A game that is often cited as a major influence on others in the industry. Elite is seen as the game that defined the open world genre of games and looked to push the bounds of what was possible for computer of the time. Elite didn’t confine the player to a linear narrative with a predetermined path, the player had to choice to explore the universe to do what they wished. Numerous procedurally generation stars and planets populated several galaxies that the player could traverse in order to destroy other ships and trade for goods. The basic elements of any space trading video game of which Elite was not the first, with Star Trader and DECWAR coming before it. It did however help to popularize the genre and remains a source of inspiration for many modern games in the genre such as EVE Online.
“Asteroids popularized vector graphics in the late 70’s, however Elite looked to further revolutionize the technology”
The game was designed by two Cambridge University students David Braben and Ian Bell. Both of them started development of the game as a hobby, as an aside from their college work. The BBC Micro was the chosen platform for development as it boasted 18k of memory, a lot more than its equivalent counterparts. The pair also decided to programme the game in the Assembly language, it used far less memory that allowed for more advanced graphics and gameplay. The most unique graphical aspect of their game was that it was one of the first to use 3D wire-frames for the various assets in the game. Elite was not the first 3D video game, however it was the first 3D game to allow the player freely move within 3D space. Previous attempts at 3D games had always limited the player in their movements and the perspective of their view.
“Elite easily became the most popular game available on the BBC Micro, still celebrated as a landmark title for video games of the 1980’s”
The game took two years to develop with the launch eventually coming on the 20th September of 1984. Acornsoft who were the games publishers invested a lot of money in order to get the game to market and make sure it sold well. Including renting out a theme park for a day all in an effort to promote the game, something that was unheard off at the time for a video game release. The game was also sold with an accompany novella called The Dark Wheel, which helped flesh the universe in which the player inhabits. It was a risky business strategy that paid off as the game was an instant success garnering praise from gamers and critic alike. The game was subsequently ported to many other home computer platforms, follow ups and remakes added to the franchise over the following decades. An estimated 600,000 copies of the game are said to have being sold when counting in figures from all ported platforms.
“The novel that was packaged with every copy of Elite that was sold, again demonstrated the innovate ways in which Acornsoft looked to market the game”
One of the big selling points of the game was its open world gameplay and loses narrative. The ‘do what you want’ attitude crossed over into the games trading mechanics. The game allowed the player to trade some goods that to some would be deemed unethical with slaves and narcotics listed for trade. The game left the moral decisions up to the player with no negative repercussions for trading illegal goods. A mechanics that permeates many current open world and RPG games, where the player is often posed with moral dilemmas which they can solve in different ways. Mass Effect and Fallout both implement a system of morals that allow the player to be good or evil. The game continues to be an influence on many developers in the industry and recent plans have been made to develop a new title in the series called Elite: Dangerous, with funding coming from Kickstarter. A game that has remained in gamers conscience for nearly thirty years, demonstrates the innovation and genius that was used in its creation.