The Good Ole Games – Elite

I last played the masterpiece that is Elite 14 years ago.  I was running it in DOS mode on my first PC and I was loving every second of it.  Somehow this simple game which was even then 12 years old itself, ended up holding me captive for three months in the face of Unreal and Quake.  How could this be?

Elite, still the best after all these years...take that Freelancer!

Released on the BBC Micro in 1984 Elite was a first.  A three dimensional space combat and trading simulator.  I always find the simulator part hilarious, I didn’t know there where space traders around to simulate the lives of…but perhaps I’m just being cynical.  Regardless this game was very nearly a genuine Genesis event (the true Genesis moment came in 1974’s Star Trader) and every last space-simulation since owes it a debt of gratitude.  Whether you’re playing Freelancer or one of the X series what you are in fact playing is a bastard child of Elite.

So what do you do in the game?  Well you fly a ship around one of 8 galaxies, shooting at anything that moves and trying to land on anything that doesn’t.  Oh and you buy goods at as low a price as possible to sell high.  Of course I am oversimplifying.  In truth it’s actually quite a deep game.  It has an over all set of bad guys named the Thargoids.  It has bounty hunting, asteroid mining and even missions for the Galactic Navy.  But for myself and I imagine most players the real goal was to reach the exalted combat status of Elite.

Sitting here writing this it’s difficult to explain the power of this game.  Of course for the time and the machines running it the graphics were exceptional with wire-frame ships which might or might not be colored depending on the machine you played it on.  The gameplay was nice and straight forward.  It was basically the very best game released for quite a few years both before and after.  But even with that it’s extremely difficult to say what it is that makes this 27 year old game which was programmed for now long extinct machines hold such a special place in the hearts of old school gamers.

I think a huge part of its hold over us older gamers is the fact that it was very much a shared experience for the first two or even three generations of home computer gamers.  If you owned any computer from the Commodore 64 through to the Acorn Archimedes you in all likelihood played Elite.  Which meant that you had something to brag about with other gamers in an age before MMORPG’s.  Everyone had their own Elite story, like the time they beat the Thargoids in Witchspace armed with only a single pulse laser and no missiles.  Or how they made 10,000 credits in 1 hour by finding a real fluke of a trade route.

The start screen from the original BBC Micro version.

Whatever the reason for it’s longevity in the hearts and minds of gamers the world over the fact that it is still firmly lodged there says a great deal for the genius of its creators. It probably also says a lot about the nostalgic soft-hearted natures of certain gamers who are now in their thirties and forties but we won’t talk about that.

So now I will leave you now with this personal information.  After 14 years of a gap, while writing this post I downloaded the Archimedes port of Elite to play on my laptop.  Goddesses help me I think I feel the need to be ranked Elite again and just in case you feel like taking on the galaxy here’s a link to help you on your path to being Elite.

3 Comments to “The Good Ole Games – Elite”

  1. Right On, Commander!

    If you want more Elite-flavoured gaming goodness, you can try playing Oolite (object-oriented Elite). It’s free, multi-platform and has more OXPs (Oolite eXpansion Packs) than all eight Galaxies have unpremouncable star systems. May your laser never overheat when you’re sucked into Witch-space by Thargoids…

    • I tried it at one stage and could never really sink into it in the same way. My favourite Elite-like gaming experiences are any of the X series, or the discovery mods for Freelancer.

      But yes Witch-Space with no missiles and badly overheating lasers is ultra bad juju. But then those are the moments which epic tales of Thargoid destruction are made of.

      • If you want the authentic Elite experience (barring the monochrome graphics) Oolite has a “Restricted Mode” with no OXPs available at all. Personally I like the OXPs as they add more flavour to the game, although I stay away from all the graphics heavy ones as my Eee PC can’t handle all that super rendered texture mapping stuff.

        Whenever I end up in Witch-space surrounded by Thargoids these days my first reaction is “Great – target practise!” Then again, I do have one serious iron ass of a vessel these days… and I’ve not even picked up the Cloaking Device yet. 🙂

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