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Feature: The History of  Elite

Feature: The History of Elite

April 7, 2009 | By Staff

April 7, 2009 | By Staff
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More: Console/PC

In the latest in a series of Gamasutra-exclusive bonus material originally to be included in Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton's new book Vintage Games: An Insider Look at the History of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the Most Influential Games of All Time, the authors look at one of the most influential games of the '80s -- one that hasn't perhaps had as much press as it deserves, in recent years, as Americans, and consoles, have been ascendant.

The historians explain:

Elite, released in the United Kingdom in 1984 and the United States a year later, was the first major entry in a genre now called the "space sim."

Developed by Ian Bell and David Braben for the BBC Micro, Elite made a big impact in the United Kingdom, the only territory where Acorn's BBC Micro and compatible budget-friendly Electron computers had a presence.

Bell and Braben's masterful coding for the original Acornsoft version extracted every ounce of juice from these modest machines, wowing gamers and reviewers alike.

Although publisher Firebird's ported versions may have been less groundbreaking than the originals, Elite still made an impact in the United States, becoming a fan favorite on the Commodore 64 and other popular platforms like the Apple II.

Indeed, in March 2008, Next Generation declared it the #1 best game of the 1980s, calling it "the spiritual predecessor of everything from Wing Commander through to the Grand Theft Auto series."[1] But what is it about Elite that deserves such high praise and justifies such bold claims?

One reason, Barton and Loguidice explain, was its excellent implementation of wireframe 3D graphics. But where Elite really set itself apart from other space trading games like Edu-Ware's Space (1978) and Empire I: World Builders (1981)[2] for the Apple II, as well as FTL's SunDog was its procedurally generated universe, including planetary positions, names, politics, and general descriptions.

Although this procedural generation technique would have allowed for trillions of different galaxies, in order to hide the limitations of the game's algorithms while still creating an impressive universe, the final design was purposely limited by Acornsoft to eight galaxies, each containing 256 planets.[4]

The only major downside to this technique was the occasional generation of difficult-to-reach star systems that a predesigned universe could have avoided.

You can now read the full feature, a blast-from-the-past analysis of what makes Elite so noteworthy (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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