To be Elite

Christmas 1984 – I received a present from my parents, ‘Elite‘, a ‘space simulation’ computer game for my BBC Micro ‘B’ (cassette version, back in the day when games would take several minutes to load, accompanied by an audible screeching noise …).

The launch of Elite was for the computer games sector, a defining moment – the game was a leap beyond other games of the time – it used 3D wireframe graphics (see picture below), was massive in its ambition and scale, and didn’t focus on simple points/lives, but rather placed you in the middle of a space opera (think ‘Star Wars’, and ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’), supported by a brilliant novella included with the game, ‘The Dark Wheel’, written by Robert Holdstock (* see footnote). In addition to the novella, the game was launched with a number of ‘extras’: an instruction manual, a poster (see above), a ‘function key strip’, etc – this was also new for many, and a step in the direction of games development towards today’s multi-million dollar investments.

The game had a profound impact on many people (including myself) – they became absorbed by the game, completing ‘missions’, exploring star systems, trading goods (either legitimate, or banned goods, with the expected consequences if caught), and sometimes entering into (or being drawn into) combat. It felt real, sometimes dangerous, exciting, rewarding.

For those who played the game, who could ever forget the challenge of aligning your Cobra Mk III space ship to enter a rotating space station, and the subsequent elation at ‘securing’ the credits for a trade, or the spoils of a recent battle:

Elite was ported to various other platforms, and later came a sequel, ‘Frontier’ (two versions) in the 1990s. Since then there’s been rumors of (and consumer demands for) an ‘Elite IV – the continual rumors, but the lack of any game actually being launched led it to becoming named ‘vaporware’.

And finally …

‘Elite : Dangerous’ (or, you might call it, ‘Elite 4’) is now on the cards, almost 25 years after the original launch of Elite.

It’s not guaranteed by any stretch – launch, planned for 2014, is dependent on substantial funding (using the relatively new, innovative crowd-funding site Kickstarter), there are competitors, and the game is largely still to be developed.

But it’s backed by David Braben, one of the co-developers of Elite, and his venture ‘Frontier Developments’ (which has proven itself, having successfully launched games on a number of different platforms), and perhaps more importantly, supported by a passionate, sometimes fanatical group of people who remember the original Elite and Frontier games (check out the comments stream on the Kickstarter page, including a number of “kids of the ’80s” who are clearly reminiscing about fond memories of their youth).

While I played a few games when I was younger, I would generally not describe myself as a computer gamer (at least, I don’t have the time, nor really the inclination any more). Nevertheless, I’d really like to see ‘Elite : Dangerous’ be successful – it evokes old memories, and I’ m keen to see what today’s technology can bring to a game that I once loved so much (which was based on far more simple technology). I’d also like to see David Braben be successful in this venture – watching the videos on the Kickstarter page, his passion is undoubtable; this is clearly far more about building something brilliant, than about business/profits.

If you’re interested in finding out more, head over to the Kickstarter page for ‘Elite : Dangerous’.

* Footnote – I only found out recently that Robert Holdstock (author of ‘The Dark Wheel’) died in 2009 at the age of 61. RIP Robert. It’s a shame that you’ll not be part of Elite : Dangerous.

5 Responses

  1. I remember the first time I saw Elite – on the BBC computer of a friend’s friend – back in the early 80s. Even as a child I remember being astonished at the leap it represented. Going to individual planets and they all have their own prices for a range of goods? Amazing.

    It was one of those moments (much like the first time I aw an internet browser, in 1993) which brought into focus just how extraordinary computers and their applications were going to become.

  2. A great documentary of the making of Elite:

  3. A fanzine ‘lookback’ at Elite (C64 version):

  4. […] I’d already covered the topic of ‘Elite’ in another  previous post (‘To be Elite‘), and I also didn’t want that to become the dominant theme of my crowdfunding post. I […]

  5. […] is a collection of 15 short stories all set in the ‘Elite’ universe (see my post ‘To be Elite‘) – ‘Mission (Almost) Completed’ will be one of these stories. The […]

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