There are quite a few different versions of Elite for the range of 8-bit Acorn computers, all of which are analysed on this site. This page contains a summary of all the main variants, in the order of release (click on the links below for more information about each particular version).
For more detailed analysis, the feature comparison table compares all of the official Acornsoft versions in greater depth. There's also a page listing all the different releases, which covers every minor release of the game, along with disc images for use in emulators or on real hardware, and links to versions you can play in your browser.
- The BBC Micro Model B cassette version is the standard, entry-level version of the original Elite. This was the one that I fell in love with back in 1984, and it still amazes me to this day.
- 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 Acornsoft 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.
- 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. The Electron version 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.
- 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.
- The version for the BBC Master is pretty similar to the 6502 Second Processor version, though it lacks some features while adding a few unique twists of its own. 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 BBC Master Compact version was released by Superior Software, rather than Acornsoft. Not surprisingly, it is almost identical to the BBC Master version, but it supports the Compact's digital joystick, as well as the Compact's single ADFS floppy drive.
- The Executive version is essentially the 6502 Second Processor version, but with a different font, a maxed-out default commander and support for a speech synthesiser. This version was never officially released.
- Finally, no list of BBC Micro Elite versions would be complete without mentioning Elite-A, Angus Duggan's extended version of disc Elite. In the late 1980s, only a few years after the original game was launched, Angus took the BBC Micro disc version, decrypted it, and disassembled it using his own hand-rolled assembly ROM fitted to a BBC Micro with a 6502 Second Processor. He then reassembled it (again with his own ROM), but only after adding an impressive array of extra features, including a unique set of new ship designs, the ability to buy and fly a selection of different ships, special cargo transport missions, an encyclopedia packed full of Elite lore, a faster version that runs on the 6502 Second Processor, and more. It's an 8-bit coding tour de force.
For lots more information on the specific differences between the official versions, check out the feature comparison table. If you're interested in comparing the code for the different official versions of Elite, you can find out how to do this in the section on how to compare the different versions of Elite.
For more information about the changes that Angus made in Elite-A, see the Elite-A source, which lists all the modifications within the source code itself.
My favourite version of Elite
When I began this project, I started by adding commentary to the BBC Micro cassette version of Elite. I chose this version for four 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 the cassette version is the version that I first fell for, and you never forget your first love.
- 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...
- Finally, in a very literal sense, the cassette version is the original version of Elite, the one that spawned all other versions. On Ian Bell's personal website you can find the Elite players' guide that he and David Braben wrote for Acornsoft when delivering the game; this document was used as a reference by Rob Holdstock when he wrote the famous Space Trader's Flight Training Manual, and it describes the cassette version and the cassette version only. One of the more interesting parts is the last section, where Bell describes some ideas that "may well find their way into Second Processor and Disk Elite (and possibly the Electron version)". This implies that the BBC Micro cassette version was the first version to be coded, before any of the others; it is, literally, the prototypical Elite that set the blueprint for everything else to come: the original.
Since then I have added commentary to every other Acornsoft version of Elite, including the BBC Micro disc, 6502 Second Processor, BBC Master, BBC Master Compact and Acorn Electron versions, as well as the unofficial Executive version and Angus Duggan's Elite-A. That's an awful lot of code... but even after all that analysis, I'd still pick the original cassette version as my favourite BBC Elite of all - not because it's the best version (it isn't), but because the underlying code is nothing short of a work of art.