|  Games : Elite frequently asked questions (Answers from David Braben)|
1. Where can I buy Elite from?
Elite+ is still available new in Europe on the PC from Entertainment International under the "Empire" label for around £10-£15.
2. What platforms was Elite written for?
Elite was originally written for the BBC Micro. There was a separate version if your machine had the optional floppy disc drive, and these were both launched at the same time. The BBC disc version had the special missions in it, and more space craft, but we couldn't fit these in to the 22K available on the basic machine.
Here are the versions in full: BBC Micro (tape), BBC Micro (disc), Acorn Electron (tape), Acorn Electron (cartridge,unreleased), Commodore 64 (cassette,disc), Sinclair Spectrum, Amstrad CPC (tape, disc), MSX (tape), Tatung Einstein, Apple II, IBM CGA/8086 PC,Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, Sinclair 128, BBC Master 128, BBC Master Compact, BBC Tube, Nintendo Entertainment System, IBM EGA/VGA/80286 PC (as Elite +), NEC 9800 series (Japan only) and Acorn Archimedes. Many of these were available in foreign language versions, and there were a few other versions for variant machines like the Commodore 128, and a few other versions that weren't released.
3. What missions are in what versions of Elite?
Each version of Elite had a different set of missions to some extent. BBC Micro (tape) and Acorn Electron versions were the only ones that had no special missions. The BBC disc version did have the secret missions.
4. Who's idea was Elite?
Elite was very much a joint project that evolved during the period of putting it together. I had a 3D space game I was playing about with on the Acorn Atom, but it was very basic, consisting of a 3D starfield with very simple space ships. At this time Ian Bell was just completing a game of his own, "Free Fall" from Acornsoft, so it seemed logical for us to cooperate. It is often difficult to remember who had which idea. We both agreed that the game needed more than just 3D combat, and we played around with a number of possible options. I think it was Ian's idea to do trading, and I think it was me who thought up the slightly arrogant name "The Elite" - which later got shortened to just Elite. At the time the idea behind the game seemed quite obvious - we were pleasantly surprised that the game was still pretty unique when it was finally released.
5. How long did Elite take to write?
It took two of us a little over two years to write from start to finish, including many long hours into the night. There were many other people who were instrumental in bringing the game out and making it what it was. Particularly David Johnson-Davies (head of Acornsoft) made sure the game had enough time to be perfected and tested before setting a release date, and Rob Holdstock for the Manual and Novella "The Dark Wheel".
6. Why did you fall out with Ian Bell?
This is a thorny one! We started work on a game provisionally titled "Elite 2" on the 8 bit platforms in 1985, with a loose game design, and divided the work between the two of us (this was a very different game to what became Frontier). After about a year, when I came to need the results from work that Ian was supposed to have done by then it became apparent that Ian was no longer motivated to continuing with a sequel to Elite. Ian had become very interested in martial arts and this was taking most of his time. This "Elite 2" was then abandoned and I went off to do Zarch, and Ian went his own way.
After I had completed Virus in 1988, I was quite keen on doing a sequel to Elite on the 16 bit platforms. Ian was still not keen on spending the sort of time required and so we came to an amicable agreement to allow me to proceed with the sequel on my own. This agreement gave me exclusive rights to all sequels and mission discs, in return for royalties on the first sequel of Elite.
I then started development of Frontier on the new 16 bit platforms with a game more in the Elite vain (the aborted "Elite 2" put the player as a grunt in the space navy). It was not until the sequel to Frontier, First Encounters was announced some six years later that Ian expressed any unhappiness, and I think this was largely as a result of his (very substantial) income stream slowly drying up. There then followed a very sordid argument based around his claim that First Encounters was not up to being a full sequel, partly due to the botched release of First Encounters, which was the subject of a law suit (now settled for damages in my favour). To me, to some extent Ian's reaction was understandable (I was pretty angry too), but he made several key claims in public interviews, including the claim that I had not paid Chris Sawyer, when he knew I had. I asked Ian to withdraw this, he didn't, I sued him for libel, and then he retracted. I have not spoken to him since and vice-versa.
7. Is it legal to download Elite from the net?
Elite was written as joint copyright by Ian Bell and myself. I would like to make Elite available as shareware, but this requires permission of the other copyright holder. A third party has claimed that Ian Bell has sold his rights in Elite to them but Ian has not yet confirmed this. The end result is it is not legal, but I do not mind this as long as the copyright messages are intact, and it is not done for commercial gain, but be warned as the other copyright holder may object.
