Mike Roberts tells you everything you've ever wanted to know about galactic trading, but were afraid to ask
Elite has been called the program of the century, indeed, if not the program of the century, then it has had at least the most impact of any computer game up to the present time.
Indeed, the whole concept of the game was so large that it was probably that small detail that prevented it being done before, that and the phenomeonal speed that the BBC Micro was capable of processing at.
The lucky ones amongst us with Acorns and Commodores have almost certainly got a copy of the game. The market penetration of it was exceedingly high reaching as many as hal of all Acorn computer users and looks set to do the same on the Commodore 64. Soon there will be a version for the Spectrum, Amstrad, Einstein and MSX computers.
Broadly speaking, Elite is a trading/simulation game with full three dimensional real-time combat. The aim of the game is to travel between planets (or perhaps not...), buying (or perhaps not...) various goods and materials, and selling them at a different planet for a higher price. Doing this earns money with which you can buy more and better equipment.
I say perhaps not, because you can also pirate goods off other ships in the area, or mine asteroids, or become a bounty hunter and live by shooting down pirates. But the bottom line is that you can be anything that you can possibly do in any combination, to whatever the game will let you do - which is more than enough for the most people.
In the Elite universe, there are eight galaxies. Travel between these is enabled by buying a galactic hyperspace (very expensive!). Each galaxy has around 250 star systems in it, and each star system has a single planet orbiting it.
The second aim of the game (apart from earning as much money as possible) is to get status up to the rank of "Elite". You start off as "Harmless", and progress through "Mostly Harmless" to "Poor", "Average", "Competent", "Dangerous", "Deadly", and finally the ultimate achievement - "Elite".
It is very difficult to become Elite and generally takes many months of continued play. Your rating is raised by shooting down enemy spacecraft. It can also be raised by completing a mission. Missions are offered to you occasionally by the space navy. Such as destroying a valuable prototype of spaceship that has been stolen and is being used against its maker. If you complete them then there is usually a big fat bonus in the form of status, money and equipment.
When you trade there are certain items that are regarded as illegal such as slaves, narcotics, and firearms. Running these can produce big profits, or big losses (as in the case of the generally law-abiding galaxy two). Be warned though, if you do any of this, or if you are involved in too much piracy then your legal status starts to change. It starts off as clean, goes through offender, and ends up as fugitive. The problem with having a criminal record such as this is that police ships tend to attack you. Knocking them out does nothing for your reputation with the forces of law and order though.
Your record changes though when you eject or when you go far enough or long enough away for them not to recognise you.
Equipment available for the ship is varied, though sometimes only some of it is available as that planet doesn't have the necessarily high technology to produce it. Also, the BBC and Electron tape versions of the game don't have certain items of equipment available to the spacefarer; these are indicated by an asterisk (*).
Weaponry consists of a missile rack, initially with three missiles but capable of holding four. They cost 30cr each and are not really commercially viable for the serious bounty hunter as you cannot expect to get more than 15cr - 20cr for a kill. Not enough to cover the cost of the ammo, but as they are homing, they have a lot of use when the odds start to get bad, or if you are having trouble against a large number of foes and you want to wipe them all out at a reasonable cost rather than using an energy bomb at 900cr, very uneconomic, though you can wipe out fifteen ships at a time with one.
Lasers come next and are available in three offensive sizes and one civilian type. The offensive lasers are pulse (what the ship is initially equipped with), beam (much better but not a patch on...), military (*) (which zap everything in a matter of moments). The three types of laser differ in their pricing, their firing rate, and their energy usage. Often I have found myself blowing up, because over-usage of my militaries used up all my energy and my shields disappeared.
The fourth type of laser is the mining laser. This has some offensive capability, but only if your target is kind enough to stay still for a few minutes!
Mining lasers (*) are designed to be used against asteroids. They fire very slowly and cause the rock to crumble rather than explode, you can then collect one ton of minerals with a fuel scoop if fitted. Destroying an asteroid by any means results in a reward of 0.5cr for clearing the space lanes.
Lasers can be mounted at the front (default), back, left or right. Never put them on the sides. They are impossible to sight, and you will run into a planet by the time that you have sighted them up.
On the front, you want beams or militaries if you can watch your energy gauge. On the rear you want mining lasers if you want to do some mining as a side line (Don't, there are much better ways to make more money!), if mining lasers are on the rear you can line up with an asteroid so that it is on a collision course with you, then hop up over it and zap it with your rear guns. You can then loop around to pick it up.
