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Classic Games (Games) Games

Elite Turns 25 159

Posted by Soulskill
from the three-one-three-three-seven dept.
satellite17 writes "The BBC notes that the classic space combat / trading sim Elite is 25 years old today. Elite was one of the first 3D games produced for a home computer and also one of the first open-ended games. Odd as it sounds now, this meant that even though it was popular with friends of the creators, David Braben and Ian Bell, they initially struggled to find a publisher. 'They just didn't get it; they wanted a high score and they wanted players to have three lives,' Braben said. It is also credited with influencing quite a few modern classics."
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Elite Turns 25

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  • I wish they'd get working on Elite 4. :(

  • by flydpnkrtn (114575) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @01:06AM (#29500599)

    Until Elite 4 comes out (ahem, cough) Infinity: Quest for Earth looks to be its spiritual successor (yes there's seamless space travel to planetside, as showcased in the trailer)

    Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fp8WOCuR_pQ [youtube.com]

    Site: http://www.infinity-universe.com/Infinity/ [infinity-universe.com]

    Can't wait for this to come out... Frontier First Encouters with a DirectX engine just isn't cutting it anymore....

    • ... if you could actually figure out how to play it that is...

      • by flydpnkrtn (114575) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @01:23AM (#29500685)

        X3 doesn't have seamless planetside travel, does it? I think the last review I read said it didn't... although technically that means I'm looking for a "Frontier: Elite II" or "Frontier First Encounters" successor... the original Elite had no planetside stuff

        Until the day I can warp into a system, take my ship that's in space 10,000 AU from the nearest planet, point it at that blue looking planet over yonder (all the while dealing with Newtonian physics), and fly down to the surface (without cutscenes or whatever), then fly around some mountains, notice a weird looking tribe staring at me, then fly back out to space I won't consider a game Elite's successor.

        Yea I'm a little bit religious about a damn good realistic game set in space

        • by lennier (44736)

          "warp into a system, take my ship that's in space 10,000 AU from the nearest planet, point it at that blue looking planet over yonder (all the while dealing with Newtonian physics)"

          That might take some time [tads.org]... perhaps you want to handwave in some non-Newtonian (and non-Einsteinian) physics instead?

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Dahamma (304068)

            Ehhhh... I think with the statement "warp into a system" he has already decided he wants to add in some non-Newtonian physics... (though it would have been nice if he noticed that ;)

            In practice, he wants what everyone wants with the holy grail of space sims - seamless transitions between extraplanatary, solar system, and terrestrial environments. Ideally with seamless transitions between "inside the ship" and "outside the ship", whether it's on a space station, planet, or just ejected into the void. Hones

          • by Toonol (1057698) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @02:14AM (#29500949)
            That was actually emulated in the game. If you accelerated to Pluto from Earth at 1g, it would take (approximately) a realistic amount of time to reach it.

            What made it bearable were two concessions: You could alter the flow of time in the game, when nothing interesting was happening, so hours would tick by like seconds... and ships could accelerate at (ahem) hundreds of g's. So it had some outlandish elements, but the mechanics were thoroughly Newtonian.

            It was beautiful. You could thrust toward Saturn, then cut your engines, point any direction, and just slingshot around... start accelerating again when you're headed at the sun, to approach the Earth. I would buy a modern equivalent, even if it wasn't a game at all, just a space flight sim. With the same infinite number of procedurally generated solar systems.
            • by Toonol (1057698)
              Bad form to reply to myself, I know, but I wanted to point out: If you allow high acceleration, the solar system becomes remarkable small. At 100g, Pluto is only about 6-10 days away.

              That's why planetary exploration should be done by AIs loaded into high thrust nuclear rockets... as soon as we get AIs and high thrust nuclear rockets.
              • by TheLink (130905)
                > That's why planetary exploration should be done by AIs loaded into high thrust nuclear rockets

                In the time it takes for us to get AIs and high thrust nuclear rockets, we could send a fair number of robots to Pluto a few times :).

                Anyway, I think we should figure out how to make space stations with artificial "gravity" and decent radiation shielding. Once we work that and other little details out, it doesn't matter how long it takes to travel. You could then build a space colony where humans can live in i
              • by julesh (229690)

                That's why planetary exploration should be done by AIs loaded into high thrust nuclear rockets... as soon as we get AIs and high thrust nuclear rockets.

