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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 5 of 5
 


Exploded view of the packaging for the Commodore 64 version of Elite. Note the red Lenslok antipiracy device, which the player had to hold up to the screen in order to decipher two characters in order to successfully run the program. As an antipiracy device, this proved fairly effective and a target for those who didn't purchase the game. As Author Barton puts it, "My dad and I were searching for this game for weeks, but every time we found them on store shelves, someone had already opened the boxes and stolen the decoders!"

Elite met with good overall commercial success and remains a common item on many "best of" lists, particularly those compiled by British gamers.

The game was widely ported to the popular computer platforms of the era, though there's a surprising European-only console conversion for the Nintendo Entertainment System from 1991, which Bell cites as his favorite.[7]

Collectors and historians should note that some versions of the game incorporated a cumbersome copy protection scheme. During the loading process, a screen of gobbledygook would appear that could only be deciphered by peering at it through a type of decoder device included with the game.

In 1991, Microplay Software released Elite Plus, a VGA-remake of the original game. It was only available for PC DOS machines with the requisite hardware, and reviewers weren't as impressed as they had been with the former title. Stanley Trevena, a reviewer for Computer Gaming World, wrote that "some classics are best left in their original form and not artificially modernized."[8]


Although Elite Plus featured an audiovisual upgrade, not much else was changed.

A full sequel from GameTek, Frontier: Elite II followed in 1993, designed by Braben for the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, and PC. The sequel improved the graphics, sound, and physics modeling considerably, with the new ability to land on planets, but the box makes the more intriguing claim that "all the planets and moons of our own solar system and others... are generated in accordance with current theories of planet formation."

This emphasis on good science and accurate astronomy is reminiscent of Spacewar!, one of the earliest computer games that also boasted of accurate stellar cartography (which will be covered in an upcoming bonus chapter.) Frontier: Elite II was primarily Braben's project, though Bell contributed programming and consultancy.

Bell is distinctly critical of the game, remarking that "David wants everything to be 'realistic' but that's just not the right way to go."[9] Braben and Bell clashed over more than design issues; Bell felt that Braben wasn't giving him due credit for the Frontier games, which are of course based on the earlier co-developed work. The matter is still outstanding.

Frontier: Elite II met with mixed reviews from critics, some claiming it was the best game they had ever seen, while others found it hopelessly boring. A visually improved but bug-infested sequel, Frontier: First Encounters followed in 1995 for the PC, whose major addition to the series was the inclusion of story-based missions.

A patch fixed most of the worst issues, but the damage had been done. The sad truth was that other developers had long since eclipsed the pioneers of the space sim genre.


Frontier: Elite II added several new features, including the option to buy new ships and land on planets.

Although Elite doesn't seem to have fared well as a franchise, its unique combination of gameplay elements laid the foundations for a new and exciting genre. Although space sims aren't as prevalent today as first-person shooters or online role-playing games, they are still being produced and will no doubt become even more engrossing as audiovisual and world simulation technology continues to improve.


[7] See http://www.iancgbell.clara.net/elite/archive/c2031200.htm.

[8] See the October 1991 issue of Computer Gaming World.

[9] See http://home.clara.net/iancgbell/elite/archive/b5081501.htm.

Correction: A previous version of this article said Bell had no involvement in Elite 2 -- however, he did contribute programming and also consulted on the game. Previously, the article also said Braben and Bell settled their dispute -- this is not the case. We've updated the article to reflect these inaccuracies, and apologize for the error.


Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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