When you replace a laser it is also worth noting that there is an automatic 'part exchange' on your old gun. Though you have to have the original purchase price.
Having a gun on the rear really has no use at all unless it is for mining (see above); however, when you buy the gun, you get the sighting system. With this, you can aim missiles backwards - very useful to discourage enemies tailing you.
The most useful items to get when trading, however, are extra energy units, and an extra cargo bay. The extra bay ensures that you always are running at full capacity, once you have a few thousand and you are buying goods with a 30% mark-up and 20cr - 30cr profit then you want to carry as much as is possible per trip.
Extra energy units allow your shields to build back up again quickly, this helps in the midst of battle, and allows you to last longer under fire.
For mining, piracy, and economics you need a fuel scoop. The titles of this piece of equipment is rather misleading, not only can you replenish your dwindled fuel supply from the nearest sun (*), but you can also pick up pirated cargo and bits from a mined asteroid. A high priority piece of equipment for serious zapping.
Escape capsules are a bit unnecessary in my books; in the time it takes you to hit the eject button you could have zapped whatever enemy was attacking you. Also, the energy bomb at a more affordable 900cr performs a similar function (i.e. not getting you killed) and you score the other ships, i.e. they count towards your rating - though not as hghly as if you shot them all down. The escape pod comes complete with an insurance policy to cover the cost of a new ship. However, it doesn't cover the cost of the cargo, so you've lost that.
ECM units are necessary for serious piracy as so many of the bigger freighters have a lot of missiles to fire at you.
Finally there is the docking computer; definitely, a must if you are a bit wobbly at docking. Can also be used as a compass to find out where the planet is when you are a long way away (like behind the sun) (*). It is a shame that the Acorn tape versions are not as good, i.e. you press 'C' and you just appear in the space station; with the disk versions you are actually flown there - although they do get you to the space station.
Also, there is the galactic hyperspace, this will zap you from one galaxy to the next, and will then burn out, very expensive job to fix, that is John... burned out galactic hyperspace like that would set you back around 5000cr - and that's before labour.
There is very little to say about combat in the early stages of the game, just shoot at everything that moves, or looks like it may move. If you shoot them in the tailpipes they are much more likely to go up faster.
On later levels when you find yourself accosted by four or five bandits then it is a good idea to target a missile at the furthest enemy, and then attack the second one. This is because the first one will be too near. If any problems develop then loose off the missile. It will usually have an effect like a local energy bomb due to the close proximity of the pirates.
During heavy bouts of combat it is worthwhile watching your guns. Military lasers are so powerful that nothing can stand in your way, however, to the inexperienced combatant who will fire at anything, whether he is going to hit it or not then it is another matter. The military lasers chew so much out of your energy banks, that before you know it you can be blown up due to your lack of shields!
When you start off your life in Elite you must remember that you are one of the worst armed ships in the universe. Pulse lasers will only knock out a target after a long drawn-out battle with a single ship.
So you must lay off the piracy and smuggling for the moment. Bounty hunting is OK as long as you have got a good clear shot at the jet pipes of the enemy ships and you are quite close. Even pulse lasers will knock out a target within a reasonable amount of time if you are close and hit the jet pipes. All types of guns are more effective at shorter ranges, and hitting the jet pipes makes them explode faster.
To start with, you will be trading in very mundane things making very little money as even a 50% profit is only 50cr at this stage in the game due to the small amount of capital that you have to start with.
Your main aim at this point is to find a milk run. That is, two planets within range of each other that will pay through the nose of a product in large quantity on the other. Two such planets as these are Arexe and Reesdice. One is a rich industrial planet and the other is a rich agricultural planet.
You can buy computers from the industrial planet and the other is a rich agricultural planet. You can buy computers from the industrial at 60cr and sell them for 100cr - a profit of 40cr a ton, with a large cargo bay (essential) you can carry 35 tons of the stuff and make a profit in real terms of 1400cr on a one-way trip assuming no trouble en route and refuelling in the sun. The way back is good to you, you can buy booze at 20cr a ton from the argo planet and flog it to the industrialists at 35cr a ton making a more modest (though not to be sneezed at) 525cr a trip. With this, you are making more than 2000cr per round trip! More than enough to fully equip your ship.
With a fully equipped ship, the sky's the limit. Good luck over the next few months - you'll need it!