                Even then, accelerating at 100g for 6 days is implausible, due to the fuel mass requirements. Even with just a 1kg payload, your fuel to accelerate it is going to weigh millions of tonnes.

                This is why I prefer Elite's original solution to the problem, the jump drive: point in the right direction and engage a non-newtonian drive that stops working when you're

                • by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @03:23AM (#29501217)

                  Indeed... and Newtonian manoeuvring just doesn't work too well in the human brain.

                  Movies depicting space travel with Newtonian manoeuvring are regarded as artsy. Movies with "etheric rudder" (to borrow the Star Wars term) have exciting space battles.

                  Battlestar Galactica (the original) used etheric rudder. The re-imaging was Newtonian, but got away with it by making things about strategy rather than tactics (and people rather than ships), and obscuring combat in a haze of gunsmoke and camera shake.

                  Games are the same way. Playing I-War is hard. Playing the X-Wing series isn't easy, but the curve is less steep, because it's like air combat, but the vector of gravity has been removed, simplifying the flight model.

                  I was certainly impressed by the Newtonian mechanics in the Frontier series, but I enjoyed the combat in Elite a lot more.

                  Space combat with laser weapons in a world of Newtonian mechanics just isn't interesting, because it consists of

                  • Close to optimal range (this being close enough to be in weapons range but far away enough that your opponent can't accelerate laterally out of your weapon reticle)
                  • Fire

                  Victory is entirely determined by who has the most power behind their shields and lasers. You spend the majority of your time in the early stages of Frontier avoiding combat because you'll be whiffed out of existence like a water balloon hitting the sun. Then when you have enough cash to beef up your ship, you are effectively untouchable.

                  Short-range particle bolt weapons and etheric rudder may not be realistic, but they are a lot more fun.

                  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @05:29AM (#29501695)

                    This is why the "realistic" space sim zealots will never be happy. If a company ever actually gave them the game they wanted, one that was truly realistic as per our current understanding of physics and such, it'd be way too boring to actually play. They do not actually want what they believe they want. Goes double since realistically, a pilot would have almost nothing to do with combat. A computer would be doing all the controlling, the pilot would simply press a button to let it know that it was weapons free.

                    We already see this with air craft today. When a pilot goes on a bombing run, they don't fly the plane, it flys itself. Its route has been programmed in to the on board navigation computer. The plane lets them know when they are near the target, and when to signal for bomb release. When they do signal, it doesn't actually drop the bombs, just lets the computer know that it is allowed to drop the bombs when it calculates the time to be right. The bombs then guide themselves according to their navigation computers, as the plane moves on.

                    This sort of thing would apply to space combat to an even larger degree. A computer would be handling all the complex aspects of moving the ship and aiming the weapons, a human would only specify targets and destinations and such.

                    So thanks but no thanks, I'll take highly unrealistic, fun games.

                    • by grumbel (592662)

                      it'd be way too boring to actually play.

                      Then the game design was crap. Games do not get boring when you use realistic physics, they get boring when you cram realistic physics into gameplay that was designed for StarWars-type physics. The reason why space flight with lasers can't work with real physics in a game is simply that it can't work in reality either. Physics in space just aren't any good to emulate normal airplane behavior. The solution of course is to simply go away from completly unrealistic gameplay situations and back to something mor

                    • by duguk (589689)

                      We already see this with air craft today. When a pilot goes on a bombing run, they don't fly the plane, it flys itself. Its route has been programmed in to the on board navigation computer. The plane lets them know when they are near the target, and when to signal for bomb release.

                      That'd be a simulation, not a "realistic space" game.

                    • This sort of thing would apply to space combat to an even larger degree. A computer would be handling all the complex aspects of moving the ship and aiming the weapons, a human would only specify targets and destinations and such.

                      So thanks but no thanks, I'll take highly unrealistic, fun games. ...except that it is fun, but EVE is about politics more than Newtonian physics simulation.

                      You as the pilot simply set destination and targets and when to fire, but you'd be amazed at the complexity of the game.

                      You o

                    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                      by ogdenk (712300)

                      This is why the "realistic" space sim zealots will never be happy. If a company ever actually gave them the game they wanted, one that was truly realistic as per our current understanding of physics and such, it'd be way too boring to actually play.

