Writing Alite

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The year was 1991. Or maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was 1990 or maybe it was 1992 or even a little later. The truth is: I really can't remember. What I do remember, however, is how I first came about my copy of Elite for the Amiga. Elite remained in my memory.
Nowadays, when I am in the mood to play some "retro games" (_and_ I have the time), it still is at the top of my list. In fact, Elite is the only game, which still lets me pass endless hours in front of the monitor. Shooting "lasers" at "ships" -- read: Shooting yellow lines at mere pixels, or, if they're close enough, simple polygon models, each face colored in a single color. If you compare Elite to today's games, I really doubt if any of the younger players could come up with enough patience to enjoy Elite for more than a couple of minutes (seconds maybe?!). And yet, it never ceases to draw my attention back to the computer. Why? I don't really know.

Maybe it's the simple satisfaction of surviving Witch Space, maybe it's the relaxing feeling you get when the Docking Computer is active and plays the "Blue Danube" -- and maybe, it's the feeling of being a real adventurer. Possibly it's a bit of all of the above and more. But to me, it remains THE game one has to play.

But back to the start: How did I come about my first copy of Elite? Well: I remember that my parents took me to our local computer store one night and I was allowed to pick a game. I browsed through the available Amiga games and found Elite. I was tempted to select it, since I had heard much about it and I had also seen it on a friend's Commodore 64, some years ago. However, I didn't pick it. Instead, I selected a different game of which I can't even remember the title. When we went home, I played the new game (I'm sure of it), but I think I did not like it very much, or it wouldn't work, or something like that. So, the next day, I went to my Dad and told him: "You know what? I should have picked Elite in the first place. I'm sure it would have been a better game. Suppose I win our chess game today, would you agree to buy Elite for me?" He agreed. And after our standard three-game chess evening, the score was 3:0 in my favor. At that time, my Dad and me were an even match and it was rare that one or the other won all three games. Most of the time, it ended 2:1 (and who'd be the winner wasn't clear at all). The "battle for Elite" was the only time I ever played for a prize against my Dad. In retrospect, I think, he hated doing it (but I don't doubt that he tried his best to defeat me. He isn't someone who lets you win, just so you won't be disappointed). So: Next day (or so), I received my copy of Elite. Finally...

I took my time to read the instructions manual cover to cover, then I played for the first time -- and I was deeply disappointed: It took _ages_ to travel from the exit point in hyperspace to the space station (I missed the section about the "J" key in the manual, I suppose) and when I finally got there, I could not dock the ship, because I always crashed in the process.
So, the game rested for a while, the box accumulated some dust and it would have gone from my mind, had I not stumbled across an article in a computer game magazine (remember, it was the early 90s: There was no internet as we know it today). The article talked about the SARA cheat in Elite and I loaded up the game, gave myself a docking computer and flew around a little. By now, I had discovered the torus jump feature and traveling from hyperspace exit to the space station took mere seconds (in the "worst" case that is: No enemy contacts). I was hooked and (with some more cheating when it came to equipment and cargo) I completed the game and became "Elite" -- an Elite cheater, so to speak.

I never completed the game afterwards. Nowadays, when I am in "retro mode", I usually reach a "Competent" rating (without cheating, of course), before I get out of retro mode again. Why is that? In my opinion, the most annoying flaw of the Amiga version is that you can only equip a single military laser (in version 1.0 that is; in version 2.0, you can actually mount four military lasers), which is then, to make matters worse, listed on the "equipment list" of the ship (instead of the front laser position). This means that first of all, you can only have ONE military laser (in front position no less!) and if you are unlucky, you can even lose it if your energy levels drop too much. Bah! Hate it. So, using the SARA cheat, I usually equip myself with four military lasers, as soon as I can afford the first one. Also, shooting Thargoids gives you a measly 15 Cr (again: This is fixed in version 2.0 where you get 40 Cr), the same amount you get for shooting a Mamba; and a Mamba on the Amiga is no enemy at all. They're far too easy to blast into oblivion.

In my last run through the Amiga version, I tried to keep a log file on where I went, what I traded, which enemies I encountered, and so on. I tried to find out as much as possible about the game, and in the end, I reached a "Dangerous" rating, but more importantly thanks to the help of many people in the Oolite forums, I was able to figure out nearly all the nitty-gritty details, and we even discovered how the secret missions in the Amiga version played out. I had enough information to get me dreaming about my own implementation of Elite, but since I knew nearly nothing about 3D, I wanted to "only" port the text Elite part, but make it an exact copy of the Amiga version. It was quite difficult to learn all the information, I even had to write a macro which used SARA cheating to visit every planet in every (official) galaxy, take a screenshot of the planet information screen, and use an "OCR" tool (also selfmade) to put all planet information of the Amiga version into a database. I then started to experiment with the pseudo random number generator and eventually had a 100% match of all the planets in the database (ok -- minus the typos :)).

I was pretty happy with the text version, but "somehow" the idea came around that it would be great to have the game on Android, so thanks to a great teacher regarding all things 3D and after two more years of work:

Alite was born!