Did you do the coding of Elite for the NES, or did you do the graphics
Oh? so Braben had nothing to do with the NES version?
That is not what i said.
We worked together on both the elements you mention.
Why did you make a NES version of Elite?
We thought it would sell well.
Did Imagineer ask/hire you to do it, or did you make the game and then
sell it to imagineer?
No. We finished it and then spent ages trying to find a publisher.
Well if Imagineer didnt hire you, then which tools did
you use to program?
PDS. A nice system by a UK based company PDS Systems.
Was it easy making Elite for the NES?
Did you find any bugs after the game was released?
Yes. There was inadequate garbage checking on the cart RAM so that you
could load in an uniintialised commander with infinite cash and elite
Do you know why Imagineer didnt want to release the
game in the US?
I don't think they thought it would sell. The US market is less
As far as I know Elite was a great success in England,
but it kinda went "unknown" or "unreleased" in the rest
of Europe. Did Imagineer decided just to do a UK release
AFAIK it was a europe wide release. They wanted French and German text
on the cart.
Know how many copies Imagineer sold of Elite? Did you get
a little "profit" out of your work?
No. According to the publishers, sales never cleared the advance. And
development expenses took most if not all of that.
Did you ever plan another NES game, or was Elite the only
thing ever planned?
I did a two player Battlezone style wireframe tank game but my then
agent failed to place it. AFAIK she only showed it to one publisher.
Would you concider showing it to the public or was it never 100%
I may release an emulable image. It was nowhere near finished.
I've heard that a Megadrive version of Elite was finished, but never
released. What happened to it?
It was never finished.
What made you decide to release the Elite NES game to the
public on your homepage?
Its no longer commercially available AFAIK and i wanted people to be
able to play it.
Did you have to send beta carts to Imagineer during development?
Would you code a videogame for one of todays consoles if you
had the chance?
I'm more interested in the PC at the moment.
I read somewhere that Braben and his team was/is making Elite 4,
why aren't you in that project?
I actually understand why Ian Bell didnt feel like getting into details about this,
since a lawsuit was filed against him after a previous interview. Bell and Braben
aren't exactly the best friends anymore which is why Bell isnt a part of
the Elite 4 team. As I get it Braben kinda took Elite away from Bell,
by doing a couple of rewrites and such.
The following was taken from another website a long long time ago that I've actually forgotten where... by it was
done my Michael McCarthy
Ian Bell is co-author of a game that defined its era and layed the basis for a whole
genre of games, the space-sim. Together with David Braben, he wrote Elite and fitted
it in 32k of memory on the BBC micro. Other games he wrote are Acornsoft's Free Fall
and Program Power's Reversi also for the BBC. Since then we haven't heard much from
him, unlike his former partner, David Braben. That might change, as you can read in
the following interview.
1. How did you become involved in writing games, and what do you regard as your greatest achievement in the gaming industry?
I played around with computers as a kid, and realised there was money to
be made in games for the BBC micro. My greatest published achievements
technically would have to be fitting BBC Cassette "Elite" into 32K of RAM
including the screen, and later the Nintendo Entertainment System
conversion of "Elite" that used a character mapped display and a single
NES controller. The NES is my favourite published conversion and was not
thought technically feasible until we'd done it.
2. When you co-wrote Elite, the gaming industry was still in its infancy. How does today's industry compare, and how did it develop to its present state? What do you think the future holds for it?
I don't follow the industry much. I seldom read the magazines or attend
the shows because as a rule I tend to find it all rather depressing and
also somewhat boring. The games industry has been developing on very
predictable commercially orientated lines for years now. The technology
is improving but game designs simply recycle the same themes, concepts,
and methodologies again and again, though increasingly distastefully in
3. What do you think of the British gaming industry? Does it have an independent future?
I don't know the answer to that. I like to think that the cyber
underground is strong in this country and that we will see some of the
more alternative stuff coming through from here, as with music.
4. Why haven't we seen a game from you for so long, and will we see games from you in the future? If so, could you lift a tip of the veil
I worked with David Braben on Elite 2 for the BBC Micro for a while, but
when it became clear that we were just not going to be able to do what we
wanted on the eight bit platforms I decided not to work on it anymore but
to concentrate on other interests. I worked on various 6502 conversions
of "Elite" and got involved with OXFAM designing an adventure game
putting the player in charge of a Central American country in the
Nicaraguan mould. The aim was to educate the player in the realities of
third world issues, especially with regard to the outrageous behaviour of
the USA, which is basically a force for evil in the developing world and
i wanted to get that across. I let the project collapse when my associate
on it was summoned back to Singapore because it was just too ambitious.
The nearest I've seen to what I was trying to do is "Hidden Agenda",
which is excellent.
But throughout this I've also been working on a game that was originally
based on the martial art "Aikido". It's now becoming increasingly
psychedelic since this is the way my own interests are going.
5. What parts of Elite were you responsible for?
David and I wrote and designed the original 6502 versions. My
contributions to the 6502 versions were:
- The flight control and combat systems. How your ship behaved, how enemy
ships behaved, including when and how they attacked. Missiles, docking,
scooping and so on. Moving and rotating things generally.
- The graphics for planet, the sun, and the star fields. David did the
- The scanner (though this was David's idea and his ellipse design)
- The secret missions.
- Game save.
- Various ship designs, the Asp was my favourite of these.
