Elite AGB is my interpretation for the Game Boy Advance of Elite A, a version of Elite modified by Angus J. C. Duggan made available in the mid 1990s. Elite was originally written by David Braben and Ian Bell in 1984 for the BBC Microcomputer.
The name Elite AGB is a slight play on 'Elite A' and the fact that the Game Boy Advance is sometimes referred to using the acronym AGB, I assume that this is from the days when Nintendo called their prototype the 'Advanced Game Boy'.
It has been created using disassembled code from Elite, Elite A as well as other Elite versions taken from the BBC Microcomputer, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. I have also made use of the the original Elite tape version source code provided by Ian Bell at http://www.iancgbell.clara.net/elite/. Those familiar with an earlier port of The New Kind (TNK) I did a couple of years ago may be surprised to hear that this version shares no code with Christian Pinder's now-defunct remake, though similarities are inevitable due to the processes used in remaking both TNK and Elite AGB.
There are several differences between Elite AGB and the classic BBC version of Elite. These are detailed in the following sections.
You are no longer restricted to flying just a Cobra Mk III. There are 15 types of ship that you can buy, should you have the sufficient funds, and you trade in your old ship automatically when purchasing the new one. Not all 15 types will be available at lower tech planets. Each ship has several different attributes to consider when making an upgrade.
An overview of the ship details can be seen by opening the Trading Panel and selecting Buy Ship > Ship > Data on Ship.
When a new ship is bought you must be careful to not lose money needlessly. If you have any cargo in your current ship, sell it all before you change ships. If you have too much equipment fitted and it will not fit into the new ship, then you must sell excess pieces 1.
As well as regular trade goods, special cargoes are now available for the intergalactic entrepreneur. To view a list of current contract offers, select Special Cargo. These low bulk cargoes have to be delivered to their destination as quickly as possible. A deposit for the contract must be paid up front, but large rewards can be earned for delivering the goods to the destination on time.
To make as much money as possible it is recommended that new pilots plan their route carefully before taking up a contract. Planets occasionally look temptingly close by, but hyperspace fuel limits may require a large round trip to be taken resulting in lower payments. Stopping at space stations takes time, so for maximum speed ships should be fitted with fuel scoops, use the sun-skimming technique to gain fuel and thus avoid the time lost when docked. Occasional illegal goods with high rewards are available on the special cargo list, though usually only to those who already have a bad reputation with the law and a good reputation with their laser.
Bug fix: A bug in version 0.4 caused the special cargo list and the menu controls to be out of sync on occasions.
The extra cargo bay and energy bomb are no longer available. Instead, new ships can be bought to increase cargo capacity. The Energy Bomb was seen as a bit 'cheaty' and removing it balances up the universe. It has been replaced with the Emergency Hyperspace Unit (think Defender, Asteroids).
A new piece of equipment, the I.F.F. System, can be obtained at planets of tech level 2 and above. This displays different types of stellar object in different colours on the radar display and identifies craft types when missile locked.
The second new piece of equipment, the Emergency Hyperspace Unit, is available at planets of tech level 8 and above. When triggered, it will jump the ship from the current position to a random planet in the galaxy. Useful as a last resort to get out of a tight spot, the drive can also be used to speed up financial gain for any adventurous pilot feeling lucky...
The Encyclopedia Galactica contains information on nearly all types of ship seen in the universe. It also has detailed information on the ship equipment available and ship controls2. Select Encyclopedia from the panel, then choose from the menu the information required. Pressing B returns to the previous menu.
According to the Space Traders Flight Training Manual, when in the Orbit Space, the station's own defences will come to your immediate assistance. In Elite AGB, we actually mean it. When a particularly persistent pirate chases you into the safe zone and does not give up, the station's fleet of Viper class fighters will scramble to assist you. Any kills made by the police force will not count towards your rating, but at least you will be free to fight another day. The tired GalCop law enforcers will not come to the aid of a criminal, of course, so don't expect any help if your legal status is anything but clean.
The original home computer versions uses a keyboard to select the various screens, control the on-screen cursors and fly the ship. Only the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) version differs from this scheme. It uses an on screen menu with icons representing the ship controls. In the GBA version I have opted for a system similar to the NES version, but due to screen constraints the menu is 'pop up' and appears only when required. To access the menu, use the L and R shoulder buttons. To select an option, press A. To hide the menu again, press B or wait a few seconds.
If you have played the GBA port of TNK then the menu idea should be familiar – here it uses some of the same icons for the same functions – though I've tried to make things simpler and more comfortable for use on the 'GBA SP' by using the shoulder buttons. GBA TNK used Start to toggle the menu on and off, but the position of the Start and Select buttons on the SP is a lot harder to reach than the traditional GBA design. I found the GBA version of Elite TNK quite awkward to play on this new hardware. It takes a bit of getting used to at first, but I think it works better. One possible regression is the loss of the configurable buttons, but the new menu is easier to use and makes them less of a necessity.
When in space
For more details on the meaning of the icons shown in the panels, select Encyclopedia > Controls > Flight/Combat/Navigation/Trading. When in space, the Flight Panel only shows icons that you can actually use. As you fit more equipment or change your status, other icons will become active. For example, the icon that arms a missile is only shown if you have a missile fitted. The icon to launch a missile is only shown when a missile is successfully targeted.
