Why does Elite still matter?

General discussion for players of Oolite.

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Zptr
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Why does Elite still matter?

Post by Zptr »

Hello.

I'm kinda new here but certainly not new to Elite. Although I've only dabbled rather than immersed myself in Oolite, it's a project I've long admired and kept distant tabs on.

I edit a magazine and manage a blog called PlaySF and I'm in the process of writing a little something on why Elite still matters after all these years. I'm not sure yet if the resulting article will appear in the mag or online, it rather depends on where your comments take me.

So, to start, why does Elite still matter?

It's a question that I find hard to answer. Elite shouldn't matter; it's been eulogised over, remade, improved (arguably) and its innovations taken down all sorts of routes by many different developers, and yet it's still there as the foremost game in the space/sandbox genre. Why?

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Re: Why does Elite still matter?

Post by Okti »

Hi Zptr, and welcome to the forum.
Zptr wrote: Why?
Why not :?

If there are people still trying to improve the game by developing the core game and expansion packs and an active community, a game never dies. For me it was a game which I remember from 25 years ago and searched for elite and found oolite like most of the others.

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Re: Why does Elite still matter?

Post by Talisker »

I think certain core mechanics make for great games.

As those mechanics go in and out of fashion with big commercial houses (and remember, Elite was one of the biggest commercial games of its time), people's hunger for those mechanics does not necessarily diminish. Jeff Vogel (who occupies a similar niche in the RPG world) has a cool blog post about it from a while back... um [rummage rummage] here, talking about how it opens up space for indie games developers. He's talking about his own experience selling his work, but it applies equally to free and open source.

There are lots of gaming experiences that can't be had without lots of production budget - they are all about the huge worlds and the staggering animation. But there are plenty of simple game mechanics that could have been done 20 years ago but are only huge now for whatever reason - Angry Birds. Pokemon.

Oh wait, that last one kinda was 20 years ago. Wait, I'm how old? Agh.

In the case of Elite, the open-sandbox, grind/trade and sometimes fight for your life idea is simple, satisfying in the long term, and also pretty hard to improve on! There are blingier adaptations out there, but Oolite ticks all the boxes and the price is certainly right.

It's less about nostalgia for me, and more about the mechanic combination - and the idea hadn't got any less great.

I am also terribly addicted to Dungeon Crawl, also without irony or nostalgia - I only started last year :P
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Re: Why does Elite still matter?

Post by Cody »

[flippant mode]Because it's there![/flippant mode]

For me, Elite was/is the perfect example of how a game can inspire the creation of a universe in your head, one that you can't finally win in - only survive in. It provided a for-its-time amazing visual experience - but you filled-in the rest inside your head. When immersed, you became Commander _______!

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Re: Why does Elite still matter?

Post by Disembodied »

Zptr wrote:Why?
Because no other game has yet achieved what Elite achieved: to get inside the heads of the players, to form a game-in-the-head. For me, later games tended to make at least one, and sometimes both, of the following errors:

1) Newtonian physics. Sounds great on paper, all hard SF and realistic (apart from the *coughFTLcough*) and replete with opportunities for nifty manoeuvres – but in reality it's gaming poison, forcing players to fight the game mechanics more than the enemy, without even achieving the sought-after "realism". Because, let's face it, "realistic" space combat would be extraordinarily boring, fought between ships separated by tens of thousands of kilometres, where minute specks fire at other minute specks, accompanied by sudden random death when a minute speck you didn't know was there pumps a graser up your ship's tailpipe.

2) Too much plot. Other games have tried too hard to create oveerarching missions, to poke the player down one route or another, to become the Big Damn Hero of the game. Elite said, "There's your ship, there's the universe. Off you go." Oolite plays eve more strongly on this, and tries particularly hard to be non-player-centric. The impression is of a universe which exists without the player, where the player isn't fundamentally important to everything. This, I think, is what gives Oolite a sense of scale that other games often lack, despite the fact that its actual scales are totally out of whack – and one thing that's vital to a space game is a sense of the vastness of space. Too much player-centrality, I think, shrinks the universe and destroys the illusion.

In short, what makes a great space game is fun combat (old-school dogfighting, and let "realism" go hang), that also gives a sense of the vastness of space and of the boundless opportunities open to the player. Nobody has yet managed to put these into another game, I don't think.

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Re: Why does Elite still matter?

Post by Talisker »

Disembodied wrote:"There's your ship, there's the universe. Off you go."
In particular, this.
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Re: Why does Elite still matter?

Post by Zptr »

Disembodied wrote: 2) Too much plot.
A very good point and, I suppose, an obvious one. Eve does do a fairly god job of keeping the background fluff in the background and let players forge their own path.

Following from that - and something you mentioned - was that being a singleplayer game, you could advance at your own pace, whether it took weeks, months or years. This is becoming increasingly difficult in today's achievement-riddled, socially-networked games. (Mind you, the Order of Elite may well have been the first achievement in gaming!)

The sequels arguably went too far the wrong way but X - Beyond The Frontier was quite light on plot. Some would suggest it is Elite's closest spiritual successor. Was it as close as some think?

Would anyone add "scale" to the list? Does size matter? Room to get lost in, but not too much? A hint of mystery perhaps (trying to find those pesky non-existent generation ships)?
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Re: Why does Elite still matter?

