Elite – making a game that looks as good as the box art

This week it’s been announced that one of the original creators of the classic 8 bit video game Elite is seeking funds to launch a version updated for the 21st century.

I grew up playing Elite – originally on a BBC B and then a few years later on it’s 32 bit successor the Archimedes, it was brilliant, addictive and years ahead of it’s time.

Elite was a 3d space exploration game which featured open-ended play – you could explore the galaxy, play as a trader, bounty hunter or pirate in your quest to gain enough kills to be ranked as ‘Elite’ (starting from ‘harmless’ and working your way through ‘mostly harmless’, ‘dangerous’ and other often amusingly named ranks). Elite rewarded good acts like hunting down pirates, and punished bad behaviour – if you became a pirate yourself your legal status changed to wanted and you attracted the attentions of bounty hunters and ultimately the police. With the occasional mission for the galactic navy thrown in for good measure, Elite had the qualities that would make games like Grand Theft Auto a success – many years in advance.

BBC B Elite (Master version)

One of the things I used to wonder playing Elite, was whether or not computers would exist in the future that could actually depict the game as it was featured on the beautiful box art:

Elite Box art

Beautiful 1980′s sci fi art

The Sci-Fi art of the 1980′s is easily possible with todays’ computing power. Although there were sequels to the original Elite (Elite II, Frontier) none of them captured the playable spirit of the original – something that will hopefully be addressed in the update which promises “joyous immediacy”. If you can’t wait until 2014, I’ve prepared a short guide on how to play Elite on (what is arguably the modern day successor to the BBC B) the Raspberry Pi:

How to play Elite on the Raspberry Pi

It’s quite easy to just download an emulator on any modern PC or Mac and play Arc Elite – regarded as the best version of the original game. For a bit of fun I thought I’d have a go at running Elite on my Raspberry Pi.

For starters you need to be running RISC OS – this is a lightweight operating system originally developed by Acorn back in the 80s to run on the first generation ARM chips – this runs incredibly quickly on the Raspberry Pi. You can run various emulators (for example the Sinclair Spectrum) on the Linux Raspberry Pi build, but I’ve found these tend to run quite slowly.

First download RISC OS from the Raspberry Pi website and copy it to an SD card (or you can purchase a ready-made card from RiscOS open – it’s only £10, and worth it to support their very handy work! )

Because Arc Elite was originally written for ARM 2 and ARM 3 machines, it won’t run on the ARM 6  chip in the Raspberry Pi – but don’t worry you can emulate the older hardware using ArcEm – which is available from: http://arcem.sourceforge.net/ 

Update: there is an issue transferring archived files between PC/Mac (which I’m writing this on) and RISC OS – which causes the filetype to be incorrect (StrongArm will open when you try to run !ArcEm) To fix this:

Open the original zip file on the Raspberry Pi in RISC OS, unpack !ArcEM
next re-download the !ArcEm archive: http://sourceforge.net/projects/arcem/files/arcem/1.50-alpha/arcem-1.50-alpha2-riscos.zip/download
open that in RISC OS using !sparkFS – then drag the unarchived files over your original copy (this preserves the ROM files you need)

!ArcEm should now run – if Elite gives you problems download the original archive:
http://www.iancgbell.clara.net/elite/archive/a/b5052410.arc

Sorry about this – I’ve ordered a copy of the nutpi pack which includes the full copy of !SparkFS – i’ll recreate the zip archive so everything will work more simply in future!

Run !ArcEm, then open the HostFS drive on the desktop – Elite, along with the Dark Wheel Novella and User Manual are all available on there.

Arc Elite running on the Raspberry Pi

It’s a bit stretched on my screen, but smooth and playable!

It runs as smoothly as I remember, and is very playable – I’m still rubbish at docking though. On my lapdock display the screen was stretched – it might be worth experimenting with different settings to see what works best for you.

Interestingly there were a lot of 16 bit Amiga and Atari games converted to run on the Archimedes – so for anyone interested in emulating old games this should work for those as well. ArcEm is still under active development, so it’s well worth checking out.

If you enjoy playing Elite as much as I have, (and are suffering from I-didn’t-pay-for-this-amazing-game guilt) please help fund the next version on Kickstarter.

*the files I’ve used to do this were freely available from these sources:

ArcElite

http://www.iancgbell.clara.net/elite/arc/index.htm

RiscOS 3 Rom

http://home.tiscali.nl/~jandboer/ (in the support2.zip archive)

ArcEm

GPL licensed

http://arcem.sourceforge.net/

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34 Responses to Elite – making a game that looks as good as the box art

  1. TequilaMockingbird November 8, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Awesome!

    The ARM chip in the Pi is ARMv6 though not v7 ;)

  2. Joel Rowbottom November 8, 2012 at 11:19 am #

    Not bad, but for true ‘original’ value, run the BBC Micro Elite under an emulator, preferably the 6502 2nd-Processor version :)

  3. Pete November 8, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    TequilaMockingbird – thanks have updated the blog!