6. What influence did Elite have and in how far does it still influence games even now?
Because "Elite" was first it "claimed" a lot of territory. To me, the
game concept just seemed obvious, especially given the SciFi RPGs that
were coming out around that time. Other games designers have had to find
new slants just to be different to it which must have been annoying. If
"Elite" did anything, it invented the "open" game but not many people
have taken up this challenge. Games these days are often "big" but that
is not the same as open. In big games you just do the same thing for
longer, five hundred levels or six thousand rooms or whatever. Open games
are ones you exist in and play many roles.
7. What was your involvement in Frontier: Elite 2? What did you think of that game as a whole, and what do you predict for David Braben's new company, Frontier Developments?
I've not actually seen F:E2. [STAEMENT DELETED] and I decided it might be better if I could honestly claim
never to have seen or played the game. I understand he simulated the
entire galaxy using astronomically correct models and that I have a lot
of respect for. It's a very aesthetic thing to have done, though it
doesn't necessarily make for a fun game. However, what I've heard about
the combat and flight system does not sound encouraging. I think David
wants everything to be "realistic" but that's just not the right way to
go IMO. If you are writing a simulator that's one thing, but games are
meant to be played and play is about fun not realism.
My coding involvement was mainly supplying algorithms for drawing
planets and suggestions for control systems. I gave permission for Elite
materials to be used in the game in exchange for a royalty, ten percent,
of what David got after "reasonable expenses".
His company? Time will tell I guess. I expect they made a lot of money
from "F:FE" despite its quality.
8. Why is there a dispute between you and David Braben over Frontier: First Encounters?
Well there's there are legal and moral issues here. Firstly, he's used
materials which are our joint copyright while claiming them to be
entirely his. I really can't see why he refrained from the simple
courtesy of putting "Elite elements copyright Bell and Braben, used with
permission of the authors" on his Frontier titles. [STATEMENT DELETED]. Morally, he's not giving
credit were credit is due, either for the sake of self-aggrandisement or
to somehow try and erode my joint ownership of the materials.
The second issue is less clear cut. I gave him the right to produce add
ons and mission disks to the Elite sequel royalty free because I expected
such to generate sales of the base game and also felt that such addons
would be genuinely new materials for which I was not morally entitled to
a percentage. I also agreed that a further sequel would be royalty free
because at the time his plan was, or so I thought, to do addons for quite
some time and any further sequel to be a wholly new concept.
Shortly after "Frontier:Elite 2" David announced an extension disk
"Frontier - The First Encounter" (CTW May 2 1994) but then this suddenly
turned into a "sequel" to "F:E2" which to all intents and purposes
replaces it. So suddenly the sequel to Elite on which I'm getting
royalties is going to be replaced by a rewrite on which he proposes to
pay me nothing while still using the Elite materials.
I think the reason he did this was that "F:E2" did not have the
expansion potential for handling mission disks because it was rushed. I
think David realised he had to effectively rewrite the game engine to
give it proper expendability. He realised while doing so that by making
it a sequel he'd get to charge more for it and could also take advantage
of the sequel clause in our agreement to save paying me my share. [STATEMENT DELETED]. Chris
Sawyer's PC source was, I'm lead to believe, used as the basis for the
conversion that earns him no royalties.
I'm still surprised at David's behaviour here. He could so easily have
come to me and said "I'm going to significantly upgrade F:E2. I think a
lower royalty would be appropriate.". I'd probably have accepted 5% pre
development costs. But he just tried it on from the start.
The lesson I've learnt from this is that I'm a poor judge of character.
9. [I'm sorry if you regard this as a private matter...] Did you earn enough from the success of Elite not to have to write games for a
It's still selling well, but I really ought to get something published
soon if only to keep me in trance CDs :-).
10. Do you think you could have created a better successor to Elite, and why didn't you?
I think I could, but then talk is cheap isn't it? The reasons I didn't
stay with Elite were that I really didn't want to keep working with
David; was more interested in trying to create a new concept than
repeating a past success; and was fed up with the 3D space game arena.
Only one of those statements is still true.
11. What is your favourite type of game? What is your favourite game ever?
My favourite type of game is whatever type I'm working on at the time. I
don't play games much at all, I prefer to enjoy myself away from the
keyboard although I've been active on the net a lot lately. I like games
with smooth flowing motion. I played "Swiv" for a while a few years ago
but my favourite game ever is "Chuckie Egg" on the BBC. I can't remember
who wrote it and technically it was poor but it was such fun to play once
you knew what you were doing.
12. What are your hobbies and interests?
I research the Occult and technoshamanism. I enjoy raving and UV body
painting, DJing electronic music, juggling, massage, martial arts. I love
programming as a creative activity but hate having to use crap tools and
software. Take C for example. The entire industry uses a one pass
compiler! Is it any wonder so much software sucks?
Note from Ian:
"A letter from David Braben's solicitors has brought to my attention the
possibility that one sentence in my reply to Q8 above could, when read
out of context, be misinterpreted to mean that David Braben has stopped
all royalty payments due to Chris Sawyer for writing the Frontier: Elite
program. My meaning in this sentence is that in changing First Encounters
from an extension disc requiring purchase of the Frontier: Elite 2
program written by Chris Sawyer and on which royalties were paid to Chris
Sawyer, to a "sequel" on which, despite it containing a conversion of
Chris Sawyer's program, royalties were not paid to Chris Sawyer, David
Braben stopped those payments of royalties to Chris Sawyer that Chris
Sawyer would otherwise have received as a result, whether direct or
indirect, of sales of First Encounters. The meaning of the statement is
not that David Braben has stopped payment of royalties from sales of the
program under its original title 'Frontier: Elite 2'".