At last! The game that everyone's been talking about for a year has landed on the Amstrad.
The basic concept of Elite is to become one of the special few in the universe who achieve "Elite" status in combat with other ships. This calls for a mixture of fighting skill and trading ability. There are 2,000 planets in this universe. You start at one of them with little cash and a poorly armed ship.
From this, you have to build up to a heavily armed combat veteran with enough credits to buy any weaponry you need to vapourise the toughest, meanest ships in space. To get money you have to trade cannily at the space stations that orbit each planet. This requires a knowledge of the planets, goods and prices so that you can buy low and sell high.
Trading is dangerous, though, because once you've left the safety of the station, you're fair game for any passing mercenary who takes a dislike to you. Out in space, the 3D vector graphics occupy your view as you pilot your ship using the bank of instruments on screen. If you encounter other ships, it's usually a case of kill or be killed with no quarter given and profit always the motive.
Your ship can be equipped with many different features to help you along but they all cost money. Your lasers can be upgraded in three stages to lethal military lasers, while fuel scoops, large cargo bays, docking computers and galactic hyperdrive can help you find new trading sources for more profit.
There are many different ships in space, all with different characteristics and looks but all help improve your rating if you destroy them. That is your path to becoming "Elite". You start at "Harmless" and, as your kill quota increases, so does your ranking but everybody is after your hide...!
Features have varied with each micro version of the game and the Amstrad is set to have its own special additions - additions that will make it the most exciting version yet.
Instead of a mere two original special missions, four new ones have been put in and Torus think you'll find them a lot more challenging than before. They obviously aren't going to tell you what they are, but they do reveal that even they haven't been able to complete the fourth one yet.
Music will also feature on the finished version although Torus haven't quite decided where and what it will be. The Commodore 64 version featured the Blue Danube from 2001 on the docking sequence but because this is different on the Amstrad, the music is likely to appear elsewhere.
Graphically the Amstrad version will be the most colourful yet with suns and planets in an astounding seven colours. These will even be able to mask each other like an eclipse. Deep space will get a whole new look as colour is added to the smooth vector graphics.
The other exciting possibility is an enhanced disc version. This hasn't been finalised yet but Torus hope to put in the full complement of snake ships, perhaps even including some new ones of their own design. They also plan to put in yet more special missions. As if four weren't enough!
All these features will make Amstrad Elite the best version yet. It's going to be the ultimate space adventure!
The team that are writing Elite for the Amstrad have an impressive pedigree. They are known collectively as Torus and are currently composed of four very dedicated members.
Ricardo Pinto has a Mathematics degree from Dundee while Dominic Prior has the same qualification from Oxford. Together, they are the nucleus of Torus, having joined forces early in 1984. Mark Wighton, a later addition, has impressive qualifications too, studying artificial intelligence, while the newest member of the team, Diane McDonald, has an MSc in Cryptology.
The team's previous program was Gyron on the Spectrum which made quite a splash - but not a lot of money for them. The need for "ready cash", as Ricardo put it, was what made them take on the Elite conversion and although he didn't like the game at first, it grew on him as he discovered the 'complete world'.
The team develop games on an Apricot, but since starting the conversion of Elite they've discovered the joys of the Amstrad. They're now planning to switch their attention to it and produce original games with an eye to converting them for the Spectrum - makes a nice change!
The next game from them will be Hive, another 3D blockbuster set in the twisting innards of an insect hive where you have to fly through the maze of tunnels to destroy the queen. That bare description hardly starts to describe the graphic wonders you can expect of it. Further in the future are original Amstrad developments which, just to give you a taste, Ricardo says will make "line graphics look pathetic" and be "five times faster than Elite".
Watch out for this lot - we think they're going to make a very big impact on the Amtrad. They've certainly got the talent and the ideas to do it.
If you've never encountered Elite before, you're probably wondering what all the fuss is about. After all, it's just a game, isn't it? Well, it's a game with everything though: blasting action, canny trading, smooth vector graphics, a massive playing area, special missions, attention to detail, free choice of role and lots more.
In fact, it can become more a way of life than a game, in which you decide whether to be a peaceful trader, murderous pirate, deadly bounty hunter, gun-runner, drugs pusher, slave trader or asteroid miner... or all of them! Whichever role you take up, it's a constant struggle against the odds to achieve wealth and equipment in pursuit of the title "Elite".
Ricardo Pinto of Torus puts the game's immense success down to the variety within the game and the fact that you can play it non-stop for hours on end without tiring of the challenge.
The hype around the game certainly helped it along but when you read the novelette enclosed with the it, work through the detailed and humorous instructions and then play your first few games in this new universe, you can't help getting caught up in the atmosphere and thrill of it all. There's so much to do and explore that you'll probably never know everything about the game, but the fun is in trying to.