Category Archives: BBC Micro

#81: Elite

Format: BBC Micro Genre: Space Combat Simulator Released: 1984 Developer: David Braben/Ian Bell

Our criteria for including games on this list have always been fairly relaxed – the sole thing we insist on is that the game must have made our lives slightly better in some way. In light of this tradition, I’m going to talk about a game that made my life slightly better DESPITE THE FACT THAT I’VE NEVER PLAYED IT.

Of course, Ian has already pushed the boundaries of legitimacy by including a game that he only ever saw advertised in a pub toilet, so perhaps writing about a game I’ve never played won’t boggle your astonishment glands all that much. Although I’m sure the die-hard video game fans among you will be rolling your eyes and shaking your head in disbelief at the fact that I haven’t sampled the delights of a game that’s been variously described as a “milestone in gaming history” (Ian Livingstone, Eidos) and “the first great example of British innovation in video gaming” (Michael Moran, Times Online).

Many’s the time that I’ve thought about scouring t’interweb for some sort of Elite emulator and finally basking in the glory of one of gaming’s great triumphs. But every time I’m about to do it, I’m held back by one incapaciting thought: “What if I think it’s shit?”

I mean, what if I find the game unendurably simple and dull? Surely, in the intervening 26 years since Elite‘s release, the gaming juggernaut has rumbled so far down the highway of progress that I could never hope to be as enthralled or impressed by this seminal game as BBC Micro owners were when it was first unleashed upon the world. Yes, it was one of the first 3D games (if not the first ever 3D game), but that’s not really enough to impress nowadays. I mean, nowdays we can play games by leaping up and down in front of the telly and acting like a tit (you can tell I’ve yet to be won over by Kinect).

But still, Elite has made my life better by the very fact that it exists at all. I’m glad to know that there once existed a race of British bedroom coders who performed astonishing feats of coding inbetween their university studies (the entire 3D world of Elite was made to fit into 22k of memory – about the size of a short email). I’m ecstatic to know that Elite pushed the boundaries of gaming and directly led to open-ended games like Sim City and Grand Theft Auto. I’m positively thrilled that noted historian Benjamin Woolley saw fit to include Elite in his BBC4 programme Games Britannia, thereby placing this humble BBC Micro classic in a direct lineage that began with Medieval dice games.

I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t really need to play Elite to appreciate it – and in fact playing it might actually make me appreciate it less. But I still love hearing about how it altered the perception of computer games forever, showing the world that there was more to games than simple ‘three lives and you’re dead’ arcade shooters.

Elite, we salute you.

And perhaps if David Braben ever gets round to releasing Elite 4, I might actually play it.

Lewis

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Filed under 1984, BBC Micro, David Braben, Ian Bell, Space Combat Simulator