Meet the Team #3: Michael Brookes (Executive Producer)
Welcome to the third of our Meet the Team interview series. This week we have the familiar face of Executive Producer, Michael Brookes. Michael wears many hats on Elite: Dangerous, not only being the Executive Producer for the project, but also the Head of Fiction and author of the official successor to The Dark Wheel. As a veteran member of the team I began by asking how long Michael has been at Frontier and what projects he has worked on in that time.
I’ve just received my long service certificate which means that I’ve now been here for over ten years. We’ve not released a game in all that time that I haven’t worked on (although they are sometimes updated and launched to other platforms). My first games here were Dog’s Life and Wallace & Gromit, through Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 and the various expansions, then on to Kinectimals, LostWinds and now Elite: Dangerous.For those unfamiliar with the role, what exactly are the responsibilities of an Executive Producer?
An Executive Producer is someone who is responsible for the project as a whole. As well as planning they act as a conduit between the different disciplines. Traditionally they are the go-between for the developer and the publisher, in Elite's case it's also about keeping an eye on fan feedback. I also work closely with David to ensure that we're hitting what he wants.Was a new Elite game the project you hoped to be working on when you applied for a job at Frontier?
Part of a producer's job is to be on top of everything. I'm always reviewing and contributing to design as a lot of it is also part of the fiction. The same goes for art, programming and audio. I don't contribute directly to those disciplines, but I am involved in the process.
It was indeed. It was some news about Elite IV that made me look into a job at Frontier. The original Elite was the game that got me into gaming in the first place and at the time I was looking for a change in career. It turned out that the job had already gone, but Frontier phoned me a few months later and asked if I was interested and I said yes, so here I am!Is there an element of Elite: Dangerous that excites you the most?
For me the evolving galaxy is the most exciting feature. I don’t think it’s something that has really been done on this scale in a game before and I’m looking forward to seeing what effect the players (including myself) will have on the world around us.What role are you most looking forward to playing in the final game?
I intend to be an explorer. Even though I know (or will do by then!) what is out there, I’m looking forward to seeing how far across the galaxy I can get. It’s not going to be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is!A large point of contention, especially in a game like Elite: Dangerous is the trade off between fun and realism. Where do you stand on this?
First and foremost a game needs to be entertaining. Now entertainment comes in many forms, with Elite we’re building a game based on plausibility while still retaining what made Elite stand out in its earlier incarnations. That means that there is a foundation of realism, in some specific cases realism can hinder the fun of the game, for example most people don’t want to wait years for a message to arrive from their friend in a different star system!The development of Elite: Dangerous is different from any other game produced at Frontier for several reasons, partially because of the interaction with the Design Decision Forum. Has the DDF in your opinion proven to be a help or hindrance to the game’s development at this stage?
It’s obviously an ongoing process, but we’ve definitely gained some useful information and insights from our interaction with the DDF. It’s fair to say that it has proved more work than we initially anticipated, but that’s good as it means we have to get the most from the process. It provides help on a number of levels, on one hand it acts as a kind of focus group to see if there’s a consensus on a particular topic. It also generates some cool ideas, or identifies issues that we hadn’t previously considered.On the subject of fans; have you started to worry about the community turning up beside your bed at night and asking you to try on a Superman costume?
Beyond your work as Executive Producer you are also the Head of Fiction for Elite. When fleshing out a universe or writing a book how much are you influenced by fact over fiction? Also, do you look more to the past or the future for ideas?
For me story is king. As long as I write a good story then I have done my job as a writer. That is complicated somewhat when you’re writing in someone else’s universe. Then you have to follow the rules of that universe. The backdrop for Elite has many parallels in history, but it also faces forward. One of the aspects I like about the Elite setting is that it’s a more pragmatic view of the future than many technological utopias you come across.As an Elite fan is it safe to assume that you are also a long-standing fan of science fiction?
Yes, I’ve always been a big science fiction fan. My favourite book is easy, that’s Excession by Ian M Banks. My favourite game is also easy – that would be the original Elite back on the old BBC Micro. My favourite sci-fi film is a bit trickier; I think I’ll have to go with Blade Runner, a great film on so many levels.How are you handling the pressure of writing the follow up to "The Dark Wheel" on top of everything else?
The novel is still in its planning phase and it's more of a successor than a direct sequel. I'm working closely with David on the basic story at the moment.Will the sequel include psychotic cows being tortured to death or turned into sausages?
Probably not!Have any authors in particular inspired you?
Too many to count. Reading is essential for a writer, even reading something that is badly written provides a lesson worth learning. I've been inspired by many writers over the years, John Milton's 'Paradise Lost' is the greatest story ever told. More contemporary authors include Clive Barker (he has an amazing imagination), Ian M Banks, Stephen King (No-one does small town creepy better) and James Herbert (He does great visceral horror).What is your favourite ship from the Elite series?
I’m a classic Elite player so there is only one ship – the Cobra Mk III.Finally, several people want to know how to grow such a righteous beard?
Stop shaving :-)Thanks to everyone for reading another Meet the Team interview and to Michael for taking part. If you’d like to hear more from Michael you can check out our monthly Elite Fiction Diaries over at our YouTube channel for more details on the universe the Elite: Dangerous will be set in.
There won’t be an interview next week (boo!) as I’m going to be away on holiday for a week (hurrah!), but when I get back we’ll be looking at the work that goes into creating the myriad visual effects that make a game like Elite: Dangerous feel truly kinetic, by interviewing Visual Effects Artist Selena Frost-King! If you have any questions for Selena, or feedback on this interview, then feel free to post below!
Thanks again, Ashley