Elite 25 years old

Almost by definition bloggers are nerds (or geeks: I do not know the difference) and were even more so as teenagers. Like all such teenaged boys who were unable to get a girl friend, were useless at sport and hopeless at making or building anything, I got into computers. I pestered my parents until they got me a computer (in my case a BBC model B) and then I got what was the best computer game: Elite. Appropriately enough the BBC are marking the 25th anniversary of the first sale of the game.

  • I remember the school computer club (basically a couple of BBC B’s that normally lived in the Physics store) being wheeled out and us playing Elite for the first time. Wow.

    A few year’s later, a lot of Friday afternoon’s after school were spent on a trusty BBC Master navigating contraband produce around and getting good at docking at high speed without the expensive add on.

    Happy days!

  • Dewi

    Geeks are clever, Nerds don’t have to be. Geek is therefore a subset of Nerd – you can be a Nerd and a Geek but cab be a Nerd only. Geek is good and Geeks will inherit the earth.

  • Belfast Gonzo


    I would argue that Elite was one of those games that had a profound influence on how we view technology, and I loved this game. So I hope you enjoy watching this programme from last year on Channel 5, where Peter Snow examines how the game came about. Well worth watching if Elite means anything to you, and the ingenuity behind it is impressive – I defy anyone to name a game from the 16-bit era onwards that has pushed the envelope of its hardware as much as Elite. It is unthinkable today that programmers would go through code looking for unnecessary characters to reduce its inefficiency and make it short enough to load into a minuscule RAM.

    David Braben, I salute you, even if I was only ‘dangerous’ and never made it to ‘elite’…

  • andrew white

    I defy anyone to name a game from the 16-bit era onwards that has pushed the envelope of its hardware as much as Elite………….

    knightlore on the spectrum

  • andrew white

    sorry didnt see the 16 bit bit…..

  • Geeks, nerds etc. explained:


  • michael

    With Eve online available, I can’t see a reworked Elite recapturing anything of it’s old glory.

  • Rory Carr

    Ermm…from a non-nerd/non-geek, do you mind if I ask if you guys never, ever grow up? Is geekiness permanent once a boy (it is always boys, isn’t it?) becomes infected?

    Do you eventually get to meet a girl (if at all) only in cyber-space? (Puhleeze! do not bother going into the finer details of cyber-sex, dinner is about to be served).

  • @Rory – It’s not always boys – girls can be proud to be geeks too. And in general, we do escape from darkened rooms into the real world and do normal stuff too. You could think of it as a substitute for endless hours spent in front of satellite TV watching sport!

    (tongue firmly in cheek) Do sports fans ever grow up? Do they eventually meet partners (if at all) in the pub on big match night?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Elite was reworked into Frontier, the best version of which was on the Amiga (although you can easily play the PC version on your machine at home with an emulator). A million planets crammed into one 880KB floppy disk.

    This is an interesting look back into a different age in computing 25 years ago. At that time, most of the games coming out were being written by teenagers hacking away in the back bedroom of their parents’ house. The memory of the machines was small enough and they were technically simple enough to be understood by one person and programmed by an individual – or a team of two or three people in the case of some of more expensive games which became available later.

    This period was the brief but memorable time when the British industry led the world in home computer technology. The home computers that were built in the USA (Tandy TRS-80, TI-99/4A, Commodore PET/VIC/C64 etc) or Japan (MSX) were nothing compared to the BBC Micro which outlived them all. It was highly sophisticated, extremely well designed, and built like a tank, and that is one reason why its design endured and many examples still work today. It offered significant levels of expansion, including Acorn’s relatively affordable Econet system, disk drives, and co-processors, and an extremely powerful BASIC.

    The BBC Micro was a wonderful example the BBC’s embrace of technology and its role in democratizing that technology.

    What the BBC Micro did not do is bring technology to the mass market. It fell to Clive Sinclair to do that, and he did a masterful job of compacting the technology down – in size and in price – in the form of the ZX Spectrum, an iteration of which was still being sold almost ten years later. Upgrades to these machines were not possible so, as Gonzo said, it fell to the programmer to discover new techniques and ways of squeezing more from the machine.

    Computing back in those days was something that the UK did very well.

    Things are of course different now. CPU power, storage space and memory are so cheap that it isn’t cost effective to spend time squeezing the last byte out of the system. The most expensive part of the software business now is the manpower required to produce and maintain it, and there is a lot of technology available now to try to keep this to a minimum. This is sad, in a lot of ways, because in going this way the industry has lost something.

