Elite - the days of the two man dev teams ...

In far off days of old (well, about 1984) a top computer game could be put together by two people. Elite was one of those games and even today people have cloned it to work on such things as a PDA. We talk to Ian Bell about Elite and about today ...
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Are you amazed that Elite is still getting a lot of attention so many years after it came out?

Ian Bell:
I don't know that it gets /that/ much attention. It was a part of the childhood of a lot of UK adults. It appealed to and celebrated intelligence, purity, the potential freedom of space, and the potential aesthetics of mathematical computations. That message reached a lot of bright young kids and shaped lives to some degree.

At the time it came out I remember its main appeal to me was that it had a strong strategic element as well as being a shooter. Was that a first?

It was the first combination in which both elements were strong, I think. I think a big part of the appeal was also the graphics, which were radical for the time.

How did Elite come into being? Was it just the two of you? How long did it take to get it out the door?

Just over a year. Two of us.

Did you use a lot of assembler to get those graphics routines going on machines like the Acorn and the Spectrum?

It was all assembler on everything. Even the PC version was assembly.

I guess you must also had to have done a fair amount of mangling of algorithms to get acceptable performance levels. Was there a lot of information being shared at that time or did you pretty much have to figure it out yourself?

We got some hardware information from Acorn. Algorithm wise it was all us.

In these days of big budget games and a fair amount of conservatism from the big companies, it's nice to see that there are still a lot of active small teams working, particularly with things like games for PDAs. Do you think the reality of working with those small devices is pretty much the same as the days of the Acorn, Spectrum, Vic 64, etc?

They have more memory now. That was the big limitation then. 64K was an impossible nirvana. Now its a small sprite.

If you were advising someone who was starting out and was interested in smaller scale game dev so that they didn't have to be quite so specialised, where would you say they start in their knowledge hunt?

Mobile phones are the Gameboys of old. But i would not seek to advise. My knowledge of the field is inadequate to do so.

What do you think the future for gaming holds?

More games, increasingly formulaic. Many technical innovations, few design innovations.

Thanks Ian.

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