Life among the Elite

Elite BBC micro screenshot Diary date: 11th April, 1985

The more I look back and forward between the years that bookend followthehumming – currently 1985 and 2013 – the more I find stories that run satisfyingly parallel to mine. Seminal 1980s computer game Elite is a case in point.

My 1985 diary for this week raves about a happy afternoon spent with a friend marvelling at everything about Elite – from  graphics to gameplay to storyline. I’d never seen anything like it.

The premise was simple. You started the game as a novice pilot in a basic ‘Cobra’ spaceship which you flew between far-flung galaxies, trading a variety of commodities as you went and avoiding – or joining – bands of trigger-happy pirates. There were a total of eight galaxies in the game – each with 256 planets in them – and each planet had its own economy, political system, market pricing and lots more. You flew, fought and navigated your ship using a three-dimensional radar and traded or blasted your way up a series of levels in the hope of gaining elusive elite status.

All told, Elite required about 22k of memory on my friend’s BBC microcomputer. These days, that’s less than most of the emails people send me, and about 400 times smaller than a single still image taken on my digital camera.

Even then, I knew I was looking at something very special, and I wasn’t the only one who was impressed. In 1980s terms, Elite sold in massive numbers. With its wireframe 3D, open-ended gameplay and a host of other innovations, it was widely regarded as breaking new ground, and its role in the history of video games was quickly assured.

Engage your Cobra’s hyperdrive to jump forward to 2013, and it turns out that the Elite story is about to enter a new phase. Original co-creator David Braben has been financing an updated version using crowdsourced funding website kickstarter – which allows people to pledge money to support creative projects. When the proposal for an updated Elite reached its funding goal on the 4th January this year, 25,681 fans and potential investors had raised a total of £1,587,316 – with individual contributions of anywhere between £5 and £5,000.  Braben promises a new version of the game – Elite: Dangerous – in 2014.

Who knows, after following the whole thing this far, I might just treat myself to a copy 🙂


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