Matt Chat 5: Acornsoft's Elite (1984)

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Welcome to the weekend with Matt Chat 5, covering another of the all-time greatest retrogaming classics. This week I look at Acornsoft's Elite, the pioneering space-trading game that made such a huge impact in the mid 1980s on the BBC Micro and other platforms.

Related item on Armchair Arcade:
Firebird's Elite: A Look Back at the Greatest Game Ever Made

Also, in April, Gamasutra will be publishing our feature-length bonus chapter for "Vintage Games" on this game, so Elite fans have much more to look forward to!

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Chris Kennedy
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Hey Matt

I've never played nor heard of Elite. I am therefore very happy to watch this Matt Chat. My first experience in this sort of style was probably Wing Commander: Privateer as you mentioned. The first game I owned and played that came close was probably Star Raiders for the Atari 2600. However the overlay for that got misplaced quickly, and I think it faded to the back of the drawers. Therefore, Privateer (twelve years later?) was where it really picked up for me.

Forgive me for never having heard of Elite. That's probably a tough thing to read after you've referred to it as the greatest game of all time.

How is the animation of this game? From your video, it looks like it is fairly smooth with the occasional slowdown when animation kicks up. That sure was a lot of debris I saw during the aftermath of the various battles. It seems to me like the speed or "framerate" (if you want to call it that) would be fairly important to this game in order to maintain interest. It's just a guess. I would really have to sit down and play it. Wireframe graphics are perfectly fine so long as they animate well, in my opinion. The majority of the animation for Elite looks pretty good, but of course I was watching a flash video.

I think my favorite part of Elite would probably be recovering the cargo floating out in space since it has a bit of a surprise factor to it. Is the only goal of the game to achieve the best status and wealth? Does it end in any sort of way? I don't recall finishing Privateer, but I know there was some sort of plot. Would you usually reach a point in Elite where you would start over due to achieving the best status, or could you keep pushing through the game and still have fun despite achieving the best status? Seems like once you hit top status you would probably want to just start over to maintain the challenge factor or goal.

In a game like say...Street Rod, I *think* you could pretty much just keep racing and doing whatever you wanted to forever until finally challenging and beating the King of the Road/County. Didn't know if there was some sort of "finish it off" type of ending like that for Elite.

Thanks for the video, Matt.

- Chris

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Calibrator
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Ah, comments are working again!

This video shows much progress: Better moderation, better lighting, camera not too close and less book pimpin' ;-)

As for Elite: Didn't play that one very often as I only had access to the C64-version that a friend had. So no real career path for me! ;-)
However, it was apparent back then that though all these planets were made up using some sort of random number generator they evoked the feeling of a real universe (well, considering the possibilities back then).
I'd like to call games of this scope "Space Opera" - even though there isn't much of a plot - as they are far more sophisticated than shooters, however tactical they are (like Star Raiders). Privateer is another good example!

I was dreaming of programming some sort of Elite-game but with a real bridge like the Enterprise crew had (similar to Silent Service) but nothing ever came out of it as I couldn't find much interest in the trading bit after all and I got too interested in fantasy CRPGs...

For the interested: The assembly source code of the original BBC version is out there somewhere but it's not really understandable. They apparently used the built-in assembler of that machine and it looks like a defective BASIC listing. One would've to reformat it to gain anything from it but even then it would be a major task to actually understand it.

take care,
Calibrator

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Mark Vergeer
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Good Vid. You do this type

Good Vid. You do this type of thing really well! But try to refrain from moving your hands too much and if you do. Move them asymmetrically. Otherwise you'll end up moving about like George W Bush does with his symmetrical hand gestures that just look off.

Great Game Elite! Perhaps viewers should look into the wonderful game of Mercenary after taking a good look at Elite. I played this quite a bit on the c64 when it came out. We did actually have access to Elite in a neighboring high school way back and my first game of Elise actually was on the BBC. That was until I obtained the game for the c64. It was hard getting my hands on the original version on the shops. It was actually quite a lot easier to get my hands on the pirated version in the school-yard. Ah well....

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Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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Matt Barton
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Nice comments, guys. I was

Nice comments, guys. I was bothered enough by Mark's comment to do some research into hand gestures and found some great videos with lots of advice on that and other topics. I also found a very convincing video that said forget about it lol!

To CKRtech: the framerates were horrible in the BBC Micro emulator, and I'm honestly not sure what it was like on an actual machine. The game stuttered bad whenever there were explosions or too many objects on the screen, making an already difficult game even more difficult to control. Again, I'm not sure what it was like on an original machine, but I'd love to hear if the framerate dropping was that bad. I didn't notice it at all on my C-64 back in the day.