  4. David Rodrigues (@sixhat) November 8, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    There’s also the Elite inspired Oolite with great graphics http://www.oolite.org

  5. Jack Hughes November 8, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    RISC OS was written in the 1980s. I was using it in 1987 :)

  6. Zod November 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    if they got the source gode for the Archimedes version im sure it would be easy to update and port the code to the new Arm chipset, there for no need for emulators.

  7. Davespice November 9, 2012 at 7:39 pm #

    Hi kimondo, I was wondering if you could help me. I probably just don’t know what I am doing in RISC OS to be honest. I can’t seem to get !ArchEm to run, I just have the script load within StrongED when I try to run the application by double clicking it.

    • Pete November 9, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

      hi – check you’re running !ArchEm and not the zipped archive (has a zigzag on it) – alternatively try dragging it across to your SD card. Also check you’re not right-clicking on it- risc os uses a 3 button mouse interface (select, menu and adjust)

  8. Davespice November 9, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

    Hi Pete, yeah I have extracted the zip file. I extracted it prior to copying it on the USB stick, I have also copied the ArcEm folder on the SD card too. It is recognising it as an application, but when I double click (button 1) I just see the script come up. It looks like I maybe need to tell StrongED to run the script or something?

  9. Davespice November 9, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    I think I may have made some progress. Tip for everyone else, do not extract the zip file prior to transferring it to the USB stick. Extract it under RISC OS. To do this you open the zip file, and drag the ArchEm folder within it back to the root of the RS card. This then extracts the files. There must be some kind of file attributes that are lost if you unzip the files under windows or linux. Unfortunately though I’m no closer to playing the game. I have an error message box when trying to double (button 1) click the !ArchEm application; “An application that loads of file of this type has not been found by the Filer. Open a directory display containing the required application and try again.” *blank look*

  10. Davespice November 9, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

    Okay, I’m giving up now. Lost a few good hours trying to get this working *shrug*
    More explicit instructions please.

  11. pat November 10, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    Nice, it’s working. Thanks for the instructions.

  12. ashlar November 11, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    I found that Pete’s zip was utterly corrupted on my Pi, including the ROM. To get it to work, I had to download ArcEm from their web page. Find the ROM file inside the emulator on JanBoEr’s site (you must shift double click to look inside the file there, file is called ro310). I then copied this file into the ArcEm executable (again, shift double click to access) renamed it to ROM and ArcEm worked.
    Had a little trouble with the built in SparkFS support in RIsC OS so had to download the demo of SparkFS to unpack Ian Bell’s Arc Elite files, but got there in the end. Dropped them in hostfs and voila! Working Elite.

    But cannot get keyboard to work in space flight – any ideas, Pete? Suspect it may require a command line option to get working.

    Also it is possible to slow ArcEm down? On my RPi Elite runs too fast.

  13. ashlar November 11, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    I found a solution to the keyboard issue. :-)

    http://forums.frontier.co.uk/showthread.php?t=1387

  14. rjm27trekkie@gmail.com November 15, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    cna you get it to run on the raspbian distro not exactly wanting to get a new SD card or if someone could duel boot the SD card raspbian and risc os that would be nice

  15. SpeedoJoe November 15, 2012 at 11:20 pm #

    “Although there were sequels to the original Elite (Elite II, Frontier) none of them captured the playable spirit of the original”

    Frontier was several orders of magnitude better than Elite, particularly on the Amiga, which was never released for the Acorn.

    Bitter much? :)

  16. not telling November 19, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    Not sure whether to bother with this the instructions are confusing and inconsistent and the feedback mixed.

  17. Kev November 19, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    Any news on the repacked zip as i don’t have network on my pi when running riscos. Really looking forward to playing it, thanks for your efforts.

    • Pete November 19, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

      Am waiting on my copy of nutpi to arrive (apparently they’ve had quite a few orders!) and then I’ll update the post (with a few other emulation options) in the meantime you can try transferring all the archives mentioned in the post to a USB stick and unpacking them in risc os directly.

  18. Jay Vaughan December 17, 2012 at 10:22 am #

    If you love Elite, and if you love the computing scene of the 80′s, then you might be happy to learn of the 1337 “re-make” of Elite, for the .. Oric-1/Atmos platform!

    http://1337.defence-force.org/

    This is a brand new remake of Elite for an old, old .. forgotten .. computing platform. Incidentally, you can emulate the Oric-1/Atmos very well already on a rPi (in Debian, just get the sources to Oricutron and build.. http://code.google.com/p/oriculator/) .. and if you don’t know what an Oric-1/Atmos is, and why you should care that hackers are still writing code for it today, then have a little play here some time: http://oric.org/

  19. liqua December 29, 2012 at 11:52 pm #

    LOL .. If you love elite then you’re going to love this – David Braben (Co-author of BBC Elite) is bringing the game to the 21st century by releasing Elite Dangerous in 2014 but rather than use the traditional route of going via a publisher he is crowd sourcing the game – means he can stay truer to the Elite and not what some upstart wants back at Publisher Central!

