Narrative editing of Elite Dangerous Premonition is complete

Posted by on 4:02 pm in Progress Report | 1 comment

Another big hurdle out of the way. Today I put the finishing touches to the narrative edit of Elite Dangerous Premonition!

This means we’re now at a third draft (Draft one was the rough story, draft two was my own personal edit) and the book is in really good shape. Lots of plot holes and inconsistencies have been worked out, extraneous text has been axed, prose has been tightened, POV and pace has been enhanced. That all goes to making it better to read and more enjoyable.

In total there were 734 changes made based on suggestions by my ever so talented editor, Mae. Word count remains a chunky 153,086 words!

Next up is the copyedit. The manuscript now goes for a professional ‘spit and polish’, looking for errant typos, grammar and other inconsistencies. Once that’s done it will be ready for typesetting, the actual process of turning it into a book.

Having read it all through again it’s already much better than it was. I’m now really confident I have a solid, exciting and quality story that’s a worthy sequel to my original book, but will also stand on its own for Elite Dangerous aficionados and new readers alike. More importantly I’m confident it captures what’s been happening in the game and gives the reader the chance to experience all those events over again from a different, and more in depth, perspective. I’m hopeful it will also stand as an SF novel in its own right.

I’m really looking forward to what people make of it. Production time lines look encouraging. Once I have more news on that I’ll let you know straight away.

I’ll sign off with Mae’s last comments to me – “You’ve done an incredible job with it. It’s a great book.”

Elite Dangerous Premonition is with the editors

Posted by on 8:50 pm in Progress Report | 0 comments

A major milestone for me today. The second draft of Elite Dangerous Premonition was finished and sent to the editors. 151,354 words in total.

I have incorporated all the details from the event that happened on the 29th of April into the closing chapters of the book. The overall story has had a ‘lore consistency check’ from Frontier Developments and the manuscript is now in the hands of the editors for fettling.

The second draft is complete!

At this point the story is told, it ‘makes sense’ from beginning to end. Hopefully most of the major plot-holes are filled in. (A couple of howlers were spotted en-route!). The overall story has been approved by Frontier in its close to final form.

So it’s ready then?

No. There will still be a lot of problems with the book at this stage. Typos for sure, POV inconsistencies, character dialogue which isn’t quite right. Descriptions that are too long or too short, pacing that doesn’t suit the scene… this is all stuff that needs to be fixed and authors aren’t always great at it.

I’m happy the story is a good one, but to turn this into a book requires a different kind of magic now… the editor. These wonderful folks turn a good yarn into a proper readable form. They dramatically improve the text, tightening passages, cutting out the flabby words, firming the tone, sharpening the words and dealing with the dross. What comes out is the same story, but punchier, harder, more compelling, more exciting and, well, just better!

I’m lucky enough to be using the same one who worked on Elite: Reclamation all those years ago. An SF specialist and someone who already knows the ins and outs of the Elite Dangerous universe. We’re in safe hands, Commanders.



Posted by on 3:52 pm in Announcements | 99 comments

Commander Salomé, ex-Senator and disgraced lady Kahina Tijani Loren of the empire, is dead.

She was confirmed killed at 20:49 gametime on 29th April, 3303, succumbing to hostile fire from Commander Harry Potter.

Some will accuse me of having scripted this event. Some will accuse me of seeding factions and sowing discord on the discord. I would love to accept such a compliment, but I’m not that good. I can write a plot, but I cannot manipulate an entire playerbase to my whim.

Salomé’s death was the result of you, the Elite Dangerous community, what you did and didn’t do. I set out to write your story. For good or for ill, for heroes and villains, for Elitists and for compatriots, for factions and lone-wolves, for griefers and carebears – this is the universe of Elite Dangerous and the book will be true to that zeitgeist.

She survived, in open mode, being assailed by hostile commanders almost immediately, for 1 hour and 45 minutes due to a combination of strategy, practice and a measure of luck. She even had our start location advertised. I’ll agree, the odds were against her.

Salomé got within 6 systems of our target, having fought her way across 600 lightyears of space. Her ship was battered and damaged. At the point Salomé was finally interdicted her hull was holding up well, but the modules within were shot. The FSD drive was failing to engage. Chaff and weapons were offline. We had an AFMU – we’d already used it completely – twice. We prioritised repairs to the FSD hull (not the hull as you can’t repair it! – my bad), shields and thrusters, hoping to limp on. We had stocked up on jumponium, but we had used it all in our flight. We suffered some client disconnects, but we never combat logged.

