A dinner with David Braben

I am going to remember this Friday night. I met David Braben.

Those of you who recognize the screenshot below will know why is this so special to me.


Original Elite: Docking the space station (with the sounds of the “Beautiful Blue Danube” if you were lucky)

It was 1984 and I was eight when I first laid my eyes on arguably the most influential game in my life. It was Elite.

The game that put you in the command seat of a Cobra MkIII space ship and let you explore galaxies, trade goods and fight your way to the Elite status. In the interview that I recently gave to Telegraph I said experiencing the game was literally like having a small scale Big Bang explosion in my head. I became restless about technology advance of the human race and this passion still drives me today.

When Braben announced the Elite: Dangerous kickstarter campaign it did not take me very long to support it at the highest level and earn the privilege of having a dinner and chatting with the person who is largely responsible for whom I’ve became. That day finally came this Friday.

Milan, David and me chatting terraforming Mars in Cambridge, UK

What is the dinner with Braben like?

I flew in to UK from Serbia and my friend Milan flew in from Canada for the occasion.  When the time finally came, I had to fight this inexplainable fanboy excitement (I am 38 mind you). For the first 15 minutes, all I could see looking at David was the image of the original Elite’s space station rotating as I try to dock it (see the picture above). Once I got past that, I discovered a person of stark contrast – very humble and approachable on one end and the most passionate and eloquent visionary I’ve met on the other.  Rarely will you be on a dinner with the person who will make claims like “Mars is not that far away.” with such ease.

And when someone has such profound impact on your life it is OK to let go your emotions and enjoy the opportunity to sit next to them and listen them speak, like a child in awe of a grownup.

The experience of listening to David Braben explain how we should propel a 100 km space body into the Mars to basically kickstart a massive terraforming process which would last for just 20-30 years making Mars basically habitable is simply mind-blowing.

And it is not just mind blowing but something my brain has been craving to hear for too long. Listening to David, I could go back to my childhood and remember watching series like “Beyond 2000”, imagining my self being 24 when the new millennium finally comes, and driving a flying car around a futuristic looking city.  I am 38 now and flying cars never felt more distant.

And not just jetpacks buy flying cars and much more

And not just jetpacks, but flying cars and much more

I took this photo in San Francisco and it very clearly depicts the movement of massive disappointment with the current state of affairs with technology advancement, where the most brilliant minds of our race are employed with companies like Google or Facebook, figuring out how to get users to click more (uh oh).

When chatting with David, all that dissapears and you discover that there are still people genuinely interested in seeing us continue to advance and innovate, yearning to travel to the planets and the stars.  It produces an atmosphere where I get encouraged to share one of my visions that I rarely feel comfortable speaking out loudly – the idea of using a rocket to first deploy a bunch of RC cars to the Moon, then making them available for control to anyone on Earth with a browser or a phone app, hopefully impacting and inspiring the current generation of kids in the same way lunar landings inspired millions 50 years ago. “That’s a great and fun idea”, David remarks, and my heart is filled with warmth. (btw. India recently sent a rocket to Mars for a cost of just USD $75 million, so this idea is not crazy or out of reach especially given we still invest millions in bloody photo sharing apps  – just few days ago, USD $4.25 million were invested into a wedding pic sharing app for Gods sake!).

We continue to discuss gravity and touch the fact that Cambridge contributed so much and still is to science and technology, and I am faced with a reality check once again. I make a joke that Newton ‘basically invented gravity and screwed us up for space travel” and David laughs.

Talking about Cambridge I really loved the town. It was busting with activity, mostly young students generating incredible amount of cracking energy in the air. Once again I reflect on how original Elite was important in my life, and lives of so many others that grew up in surroundings that did not offer as much inspiration.

Saturday was the time for the Elite: Dangerous premiere event. It was conveniently held at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, with the real-life model of Cobra MKIII revealed among the famous airplanes of our age – Spitfire, Lancaster, Harrier, Concorde…

I really rarely use the word awesome, but this was AWESOME.

Cobra MKIII. I had hidden hopes it would fly.

Another big thing was getting to play Elite with the latest spec Oculus Rift 3D platform. I can only say that they really got the sensors and movement right (no motion sickness and instant response) but the resolution is still rubbish. 4K on both screens should do the trick, hopefully with the next generation. Having said that I kept returning to the demo table to play the missions, getting really disconnected from reality a few times.

Playing Elite: Dangerous at the premiere. I produced screams as I rammed into other ships a few times

Playing Elite: Dangerous at the premiere. I produced screams as I rammed other spaceships a couple of times

The seven hours long event finished around 1am, with David patiently signing Elite books and chatting with fans and I patiently waited in line. I was both exhausted and thrilled to be the part of this.

My prevailing thought was that the human kind needs more people like David Braben, and for that matter Elon Musk or Richard Branson, thinking that “Mars is not that far away.” and pushing us further.

What a glorious night

Thank you David!

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