Elite Released 25 Years Ago Today!

By Kieron Gillen on September 21st, 2009 at 10:26 am.

…if you’re reading this in Honolulu and within 35 minutes of me publishing this. Otherwise, it was released 25 years ago yesterday. On the 20th September of 1984 David Braben and Ian Bell’s Elite shocked an shy world of 8-bit videogame heads. Really, it doesn’t get more seminal than this. Frontier Development have celebrated by making a micro-site featuring assorted Elite memorabilia plus a forthcoming interview with Braben on the 23rd (Via twittering them questions). Go See! I suspect one of RPS may weaken and do a retro piece before the week’s out. But until then, here’s something that’s testament to Elite’s majesty. Ian’s Brother Aidan (with lyricist Brian Phillips) wrote a musical about it. And this is its finest number…

Wondrous.

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63 Comments »

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  1. RogB says:

    I still have the instruction booklet and novella for the BBC micro version. And I had an analogue joystick for it too! (they were floppy and didnt have any centering springs). memories!

  2. Dock says:

    Ah, this track is a classic! Some of the other Elite The Musical songs are amazing too though, you should share the whole lot!

  3. Paxeh says:

    I’m getting all misty eyed.

  4. Jaffo says:

    Best computer game ever (Only one I’ve played on every computer I’ve owned – Spectrum, C64, Amiga and PC).

  5. Premium User Badge

    c-Row says:

    Only ever player Frontier and First Encounters – still remember Bob’s Used Ship Guide (or whatever it was called in English). And there is still hope for Elite IV… *sniff*

    • JonFitt says:

      Me too. I played both Frontier and First Encounters for ages. Trying out all the career paths and designing the optimum ships for the task.

      Nothing has really been the same since. X3 feels like it should be, but it’s not.

  6. Joinn says:

    But, but, that means I’ve been playing videogames for over 25 years!

  7. Heliocentric says:

    I’m younger than this game, jees. I’ve never played it for more than a few minutes as i played it when i was far too young and i could barely manage any kind of flight game, i managed to scrape by in x wing though.

    This game aspires to be something people are still trying to achieve today, there is its legacy.

  8. gaijin says:

    crikey. This was the first game I was actually allowed to buy with real money. Parents were quite happy to endorse inter-friend piracy, but as far as they were concerned computer games were ephemeral tat and pocket money should be invested more wisely (I can’t actually recall what on. I think air guns were ok though, perversely). Having reluctantly conceded that this one maybe appeared to have more to it than “planetoid” my dad then became completely besotted with it. We upgraded to a BBC B so we could play it at home (not just surreptitiously in the university where he worked). We bought an analogue joystick so you could better match rotation with the coriolis stations when docking (ctrl-D was for pussies). We plugged in a second (green-screen) monitor so people could shoulder surf without disturbing the pilot, who was by this time seated in the big leather ergonomic chair from dad’s desk. He went on to map all 8 galaxies on sheets of A2 paper, planets colour coded by government type… This is the game that made me love computer games. And ultimately turned my father into a championship manager fan. Still, can’t have everything.

  9. OgunBadbooks says:

    Spent most of a cold winter playing this on the NES and what was called a ‘piano screen’ TV (a pre flat-screen big screen that took about 5 minutes to warm up) in 2-player mode.

    Would’ve been cooler if it was in the 80s with all-new stuff, instead of the early 90s with a bunch of crap we bought in a junk shop, but still.. some great memories. I hope they never make another one.

  10. Risingson says:

    This is another case of a kind of game that, in a sudden, the press and then the public conscience decides that it is “dated” :(

    That’s why we suffered so many years without or nearly without space games, puzzle games, adventure games, 2d shooters… at least now we can play Elite and realize that there is very little dated about it. It is a well designed game, and that never dates.

  11. Jazmeister says:

    Telltale remake go!

    • RogB says:

      telltale remake? jesus i’d hope not. They are sullying my dreams at the moment.

