Elite: Dangerous was finally confirmed for a console appearance during Microsoft's GDC 2015 conference yesterday, with Frontier's space game a timed exclusive on Xbox One - and with a PS4 version expected at some point afterwards. Speaking to Eurogamer in the direct aftermath of the announcement, Frontier boss David Braben outlined what coming to console means for the space exploration game.
Console ports of Elite: Dangerous have been part of Frontier's plan since near the start of Elite: Dangerous' development, Braben said. "We said at the start, it's about ways of playing a game," said Braben.
"I don't want to exclude people doing that, in the same way that head-mounted displays were part of the plan. We didn't expect to do them as soon as we did, in our team as well as the backers, we decided to do that earlier. We've had controller support in from day one, and actually a lot of people play with controller. I probably play it more with a controller than HOTAS."
So why did Frontier decide to make Elite: Dangerous' console debut on Xbox One? "It's always a difficult one," Braben replied.
"Xbox has been very good to Frontier, and we've done a lot of games over the past decade with Microsoft. We did a launch title with Xbox One, Zoo Tycoon, all with the same tech and ScreamRide came out. We've got a lot of people with experience on the tech, so we can get on it straight away, and our tools have been tested, are battle-hardened, on the system. Obviously we've got a great relationship with Microsoft too."
The exclusivity - it's a timed exclusive, although Braben couldn't divulge details of how long the window is - is clearly a big deal to Microsoft, with Xbox boss Phil Spencer placing the announcement at the top of his GDC talk. Spencer's talk went on to focus on Xbox Live and Windows - outlining the integration of gaming across multiple platforms, including Windows PCs and Xbox Ones. Is that going to be a factor in the Xbox One version of Elite Dangerous?
"It's the same galaxy, you'll see the same evolving events happen," Braben explained. "So you might see systems that are being discovered by people on Xbox on the PC and vice versa. We're looking into cross-platform direct play. There are pros and cons to that, and we want to make sure we get it right."
That means that, like its PC forebear, the Xbox One - and subsequent console versions - will always require an internet connection. "The thing with the evolving story, we've got that happening and it'll be the same on Xbox," Braben said. "There's huge value to the online connection because of the way the galaxy evolves, and all the things we're doing in the cloud make it possible to do the game we're doing."
The updates that have been a regular part will also play into the console versions, though they won't necessarily arrive day and date with the lead PC version.
"They won't necessarily stay permanently in sync, but there will be steps coming out. We'll work out the exact detail over time," said Braben. Importantly, Braben suggested the new console versions won't have a negative impact on the PC version. "This is why I'm saying we won't necessarily update them at the same time. That's not an issue. PC development is still going from strength to strength - you've seen the cadence of updates we've had already, we're supporting the game and it's continuing to get better."
So what other considerations have been made for the console version of Elite: Dangerous? The updates that come to the PC in the coming months will be folded into the Xbox One version, and it seems that, for all intents and purposes, the console version will be identical to the PC version.
"Look at the community goals in 1.1, look at the two upcoming updates, they'll all be on Xbox," Braben said. "The game is continuing to get better, and that game is coming to Xbox - and there are more things we plan to do before then. The learning curve is an issue, we're aware of that. But then again, it's a great game that doesn't take you by the hand, and I love that. I felt it was something we'd largely lost in gaming - there's been a lot of dumbing down, even on PC, and it's great to see something I can get my teeth into."
There's the question of virtual reality, too - something that's become part of the PC experience thanks to its full-blooded support of Oculus Rift. Is that something being considered for future console versions - and can it take advantage of Microsoft's own Hololens technology?
"Morpheus looks good, as do a lot of the others," Braben replied. "Valve has the technology with the HTC thing, and there are others people are talking about. We're very well-placed to take advantage of all the VR solutions. From my point of view, it's such a nice experience. I love Elite with Oculus Rift. I suspect I'll love Elite with other head-mounted displays as well. I think the question, as we see more and more details of Hololens, is how well it would work with VR, never mind AR."
As for how Elite Dangerous evolves over the future, it's going to be interesting to see how the console version fits into the ecosystem. As yet it's not confirmed whether Elite: Dangerous will ship in a box and on a disc, or whether it's being rolled out as a digital only release, though Braben's thinking in the long term about how all versions will evolve.
"I would like to see me building on it forever. For a very long time. There is so much more we can do, that I've already talked about - we've talked about landing on planets, walking around inside your spaceship, ship to ship boarding, all of those things. We've also said we'd have free updates, and paid for updates. It's all very exciting!"