Talk us through an average day at work for you
My role as game designer varies dependant on the task at hand. We have to see gameplay systems through from the very beginning to final shipping, and we have to retain an analytical mind and see things as a whole. It’s about trying to work out the best things needed to improve the experience for the player at the end of the process.
Currently my days are all about CQC, and we’re running playtests every day this week. As well as leading my crack team of designers and coders to victory over QA, I’m also constantly adding to list of tweaks to be made, issues that need to be addressed and feedback coming from the people playing the game. When I’m back at my desk I’m responsible for managing resources for weapons, ships and modules: setting up functionality and balancing numbers. I also work directly on the layout of the levels, setting out the positions of start points, powerups, destructibles etc.
What aspect of the game have you worked on that you are most proud of?
I’ve worked on a wide variety of things during my time on Elite, from early combat development to scenarios, weapons, ships and stations. I’ve been part of the design team since the early days and I’m immensely proud at what we’ve achieved looking back. Personally however, competitive multiplayer is something very close to my heart. It’s something I’ve grown up with on console and enjoyed more recently, particularly with Starcraft II and League of Legends. I jumped at the opportunity to work out how to bring that kind of experience to the Elite Dangerous universe and even though still in its (hopefully) relative infancy, it’s been rewarding to see the great reaction of players to CQC so far internally. I’m very proud of what we’ve built with CQC.
What’s your favorite thing about Elite Dangerous?
It’s still amazing to me what the game does with Super Cruise and the immense scale of systems, we’ve got accurately scaled star systems that aren’t just backdrops but actual playspaces, where gameplay can take part at any given point in a space. That’s a huge technical challenge and something we thought might be impossible at first, especially with multiplayer.
My favorite thing? Dead tie between the audio for boost and the model for the ‘Huge Plasma Accelerator.’
What was the biggest challenge you came up against during game development?
I think it would have to be designing the heat and stealth mechanics back in Alpha 1. We used the scenario “Predator and Prey” as our test case for our mechanics. We had this simple idea of what we wanted for the scenario: you hunt smaller ships while a avoiding a larger ship that can easily destroy you if it detects you. It turned out to be not that simple at all however. We had to work out how to get the AI, the sensor system, the radiator system and the internal systems to work in concert to give us the desired effect. Thus, silent running was born. We wanted a ship to still be visible on the radar at close visual range (even in silent running) but for it to drop into “fuzzy” after a few hundred meters, while at the same time we also wanted the “fuzzy” to last for several thousand meters.
We ended up using an inverse square curve for signature detection that felt like it was balanced on a knife edge but it did eventually give us the results we wanted. Having that scenario in amongst the other combat scenarios was ambitious for Alpha 1 but it really was a make or break as a test for our heat and stealth mechanics. I’m glad we were able to make it work in the end.
What have you learned from working on Elite Dangerous?
A lot about astrophysics! I dabbled a little bit in Stellar Forge when we first started using multiple star systems and it’s amazing the amount of details we have in there. Making your own star system is so interesting but also a bit of a minefield, the game really complains when I tried to make systems that were utterly gravitationally unstable!
Federation, Empire or Alliance? And why?
I’ve always preferred Federation ship design so I’d have to side with them in a pinch. The Federation capital ship is the clear winner on looks.
Tell the community a fun fact about yourself
I do like to maintain some hobbies that don’t involve looking at a screen and I’ve recently got back into model making. Mike Evans and I recently imported a pair of the new 1/72 Bandai X-Wings and painted them up, his looks a lot better!
If you could ask the community one question, what would it be?
For those who play on control pad, what do you have mapped to left and right on the right analogue stick?
Click here to answer Dan's question.