tuesday, 6 november 2012

posted at 23:21

So today Frontier Developments started a Kickstarter campaign for the next chapter in the Elite game series: Elite: Dangerous. I heard this from half a dozen people within the first hour of it appearing. The most common question is what "what does this mean for Pioneer?". The quick answer is "nothing", but I have some thoughts about the whole thing, so I thought I'd write something.

So what's going on?

Lets have a short history lesson.

Long ago, David Braben (along with Ian Bell) made Elite. Some years later its sequel, Frontier appeared, and shortly afterwards it gained a sequel of its own, Fronter: First Encounters. Reaction to FFE was mixed, but everyone agreed Frontier was pretty fantastic. Life was good.

Braben, via his company Frontier Developments, announced that there would be an Elite 4, but nothing happened for years. Frontier got old, and the community wanted something to fill the void. Tom Morton stepped in with Pioneer, an open-source clone of Frontier. I turned up a few years later and nowadays we're trying to put legs on a game that we now like to say is "inspired by" Frontier.

A couple of people refused to give up, but most people never really thought that Elite 4 would happen. But today we saw the announcment for Elite: Dangerous, the next Elite game.

Is Pioneer now obsolete?

Nah. For a few reasons.

  • Elite: Dangerous looks more like a modern remake of Elite rather than Frontier. One particularly interested tidbit came from David Walsh over at the Frontier forums: Elite: Dangerous will not have time acceleration. Now we've thought long and hard about what the key features of Frontier are that we must maintain for Pioneer, and one of them is the ability to speed up the clock. Its also the feature that makes multiplayer infeasible. So whatever they're making, its not Frontier, and because of that, we still have a niche.
  • We have some ideas that we haven't seen done in any game yet. We can still bring something to the genre.
  • We're having too much fun :)

Does this take attention away from what you're doing?

Doubtful. Indie space games are kind of in vogue at the moment - it seems like we see a new announcement every week. Every time it happens, lots of people pop up pining for Elite or its successors, and usually there's at least one person pointing folks in our direction. We've had a steady trickle of new players and contributors for many months, and I don't see it going away. If anything happens, we'll probably see more people as more people become interested in the genre and are reminded of their youth. Or not, and we'll continue as we always have.

Is it going to work?

Honestly, I have no idea. I have my reservations about Kickstarter for software projects - seems like everyone treats it like magic fairy dust, but we still haven't actually seen any output from any of these multi-million-dollar projects.

On the other hand, someone in #pioneer noted Braben promised a $35 general-purpose computer and was then heavily involved in the delivery of the Raspberry Pi. He's got the track record.

If it doesn't work, then its going to be a very public embarrassment for Frontier Development among the Elite player community, one they may not come back from. I will watch with interest.

Need any help with Pioneer?

Only semi-related, but advertising never hurt anyone :)

We always need help. There's lots that needs doing. There's a few resources on the wiki to help you get started, or come and say hi in #pioneer on freenode.