Elite is a space trading and combat simulator, originally published by Acornsoft for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron computers in September 1984. It is the first installment of the legendary Elite series. Elite is the longest running space simulation series in history. This is verified by Guinness World Records.
The game's title derives from one of the player's goals of raising their combat rating to the exalted heights of "Elite". It was written and developed by David Braben and Ian Bell, who met while they were both undergraduates at Jesus College, Cambridge. Versions of the game for other platforms were published by Firebird, Imagineer and Hybrid Technology.
Elite was one of the first home computer games to use wire-frame 3D graphics with hidden line removal. Another novelty was the added twitch gameplay and the inclusion of Elite: The Dark Wheel, a novella by Robert Holdstock which influenced new players with insight into the moral and legal codes to which they might aspire. The Dark Wheel was the first novella to be included for distribution with a video game in history. According to Guinness World Records: "Elite was the first game to feature a (3D) procedurally generated world."
Elite's open-ended game model, advanced game engine and revolutionary 3D graphics ensured that it was ported to virtually every contemporary home computer system, and earned it a place as a classic and a genre maker in gaming history. Elite was a hugely influential game, serving as a model for more recent games such as Space Rogue, Eve Online, Freelancer, Jumpgate, Infinity: The Quest for Earth, Wing Commander: Privateer, Pardus, the Escape Velocity series, No Man's Sky, the X series of space trading games and the Grand Theft Auto series. Jumpgate Evolution, Battlecruiser 3000AD, Hard Truck: Apocalyptic Wars and Flatspace have likewise credited Elite as a source of inspiration.
Elite is one of the most significant computer games ever. Elite changed the face of computer gaming dramatically with its combination of believability, considered design, compelling gameplay and longevity.
Elite has often been regarded as the yardstick by which subsequent space trading games have been measured. Since its release Elite has been credited as being the title that defined the modern space flight simulation genre, a significant source of inspiration for later games in the genre as well as being influential upon gaming as a whole.
It has been named as one of the most influential games in history, and has been credited as being the first truly open-ended open world game and opening the door for future online persistent worlds such as Second Life, World of Warcraft and EVE Online.
Trading is considered the primary way to earn credits, but bounty hunting, piracy, asteroid mining, illegally salvaging cargo found in space, and illegal trading are available as more dangerous alternatives. Credits can be spent on upgrades to improve the ship's capabilities.
3D Open World Space Game
Jamie Sefton of GamesRadar explains: "The first truly open-world game was made for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron back in 1984 – David Braben and Ian Bell’s Elite. Until then, space games were flat, 2D experiences where you were restricted to a choice of when to move your ship and fire laser bolts at ever-descending dot-matrix aliens. Elite created a believable open-ended wire frame universe of planets, political systems, economies, trading routes and space stations, in which you could explore the galaxies and define your Commander Jameson – would you live the life of a bounty hunter, a miner, a trader or a pirate?"
Rich Moss of Ars Technica said: "Elite changed everything. It was the home computer game to have in the mid-1980s—an open-ended spacefaring romp through eight 256-planet galaxies, which were fixed in their composition but cleverly generated on the fly by an algorithm in order to save on storage space. Its abstract 3D wireframe planets and spacecraft provided just enough detail to instill the appropriate sense of scale, with the rest left to your imagination."
The original Elite theme was composed by Aidan Bell and arranged by Chris Abbott. It also features The Blue Danube by Johan Strauss II which played during automated docking with the docking computer.
Hugely Influential Game
Elite's open-ended game model, advanced game engine and revolutionary 3D graphics ensured that it was ported to virtually every contemporary home computer system, and earned it a place as a classic and a genre maker in gaming history. Elite was a hugely influential game, serving as a model for more recent games such as Space Rogue, Eve Online, Freelancer, Jumpgate, Infinity: The Quest for Earth, Wing Commander: Privateer, Pardus, the Escape Velocity series, the X series of space trading games and the Grand Theft Auto series.
The former creative director of DMA Design Gary Penn cited Elite as a major influence for the original Grand Theft Auto (1997), "But I'd been working on Frontier, which is very different and there were definitely other people on the team who had things like Syndicate, Mercenary and Elite very much in their minds as well. That combination definitely led to the more open plan structure there is now. The game as it stands now is basically Elite in a city, but without quite the same sense of taking on the jobs. You take on the jobs in a slightly different way, but incredibly similar structurally. It's just a much more acceptable real world setting. The game was cops and robbers and then that evolved fairly quickly -- nobody wants to be the cop, it's more fun to be bad. And then that evolved into Grand Theft Auto".
The Elite series spans over 30 years. On 18 June 2015, David Braben and Frontier Developments received a certificate from Guinness World Records, because Elite is officially the longest running space simulation series in history. The certificate says "The longest running space simulation series is Elite created by David Braben and Ian Bell and was released on 20 September 1984. Officially amazing."
