'Frontier: Elite II' Let Me Explore a Huge, Colorful Galaxy Long Before 'No Man's Sky' or Mass Effect

Before any other game, 'Frontier' offered me a massive universe that retained a sense of "place."

by Austin Walker
Mar 21 2017, 4:47pm

Guide to Games is Waypoint's weekly short video series diving into a game we love, detest, or find fascinating. If the video above doesn't work, try the version on YouTube!

Over the last year or so, I've been thinking a lot about our collective fantasy of escaping to the stars. Over the past week or two, Mass Effect: Andromeda has me thinking about Last year's 'No Man's Sky' inspired me to write about the desire for "the last game"—a way to escape our earthly troubles forever—and in some ways, the dream of exploring and colonizing space overlaps with that. 

At the time, here's what I wrote:

The Last Game: One infinite leisure product that can be a permanent, pleasurable escape from our bills and our bodies, from our politics and our pain. It is not so different from the desire milked by films like Interstellar, which promised us that while "mankind was born on Earth," with all of its dirt and hunger and difficulty, "it was never meant to die here." We want to ascend so badly; to procedurally generate an escape. But the challenging truth is that we aren't going anywhere anytime soon—and more, that wherever we go there we'll be, with all of our dirt still on us.

(This is a thing I've thought about so much that I wrote an entire chapter about it in this anthology!) 

The tricky thing, though, is that however skeptical I am of these (literally) escapist fantasies, I also refuse to deny my own enjoyment of sci-fi, space opera, and other tales of traveling through the stars. Hell, I even had a much better time with No Man's Sky than most! And now that I'm playing Mass Effect Andromeda (and prepping for the next season of Friends at the Table...), I've been thinking about what games and stories about space exploration do for us. What itch do they scratch? What itches can they be made to scratch?

I don't have a big thesis here, no big idea to lay out. Not yet. But if you watch the video above, you can see me at (nearly) my most enthusiastic about a space exploration game. Frontier: Elite II wasn't the first game with procedurally generated planets, but it was the first that taught me that they could be beautiful.

In any case, enjoy the above episode of Guide to Games, and hey, since you're here, here's some hot bonus facts about this video: 

  1. This was the pilot episode of Guide to Games, and we shot it way back in the summer of 2016. In a very early version of it, there was even some placeholder, on-screen text about people's praise for No Man's Sky.
  2. I totally fucked up the game capture the first time, and it looked like ass. Had to go back in and use a version of the game that let me upscale to a higher resolution.
  3. I've slept in that room before. Our 72 hour long launch livestream marathon was... a lot. 
  4. Because we shot it back in the summer of 2016, it was shot in VICE HQs 'bear room.' Hence... the bear. This was before Desus & Mero had taken over the space. If you read that sentence an were like "Who are Desus & Mero," then friend, you should be watching Desus & Mero. Just—you know what?—here:

You can watch more Desus and Mero right here. And if you still have space on the brain, consider reading this article:

no man's sky
frontier: elite 2