01/15/2012

X3 and Elite

Posted by – January 15, 2012

It probably doesn’t surprise anybody that I’ve added “X3: Albion Prelude” (Egosoft) to my collection of playable games. This is supposed to be an expansion to “X3:Terran Conflict” (earlier on xsamplex), but to be honest, it doesn’t feel like that: from what I can tell is that some of the X3:TC features aren’t there. It feels more like a stand-alone game than an expansion, which makes the $9.99 price it sold at initially a very reasonable price. Alright: this is not supposed to be a review of sorts, so,

The reason I bring up X3 is that the joy playing this game stems from the initial skirmishes I had in the MSX version of Elite, like, way back in the late 80s (earlier). At one time I showed someone some X3 gameplay, and I was asked what ‘the point is of travelling for hours without doing anything at all’. Which is true: the game doesn’t have real goals (besides the missions). The only goal in the game is whatever the player wants to make out of it. On your own pace.

This is also what set Elite apart, 25 or so years ago, and it was indeed one of the most successful games ever made. I wish X3 would get the same attention as I believe Egosoft is doing something remarkable here.

09/23/2009

Elite 25

Posted by – September 23, 2009

Via-via, I heard about the 25th anniversary of the computer game ‘Elite’ (Wikipedia), indeed as Wikipedia calls it, the seminal Space/Trading/Combat game released in September of 1984. It was first released for an Acorn BBC and over the years it was (succesfully) ported to other 8 bit systems, like, in our case, the MSX computers.

If I remember correctly, we found out about the game in a popular tech magazine, which detailed the addictiveness and open-endedness of the game. The graphics for the game were pretty much advanced too, that is, for the early Eighties: I mean, who would have thought of using vector graphics to draw 3D spaceships and celestial bodies?

Eventually, a lot later than everybody else, we got our hands on a copy of the game and found out that ‘docking’ at space stations was a nearly impossible task. We weren’t the only ones who thought it was impossibler: Twenty five years later, David Braben (co-designer of the game) admitted:

Pt2. I might want to make docking a bit easier – but we did try at the time – we had no more memory to make it any more sophisticated.

Et tu, David?

That didn’t stop us from playing the game though: in fact, we managed to reverse-engineer the savegame file format. Which meant that we were able to give ourselves a whole bunch of credits, specialty upgrades and the inevitable and necessary ‘docking’ device (of course). Not bad and I wonder if that part was the foundation for the “file-format studies” I eventually embarked on in my career as a programmer.

I personally never made it to the rank ‘Elite’: I can’t even remember how long I played it but it definitely wasn’t for years. Like all other games, it eventually wore out. I don’t think we ever discovered the proper bits to set this rank in our savefiles (we assumed it was heavily encoded with checksums). That is, until recently, I hear that the magic word was 0×1900.