                      BS. There's a reason MS Flight Simulator succeeded though it was rather boring to most people. There's a reason IL-2 Sturmovik is still making money. Realistic sims sell, just to a much smaller niche market. Boring for you and other 12 yr olds? Probably. Most of them can't even get a plane off the ground in IL2.

                      http://www.fasterlight.com/exoflight/ [fasterlight.com]

                      Exoflight is a sim based on realistic newtonian physics. Kinda fun. No combat. Space Combat by the X-Plane guys is fun too but the "combat" part is lame

                    • by Sibko (1036168)

                      This is why the "realistic" space sim zealots will never be happy. If a company ever actually gave them the game they wanted, one that was truly realistic as per our current understanding of physics and such, it'd be way too boring to actually play.

                      As one of those "Space Realism Zealots" I can tell you flat out that you're wrong. Realism doesn't make the game boring, it makes the game different, and what I'm seeing you do, is equating different with bad.

                      A good example of how you can make realistic space combat fun would be the tabletop wargame Attack Vector: Tactical [adastragames.com]. Here [adastragames.com] are [adastragames.com] some [adastragames.com] battle reports to give an idea what it plays like.

                      Heck, the biggest complaint against AV:T has more to do with the rules being fairly complex than anything about the

                  • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                    by Sockatume (732728)

                    My combat algorithm was somewhat less refined than yours. I couldn't keep track of the enemy in flight, so I developed:

                    1) Lock autopilot onto enemy
                    2) a) If enemy is flying away, shoot at him.
                    2) b) If enemy is shooting at me, break lock and fly in another direction until he stops
                    2) c) If enemy launches missile, lock on autopilot, shoot, and hope missile bites it
                    3) If enemy is still alive, return to 1

                    As you can probably guess, about half of my encounters resulted in mutual destruction by collision.

                    • I think I was idealising it somewhat .. perhaps it would have been like that if it had been better balanced...

                      In actuality I remember pretty much what you describe.

                      It didn't help that most of the ships had reaction drives capable of of fairly excessive acceleration ; I think they topped out at about 12g. Again, human brains are optimized for lower accelerations. And because there was no upper limit on relative velocity, there was a lot of "jousting". And if you used the autopilot, collisions :-).

                  • Space combat with laser weapons in a world of Newtonian mechanics just isn't interesting, because it consists of

                    Victory is entirely determined by who has the most power behind their shields and lasers. You spend the majority of your time in the early stages of Frontier avoiding combat because you'll be whiffed out of existence like a water balloon hitting the sun. Then when you have enough cash to beef up your ship, you are effectively untouchable.

                    Short-range particle bolt weapons and etheric rudder may not

                • Even then, accelerating at 100g for 6 days is implausible, due to the fuel mass requirements

                  Isn't that a matter of the type of energy conversion?

                  If we use an 2H_2 + O_2 => 2 H_2O reaction we get about 1.56×10^7 J/kg of energy.
                  If we use nuclear fission, we get about 1.5×10^13 J/kg
                  If we use nuclear fusion, we get about 6.3×10^14 J/kkg
                  If we use matter-antimatter, we get 9×10^16 J/kg

                  The gains in energy density results in a massive reduction of weight (or increase of payload).

                  Now, I tried

                  • by julesh (229690)

                    Even then, accelerating at 100g for 6 days is implausible, due to the fuel mass requirements

                    Isn't that a matter of the type of energy conversion?

                    IANARS (I am not a rocket scientist), but I do know a little about the field, so take this with a small pinch of salt:

                    Energy balancing is the wrong approach here, as you can quite easily violate fundamental limits without noticing it when performing the calculation in this fashion. It comes more down to the requirement that the acceleration of the ship be produced

                    • by julesh (229690)

                      I wrote: For Isp here

                      Ahem. What I meant to write was:

                      For Isp < 2.55e8 (ie 85% of the speed of light) this is actually unattainable (the mass of the non-fuel portions of the ship would need to be negative).

                      There's a handy table of Isp for some thruster technologies, both real and proposed, here [projectrho.com].

                    • So, even with this fundamentally implausible drive method, we still need to carry nearly 7 times as much fuel as mass of the rest of the ship.

                      Is that necessarily a big issue?

                      If we go back to matter+anti-matter reactions, you'd need some matter to annihilate. Any human expedition will have to carry food and water in large quantities, and if we can annihilate the human waste directly, we can save weight on toilet facilities. If we use large amounts of water as a shield against radiation, we get "free" radiati

                • I could've sworn it was called time compression back in Elite. That must've come in with Frontier.