Post by Cody »

X - Beyond the Frontier certainly started-off well. Bang - there you go into a universe you knew nothing about.
'Too much plot' and the 'game in the head' are key points, that's for sure!

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Re: Why does Elite still matter?

Post by cim »

Talisker wrote:
Disembodied wrote:"There's your ship, there's the universe. Off you go."
In particular, this.
Agreed. And it's a big enough universe for this to work. It could have been 32 hand-crafted systems around Lave, in theory - and after a bit of flying around you'd run out of things to see. With over 2,000 systems, it takes a highly dedicated effort to visit all of them and you always feel like the universe is much bigger than you.

I think the procedural generation helps, too. Yes, they had to reject several candidate universes as being unsuitable, but this one - despite a few oddities - works. So you have interesting topology (much of which, the community being what it is, has been given a name) and the galaxies feel different to each other, to a greater extent than you'd perhaps get from a fully designed universe.

But also they didn't go too far the other way. It would have been easy to make the universe much bigger than it was - but it's small enough that while it's bigger than you there can still be a common experience. I can listen to someone talking about getting from Lave to Maxeedso and expect that the "interesting" bit of that story will come with the long jump into Aronar, with its deadly goats and unregulated pirates - whereas with an infinite or fully random universe, that wouldn't happen.

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Re: Why does Elite still matter?

Post by Disembodied »

Zptr wrote:Following from that - and something you mentioned - was that being a singleplayer game, you could advance at your own pace, whether it took weeks, months or years. This is becoming increasingly difficult in today's achievement-riddled, socially-networked games. (Mind you, the Order of Elite may well have been the first achievement in gaming!)
The single-player element probably is important – and it, too, may be connected to the sense of scale: the idea of being alone, solitary (or at least isolated with a crew), has an appeal, and I suspect one which is common to fans of the genre. It's about being on your own, surviving by your own wits and skills; being rootless, looking out for yourself, not being tied down. In many ways you could say Elite takes a pride in being fundamentally antisocial! :)
Zptr wrote:The sequels arguably went too far the wrong way but X - Beyond The Frontier was quite light on plot. Some would suggest it is Elite's closest spiritual successor. Was it as close as some think?
Of the X games I've only ever played X2, and the real turnoff for me was the sense of claustrophobia. All those stations, all crammed together inside a little box of space that felt very much finite – and the unreachable planets were just stuck on the background like a matte painting. The player might not have been constrained too much by plot, but there was hardly enough room to move around.

Scale is very difficult: too little, like X2, and it doesn't feel like you're in space. Too much, like Frontier (not within the individual solar systems, which were fine, but in the sheer number of stars out there) and it feels a) overwhelming, and, paradoxically, b) player-centric. There were literally more than half a billion star systems out there, but only a tiny handful, where the player was, held anything of any value – which rather drove home the artificiality of the setup. I loved the exploration aspect of Frontier, more than anything else in the game, but the sad truth was that there was really nothing to find.

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Re: Why does Elite still matter?

Post by Smivs »

Why does Elite still matter? I suppose for all the reasons cited above and some! But for me personally it has to be the whole immersion thing. Even back in the day with the wireframe graphics you could somehow believe that you were piloting this starship...the whole structure of the game made it so. And today of course with Oolite and all the eye-candy that is even more the case.
It also matters to me (and many others around here) because it is a little bit of my youth that I am able to carry through life with me. Being of a certain age (old! :wink: ) and married with a couple of kids etc I can no longer play drums in rock bands, party for 48 hours or just disappear for a few days because the whim takes me. But I can still play Elite/Oolite.

PS Welcome to the board :D
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Re: Why does Elite still matter?

Post by m4r35n357 »

erm, maybe because it had no yaw control? Seriously, pitch & roll was pretty revolutionary at the time, as I recall, most space games felt like you were on rails. Pitch + roll = freedom!!!!

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Re: Why does Elite still matter?

Post by Commander McLane »

m4r35n357 wrote:erm, maybe because it had no yaw control? Seriously, pitch & roll was pretty revolutionary at the time, as I recall, most space games felt like you were on rails. Pitch + roll = freedom!!!!
This!

I hardly ever use yaw even in Oolite. Never during normal flight. And only in combat against big, (almost-)stationary objects, where I can swing around and fire all my four lasers. Currently I'm playing Asteroids, and I'm of course only using pitch and roll.

Honestly, if the developers wanted to remove yaw control with the next version, they'd have my vote. 8)

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Re: Why does Elite still matter?

Post by Commander Xvyto »

I don't know McLane, I use yaw a lot. For example, I manually dock with constores and rock hermits. I fly beside them looking out my side window, and when my ship is aligned, I yaw around and fly in. Removing yaw would change that technique. It wouldn't ruin it by any means, but it would be more time-consuming and less intuitive.
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Re: Why does Elite still matter?

Post by Cody »

Commander McLane wrote:
m4r35n357 wrote:erm, maybe because it had no yaw control? Seriously, pitch & roll was pretty revolutionary at the time, as I recall, most space games felt like you were on rails. Pitch + roll = freedom!!!!
This!... if the developers wanted to remove yaw control with the next version, they'd have my vote.
Agreed! I never use the yaw - it doesn't fit with the dogfighting feel of the game, and npcs ain't got it!.

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