She didn’t make it. Harry Potter dealt the death blow, but she was already dying by that point due to other interdictions by hostile players and our attempts to escape using emergency FSD drops. Contrary to rumours circulating, Commander Potter wasn’t part of Salomé’s wing at any point. A valiant proactive, reactive and strategic defense was managed by allied forces in an attempt to keep her alive. You can read about that here.

When news of her death was confirmed there was silence. Deep meaningful silence. Then sobs and cries. Anger, vengeance and retribution followed. This was humanity – this was the aim.

Yes, I had anticipated her death. Clearly that was a highly probable outcome. Personally I was hoping she would make it. She had a speech all ready to go – she liked speeches. That will never see the light of day now because you changed the story. But this wasn’t scripted, there was only preparation for as many eventualities as we could foresee. The logs in the Teorge system were revealed by the three protagonists that did make the flight.

The Elite Dangerous universe goes a different way, a page is turned. This chapter is at an end.

There was a lot that went wrong (some of it in our control, some of it not), much that could be improved. I will review it and learn from it, as will others. Rest assured, those behind their scenes did their utmost best to make this work. They deserve your praise regardless of how you view the outcome.

I would like to thank everyone who contributed, in any way. The sheer hard work and dedication of my team of conspirators in planning the event, the military precision of the private discord channel attempting to plot a path through the madness. The wider community discords attempting to bring some organisation to the chaos, those who did what the hell they liked. The streamers, the viewers, the forum and reddit denizens, the tinfoilers. For Frontier in creating this amazing game and working with me to build this story. Even Harry Potter. You all played a part.

Edit – Lave Radio has published an interview with the Children of Raxxla and the PAC. It is a good guide to what really occurred on the 29th.

Edit – More details can also be gained by listening to the BroCast Podcast on the event. 

Edit – An extremely well-written article on the events of the 29th, by Polygon.

o7, Commanders.


29-04-3303 Your universe needs you, CMDR!

Posted by on 10:36 am in Announcements | 25 comments

With a lot of healthy speculation around the 29th event, some press coverage, various stream interviews and with the help of my fellow conspirators, I thought I’d provide a little more background to the structure of the event. Many thanks to CMDR Erimus in particular for his help here.

The original event that we envisioned many months ago was a chase from A to B, across the frontier worlds and into the bubble. We looked to see if this was feasible and interesting enough given the game limitations and instancing mechanics.

We came to the view that it wasn’t, at least not in such a simplistic manner. One of three things would occur with that scenario:

  • All the protagonists would die in the first 5 minutes
  • All of the protagonists would leave everyone in their wake and be gone in a flash
  • The servers would melt with having so many people gathered in one location at one specific time (the Distant Worlds Sag-A* showed that is one scenario FD won’t appreciate!).

So the event is designed to transpire as follows:

The protagonists will leave 46 Eridani and attempt to reach their destinations somewhere central within in the core worlds (bubble), and those aligned to them, or opposed to them, are encouraged to spread out across the frontier and deploy fleets to areas that the protagonists will attempt to run through.

People who want to help and be involved them can fight for superiority in those areas and prevent blockades and camps from forming, while those who are opposed to the protagonists can attempt to chase down and outmanoeuvre the fugitives, or gain control of the hotspot regions that allies will be patrolling.

This allows several things. Firstly if players follow these guidelines, the event will be spread out over a larger area so the whole thing isn’t based on one single focal point and stressing the servers.

It allows players on both sides to use some tactics and strategy to out manoeuvre each other, they can deploy scouts and use intel to spy on each other (which is already happening), they have an opportunity to use tactics, deception, and put some thought into ship loadouts other than simply taking the fastest thing they have.

Rather than a simple chase, we have a series of factions, fleets and ships jockeying for position between 46 Eridani and the core.

Groups and alliances have been forming for the last few weeks, on both sides. Individuals and lonewolf players are taking part and finding roles for themselves, be it scouting for either side, or infiltrating the various discords to gather intel that suits them if they’re an opportunist bounty hunter.

Instancing remains an issue, but we can’t do anything about it on the technical level – hence the guidance here. Anything on this scale will always be at the mercy of that.

In saying all that, there’s a chance that all the protagonists will die in the first 5 minutes, but there’s also a chance one or two of them could make it to their destinations too.

