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Video Game / Elite

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Elite is a famous, popular (it eventually sold one copy of the BBC Micro version for every BBC Micro in the world at the timenote ) and historically significant game, one of the earliest in the Wide-Open Sandbox genre. It was written by David Braben and Ian Bell, and first released in 1984 for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron. In the game you start on Lave Station with 100 credits and a lightly armed trading ship, a Cobra Mark III. From here you seek fame, fortune and money via one of the many, many, different options open to you. You can:

  • Collect bounties, which is dangerous.
  • Become a pirate, which is more dangerous.
  • Trade; the different planets have different economy types and tech levels that make this surprisingly complex.
  • Perform military missions, when they come up and if you like death.
  • Mine asteroids, if you like comas.

The name derives from the exalted highest combat ranking a pilot can have. Many aspects of the game make it rather hard: there are no lives, save perhaps the painfully expensive escape pods, not all of the systems are friendly (some are run by pirates, what a pity they tend to have nice stuff to buy), while you can upgrade it a lot you can never sell your Cobra Mark III and a warship it ain't and then there is docking at space stations...

The game uses very realistic physics for the time, Space Is Most Certainly NOT An Ocean and really pushed the capabilities of the computers it was released on (which eventually became most of them). Many first time players made the error of treating it like a Shoot 'Em Up, resulting in death (especially seeing as the first big shootable thing is the space station you just left, and the police tend to object to that).

One of the most amazing things is the sheer size of the game for an 8-bit computer. By using procedural generation the game manages to have 2048 different, predetermined and constant systems to visit across eight galaxies. (This did lead to a few issues, several planets can only be reached by inter-galactic hyperspace because they are too far from the other planets in the galaxy to jump to normally and intergalactic jumps are not cheap. Also the designers had to tweak the algorithm several times when a planet got a profane name via the generation method.)

Elite was one of the first home computer games to use wireframe 3D graphics with hidden line removal (also making it among the first ever true 3D games to be released). Another novelty was the inclusion of The Dark Wheel, a novella by Robert Holdstock which influenced new players with insight into the moral and legal codes which they might aspire to.

Frontier: Elite II and Frontier: First Encounters are later PC sequels by David Braben alone (the original authors having had a serious falling-out), with textured 3D graphics. Sadly, while First Encounters has good Newtonian physics (it was even possible to place a ship into proper orbit), it was an Obvious Beta. Various indie developers have hacked and modified the code to make it playable on modern systems, even going so far as to port the graphics engine to Open GL. One ambitious project, FFE-D3D, aims to rewrite the entire game with greatly improved graphics. The fourth game in the series, Elite Dangerous, was released for Windows on 16 December 2014, featuring an online persistent universe with multiplayer elements, with a Mac OSX port and other updates slated for the near future.

The game was eventually credited for launching an entire sub-genre of videogames known as "Elite-like", with entries including EVE Online, Freelancer, Jumpgate, Infinity: The Quest for Earth, Wing Commander: Privateer, No Man's Sky, the Escape Velocity series, open-source game Vega Strike (which got an "Elite Strike" mod, but its development currently seems to be frozen), and the X-Universe series of space combat and trading games. There is now also a free, open-source remake, Oolite (so named because it uses object-oriented programming), which has a fairly dedicated modding community.

Tropes featured include:

  • Ace Pilot: The eponymous Elite rankings (Harmless, Dangerous, Elite, etc.) are a metric to measure how much of one the player is.
  • Agri World: Agricultural worlds buy machines and luxuries and produce food and textiles. Notably the player starts in orbit of an agricultural dictatorship called Lave.
  • Alliterative Family: The Duval dynasty from the sequels all have names starting with H.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Ian Bell's brother Aidan wrote Elite: The Musical.
  • All There in the Manual: You will never actually get to see those Marlin fish of the Ross 154 system, experience Epsilon Eridani's wide offer of amusement districts nor face the Emperor yourself. But anyway, David Massey and his colleagues wrote a nice traveler's guide that came along with Elite II, so why not enjoy those imaginary trips?
  • Anarchy Is Chaos: Anarchic systems are the most dangerous and unstable worlds, infested with space pirates.
  • Animal Theme Naming: Almost all ship types in Elite are named after snakes. Frontier adds lines of spaceships named after birds of prey (Falcon, Hawk, Eagle) and big cats (Lion, Tiger, Panther).
  • Artificial Stupidity: The AI in Dangerous isn't terribly competent at avoiding collisions. The changelog for update 1.1 includes some amusing bugfixes, like "Stopped AI miners from mining empty space"
  • Asteroid Miners: Players can equip their ships with "Asteroid Mining Lasers" that blow up asteroids into smaller fragments that can be collected with a fuel scoop.
  • Auto-Save: Dangerous automatically saves when you leave supercruise and when you land at stations.
  • Bird People: "Bird-Forms". According to the manual you need to make a close connection with their Fligy or Nest Elders to trade with them. The ultimate honour is being asked to mind their eggs for a bit.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Averted, heavy enemy fire can destroy cargo and subsystems.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: Because of the series' Newtonian physics, if you're used to the mechanics of Shoot Em Ups or later space sim games, you're in for a VERY rude awakening.
  • Deflector Shields: A necessity. Generators are stackable, not segmented.
  • Easily Forgiven: Your criminal status will go from "fugitive" to "offender" and back to "clean" in a timely fashion if you stop doing illegal things.
  • Easy Logistics: Averted, fuel and missiles have to be replenished.
  • The Empire: Governments called simply the empire and The Federation are the main factions in Frontier: Elite II.
  • An Entrepreneur Is You: Commodity trading is a major aspect of the game.
  • Excuse Plot: To some point in Elite II. Your grandpa has passed away and decided to bequeath you a spacecraft, intending to allow you "a way of life that is very different to the dull planet bound existence you have probably led up to now", as the manual puts it. Huh.
  • Explosive Breeder: Trumbles appear after a bad deal and proceed to physically infect the cockpit. The only way to be rid of Trumbles is to sun-skim and keep the cabin temperature in the red for a minute or two.note  While this is going on, the poor harmless, helpless creature, which can only eat, sleep, reproduce and shuffle slowly about, will emit the only vocalisation it is capable of - a soft trilling purr very much like the creature that is their inspiration - which you hard-heartedly ignore as it dies of heat-stroke. Murderer.
  • Fan Remake: Oolite is a continually updated fan remake from the early 2000s with downloadable content coming fairly often.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Range limited and fuel consuming hyperspace jumps. There is also a purchasable galactic-hyperdrive that allows jumping to a new galaxy before it's depleted.
  • The Federation;
    • GalCop actually stands for "Galactic Co-operative" rather than meaning Space Police. It's a federation that all the inhabited planets belong to.
    • Frontier: Elite II has a government called the Federation as a major faction.
  • Feudal Future: A number of planets are under a feudal rule, a type of government only one step above anarchy.
  • First-Person Snapshooter: Elite II has a class of military missions that involve taking pictures of an enemy installation on some uninhabited planet several light-years away.
  • Fish People: Amphibious are a type of alien. The manual mentions their generally smarter than they look but have low technology levels.
  • Gameplay Grading: The Elite Rankings are a version that doesn't use letter grades. Players are ranked by their kills on a scale that ranges from "Harmless" (very few to no kills) all the way up to the coveted "Elite" (several thousand).
  • Gang Up on the Human: Early versions of the original game had this problem due to the way spawning was handled - the player was literally the center of the universe, and their presence and behavior determined whether or not ships were spawned, where, and how many. This meant that the only ships you would see were merchants or were actively attacking you. As computer hardware got more advanced, this crutch was dropped and later versions of the game no longer have this issue.
  • Generation Ships: According to the manual, you can occasionally run across these. However, that's the only place they exist in the game.
  • Guide Dang It!: Considering the fact that Elite can still be pretty confusing and complicated to first time players, imagine how hard it was to play in 1984, when things like Wide-Open Sandbox and complex economic system weren't in existence in video gaming yet.
  • Hive Mind: The instructions manual mentions that Insectoid Aliens are often highly intelligent due to thinking with a group mind.
  • Humanity Is Advanced: The instructions manual implies that humans and Thargoids are the most advanced races in the setting. With humans controlling the space stations in orbit while alien natives our glad of our technology and just trade their own artifacts.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place;
    • A trip into hyperspace (or witch-space, as the game calls it) puts you at risk from ambush from Thargoids, who have a technology which allows them to lurk there. In some versions of the game you can force a hyperdrive failure by holding full pitch and roll while jumping, but you'd have to be either suicidal or very well armed to attempt it.
