432nd played so far
Genre: Strategy/Shoot Em Up
Year of Release: 1984
Developer: David Braben and Ian Bell
This isn’t actually the first time Elite has popped up for us to play on the blog – we tried to do so before, but got stuck and felt we needed a manual. After that, we just didn’t get back to it until now.
Elite is a space travel game, featuring battle, trade and more elements. It’s also a game people used to love – a recent-ish Kickstarter campaign proved as much. And we have to get into it now.
This early in history, it feels odd to find more in-depth games – the arcade games we see in the list more often focus on simple mechanics, but home computers and mainframes, where having to eat up coins isn’t an issue, can afford to get more complicated mechanics in where players can be expected to learn.
Elite certainly does so. You begin the game docked to (or in) a space station. Undocking happens at the push of a button, but after that you immediately fly right at the planet the space station is orbiting, requiring a quick response to get out of the way. From there on, your options are wide open and you can do what you want. The immediately visible option is to start trading between planets, moving goods around to make more money and allowing you to get bigger ships and equipment.
There are other shortcuts, of course. Asteroid mining is an option when you have the equipment, piracy is available more quickly but, considering the protection available, a challenge as well. Other options are available too.
It feels massive, with the scary thing that initially, most of these things don’t feel worth bothering with. To do several things, you must dock with a space station. You have to do this manually, requiring some slow, careful maneuvering to hit just the right spot. Oddly enough, only once you master that does it feel like you can proceed.
As impressive is the size of the world. The galaxy consists of hundreds of stars, each with their own races living on it with their own desires and options. Then there’s the option to jump between galaxies, at a high cost, expanding the size of the world. Some of it feels like showing off, indicating that they can do this much, but it gives you the feeling you can find your own little corner nobody else has found.
Probably the biggest hurdle to playing the game is the accessibility. You need to learn plenty of keys that aren’t explained, and need to discover all your options by playing. The game just doesn’t tell you anything or hold your hand – the hand holding is more often given when you have the money, such as the aforementioned docking (sorry, it’s a big part of the game). The graphics are abstract – mostly advanced vector graphics, which look good and add to the style, but don’t give as many hints.
This is a game that feels inaccessible now because of our own expectations. A lot is possible in the game though, and with the two sequels we’re going to play for the game, I hope that barrier can be taken away to provide more access to what feels like a potentially engrossing game.