Original Elite on the BBC B – Computerphile

Original Elite on the BBC B – Computerphile


This is a computer game called Elite. This is really Well elite [I’ll] show you in a minute where we load it up, but this is elite was the first Really proper game to use three-dimensional graphics this current generation of gamers won’t Remember a time when games weren’t 3D so before that time we had sort of games like like this which is sort of this is the [version] of Pac-man for the BBC and This is this comes on tape of course for the this Computer when the game came out which was in 3D Actually just blew everybody away. [I] mean the guys who wrote this in my view geniuses [I] mean they they wrote it belem braben they wrote this while they were undergraduates at Cambridge and they were probably no [more] than 20 years old when they wrote this and They made the computer they made this computer do something which nobody thought it would could possibly do The program they wrote was just a work of genius how they managed to get this phenomenal Level of Graphics onto this computer so you can see this is a load it up shortly But it’s all wireframe of course not colored in. It’s not shaded and lighter and lit properly, but this was this was [revolutionary] for the 1984 I think it was at the time I really became slightly obsessed by this game much of me And I played it and played it and played it with my mate Pete Siddaway Who was my friend at school and we played this thing from ages and ages and ages? It’s actually one of the first not only one of [the] first 3D games invented. It’s one of the most Open-ended games So there’s no point to the game you can either you can decide whether you want to so there’s no levels There’s no lives involved so computer games like this one just Previously you had you had three lives if the monsters got you you died And you moved on to the next life and the game the idea was to keep Going through the levels and amassing as many points as you could this game is completely unlike that. There’s no levels You just start off with a spaceship and you can explore the Galaxy wherever you want to go so this computer? This is it when you bought it It came with it didn’t come with a disk drive or anything what you did is you attached a tape recorder to it? This is the tape for Elite this isn’t the original tape recorder we had for it that one broke after many years of use so this is a Tape recorder we had lying around the house, so the first thing I’ve got to do is rewind the tape What I’ll do is. I’ll pull the plug out to start with so you can hear the data Because this is the great thing about this is you can actually hear [the] ones and zeros that coming out of this This is the leader so this is a very evocative noise from my childhood, so [what] you’re hearing there is ones and [zeros] which had been recorded onto the tape and it Literally it stores one as one frequency of noise and a zero as a different frequency [and] it’s just oscillating between those two different frequencies noise frequencies play So I’ll stop that and I’ll have to rewind it again [there], and then we wait. Oh, no [I] don’t rewind it far enough So none of this instant put a disc in a computer or boot it off a hard drive You have to wait you had to be patient So now it’s confused because it’s it’s loaded part of the data, and I’ve told it to rewind there we go So it’s found it notice All these ones and zeros all this noise is being going into the computer and being translated now into Data the first time I Played this again was probably first time in about 20 years that I played it again and I got it down from the loft my parents loft and set it all up and I actually let my kids play it and so I’ve got a [five-Year-old] daughter who really really loved playing it. She wasn’t very good at it So now we have to wait about [two] two or three minutes before it loads Right so the first thing you see this this is just blew me away the first time I saw her I thought this is absolutely fantastic You got a rotating wireframe graphics Spaceship on the screen and this was just incredible we’re moving from Pac-man to this was absolutely wonderful Right, so we’ve got a cargo Now we want somewhere to go so we go to this local chart here. We’ll use our arrow Let’s go to Rio Center the cross on there, and we can look up data on system So we can look at what the planets like I still admit to being slightly obsessed by this game But no the other reason is that the way that they put this data into the program So this was you’ve only got thirty two k of data to play with So they’ve created with this 32k. You’ve got a whole galactic chart, so these are full, but this is a Galaxy of Star systems each with its own population each with its populate different aliens populating a planet and and different Levels of [technology] and so on and there’s eight such galaxies there’s absolutely no way you can just store all this information in 32k this is all generated randomly generated with a [so] [called] random number generator and that random number generator they can use to spit out whether the the planet is populated by cats or by humans or whether it is populated by Whether the technology is high-tech or the rings fill in the [stone] [age] each one of these red buttons does something each one of