Whatever happens people need to understand that nothing of this type or scale has been tried before (that we’re aware of) so there is no blueprint to work from.

We don’t know how it’ll pan out – Regardless, not everyone will be happy. That’s the only thing we’re 100% sure of! We’re appealing to the community to get stuck in and make it the best it can be. You all get to write on, Commanders.

Those who want to see the protagonists fail, please feel free to open your own servers and get organized, there’s still time. Or seek out players that have already done that for you.

Deep in the Formidine Rift…

Posted by on 9:43 am in Announcements | 7 comments

In the early hours of this morning, the combined efforts of uncounted numbers of Elite Dangerous players came to a head with the discovery of an abandoned ‘mega’ ship far out in the depths of the galactic void.

Clues to this discovery date back to January 2014 when I put the finishing touches to my original Elite Dangerous book “Reclamation“. Now, through a series of unravelled clues, player investigations, long searches and sheer hard work by the player community, the mystery alluded to within has unravelled.

First it was an off-hand conversation, a passing mention of something called the “Formidine Rift” by an old lady in a hospital. Later a vague trajectory plot found in secret Imperial data banks. “Take a line from Reorte to Riedquat to the edge of the arm … and keep going.”

Players went looking, triangulating the course as they uncovered other clues. Beacons, bases, puzzles, obfuscation and misdirection… 3 years have passed. Players also changed the outcome, and have yet to decide the resolution of this particular premonition.

I may have written this story, but it was brought to life by the incredible development team at Frontier Developments. Voice acting (provided by the amazing Amelia Tyler and Jay Britton), music, sound effects and the amazing ship model itself were created to bring the story to life in such a grander way than mere text can convey.

Spoilers ahead then, so avoid if you want to visit the ship yourself. Video courtesy of CMDR Shabooka of the Brocast.

Elite Dangerous Premonition – First Draft Complete

Posted by on 2:54 pm in Progress Report | 6 comments

Something of a milestone today.

Having pledged to complete the first draft of Elite Dangerous Premonition this week, I have in fact completed it today. A big push over lunch-time was sufficient to finish off the last remaining scenes, details and some of the major glaring inconsistencies I knew were lurking in the manuscript.

The novel stands at 140,707 words. It took 236 days (7 months, 24 days) to get to this point.

So the book’s ready then?

Not so fast!

What happens next is that I need to re-read the entire story from beginning to end, tweaking and adjusting pace, dialogue, tense, viewpoints, making sure characters ‘pop’ and keep on looking for typos, mistakes, continuity errors and so on. Right now, the book is not even close to ‘ready’, there is still a lot of work to do…

…Not to mention that last chapter that you will all be writing on the 29th of April!

However a first draft is a significant point in the creation of a book. It means there is definitely something very tangible already in existence, the overall story is told and it’s now a case of polishing, refining, tweaking and adjusting.

The second and third drafts will follow in due course, but we are getting close. Many names will be immortalised in the canon, lore will be established and many mysteries revealed.

For now, I write on, Commanders.


Elite Dangerous Lore: The Federation

Posted by on 1:09 pm in Lore | 9 comments

This is one of a series of guides to the Elite Dangerous Universe. You can read the others here.

The Federation is the oldest and largest of the ‘Big Three’ super powers in the human occupied universe of Elite: Dangerous. It has been in existence for over a thousand years. The Federation can trace its origins back to the year 2060.

Even as far back as the early years of the 21st century, many large corporations controlled financial and human resources on a scale far bigger than some countries. In the years following the devastation of World War III in the 2040s, the influence of corporations increased dramatically into the 2050s onwards.

After the war, the dominant power was the United States of the Americas, and as the remaining other countries joined it over the next few decades, it was renamed the Federation of the United States and later “The Federation” as the implied reference to one of the pre-war powers was a block to the remaining countries joining it. It had a constitution and laws derived from the earlier powers, but much simplified.

Industrial activity led the way and ultimately became a founding ethos of the Federation. A base on Mars was constructed and the moon was heavily industrialised by 2080. This activity was primarily driven by the need to rebuild the shattered economy and ecology of the Earth after the depredations of war. Industrial activity quickly spread through the solar system. The stage was set for the purest interpretation of capitalism that humanity has ever known.

Interstellar probes were launched and the remarkable discovery of life in the Tau Ceti system spurred humanity to reach for the stars. A colony was set up thirty years later. Colonies were quickly set up in other locales in close proximity to Sol. Life was also discovered in the Delta Pavonis system, but almost immediately was made extinct by the actions of colonists there.