  12. Ravenger says:

    I used to be a C64 Elite fanatic.

    I won a copy of C64 elite at a computer show by earning the second highest amount of credits in two dockings. Missed out on a disk drive by about 50 credits.

    I used to go on three hour excursions into anarchy systems to rack up kills to increase my rating.

    I was the 6th person in the UK to get to Elite status on the C64

    And I had a gold Elite badge which was given to me by a contact at Firebird.

    However I’m not a fan of the sequels, as they discarded the really fun and playable flight model for a newtonian one that turned dogfights into jousting at relativistic speeds.

  13. Anton says:

    Playing this on a ZXSpectrum, I suddenly realized that games aren’t just run/jump/gun, they can be serious, they can be like… LIFE (I was young then, yes). It is a great game, though I wouldn’t play it now – I’ve moved on, and so have games.

  14. The Great Wayne says:

    Played it back then on Atari ST and it’s the reason I’m pouring endless hours in EvE right now.

    Damn you Elite, damn you.

  15. DocFloyd says:

    Happy Birthday Elite and congrats to Braben / Bell for a milestone in computer-game history!

    Played it when I was 14… Now I’m deeply into EVE Online. Although it is not 1st person, it is the Elite of present time. I hope Mr. Braben will come up with a new Elite soon. Looking forward to it.

  16. Inigo says:

    It’s not fair. Everyone else got to play Elite and I had to play Granny’s Garden with THAT FUCKING WITCH.
    Granted, this was at school, but it still left me with a deep-rooted phobia of computers that took years to remove.
    Goddamn witch sending me home.
    Goddamn MAGIC raven.
    Goddamn witch.

    • RobF says:

      You got the better deal, man!

      Granny’s Garden is about 40 billion times better than Elite could ever dream to be.

  17. JoeDuck says:

    Elite, like all good games, separated the weak from the real men.
    Fluffy bunnies spent the first hour flying around Lave and Diso, trading.
    Hardcore players simply took the ship, jumped to Zaonce and tried to get to the station to buy/sell cool stuff.
    Of course, Elite being the game it was, was very rarely completed by hardcore players…
    So were you hardcore or a fluffy bunny?

    • Brass Gerbil says:

      I was successful, because I didn’t insist on ramming my head into stereotypes, (which didn’t exist back then, anyway). You should try it.

    • JoeDuck says:

      Oh wow, I see that my post was not that clear. Let’s see if I can explain what I meant.
      Elite for me was one of the first successful hybrid games ever, it mixed an action combat sim and a full trading game in a way that both were meaningful to each other. What you bought allowed you to be successful in combat, but also what you traded with decided who you had combat with. That said, and now we get to the fluffly bunnies part, I think one of the strong points of the game was that you could not be really successful in the long run as just a combat guy. Even in the first jump you could get into more than you could possibly defeat. So the game rewarded people who did not seek combat per se (the hardcore), but people who spent a little time trading (the fluffy bunnies). Eventually, combat was unavoidable, but you could fight in your own terms.
      Some the most wonderful games ever are hybrid (XCOM or the TW series come to mind), but I think there is an unavoidable requisite. The interaction mechanism between genres must be very strong. Not only “two games in one”, but two game “modes” that meaningfully affect each other during the whole game. And none of the two must be perceived as weak or boring compared to the other.
      No mean feat…

  18. Ginger Yellow says:

    First computer game I ever played – on my brother’s BBC B. It’s all been downhill since then, really.

  19. Antsy says:

    Good grief, 25 years. It was about the only time my BBC micro was ever the envy of anyone. I remember me and my two mates rushing home from school with a 5 1/2 inch floppy to see what all the fuss was about. Then staring at each other in disbelief when we realised the police were after us for shooting at the Lave space station.

  20. RogB says:

    I was too young to really appreciate the game. I’d take off and shoot the space station, then spend as long as possible blowing police up until i was just about to die then hyperspace to safety (or a bunch of thargoids in witch space)

    kind of like i did with GTA3 fending off the filthy coppa’s for as long as possible.