    • The Dark Wheel Tie-In Novel says the hyperspace lanes are protected from the two dangers of hyperspace travel. You can be turned inside out, turned into a deformed blob or sent millions of years back in time, though the latter is treated as more of an in-universe urban legend.
  • Insectoid Aliens: We don't know much about the Thargoids' biology other than that they're insectoid. Insectoids are also a type of alien native the player can trade with.
  • Interactive Fiction: Ian Bell also created Text Elite. A text-based remake of Elite with trading but no combat.
  • Intrepid Merchant: The player character is one of these, when not a Bounty Hunter or Pirate.
  • Invisibility Cloak: In Elite, pirate ships with one start to pop up after the player reachs "competent" . It can be retrieved once the enemy is destroyed. It drains the shields but it's a very powerful vital item in many versions, it allows to succesfully fight against odds of Thargoids and swarms of pirates.
  • Justified Extra Lives: Escape Capsules. The instructions manual says they come with an insurance policy that replaces your ship and its equipment but not the cargo.
  • Karl Marx Hates Your Guts:
    • Averted, to say the least. The point of a merchant-oriented game is to buy low and find a planet to sell high.
    • In the original game depending on the version, in the local planetary market buy prices are higher or equal than sell ones.
  • Lightspeed Leapfrog: The manual for the first Elite says you can encounter an ancient Generation Ship still flying to its destination in your Casual Interstellar Travels. You can't.
  • Lizard Folk: In the entry on alien life forms, the instructions manual mentions the Reptiloid life forms of Esanbe can make a trader's life very difficult but doesn't elaborate any more on reptilians when discussing different types of aliens.
  • Non-Standard Game Over: Docking in compromised stations is usually followed by this message "Ship boarded by pirates (or thargoids). They show no mercy"
  • No Warping Zone: It may be the Trope Codifier of "mass-locked" warp drives. They were originally in the game because of coding limitationsnote , but have stuck around in sequels, remakes, and spiritual successors of the original game ever since, even though they're no longer necessary from a programming standpoint.
  • No Woman's Land: the Imperial Palace from Frontier and FFE. The Imperial House Duval even reproduces without women, utilizing some sort of artificial uteruses.
    • However, the succession of the emperor has brought up a bastard child of the emperor. The emperor has since started a wedding procedure to assure the throne to his daughter.
  • Obvious Beta: The third game was released behind the developers' backs, with several ugly bugs still present.
  • Oddly Named Sequel 2: Electric Boogaloo: Frontier: Elite II, whose sequel dropped "elite" completely and was named Frontier: First Encounters. And then there's Elite: Dangerous.
  • Old-School Dogfight: In the first game, particularly
    • Returns in Elite Dangerous where combat is swooping back and forth within kilometer or two-sized bubble to get an angle on the enemy.
  • Once per Episode: No matter how much more advanced the game engines get, they always have:
    • A rotating polyhedron with a docking slot in one side, as one of the main space station types. In Elite: Dangerous it is very detailed on both the inside and outside, but it's still basically the same thing.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: Some of the planets you can visit take this form.
  • Our Weapons Will Be Boxy in the Future: Almost every ship in Dangerous has a very blocky shape - the Imperial Clipper and Eagle are some of the few exceptions - as a Continuity Nod to the vector graphics of the original game.
  • Overflow Error: In Frontier: Elite II, distances between stars were calculated using 16-bit values. This meant that a star about 655.36 lightyears away was treated as being close to zero lightyears away for fuel purposes. With a bit of trigonometry, this meant it was possible for players to plot a course between any two stars using only two hyperspace jumps. The "feature" was removed in later versions.
  • Press Start to Game Over: Elite was a very complex game for its time with unheard intrincated features and a steep learning curve even after studying the manual (in an era where five stock lines in the back cover of the game were the norm)
    • Beginning players must dock with space stations manually until they can afford to buy a docking computer for their ship. The catch is that all orbital space stations rotate, making said docking a hair-raising experience at best the first time it is attempted and causing a number of new pilots to plow into the station instead of flying into the docking bay.
      • Before you do any of that, you actually have to get to the space station- you typically come out of hyperspace a certain distance from the planet, so you need to find it (using your navigation instruments) and make sure you stay on course (not easy for a complete beginner), hoping you don't get shot up by pirates and Thargoids en route.
    • Engaging pirates —or simply jumping to a dangerous system- before being upgraded with advanced weapons, armor, scanners, or fuel injectors also tends to lead to disastrous results
    • Many novice players applied arcade logic and shot the first thing in sight... the Coriolis space station that releases Viper Police like there is no tomorrow... reality quickly follows..
    • The ship does not change course nor enters the hyperspace after launch?, head-on planetary collision after a short while.
  • Procedural Generation: Used to generate not only worlds, but names, descriptions, and even prices of commodities, among many other innovations, by using the Fibonacci sequence, all wrapped under 22k of memory in the original release.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: The original game uses "On The Beautiful Blue Danube" as docking music, in homage to 2001. The sequel adds in some other classical themes, including "Ride of the Valkyries".
  • Ramscoop: A fuel scoop that collects solar energy can be bought to fuel your ship.