Similar problems were noted in Beta Hydri and Altair. Humanity began to spread unchecked, in an echo of the problems experienced in the previous century. Tau Ceti was warned by Sol to ensure the preservation of local lifeforms, but silence was the only response. Reports conflict, but independent records of the time (which generally favoured the Tau Cetians) indicate that the colony suffered under very harsh conditions and was simply unable to comply with Sol’s excessive demands. Over the next decade various ultimatums were sent, but they were all ignored. Sol’s patience eventually ran out.

The situation culminated in the first ever interstellar battle in the year 2241 between the forces of Sol, having endured a long voyage to reach the Tau Ceti system, and the rebels of Tau Ceti. The battle was inconclusive, forcing the Sol system to accept an unwelcome agreement to form a union of systems with a common agenda and independent rights – thus was the Federation born. Sol would dominate the affairs of the Federation for centuries, but the founding members were systems in their own right: Sol, Tau Ceti, Delta Pavonis, Altair and Beta Hydri.

Further systems were colonised in short order as humanity spread out amongst the stars. A notable colonisation target was the Achenar system in 2310. A leadership coup resulted in Achenar refusing to join the Federation and this defiance led to the birth of the Empire, during a series of wars that started in 2330 and lasted 50 years between the Federation and the colonists of Achenar. A treaty was signed in 2380, but was largely ignored hereafter.

The Federation ceded several systems to religious groups, notably Van Maanen’s Star, which was given to the ‘Guardians of the Free Spirit’ in 2480. The system remains permit locked even today. The years between 2500-2900 were marked by the increasing dominance of the corporations and the commercial and industrial exploitation of systems increasingly further from Sol. Many colonies were established for the purposes of mining and extraction, remaining major profit and loss centres even now.

In 2994 another conflict broke out between the Federation and the Empire in the Alioth system. The destruction wrought by this conflict, which raged off and on for over 200 years, resulted in the birth of the Alliance, when the residents of Alioth revolted against both super powers and pushed them out of their system.

A Fleet of Federal Farragut Class Battlecruisers

By 3300 the Federation remains the largest power, holding sway over dozens of star systems within the ‘bubble’ of space known as the core worlds. It maintains a significant military force in its navy, the pinnacle of which is the ‘Farragut’ Class battlecruiser, a vessel some 2 kilometres long. A deployment of this vessel tends to quickly end anything other than a very major military engagement.

The Federation remains driven by the corporations. Some of the most famous of them have histories entwined with the Federation. The Sirius corporation, perhaps the biggest of them all, operating out of the Sirius system, has a virtual monopoly on power generators and hyperdrive technology. Other manufacturers are famed throughout space; with names such as Core Dynamics, Lakon Spaceways, Whatt and Pritney, Durn and Resner, Faulcon DeLacy, Zorgon Peterson and Saud Kruger. These so called ‘mega-corporations’ control the birth, lives and deaths of their employees, providing for their every need and expecting absolute loyalty in return.

Technology is a major part of any federation citizen’s life, and the economy is driven by quite conspicuous (and often compulsory) consumption of new and exciting mod cons, luxuries and consumables. The society is very much ‘throwaway’ with the new and exciting replacing the ‘old and outdated’ often within months of acquisition. This drives a constant demand and supply culture, with employees spending the money they earn, further driving the success of the corporations. Strictly speaking the Federation is composed of ‘States’, in a similar manner to the U.S.A. of 21st century Earth, but on a much bigger scale. States can still be countries, but they could be entire systems. The Federation retains a presidential electoral system, but corporations influence this dramatically, expecting their employees to vote according to the corporation’s wishes. Corruption, bribery and underhanded influence are rife. Individual freedoms are suppressed in favour of profit. Greed is good.

The Federation’s capitalist model retains the economic advantages and disadvantages of its predecessors. There are many rich people, but there are many people in grinding poverty too, in such debt to the corporations that they can be regarded as wage-slaves.

The current president of the Federation, Zachary Hudson, was not elected by popular vote, but rather by a vote of no confidence in the liberal leadership under the then missing former president Halsey, prompting observers to postulate that the corporations are likely to be driving the agenda under a thin pretense of democracy.

Regardless, the Federation will continue to have a dramatic, and arguably the most significant, effect on the future of human inhabited space.