  21. jRides says:

    Sweet Jeebus has it really been 25 years? Epic Game tho, especially for the time. Best played with rubber keys.

  22. cliffski says:

    Elite is quite simple the reason I became a game developer. It was incredible. And the skill in packing so much into so little space was phenomenal. 99% of modern game developers could learn a thing or two from that game, including me.
    I don’t suppose they released the source code for it did they? (although it would all be in hideous machine code no doubt).

  23. jsutcliffe says:

    Elite and Frontier ate over ten years of my gaming life. This is a fact I am very proud of.

    • Iain says:

      I played Elite (Spectrum 48K version) every night for five years to get that Elite rating.

      I have no regrets.

  24. Shadowcat says:

    I got my hands on a cheap BBC Master Turbo (with the 65c102 co-processor) for which a special version of Elite had been written. The co-processor on my machine was prone to over-heating, but I couldn’t go back to playing with the non-turbo frame-rates, so I played Elite with the lid off, an up-ended row of staples sitting on top of the co-processor (as a ridiculous makeshift heat-sink), and an ever-present fear that something would go disastrously wrong if I knocked the staples off and into the circuit board. It actually did the trick as far as cooling went, though, so I never did pursue a more robust solution.

    I suppose that one of Elite’s notable achievements was keeping people playing the game, doing the same things, for long enough to reach Elite status. I’ve never played a MMORPG, but it reminds me of the “grinding” that all those players seem to bitch about :) (and given that I did play enough to become “Elite”, I suspect I’d best continue to stay the hell away from WOW and its kind.)

    Happy birthday, Elite :)

  25. Mort says:

    One of the first computer games me and my brother played on the Acorn Electron, utterly magical experience. My Mum dictated the whole manual to tape so we could listen to it instead of reading it. Gawd bless ‘er!
    I don’t think its been matched actually, these days it’s all about how realistic or horribly complicated you can make the game. But then the nostalgia force is strong with this one.

  26. Matthew says:

    Cliffski: secret Cobra Mark III unlockable in GSB please kthx

  27. dancingcrab says:

    Retro gaming makes my heart swell and my eyes misty. And I’m only as old as Elite.

  28. Schmung says:

    I never managed to play it. I’ve vague memories of seeing someone play it on PC a good few years later, but the closest I got was playing Privateer. I did have some ancient flightsim thing on ye olde Amstrad though.

  29. del says:

    I went to see Braben’s BAFTA interview in London last week. One of my heroes and a really nice guy too. A pleasure to have met him and even cooler to get to ask him questions and have him congratulate me on my design work. Ace!

    @cliffski: Loads of stuff in the game, from the solar systems to the names and descriptions, right the way down to the type of planet or station, were procedurally generated from a known seed. They managed to fit it in 22k of memory! 22k!!!

  30. Hodge says:

    Glad that Oolite has already been mentioned. There’s also a new-ish version of Frontier milling about:

    http://tom.noflag.org.uk/glfrontier.html

    Though it’s more of a let’s-get-it-running-on-modern-systems thing, with no graphic enhancements.

    But, yeah. Elite was incredible (with an honorable mention going to Mercenary, too). Open worlders before their time, and packed into such tiny footprints. I remember the Amiga version of Frontier was a single 600Kb executable – the hard disk installation instructions in the manual just said “drag the file to somewhere on your hard drive”.

    And an Elite musical? I must go and stage a local production at once!

  31. stormbringer951 says:

    Hey guys, David Braben is coming to my sixth form college on thursday. Any questions for him (apart from when Elite 4 will be made :D)?

  32. dsmart says:

    imo it is highly unlikely that Elite IV will ever see the light of day. ESPECIALLY in this current industry climate.

    If David was going to do it, he’d have done it by now instead of screwing around with all the other stuff they’ve been putting out.

    If it does happen, my bet would be on an MMO of sorts.