            • space flight sim

              Have you tried Celestia [shatters.net]? It does have some rudimentary flight controls. Probably not exactly what you're after but might be a bit of fun. And it's FOSS, so there's chance for a fully-blown space flight sim.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by mike2R (721965)
          Yeah X3 isn't ideal if you want a believable space simulator - no Newtonian physics, no planets you can visit, tiny crowded playing area (compared to reality - it's a very big game area in an absolute sense). I've heard it described as a submarine sim with space graphics, which is fair enough all things considered.

          That said I absolutely love the game, and do think of it as the spiritual successor to Elite (and even Frontier). The amount of stuff you can do in the game, from trading, to fighting, to salv
          • Hmm reading over your description maybe I'll get a box together capable of running X3... it does sound pretty good

            • by mike2R (721965)
              If you want something to whet your appetite there is a fantasticly well written gameplay AAR: Squiddy McSquid's possibly short life [egosoft.com].

              Spoilers abound (but you need to spoil yourself quite a bit to learn X3 anyway IMO) and it is written for other players, so some of it may not make much sense for someone who hasn't played the game. It should give you a real idea of the possibilities of the game however - the author is an inveterate pirate, which makes for good reading, he is also very, very good at the game
              • I just read the first post (damn cliffhangers!) but yea, appetite successfully whetted :) I'll read the rest after work

                X3 definitely does have the Elite feel from what I've seen... I really love being able to fly down to a planet seamlessly though... it really cranks up the "suspense of disbelief" factor IMO

                I played Vendetta Online for a while, but the skyboxes didn't do it for me (you can see the planet and other stuff off in the distance, but don't you dare try to fly to it or anything - you're in a box,

                • by mike2R (721965)
                  Just to be clear - I don't want to be the cause of you upgrading your system under false pretenses :)

                  The X3 games are sector based games, so there are over 200 sectors connected together by Stargate-style jumpgates. Each sector, while technically unlimited in size, has all its interesting things within a box that varies between about 60km a side to 300km a side (with a few things scattered off the beaten track to reward the curious). To give you an idea, here is an X3:TC Universe Map [x3tc.ru] (I wouldn't study i
          • by Reapy (688651)

            Oh nice description. I have x3:runion collecting dust. I liked the idea of it and got all psyched up to play it, but the upfront work confused the living hell out of me and I kind of let it just go before I could really get myself into it. That and securom! :) I'll take a look at the terran conflict game since I didn't catch its release or anything. Thanks!

            • by mike2R (721965)
              heh, I really do know what you mean. To be honest TC isn't much better than Reunion when it comes to the whole WTF?? element when first playing. It still has the same gotchas, reading newbie forum posts you get the same list of questions over and over, eg:

              Why can't I hit anything with my lasers?
              - You need to buy Fight Command Software Mk 1 and then toggle the autoaim on. Oh and this doesn't work with the mouse button controlled firing which aims at your cursor (new in TC IIRC) but only with the bore-sig
        • by joss (1346)

          You need earthsim2 .. it's in alpha right now though, but it's sweeeeeeeeet http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xwGucH-e_o [youtube.com]

        • I sat down for a few hours with a friend a while back and detailed the level of realism we'd like to see in a successor to Frontier. We drilled right down to surface transportation, with the freedom to trade goods at that level. While we were both programmers, it was a tall order, and we never really began the project; although I have memories of writing a mockup of a detailed trading system.

          The intent was to have the player begin planetside, and earn their way to escape velocity. Players would be able to o

      • by kisak (524062)
        And X3 can be run natively on your linux box: X3: Reunion [tuxgames.com]
        • by click2005 (921437)

          One game that really should have been patched to support multiple cores fully.
          The rest of the galaxy (out of sector) could have been done really well on extra cores.
          Or even better, an add-on to support offloading OOS processing to networked machines too.

    • by Carewolf (581105)

      Too bad it is a MOO, so it will never be a fun game to play. Just a space grind.

      • Yes I actually remember seeing a lot of people on Infinity's forum gnashing their teeth because it will be MMO... hopefully that doesn't sap all the fun out of it...

    • I found this video showing off combat [youtube.com].

      Made me think "damn, I would love to see what a Serenity (Firefly) type battlescene would be like in that engine.

      Hundreds of ships, big and small on either side just duking it out and you in the middle trying to get to the space port on the planed.