Street Rod is another of my favorite oldies and probably worth a chat at some point. :)

Like Calibrator, I also tried to program my own game based on Elite for the C-64. I had fun, but unfortunately the game never materialized. :)

By the way, there are plenty of modern-day Elites out there, though you have to look carefully for them. Probably the best all around (from what I hear) is Eve Online, the MMO based on Elite. It looks like tons of fun and probably worth checking out some day.

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Rowdy Rob
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Different people watching the same video, differing viewpoints.

I am on pain meds this week, so I am afraid to post, lest I say something regrettable. (I suffered an injury, but will fully recover, BTW). But since you (Matt) gave me a shout-out, I felt I owe a thank you and commentary in response. It took a while for the "shout-out" to register that you were talking about me, because believe it or not, "Rowdy Rob" isn't my real name... :-)

(P.S. In case you are wondering, "Rowdy Rob" was my old Jiu-Jitsu class nickname which sort of stuck, with everyone calling me "Rowdy" for several years. Nobody calls me "Rowdy" anymore, though, so that's why the "shout-out" missed me at first. Thank you for the kind comments in the video.)

Interesting that Mark had a problem with the hand gesturing, because I didn't even notice it the first time I watched the video. After reading Mark's comments, I rewatched the video and noticed it. Yes, you are moving your hands a lot. Mark, being a trained psychologist, might be interpreting your hand signals as relating to your deep psyche, and probably has the men in white coats coming for you. But for me, it just looked natural, and therefore unnoticeable (the first time), nothing out of the ordinary. But you may want to consider Mark's (and probably others') thoughts and adjust your hand movements accordingly if you feel it is a concern. Just because I didn't notice it doesn't mean that the other 99.9% of your viewers didn't notice it.

On the other hand (pun???), you looked very relaxed in the video, perhaps being comfortable with your "screen presence." Worrying about your hands might affect that.

The presentation was good (as always). The music threw me off at first.... ("is that the in-game music??!!?" I thought to myself at first). But it fit well with the game imagery, so it worked, particularly taking into account the ambition of it. Did Elite have it's own theme or in-game music?

Again, the commentary was excellent... perhaps your best yet. It was delivered very naturally, yet was detailed and informative. It made me want to play this game!

As for concerns about "book pimping," I am actually disappointed that there wasn't more of it! Not "more" in a time sense, but more in an "effective" sense. HOLD THOSE BOOKS UP and say "Hi, I'm Matt Barton, Professor of (whatever it is you're professor of, I forget), author of D&D and co-author of VG, read our Gamasutra articles.... etc. etc." Believe it or not, it actually adds "credibility" to your presentations, because it shows that you are an established authority figure on the subject of videogames. Nothing wrong with doing a "regular guy" video, but you are not a regular guy, you are an AUTHORITY FIGURE (This goes for Bill too). And if you're going to mention the books, it's good to actually SEE the books, to show that they are REAL books.

"Oh, I don't want to be seen as pimping our book......" Well then what the hell did you write it for if you don't want people to know about it, buy it, and read it???? I know that sounds harsh, but you wrote a book, so it's expected that you're going to want to get people to buy it. I'm just stating the obvious, right? Do it tastefully, but PIMP THE HECK OUT OF IT! You probably won't get a better chance than the present. You worked hard for your success; as long as you're not hurting other people, go for it.

What I am trying to say with all my nonsense is: mention the books, hold them up, "pimp" them for a few secs, then move on to the game commentary. Nothing excessive, just tasteful. What's the harm in that? Viewers get a game commentary, and you gain more potential customers. Seems straightforward to me, yet some might find that objectionable. I disagree with them.

As for Elite, I've never played it, but have played many of its descendants, and I love this type of game. The combination of action space battles and empire-building makes the "Elite" genre possibly my favorite type of game. I had enormous fun with modern variations, such as "Freelancer" and "Space Rangers 2." I would love to tell you all about "Space Rangers 2," but I'll save that one for another time.

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Matt Barton
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Rowdy Rob wrote:

I am on pain meds this week, so I am afraid to post, lest I say something regrettable. (I suffered an injury, but will fully recover, BTW).

Get well soon!

Quote:

(P.S. In case you are wondering, "Rowdy Rob" was my old Jiu-Jitsu class nickname

Interesting! I've been taking Tong Soo Do now for two semesters. Lots of fun, plus our instructor, Dan Knoll, has about 30 years experience applying the stuff in a major state prison (he's the guy that has to deal with uncooperative prisoners). You learn more from him in about 30 minutes than you would years somewhere else.

