There's a faint glimmer of light at the end of the (docking) tunnel: a Kickstarter campaign has been launched to fund a new Elite game, Elite Dangerous.
Elite first appeared on the BBC Micro it was ground-breaking and a work of genius. Eight galaxies of 3D open-ended interstellar trading, fighting, adventuring, asteroid mining, docking and ship upgrading were squeezed by programmers Bell and Braben into less memory than an e-mail.
Elite is still the watchword for non-casual computer gaming. The learning curve was brutal: it took me three weeks of playing to figure out how to launch my ship, turn it around and return to dock (you are required to match spin with the space station) – only then could I venture out beyond the safety zone, try out my shiny new hyperdrive and get blasted to pieces by space pirates. Elite rewards the dedicated player: some events in the game are only seen rarely, or are scheduled to occur on reaching a particular rank which could be weeks or months into playing.
Elite created something which still marks out the best computer games: a player community. Micro User, Acorn User and BEEBUG magazines regularly printed letters describing dubious in-game discoveries e.g. “I found another secret mission!” “I was ambushed by Thargoids!” “I saw a space dredger!” sometimes accompanied by pencil sketches and followed by weeks of debate as to whether the space dredger was real, or whether the pilot had indulged in one too many narcotics trading runs.
Versions of Elite appeared on different computers: each with its own graphic style and quirks. An early PC version was extremely playable however the best and most quirky version was produced for the Acorn Archimedes: features included an ongoing war between police and criminals, and fleets of unarmed Space Missionaries calling on you to repent. A popular hack for this version kitted out your Cobra with fluffy dice and a bumper sticker.
Elite also spawned two sequels: Frontier and Frontier First Encounters, both groundbreaking in their own way, and then - nothing. Rumours of a planned Elite 4 have come and gone, and all but a few of the waiting pilots had given up hope.
So last week's announcement, more or less unexpected, came as a pleasant surprise. The story is by no means over: the campaign is live and the video and concept art look serious, but Frontier have yet to achieve their ambitious Kickstarter goal, and then they have to actually write the game. As a backer Sci-Fi Gene is hopeful and looks forward to completion - Godspeed Elite Dangerous.