      Lol ... just got to the end where the pilot docks the plane. Now that's a neat trick - don't think it'd work so well with a carrier group though.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TheRaven64 (641858)
      There are a few games I'd call the spiritual successor to Elite:

      Oolite [oolite.org] is the most obvious one. It faithfully recreates the Elite gameplay, but updates the graphics (slightly) and provides a simple way for others to expand the game. It is basically what you would end up with if you tried to write Elite (rather than 'some space trading/combat game') today.

      Vega Strike [sourceforge.net] has broadly the same gameplay mechanics as Elite, but is much richer; lots of different things to trade, different things available at diff

      • by Kazymyr (190114)

        I concur on Vega Strike. Been following its development for years, it's actively developed and maintained, with an active base of players/beta-testers, and of course it's open source so if you want you can fork it and customize any way you want. And of course it has been very playable for years. Only wish it were more widely known.

      • Vega Strike is a good open source example... good point. I heard they're working on moving to Ogre too... should be interesting. I played around with Vega Strike a couple of years ago, but it felt like it hadn't "cooked" long enough so to speak

        http://vegastrike.sourceforge.net/wiki/Development:Ogre [sourceforge.net]

  • by Techman83 (949264) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @01:18AM (#29500663)
    It was something that I thought was a bit more recent phenomenon. But it seems that once a market becomes "established" that it becomes tougher to get people to invest in an idea that isn't safe. And it just goes to show what a significant impact that this game had on the industry and what a shame it would have been if they had given up.
    • by 4D6963 (933028)

      it becomes tougher to get people to invest in an idea that isn't safe

      Yeah, maybe cause ideas that are not safe are not safe. Innovative ideas are a crapshoot, no matter how brilliant it seems you can't tell if it's going to stick or not.

      • by Techman83 (949264)
        True enough, but taking it to a more personal notch, some of my riskiest decisions have brought about the biggest rewards and some of them failed epically. I couldn't imagine me being happy, stuck in some dead end job back home, instead I'm on the other side of the country, well on the way to getting married, recently purchased a house etc. etc.

        Sometimes the safe bet isn't the right bet
        • by 4D6963 (933028)

          Yep, I know what you mean, I myself have taken risky bets that have paid off. But it's usually hard to convince anyone to take a piece of your own risk pie.

    • How much did Elite cost to make? Two guys, working for a few months? Lots of companies now are prepared to make that kind of gamble. It's the kind of gamble where you have teams of over a hundred artists, programmers, musicians, animators, and so on all working for a year or more that they are more hesitant.
      • 1984 was a very long time ago, and only a couple of years into the mainstream home computer market. Perhaps the investment now needed in hundred of programmers & graphics artists is the equivalent of a company committing to produce 10,000 cassettes and a marketing campaign. Hugely different scales of investment, but the same question - will people like this? Back then, it's easy to see why there was doubt, every other game seemed to be a simple shoot-em-up. Even if I think of luminaries such as Ocean So
  • by GreatDrok (684119) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @01:21AM (#29500675) Journal

    I remember getting Elite on my BBC Model B back in '84 on cassette. It took quite a while to load but was well worth it. When I upgraded my machine with Opus DDOS and an 800K double sided, double density 5 1/4" floppy drive I was able to get the floppy version which loaded my more quickly. You really needed the analogue controller too. I stuck an old Scalextric controller on top of mine to give me a full hand grip and I could fly rings around other ships.

    I tried other versions like the C=64 and PC versions but they really didn't work as well as the version for the BBC despite the fact that there was little use of colour (only the dash) but the mode 4 high resolution monochrome graphics were much crisper and animation was faster on the BBC than other platforms. The BBC Micro was a real gem for quality games. The versions of arcade games like PacMan, Defender, Scramble and so on were in many ways better than their arcade equivalent. The BBC had some really nice hardware acceleration features such as hardware scrolling (both vertical and horizontal) and a very configurable video ULA which is how they were able to do the mode switching part way down the screen in Elite where it switched from mode 4 (320x256 1 bit colour) to mode 5 (160x256 2 bit colour).

    It was a real slog to get to "Elite" but worth the journey. Very few games today are anything like as enjoyable despite the improvements in technology. I guess GTAIII was the first time since Elite I had anything like the same feeling of freedom and the thrill of just being bad.

    • by Goffee71 (628501)
      Atari ST version was lovely though - spent years on and off watching those shaded little Cobras and Kraits whizzing about.

