the inevitable teething issues that arise from getting to grips with new consoles.

I suspect you are alluding to the much publicised difficulties some developers have reportedly been having with PlayStation 3. Certainly the tools are less mature than on Xbox 360, as you would expect for a machine released a year later, and the configuration of the machine is harder to get to grips with (like the PlayStation 2 was, too). But it is a great machine, and many of the benefits will become apparent with time: developers can assume they will have use of a hard drive; the Blu-Ray disc has a much larger storage capacity than DVD; and few games have yet to fully exploit the motion-sensing controller.

This industry is frequently in danger of following a fashion, in this case criticising the PS3 - why are there no corresponding questions of difficulties on Wii, for example?

Eurogamer: Have you been impressed by the Wii? How much depth is there in what you can get the Wiimote to do and register?

David Braben: The Wiimote is very interesting; in practice there are a few things it can do very well, although a number of games seem to be using motion-sensing for the sake of it, resulting in you fighting the controls rather than enjoying the game.

Certainly when we first got the Wii dev kits we tried all sorts of weird and wonderful control schemes (and with 50 mini-games there was definitely scope for experimentation), but we eventually settled on those that were most enjoyable, even if they used an essentially traditional approach.

Don't get me wrong, the Wii is a great machine and we've got a great mix of controls for it; the end result works very well and I am especially proud of what we have done with coaster building, which feels very natural.

Eurogamer: How does DC Studios' DS version differ from the others?

outsider1

Am early shot of The Outsider featuring a running race between twins.

David Braben: It is a totally different game, engineered from scratch for the platform, but with the same starting ethos of 'having fun in your park'.

Eurogamer: How is development going on The Outsider? It's been a while since we heard anything.

David Braben: It's going very well, thanks.

Eurogamer: It was talked about as one of the first "next-gen" experiences - how does it stand up to stuff like BioShock and Halo 3?

David Braben: "I loved the 1930s-1950s atmosphere of BioShock: the lovely Art Deco visuals and the audio, which worked especially well. Overall the whole game was beautifully executed, but the game-play itself was not "next-gen".

I found Halo 3 great fun, too, but a little disappointing - as although there were a few nice touches and improved graphical fidelity, it hadn't really moved on much from Halo 2 in terms of the gameplay.

So to answer your question: if anything I am reassured - I think Outsider more than stands up to them, and I still think Outsider will be one of the first "next-gen" games around.

Eurogamer: What's your view of downloadable content services like the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live? Any interest in working on those?

outsider2

"I love you," declared the bald man to the back of Jim's hair-filled head.

David Braben: I think they are both very interesting. It is great for the player to be able to get demos so easily, and it is an interesting route to market for games in the future - both as additional content for existing games, and as whole new games.

Initially, downloadable games have to be small, like we are seeing with PSN and Live Arcade at the moment. But I imagine it is only a matter of time before larger hard drives make full game downloads a possibility - much like we see currently on PC.

We certainly plan to embrace both services - in fact our Thrillville: Off the Rails demo is already up on Live Marketplace for you to download.

Thrillville: Off the Rails is due out on PC, 360, Wii, DS, PS2 and PSP on 19th October. Platforms for The Outsider are yet to be announced, as is a date.

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