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 Right On, Commander

File:EliteSaga 7602.jpg


Elite is a famous, popular (it eventually sold one copy of the BBC Micro version for every BBC Micro in the world at the time) and historically significant game, one of the earliest in the Wide Open Sandbox genre. It was written by David Braben and Ian Bell, and first released in 1984 for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron. In the game you start on Lave Station with 100 credits and a lightly armed trading ship, a Cobra Mark III. From here you seek fame, fortune and money via one of the many, many, different options open to you. You can:

  • Collect bounties, which is dangerous.
  • Become a pirate, which is more dangerous.
  • Trade, the different planets have different economy types and tech levels that make this surprisingly complex.
  • Perform military missions, when they come up and if you like death.
  • Mine asteroids, if you like comas.

The name derives from the exalted highest combat ranking a pilot can have. Many aspects of the game make it rather hard, there are no lives, save perhaps the painfully expensive escape pods, not all of the systems are friendly (some are run by pirates, what a pity they tend to have nice stuff to buy), while you can upgrade it a lot you can never sell your Cobra Mark III and a warship it ain't and then there is docking at space stations...

The game uses very realistic physics for the time, Space Is Most Certainly NOT An Ocean and really pushed the capabilities of the computers it was released on (which eventually became most of them). Many first time players made the error of treating it like a Shoot'Em Up, resulting in death (especially seeing as the first big shootable thing is the space station you just left, and the police tend to object to that).

One of the most amazing things is the sheer size of the game for an 8-bit computer. By using procedural generation the game manages to have 2048 different, predetermined and constant systems to visit across eight galaxies. (This did lead to a few issues, several planets can only be reached by inter-galactic hyperspace because they are too far from the other planets in the galaxy to jump to normally and intergalactic jumps are not cheap. Also the designers had to tweak the algorithm several times when a planet got a profane name via the generation method.)

Elite was one of the first home computer games to use wireframe 3D graphics with hidden line removal (also making it among the first ever true 3D games to be released). Another novelty was the inclusion of The Dark Wheel, a novella by Robert Holdstock which influenced new players with insight into the moral and legal codes which they might aspire to.

Frontier: Elite II and Frontier: First Encounters are later PC sequels by David Braben alone (the original authors having had a serious falling-out), with textured 3D graphics. Sadly, while First Encounters has good Newtonian physics (it was even possible to place a ship into proper orbit), it was an Obvious Beta. Various indie developers have hacked and modified the code to make it playable on modern systems, even going so far as to port the graphics engine to Open GL. One ambitious project, FFE-D3D, aims to rewrite the entire game with greatly improved graphics.

It has been cited as inspiration for Eve Online, Freelancer, Jumpgate, Infinity the Quest For Earth, Wing Commander: Privateer, the Escape Velocity series and the X series of space trading games, freeware Vega Strike (there's also "Elite Strike" mod, but its development seems to fall into dormancy). There is now also a free, open-source remake, Oolite (so named because it uses object-oriented programming), which has a fairly dedicated modding community.


Tropes featured include:

  • Ace Pilot: The eponymous Elite rankings (Harmless, Dangerous, Elite, etc.) are a metric to measure how much of one the player is.
  • Alliterative Family: The Duval dynasty from the sequels all have names starting with H.
  • Animal Theme Naming: Almost all ship types in Elite are named after snakes. Frontier adds lines of spaceships named after birds of prey (Falcon, Hawk, Eagle) and big cats (Lion, Tiger, Panther).
  • Asteroid Miners
  • Casual Interstellar Travel
  • Copy Protection: The fine [[[Feelies]] novella]] attached doubled as copy protection.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Averted, heavy enemy fire can destroy cargo and subsystems.
  • Deflector Shields: A necessity. Generators are stackable, not segmented.
  • Dogfighting Furballs: All three games of the series, you are a pilot of a small starship. All combat in Elite 1 and most combat in Elite 2: Frontier and Elite 3: Frontier First Encounters is either a dogfight (if you are attacked by a single enemy ship) or a furball (if there are several attackers). The game's title is a rank you achieve if you win a certain number of dogfights and furballs.
  • An Entrepreneur Is You: Commodity trading.
  • Fan Remake: Oolite.
  • Easy Logistics: Averted, fuel and missiles have to be replenished.
  • First-Person Snapshooter: Elite II has a class of military missions that involve taking pictures of an enemy installation on some uninhabited planet several light-years away.
  • Generation Ships: According to the manual, you can occasionally run across these. However, that's the only place they exist in the game.
  • Genre Popularizer: It paved the way for all 3D space simulators, and particularly space trading and open sandbox games.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: A trip into hyperspace (or witch-space, as the game calls it) puts you at risk from ambush from Thargoids, who have a technology which allows them to lurk there. In some versions of the game you can force a hyperdrive failure by holding full pitch and roll while jumping, but you'd have to be either suicidal or very well armed to attempt it.
  • Karl Marx Hates Your Guts:
    • Averted, to say the least. The point of a merchant-oriented game is to buy low and find a planet to sell high.
    • In the original game depending on the version, in the local planetary market buy prices are higher or equal than sell ones.
  • Lightspeed Leapfrog: the manual for the first Elite says you can encounter an ancient Generation Ship still flying to its destination in your Casual Interstellar Travels. You can't.
  • Intrepid Merchant: The player character is one of these, when not a Bounty Hunter or Pirate.
  • Invisibility Cloak: In Elite, pirate ships with one start to pop up after the player reachs "competent" . It can be retrieved once the enemy is destroyed. It drains the shields but it's a very powerful vital item in many versions, it allows to sucesfully fight against odds of Thargoids and swarms of pirates.
  • Military Mashup Machine: The Moray Star Boat.
  • Nonstandard Game Over: Docking in compromised stations is usually followed by this message "Ship boarded by pirates (or thargoids). They show no mercy"
  • "No Warping" Zone: It may be the Trope Codifier of "mass-locked" warp drives.
  • No Woman's Land: the Imperial Palace from Frontier and FFE. The Imperial House Duval even reproduces without women, utilizing some sort of artificial uteruses.
  • Obvious Beta: The third game was released behind the developers' backs, with several ugly bugs still present.
  • Old School Dogfighting: Especially in the first game; the sequels tried to have slightly more realistic physics.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: Some of the planets you can visit take this form.
  • Press Start to Game Over: Elite was a very complex game for its time with unheard intrincated features and a step learning curve even after studying the manual (in an era where five stock lines in the back cover of the game where the norm)
    • Beginning players must dock with space stations manually until they can afford to buy a docking computer for their ship. The catch is that all orbital space stations rotate, making said docking a hair-raising experience at best the first time it is attempted and causing a number of new pilots to plow into the station instead of flying into the docking bay.
    • Engaging pirates --or simply jump to a dangerous system- before being upgraded with advanced weapons, armor, scanners, or fuel injectors also tends to lead to disastrous results
    • Many a novice player applied arcade logic and shot the first thing in sight... the Coriolis space station that releases Viper Police like there is no tomorrow... Reality Ensues.
    • The ship does not change course nor enters the hyperspace after launch?, head-on planetary collision after a short while.
  • Procedural Generation: Used to generate not only worlds, but names, descriptions, and even prices of commodities, among many other innovations, by using the Fibonacci sequence.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: The original game uses "On The Beautiful Blue Danube" as docking music, in homage to 2001. The sequel adds in some other classical themes, including "Ride of the Valkyries".
  • Ramscoop: A purchasable option for your ship.
  • Randomly Generated Levels
  • Ramming Always Works: Only against small to medium ships, in exchange for dented shields.
  • Shout-Out
  • Sink the Life Boats: The game inadvertently encourages players to blow up ships' escape pods. You can't use your jump drive when the pod is within detection range, which means a long and tedious wait while you leave the area using thrusters. You can pick up the pod and sell the occupant as a slave, but that will leave you with a criminal record. So the convenient and consequence-free options are to shoot the pod or "accidentally" crash into it.
  • Space Fighter: The player is cast in the role of a Space Fighter pilot.
  • Space Friction: In earlier versions of the game, before the physics was improved.
  • Space Mines: The sequel games allow you to deploy them.
  • Space Pirates: There are pirates who attack you between hyperspace jump-points and your destination. Or you can become a pirate yourself.
  • Space Police: Viper spacecrafts in Elite.
  • Super-Persistent Missile: The higher-end missiles in the sequel games can't be stopped by any kind of ECM.
  • To Be a Master: The game's unstated goal is to achieve the eponymous "Elite" rating. Nothing particularly compels you to spend the relevant time Level Grinding to achieve this, but legitimately doing so earns some bragging rights.
  • Unwinnable By Mistake: There's one star-system, Oresrati in Galaxy 8, which is over 7 light-years from any other; hence, it is only reachable by Galactic Hyperspace (or the "unlimited hyperspace range" hack). It's of insufficient tech level to sell you another Galactic Hyperspace. If you're not using the "unlimited hyperspace range" hack and don't have a recent saved position, then you're basically screwed.
  • Urban Legend of Zelda: One of the all-time classics is the Mirage ship in Frontier: Elite II. They wound up chucking it into a secrets guide (complete with made-up specifications) and added a Mirage II into Elite III: Frontier II: First Encounters.
  • Updated Rerelease: Elite Plus for PC, with added features and improved graphics. Coded by Chris Sawyer of Transport Tycoon and Rollercoaster Tycoon fame
  • Vaporware: Elite IV has been a classic poster child of this trope for years.
  • Vendor Trash: The basis of the merchant and pirate occupations.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment: The game lets you blow up friendly ships and even steal their cargo from the wreckage. However, such acts of piracy earn you a legal status of "Fugitive", which means that every police ship and bounty hunter in the game will attack you on sight. And attacking a Space Station is near suicidal, as you will quickly find yourself facing the planet's entire fleet of police vessels.
    • You could also scoop up escape pods and sell the occupants as slaves.
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future
  • Wide Open Sandbox: The Ur-example
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Some worlds have rather unusual notions of waste. One, Cemeiss, pays traders a small sum to remove gemstones and a rather larger one to remove precious metals from their worlds. Woe betide anyone who brings any such materials into the Cemeiss system... they're promptly fined for smuggling waste.
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