Humans have gazed up at the sky and wondered about their place in the cosmos since the very beginning. Do the same in a game like, say, Breath of the Wild, and you're presented with vivid images of clouds, stars, the sun and the moon. It's an important part of this and many other games that helps to create an illusion of a continuous space that stretches beyond what we actually experience within the confines of the game. The sky implies that Hyrule, despite being a fantasy world, is a part of a cosmos very much like our own, and we accept this even though we cannot fly up and check.
After a 22-year absence, Elite's legendary alien menace, the Thargoids, are back. This isn't a surprise invasion, of course; developer Frontier has been teasing the Thargoids' eventual return in Elite: Dangerous for over two years now, with a masterfully orchestrated campaign of steadily escalating alien activity that did its job, leaving fans in an anticipatory frenzy. The tease is finally over though: Elite: Dangerous' 2.4 update ("The Return") released earlier this week and set the Thargoids loose upon the galaxy once and for all - and Elite's sometimes divided community has united to uncover the secrets of the series' most formidable foe.
He has seen things you wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser gate. Roy Batty's dying monologue is a key scene of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, its pathos buttressed by a sense of wonder in the face of things no ordinary human being will ever see.
On 25th April 2017, Cambridge-based developer Frontier released patch notes for its two-and-a-half year-old space game Elite Dangerous. Buried within those patch notes, under the section "General Fixes & Tweaks", was a line that set the game's vociferous community alight:
Elite Dangerous players have taken a significant step in solving a mystery that has befuddled its most rabid secret-hunters ever since the game came out.
It's 1978. You're standing in front of a cabinet of monsters. This is Space Invaders, and you'll fight the monsters until your space-craft is irredeemably compromised. Once that happens, the game will end. Once that happens, you'll begin again, with the world wiped clean. Every game always ends. Nothing remains between games but high scores, memories and finger grease.
First contact was made January 2017.
There's a war going on within Elite Dangerous - and it's sending shockwaves rippling throughout the game's virtual universe.
Elite was the first game I ever dreamed about. It was a recurring dream, the sort of woozy loop of mental debris that stubbornly lodges in your mind for nights on end. In the dream, I was forever spiralling slowly towards the rotating white outline of a rectangle in an ink black void.
At EGX yesterday Frontier boss David Braben delivered a developer session on Elite: Dangerous, the space game currently in beta and due out before the end of 2014. In it he talked passionately about spaceships, player politics and a virtual galaxy packed with billions of stars.
It started with an acorn. An Acorn Atom, to be precise, unwrapped by the young David Braben on Christmas morning, 1981. This simple, inexpensive computer with its 1MHz CPU and 2KB of RAM was enough to plant a seed in his imagination that would, with the help of Ian Bell, soon stretch right out to the stars. Some two years after receiving his first computer, his idea would lead Braben to the offices of a London publisher to show the demo for his 3D space epic, Elite.
We've had our say already, and typically we were probably well wide of the mark, so it's now your turn to let us know what games you're looking forward to over the next 12 months. Thanks to all who voted (but no thanks to whoever suggested Pong, and to the handful of people who put forward Half-Life 3, well... I'm sorry). The top 10 are presented in reverse order below - and it was incredibly tight out at the front, with the top result beating out the runner-up by only a couple of votes. We've also included some of your comments, although since the submission form was anonymous we can't say exactly who made which point. Sorry about that - if you feel particularly proprietorial about one of your insights that we've highlighted, tell the world in the comments. Onward!
At the time of writing, Peter Molyneux's Project Godus, a new god game, has raised £247,044 towards its £450,000 goal on Kickstarter. There are 10 days left to go. Meanwhile, over in Cambridge, Peter's buddy David Braben has raised £699,729 out of £1.25m to make Elite: Dangerous with 24 days left to go. Neither project is guaranteed to be fully funded, but the point is that these grand old men of the British games industry have attracted almost £1 million of support from random people on the internet by promising to return to their roots.
Every Sunday we present a feature from our archives, either for you to discover for the first time or read again. This week it's John Bedford's encounter with Elite co-creator David Braben, who gets surprisingly nostalgic about things.