    Remember you heard it here first.

  33. Paul Moloney says:

    “Elite” was the first to show me that games could truly immerse you in an alternative reality. Used to switch the lights off and stick on a Star Wars soundtrack album to play it. It’s the main reason I’m still snooty about third-person view games.

  34. weegosan says:

    I played first encounters for a very long time, I still remember getting my first panther clipper and loading it out with every beam and plasma weap available and went cruising for pirates.

  35. weegosan says:

    I played first encounters for a very long time, I still remember getting my first panther clipper, loading it out with every beam and plasma weap available before heading out looking for some big pirate encounters.

  36. Inigo says:

    Ask him when The Outsider will be released. Apparently production of Elite 4 will start after he’s finished with that.
    Emphasis on the word “apparently”.

  37. Acidburns says:

    Hmm I was born on the day Elite was released. The closest thing to Elite I can think of is the X series and I’ve never been entirely satisfied with them. Would be nice to see some more takes on the idea.

  38. kert says:

    What makes me misty-eyed over this, is that the days when two guys working on the thesis, could put together a world-changing game title on the spare time, are long gone.

  39. Carra says:

    I kind of like that song. I am Elite tralala.

  40. Stu says:

    Some facts about Elite:

    1. ArcElite was the best ever version of Elite, followed by the BBC Master version.
    2. Frontier was shit in comparison.
    3. As was FFE.

  41. PC Monster says:

    Yay, Elite! First you made me feel like a man, a warrior, a hero. Now you make me feel like an OLD man. Yay, Elite!

    For those looking to see some modernised Elite-ing, look no further than the russian upgrade of Frontier: First Encounters: D3DFFE

    The best place by far to get the files with all the cool upgraded ships etc is here (some assembly required):
    http://www.spacesimcentral.com/downloads.php?cat=37

    Pics of the ships can be found here:
    http://www.spacesimcentral.com/ffed3d-f53/new-ship-pics-t443.html

    PS: Space Sim central is a fab new site devoted to all games set in space. The author works very hard to keep it fresh and updated but he’s crying out for a few more people to join the fun. Pop by if you’re up for it.

    As for Elite IV, I personally think Braben hasn’t got the bottle for it anymore: you can only tease people for a decade or two before they start to politely cough around swearwords. I’m even starting to think the official series shouldn’t get a sequel at all – the world has moved on since those halcyon days. Let’s let someone else pick up the baton and have a run with it (Just not Egosoft. Nice try, boys, but your interstellar business simulators didn’t quite steal the crown).

    As for Elite IV being an MMO I’m afraid that’s been rumoured for years, ever since Mr Braben started talking about developing the tech for the game – sorry, Derek. I heard it somewhere else first. :)

  42. LionsPhil says:

    Perhaps they should just call it Elite Forever.

  43. Thargoid Killer says:

    God i love Elite. God I fucking hated it’s sequels.

    I first got Elite for my Acorn Electron ( Parents with dillusions of me becoming somehow clever and becoming a programmer ) with my best mate Adrian. We were 10 at the time, and went half on it.

    What. a. Game.

    I must have put thousands of hours playing the game over Electron/Amiga/PC down the years. I became Elite and it ranked as being one of my most highest ever acheivements in life ( easy when you don’t have any goals in life other than to have enough money at the end of the month to keep you in gaming goodies ).

    I really hope that Elite IV, if made, David Braben just remakes Elite for MMO with up to date graphics and forgot the Newtonian bullshit that made the sequels utter shite.He would sell millions.

  44. terry says:

    That sound! Where can I access the rest of the musical? I MUST HAVE IT !

  45. Mr. Sinister says:

    Okay, that song is straight-up awesome.

  46. Akura says:

    :D Elite. :)

  47. heroic zero says:

    Elite. What an amazing accomplishment, a true milestone in gaming.

    Proof that a game can be more than the sum of its pixels.

  48. Inferno says:

    I feel young :(