these? Function keys does something I’ve lost the original bar that came with the game, so I’m now going to press this button Which [is] going to launch into space? So there we are we’re presented now with the planet in front of us as a planet laughs in front of us So this this diagram here this tells us. What’s around us so as I move through I move through space Let’s increase our speed. This is our speed dialer gauge up down here [rotates]. I’m pulling up the spaceship now And rotating back. There’s this there’s our space station What’s that? Oh? It’s [a] python Okay, all right, so it’s firing at us now Because I’ve upset in life. Oh, oh That wiped out the front shields its launch another missile. I don’t think we’re going to have we around very much longer But so there goes our cargo spinning off into space But after a while, I became more interested in figuring out how it worked and I became eventually became completely obsessed with how it worked I Programmed as well. I call it game. There’s not much to do with it With solid graphics, so this is wireframe graphics But now I should have been probably studying for my gcSes stroke a-levels. I was spent more time Writing this than I was doing studying which augments cause b to flunk my a-levels actually the next generation computer had more processing power and Was able to not only do wireframe graphics, but it could do Graphics where you can shade in the faces as well? So I’ve actually ported my game to the PC so I don’t I’ve taken the original code and put it on my laptop actually now so I can show you if you if you want to if you’re interested in Seeing this so this is so this is more modern yes, so this is running about [a] thousand times faster than that computer But I learned to wait for it to boot up now, remember even though he’s coming out from sleep I can’t have switch it on I started programming. It’s probably when I was about. I was just turned 17 I [think] it was and I still tinker with it now when I Originally wrote this game. It was the time when you were a guy in the bedroom with a computer You could like the guys who wrote [elite] you could make an awful lot [of] money out? Of one person or two people writing a computer game and selling it so this is my dream right I was going to sell I was going to write my my own computer game and Sell it on, but I was I was a bit too late really by the time I sort of got anywhere in my game. It was be getting into the area where Teams of programmers were required to write games now of course You know there’s practically movie studios or create your own needed to write computer games, originally. I wrote it in Assembler which is What the which is what elite is written into in it? That’s the that’s the language that the processor understands is [that] each so you write each individual instruction that goes through the processor So you a very very basic [command] so you can write things like add store subtract That’s pretty much it actually Shifts are you multiply by two and things like this? So they’re very very basic commands, but once you can build up code So you have to write an awful lot of it, but you can write routines and things which will Which will create these fantastic graphics, so originally I wrote [an] assembler. Which was actually for the acorn archimedes at the time I wasn’t writing for the BBC. I was writing an arm assembler Which is arm is now the processors you find in great majority of Mobile Phones around the world so Acorn the original company that made the BBC micro and the and the archimedes eventually went bust but not before it spun off this other Company called Arm which was the company that made the the chip the processor for the acorn archimedes? And that chip is now used in a tremendous number of mobile phones and mobile Applications all around the world [so] I wrote an arm assembler, but rapidly became obvious that To get anywhere with it was it’s just too hard to write an arm. Assembly. You can’t to make progress faster. I Had to write in a higher-level language, so eventually I wrote it in C and C has the advantage that you can port it so it means you can take the code you’ve written on one machine and With only a little bit of tweaking if you’ve written it just right you [can] take that code and [you] can put it on another Computer and you can compile it for a different computer, so in fact I took the code that I [wrote] for the archimedes and originally I ported it over to the Mac and it worked just as happy on the Mac with a bit of tweaking and Then when I got with my mac ibook, and had a got a PC I ported over the PC, and I carried on just fiddling with it reads. I call this arena it’s a sort of it sounds a bit like something that it’s a nowadays it sounds a bit like a Something will be on a [gerry] Anderson film but sort of a combination of the word Aura and arena So like arena is in battle and or is it in something sort of slightly? Mystical or something like with hindsight is a slightly embarrassing [knife], but I can’t change it [now] It’s the same I have to stick with that name. This is your spaceship, so unlike Elite I’ve put a an avatar spaceship in so there’s there’s this. There’s the spaceship So this is essentially what I had on the acorn archimedes. I put in more graphics over time as the process of the computers