8. Why has the www.cix.co.uk/~ibell site disappeared?
I wanted to make the Elite binaries available as part of the possible forthcoming Elite Club and wanted to check the current status of the old Elite binaries. These were available on a site under the "Ian Bell" name, with CIX as the service provider. I did not know whether the ibell CIX account had not also been sold, possibly to a different person, so I asked CIX for the identity of the site holder, since the real Ian Bell had not responded to mail sent by surface post to his last known address. CIX needed the permission of the site holder to reveal their true identity so an enpasse existed for three months while the site holder did not respond to CIX's emails. Out of desperation, and after discussion with CIX, I thought that a threat to ask for the Elite files to be removed might prompt a response, and so CIX asked the account holder to remove the files. The site holder responded by posting a small number of purported emails from CIX to the site, which CIX told me were only a small part of a correspondence and as such these mails completely misrepresented what had actually been said. This also gave out the private email addresses of various CIX staff, and painted both CIX and myself in a very bad light. I understand it was this that caused removal of the entire ibell web space as it broke the terms and conditions of the account.
There was a long discussion thread about this on alt.fan.elite, culminating in articles appearing on a number of magazine websites, which were later withdrawn following speaking to myself and a representative of CIX, and I distributed a press release about this. This triggered a further thread.
9. Are there any generation ships in Elite?
No. This was put into the documentation as part of the richness that Rob Holdstock introduced, as were "Rock Hermits". However, we added "Rock Hermits" to later versions of Elite as a result, but the graphic system couldn't cope with ships that looked sufficiently big or impressive to act as generation ships.
10. Are there any cheats in Elite?
Yes. Most Elites have a way of forcing misjumps, so you can have a shooting match with Thargoids. This was CTRL-H on many versions. Some versions have specific additional cheats (like typing SARA on the early ST/Amiga versions), and if you create a commander called "CHEATER" on the Nintendo version then something special happens... but you then can't change the name back again.
11. Is Elite ever going to come out on the Playstation?
Probably not, because of the fall-out between Ian and I (see (6) above), but now it looks like he has sold his rights this may now be possible.
This is currently in the planning stage, but is compromised by the problem of the Elite images discussed in (8).
13. How come there are eight galaxies with thousands of planets in only 22K of memory?
The star systems in Elite were all generated pseudo-randomly. In explanation imagine a number sequence that looks random - like adding the last two numbers together, and only keeping the last two digits. You need to choose two numbers to start with, called the seed. Choosing 12 and 34 would give a sequence 12 34 46 80 26 06 32 38 70 08 ... for example. This particular method is known as a Fibbonachi sequence after the guy that first thought of it. There are better techniques, but the principle is the same. Such a sequence can then be used to give the planetary names, their coordinates, sizes, type of economy etc. with the software designed to rule out silly options. Hence the only storage is the "seed" - which for Elite was six bytes for each galaxy, but in the interests of saving memory (yes - six bytes was considered a lot) each galaxy used the same seed rotated by one (this is like dividing by two and copying the carry into the top binary digit).
(There were originally 2^48 Galaxies (yes that's 280,000,000,000,000 odd galaxies) but David Johnson-Davies of Acornsoft rightly thought that was just plain silly!)
14. What are/who thought of/Why did you put in "Killer Edible Poets"/"Edible Arts Graduates" etc in the descriptions of each world?
They weren't put in as such. Those paragraphs were generated by pseudo-random (see 13) sentence construction rules. Amongst these rules were rules of the form < thing > = [< prefix >]< creature > and < creature >=[ < adjective >] < animal >. It was Ian that added "Arts Graduate" (and "Poet") as a possible "animal", hence Killer Poet and Edible Arts Graduate were possible, but very unlikely.
Normally these pieces of text produced strings like This world is famous for the glorious pink volcanoes and killer mountain lions - it is these odd ones that make them memorable, though I admit I was not keen on adding "Poets" and "Arts Graduate" at the time. Possibly it's because I was dull and boring.
Incidentally, these paragraphs proved a nightmare in translation to German for example as unlike in English, you cannot simply string words together like this with factors like case and gender.
15. Which is your favourite version of Elite - which is the best?
I'm often asked this, and I suppose it depends on whether you allow for the time when each version was released. In my mind, the best version of Elite for the time had to be BBC Elite, or just possibly Commodore 64 Elite, as they shone out so strongly over their contemporaries. Otherwise, the best is probably NES Elite as it had extra fluff, like the pictures of each world, and the progression of your commander from rags to riches was quite amusing, and the icon system made it easier to play. I certainly have the fondest memories of BBC Elite.
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