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Geekery Random Raspberry Pi

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/