      Always waiting for the magic trip into Witchspace
    • i seem to remember the electron version loaded off the tape in an astonishingly quick time. Faster than all the other acornsoft games... maybe my memory is faulty...
    • It looks like a super-deluxe version of Star Raiders from the Atari 8-bit. Or is that a bad analogy?
  • by Errtu76 (776778) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @01:27AM (#29500711) Journal

    FTA:

    "We crafted every single byte and would work for hours just to free up three or four bytes so we could put in a new feature or ability.

    "That level of concentration on things have been lost today when you have things that are many megabytes or even gigabytes in size," he added.

    I wish more developers would do this with today's games. Then perhaps i wouldn't have to upgrade my computer so often when i wanted to play a new game. I know the article only mentioned memory usage, but i'm sure this goes for cpu / video power as well.

    • by Spit (23158)

      Personal computers back then were more akin to consoles with keyboards, with a standard configuration and hardware features making it possible to optimize.

      • by Haeleth (414428)

        That simply isn't true -- at least, not of the BBC Micro, which came in a number of different configurations and was easily upgraded.

        And just how many models of Apple II were there, again?

        And let's not even get into the MSX, which was produced in dozens of variations by different manufacturers.

    • by Xest (935314) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @05:24AM (#29501683)

      Yes, and then you also wouldn't see games released for about 10 years too.

      The kind of memory and CPU cycles you can free up by these kinds of optimizations, compared to the amount of memory and cycles available just makes it not even worth it. The amount of time required to do this level of optimisation on games of the size and complexity we have today would add many years to development time.

      This coupled with the fact that compilers nowadays do a better job on the fly than most developers can anyway means it's really a pipe dream to have all your games completely and thoroughly hand optimised from start to finish, and amusingly you'd likely only see a couple of fps benefit, and maybe a few mb of memory savings. It's just not justifiable.

      From a commercial standpoint it would be suicidal too, everyone else would be developing as normal, and by the time you'd finally released your perfectly hand optimised game, the optimisations would be irrelevant as your game would be 5 - 10 years old and everyone would've bought far more powerful PCs anyway.

      If upgrading your PC is a problem, and you're not bothered about the above side effect of having games behind the times that hand optimisation of a complete game would cause, why not just buy last gen games rather than trying to play all the latest and greatest?

      The fact is, those skills have been lost for a reason- they're just not important in modern game development where the pressure is on to produce ever more code and content than before and where that level of optimisation offers so little benefit when taken with the fact most game/renedering libraries (DirectX, OpenGL), and most compilers ensure this optimisation is done for you already where it matters. I certainly think we're at risk of losing low level programmers, and that's not a good thing, but this is certainly not an area where their loss matters- I'm more concerned about the loss of people who can do low level stuff to support reverse engineering of DRM, proprietary protocols and that sort of thing.

      This is not to say games don't need optimisation at all, of course they do, there is still plenty of scope for that, but to hand craft each byte of content and machine code? Not worth it.

      • The quote I always think of when people demand this kind of optimisation is from the STANTEC Zebra's programmers' manual, explaining that the 150 instruction limit for Simple Code programs is not a significant problem, 'because no program longer than 150 could possibly be debugged'. The BBC Model B had 32KB of RAM; that's 32KB for the game code, the frame buffer, and all of the data. When a program is that small, it's entirely feasible to spend some time working on every single byte.
      • by ShakaUVM (157947)

        >>This is not to say games don't need optimisation at all, of course they do, there is still plenty of scope for that, but to hand craft each byte of content and machine code? Not worth it.

        I remember going to a talk held by the SOE people in San Diego back in the Everquest days, and they said that just saving one byte off one of their status updates would save them X millions of dollars every year in bandwidth costs. So they really did inspect and handcraft every bit that went out over the network.

    • by mikael (484)

      Back then, your 6502/Z80 home computer had around 64K RAM at most. 8K to 16K of that would be for the OS. The screen would take 8K. That leaves you with 32K of bytes to play with. Instructions would take anything from 1 to 3 bytes, so you could write at most 30,000 instructions.

      You are going to need to reserve some memory for your graphics library (drawing points, line, triangles, text, pixelmaps, circles and ellipses). You can't use floating point maths, so will need your own fixed point 16-bit library for

  • by D4C5CE (578304) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @01:28AM (#29500723)
    ...by another unsung hero: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/4127/the_history_of_star_raiders_.php?page=2 [gamasutra.com]

    Doug Neubauer's Star Raiders, a 1979 game for the Atari 8-bit line of personal computers, is a shining example of what happens when a developer is told that something can't be done, does it anyway, and then is promptly forgotten for having done it. Star Raiders is one of those rare games that can truly be said to have been ahead of its time.