Elite Dangerous History: Frontier Elite 2 (FE2)

Posted by on 12:43 pm in Lore | 10 comments

This is one of a series of guides to the Elite Dangerous Universe. You can read the others here.

In this second of series of history articles, I take a look at the second game in the Elite series. Frontier Elite 2, commonly abbreviated to ‘FE2’, came along almost ten years after the original game, being published by Konami in 1993 (rights later sold to GameTek) and primarily written by David Braben, although Ian Bell provided some algorithms for drawing planets and design work on control methods.

Frontier Elite 2

Some work on ‘Elite 2’ had started long before this, with both Ian Bell and David Braben involved in creating a possible sequel to the original game on the BBC and C64 microcomputers in the late 1980s.

Reports differ on why this didn’t come to fruition, though it seems that the 8-bit hardware was too limited and enthusiasm for the project, with other interests taking their toll on time, ultimately put paid to the work.

When FE2, the second game, finally did appear, it was exclusively a 16-bit affair, being made available for the major platforms of the time, the PC, the Commodore Amiga and the Atari ST.

It also featured one of the most cinematic game intros that had been seen up until that point. It’s still worth watching today, to get a feel of how the game introduced itself.

Some original music, particularly the intro theme tune featured above, was composed by David Lowe. For many this is still the definitive ‘Elite’ theme. Other classical works featured in the game too.

The game featured considerable advances and changes over the original. Gone were the simplistic wireframe vector graphics, replaced by fully filled polygonal spacecraft with moving parts and articulated undercarriages.

It is very… blue, in space.

The universe was now semi-realistic, with ‘real’ stars, orbited in real-time by multiple planets simulated with real astronomical detail and a nascent 1:1 scale galaxy convincingly represented – although space had turned ‘blue’ for some reason.

A political background was introduced, with the game having a particular date it was set in, the year 3200 (the original game had no fixed date but has been assumed to have been set in the year 3125. In FE2 you played a great-grandchild of the original player). The Federation and the Empire appeared as two galactic superpowers vying for territory, the player able to rank up with them. This was a significant departure from the original game which appeared to be set in an imaginary series of ‘galaxies’ controlled by the mysterious Galactic Cooperative or ‘Galcop’. This was, perhaps, the first major ‘retcon’ of the Elite universe.

The FE2 Galaxy map

FE2 did include a small subset of the original game systems, collectively known as the ‘Old Worlds’. Players will still be familiar with Lave, Diso, Riedquat, Reorte and Tionisla. There are a number of others from the original game still featured in Elite Dangerous even now. This led to the lore that marked the demise of ‘GalCop’ itself, which was explained as a socio-economic collapse of that political entity sometime prior to 3200. Players had the option to start in the Lave system as in the original game, but had to pay a fine if they wanted to enter the territories of the Federation or the Empire. Another option was to start on Mars. Most players would start the game on the ice-moon Merlin in the Ross 154 system, with a basic Mk1 Eagle.

FE2 also featured a game engine capable of rendering travel through astronomically accurate and realistically sized space and down to a 1:1 scale planetary surface which, though sparse in detail by today’s standards, was convincingly represented with billboards, roads, houses, mountains, clouds, craters and rivers. You could land on all planets with solid surfaces, regardless of whether they had an atmosphere or not.

Analogue clocks were still popular in 3200 AD 😉

Various planetary and stellar types were represented, with different effects being applied to atmospheres, gas giants, and even planetary rings. The same engine was able to render a clock tower (with a working clock) at point blank range. The game also featured a sophisticated external camera.

Most controversially of all, the flight mechanics of the game were based upon newtonian physics rather than the traditional ‘airplanes in space’ trope common to most space flight games. This certainly gave a sense of realism, but was a controversial choice for game-play, often leading to a ‘jousting’ style of combat and a certain difficulty in flying your ship, necessitating the almost mandatory use of an autopilot for navigation and docking for most players. Alas, the autopilot was not all that reliable, meaning that a fiery death dive into a star or planet was a frequent occurrence.

The Orrery has yet to make a return

The mechanics of space travel were also quite different. Gone was the space-skip or Torus drive featured in the earlier versions. Ships in FE2 travelled through space in real-time, taking days or weeks to reach their destinations. This was rendered playable by use of the ‘Stardreamer’ which accelerated time from the perspective of the player. Ships travelled in hyperspace or traditional space using their engines, accelerating and decelerating to their destination by use of their main thrusters.

The player could now change their ship and many of the ships from the original game were featured, along with new ones, though only one ship could be owned at a time.

