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Elite on the BBC Micro

Versions of Elite

There are quite a few versions of Elite for the BBC range of computers, all of which are analysed on this site. Here's a summary of the main variants of the game (the links will take you to playable web-based versions of the game):

  • The BBC Micro Model B cassette version is the standard, entry-level version of BBC Elite. This was the one that I fell in love with back in 1984, and it still amazes me to this day. BBC Micro Elite screenshot
  • The BBC Micro Model B disc version is an enhanced version that looks and plays just like the cassette version, but contains a number of extra features that make it the canonical version of BBC Elite. These include: lots of additional ship types, the Dodo space station, mining and military lasers, two missions, a proper docking computer, the ability to search for systems by name, a glimpse of the ship hanger when docking, and Bitstik support.
  • The version for the BBC Micro with a 6502 Second Processor has all the features of the disc version of Elite, but with a four-colour space screen, an eight-colour dashboard, and no waiting around for things to load from disc. It also supports more ships in the local bubble (up to 18 ships, compared to a maximum of 10 in the cassette and disc versions) which it can handle due to the faster 65C02 processor, and it has some unique features, such as a scrolling text demo, printer support and the ability to take screenshots. BBC Micro Elite Tube/Master version screenshot
  • The version for the BBC Master is pretty similar to the 6502 Second Processor version, though it lacks that version's unique features. While it doesn't enjoy the same speed increase over the BBC Micro as the 6502 Second Processor version, it does have an improved ship-drawing routine that noticeably reduces flicker.
  • The Executive version is essentially the 6502 Second Processor version, but with a different font and a maxed-out default commander. This version was never officially released but it is available for download from Ian Bell's site. BBC Micro Elite Executive version screenshot
  • Although it isn't a BBC-branded machine, the Acorn Electron is very much cut from the same cloth, so it's no surprise that Elite was released for the Electron very soon after the original BBC Micro version. This is essentially a cut-down version of BBC Micro cassette Elite that's missing the split-screen mode, suns and Thargoids, but is otherwise still very much Elite. It is available for download from Ian Bell's site. Electron Elite screenshot

For lots more information on the specific differences between the different versions, check out the feature comparison table, and if you're interested in comparing the code for the different versions of Elite, you can find out how to do this in the section on how to compare the different versions of Elite.

The versions on this site

When I began this project, I started by adding commentary to the BBC Micro cassette version of Elite. I chose this version for three main reasons.

  • First, that's the version that Kieran Connell converted to BeebAsm. I forked his repository to kickstart this project, as it made sense to stand on the shoulders of giants (after all, that's pretty much the whole theme of this project).
  • Second, the cassette version is the one I fell in love with back in 1984, and in which I reached the heady rank of Elite for the first time. I eventually upgraded to a disc drive, traded in my cassette for the disc version and reached Elite all over again, but for me, the cassette version is the original game.
  • Third, the cassette version is easily the most impressive from a coding perspective. Sure, the disc version has all those extra features, and the more advanced versions contain some impressive improvements, but the cassette version takes the core of the game and squeezes it into a 32K BBC Micro, leaving very little free space. The disc version effectively loads a brand new program every time you launch or dock, and the 6502 Second Processor and BBC Master versions load everything in memory with plenty of room to spare, but the cassette version is 100% self-contained in an unexpanded BBC Micro, and from a technical viewpoint, that's just incredible. How can such a sophisticated game squeeze everything into 32K? Mainly by being incredibly clever and incredibly efficient, and that's why the cassette version is the most interesting one to pick apart. After all, the best things come in small packages...

Since then I have also added commentary to the BBC Micro disc, 6502 Second Processor, BBC Master and Acorn Electron versions, and I hope to document the Master Compact version at some point too. When exploring the source code, you can click on the "Compare versions" links to compare individual parts of the codebase in the different versions. There are more differences in the code than you might expect.