There’s little doubt that David Braben and Ian Bell’s classic Elite is one of the most enjoyed games on many early 8/16 bit home computers and I’d hazard a guess that it’s easily included in most retro gamers top 50 all time favorites. However, rather than rattle on about the actual game (which I could do for many hours), I thought it might be interesting to focus on the actually game packaging & contents which was famed for being quite extensive at the time compared to other games and provide a few pictures that might bring back a few memories to all that owned it.
Although my first encounter with Elite was just after it’s release on the BBC Micro’s (we’d use Elite to demonstrate the Beeb to mums & dad’s that would wander into the computer computer shop where i spent most of my Saturdays) the first copy I actually purchased for myself was for the Commodore 64.
Unlike most of the games at the time which usually contained just the game tape/disk, instructions booklet & if you were lucky the odd poster or badge, Elite’s contents contained a real treasure trove of goodies.
Firstly there was the very handy keyboard control overlay that was cut to fit the C64 numerical & function keys and served as a quick reference for your ship’s on-board computer controls. A very handy resource in combat especially if you needed to take a quick peek at the bounty hunter behind you and couldn’t remember the correct button to press! It was such a novel idea that I thought worked really well at the time.
No longer just a breadbin, welcome to my Cobra MKIII flight controls.
Next is the ship identification chart (poster), again serving as a reference guide to all the ships that you might encounter, attack or need to get the hell away from. As a kid I proudly stuck this to my wall and even now, all those polygon shaped ships and logo still look kinda cool.
Of course the most useful of all the contents is the Space Traders Flight Training Manual. Not only a definitive instruction manual for the game comprising of navigational, trading and combat details, but also provides a wealth of data regarding ship types, political profiles of the Galactic Federation, and helpful advise for intergalactic traders. It’s all a load of piffle really, but the incredible amount of detailing contained within the book just pulls you in to the Elite world and you can’t help but admire the work that had gone into producing such a fine book.
Next up we have the Quick Key Control Guide, a 2 page reference to every key control in the game.
All pilots shouldn’t leave home without it!
The two other bits included in the box was an offer to upgrade the cassette version of the game to the floppy disk version (for a knockdown price of £4). Very handy at the time because it wasn’t long before I’d splashed out on a 1541 disk drive and eagerly took up this offer. The second bit is an application form to for entrance to the ‘Order of Elite’. All ‘Elite Cadets’ were eligible to join after attaining the rank of competent or higher and would in return receive a full color poster and the official Order of Elite’ insignia. Every three month, the ‘Elite Elders’ would select three of the most skilled cadets and award them with the Order of Elite. As a bumper prize, said cadets will also receive the the complete range of Firebird’s Commodore 64 software and the top cadet each month would receive a framed and personally inscribed Elite award and invited to to the play-off to win a week in Manhatten.
Sadly, I didn’t recieve anything but with all the years of practise, I wonder if i’d make the cut this time…..oh, have just read ‘offer ends November 1985′
..and on to the final and best piece of Elite goodness was the inclusion of the novella ‘The Dark Wheel’ by Robert Holdstock. Not only is it a cracking Sci-Fi read itself, enriched in the Elite universe, it provides a great backdrop to the game like no other at the time.
For those interested, the full transcript from the book can be found here – http://www.iancgbell.clara.net/elite/dkwheel.htm
Elite was/is such a fantastic, engrossing and rewarding game made even more special by the those wonderful box contents. There have been many others like it since, but it’s with Elite and the excitement when first opening the box is what I remember the most.
After all these years, I finally brought the Beeb version last year at the Vintage Computer Festival at Bletchley park – see my previous post - http://stiggyblog.wordpress.com/2010/06/22/vintage-computer-festival/
Firebird or Acornsoft box artwork, which do you prefer?..The latter for me please