Quote:

On the other hand (pun???), you looked very relaxed in the video, perhaps being comfortable with your "screen presence." Worrying about your hands might affect that.

That's kinda what I'm worried about. If I get too worried about not moving my hands, making sure my hair looks 100% perfect, etc., it's not going to be fun anymore and will probably look terrible. I'd rather be relaxed and just be myself than be all nervous because I don't look like a professional television host.

Quote:

The presentation was good (as always). The music threw me off at first.... ("is that the in-game music??!!?" I thought to myself at first). But it fit well with the game imagery, so it worked, particularly taking into account the ambition of it. Did Elite have it's own theme or in-game music?

The BBC Micro version I played did NOT have music at all. I'm not sure if that holds true for all BBC Micro versions or not. The C-64 version didn't have intro music but did play a chiptune version of Blue Danube (what you hear in the video). The Commodore 128 version has intro music (not sure about other versions). At any rate, I wasn't very impressed, so just opted for a public domain recording of the real song and thought it'd be fun to play that instead.

Quote:

As for concerns about "book pimping," I am actually disappointed that there wasn't more of it!...Oh, I don't want to be seen as pimping our book......" Well then what the hell did you write it for if you don't want people to know about it, buy it, and read it????

Wow, thanks for posting that, Rob. I've been getting a few odd remarks here and there, but reading your posts always clarifies things. I can see what you mean about talking about the books in terms of "here's why you should listen to me" type approach rather than turning into an infomercial man always hawking like a carney. I could probably work up a standard 20 sec spiel about who I am and just recycle it for every video.

Quote:

As for Elite, I've never played it, but have played many of its descendants, and I love this type of game. The combination of action space battles and empire-building makes the "Elite" genre possibly my favorite type of game. I had enormous fun with modern variations, such as "Freelancer" and "Space Rangers 2." I would love to tell you all about "Space Rangers 2," but I'll save that one for another time.

I had fun playing Elite on the BBC Micro, but I must admit, it'd be even more fun with smoother frame rates and better graphics. The problem is that many of the sequels mess up the gameplay by making it too complicated or just not open-ended enough. I got heavy into Frontier for the Amiga and finally just got bored sick of it (though granted not after any weeks of intense gameplay).

Check out Vega Strike if you can; I interviewed the developer awhile back and was really intrigued. It's a freebie.

Not many people realize that all these games go back to Traveller, the sci-fi tabletop boardgame. I haven't played that either, though it sounds fantastic.

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Rowdy Rob
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Hand movements, book pimping, and Traveller :-)
Matt Barton wrote:
Quote:

On the other hand (pun???), you looked very relaxed in the video, perhaps being comfortable with your "screen presence." Worrying about your hands might affect that.

That's kinda what I'm worried about. If I get too worried about not moving my hands, making sure my hair looks 100% perfect, etc., it's not going to be fun anymore and will probably look terrible. I'd rather be relaxed and just be myself than be all nervous because I don't look like a professional television host.

I think you hit upon the solution in your last sentence up there. Honestly, I seriously doubt Mark was trying to make you self-conscious. From my perspective, it looked natural, and I would probably never have noticed the hand movements even after repeated viewings if Mark didn't point it out. Mark has powers of human observation beyond mere mortals (possibly because I suspect he's been heavily trained to read body language as part of his profession). Seriously, "Bush's asymmetrical hand movements" is on a level way above my understanding!

But in general, people tend to gesture with their hands when making a point (at least in America, maybe not so much elsewhere, I don't know). If you were flailing away like an epileptic octopus on a hot plate, that's different. Maybe Mark will clarify what he means, because it seems like a non-issue to me. But since you are working on perfecting your presentations (lighting, editing, cinematography, personal presence, etc.), Mark was just trying to give some pointers on that level from the presentation viewpoint. That's how I took it.

Matt Barton wrote:
Quote:

As for concerns about "book pimping," I am actually disappointed that there wasn't more of it!...Oh, I don't want to be seen as pimping our book......" Well then what the hell did you write it for if you don't want people to know about it, buy it, and read it???? Seriously, "Bush's asymmetrical hand movements" is on a level way above my understanding.

Wow, thanks for posting that, Rob. I've been getting a few odd remarks here and there, but reading your posts always clarifies things..

What I was REALLY trying to say was: don't let a few naysayers try to intimidate you guys into shutting up and not saying anything at all about your books! You are not "carneys." It's not in your nature, and as far as I know, you are not spamming anyone. Such practices are indeed annoying, and you guys are aware enough not to do that. It's unfortunate that we've latched on the word "pimping" in reference to your book, because that word has such a negative connotation. People visit the game-oriented forums like this one because they like to read about games. You wrote a book about games. Therefore, it's a no-brainer, in my mind, to mention the book. Many people will like to read it, and will probably enjoy it, give or take differing tastes. People who are not interested will ignore it.