  • by thewils (463314) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @01:35AM (#29500757) Journal

    If you launched, then spun round and re-entered the dock hitting hyperspace at the same time, you appeared, docked, at your destination.

    Saved all that tedious trading until you could buy lots of weapons etc.

    • by julesh (229690)

      If you launched, then spun round and re-entered the dock hitting hyperspace at the same time, you appeared, docked, at your destination.

      Saved all that tedious trading until you could buy lots of weapons etc.

      That wasn't the only bug in the Spectrum version. It also let you save your game from the screen that appeared after you had died; if you did this, then reloaded it, you would appear inside the station in the system you died in, with full cargo etc.

    • by Kazymyr (190114)

      That's not a bug, that's a feature!

      I used this "feature" countless times to get a new pilot started, you know, get enough credits to buy decent equipment instead of getting blown out of the sky on the first trip. Good ole times.

    • To go one step further on the Spectrum when you loaded the game for the first time, rather then starting the game hit save instead. Then load that back in and you had max amount of cash and elite status.

      • by Kazymyr (190114)

        Cool, I played for so many years and didn't know this. Of course, the catch is that you also become a fugitive, and the sun you're orbiting around is going nova... (yeah, I just had to try it)

  • by chrispatch (578882) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @01:35AM (#29500763)

    I found oolite a year or two ago and was amazed at how much fun this game still is!

  • My C=64 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nethead (1563) <joe@nethead.com> on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @01:50AM (#29500837) Homepage Journal

    If there is one thing I miss about my old C64, it's Elite. I lost many, many hours on that game. How they built such a large universe on such a small platform I'll never figure out. Thanks guys!

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Seeding! The huge universe was generated, procedurally, from a one-byte-or-so seed. The procedure is deterministic so the universe always turns out the same provided the seed is the same, but it's essentially arbitrary.

    • by julesh (229690)

      If there is one thing I miss about my old C64, it's Elite. I lost many, many hours on that game. How they built such a large universe on such a small platform I'll never figure out.

      It was all produced from a random number generator. Ian Bell has released C source code [clara.net] that's equivalent to the original 6502 assembly version, if you really want to know.

  • Thargoids. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @02:06AM (#29500911)

    ...they were real?

    Well, yeah, they were. You just had to have played long enough.

    It took me a long time (Apple ][ version) before I encountered them by chance. Still wasn't sure it was real the next morning. Then a couple of weeks later, the Galactic Navy found me. Had some papers they wanted delivered.

    And then "Thargoids. Why'd it have to be Thargoids?"

    It wasn't a story arc by modern standards -- but after countless hours of play that stood on their own as just plain fun -- to have something like that pop out of nowhere, and to have the rarest "random encounter" spawn chase me more than halfway across the galaxy... was something I remember to this day.

    It wasn't until DOOM came out that I had dreams about a video game.

    Happy 25th, Elite. I still have that Apple ][, and I'm digging out that disk this weekend.

    • Thargoids attacked me the first time I used the galactic hyperdrive. As soon as I appeared in real space again, they fired at me and destroyed my ship in about three seconds. I didn't use a galactic hyperdrive for a long time afterward as a result of that; I assumed all ships in the second galaxy would be like that...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    but plagued by mutant tree frogs.

  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @03:36AM (#29501263) Journal

    ...you may like Oolite, an Elite tribute. It has the goodness that ArcElite has too - it is not player centric, you can encounter epic battles (I've seen three or four distinct groups of ships battling it out, with the Police mixed in there too). The game is open source (GPL) and expandable with expansion packs (so now you can have Generation Ships and Space Dredgers, as well as scenes from the Dark Wheel like the Tionisla Orbital Graveyard). It's available for OSX, Linux and Windows (it was originally developed for OSX).

    http://oolite.aegidian.org/ [aegidian.org]

    Latest version is 1.73, and there is a wiki for the game at http://wiki.alioth.net/ [alioth.net]

    • by Dynamoo (527749)
      Absolutely.. Oolite is brilliant! And the expansion packs are great too :) I'd mod you up if I could!
    • I've been wanting an Elite clone for some years now... never worked out whether Vega Strike was that; it always ran too slow.

      sudo apt-get install oolite

      Oolite, moreover, is in the Ubuntu repositories! Clearly someone out there is thinking...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I went and downloaded it.

