Monday, 8 March 2010

Retro Mondays: Mostly Harmless

So today I want to have a bit of a chat about Elite. I think back to Elite as a magical, almost perfect game - but on reflection this is a rose-tinted reverie, and that's the default setting for anyone who played the game back in the old days.

Sure, it had 3D graphics, using hidden line vectors, which when you consider the platforms it was working on was nothing short of miraculous. In fact, nothing much moved forward in that field until the release of Driller with it's filled polygon structures (and Driller was a crap game as well). I could digress and talk about Starglider, which was a pretty cool 3D wireframe game as well... but Elite was the big one.

Here's the facts though - Elite was, under it all, a pretty boring game. It was, like World of Warcraft, a treadmill the made you fatter. You'd find a trade route and you would hammer it round and round and round to build up the credits to get new stuff. That Type 3 Mining Laser, for example... mining in Elite draws definite comparisons to mining in WoW - it's just grinding for cash. You could buy yourself a Docking Computer, brilliant - the fact about docking in Elite is that you could choose between irritating and frustrating (no docking computer) or get the docking computer and enjoy long winded and dreary docking sequences.

Hey wow, get a Galactic Hyperdrive! Travel to another galaxy, different in every way but its base level of tedium!

Then there were the Vipers. Jesus, guys, I know this is a democratic planetary system, but I'm only trading slaves because there's a demand - maybe you should take a closer look at your own society before judging me. Besides which, if you shoot me out of the sky, then you're also shooting the slaves to oblivion as well. This makes me think that the space police care a little less about the value of human life than they'd like to admit.

And don't even get me started on the fictional missions that the fanboys raved about, where you have to blow up a space station with a special missile. I don't believe it for a second.

The more I think about it, the more I see the parallels between Elite and World Of Warcraft, they attract a certain kind of player - players like me, who's CV could include the words "Paddy greatly enjoys performing repetitive tasks". But despite the joy of playing both games for hours upon endless hours there is one major attribute both games have, and it's this - I've never reached L80 in WoW, and I never ever reached the rank of Elite.

I guess that I'm actually just bitter. Braben and Bell laid the groundwork for so much that followed, and made an entire generation of young men fat and sunlight-intolerant. The way the galaxies were generated algorithmically from seed values was a moment of genius in a time when 16K was considered a lot of storage. Graphically, it was a revolution. Even the marketing was a new level in the world on computer games, including a science fiction novella by Robert Holdstock in the packaging, and offering a prize for the first person to reach the legendary rank of Elite.

Damn it Elite, you're a bad wife. I love you even now, but I still want to smash you with a shovel.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely. I once downloaded Elite for an Amiga emulator I was running to revisit games of youth, and spent 2 weeks trying to work what the hell was going on.

    After lord-knows how many hours, I'd managed to dock without crashing once. ONCE. I gave up, and went into a 48-hour Speedball 2 fugue. There I rediscovered the L-shaped learning curve the Bitmaps built into the game - Lower league won by EVERY GAME, upper league defeated in EVERY GAME. I read about EVE online's supposedly insane learning curve, but I really doubt that it's anything compared to the tribulations of Brutal Deluxe.

    Anyway, Paddy, I'd say that grinding to 80 on WoW is more of a time commitment than anything else - I have one, nearly 2 at 80 now. Wheras my brief foray into wireframe space-trading (I mean, listen to that, as if there is anything that is going to tickle my fancy more) proved that Elite requires skill and patience. Or possibly just spatial awareness.