In the '80s, spaceflight sim Elite was nothing short of magic. The annotated source code shows how it was done

Load new commander (Y/N)?


Just a fortnight under 40 years ago, the BBC Micro was released. Although it was never primarily a games machine – it was too expensive, for a start – nonetheless one of its defining programs was a video game: Elite.

Its source was released a few years ago, but your correspondent just discovered a lavishly described and documented online edition if you want to see exactly how it was done. The annotations were written by Mark Moxon, a web dev and journalist who among many other things was once editor of Acorn User magazine.

Elite was famous for several things, including its very considerable difficulty and amazing – for 1984 – wireframe 3D graphics with hidden-line removal. This was displayed on a screen which combined high-resolution and multi-colour graphics in a way the BBC's hardware couldn't natively do: the game changed screen modes from Mode 4 (medium-resolution monochrome) to Mode 5 (low-resolution four-colour) two-thirds of the way though generating each screen. At 50Hz, on a 2MHz 6502.

Some of the remarkable features were not so obvious, though. For instance, the game contained eight galaxies with 256 planets. A database of 2,048 star systems would have filled the computer's tiny 22kB of memory. (22kB? Yes: modes 4 and 5 both take up 10kB of the Beeb's standard puny 32kB of RAM.) This would have been far more obvious with the programmers' original 248, or 281,474,976,710,656, planets.

The answer was that the game generated the list of galaxies and planets on the fly, using a modified Fibonacci sequence, allowing for more places to explore than would fit into the program. A similar method was used to generate the 4,000 unique locations in Mike Singleton's Lords of Midnight, released the same year.

The difference being that unlike Singleton's ZX Spectrum game, you can read about what Elite did on the Elite Wiki and then study the source code to see how developers Ian Bell and David Braben achieved it.

Moxon's site, which has been updated throughout 2021 and 2020, covers the original cassette and floppy-disc versions, as well as those for the Electron, BBC Master, 6502 Second Processor, unreleased versions and even the third-party enhancement Elite-A. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021