Frontier: Elite II

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Frontier: Elite II is the 1993 successor to the computer game Elite and the predecessor of Frontier: First Encounters . The game was developed by David Braben and distributed by Gametek and Konami . It was released for DOS , Atari ST and Commodore Amiga . Chris Sawyer was responsible for the PC conversion and also integrated advertising for his own transportation game (meaning Transport Tycoon ) into the game.


The name is English and literally means border area . However, it also refers to the historical frontier during the colonization of the United States . Here, too, the term refers to the sparsely populated border area between human civilization and the “wilderness”, in which laws only apply to a limited extent and adventurers roam around (see Wild West ). Frontier applies this term to space and differentiates between civilized and uninhabited star systems and Frontier systems.

Game content

As with Elite , the player slips into the role of a spaceship owner and can henceforth operate as a space trader , pirate , bounty hunter , mercenary or resource seeker or simply explore space and z. B. penetrate into unexplored planetary systems.

Compared to its predecessor, however, there are numerous innovations: The player is presented with a much more realistic game world, for the first time there are complex solar systems , whereas the systems in Elite consisted of only one planet , one space station and one fixed star . In addition, it is now also possible to land on planets, whereas the original Elite only offered the controllable space stations. Frontier adds complex systems to the game principle with many different planets and planet types, numerous moons , double and multiple stars as well as stars of all spectral classes of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram .

As usual with this genre, you only have a small, weak ship at the beginning. Therefore, one is initially forced to earn money on safe routes through simple transport orders or trade in order to acquire stronger ships with better equipment over time. In principle, with enough patience, this type of trade can make any amount of money, but usually one leaves these safe routes as soon as one owns a battle-ready ship.

There are also numerous new possibilities for activities such as the transport of parcels and people for a fee, military reconnaissance missions , assassinations or mining on planets. In addition, as a soldier you can place yourself in the service of one of the two competing powers, the Federation or the Empire , and with increasing rank you receive increasingly dangerous, but also better paid jobs and possibly even awards.

Incidentally, Frontier lacks a real storyline that the player could follow. The actual core point of the game is merely to rise in the "elite rating", which is based on the shooting down of enemy spaceships. This rating also plays a role in the award of the contract, as some clients require a certain minimum level. For the highest rank, "Elite", you need 6,000 confirmed kills.

Ultimately, the player has to maintain or build a "reputation"; Dishonorable acts degrade reputation, which in turn has a negative impact on the award of contracts. For example, anyone who delivers a passenger to a group that is following him will no longer want to fly a passenger for the foreseeable future.


Frontier largely retained the 3D vector graphics of its predecessor. In addition, however, the game resulted textures for spaceships (only in the PC version) and ground objects and polygonal one represented celestial bodies. In addition to these objects in the background was a bitmap to see -Sternhimmel while actually invisible flying by Stardust should illustrate the movement of the spaceship visually.

A special feature of the graphics engine was the simulation of lighting phenomena and atmospheric refraction , which was unique for the time . All stars appear in a different-colored light, which is differently colored on ships and planets and calculated with shadows . Day and night as well as sunrise and sunset of the sun (s) are also calculated on planets.

The game also shows some bugs with regard to the graphics. Thus, spaceships located on the side of a planet facing away from the sun are still illuminated by this, although they are completely in the shadow of the planet. In addition, in planetary systems with several suns, only the effect of the light from the “central” sun is calculated.

The soundscape of the game is kept rather spartan. Only the noises of engines and weapons as well as the occasional beeping of the radio can be heard, as well as the rustling of wind on planet surfaces. The soundtrack is played on the PC in AdLib / MIDI quality and, in addition to two Frontier Themes composed by Andrew Lowe, includes classical works by Mussorgsky ( A Night on Bald Mountain , Baba-Yaga's Hut , The Great Gate of Kiev ), Grieg ( In the Hall of the Mountain King ), Wagner ( Walkürenritt ) as well as the waltz An der Schöne blau Donau by Johann Strauss, also used in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey in front of a science fiction theme . The Amiga version includes the same musical backdrop, but here it sounds more powerful and realistic due to the better sound hardware.

Realistic space simulation

An outstanding feature of Frontier is the simulation of space flight and the virtual galaxy , which is quite realistic for a game .

The simulated Milky Way comprises around 100 billion solar systems . Almost each of these systems has its own pseudo-randomly generated name and individual properties. There are systems with one and systems with several central stars . For each star , size , luminosity , mass and surface temperature are given. The planets circle on elliptical orbits, they come in various forms such as gas giants , substellar objects or small boulders, their orbits and axes of rotation can be inclined towards the ecliptic and they in turn can have moons. Star systems in the immediate vicinity of the solar system are modeled according to the current astronomical data, e.g. B. Wega , Barnard's Arrow Star , Wolf 359 , Ross 128 , Fomalhaut , Tau Ceti or Alpha Centauri .

Differences to reality exist in the level of detail, in the simulation of the other systems with a deterministic pseudo-random number generator and in the distribution of the systems, which are simulated in a flatter and more uniform distribution than is actually the case in a spiral galaxy.

The well-known physical laws of gravity , inertia , acceleration and momentum apply to interplanetary flight . In order to accelerate a spaceship, the drive is activated. If you switch off the drive, the spaceship does not stop, but keeps its trajectory according to the inertia. The trajectory is of course influenced by the gravity of the various celestial bodies. The realistic simulation enables the player to even use the swing-by method.

