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The History of Elite: Space, the Endless Frontier
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The History of Elite: Space, the Endless Frontier

April 7, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

Elite puts players in control of a Cobra MK III, a high-quality and highly customizable intergalactic spaceship. Although the Cobra cannot land on planets, it can dock with the space stations that orbit them. Initially, the ship is armed only with the weakest of weapons, the slow-firing pulse laser.

Likewise, the ship is lacking almost all of the exciting options and customizations, such as a larger cargo bay or an automatic docking computer. This last option is particularly valuable, given the complexity of the manual docking procedure -- widely hailed as one of the game's most memorable, if frustrating, aspects.

Obviously, players should begin making money as soon as possible, gradually outfitting the ship to better suit their needs. For instance, instead of saving towards a high-yield, military-grade laser, players could opt for a humbler yet useful mining laser that lets them collect valuable ores from asteroid fields.

Players who frequently engage in battle may want additional lasers for the rear of their ship, whereas those who are more cautious may prefer an escape pod or energy bomb. Players with slower reflexes can opt for homing missiles rather than lasers.

Most players will at some point acquire a fuel scoop, which will let them refuel for free at stars, but more importantly, will scoop up cargo that drifts into space from asteroids or beaten opponents.

There are dozens upon dozens of possible configurations, and many of them make an immediate and noticeable difference to the gameplay. Anyone who loves the game will eventually want to try them all.

Each system in Elite has corresponding data that is important for trade. The type of government is important as well; less orderly systems are more prone to piracy.

Besides the pride of piloting a well-modified ship, Elite offers other means of measuring one's prowess: ranks. The rank is an indicator of a player's overall combat skill. The player will begin with the miserable "poor" rank, move up through several stages including "competent" and "dangerous," and finally join the vaunted "elite," the deadliest pilots in space.

There are also three reputation ranks: clean, offender, and fugitive. Players who consistently break the law will find themselves hunted by the futuristic equivalent of the highway patrol, "galcops," who fly about in packs of vicious Viper-class ships.

Banditry and marauding may not appeal to everyone, but they are certainly some of the most challenging ways to play the game -- and pirates and police aren't the only threats lurking out in space. The insectoid Thargoid race is at war with humanity and its allies, and only the best pilots can hope to survive an encounter with their invasion ships.

Although these monochrome, wireframe graphics from Elite may look primitive today, the real-time, 3D rendering impressed then-owners of the humble BBC Micro and other 8-bit computers.

The game consists of two basic interfaces: a mostly text-driven menu interface for trading and upgrading, and a first-person, simulator-style view for spaceflight and combat. An intriguing sensor system at the bottom shows other ships and objects in three dimensions.

Objects that are above or below the character are represented by dots connected to lines that resemble narrow towers. The sensors may be confusing at first, but quickly make sense and become useful. Although other aspects of the interface resemble a conventional flight simulator, flying in space is much different than Earth-based flight.

Elite adheres to realistic physics. For instance, the player can roll the ship clockwise or counterclockwise, but can only turn by aiming in a direction and firing the engines. It takes practice and patience to learn to maneuver the ship, and even more to maneuver it well enough to survive combat.

Players can also make special maneuvers based on the gravitational force of planets or bodies. All in all, the game makes high demands on players and has low tolerance for incompetence. Although this level of difficulty may turn away some players at the gate, others savor the challenge.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

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