Frontier

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Frontier: Elite II
FE2 small.jpg
Developer David Braben
Publisher Gametek
Latest version 1.06 (Shareware)
Release date(s) September 1993
Platform(s) PC, ST, Amiga

Frontier was the first sequel to the classic Elite game. Its full title was Frontier: Elite II. It was developed by the fledgling Frontier Developments company founded by co-author of the original Elite game David Braben. It was published by Gametek in 1993, and made available for most popular systems of the time, including IBM Compatibles, Amiga and Atari ST. The game box came packed with goodies, including a huge manual, a Gazetteer, a book of short stories and a poster depicting the Core Systems.

Frontier expanded the universe of Elite to encompass the entire galaxy, with one of the main selling points being the fact that the creators had accurately mapped our galaxy. Frontier also introduced a fully accurate Newtonian flight model instead of the usual reactive flight model used in games until that point, adding a new level of realism.

Many rumours abounded following the release of the game that Frontier was never intended to be a sequel to Elite, and was simply written as a new space simulation. The rumour states that someone suggested tacking the Elite ships onto the game, and the decision was eventually made to include the popular elements from Elite into the game, including Lave and the surrounding systems and the ships from the older game. This, although never confirmed to this author's knowledge, does explain why there are very few other elements of Elite present in the game other than the most well known systems and the ships.

In Frontier, the political environment changed considerably from Elite. The Galactic Co-operative of Worlds was no more, and instead there were two opposing factions: the Federation based on Earth and the Empire based in the Achenar system. There was no sign of the Thargoids, and a real time system was used for the first time, setting Frontier in 3200.

The gameplay was considerably tweaked. Frontier still retained the generally open-ended style, where the player could take control of their own destiny, but additional elements were introduced. The player could now undertake missions of many types ranging from delivering packages to assassinating fellow pilots. Military missions for both Federation and Empire were also included.

Pilots could, for the first time, fly in the atmosphere of a planet, and could even land at a planetside starport. Those with the required piloting skills (and patience) could land anywhere on a planet, and even drop a mining rig when they got there!

The choice of ships was also greatly improved - most of the ships from the original Elite made an appearance (apart from the imposing Fer-de-Lance) and were joined by another whole fleet of ships from the humble Eagle Mk I (the starting ship) to the mighty Imperial Courier.

Frontier's control system is the aspect of the game that garners most debate. Many feel that the Newtonian physics detract from the gameplay and make combat almost unbearable. Others claim that the physics enhance the game and turn it into a hybrid of fun game and simulator.

Frontier was also plagued with bugs and quirks due to an alleged rushed release. The tale goes that Frontier Developments were not ready to release the game but Gametek forced the issue, stating that the project had been delayed long enough. As a result, many features that were to be implemented were half finished, and the game was unstable. A series of patches were released that repaired most of these errors. Those who have hacked into the code for the game have reported that there are a great many tags and references in the code for other equipment and game elements, including cloaking devices and Thargoids. This mess resulted in a long series of legal issues that were only resolved in 1999.

Frontier Developments released a shareware version of the game to the legions of fans through the Elite Club website. This version includes all the post-release patches and removes the copy protection schema, although Frontier Developments have neglected to complete the alleged missing code and there remain a number of now well known bugs. Also available is GLFrontier, a reverse-engineered version of FE2 that allows OpenGL rendering.

In summary, Frontier was a playable and fun game, but missed out on truly legendary status through several complaints, amongst them being the bug-ridden beginnings and the troublesome control system. It has, however, gained a faithful and vociferous following of its own with many people still playing the game over a decade after its release, as well as creating fan fiction set in the Frontier universe.

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