Gratuitous Space Battles maestro gets the quick-fire question treatment

FAQ: Cliff Harris

Cliff Harris turned indie after leaving the leading UK studio Lionhead.

Having built a reputation for his own self-published projects, Harris made the headlines for attempting to create a dialogue with piracy enthusiasts.

Today he’s based in ‘Sunny Wiltshire’, as he calls it, where he’s working on the sequel to popular PC title Gratuitous Space Battles.

(Click here to see the full list of developer FAQs)

What are you working on right now, and what stage is the project at?
I’m working on an expansion pack for my last game – Gratuitous Space Battles, which adds mini-campaigns to the game. It’s pretty tough to say what stage it’s at, because “it’s done when it’s done”, but I’d say I have the fundamentals of the gameplay done, so it’s a matter of sorting out all the data and getting the balancing and polish right.

Which aspect of it do you think will impress players the most?
The fact that it strings battles after each other with the same fleet fundamentally changes the whole structure of the game, because rather than putting together a specific fleet for a specific battle, the player suddenly has to think big picture and put together an ‘all-rounder’ style fleet, which will totally change the way they have to play.

What does your desk/window view look like?

What was your first job in the industry – and what was the first game you worked on?
My first proper job was at Elixir working on tools for the infinite polygon engine of legend. I’d been making a ton of amateurish games myself before then, but they hadn’t sold enough copies to let me really work for myself at that point. The first game I worked on at Elixir was Republic, but only for a few months.

What was the first video game you ever played?
Either pong or space invaders. I was too young to remember which came first.

What was the last game you played? Did you enjoy it?
Star Trek Online Beta. I didn’t really enjoy it, as I think it’s just another MMO with exactly the same design and a star trek skin dumped on top of it. It feels really rushed and lacks personality. I can’t see it lasting 5 minutes against Eve Online if it didn’t have the Trek license.

What’s your favourite game ever, and why?
Elite. It was not only enormous fun and kept me entertained forever, but it was a phenomenal technical achievement. Most modern games coders can’t even program a dialog box in 48k. Braben squeezed an entire universe into it.

How many hours a week do you get to spend playing games?
Probably about 9 hours. Right now, 7 of those will be company of heroes!

What area of the industry needs more investment?
Gameplay, clearly, because too many games are just blatant, unimaginative shovelware copies or reskins of existing titles.

What disappoints you about the industry?
Stereotypes as video game characters. If I see another buxom elf or a wisecracking chisel-jawed space marine, I’m going to go flip burgers.

What do you enjoy most about working in the video game industry?
You can spend a whole afternoon adjusting the firepower of phaser cannons vs plasma torpedoes, and you actually get paid to do that.

Of all the games you have been involved with in the past, what has been your favourite, and why?
Probably Gratuitous Space Battles, perhaps because it’s the freshest one in my mind, but partly because I can show people screenshots or videos of that game and they are interested in what I have to say about how it works, whereas previously I’ve always had to fight to get past screenshots that didn’t drag people in immediately.

What websites do you visit most regularly?
BBC News, IndieGamer, Rock Paper Shotgun, Quartertothree and the forums on my own site.

What do you do in your spare time that isn’t related to video games?
What’s spare time? When it’s sunny I’ll start doing archery again, plus I have been known to try and play the piano or guitar.

What’s your favourite book, movie or TV show, and album of all time?
Book is Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks, Movie is Star Wars, TV Show maybe The West Wing, Album is Octavarium by Dream Theater.

What game would you most like to have worked on?
Sim City

Which other games developer do you most admire?
David Braben

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