Tuesday 3 April 2012

Elite - BBC Model B - 1984

I still remember being blown away by this view the first time I saw it.  Those were the days.

I remember first seeing Elite around my mate Colin’s house (him with the Videopac) when it first came out on the BBC micro. He called me up to say I must go round and see this new game.  It was one of those memorable jaw-dropping moments when the spinning Cobra came up on the screen and then when launching from the space station for the first time and looking out the rear view.  Unless you lived through the 8-bit home computer era it’s difficult to convey how seeing such groundbreaking games for the first time really felt. There were the enormous galaxies to explore, the trading, the combat, the special missions.  Back in the day this game seemed almost limitless.

You probably know all about the game already, but basically you start off with 100 credits, a Cobra Mk III spaceship armed with a front pulse laser and hundreds of planets to visit.  Initially you’ll want to make money to upgrade your ship, which can be done both on the right and wrong side of the law….

  • Trading between planets, buying low and selling high, is the staple source of income. Buying food from an agricultural planet and selling it to an industrial planet for example.  You can also deal in illegal substances such as slaves, narcotics and alien artefacts.
  • Mining asteroids by destroying them with a mining laser and picking up the pieces of ore with a fuel scoop.  Law abiding but slow and low profit.
  • Piracy – Destroying any ship you come across and scooping up the cargo (and occasional escape capsule) it drops when destroyed.  When doing this you become a fugitive and run the risk of being attacked by police Viper ships
  • Bounty hunting – As above but by killing pirates it is not breaking the law.
  • A combination for all the above.

There are plenty of upgrades to buy for your ship including more powerful lasers, fuel scoop, enlarged cargo bay, missiles and a docking computer to automatically dock your ship on the spinning space stations.

The BBC version had lots of neat details that I don’t recall featuring on the other versions I played.  For example some ships would drop their cargo as a distraction if you shot at them and occasionally you would come across a pirate waiting to ambush you by rotating to look like an asteroid.  It’s attention to detail like this that make the BBC the standout 8-bit version if not the best to play. 

It wasn’t just the game either.  It came in a large box with a ship identification chart, detailed instruction booklet and a novella – many games at the time just came in a cassette box.

Extract from instruction booklet

The game was eventually converted to nearly every home computer of the time and even the NES had a version.  I bought Elite for the Spectrum which came with an annoying anti piracy device called lenslok (you think DRM is bad!).  I played it to death but never got to Elite status.

I also bought the game when it came out for the Atari ST but this version was unplayable due to the set piece combat.  Whenever you encountered a pirate it would without fail appear with a freighter and an asteroid.  If you wanted to avoid becoming a fugitive you had to wait for ages for the freighter to move off the scope before you could continue to jump towards the planet.  The Amiga version was made by the same developer so is probably the same.  There are a few other annoyances which make the 16-bit versions inferior to the 8-bits but I won't go into them here.  Avoid.

The awful Atari ST version.

The best non 8-bit version of Elite, called ArcElite, is for the 32-bit Acorn Archimedes and was released a few years later.  As well as polygon graphics it features more ships and more special missions than all the other versions.  You also feel you are no longer the centre of the universe – you can come across asteroid mining vessels going about their business, police Vipers can be found attacking pirates or towing abandoned ships, you can see pirates squabbling amongst themselves, and can come across freighter fleets with their escorts.

The Archimedes didn't have many games but could boast the best version of Elite.


  1. I remember playing this game on my dad's Apple II, and later on the IBM compatible. It was a lot of fun just trading and fighting ships all day long. I usually got blown up, but I didn't really care. The game really did seem to go on forever (a good thing).

    The NES version wasn't released in the US. I'm sure I would have gotten it if it was.

  2. This was probably the first game in which I thought the game world was unlimited. I saw it at my friends place, playing it on a C-64. I later bought it to the Amiga a few years later but never really catched on. Still it is a groundbreaking game. I am still waiting for a follow up.