The laws of physics also apply to space stations . Space stations are positioned at the Lagrangian points around a planet and generate artificial gravity through rotation. To land in a space station, the pilot must adapt the rotation of his spacecraft to that of the station.

Even the timing is simulated realistically. The spaceships use an acceleration of a few G for interplanetary flight , depending on the type of ship between 6 G and 30 G (for comparison: the Eurofighter Typhoon accelerates at around 0.8 G). A flight from Earth to Mars takes several hours. In the game, the player uses a time acceleration mechanism to reduce the travel time to a few seconds. This mechanism is explained in the manual as a time-changing drug that is available to the pilots in the spaceship. This drug was developed after numerous pilots steered their spaceships into stellar objects due to the boredom during the space flight, only to finally experience something again, and thus died.

For interstellar flight, the spaceships have a hyperspace drive (see also fourth dimension ) that creates a wormhole that the pilot can subjectively fly through in a few seconds, but objectively within a few days.

Even the combat simulation is very realistic. Since there is no sound-transmitting medium in space , you can only hear the propulsion of your own spaceship if it is switched on. No drive can be heard from other spaceships. The audible noises of the enemy weapon systems are generated by the on-board computer. The spaceships are equipped with laser or plasma acceleration weapons. The laser beams travel at the speed of light and accelerated plasma at almost the speed of light, so these weapons do not show any noticeable delay.

To fight another ship, it is not enough to choose a flight path that crosses the other ship's flight path. Due to the different flight vectors and the inertia, the ships would race past each other without the pilots even seeing each other. Instead, a trajectory should be selected that matches the trajectory of the other ship in such a way that the ships have approximately the same position and the same vector. Usually you use the autopilot for this .

Some players find the realism to be excessive and difficult. Other players see a particular charm of the game in the great realism.

Criticism and bugs

It was precisely the attempt at a realistic simulation of space that resulted in Frontier having numerous program errors (bugs) when it appeared . Errors of this type included:

  • In an early version of the game, you could try to sell occupied passenger cabins. This was not possible, but led to the player being credited with the price for the cabin anyway.
  • Likewise, in an early version in the star system Cemiess normal goods were available at negative prices, so the player received money for the purchase of these goods, which increased the profit margin on resale drastically.
  • The naming of star systems with three randomly selected syllables led, on the one hand, to duplication of names and, on the other hand, to strange names such as Bebece (cf. BBC ), Canada ( Canada ) or Miami (cf. Miami ).
  • In addition, inhabited systems were created according to a probability function in the form of a normal distribution , so that, from a statistical point of view, planets still inhabited far from the central systems were possible. In fact, planetary systems with stable government and controllable star ports were found hundreds or thousands of light years away from Earth. In addition, there were sporadic inhabited planets with unrealistic living conditions (high or low temperatures) or inhabited systems that were identified as uninhabited or not explored.
  • Occasionally, systems were also found that were identified as inhabited, but did not have any controllable ports or space stations. In isolated cases, systems designated as inhabited did not even have planets.
  • A fatal bug that was fixed in later versions was related to an overflow due to the use of 16-bit data words in the distance variables and caused hyperspace jumps from 65,536 + x light years to be calculated based on fuel consumption like jumps at x light years away . Some fans humorously interpreted this mistake as a " wormhole ", with which it was possible to quickly reach practically any of the inhabited systems by cleverly choosing a flight route of several jumps.
  • In addition, some coordinates of real star systems were incorrectly reproduced. In Frontier, both the stars of the Pleiades and those of the constellation Ursa major ( Great Bear ) were on the same plane.
  • The statistical frequency of different stars is incorrect, so there are many main sequence stars , but only individual stars with real names in the relative vicinity of the sun, which are correctly called supergiants .
  • It is not possible to move further than 65,536 AU from a star and thus reach another star system.
  • Eclipses were not simulated at all; 3D objects behind others were also illuminated by the star system's central light source.
  • The mining mode was not playable on the PC version. The game crashed while trying to leave a star system by leaving mining machines on the planet's surface.


Despite many bugs and obvious weaknesses, gaming magazines rated Frontier consistently positive. David Braben himself called the game imperfect in an interview with Power Play magazine and - when asked about the long development time - drew a comparison with Achilles and the turtle : He was getting closer and closer to the goal without reaching it. The magazine finally rated the game with 90 percentage points and gave it the particularly recommendable award. The Amiga Joker also crowned the game with a prize and gave it a rating of 91%.

After the end of support, Frontier could only be used with emulators on modern operating systems for a long time. Around 2005, however, Tom Morton created a platform-neutral C version from the Atari ST version, called GLFrontier , via reverse engineering , making it playable again natively and with good performance on modern operating systems .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Power Play Review
  2. Amiga Joker Review
  3. GLFrontier Project Page !!! 1 ( Memento of the original from November 10, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. on "This WAS the Atari ST version of the game Frontier: Elite 2 [...]. It was disassembled, OS calls and hardware access removed, and originally run on a stripped down ST emulator (Hatari). Now it is compiled to C or native x86, and run much faster without 68K emulation. Most recently it has been modified to draw stuff with OpenGL at any shiny resolution with 8xAA, etc. "  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  4. Back To Front (ier): Pioneer on Rock, Paper, Shotgun by Craig Pearson on December 6th, 2011