As a boy of 10, I lived on a smallholding in a very rural part of England. A skinny frame under a mop of pudding bowl trimmed platinum blonde hair, tanned from a bright sun through crisp air. The nearest village was many miles away, but it may have well been on the surface of Mars as I was never allowed to cycle on the fast road outside our isolated house. I spent the eternal summers chasing chickens and being chased by geese. Riding and being thrown from my pony, who hated me. You are likely judging me now. My parents were not wealthy, both hard working teachers, hit hard by out-of-control interest rates and a big mortgage, fighting to keep things together, sadly a fight they one day lost.
At the age of 8 my father purchased an Acorn Electron. The Acorn Electron was an 8 bit computer, essentially a cut down version of the BBC Micro. It had 32k (yes k) of RAM and 32k of ROM (rom is like your SSD 🙂 ). It ran the Acorn MOS operating system with a BASIC language compiler which I used to create simple games entered from books in a library.
I will state some obvious facts here as they may be lost on people under the age of 35. The acorn, like the c64 or spectrum 48, was a system from an age where games and applications where loaded from cassettes via a tape recorder or hifi. Magnetic tape cassettes are those retro cool things you see on hot topic t-shirts. Loading times varied but I would guess around 15 to 30 minutes was common. The loading was accompanied by a whining scratching screaming noise which was un-mutable. If the load didn’t crash half way through you would then have your game up and running. Then the real disappointment would begin. I joke of course, in hindsight the games seem simplistic and silly, but to my younger self that 8×8 pixel image was a space monster, dragon or manic miner.
Considering the platform and the limited imagination of game programmers, then came Elite and it was something else. It was a dog-fighting, trading, hyper-speed jumping space adventure of programmatically psudeo-momentous scale. It was amazing. It was somewhere to escape. When things crumbled and I had to move away, I packed my Acorn and Elite into a box, and there it remained. Moving with me from house to house and finally to my home with my wife and boys. 9 moves, every time, the box came with me. And I still have it. Elite was a fond childhood memory.
But then a man called Palmer Luckey duct taped together something amazing, years of work and support from a large community of devs and enthusiasts and we have the CV1. At the same time one of the men that dreamed up Elite, David Braben, created something wonderful again.
I pull a new oculus rift HMD over my head and gaze across a cockpit I somehow instantly recognise. I’m back. I’m finally sat in the place I interpreted from blocky vector graphics. My view only spoiled by the humidity from my watering eyes.
It may seem incredible and improbable, but the 2 games are built on the same foundation, they are basically the same. From a gameplay perspective no less complex. The difference is the game now fills the areas once coloured by my imagination.
So, Elite means a lot to me, like Zelda, Mario, PacMan and Qbert mean to others. That cockpit is the virtual embodiment of my imagination, my youth. I sit there and my watering eyes shed a tear, I am young again.
Such is the power of virtual reality.