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Space is vast and beautiful, and in Elite, it’s also deadly. It was true in 1984, and it’s just as true today.

Thirty years ago, Ian Bell and David Braben created an iconic space trading and combat game that made my 9-year-old head spin with its epic scope and endless possibilities. You could trade goods between worlds, track down bounties, mine in deep space, or become a feared pirate. Each is a valid choice, and each offers a unique take on the game. The wire-frame graphics were like nothing I’d seen before, and they evoked a sense of wide-eyed wonder as I trekked through deep space, dying often but loving the ride.

Jump forward to 2014 and Elite: Dangerous, now in PC beta testing and scheduled to launch in late 2014, evoked the same sense of wonder in my near-40-year-old self when I first loaded it up. Visually, yes, the game is incredible, but it’s that sense that you’re truly part of a living, breathing universe that makes Elite: Dangerous so much more than just another space game.

So I decided to look back 30 years to see how the hugely ambitious original, somehow squeezed on to the BBC Model B’s 32K of RAM, holds up against its present-day successor.


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I took all the screenshots in-game, occasionally dying when reaching to open a menu or press the F10 key. You can click each image to get a larger version.

If you want to try the original version of Elite for yourself, co-creator Ian Bell recommends suitable BBC emulators on his website. You can buy access to the Elite: Dangerous beta from its online store.

Planet view

Elite: Planet view

Above: Looking down on a planet can make you feel incredibly small, but Elite makes you feel anything but insignificant.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

A passing ship

Elite: Passing ship

Above: A ship seen passing the cabin evoked a sense of wonder 30 years ago. It still has the same effect today.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

Hyperspace countdown

Elite: Preparing for hyperspace

Above: Hyperspace countdown begins. Best grab hold of something.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

Hyperspace jump

Elite: Hyperspace

Above: Hyperspace in Elite was a psychedelic experience. Now, it is simply mind-blowing.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

Staring at the sun

Elite: Staring at the sun

Above: The view has sure changed in the last 30 years.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

The view from deep space

Elite: Deep space

Above: Gazing in to deep space gives you time to contemplate your place in the universe. Until pirates interrupt.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

Approaching a space station

Elite: Approaching a space station

Above: The floating billboards in Elite: Dangerous really grabbed my eye when I first saw them.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

Successfully docking

Elite: Docking

Above: Successfully docking is a lot simpler in Elite: Dangerous. Back in the day, death by space station was all too common (at least until I got hold of a docking computer).

Image Credit: Dan Crawley



Above: The landing bays in Elite: Dangerous’s space stations look as impressive as what’s outside.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley

An iconic image

Elite: Rotating ship

Above: The iconic rotating ship is still there, 30 years later. It’s nice to see some things don’t change.

Image Credit: Dan Crawley