Interview: David Braben, Elite


When you hear all the enthusiasm out in the gaming industry for Linux, it’s easy to forget that we’re very much in a battle to prove our viability in so many areas, particularly to mainstream publishers. Do we need them though? Well, initially at least. As in other markets, Linux needs the corporate giants to cosy up - at least until the gaming industry changes - as it’s the quickest way to get Linux in front of the average gamer. Interest from the big players has largely been muted, however. Unless, like Ubuntu, you count a couple of browser-based games from EA as a win. For us that’s too close to getting leftover scraps from the EA’s table. No, thank you.

But it’s a different matter and a harder knock when our hero and gaming legend David Braben (co-creator of Elite) says he has doubts too. As you’ll see in a short interview I managed to snag over email he admits there’s no reason why Cobra, Frontier’s own game engine can’t run on Linux.

Everyone has to earn a crust, and if you’re a game developer the uniformity of, for instance, Apple’s iOS line-up also makes the process much easier. He did give us a glimmer of hope, though, with one golden nugget of an answer. Linux is something Frontier are “seriously looking at supporting.” Right now, it’s doubtful whether Elite: Dangerous (Braben's follow-up to Elite) will support Linux from launch, but the alpha opened recently and the game will be out this year.

Linux Format: What’s your position on Linux for gaming?

David Braben: Linux is great because it is a truly open format. It is why we used it for Raspberry Pi. At Frontier we haven’t previously supported Linux for one main reason; historically games on Linux do not sell as well as on other platforms, though of course figures are hard to come by.

It is not that they don’t sell at all, it is just that the other potential platforms sell more. My guess is that there are a great deal more Xboxes, Playstations, Windows PC, and iOS machines, than Linux ones.

Sadly, the openness of the platform, and the variations between setups make it a challenging platform too. Piracy is much easier because of that openness, but it is something we are seriously looking at supporting.

LXF: I believe you're using your own game engine - COBRA? Does that open the door to a Linux version?

DB: There is no reason Cobra cannot run on Linux, running through OpenGL.

LXF: What do you think is currently preventing Linux from being an unstoppable force for good in the gaming industry?

DB: With this sort of thing, it comes down to numbers. The fragmentation is an issue too (ie the number of subtly different set ups and OSes – making even the Windows PC appear pretty uniform.

LXF: What’s your best guess as to the future for Linux gaming? Or maybe just your best hope for it.

DB: A common platform would help (and there are a number of these coming through, including Raspberry Pi).

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