God Save the Queen

God Save the Queen
An Elite Presence

Dean Reilly | 14 Apr 2009 12:34
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First, some confessions: As you might expect from the theme of this issue, I'm British. I'm also a gamer and old enough to recall the boom in the British games scene during the early '80s. At the time, I didn't really care where my games came from - I mainly just cared that they were good. So my first brush with a bedroom programmer was something of a surprise. After reading a review for a Sinclair Spectrum 48k text-based adventure game in a magazine, I mailed off my cash and a self-addressed envelope to the programmer's post office address. (Like many independent designers, he produced copies of the game on cassette and mailed them out himself.) A couple of days later, a knock at the door signaled the arrival of a young teenager with my unused envelope in hand. He delivered it back to me, gave me a copy of the game and headed home - a couple of houses up the street. From that moment onward, my relationship with British games changed. Game development really was everywhere - even six doors away.

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That was during the 8-bit era, a far cry from today's million-dollar games and star-studded ad campaigns. Back then, young programmers were experimenting with the BBC Micro, the Commodore 64 and the quirky rubber-keyed Spectrum. Some of them found success: Codemasters Richard and David Darling - two brothers who were the equivalent of '80s gaming rock stars - proudly displayed the latest Ferraris they'd purchased thanks to soaring profits from their early games. Jeff Minter was building a brave but slightly odder reputation with games that seemed obsessed with llamas and camels. The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, who went on to spearhead Blitz Games Studios in the U.K., produced top quality games at an amazing rate. Creativity in this new medium was exploding. And at the forefront of this wave of influential young British programmers was David Braben.

It's almost impossible to talk about Braben without mentioning his seminal title, the space exploration game Elite. Although not the earliest example of such a game, Elite has earned a place in many of the Best Game of All Time lists in the 25 years following its launch. Its influence has been far-reaching: You can still find echoes of the open-ended gameplay, trading missions, frenetic combat and the pure unadulterated vastness of the game's arena in contemporary titles. Not bad for a game that used only 32KB of memory.

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