Remarkably, and once again due to the magic of procedural generation, all of this was contained on a single floppy disk (around 720 kilobytes on the PC version). The game originally being written in 250,000 lines of 68000 assembly code (native for the Amiga and ST) and ported to the 80286 processor for the PC by Chris Sawyer (Anyone familiar with these two processor architectures will appreciate the herculean task involved!). The game taxed those early machines, with performance being quite poor on the early iterations, particularly on the Amiga and ST, though later editions of the hardware solved this successfully. The Amiga version had the virtue of the best music rendition and sound effects.

Stories of life on the Frontier

Once again the game was accompanied by works of fiction, a collection of short works entitled “Stories of life on the Frontier.” and a gazetteer of particular worlds.

There was also an interesting flaw, the so-called ‘wormhole’ bug. Due to a miscalculation of jump range, the player could jump multiples of 655.35 lightyears without using additional fuel. By clever triangulation, vast distances could be covered by judicious plotting.

Thargoid ships at a military base…

There were some curious omissions too. The ubiquitous bad guys, the Thargoids, were almost totally absent from the game and none of the original mysteries such as Raxxla and the Dark Wheel were expanded upon.

Whilst the open ended nature of the game was true to the original, there were no obvious scripted missions present in the game, though there were various simple missions ranging from assassination contracts, passenger missions, to military photographic reconnaissance.


These missions were given by ‘photofit’ style individuals, and the player had a series of prompted responses they could give to queries. Also introduced were new bits of technology such as the ‘hyperspace analyser’ allowing you to track ships and intercept them at their destinations.

Most reviews of the game were positive, with many citing the scale, realistic physics and sheer ambition of the game. A few commented to the effect that gameplay was ‘boring’ as a result of the newtonian mechanics. Certainly some of the visceral nature of the combat from the original game was missing, though it definitely has its loyal fans. Somewhere near 500,000 copies were sold. For many players this was their ‘first’ Elite.

It would be followed by another sequel within two years…


Elite Dangerous History: The original ‘Elite’

Posted by on 2:53 pm in Lore | 22 comments

This is one of a series of guides to the Elite Dangerous Universe. You can read the others here.

This is a rather ambitious series of articles, and will probably see some updates as folks let me know of all the bits I’ve missed along the way. Strictly speaking this isn’t a ‘lore’ document, as it is the history of the Elite games in ‘our’ universe. I haven’t seen a complete series charting this story from beginning until now attempted anywhere else, so I thought I’d have a go.

The Original Elite, 1984 – 1992

The original Elite by David Braben and Ian Bell

It’s hard, at this stage, to return to the pre-Elite days of computer gaming in the early 80s. Back then games were largely simplistic, clones of arcade games or following very closely in their designs. Games were specifically designed to play through in a few minutes, featuring ‘lives’, ‘scores’ and ‘levels’. There were games that broke this mould, but they were few and far between, and often easily forgotten.

The Acorn Computer BBC Microcomputer System (the ‘beeb’ or BBC) was the ‘posh kids’ computer and heavily geared to educational use (benefiting from government subsidies, and thus appearing in many schools in the 1980s). Gaming was certainly not something its creators had as a primary design goal – it had no sprite hardware like the later Commodore 64. It was expensive (£335 in 1981 – the equivalent of around £1,400 today).

The story starts with Ian Bell having brought such a machine with him to Cambridge university where he was studying Mathematics in 1982. There he met David Braben, studying Physics. Both were computer aficionados of a type becoming common in the 80s. At that stage, Ian was working on a game known as “Freefall”, which was later published by “Acornsoft”, a relatively small publishing house, compared to Thorn EMI, in 1983.

David had a written a demo of 3D wireframe spacecraft, and a scrolling starfield on an Acorn Atom (a more primitive precursor to the BBC). This led both to discussions on the limitations of ‘then’ current game design. They were not the first with the 3D ideas, but they were the first to couple the idea with a purpose, a goal and something beyond just a score and ‘another go’.

Elite was born out of the dissatisfaction with the confines of traditional gaming. With no score, what was the purpose? The Thatcherite years of the 1980s provided the answer – money. But money isn’t a score, you can spend money. On what? On upgrades… so your ship had to be inferior to start with. What would be the purpose of upgrading your ship? To defeat other vessels. Why would those other vessels attack you? Because you carried a cargo… so trading was required alongside piracy. There was always a reason for the game mechanics, and the concept developed from there.

The true genius, however, lay in providing the player with choices. Yes, there were pirates out there, but you could become one yourself if you so desired. You had moral choices in the game, with no predetermined path.

The 2001 docking sequence that inspired Elite.

The 2001 docking sequence that inspired Elite.

Inspiration from Star Wars and 2001:A Space Odyssey are obvious in the action packed combat and more reserved, if very tense, docking sequences. Even Douglas Adams gets a nod with the “Mostly Harmless” rating – a microcosm of 80s zeitgeist.

Adams would probably have been quite enchanted with the other bit of genius design. Applying the limited, but still effective, power of those early 8-bit computers with the observations of one Leonardo Fibonacci (1175 – 1250) provided a means for a convincing representation of thousands of planetary systems using a technique later dubbed ‘procedural generation’ – far more data than the machines could actually store in their memories, but repeatable on demand.

Elite, now a working prototype, was pitched to Thorn EMI, one of the biggest games publishers at the time. The result was a disappointment (and a mistake on Thorn’s part similar to the chap from Decca who failed to sign up the Beatles). David and Ian were sent away with the recommendation that they simplify the game, something which would destroy the very essence of what they were trying to achieve.

Elite on the ZX Spectrum

Elite on the ZX Spectrum

Their next stop was the aforementioned Acornsoft, with whom Ian already had a relationship. They were a small outfit, but to their credit, they grasped the genius of Elite. In a canny move, David arranged for Acornsoft to only have rights to the BBC version, allowing the possibility of lucrative ports to other platforms once the BBC version was released.

The game was refined further, and the only real goal, that of becoming ‘Elite’, was added at this stage. The game was originally to be named ‘The Elite’, but in conversation it eventually found its ultimate form. Simply, Elite. The cleverly realised scanner-scope was a last minute addition that required late-in-the-day alterations to the game manual.

Two missions were added, giving a taste of the sort of in-game story telling that would pave the way for future games. One was to hunt down a stolen ‘Constrictor’ spacecraft, the other to ferry some top secret documents across the galaxy.

The Dark Wheel, by Robert Holdstock

The Dark Wheel, by Robert Holdstock

Added into this mix was packaging that was significantly more ambitious than was normal for a computer game. Acornsoft really went to town with a manual, keyboard overlays, ship identification charts and even a specially commissioned novel by Robert Holdstock written to set the scene. The Dark Wheel was the starting point for the legends of Elite such as Raxxla and the Tionisla Orbital Graveyard.

Development stopped at some point during the summer of 1984. Thorpe Park (a small amusement park in the UK at the time) was hired out for the launch. It was well in time for Christmas that year, the 22nd of September 1984. It garnered gushing and ecstatic coverage in the popular press and television. Success was virtually instant.

Elite on the Commodore 64.

Elite on the Commodore 64.

Ultimately 107,898 recognised copies were sold for the BBC B Micro alone and eventually the game would go on to sell something like 600,000 to 1M copies across all the platforms it was eventually ported to, including the popular home computers of the time such as the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and the Amstrad CPC. David’s foresight in reserving the rights for other platforms paid off in a big way.

The ZX Spectrum version was ‘ported’ by Torus and published by Firebird (a brand of British Telecom) with the Commodore version being undertaken by David and Ian themselves. The Commodore version introduced ‘Trumbles’, a nod to Star Trek’s Tribbles, along with the familiar Blue Danube music when docking. The Spectrum version featured 5 new missions involving Supernovas, Rogue Asteroids, Thargoids and Cloaking devices. Each version of the game had its own unique foibles and differences to the original BBC version.

Ports continued, with the new and more powerful 16-bit machines of the late 80s getting their own versions. The Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, the PC itself, the NES console and (full circle) the Acorn Archimedes. Apparently there were 16 ports in the end, perhaps one of the most ported games in the history of gaming, lasting into the early 1990s.

You can see the details of these ports on the excellent FrontierAstro site.

Arguably one of the most significant computer games ever, Elite changed the face of computer gaming dramatically with its combination of believability, considered design, compelling gameplay and longevity. Many have tried to ape it, copy it, improve upon it, but an actual sequel didn’t arrive until 1993…

…and when it did, it was a very different beast indeed.

The 100k Barrier

Posted by on 2:00 pm in Progress Report | 6 comments

Something of a milestone in the writing this week, the first draft of Elite Dangerous Premonition has hit the 100k mark against an approximate target of 140k.

Now some folks will point out, quite rightly, that word count isn’t everything. The old writing cliché – “Don’t worry about word count, worry whether your words count” may apply. Is the story working, is the plot sound, are the characters appropriately differentiated? All good questions. I’ll let my previous track record in writing speak to those points, I don’t intend to disappoint my readers. You can assume that is all in good shape, though there’s plenty of work left to do.

I use word count as a progress indicator because it’s straightforward and easily accessible. It works for me. Sometimes an author has the luxury of putting out a book ‘when it’s ready’, but often I see that as an excuse for ‘late’ or ‘never’. I find I work best under pressure, so I set myself word count targets and track progress against them. So far so good.

100k is a good slug of work and with just over 70% of the draft written it’s appropriate to ask “So how’s it going, Drew?”

On balance, I think it’s coming together well. I don’t encounter ‘writers block’ myself (I put that down to good planning), so I’ve been able to continue on at pace. I’ve been capturing player events as they occur and usually get to write those up a week or so after the event. My biggest concern at present is two fold.

The first is the character arcs. There are quite a few in Premonition by necessity and I need to ensure they all make sense and have a purpose. This isn’t currently the case in many places. It’s an editing job, but a big one.

The second is ensuring I wrap up certain threads in-game and from my previous book in a satisfying way. I’ve made a bit of a ‘rod for my own back’ on this one, because I weave in multiple meanings and layers and like to leave readers with a few unanswered questions. The trick is finding a balance between how much to reveal directly, how much to leave for readers to infer and how much to leave unanswered.

I will say, however, that this has been a much tougher assignment than my previous Elite Dangerous book ‘Reclamation’. That felt, at the time, quite ambitious, but it’s child’s play compared to the task of ensuring that ‘Premonition’ works well. Premonition is not only a book, it’s part chronicle, part lore repository… but it has to excel at all three without compromise. Polishing this up to a real shine is going to be a hard job.

Here’s what I’m juggling at present in addition to all the ‘normal stuff’ required to produce a book:

  • Monitoring social media and forums for updates about events occurring in game, summarising the important ones and deciding whether to (and how to) incorporate them in the story
  • Liaising with Frontier on story elements to ensure they’re correctly realised in-game, catering for delays resulting from bugs and planning in order to align with their release dates (in-game changes may require server and/or client updates to ED – which can only happen at certain intervals)
  • Contacting individual players and establishing information on their CMDRs so they can accurately be covered in the story
  • Maintaining a list of significant player impacts on the story, and re-writing elements to cater for their actions
  • Liaising with player groups who have been impacted by events in the story and providing them a little guidance on what that might mean for them
  • Taking time to join in twitch streams and podcasts, partly to promote the book, but mostly to stay in touch with the player base.
  • Generating GalNet articles to align with player events and overall story arcs and then going through a review process to ensure they tally with other GalNet content (this has to be done in way in advance)
  • Checking, and occasionally revising, lore in regards to Elite Dangerous, publishing what I can here when time allows
  • Playing the game to ensure I’m au fait with what’s going on and am familiar with new features
  • Maintaining an occasional presence on the forums etc.
  • Doing stuff which which I’m not allowed to talk about 😉

And don’t even mention the day job. 😉

Fortunately, being a ‘planner’, I’d worked out what this was going to look like before I started so I was ready for it, but it’s not been easy and, truth be told, I’m quite looking forward to it coming to a close. I’m not scared of hard work, but constant 60+ hour working weeks do take a toll. It has been a tough assignment, quite draining and stressful at times – and not just for me. My family deserves a huge vote of thanks for accommodating me whilst doing this, as do the all the fans who’ve cheered me on.

A point is approaching where the book must end. I expect the first draft to be complete at the end of March. This will be the end of ‘Premonition’ – a title which was chosen with great care to reflect the mood of ‘what happens next’.

Beyond this point the story of Elite Dangerous will obviously continue, as to whether that gets chronicled or not, we’ll have to wait and see. Feedback on how well ‘Premonition’ is received and the approach I took in creating it will doubtless have a bearing on how Frontier approaches such projects in the future.

For now though, I continue to write on, Commanders!

'Elite Dangerous', 'Frontier' and associated logos are registered trademarks of Frontier Developments plc. All rights reserved.

Assets borrowed from Elite Dangerous, with permission from Frontier Developments.

All Content Copyright Drew Wagar 2006-2017 unless otherwise stated.