Some other changes to classic Elite and difference to GBA TNK that may not be obvious at first are detailed in this section.
Select the Toggle Compass icon to toggle between planet and sun compasses. When Planet is selected, the compass shows the position of the planet. When Sun is selected, the compass shows the position of the sun. Only available when the space station icon is not shown.
A Galactic Hyperspace may be fitted on planets of tech level 11 upwards. In order to activate it, first exit the space station. Press the Select button then open the Flight menu and select the Galactic Hyperspace icon. The press-select-first safety measure ensures no accidental engaging of the GH takes place.
Due to the limited space on the GBA screen and the additions made to the game, there was no longer space on the Status Screen to show all the fitted equipment. This information has been moved to the new 'Equipment Screen'3.
The 'intro sequence' is shown when starting a new game, press B on the start screen, or by loading the Default Commander. It may be skipped by pressing Start on the first screen, the one with the spinning Cobra Mk III. This sequence has been inspired by the NES and BBC Executive versions. The 3D Elite logo model is taken from the Executive version, for example, though it required minor adjustment to get it to look right 'filled in'.
When you reach a certain level of wealth, this extra 'mission' will become available. A trumble is a small creature that lives aboard your space ship and multiplies rapidly. Trumbles eat food and narcotics (!) and are most allergic to extreme heat. A novel challenge is to try and keep a small colony of trumbles aboard your ship, but not so many that they become hazardous to space flight...
To reflect the fact that it is harder to kill a dangerous pirate ship than, say, an asteroid Commodore 64 Elite introduced the idea of kill values. Until then every stellar object you destroyed increased you score by 1. Now an asteroid gave you half a point and the pirate gave you a point and a half, for example.
Each ship type has a different score, with the values used in Elite AGB being loosely based on the relative scores in the C64 version. Overall they have been increased to make the game a bit more interesting. A problem in the C64 version was that the average score for a ship was less than 1, which made increasing from one rating to the next an even slower task. For example to go to Mostly Harmless on the BBC requires 4 kills, but on the C64 it usually takes twice that. The ship kill values used are shown in Appendix A.
The Quick Save option is available at any time when you are outside the space station. The idea is to allow you to save and quit, so you can resume later. Only one Quick Save slot is available and after saving the game returns you to the main title screen. When restoring a Quick Save, the save is lost. So remember to save when you reach the next space station.
Each time you dock, the game remembers your status. This way, if you are killed and didn't save you only lose the progress made since you last docked.
On the Galactic Chart, pressing the Select button plots the best course to the current hyperspace target planet. The path chosen takes into account each planet's government rating to plot the safest but shortest route. The chart tells you how many jumps are required and the real distance, rather than the distance “as the Thargoid flies”, to the planet. If the planet is not reachable with your current ship's hyperspace fuel limit then another message is shown. This tool is a great help when determining which special cargo to buy.
Bug Fix: 0.5.1 On the chart screens, if you chose the “metallic” colour scheme, the chart was shown in black and white.
Elite AGB makes use of code and data from various versions of Elite by Ian Bell and David Braben et al. This code and data is used without permission and infringes several copyrights, though it's anyone's guess as to exactly who owns the copyrights infringed. For the interested, here is a non-comprehensive list of things used and their origins and is roughly in order of 'copyright infringing seriousness' as I see it:
Universe generation: Elite source, Elite A disassembly.
Ship models and statistics: Converted from Elite A and Elite Executive disc files.
Goat Soup strings: Elite A disassembly.
Scanner and compass: ZX Spectrum Elite disassembly.
Planet graphics: Elite source, Elite A disassembly.
Trumble mission: Commodore 64 Elite disassembly.
Intro sequence: Elite NES observations and Elite Executive disassembly.
Music Data: Converted from the midi files distributed with The New Kind. Elite NES music midis.
Computer controlled ship AI: Elite source, Elite A and Elite NES disassemblies.
Vector graphics, ship motion, etc: Elite source.
Docking Bay mini-sequence: Elite (+A) disassembly.
Sound FX Data: Uses 'static emulation' of BBC sound registers taken from Elite under emulation in a specially modified version of PocketBeeb.
Trading screens, including Encyclopedia: Elite A disassembly.
Special Cargo calculations: Elite A disassembly.
Though I have tested the game a fair amount, it is the nature of software that some unwanted errors inevitably slip through the net. If you spot a problem, or have a feature that doesn't sound too difficult to add, then drop me an email at richard.quirk at gmail.com and I'll see what I can do. Source code is provided so any good patches you come up with are welcome too.
A value of 1 kill is equivalent to a single kill in BBC Elite. The 'Right On Commander' message is shown every 256 kill points.
1Historical note: in Elite A when changing ships you can often lose equipment. Also, ship prices shown in Elite AGB are the actual prices you pay. In Elite A, the ship price shown is the 'show room' price for someone who buys a ship without having one to trade in. As you start off in a ship that you will automatically trade in, this trade in price is deducted from the show room price and shown as a less confusing final what-you-pay price.
2HN: The controls originally showed the BBC keyboard controls. This has been replaced with descriptions of the GBA icon system.
3Trainspotter's note: this was inspired by fan-hacked C64 Elite128.
4HN: Salamander is the name given to this ship by avid Elite A fans.