Monday, 21 September 2009

25 years of Elite.

The BBC website has a page dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the computer game Elite.

This game, created by Ian Bell and David Braben in 1984, has to be one of the best games ever. In it, you play the captain of a Cobra Mark-III spacecraft, flying around space either trading or fighting. The 3D-wireframe graphics were very advanced for the time, and had a definite wow! factor. A novella, 'The Dark Wheel', was released with the BBC version by science fiction author Robert Holdstock - this was virtually unheard of for a computer game.

The game was revolutionary in several aspects - most games before Elite were heavily scripted, with linear game flows. Instead, Elite was open-ended. You could fly around the star systems of eight massive galaxies, either trading or shooting other ships. There were various upgrades that you could buy for your ship, including items such as fuel scoops or the near-obligatory docking computer. All of this was fitted into just 32kB on the BBC B. It was a superb feat of programming by Braben and Bell.

Unlike most games of the time there was no score - instead, the aim was to become 'Elite'. Initially you started off as 'Harmless'. As you destroyed other ships, your ranking would grow, through 'Mostly harmless' (a reference to the Hitchhiker's Guide the the Galaxy, perhaps?), to dangerous, and then finally Elite.

I dread to think how many hours that I have spent playing the game. I became Elite on the BBC Master 128, and also on the superb Archimedes version, ArcElite. Over the years I must have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours have been spent pretending that I am some superb space-trading pirate.

It very much got me into programming - I remember programming spinning wire-framed 3D objects, initially in BBC Basic and later 6502 assembler. It also gave my imagination a spur - my friend, Jamie, and myself would pretend to be spacemen whilst it loaded off tape. I doubt any children would do such a thing nowadays, if only because most games now load almost instantaneously.

Last year ┼×encan and I attended a meal celebrating the 30th anniversary of Acorn. It was good to see so many old faces, including some people that I had not seen for many years. David Braben was there, and he gave an impromptu demonstration of docking on a BBC B that had been put on display. It is a sign of the almost mystical aura around the game that he had a large crowd around him as he did it.

If you wish to give it a go, have a look at Oolite, which is heavily based upon the original game. I deliberately do not have it installed to avoid wastage of too much time.

No comments: