The computer game that made the biggest impact on me was Elite. I first saw it in a friend’s house when I was a child. It was unlike anything that came before it as it used 3-d wire frame graphics and had a vast world to explore. The game box contained a world of information including a poster, a novel based on the game, a large instruction pack, a competition entry form and a keyboard paper cut-out pattern that was designed to be laid on the keyboard to show key commands. All this meant that players could really immerse themselves in the game and set the game apart from other games available at the time. It was released in 1984 and changed the world of gaming for ever.
While it was one of the first 3-d games, using wire frame graphics, it also used an open ended playing structure within a massive play space, so that the player themselves could decide how to play it and where to go. Previous computer games at the time required the player to a follow a specific route and if they were killed (or after losing their lives), they had to replay the game from the start. By contrast Elite allowed the player to save their position to disc.
Playing the game. The game begins with the user playing the role of the commander of a basic space ship, The Cobra Mark 3, and with 100 credits in their bank account. The object of the game is to explore the universe by buying goods in one planet and selling them in another, hopefully at a profit, while trying to survive pirates and avoid crashing into space stations while docking. With increased funds the player can purchase upgraded weapons and equipment for their ship. The player can decide on more profitable ways of playing the game by trading illegal goods or destroying other ships and taking their cargoes. This however means consequences with the law enforcement officials. The player
Designing the game. From a software engineering point of view the game was incredibly creative as the programmers managed to overcome the limitations of computers at the time. The programmers were limited to 22k of code and so to allow them to create a vast universe they created a procedurally generated gaming world. This was quite a leap of imagination at the time. As a result the original gaming universe created could have been virtually unlimited in size; however it was cut down to 8 galaxies of 256 planets each prior to release to give it a human scale. This is a great example of engineers thinking ‘outside the box’ and allowing their imaginations to become a reality by overcoming technology constraints.
The game programmers. The programmers were David Braden and Ian Bell. They met and wrote the game, part time, over 2 years while attending Cambridge University in England. The game was released on the BBC micro and eventually sold close to 1 million copies which made Braden and Bell wealthy men. Later updated versions of Elite were released on other platforms. Elite possibly represents the high point of the British computer gaming industry, when they led the world. I hope that the original game is released on android as I think it would be a prefect game for smart phones, especially considering its small file size.
One of the authors of the game, Ian Bell, has an interesting website about the game which contains a lot of information. To visit, click here.