More than 50,000 copies of Acornsoft's Megagame Elite have already been sold and David Johnson-Davies is confidently predicting sales of 100,000 by the New Year. So what makes Elite so special?
Apart from it's cost -- £17.65 for the BBC disc version, less for cassette and Electron versions -- what sets Elite apart from other Acornsoft games is its unbelievable complexity. David Johnson-Davies explains that although the game is extremely clever, combining intellectual aspects of trading with hectic space-combat, the really impressive thing about Elite is the way in which the authors have managed to create an illusion of the game being more complicated than it actually is, by using techniques to squeeze information into memory.
Elite was written by Cambridge undergraduates Ian Bell and David Braban, and took around two man-years to perfect. The authors first approached Acornsoft over a year ago with a rudimentary version of the game. This was improved and debugged following suggestions from Acornsoft and the game was ready in June this year
It was at this stage that Acornsoft decided to take Elite -- already a string and very marketable product -- and turn it into a "cult" game. In order to keep the game a secret, Elite was given a code name and from then on was referred to by the name "Bell".
As the game is so complex, it takes some time to get into. It was thought that this might prove to be a problem when marketing it. The solution was to commission a science fiction author to write a short story based on the game, to set the scene. On the one hand The Dark Wheel is an exciting novella based on Elite, on the other hand it's a useful introduction to the game containing hints on how to be "elite".
Apart from the disc or cassette and short story, the pack contains a ship identification poster, a Space Trader's Flight Training Manual, a quick reference card, and a postcard which serves as an application for membership to the Order of Elite. The whole lot is presented in an eye-catching package featuring a dramatic piece of artwork by airbrush illustrator Philip Castle.
Players are rated according to their progress - they can be "harmless", "competent", "dangerous" and "deadly" before achieving "elite" status. Elitists are invited to send in the postcard giving their progress to date. The player who has achieved the highest score that month wins £100-worth of software, a silver Elite insignia and an invitation to a live play-off next April.
According to DJ-D, Acornsoft already have postcards "coming out of our ears". After the game had been on sale for two weeks, they had received about 40 cards. The best rating during September was "dangerous", but by October, 40 "elites" has turned up in a total of 400 postcards. "We just hope we don't get all 50,000 postcards back," says DJ-D.
"There are no short cuts to elitism, you have to play for a long time and accumulate a lot of skill," says DJ-D. And his rating? Has Acornsoft's boss earned the right to sport the Elite insignia he keeps in his desk drawer? "No, I'm only harmless."
With 50,000 copies sold, an appearance on TV, rave reviews in computer magazines, first-placing in some of the software charts, what can Acornsoft produce to follow that?
Of the eight other new games that Acornsoft having coming out for Christmas, Labyrinth is expected to be the bestseller. This is a maze game using a rather unusual graphics technique and a friendly little character who eats fruit - which DJ-D insists "is not a bit like Snapper".
But it looks as if Acornsoft may have something in store for Easter. "We've got a few things up our sleeves," says DJ-D.
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