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Braben: "The word 'game' is an albatross"

They're complex fantasy worlds, which need to be more interactive, says Frontier boss

Gaming is still in its infancy, according to David Braben, and ideas he had back in the days of Elite still can't be realised using current technologies.

Interaction and AI are the areas that still feel unfulfilling, the veteran game designer told Eurogamer in an interview at this year's Develop conference. "Whether it's real characters across a computer network, or artificial characters in a game: these are not very fulfilling relationships."

These interactions with other characters are generally uninteresting, Braben continued, since you're either "stealing stuff from them, killing them and then stealing stuff or having a bit of voice chat, if you're lucky.

"We shouldn't kid ourselves about the depths of the relationships that are available - other than the purely chat room stuff where the relationship isn't really in the game. Where it gets interesting is when you can't distinguish AI from a real character.

"To be honest, we still haven't scratched the surface of what I want to do in games," said the designer. "Even ideas I had back then when we were making games like Elite, we still haven't been able to do. The word 'game' is a bit of an albatross: what we're really talking about is building worlds, fantasy - you can create things that just aren't possible to do in any other way."

What Braben wants to see more of are worlds and stories with real richness. He uses soap operas as an example: "I generally don't watch soap operas, but I occasionally get sucked into them. We haven't yet got that feeling in games: but it will come."

Braben also believes that coming up with ideas isn't the difficult part of the games making process; what's tough is making them work, having time to do a good job and sitting down and accepting criticism. It's especially tough creating a game that's not for yourself too - something that Braben himself discovered when moving on from games like Elite to the Wallace & Gromit and Dog's Life titles.

"The easiest thing to do - and I've done a lot of it, going all the way back to Elite - is making games for yourself," he pointed out. "It's when you're making games for people who may not get things just like that, that's when you need to explain things in a slightly different way, and that's actually where it gets very hard.

"One of the things that does irritate me very slightly is when people say, 'Kids' games - they're just poor versions of other games.' They're not! That's just how people see them, but they really, really aren't."

On the subject of the UK games industry, and the problem that qualified developers are being tempted abroad to work, Braben thinks the problem lies with our education system which has, over the years, been dumbed down.

"One of the problems we've had is the proliferation of courses. There are so many universities now, and the gold standard of what a university should be is getting lower and lower.

"One of the reasons I became vocal about this is because of the removal of maths from a great many computer science courses. That means that many of the really important subjects that we need people to know about are then taught as black boxes: people can't understand the innards, because you need maths. So you've got people coming out of training who can use a tool, but can't do the difficult stuff under the bonnet. If you're going to do something new, you need that deeper knowledge."

The full interview with David Braben can be found here.

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