Interviews// David Braben, Industry Veteran

Posted 29 Aug 2008 16:19 by
SPOnG: Fair enough. A few years ago you wrote an article on the BBC's website. You were saying that you thought we were at a point where games would make the leap from being driven by the technology to being driven by content, as happened with movies in the 30s. Three years on, do you think we've reached that point?

David Braben: I think yes, we are making the jump. A lot of these changes aren't as sudden as they look with either foresight or hindsight.

You look back at some of the changes, like the change from 2D to 3D at the end of the '80s, you look back at it and think, ?Wow, it was great once that change happened?.

Actually, that change took quite a long time. It wasn't really even a generational thing. It was, some game types lend themselves more to 3D than others and others, frankly, should never have made the move ? they were actually really good as 2D. And so, it's that sort of thing.

In terms of the content driving the games, I would say yes. It's subtle as well as direct in that you're seeing comments of reviewers based on the content now, more than the tech. It's a long time since I've seen the number of polygons mentioned. Not that long ago, three or four years, even, certainly 10 years ago, gamers were being told, ?It does this pixel shader effect? (sorry, pre-pixel shader) but, ?Here's this graphical effect?, it has bump-mapping in the game. Can you imagine that on a game advert now? It's been a gradual change and we've not noticed it.

But, with the compression of time you get, looking back at it, we'll see all these changes. And I think that's the point. I think, yes, (that's) more or less right. But it's a nice, broad hoop. It's not a particular point that we suddenly whoosh and go "Oh, we're in a new world".

In the same way, it's only really this year that we're properly in the fifth generation. Last year, an awful lot of games were coming out for PlayStation 2. And still, there are the odd ones, it's just that new development isn't, generally speaking, kicking off on the PlayStation 2.

SPOnG: Are there any games in particular that stand out as being highly content-driven to you?

David Braben: I would say if you look at the criticism, and I don't mean that in a negative way, I mean just the critical reception, of say BioShock. Almost all of what I saw was about the beauty, the atmosphere. And words like 'beauty', 'atmosphere', all the things like that coming together, that's what I was trying to get at. It's being sold on the content, not on the mechanism to sell the content. It's not that it's with Unreal Engine or some other engine, that would have been mentioned at that time.

Also, the means to make it is no longer in evidence. The creatures, the content of the game, doesn't look particularly polygonal. You talk about the monsters, the Big Daddies and things like that. You don't necessarily talk about it as an enemy type.

That's the other point. We're starting to see, again it's subtle, a move towards character, a move towards a feel for a world. I think that's a really good thing. And you see that with other things.

Look at Assassin's Creed, as well. Very much more talking about motivations. With all of these games there are issues, but the point is that the balance of criticism is moving towards content rather than, ?Oh, the frame rate was rubbish?, or ?This was a 30 frame? or ?This was 50 frames, it was smooth?, it just doesn't get mentioned any more. People just assume it will be smooth and nice. People assume there will be shadows. What they're really (looking at) is, ?yeah, but what is it a shadow of?? Is it a beautiful tree, is it a scary monster? I think that's the point. That's the change.

So, I think no, we've not finished having it, but we are in the process of that. And I think now we're on that in the sense that now we're in the '40s (of film-making), and that will continue. I've got every expectation the quality will continue to improve and new things will come out. We've talked a lot about interactive stories, I think that's really exciting. And I think there are people other than Frontier working on it, but we're all hoping to be first there, to actually crack it.

And there are other nuts to crack that are really exciting. So, the point is that this is probably the best time for game development that I've seen.

Interestingly, that contraction that we were just talking about in the light of the more recent article, if you look way back, we see the '80s massively contracted as being a wonderful time with lots of creative games and actually there were tonnes of games that were rubbish! You forget them! Time is a (what's the nasty cliché?), a great healer. But it's also a great hider of the things that you didn't particularly enjoy and you want to forget about. And you remember the really great games that you thought were fun.
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