I have a confession to make.
The first story I ever wrote wasn’t Elite – it was Short Circuit. And my teacher was so impressed she lined the book with wall paper and made me read it out in front of the school assembly. However Elite followed soon after. It was a story about a boy named John, and his suspicious neighbours who ate fried hotdog bananas. Intrigued, John snuck into their house and a found a Cobra Mk III in a hidden launch bay beneath the house. He hid aboard and his neighbours flew the Cobra out into space, thus beginning John’s adventures in the Elite universe.
My teacher liked it, though she didn’t understand what a Cobra Mk III was (as I hadn’t explained it – I just assumed that everyone played Elite).
The years that followed were full of Elite. We had an Atari ST with 1024kb of memory (double what it came with from the shop) and I played Elite whenever I could. Dad photocopied the manual so I had my own copy. It was ring bound and had two manual pages to one piece of A4. At the front was a piece of clear film and below that a piece of red paper, with the words ‘ELITE’ written in thick vivid and a fat line underscoring the word.
This was my bible.
I fell asleep reading this manual. I studied the ship specs, constantly comparing them. I imagined worlds where electronic counter measures were reverse engineered from the Thargoids, where submarine designs became starships, where ships were designed in ‘Mars Orbit (Old Earth)’ which hinted at the limitless depths of this fictional world. I learned the names and brands of the equipment. There was a home and a history for everything, from the latest in pilot seat cushioning to failed ship designs that never made it to market. There were company mergers and galactic invasions. The sheer amount of verisimilitude in that one manual has, in my opinion, never been surpassed.
So I lived and breathed and dreamed Elite and then one day a friend rang up to tell he had ‘Frontier Elite II’. I launch into question mode and get crazy answers back. There are no military lasers. You can land on planets. And it has the actual solar system in it! I felt an instant need to buy that game as quickly as humanely possible, however the opportunity didn’t arise until a family trip to the big smoke of Christchurch. I found and purchased the game through a combination of savings and negotiation with my dad, who on reflection, must have really really wanted me to have that game. We had no computer while on holiday, so once again I was reading Elite at night, but this time not just the amazing manual, but the ships guide, the Gazeteer (including background info on many planetary systems and the (to my mind) legendary ‘history of things to come’) and an anthology of short stories. This was a truly amazing boxset and by the time I got home I felt I knew Frontier as well as anyone who hadn’t played it could.
We returned home and immediately Dad and I upgraded the computer with goodies from Christchurch (Do you think I became a computer nut in isolation? of course not). With the computer on the kitchen table and sporting a sexy new six-speed CD-ROM drive I started playing Frontier.
It was hard!
I struggled with the combat and the concept of the (realistically) vast distances. I figured out a strategy of pausing the game, using the external view to find the pirate, locking on with my auto pilot and when the auto-pilot lined the pirate ship up in my cross hairs, Shooting it up real nice.
It worked well, and I amassed a small fortune, a Panther Clipper and high ranks for both the Empire and the Federation. I’d pretty much done everything there was to do, except earn the ranking of Elite. But there was no new challenges by that time and it wasn’t long until First Encounters, Elite III came out in New Zealand.
I remember walking into Dick Smith (a chain of electronic based stores) and there was First Encounters in a wrinkled box with a verbatim brand floppy disk taped to the box, on it a standard sticker, with the words written on it (with ball pen) ‘Patch V1.06’
What was this? I didn’t buy it. Right then, anyway. I brought it later in a more stable version on cd-rom. It came with a manual but no short story collection (though based on what I know now it was supposed to). I played First Encounters and did the same thing I did in Frontier. I got rich and comfortable.
This was about the time that the internet was growing in New Zealand and I discovered Graham ‘Jades’ Thurwell’s First Encounters Webpage. Here I learnt that First Encounters had hand coded missions that had completely passed me by. I started the game again, keeping an eye out and I completed all the hand-coded missions, including taking control of THE Argent’s Quest ship and earning myself a Thargoid warship all for myself.
That was when things got interesting. I don’t know why but my thargoid warship had a capacity of around 65000 tonnes which fell to 124ish as soon as I saved the game. Well that just wasn’t cricket. So I flew back from Thargoid space back to Alioth and docked with the starport without autopilot all without saving the game. A first for sure. Afterwards I had a Thargoid ship with so many shield generators no one could put a dent in me. I cruised around blowing up everyone with my Thargoid lasers and generally living in all the nasty places of the Galaxy.
