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David Braben: Taking Kinect to Disneyland

The Elite creator is the controller.

UK game developer legend David Braben is known for creating Elite, one of the most influential games of all time. But these days he's one of the brightest minds in Kinect game development.

With successful Kinect launch game Kinectimals under his belt, Braben has turned his attention to making Disneyland Adventures as good as it can be before launch at the end of the year.

This makes Frontier Developments part of the second wave of Kinect developers, and as such perfectly placed to provide an insight into Microsoft's motion-sensing technology. How has it improved? Where is it going? And why are the hardcore so sceptical? In an interview with Eurogamer at the Develop conference last week, Braben discussed these topics and more.

EurogamerFrontier has a deep involvement in Kinect. How has the tech evolved since launch?
David Braben

The biggest change is developers learning how best to do it. The great thing about a blank sheet of paper is you can do what you like, but actually it's quite daunting. How do we pause the game? How do you get a menu option up? It's essentially building a vocabulary.

The thing it's most reminiscent of is the early days of the controller. When we first got analogue controls, some games had the most abysmal control systems. One of the early games - and it might have been Turok - the right analogue and the face buttons were used in the same game, and you were expected to use them at the same time. It's a really hard thing to do.

If you remember also when the controller first came out, the purists were saying, no no no, the proper games are mouse and keyboard. There are still a lot of people like that around.

Most machines when I started were keyboard only. The mouse was seen as a terrible abomination, an imprecise thing. It wasn't used in games for quite a while. The first mouse I got cost £100. This was at the time where it was experimental. No machines had them as control interfaces except the Apple Lisa, this weird, stupidly overpriced machine from the very early Eighties.

It took a while before the standard vocabulary of moving on the left analogue and moving the camera on the right analogue was established. Nowadays, you pick up Call of Duty, you know what all the buttons do. That's because we've learnt over the years that's the way. It's a very similar set of buttons in Halo, Battlefield. That's what I mean by building a vocabulary; you pause the game in the same way and the right trigger controls the gun.

Eurogamer We're approaching a year since Kinect launched. Are we establishing the vocabulary for how we will use Kinect to play games?
David Braben

Yes. All the time in this industry we're trailblazing. We're trailblazing the use of the controller, which has got better and better. Use of Kinect is getting better and better. We're one of the first of the second generation. By that I mean the people making it have already made a Kinect game.

We're the first open world navigation Kinect game, and it's very natural. You can wander around the locations. Disneyland is a huge area – 86 acres. You can wander around completely naturally.

It's surprising how quickly a kid, for example, who's not seen Kinect before, will be wandering around the park five minutes later happily looking for secret stuff, collecting things.

I'm sure you've had Christmas nights where you're all round playing shooter games. I give a controller to my dad and he ends up looking at his feet. It's not that natural. And then you pick it up and you're pressing several of the buttons by accident because it's just covered in the things. The problem is we've forgotten how much of a block a controller is to gameplay because we're so used to it.

It's interesting with Kinect, there's negativity from core gamers. That seems to come from the implication that somehow something's been taken away. It hasn't. You still get a controller with the machine. I'm looking forward to where we go from here, because where we haven't even started with the vocabulary is, what happens when you've got the controller and Kinect?