Quote:

Check out Vega Strike if you can; I interviewed the developer awhile back and was really intrigued. It's a freebie.

Not many people realize that all these games go back to Traveller, the sci-fi tabletop boardgame. I haven't played that either, though it sounds fantastic.

Thanks for the heads up on Vega Strike, it seems totally up my alley!

As for Traveller, I "refereed" it briefly as a teen, and was the first one I knew who purchased the set and introduced it to my friends. One of my friends also ref'ed his own Traveller campaign briefly. Traveller wasn't a "boardgame," it was a D&D-style pen-and-paper RPG. It was much "drier" than D&D, though, lacking all the exciting mythos and monsters, so we all just shifted back to D&D. I don't see the influence of Traveller in these Elite-style games beyond superficial things, and those similarities might be coincidental more than anything.

Unfortunately, I no longer have any of the original Traveller materials, other than a "module" booklet (as they would call it in D&D terminology, I forget what the Traveller term is). The module booklet is probably in poor condition. I also have a TSR "Top Secret" RPG rulebook in poor condition, and I once new the daughter of the creator (or one of the creators) of TSR's "Boot Hill" roleplaying game. Ironically, she didn't approve of RPG's or his involvement (I won't go into details).

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Mark Vergeer
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Hand motions

Making hand gestures is good body language when being face to face with someone. Matt I wasn't trying to bring down your confidence or anything. Matt, you are a natural when it comes to narrating. You've got this great Groucho Marx air about you. And man do you look French! Your ancestors must have been and so is your name.

But God what have I started?

It is just that on a small frame mostly filled with the narrator in the screen such two handed symmetrical gestures need to be deminished a little because the frame enhances the gestures to great extend and thus make them rather a bit too obvious whilst in real life they would be absolutely fine. Your hand motions are very natural and I would not want to change them one bit!

But if you sit in the frame and are filmed up close, like the last video you did. A simple thing like hand motions - especially two hands is blown out of proportion. The environment in which you are viewed is limited and somewhat artificial by the very nature of the way the frame is set up. It is just a small part of your world we are seing - which is fine for this type of video. But you do need to change body language/motion a little bit to accomodate the small world you are inhabiting in the frame. Try using one hand and make the same gestures. It'll work better. Or zoom out a little with more of your body visible in the frame. You can flail whatever you want with a bigger canvas. ;-)

Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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Rowdy Rob
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Mark, that makes perfect, logical sense now!
Mark Vergeer wrote:

But if you sit in the frame and are filmed up close, like the last video you did. A simple thing like hand motions - especially two hands is blown out of proportion.

So what you're saying, Mark, is that the closer the shot, the more the minor movements of the body are exaggerated. That makes total, logical sense from a "cinematography" standpoint! I'm glad you cleared that up, because I admit that I was baffled by what you meant previously about Matt's normal and unnoticeable (to me) hand gestures. You see, Matt, there's nothing to get a complex about. Mark was just giving logical presentation advice.

If Mark's comments gave you a complex (ha ha, he had you scrambling for "hand gesture" tutorials), you're REALLY going to become a basket case if you ever have to appear on camera for "WOOT!" or "G4" or whatever. Believe it or not, I have experience in this, having once worked in TV production for a local, low-budget TV station back in my early 20's. I was a sound engineer, but on one occasion I had to DIRECT the Christmas production. I had to say things like "stop blinking so much," "don't turn your back towards the camera," "sit up straighter," "talk louder," "keep your head up," etc. That's part of the territory if you're going to appear on camera. What might otherwise seem normal or unnoticeable in real life might look awkward or exaggerated on camera.

And you are FAR more naturally camera-presentable than many of the people we had to film, including local politicians who are supposed to be charismatic! You come across as a "cool" guy doing videogame commentaries. You're not as cool as me (but who is?), but you're still cool. :-) Lighten up, relax, and keep those "Matt Chats" coming! And you don't need to wear a bag over your head in the next one. Sheesh!

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Mark Vergeer
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No bags necessary!

Indeed, no Bag over head and looking forward to the next Matt Chat!

DRM-woes I am also looking forward to the Woot!!! documentary Bill and Matt are filming - I am also quite curious when this documentary will actually be viewable in Europe. Probably in the regular 6-months to two years time. I tell you - the US entertainment industry is loosing out on a lot of money because of this.

I hope it will come out on DVD and as my DVD-players are region free I will no doubt import a region 1 disc!

Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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