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Elite: Dangerous


hogso
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Touted for many years, begged for by fans for over a quarter of a century...has the time for a current gen Elite sequel come at last?

Elite sequel Kickstarter goes live

They want $2/£1.25m for what essentially appears to be, quite simply, a like for like reboot of Elite and Frontier but using modern tech ofc. The project page explains how, on a 16 bit computer, they were able to replicate a model of the Milky Way galaxy, including ~100,000,000,000 star systems, so imagine what would be possible on todays computers.

It's a game from before my time, but is something I've heard so much about since I did start gaming that it almost feels like I have actually played the original, which I never did. The Kickstarter runs until Jan, and although it's not something I'm as excited about as the new Broken Sword (which was also Kickstarted recently), I may stick a little pledge in, just to see the final result. Which is a long way off, by the way, March 2014 they reckon. The kickstarter runs until early Jan '13.

It's worth noting, though, that Notch's (of Minecraft fame) spacesim MMO '0x10c' may be out by the time this new Elite is ready. And with what must be almost unlimited funds, it makes you wonder if this Elite will be out-Elited by Notch's new game. Curiously, 0x10c will be a pay monthly game, but that does seem to be the case for Dangerous. I guess time will tell...no screens available for either game yet, and I doubt they will be for some time, either.

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Nope

Edit: which is strange, because I've owned a lot of the platforms that it was released on (BBC, Acorn, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and a NES) and I remember th ename of the publisher (Firebird) from other titles.

But don't remember the game, no.

Although I was -1 year old when it came out...

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Think of any truly iconic, influential, innovative and genre-defining game; the Elite series is that to the space simulator. I'll snip the most pertinent info from Wiki...

Elite is a seminal space trading video game, originally published by Acornsoft in 1984 for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron computers. The game's title derives from one of the player's goals of raising their combat rating to the exalted heights of "Elite". It was written and developed by David Braben and Ian Bell, who had met while they were both undergraduates at Jesus College, Cambridge. Non-Acorn versions of the game were published by Firebird, Imagineer and Hybrid Technology.

Elite was one of the first home computer games to use wire-frame 3D graphics with hidden line removal. Another novelty was the inclusion ofThe Dark Wheel, a novella by Robert Holdstock which influenced new players with insight into the moral and legal codes to which they might aspire.

Elite's open-ended game model, advanced game engine and revolutionary 3D graphics ensured that it was ported to virtually every contemporary home computer system, and earned it a place as a classic and a genre maker in gaming history. Elite was a hugely influential game, serving as a model for more recent games such as Space Rogue, Eve Online, Freelancer, Jumpgate, Infinity: The Quest for Earth, Wing Commander: Privateer, Pardus, the Escape Velocity series and the X series of space trading games.

Gameplay

Elite has often been treated as the yardstick by which subsequent space trading games have been measured. However, it was not the first such game; the genre-defining Star Trader had been written as long ago as 1974. The space trading genre combines space-borne combat with a "buy low, sell high" freight transport system and the ability to use the profits to purchase ship upgrades.

The player, initially controlling the character "Commander Jameson", starts at Lave Station with 100 credits and a lightly armed trading ship, a Cobra Mark III. Most of the ships that the player encounters are similarly named after snakes, or other reptiles. Credits can be accumulated through a number of means. These include piracy, trade, military missions, bounty hunting and asteroid mining. The money generated by these enterprises allows players to upgrade their ships with such enhancements as better weapons, shields, increased cargo capacity, an automated docking system, and more.

Instead of complex planetary systems, stars have single planets separated by interstellar distances and each planet has one space station in its orbit. Travel between planets is constrained to those within range of the ship's limited fuel capacity (7 light years) and fuel can be replenished after docking with a space station in orbit around a planet which is a challenging task without a docking computer, as it requires matching the ship's rotation to that of the station. Players can upgrade their equipment with a fuel scoop, which allows raw fuel to be skimmed from the surface of stars—being described in the manual as "a dangerous and difficult activity", but in reality a simple process—and collecting free-floating cargo canisters and escape capsules liberated after the destruction of other ships. While making a hyperspace jump the antagonistic Thargoid race may intercept the player, forcing his ship to remain in "witch-space" to do battle with their smaller invasion ships.

An extremely expensive one-shot galactic hyperspace upgrade permits travel between the eight galaxies of the game universe. There is little practical difference between the different galaxies. However in some versions it is necessary to travel to at least the second galaxy in order to access the missions.

The game includes several optional missions for the Galactic Navy. One requires tracking down and destroying a stolen experimental ship; the other involves transporting classified information on the Thargoids' home planet, with Thargoid invasion ships doing their best to see that you do not succeed.

Technical innovations

The Elite universe contains eight galaxies, each galaxy containing 256 planets to explore. Due to the limited capabilities of 8-bit computers, these worlds are procedurally generated. A single seed number is run through a fixed algorithm the appropriate number of times and creates a sequence of numbers determining each planet's complete composition (position in the galaxy, prices of commodities, and even name and local details— text strings are chosen numerically from a lookup table and assembled to produce unique descriptions for each planet). This means that no extra memory is needed to store the characteristics of each planet, yet each is unique and has fixed properties. Each galaxy is also procedurally generated from the first.

However, the use of procedural generation created a few problems. There are a number of poorly located systems that can be reached only by galactic hyperspace— these are more than 7 light years from their nearest neighbour, thus trapping the traveller. Braben and Bell also checked that none of the system names were profane - removing an entire galaxy after finding a planet named "Arse".

The original BBC Micro disk version used a non-standard disk-format to stop disk-to-disk copying. This relied on specific OSWORD &7F DFS opcodes in the Intel 8271 Disk Controller to directly access the disk, and produce a non-standard sector/track-layout. This, however, also caused issues for legitimate customers that were using the Western-Digital 1770 Disk-controller (DFS) ROMs from third-party manufacturers such as Watford Electronics. Acorn subsequently released alternative versions of the BBC disks that were compatible with the WD1770. This BBC Disk-copy-protection was subsequently used by Superior Software in their 'Exile' game.

In addition to this, the code also included self-modifying code as part of the protection system, created by Rob Northen.

Legacy

Elite is credited as being the breakthrough title that defined the modern space flight simulation genre, as well as being influential upon gaming as a whole. It was named one of the sixteen most influential games in history at Telespiele, a German technology and games trade show, and has been credited as being the first truly open-ended game and opening the door for future online persistent worlds such as Second Life, World of Warcraft and EVE Online. Elite is one of the most popularly requested games to be remade, with some arguing that it is still the best example of the genre to date, with more recent titles—including its sequel—not rising up to the same level.

Elite was named #12 on IGN's 2000 "Top 25 PC Games of All Time" list, the #3 most influential video game ever by the Times Online in 2007,#6 "Greatest Game" by Stuff magazine in 2008, #1 "Top Retro Game" by Retro Gamer in 2004, and #1 "best game of the 1980s" by Next Generation Magazine in 2008. The game was retrospectively awarded 10/10 by the multi-format magazine Edge—together with only 2 other games[citation needed]— and is being exhibited at such places as the London Science Museum in the "Game On" exhibition organized and toured by the Barbican Art Gallery. In 1984 Elite received the Golden Joystick Award for "Best Original Game". In 1985 the game was named "Best Game Overall" for that year by readers of Crash magazine, and "Game of the Year" by Computer Gamer. Elite's sequel, Frontier: Elite II, was named #77 on PC Zone's "101 Best PC Games Ever" list in 2007. Elite is listed in Game On! From Pong to Oblivion: The 50 Greatest Video games of All Time by authors Simon Byron, Ste Curran and David McCarthy. In his review of the game for Beebug Magazine in 1984, reviewer David Fell called Elite "the best game ever" for the BBC Micro.

The game was a significant source of inspiration for later games in its genre. In interviews, the senior producers of CCP Games have cited Elite as one of the inspirations for their acclaimed MMORPG, Eve Online. Thorolfur Beck in particular has said that Elite was the game that impacted him most on the Commodore 64, and that it was the prime motivator behind Eve Online. The developers of Jumpgate Evolution,Battlecruiser 3000AD, Infinity: The Quest for Earth, Hard Truck: Apocalyptic Wars and Flatspace have likewise all credited Elite as a source of inspiration. Similar praise has been bestowed elsewhere in the media over the years.

BBC_Micro_Elite_screenshot.png

The BBC Micro version of Elite, showing the player approaching a Coriolis space station

Frontier: Elite II is a space trading computer game written by David Braben and published by GameTek in 1993. It is the first sequel to Ian Bell and David Braben's earlier game Elite, and is available for Commodore Amiga, Atari ST and PC computers.

Frontier retains the same principal component of Elite—namely completely open-ended gameplay—and adds to this realistic physics and an accurately modelled galaxy. There is no plot within Frontier, nor are there pre-scripted missions (as there are in its sequel, First Encounters); instead players explore space while trading legally or illegally, carrying out missions for the military, ferrying passengers from system to system, engaging in piracy or any combination of the above. As a consequence, Frontier cannot be completed or "won"—instead, players themselves decide what to aspire to and set out to achieve it.

Gameplay

In Frontier, the player begins in the year 3200 and assumes the role of one of Commander Jameson's grandchildren, having inherited one hundred credits and an Eagle Long Range Fighter from him. By the game’s standards, this is incredibly modest, and is used as a spur to encourage players to earn money by whatever means they feel is appropriate.

As with Elite, much of Frontier is concerned with trading: players can buy and sell a variety of goods—from food and computer parts to guns and slaves—with the aim of making the most profit possible from each trading run. Thus, learning to compare prices in various systems is essential for profitability, and calculating overheads for each trip (such as fuel, missiles, and hull repair) are essential skills. It often becomes apparent that a particular trading route is profitable, such as the Barnard’s Star - Sol route. It is worth noting that some trade goods (particularly narcotics, nerve gas, weaponry and slaves) are illegal in many systems and attempting to trade in these can result in a fine from the police, which can often escalate into violence if not paid. However it is often worth the risk as illegal goods generally carry a very high price on the black market.

Frontier substitutes Elite’s arcade flying style for one based rigidly on Newtonian physics: momentum must first be neutralised to bring the player's craft to a stop, and turning 180° has no effect on the direction of travel until previous momentum has been counteracted. The craft’s control is largely left to the player, but often day-to-day tasks such as navigating from a hyperspace exit-point to a desired planet or space-station and docking can be handed over to a ship's autopilot.

The issue of interstellar navigation is solved by the use of a hyperdrive to travel between stars. Hyperspace in Frontier appears to be a form of dimensional shifting, “jumping” into another, more compressed dimension then exiting it at a point equating to the desired destination. In this respect, hyperspace is treated in a similar manner to the hyperspatial travel utilised in Babylon 5. A ship's maximum range is calculated according to its mass and the distance capable in exactly one week, so small, light ships can have impressively large ranges. To counteract this the duration of the flight is spent in a form of suspended animation and appears to pass almost instantly. A hyperspace jump leaves a visible remnant, a "hyperspace cloud", at the entry and exit points. These are visible for some hours afterwards, making it possible for pirates and assassins to track a ship through hyperspace, arrive at its destination first and attack without police intervention.

Sooner or later the player will run into enemies, most likely in the form of space pirates. The different star systems have differing government and social structures, meaning that some systems are safer than others. The Core worlds are usually the safest, with anarchic systems ("Riedquat" and "Phekda" are amongst the most notorious anarchies in the game) being the most hazardous. Combat is handled completely realistically. In practice, this means both ships taking slingshot thrusts at each other, lasers being fired constantly at each other, until one of the ships is destroyed. All enemy ships destroyed count towards the player's combat rating, starting at "Harmless" and progressing towards "Elite".

There is something of a background story to Frontier, establishing two major factions in the galaxy: The "Federation", based in the Sol system, and the "Empire", based in the Achenar system. These two factions are bitter enemies, but at the time of the game they are in some kind of cease-fire, akin to the Cold War.

Players are free to side themselves with the Federation, the Empire, both, or neither. The game does not restrict one's political career. Both sides have military forces that a player can run freelance missions for, with successes leading to a military promotion. The ranks of the Federation and Empire are independent of each other. Playing for both sides adds to the difficulty to acquire a rank promotion for either.

The game's copy protection was worked into the game in the form of police spot-checks, making sure the player is the legitimate owner of his ship. At certain intervals in the game, the police would ask the player to: "please enter the first letter of word X, row Y on page Z". If the player entered a wrong letter on three occasions, he would be arrested and his ship impounded, at which point the game ends.

Compared with Elite

Frontier has more advanced graphics than Elite, but this is mostly due to the differences in the underlying computer platforms—the Commodore Amiga, Atari ST and IBM PC offer much more power than the BBC Micro and Commodore 64. The graphics engine was advanced for its time, featuring curved polygons, and texture mapping in the PC version.

Frontier operates on a very large scale compared to previous games, and most games since. It is, for example, possible to do realistic gravitational slingshots around supermassive stars and large planets, and in the same engine fly close enough to the ground to read the (accurate) time from the face of a clock.

Frontier built on Elite in other aspects as well. It is possible to land on planets, something not possible in Elite. Most stars also have a system of planets around them, while in the previous game there would only be a single planet and space station in every system. In addition to this some real stars had been placed in the Frontier universe, mostly near Sol, such as Alpha Centauri and Sirius. Other brighter stars such as Altair, Antares, Betelgeuse and Polaris, which are much further out, are also included. All planets and most major moons in the Sol system can also be visited. On zooming out, other galaxies are visible, although these other galaxies are simply duplicates of the first, and not accessible in all versions of the game.

Another improvement is that players are no longer confined to the same ship (the Cobra Mk. III) for the whole game. Frontier offers dozens of ships, from small but fast fighters like the Eagle, multi-role traders like the Cobra to huge cruisers such as the Anaconda or the Panther. Players may own only one ship at a time, so when a new ship is purchased, the old ship is part exchanged (i.e. traded in with most of its trade value deducted from the new ship’s price).

Reception

Frontier was generally well received by the media. Most magazines were awestruck by its sheer scale and accurate depiction of real-world physics, and gave it high ratings. One notable exception was Amiga Power, who viewed the game not as a successor to Elite’s throne, but as a space flying game on its own right, and were disappointed by its lack of action. This made them dismiss the game as boring, rating it 65% (75% on the faster Amiga 1200). It later ranked #100 in their top 100 games list. They were also critical of the game’s slow framerate on non-AGA Amigas, which were an issue for owners of Amiga 1000/500/600 machines with 7 MHz CPUs, and also for Atari ST.

The official Frontier website puts sales at about 500,000 copies sold. Braben received royalties for 350,000 copies.

Frontier_elite2_screenshot.gif

Screenshot of Frontier

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The first Elite game was before my time, but I had Frontier on my Atari ST and it was just mind-bafflingly huge. The sheer size and scope of the game is something I've never seen replicated in anything else throughout modern gaming history. To give you an idea, this is the Galaxy Map that came with the game...

mapnew2.jpg

And this was all on your Amigas and Ataris of the time. The thought of what David Braben et al could create with modern tech is, quite frankly, terrifying.

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  • VT Supporter
Why is this reboot via kickstart, of which there are loads, getting so many inches?

Because it is in the opinion of many, many gamers (myself included) still the greatest video game of all time.

I can't even begin to explain how happy I would be if this happened, and yet dread to think of the hours I would lose playing it. :D

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  • 2 weeks later...

There are now some stills from the new Elite on the kickstarter page now

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mmhm. They current have ~10,000 backers, and ~£500k, so still along way to go, but with 50 days left, I would think they should hit their goal of £1.25m before the end.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Has that video got any of the early gameplay on it? There are a couple of dev diaries on the Kickstarter page now, one of which shows a dogfight amidst an asteroid belt on the outer rim of a planet. It looks OK.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The latest dev diary is worth a look. It talks about future updates, including the ability to walk around space stations and your ship, and the potential therefore to Stow away in other players / npcs ships, and steal them. Heh.

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  • 3 weeks later...

With ~48 hours to go they need under £40k to hit the target. There are a couple of stretch goals, the first for a Mac release, and the second for 10 extra playable ships, but it doesnt seem likely that either will be hit before time is up. Although these things do seem to have a surge of pledges in the last few hours. They've also confirmed that the 'Premium Box' pledge @ £90 will include a printed star chart for the game (plus a tshirt and a book and what not). AWESOME. Might have to up my pledge now...

Edited by hogso
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