  • deadmanonleave

    Once more, I find a random thread that brings me into agreement with those who I would disagree with vehemently on other matters. Something about secularism, science and science fiction I guess!

    Anyhow…I still remember Elite finally coming out on the Spectrum, and it gave me a sense of wow that was only ever touched briefly by Sensible Soccer, Championship Manager and Doomdark’s Revenge…all because they gave you the sense of another world or reality.

    As for the future…I remember Frontier, that was cool, but I look at Warcraft and Eve Online, and think that there are punters out there, but I just wonder can Braben et al keep up…I am seriously intrigued as to the answer….

  • Comrade Stalin

    Braben has been promising Elite 4 for nearly a decade now. I’m not convinced it will happen.

  • The Raven

    “I defy anyone to name a game from the 16-bit era onwards that has pushed the envelope of its hardware as much as Elite.”

    While I missed this generation of computers (just), for me it was Goldeneye on the N64. Not a computer – an actual gaming console, admittedly, but just as profound an effect on the young gamer. (And yes, we did get girlfriends!)

  • Pete Baker

    Personally, I was a Commodore user at the time – Vic-20 followed by a C-64.

    But Elite was by far the best game out there. Depth of vision, pushing the technology, playability. All the above.

    In a later edition of the game, on I think an Atari ST, I achieved the exalted title of Archangel.

    In a sleepless weekend.

    Proudest. Day. Ever.


  • Comrade Stalin

    Of course not long ago people would argue in the playground about which system was the best. What do kids argue about now ? Most households I know of have both a Playstation 3 and an Xbox 360, and probably a few Nintendo DS around too.

  • Observer

    I seem to remember Frontier was full of bugs, on the ST at any rate. Elite was certainly a milestone. Anyone know of a download version for the PC?

  • Elite was boring to the likes of me, too young. Chuckie egg on the other hand was simply great. Superb.

    The Raven has it right though that the greatest game ever was easily Goldeneye.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    I think Chuckie Egg (and maybe even Jet Set Willie) were out before Elite, tho I could be wrong.

    The natural succcessor to Elite should have been Virus on the Archimedes, but the competition by then was between the Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga on the 16-bit front. I was a Commodore 64 owner and went for the Amiga, which was a superior machine, tho the ST was favoured by MIDI musicians for a long time and probably helped redefine pop music (via Cubase).

    But I don’t care.

    I should point out that I was in the Zzap 64! Hi-score charts for a number of games, including Wizball, Yie-Ar Kung Fu, Olympic somethingorother and Thundercats! Ocean games were great, except for Green Beret (ARGH!).

    I also couldn’t be beaten on N64 Goldeneye multiplayer (a massive 4-players-on-the-same-screen technological achievement) and could easily finish that and Streetfighter II on console or arcade machine. (Sega Streets of Rage was pretty cool, tho I also had the UK hi-score on its predecessor Renegade on the C64 by a long shot). And don’t forget the trusty Amstrad CPC464, which WAS better than a Speccie 48k.

    Later, R-Type on the PC Engine and arcade was wonderful, even if I never finished the final levels – wonderful Jap graphic design. (Couldn’t finish Nemesis or Vulcan Venture either, yet Salamander’s suns were a piece of piss!)

    Those WERE the days! Ah, nostalgia. There’s a video games mag that caters for this mental problem called ‘Retro’, IIRC…

  • Belfast Gonzo,

    You clearly had too much time on your hands. The point I was making about chuckie egg was that it was more appealing to a younger audience than Elite by the time I became interested in such things.

    I still have my N64 floating about, and Goldeneye gets the odd blast.

    As for your comment on Green Beret. Utter sacrilege. The sheer joy of stabbing everything in sight, added to the occasional rocket launcher, could not, and cannot be beaten. My favourite game until Goldeneye came along.

  • Dev

    Mariokart for best game ever anyone? I was Super Nintendo kid, remember getting the scope thingy with it one Xmas, awesomeness!

  • Mario Kart is also awesome. But while there is some pleasure to be had from getting the enemy in it, nothing to match the skeleton and cloud of dust in Green Beret or the silenced PPK to the head in Goldeneye.

  • Delta Omega


    For once I agree with you, and would have to back Chuckie Egg as one of the all time hits. Anyone remember Sabre Wulf – another BBC B classic.

    Both now available for download for PC


  • Dewi

    Don’t you remember Pong? – still to be beaten IMHO.