It was also about this time that I learnt about Alioth.Net, a now defunct website that had an Elite bulletin board, full of like minded people. The best thing about this bulletin board was how everyone was involved in creating fan fiction. It was a great community which banded together to create the Huge Plasma Accelerator Saga (or Saaarrggggaaa as it was known then).
It was fan-fic, but it was fun and riveted our community’s attention for around a year. Afterwards there were dribs and drabs until Norman Mosser, the antagonist from the HPA Saga made a return to the fiction.
I said to myself. “I have to get it on this action.” And thus was born the hero Vasquith de Havilland and the Huge Plasma Accelerator Saga 2 which ran for over a year before we ended with the climatic ‘Battle of Rocky Fields’ and started the Huge Plasma Accelerator Saga 3. The HPA3 was never finished, though I had put in the plotwork to get it (mostly) to its end. It would have been a cracker but the community began to disperse and eventually the ‘EBBS’ as it was known was gone. Some of us went to the Oolite BBS, where followers and developers of Oolite would hang out. (Oolite being a remake of the original elite but infinitely expandable) and some of us simply disappeared back to where we had come from.
And then one night as I was laying besides my boy’s bed, one hand on his chest, the other holding my phone under his bed, I saw on facebook a message from Frontier Developments to stay turned for big news.
My initial thought was ‘oh my God, can Elite IV finally be here?’
Yes, yes it was. I found the kickstarter, I pledged, then I started edging upward, or ‘Jontying’ toward higher reward tiers.
I thought about how awesome it would be to help with the writing of that game. I offered my services. I didn’t receive a reply but then a few days later the ‘Writers Pack’ became available…..for 4500 pounds.
My heart sunk. I didn’t have $9,000 in rainy day money lying around. I emailed again, asking if there could be a cheaper option to contribute, such as writing an article for an in-game newspaper. No reply to that email either.
Then I heard about authors running their own kickstarter/Indiegogo campaigns to raise the money required for the Writers pack. After some deliberation I decided to give it a go too. I knew the Elite lore and the games inside out and I was handy with the words – I knew I could offer something to the community. I knew that if I didn’t try I’d regret it (nothing to lose, everything to gain). I’ve already talked about the ups and downs of my Indiegogo journey, from down and out, to a glimmer to crossing the finish line with minutes to spare. A true vote of confidence from the Elite community.
Before I launched the indiegogo campaign I already knew what kind of story I wanted to write. It would be what I wanted to read. It would be fast. It would have dazzling set pieces, it would have twists and suspense and it would have great characters stuck in situations they didn’t want to be. More importantly I wanted ‘grey’ characters. Every character in the story acted as if they were the lead in their own show. Every character had good and bad elements. No one was clear cut good or clear cut bad. Even the bad guys were doing what they thought were the right things. Each character was unique with their own motivations and ways of dealing with events. They weren’t just characters. They were people.
I wrote the novel in record time (first draft done in about 3 months). I learnt how to use video editing software to make update videos. I made a ‘Commanders Log’ podcast and learnt all about sound editing software and how to set up an account on itunes. I learnt how to make a website I learnt a whole bunch of new skills including continual improvement of my writing.
After I ran a couple of further edits, I managed to snare the interest of Fantastic Books Publishing and here we are, 18 months after I first started, and I write this as a published author, with my Elite novel “And Here The Wheel’ sitting on Amazon and the FBP Webstore
And thus completes a boy-hood dream. Well, two boy head dreams. To be part of Elite canon and to publish a novel. Ticked both off before I was 32. Not too bad. (Before I hit 30 would have been better, but lets not get picky).
So where does my Elite journey go from here? Well firstly I hope it goes into a lot of people’s homes where they read the novel and enjoy it. I hope it leaves you breathless. I hope you feel Robert Garry’s pain and loss and savour his victories. I hope you bang your kindle against the wall when you’re finished, saying “I want to know what happens next!”
After that? Well that depends on Frontier Developments and YOU. Frontier have made no comment about future novels and rightly so – the game isn’t out yet. They will want to see if it is worth their while to do more and who would write the second set of novels. To help them make up their minds, please let Frontier know that you enjoyed their tie in fiction and that you want to read more (and preferably more from me 🙂 )
That will decide where my Elite journey ends. The journey so far has been an amazing experience. Thank you all for joining me over the last 18 months.t 18 months.