Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Where are they now? - Frontier: Elite II

An Imperial Courier prepares to take off in Frontier: Elite II

So for today's "Where are they now?" post I thought I'd take a look at a little space trading game I loved back in the early 90s called Frontier: Elite II. I was way too young at that stage to have ever got into the original Elite which was released in 1984, but I did get a chance to play this gem of a game. Sure, the graphics look crude by today's standards but the game retained the same open-ended gameplay as Elite (apparently) and featured realistic physics as well as an accurately modeled galaxy. In fact, thanks to procedurally generated star systems, Frontier: Elite II had millions of star systems, and not only that, it all managed to fit on a single floppy disk! The wonders didn't cease there since you could not only fly through space between planets, but you could land on the planets themselves too.

While games like Wing Commander: Privateer probably had nicer looking graphics, a plot and generally more character than Frontier: Elite II, it couldn't beat the sheer size of Frontier: Elite II's sandbox and the amount of freedom you had in exploring the universe (History seems to be repeating itself with rabid fans comparing the more modern games Star Citizen to Elite: Dangerous which have similar differences, but that's a story for another day). And yet I love both Frontier: Elite II and Privateer as I can appreciate their strengths and weaknesses.

So who were the brains behind Frontier: Elite II? Well, I found it quite surprising at how small the team actually was since besides Chris Sawyer (of Transport Tycoon fame) who helped with porting the 68000 assembler code into 80286 assembler code and Dave Lowe who composed the music, David Braben, a man who probably needs no introduction, was responsible for the design, programming and graphics.

I've talked a bit about where Chris Sawyer ended up in a previous "Where are they now?" post and as far as I know, he's still overseeing any developments with the iOS/Android version of Transport Tycoon. Dave Lowe has also been mentioned on this blog before as I was a backer on his project to remake several of his old game music, including an orchestral recording of the Frontier: Elite II theme (which I'm quite excited about).

But what about David Braben? Well, not content to rest on his laurels, shortly after the release of Frontier: Elite II, he started up a company called Frontier Developments in 1994. Frontier Developments worked on all sorts of games on a variety of platforms including 2004's Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, 2006's Thrillville, 2010's Kinectimals and 2011's Kinect Disney Adventures. 2012 was a busy year for Braben as not only did he launch a Kickstarter project for the latest game in the Elite series, Elite: Dangerous (which successfully secured £1,578,316 in funding), but he was also a co-founder for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a charity focused on promoting the study of computer science in schools and responsible for the development of the single-board computer known as Raspberry Pi.

In 2014, Elite: Dangerous was released and Braben was also appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). Braben continues to serve as CEO of Frontier Developments to this day and besides releasing new content for Elite: Dangerous, the company is now working on yet another rollercoaster construction and management game called Planet Coaster which aims to be released at the end of this year.

I unfortunately don't have the time to cover what happened to the entire development team but if you happened to be part of the original Frontier: Elite II development team, then let us know! We'd love to hear your stories and anecdotes! :)

LINKS:
[ MobyGames: Frontier Elite II credits ]
[ Wikipedia: Frontier: Elite II ]
[ Kickstarter: Elite: Dangerous ]
[ Wikipedia: David Braben ]
[ Wikipedia: David Lowe (video game composer) ]
[ Official Uncle Art Music website ]
[ Kickstarter: Uncle Art - A Temporal Shift ]
[ Wikipedia: Chris Sawyer ]
[ Official Transport Tycoon website (for iOS, Amazon Kindle and Android) ]

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