      First it tried to install into c:\oolite, completely disrespecting the past fifteen years of application development for Windows. I have no idea where it's going to save files, but I'm willing to bet it's not nowhere near my profile folder.

      After it got installed, it opened a readme file that said how to edit .GNUstepDefaults (what?) and somewhere near the end of the file - which I can't find anymore - it said that exiting the game is done through Shift+Escape (huh?), plus a whole bu

  • Great Elite article (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ZosoZ (1603973) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @03:56AM (#29501341) Homepage Journal

    Francis Spufford's book The Backroom Boys has a chapter about the creation of Elite, and a fair chunk of it is on The Guardian's website [guardian.co.uk]. One of my favourite bits is, after they came up with the procedural method for creating the universe, how they picked the seed:

    "Braben and Bell called the starting number for a galaxy "a seed" and, in truth, creating the game this way was more like gardening than deliberately constructing something. You had to plant the seed and see what grew. It was another sense in which they were ceding direct control over the game in favour of working indirectly on the player's experience. But they did want to start the player off in a reasonably friendly bit of space, where the pickings were good and they wouldn't get instantly clobbered. Since there was no way to edit a galaxy, you just had to try galaxy after galaxy, seed after seed, until something suitable grew. "I remember thinking it was very wasteful," Braben says. "You'd type in a number, a birthday or something, and see what galaxy that came out with. 'No, I don't like that. No, I don't like that. That cluster looks horrible'." They also decided they had better check the 256 system names in the galaxy where the player would be plunked down, in case any of the four-letter words were actually four-letter words. "One of the first galaxies we tried had a system called Arse. We couldn't use the whole galaxy. We just threw it away!""

  • Now your have kill Thargoid invasion craft, until your hyperdrive get fixed. That game eat months of my childhood.

    ---

    3D Shooter Games [feeddistiller.com] @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

  • ...then watch the musical [clara.net]!

    No, really, go and look --- it was written by Aiden Bell (Ian Bell's brother) and Brian Phillips. Okay, you are going to have to stage it yourself, but the full book's there.

    There's lots of other good stuff on Ian Bell's Elite website [clara.net], including versions for most microcomputers, actual source code for the original BBC Micro version (which is damn scary, by the way), concept art, lots of reviews and interviews, a version of the trading engine written in C that's compatible with

  • by Tom (822) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @07:01AM (#29502043) Homepage Journal

    'They just didn't get it; they wanted a high score and they wanted players to have three lives,'

    Funny how that drives games development until this day. It's not 3 lives, but in the MMO market, for example, few dare to deviate from the "Level 60 cap, classes, crafting and grinding" concept. And those that do are almost always the minor players.

  • Missions (Score:3, Funny)

    by MtlDty (711230) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @07:27AM (#29502165)

    I cant even begin to imagine how many hours my younger brother and I put into this game on the C64. I was hooked from the start, with the fabulous novella that came in the instruction manual. I pity those that only ever had a pirate version, the box set/manual/novella were a huge help in fuelling the imagination.

    I still remember the day though when I came back home and my brother said 'oh I was playing Elite and it said something about 'Do you want to accept this mission' so I said no'
    He still has imprints of my hands around his neck. I never ever saw a mission appear when I was playing.

    Anyone else get through the missions? They still remain one of the greatest mysteries around that game to me.

  • by Thumper_SVX (239525) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @10:33AM (#29503775) Homepage

    Not strictly on topic... but Elite is mentioned and I just have to post this as this entire thread reminded me of the following animation;

    http://www2.b3ta.com/heyhey16k/heyhey16k.swf [b3ta.com]

    Awesome... and good old days. Damn... now I'm going to fill the rest of my week of vacation playing Oolite... thanks, Slashdot :P

  • I must say that Elite is one of the earliest computer games I played on a PC. I never managed to get the C64 version which is a shame, but around the time I (or my parents rather) upgraded my C64 to a new PC (a nice shiny 486 20Mhz with 2MB of RAM and an 80MB hard drive), Wal-mart had a ton of their old stock of PC games on the floor clearances for $2 each. I remember getting Elite and Millenium from that stash, and both were a blast. There may have been an old Commander Keen game in there too - can't

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