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1461411552/elite-dangerous

    Only catch … 6 days to pledge before the KS runs out … I believe the goal will be made but who knows.

    Take a look …

  20. Robert Wheeler January 5, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    My solution, requirements are a USB stick, SD Card with Raspian ‘Wheezy’ (16-12-2012) and a SD Card with RISC OS (01-11-2012) (my specs at bottom of text) from http://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads and Chromium Browser.

    Boot Raspberry PI with Raspian ‘Wheezy’ and install Chromium Browser via apt-get -
    $ sudo apt-get install chromium-browser – once installed download via Chromium Browser the following files:

    Pete’s .zip file – http://kimondo.co.uk/projects/raspberrypi/ArcEm.zip

    !ArcEm – http://sourceforge.net/projects/arcem/files/arcem/1.50-alpha/arcem-1.50-alpha2-riscos.zip/download

    ArcElite – http://www.iancgbell.clara.net/elite/archive/a/b5052410.arc

    DO NOT UNZIP THEM, but copy them to your USB stick.

    Shutdown Raspian ‘Wheezy’ and swap the SD card with RISC OS.

    Boot RISC OS. Open iConfigure, select Internet, select Save and when asked Reboot Now and when you reboot your USB Stick should be visible in the lower left hand corner of the screen.

    Open you USB Stick, select ArcEm/Zip, double click it and once extracted (it appears in its own window) drag it to your SD Card.

    Select arcem-1/50-alpha2-riscos/Zip double click it and once extracted drag it to your SD Card into the ArcEm folder and overwrite the files.

    Select b5052410/arc double click it and once extracted drag it to your SD Card and copy it into ArcEm/hostfs folder and overwrite the files.

    If this has all worked you should have a nice looking icon for !ArcEm, double click it to run RISC OS 3 and when it boots (it looks terrible), double click on HostFS in the lower left corner and the Elite folder should open, double click !elite to run the game.

    Problems: I have no sound, don’t know why, any ideas or help appreciated :(

    Also game runs very fast, so on the desktop with the Elite icon on the right hand lower corner middle click (menu) and change the Sensitivity of the mouse to ’1′, to have a fighting chance.

    My Specs (links are not affiliate links)

    USB Stick I used is a red PNY 16GB on offer at Staples for £17.99 – http://http://www.staples.co.uk/computers-drives-accessories/drives-usb-hard-cd/usb-flash-drives/bogof-micro-sleek-attache-usb-flash-drive-16gb-red

    SD Card I used for Raspian ‘Wheezy’ SanDisk Ultra 8Gb SDHC (Class 10/Up To 30Mb/s) on offer in store at Boots for £11.99 – not on their website at the moment, it is NOT the Ultra II one? It is this one – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sandisk-Ultra-card-Class-Retail/dp/B00812K4V4/

    SD Card I used for RISC OS SanDisk 2Gb (Class 2) on offer in store at Wilkinson for £4.99 – http://www.wilkinsonplus.com/memory-cards-dvds+cds/sandisk-sd-card-2gb/invt/0262966/

    USB Card Reader I used to create the SD Cards was the Signalex Multishot USB Card Reader on offer in store at PoundLand for £1.00 – http://www.poundland.co.uk/product-range/a-z/signalex-multishot-usb-card-reader/

    Hope this helps in some small way and many thanks Pete for the original instructions.

    • Pete January 7, 2013 at 10:36 am #

      Thank you!

  21. Chris January 7, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    Hi, I’ve got Armem installed ok on my Pi but when I double click it I get ” Failed to Change screen mode error 493 Press space or click mouse to continue” – this is with Pi running on my HDMI monitor. after clicking / pressing space, the pi desktop has resized to 680x480x256.

    Any idea what I can do?

    • Pete January 8, 2013 at 10:29 am #

      I think it might be something to do with your monitor definition file (MDF) – ArcEm runs in an old low resolution screen mode (I think it’s mode 15) so it might be looking for a screen mode that’s not there – there’s a bit more discussion on the Risc OS site here: http://www.riscosopen.org/forum/posts/search?q=makemodes&submit=Go

      I seem to remember that I copied another screenmode file and added in the correct screenmode for my lapdock monitor. I’ll check this evening.

  22. Darren February 9, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    I actually have two BBC model Bs in the attic with floppy drives etc…. I’ve been using arduino extensively until now but I’m going to get a couple of Pis at the end of the month and have a play. Will have to have a go with Elite. Back when the A305/A310-A540 etc were out I was a component level service engineer for Acorn and hacked the save game to get all the goodies :D It’s very simple to do, especially if all you want is a silly amount of credits……

  23. Mike L March 6, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    Thanks for the updates. I’ve followed them to the letter & get some success…until error message “This application requires at least version 1.07 of the SharedUnixLibrary module” clicking !ArchEm. I’ve some experience updating Linux, is this updateable via !Packman? I’m using the standard RPi RISCOS download file.Thanks

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