  • Randomly Generated Levels: Pseudorandomly, the huge amount of data is procedurally generated and is the same every game.
  • Ramming Always Works: Only against small to medium ships, in exchange for dented shields.
  • Sequel: The Original Title: The second game is called Frontier: Elite II.
  • Shout-Out
  • Sink the Lifeboats: The game inadvertently encourages players to blow up ships' escape pods. You can't use your jump drive when the pod is within detection range, which means a long and tedious wait while you leave the area using thrusters. You can pick up the pod and sell the occupant as a slave, but that will leave you with a criminal record. So the convenient and consequence-free options are to shoot the pod or "accidentally" crash into it.
  • Sleeper Starship: The manual says the Cobra MK III has two "cryogen tanks" and the escape capsules can support two humanoid lifeforms for seven weeks in "moderate Suspended An.state".
  • Small Universe After All: The first game has eight galaxies with a few thousand stars each. Activating your single-use intergalactic hyperdrive will move you to the next one (or back to Galaxy 1 if you're in Galaxy 8). Later games are set in one more realisticlly sized galaxy. Fans usually handwave the eight galaxies as being distant sectors of the one galaxy.
  • Space Cold War: In Frontier and FFE, between The Federation and The Empire.
  • Space Fighter: The player is cast in the role of a pilot, especially on military missions.
  • Space Friction: In earlier versions of the game, before the physics was improved.
    • Elite: Dangerous does both this and realistic physics with flight assist. Have it on and you have friction. Have it off and you don't.
  • Space Is Air: Especially in the first game; the sequels tried to have slightly more realistic physics.
  • Space Mines: The sequel games allow you to deploy these bad boys from a special mine launcher.
  • Space Pirates: There are pirates who attack you between hyperspace jump-points and your destination. Or you can become a pirate yourself.
  • Space Police: Vipers are police ships that come out of stations to attack you whenever you commit a crime.
  • Standard Snippet: The Amiga version of Elite used On the Beautiful Blue Danube as the theme song.
  • Super-Persistent Missile: The higher-end missiles in the sequel games can't be stopped by any kind of ECM.
  • Time Dilation: The Dark Wheel novel mentions there are stories of ships being sent millions of years into the past due to hyperspace accidents but they're treated like urban legends.
  • To Be a Master: The game's unstated goal is to achieve the eponymous "Elite" rating. Nothing particularly compels you to spend the relevant time Level Grinding to achieve this, but legitimately doing so earns some bragging rights.
    • Elite Dangerous Adds two more categories, one for trading and one for exploration beyond combat ratings.
  • Trailers Always Lie: The release trailer for Dangerous is generally truthful about its content (aside from showing people walking around, which is planned for an Expansion Pack), though it presents a significantly sped up image of the game; with apparent Rocket-Tag Gameplay and very agile ships, which is quite the opposite from the actual game. It does at least state in big letters that it isn't in-game footage.
  • Un-Installment: The player's ship is a Cobra MK III. MK Is exist in-game but the manual says the Mark 2 never got past the prototype stage.
  • Unintentionally Unwinnable: There's one star-system, Oresrati in Galaxy 8, which is over 7 light-years from any other; hence, it is only reachable by Galactic Hyperspace (or the "unlimited hyperspace range" hack). It's of insufficient tech level to sell you another Galactic Hyperspace. If you're not using the "unlimited hyperspace range" hack and don't have a recent saved position, then you're basically screwed.
  • Updated Re Release: Elite Plus for PC, with added features and improved graphics. Coded by Chris Sawyer of Transport Tycoon and RollerCoaster Tycoon fame.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment: The game lets you blow up friendly ships and even steal their cargo from the wreckage. However, such acts of piracy earn you a legal status of "Fugitive", which means that every police ship and bounty hunter in the game will attack you on sight. And attacking a Space Station is near suicidal, as you will quickly find yourself facing the planet's entire fleet of police vessels. In the first game, committing enough crimes would get you barred from docking at space stations in safer systems, locking you out of many trade routes.
    • You could also scoop up escape pods and sell the occupants as slaves.
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future: The series' Global currency. The earlier games tended to be a little vague about the exchange rate between Credits and Real Life currencies, but one "ton" (which may or may not represent what it does in metric or American Customary Measurements) of something like grain usually sells for between three and seven of them.
  • Wide-Open Sandbox: The Ur-Example.
    • With Elite II and First Encounters, this even extends to one of the widest sandboxes ever. You could even travel to the other side of the galaxy, asserting that you have a) a fuel scoop (no civilization equals no gas stations), b) good flying skills (considering that you have to sling around gas giants in order to scoop fuel and occasionally fight off pirates), c) MUCH luck (you should hope that neither your drive nor other ship components break down) and d) even more time to traverse those 20k light years.
    • Elite Dangerous once more ups the ante and presents the Milky Way modeled according to modern astronomical models via procedural generation. Billions and billions of stars!
  • With This Herring: You begin with a ship just a step above an escape shuttle and some pocket change and are expected to become rich somehow.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Some worlds have rather unusual notions of waste. One, Cemeiss, pays traders a small sum to remove gemstones and a rather larger one to remove precious metals from their worlds. Woe betide anyone who brings any such materials into the Cemeiss system... they're promptly fined for smuggling waste.