have gotten more Modern are able to handle it, [so] [the] Planet now is got actually you know this is these are the real continents on the planet. [that’s] Africa there it mitad [Li] They’re a bit blocky So Africa coming up that South America look there, there’s North America There’s Europe up there, so I you know it mucked around it And I’ve also given Earth some rings which she doesn’t have so this is something that elite couldn’t do is that I? Can fly backwards in this so it’s a paying, newtonian mechanics this means. It’s nothing to look at compared with modern computer games because [yeah], I’ve written modern computer games are written with a Graphics engine in mind. They’re either opengl or something like this or Directx or something like that whereas this one I’ve written this is I’ve written the graphics engine from scratch So this is my own graphics engine in facts not making use of any hardware acceleration at all It’s just running on the processor This is I’m quite proud of having to have written my own graphics engine, so I’m a physicist now I’m employed by the university as a physicist. [I] think basically the writing this this game is not a game by writing this this bit of graphics here is Probably one of the biggest reasons [why] I’m doing what I’m doing now and I Wasn’t interested actually in going into the computer games industry eventually I Decided that I was more interested in writing the thing than playing it after you’re going to the computer games industry you’ve got to be really enthusiastic about computer games, and I just I Couldn’t you know couldn’t care less really, but what it did do [was] it taught me a certain way [of] [thinking] I think a certain logical way of thinking so in structured way of thinking especially the debugging so-called debugging of the programs is probably teaches you a lot about logic and finding your own answers to the [problems] if you’ve got a program like this and it doesn’t work you’ve got [a] got to go through the program and Find out which bit of the program doesn’t work where he made a mistake somewhere So you’ve got a very logically go through step [by] [step] and find out whereabouts in the program the program is not [working] or not working and quite the way you want and Sometimes all you get when you run a program like like this after you’ve made a change [is] it just spits out nothing it just says Segmentation fault or worse it just crashes the machine entirely and from that from that point You’ve got to work out what what the problem is with the program and it teaches you a very logical Structured way of thinking of course physics is also a very you have to think in a very [logical] way in terms of coming about an experiment in physics to try and work out what it is working with the experimental or where the [errors] are with the experiment this kind of thing so So this is this probably goes a long way to explaining what I am now I? Have to admit. It’s slightly addictive doing this But it is very difficult I think nowadays and if you pick up a machine like this, this is a complicated piece of equipment this PC and to pick it up as a child now and start to do a Computer program is very very difficult. I mean you’re not presented with a Cursor I guess in the BBC micro when you can just start typing [you’re] presented with this you know mouse and graphics and all these windows and things and if there’s a lot of distractions there you can’t just immediately start typing and your first computer program and so on There’s that you know you’ve distracted by the internet and all this other stuff so you’ve really got a if You want to start learning to program one of these things you’ve really got a try you’ve really got to [know] you got to download a program like a basic program or C or some compiler like this and then Really make an effort to try and start learning programming whereas when you switch on one of these BBC micros is practically natural I mean you just wait for the first thing. You’ve got to do is start typing commands into it well I’m not a gamer at all actually [I’m] not um I don’t play computer games at all the only computer game I’ll admit to playing is simcity and I only play that occasionally but I really not interested in playing computer games and a lot [of] people are but I Became after elite I became more interested [in] actually writing the thing rather than and how it worked Which is part of the reason why I never made anything of this they never actually could be bothered to turn it into a prefer anything more that you could play and shoot shoot things and go and Do all the wonderful [things] that you can do in elite with what’s the future for all reena? This is probably it I find and less time to do anything with it These days is sort of probably in the last week. I’ve done more on it than I’ve done in the past ten years that’s not supposed to happen [so] If you’ve been doing some programming or coding of your own whether it was 20 years ago or 20 minutes ago We’d love to see it send an email to myself or [Shawn] will I have the email address on the screen And we’ll have a look we love that kind of stuff [and] who knows maybe we’ll put something here on computer file By the way, I’m in Shawn’s office. There’s no way. I’d have this PC rubbish leave comments, underneath

