Elite: Generations of Space Trading Genius

One of the few game series to cross the 30-year gaming generation, Elite has created endless personal tales. Here’s mine.


I first saw Elite running on a BBC shortly after launch in school in 1984. It wasn’t the first 3D game, but it was the first title I’d seen with its own universe to explore. Eventually the Spectrum version arrived and I could explore Lave from the comfort of my own bedroom. Taking relatively safe goods runs to Reorte and Leesti, and hunting down Fer-de-Lance fighters and Python freighters in the hope of affording an autodock and scoop.

Prepare to launch my little Spectrum powerhouse

Prepare to launch my little Spectrum powerhouse Image Source

A couple of years later I’d upgraded to the Atari ST and Elite rose again. This time with gloriously shaded 3D visuals and a better version of the Blue Danube docking music. Saving to disk was a whole lot more reliable than tape, and my adventures took me edge of the map, falling into Witch Space and packing immense firepower. However, the game layout was still the same, full screen combat seemed a long way off and the planets screamed to be better than just flat discs.

Moving to the Frontier

Which brought us to Frontier, David Braben’s ambitious sequel, on the Amiga and ST. It can now enjoyed on a gaming PC with an OpenGL mod for super smooth visuals. Frontier populated the worlds with multiple cities and space bases, and expanded the universe and your goals with two huge syndicates at play and a bulletin board of sneaky missions. With freer camera controls, it really crawled on the 16-bit computers, but the trading and exploration options made it a beautiful game, while the PC release added some basic textures.


elite_pc

Space gets bigger and badder in First Encounters Image Source

PC Only semi-sequel First Encounters added more visual flair but added something approaching a plot to give us a sense of narrative to guide their explorations. However, the Newtonian physics behind the game definitely made it less fun. That version also has an unofficial DirectX upgrade for a better look to it.


Prepare to be Dangerous and Elite

Elite Dangerous begs for a proper PC to play

Elite Dangerous begs for a proper PC to play Image Source

Which brings us to Elite: Dangerous, the PC and console revisitation, thanks to millions in funding raised on Kickstarter. Having binned my gaming PC for a work-a-day laptop, my Intel HD graphics chip does not do the game any justice, playing it in a tiny window. So, I’m saving up for something that will do the job. But checking out the videos, your ship is the ultimate evolution of a Cobra, with vents and handholds on the interior, growly engine noises and a talking computer.

Space is packed with effects and stations are loaded with detail, docking becomes its own little voyage of discovery. Stars become fiery balls of radiation and heat when tapped for fuel, looking just like NASA images. Until SpaceX or Blue Origin start building personal space craft, this is as close as any of us will get to the stars. Will they be available before I can afford a ninja PC, it could be a close thing.