Page last updated at 10:46 GMT, Monday, 21 September 2009 11:46 UK

Gaming milestone for Elite game

By Daniel Emery
Technology reporter, BBC News


Taking a flight around the 1984 game with co-developer David Braben

The classic computer space-trading game Elite has celebrated its 25th anniversary.

Elite was released on 20 September 1984 for the BBC Microcomputer and was one of the first games to use 3D graphics.

Many developers regard the title as the forerunner of many modern games and have described it as a "milestone".

David Braben, who co-developed Elite, confirmed that his company, Frontier Developments, were working on a sequel to the game.

"We'd be mad not to go back to the world of Elite and I'm very excited about it," he told BBC News.

However, he would not be drawn on a possible release date saying it would happen "when its ready".

Elite game tape box
The first version of Elite was published on a cassette tape

The original game was co-developed by Mr Braben and Ian Bell and was an overnight hit, selling hundreds of thousands of copies and influencing game development for years.

Elite was one of the first open-ended games, spanning eight vast universes, where the only real goal was to increase a player's reputation rating from "Harmless" to "Elite".

Mr Braben said that they never set out to write a commercial game, but wrote something that they themselves would want to play.

"This was a game we wrote many years ago for an ancient computer called the BBC Micro.

"We did this while we were at university and never expected it to be popular, let alone such a life-changing event," he added.

Ian Livingstone, creative director at games firm Eidos, said Elite was a "milestone in gaming history".

"This was one of the premier British titles that put UK development on the map and was very influential in inspiring people to get into gaming," he told BBC News.

Compact code

However, Mr Braben said that the pair originally had some difficulty finding a publisher, despite the game being popular with their friends.

He said that the game was so different from traditional coin-operated games, not least because Elite did not actually have a score, that most publishers rejected it.

BBC Micro
Released in late 1981
8 bit microprocessor
6502 CPU at 2 MHz
640*256 screen resolution
Cost £375 at launch
1.5 million sold

"They just didn't get it, they wanted a high score and they wanted players to have three lives," he said.

The game was eventually published by Acornsoft, the software arm of Acorn computers, which produced and manufactured the BBC Microcomputer . It is estimated that Acorn eventually sold more copies of Elite than its Microcomputer.

Elite did many things differently from other titles of that era. It was player, rather than story driven, lacked a final end point (other than getting your player an Elite rating) and required gamers to use their imagination.

"We didn't want a menu, such as you would find in a role-playing game, to determine what sort of person you were," said Mr Braben.

"In Elite, you can do lots of different roles, but it is driven by your actions within the game, he said.

Mass market computers were still in their infancy in 1984, with computers capable of four-channel sound, sixteen colours and little in the way of storage or memory.

"The BBC Micro only had 32k of memory, but out of that came the screen and machine use, so Elite had to fit into 22k which is less than most emails these days," said Mr Braben

"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.

Mr Livingstone said Elite was as influential on videogame development as Monopoly was on board game development.

"These classics only come along every now and again and you never forget them; they help define the genre," he said.

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