100 thoughts on “Original Elite on the BBC B – Computerphile

  1. At about 14 min and 30 seconds he said something about distractions and the internet. I'm supposed to be typing a book right now. 🙁

  2. It's definitely much harder to get into programming nowadays. The BBC was built solely to teach programming. Nowadays, your average person uses computers and doesn't think twice about programming anything. Or even if it's possible. I actually learned how to program on a TI-83 calculator. Even though I use PCs all the time, if I had never had that calculator, I probably would never have gotten into programming.

  3. I think the differentiating point is that in the 1980's you had to be a bit of a geek to have a computer in the first place, and certainly had to be one to use it. Therefore you were predisposed to a proclivity to hack around with code. In these days where computers are much more a consumer item, the geek quotient has dropped.

  4. Maybe one generation from Pacman to Battlefield 4…but Battlefield 4 is riddled with bugs. Even AAA devs just mess things up.

    It's not to late to start your own indie game. It will always be possible, look at popular indie games now that even go beyond what some studios earn in profit. You just gotta make a game you love to play.

  5. To be brutally honest, I'd love to play "Aurena" at some time 🙂 I think it's amazing ! Take that as the base and put an Indie team behind it to update it to modern indie standards and 'boom' you've got a perfectly playable Indie game 😀

  6. This is the one game that changed my entire life! This game was more than a game for me at the time in 1984. I played this game night and day on my Commodore 64/64c. Every space sim I ever played since then basically copied the format of Elite in one form or another. I compare space sims even today by the "Elite" factor. Most excellent game ever. I am well pleased that the game is coming back out in a new and improved format. The sequels that have followed haven't been as good as the original, but the "Elite: Dangerous" really looks stellar and have some high hopes. 

  7. Well, we need games with nice atmosphere, go for Aurena, finish it! For now I'm writing few projects for Commodore 64 so my "target" is a LOT smaller, but it's quite fascinating to write games in small team (or even alone) than working in some studio as you're putting your soul into it. And of course… motivation is still needed ;]. Over and over again ;P.

  8. Nothing embarrassing about the title "Aurena". It's science fiction and it actually has some reasoning behind it. Embarrassing would be a name like, LORD XENU, CONQUEROR OF THETANS!

  9. Memories. I had a ZX81 as my only computer for many years and only got to play Elite one day a week at a local youthcenter, I was supposed to be there learning to program but my tutor seemed to loose faith and would rarely turn up which was fine by me as it ment more time with Elite. I did start to learn assembly language and even produced my own games although poorly written and 2D they were games. However I lost interest in programming (too many distractions for a teenager like girls, booze etc) the games I wrote are lost in time now as I probably recorded music over them or the tape streched lol.
    I also remember getting a Spectrum  and modem spending an entire evening downloading  demos and other programs from a bbs, my parents were not impressed with the £400 phone bill.

  10. I'm pretty sure we had this on the Amstrad…those wire frame objects…yeah, it definitely was this. I was born in 1980, so I was very young at the time, but I definitely remember those shapes spinning past me, trying to blow me up! I loved this video. That guy has inspired me to look further into programming and learn more 🙂 Thank you guys!

  11. Always wanted a BBC as had those in school but it was two to a BBC so I never got a chance to use it properly & we couldn't afford one at home.

  12. "Wrote it in assembler".  OK, genius then.  I could never get my head around assemberly, was interested to learn recently but appears no one really uses it or teaches it any more.

    And no, you don't need a movie studio team to write a game now so keep trying.  Look at Banished and the amazing, yet ugly but still AMAZING Dwarf Fortress.  Both done by one guy, not the same guy but both only had one programmer making them.

  13. The definitive open world sandbox RPG.
     I spent hours playing this game, first on the Electron then on the Archimedes.

  14. How cool – I well remember playing Elite on BBC, Electron, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC. Aurena was certainly quite an impressive feat. Thanks for sharing Richard.

  15. The internal workings of modern computers are really obfuscated by the development platforms. Dev platforms are great for productivity (as long as you find one that fits your mind set), but they do hide too well the guts of the machine.

  16. I found Elite way too hard and way too open ended, myself. The hard part was trying to enter a space station, especially without any short of ship avatar. The open ended part was just that I didn't know how to even get started figuring out the best way to go about doing things.

  17. btw A sequel to elite, Elite: dangerous was successfully kick-started a while back and should be out hopefully by the end of the year: http://elite.frontier.co.uk/

  18. A word of caution about starting up the old BBC micros. The power supply capacitors may have dried out so get 'fried' when you switch on as mine did recently. Fortunately I've 10 more to fall back on.
    As for programming the musical rondo of 'DARE DEVIL DENIS' was a brilliant example of  an interrupt routine.

  19. Great video, i still have a working BBC and elite on floppy in my loft, it is amazing how all of that squeezed into 32k of memory.
    Shame you never fully got your game off the ground, I've just downloaded it so will have a quick play.

  20. Wow. And here I am ogling at the game "No Man's Sky." But here's someone who basically made a game like it in the 80s!

  21. Best game of all time, had it on the bbc baby brother the Acorn Electron.  game changer.  Freelancer, X and Eve.  All owe this game

  22. What a wonderful story. I think that Aurena looked very charming. I would totally play that game if there was something to do. One of my all time favourites is Homeworld, which is in terms of looks not as far ahead as Aurena is to Elite. So, looks are definitely not everything, not even remotely compared to a sense of wonder.

  23. The galaxy isn't randomly generated, it's procedurally generated. The systems and planets are the same every time you load up a new game, they're not randomised.

