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David Braben responds to outcry over Elite: Dangerous' ditched offline mode

No plans for an offline version of the game.

Frontier has responded to the outcry over its decision to ditch Elite: Dangerous' promised offline mode.

Last week Frontier chief David Braben said an offline version of the game "would be unacceptably limited and static compared to the dynamic, ever unfolding experience we are delivering".

"...being online lets us constantly both curate and evolve the galaxy, with stories unfolding according to the actions of commanders," Braben explained.

The announcement sparked a heated debate about the space game, with some saying they were no longer interested. Others criticised the timing of the news, which came just a month ahead of Elite: Dangerous' 16th December 2014 release date.

In a follow-up interview with Eurogamer, Braben said the decision to cancel the offline mode was only made recently - "and was not made lightly as we have been looking for ways to satisfy everyone".

"We announced shortly after we reached the conclusion that it wasn't possible to create an offline mode without unacceptably compromising the game," he said.

"Some people have thought this means there wouldn't be a single-player mode - to be clear, the single-player game is there, but it requires an online connection.

"Back during the Kickstarter, we were clear about the vision, to make a phenomenal new sequel to Elite in an online world, which we believe we are about to deliver. At the time we believed we could also offer a good single-player experience, and base an acceptable offline-only experience off that. As development has progressed, it has become clear that this last assumption is not the case."

Despite this, Braben admitted that Frontier should have told the Elite community that it was struggling with the offline version of the game during the process.

"As we have developed the game and released Alpha and Beta versions, the work needed to deliver a rich online nature of the game diverged from the requirements of a fully offline game," he said.

"In retrospect we should have shared the fact that we were struggling with this aspect with the community, but we were still trying to find a solution. As features were implemented, for the best results we chose to prioritise delivery of the online single and multiplayer experiences, with a view to providing the offline version later in development. We had to make a decision for the good of the game, and that is what we did.

"We have developed a multiplayer game with an unfolding story involving the players, and groups collaborating with specific objectives and taking account of all players' behaviour. This is what the game is about. Without this it would not be the rich gaming experience that we will deliver, and would be a great disappointment to all players.

"Any offline experience would be fundamentally empty. We could write a separate mission system to allow a limited series of fixed missions, but that would still not be a compelling game, and is only the first step in the mountain of work required.

"We do plan to take regular archives of the game and the servers, to preserve the game for the future."

The decision, Braben said, was "fundamentally a creative one". "The offline experience we could deliver now is unacceptable to us. To make this acceptable would be close to a whole new game development, so with heavy hearts we have made this decision."

Frontier had promised an offline mode of Elite: Dangerous during its successful 2012 Kickstarter campaign. It announced it had ditched it last week.

Some with potty internet connections have expressed concern about their potential experience with the game given it is always online. Braben responded to that concern by insisting Elite: Dangerous can work with limited speeds - when it comes to single-player.

"The existing single-player game does not require a fast internet connection, and is not time critical in the same way as the multi-player," he said.

"I have played single-player on a tethered connection on a train and various other places too, and we will continue to optimise to make the game as robust for 'spotty' connections as we can."

And there are, as you'd expect, valid concerns over the launch of the game. Given the high-profile problems other always-online games have suffered recently, including EA's SimCity and Blizzard's Diablo 3, some are worried Elite: Dangerous could be unplayable when it comes out.

"We believe that always-online entertainment is already a reality for the majority. We are delivering a truly huge game, and there are a great many moving parts, so there is always an element of the unknown," Braben responded.

"We are taking it very seriously. We have gone through an almost year-long external development process with builds released to an increasing number of people who have been playing the game for a long time.

"Our servers are the same ones that Amazon uses, and can (and have) scaled up quickly to deal with demand when needed.

"If problems do arise we will do our best to address them as quickly as we can - as hopefully people have already seen we have continued to do at each stage of the Alpha and Beta process."

Thoughts now turn to the possibility of an offline version of Elite: Dangerous and whether such an experience could be added to the main game at some point in the future.

Braben poured cold water on the idea, however. "There is of course scope for a separate traditional offline story-based game set in the world of Elite, but it would be a different game to the one we have been making, and it is not something we plan to do."

Looking further ahead, we're faced with the possibility that Elite: Dangerous will become unplayable if Frontier ever stops supporting the game and shuts down the servers.

"If it were ever to happen, we would be able to release an archived version of the game, including the servers, but of course this would not evolve any further," Braben said.

And finally, what if someone who has already bought Elite: Dangerous now wants a refund in light of the news that there won't be an offline mode?

"Refund requests are evaluated on an individual basis against the applicable terms and conditions of sale."

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