The Original Elite, 1984 – 1992
It’s hard, at this stage, to return to the pre-Elite days of computer gaming in the early 80s. Back then games were largely simplistic, clones of arcade games or following very closely in their designs. Games were specifically designed to play through in a few minutes, featuring ‘lives’, ‘scores’ and ‘levels’. There were games that broke this mould, but they were few and far between, and often easily forgotten.
Elite was born out of the dissatisfaction with the confines of traditional gaming. With no score, what was the purpose? The Thatcherite years of the 1980s provided the answer – money. But money isn’t a score, you can spend money. On what? On upgrades… so your ship had to be inferior to start with. What would be the purpose of upgrading your ship? To defeat other vessels. Why would those other vessels attack you? Because you carried a cargo… so trading was required alongside piracy. There was always a reason for the game mechanics, and the concept developed from there.
The true genius, however, lay in providing the player with choices. Yes, there were pirates out there, but you could become one yourself if you so desired. You had moral choices in the game, with no predetermined path.
Read the full article at Elite Dangerous History: The original ‘Elite’.
Due to the great commercial success of the BBC Micro version, Elite was ported to every contemporary home computer system such as Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, MSX, Tatung Einstein and IBM PC compatible. British Telecom's computer software division Telecomsoft won a bidding war for the rights to publish Elite on other platforms.
BBC Micro Package
The arrival of Elite heralded a new concept in game presentation. Instead of just the game media and an instruction sheet, Elite came packaged with a hefty manual, a novella based on the game, a ship poster and various other items.
As with all other games on tape, loading the game was a laborious process, taking around 7 minutes to complete. Due to the nature of the cassette medium, no further loading took place at any stage, meaning docking and hyperspacing took place without delay. This was the reason why a number of features were missing compared to the disc version, as the latter loaded in fresh data during the game.
The Elite badge is a very exclusive badge. It was only given to people who reached Elite status, and a few others who worked or did work for Firebird. People had to send in their 'Order of the Elite' postcard with a code they received when reaching the Elite status. Then they would receive the exclusive Elite badge from Acornsoft. Two badge versions were produced by Acornsoft. The third golden version of the badge is visible on Elite boxes produced by Firebird.
The Elite logo is a combination of Pilots wings, the Elite text and a stylized Griffin which was added by artist Philip Castle. He also worked on the Cobra and Coriolis cover for the original Elite.
David Braben said "The Elite logo took a while to get right. The inspiration was a mix of pilot's wings and logo. The Griffin thing was Philip Castle's idea."
In the Elite universe it's the emblem of the Elite Federation of Pilots. The body awards and administers the Elite ratings. The gold badge is for Elite pilots and silver for all other ranks.
Some gaming conventions and museums have a retro-gaming area with Elite. Such as PAX AUS in Melbourne had David Braben’s own BBC microcomputer, signed by him, on display in a glass cabinet. It's presumably the same machine purchased to work on the original Acornsoft game all those years ago. There was also a signed copy of BBC Elite in its original box.
Elite 30th Anniversary
20th September 2014 was the 30th anniversary of the day the world first experienced Elite. This is the classic 3D space trading and combat game written by Ian Bell and David Braben in 1984. The technology used fits 8 galaxies each with 256 planets to explore on 32k of memory. It began on the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron and appeared on most gaming platforms of the era. Elite Dangerous continues the Elite series into the future.
- The original Elite was one of the first video games to use 3D vector shapes, and it used less memory than a single email does today.
- The game's title is derived from a player's goal to raise their combat rating to the exalted heights of "Elite".
- Most of the ships were named after snakes. This came about because of the wire-frame models looking a bit like snake heads.
- Frontier Developments offers this game for free on the Official Store site for PC and Mac.
- The song M|A|R|R|S - Pump Up The Volume has a map of the original Elite at 2:28. This is 4AD's first UK number one single from 1987.
- Games by Frontier - Elite". Archived from the original on 27 January 2010.
- https://twitter.com/gwr/status/611537566299463681?lang=en Guinness World Records, 18 Jun 2015
- Games that changed the world: Elite". Computer & Video Games. Archived from the original on 11 February 2007.
- First use of procedural generation in a videogame - Guinness World Records
- LaMosca, Adam (18 July 2006). "Lost in the Void". The Escapist. Retrieved 17 November 2007.
- Gamasutra - Gary Penn interview"
- "Elite Auction", Micro Adventurer (14): 7, December 1984
- "Elite for Spectrum". Home Computing Weekly. Argus Press (92): 5. 11 December 1984.
- I am David Braben, co-creator of Elite, creator of Frontier, Frontier II and the upcoming Elite: Dangerous
- M|A|R|R|S - Pump Up The Volume (Official Video)