  24. This is a really great video for an old-timer (gamer/programmer-wise) like me. There was a certain magic about the early days of video games and home computers in general. 

  25. Great video! The BBC Micro B had less then 32K of memory because some of the memory was used for the operating system. 🙂  The total was 32K but I think you only had something like 16K to play around with. – It was the same with all the computers of the time (and today thinking about it.. a 1T hard drive isn't 1T because the OS is taking up space)  

  26. hi, could you explain what the link between cpu command and software is. for me it's a bit like an egg and chicken problem.

  27. I started coding when I was 12, for the exact same reason. The pool game I had, I just had to make a better version of. I "invented" my own 3d/2d transforms etc. etc. I put quote marks as obviously, the math was already in books I had no clue about.

  28. I don't care what anyone says, the bbc 'b' version of elite is the best one by far. there is something engrossing and slightly terrifying about the stark, minimal graphics when an enemy ship appears gradually on your screen. despite being a 'better' machine, when I saw elite on my cousin's Atari st I thought it looked totally naff.

  29. I once walked out of school with one of those BBC's and the monitor that weighed a ton.  I really can't remember the circumstances that led to me taking one of their computers….
    ….I'm fairly sure I didn't steal it.

  30. early snapper had ghost and pacman type grafix until Acornsoft were sude and they had to change it to the one shown in clip with legs…. luved my bbc b 32k and elite was the best game and castle quest.

  31. can anyone remember 'animal vegetable and mineral' on bbc b that was an amazing program it guessed what you were thinking and if it didnt know it learnt for next time.

  32. The thing you were opening fire against, around Lave, looked like a Police Viper. No wonder they brought you down. 😀

  33. nice video! I never knew that the universe in Elite was procedurally generated, I even recognized the planet names ;). One of my favorite games, Star Control 2 (which came out in 1994), also has an entirely procedurally generated universe, even down to the planet's surface textures. I started programming on the commodore 64, which I got when I was 9 :).

  34. hi this bothered me always what is the link between software and hardware ??? where did the first program came from ? how did you get the first program to work, the cpu has to know what to do with the data ? but how does it know with the firmware ?

  35. @Computerphile Elite universe is proceduraly generated not by RNG. Braben was not that lazy to use random number generator. 😉

  36. Richard, Aurena is amazing considering the constraints you had. SO smooth, and lovely shading models you've got in there. Well done!

  37. Seems like Hello games got their basic idea for NMS from this game referring to the random planet generation and trading system. Remember this 33 years ago!

  38. For free the 1984 version of Elite is available on the Elite Dangerous website (for Windows PC). Elite Dangerous is a lot more fun though.

  39. Have you guys seen elite dangerous yet? I think you could make a video on deep sky videos comparing how accurate the galaxy is in elite dangerous to real life.

  40. I first played Elite at school on the BBC in June 1988. It blew me away. I bought it for my Amiga A600 in April 1992 and still play it on my Amiga. Amazing.

  41. I think my kids and I would like to play that. We play DOS games pretty frequently. I don't like the stupid advertisements and social aspect of most contemporary games.

  42. I used to play it with my brother on my dads BBC Micro B in 1984 I was 10 at the time, I played elite on every computer I owned and loving Elite: Dangerous

  43. Original Elite!!! So much nostalgia! So many hours exploring, trading, fighting off pirates, being a pirate, fighting off police, scooping solar rays, scooping cargo…

  44. these comps were amazing… by the time i reached secondary these things were very old and had been replaced by PC's… but as a kid… in primary they were everywhere… in pretty much every school. I remember at age 6 playing a game called dragondroom…. well, that's what I always thought it was called in my 6 year old brain… actually it was called Dread Dragon Droom. I remember I wanted to play another game but thought I might get in trouble if i exited the game… so I convinced a group of other kids to press the escape key with me all at the same time… I thought it would share the blame… of course the bloody thing wouldn't load another game… it got stuck and everyone told on me! lol …. damn… adults, smarter than I though… didn't take them long to workout it was me! 🙂

  45. Great video. Really intersting. I was utterly obsessed with Elite myself and unfortunately only had a copied version without the instruction manual. I remember sitting for hours sometimes trying to figure out what the correct word to write as login password. 😀
    But looking at you, buying the Archimedes…
    I remember having wet dreams playingElite on Archimedes.
    So really liked seeing what you did with it. Looks marvellous.

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