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The original "Elite" game, which appeared in 1984, was written by David Braben and Ian Bell. They began working on the game in 1982 while they were still at Cambridge University. The game was first published by Acornsoft for the BBC Micro in September 1984 and was met with critical acclaim. The rights to other computer platforms were then auctioned by Jacqui Lyons of Marjacq, and British Telecom then went on to publish on many other platforms under the name of Firebird.

In "Elite" the player started with a basic Cobra MkIII space craft, and only 100 Credits. The player then had to survive in a hostile galaxy containing traders, pirates, police, bounty hunters, and an elusive alien race, the "Thargoids". The player could earn more Credits in a number of ways, such as taking food from an agricultural world to an industrial world, and machinery on the return journey or similar contracts or they could become pirates, or freelance by doing a bit of each.

"Elite" set many firsts, and was the first genuine 3D game on home computers. Even many years after its release it is fondly remembered.