MMORPG.com: So it has been about a month since Beta Phase 2 has launched. What type of feedback are you getting from the community?
Adam Woods: As always, our community has been very positive. We've been developing the game in full view of our backers since Alpha, and they've been quick to offer feedback on our forums, and on Reddit, Twitter and Facebook, and we've reacted very quickly by turning out updates for specific issues people were having. They've helped us balance our economy and combat, and they've helped us develop "invisible" things like the backend systems handling our multiplayer matchmaking and persistent universe. That was especially important at the start of Beta 2 as we move towards our final Beta and launch.
MMORPG.com: Even though you are in Beta, you are still building out a massive universe for players. What are some of the pitfalls you have hit in the process?
Adam Woods: Building the entire galaxy isn’t easy and comes with its own set of unique challenges! Early in the process we developed a system we call our "Stellar Forge." Beyond the real star systems known to humankind we’ve mapped in Elite: Dangerous, we have to model a further 400 billion star systems comprising the Milky Way, and for that we use procedural generation based around absolute first principles. We simulate the emergence of stars and planets by simulating the buildup of matter over a very, very long simulated time. By sticking to scientific fundamentals we've been able to make some surprising discoveries along the way - binary planets and planets with neon atmospheres are surprisingly common, for instance. The Milky Way is almost unimaginably huge, but we know players will travel far into it and will see incredible sights along the way. The biggest pitfalls are the universe's own pitfalls! When players venture out beyond explored space they may find things none of us at the studio could have imagined.
MMORPG.com: There is a really fun aspect of playing a pirate or bounty hunter in the game. Can you talk about how the game works for players who are outside the law?
Adam Woods: It’s risky business, being a criminal. You have to watch your back at all times. Petty crimes will earn you a fine, which aren’t too hard to handle; you just pay them off at your local authority contact in a Starport. But major crimes might see a bounty placed on your head. The Pilots Federation are a hands-off organisation who are happy for you to make a living through trade, smuggling, exploration, or even minor crime, but they take a dim view of pilot-on-pilot violence. Firing on another innocent player is a mojor offence, but only if they're innocent. Players with a bounty are fair game; of course, players with a large bounty are probably well-equipped to defend themselves, so would-be bounty hunters should come to the party well-armed.
Smugglers don’t have an easy time either; trading in illegal or stolen goods might be profitable, but comes with its own challenges. Stealth is a major part of Elite: Dangerous, especially for smugglers operating large cargo ships with limited firepower. Can you run cold enough to avoid Starport scans? Do you run or fight if you’re scanned by a Viper authority ship? And when you retreat to lawless space to avoid the authorities, will you work with your fellow criminals or against them?
MMORPG.com: Can you give us a background and philosophy on how you approach a new ship when you design one?
Chris Gregory: We make sure that function drives form, so we start with the primary usage of the vehicle. Is it designed for combat, exploration, haulage or passenger transport? We try to keep one foot in science-fact and another in science-fiction and balance the two. They're often contradictory, but it's necessary to balance them to create exciting designs that nod to the practical implications of space flight. And that's before we even get into considering the functionality that out ships need, such as weapon hard points, thrusters, cockpit visibility, engines, heat vents, cargo hatches, landing gears and access ramps.
We add an extra layer of realism through our ship manufacturers. Each has its own house style which helps define the look of the ships. For example, the ships produced by Gutamaya are Imperial-leaning, and are prone to include design flourishes, expensive compound curves and a degree of luxury which makes a nice contrast to the more workmanlike Lakon designs.
Finally, we're often working from silhouettes established back in 1984 by the BBC Micro Elite. Those wireframes form "sketches" of ship designs and it's up to the Elite: Dangerous team to "fill in the gaps" and produce something that lives up to what the players were imagining back in the day.
All these factors are considered. But perhaps most important thing is that each ship has a distinct character of its own. If we do our job right, each ship's function should be identifiable at a glance, and each ship should invite players to come aboard and take flight.
MMORPG.com: What are your current expectations for launch? How is the team planning for any challenges?
Adam Woods: We have a clear path to launch now and we're into the final months. As with all releases there will be challenges along the way but we have an incredible team of developers, and our community is ready to play, test, fix and work until the game is launched. Of course, after launch we'll get straight back to work on the game; Elite: Dangerous will keep growing and expanding, with new ships and features still to come.
MMORPG.com: The times I have played Elite: Dangerous have always been on the Oculus. Can you tell us about any new developments in virtual reality?
Adam Woods: Playing Elite: Dangerous with Oculus Rift is an incredible experience; immersive and awe inspiring. We'll support the latest hardware that comes out from Oculus and are looking forward to experimenting with the next versions of the Rift devkit. We were quick to support Rift DK2 and we're told time and time again by our community, by journalists and by players who attend events like London's EGX expo that Elite: Dangerous is a landmark experience for virtual reality.
MMORPG.com: Do you have any messages for the fans lately? What are you most excited about for the game?
Adam Woods: Thank you for all your help, support, pizza, and cake! The game wouldn't exist without the players who have backed the game, jumped onto the beta and pre-ordered the launch day Mercenary Edition of Elite: Dangerous, and we're grateful for everyone who has come on board and joined us in making Elite: Dangerous. I think we're all excited about launch day, when we see how players start to explore the Milky Way. It's a vast, unpredictable galaxy, and even we can't know what will happen when two players meet at the edge of humanity's frontier.