Elite is a space sim franchise developed by David Braben & Ian Bell (and lately Braben's Frontier Development). Originally developed for the BBC Micro the Elite series gained a cult following and high reputation for it's pioneering open ended gameplay, procedurally generated game world and 3D graphics. It's been seen as highly influential in the genre and helping inspire games like Freelancer, the X series, Wing Commander: Privateer and Eve Online.
Launched in 1984 the original Elite offered a remarkable array of gameplay and exploration despite the technical limitation of the BBC Micro. Players could trade, mine and dogfight within military and bounty hunting settings. Most revolutionary was the game world itself. Due to the lack of power in the BBC Micro the game-world was procedurally generated ensuring unique game worlds. This added a layer of exploration which was extremely limited in gaming at the time. The game also was among the first to use 3D graphics. Whilst wireframe and basic this helped cement Elite's reputation not only as a great game but as a technical showcase.
Conversions to other platforms immediately followed, fairly soon Elite was available on most systems; C64, Amiga etc. Many different version has unique additions such as extra missions.
The sequel to the seminal Elite launched in 1993 for the Commodore Amiga and was attributed only to David Braben. Published by Konami the game kept much of the same gameplay of it's predecessor whilst fleshing out the game world. You could now travel within planetary systems and land on planets and were no longer restricted to one ship. The procedurally generated universe had expanded in scope also. Planet size was now estimated accurately and it was claimed that the universes created were realistic enough to recreate real life phenomena such as black holes and supermassive stars. The most divisive change was in ship handling. The game changed from arcade to real newtonian physics with the ship flying closer to resembling that of a basic flight sim than the arcade dog fighter that it followed. This allowed for more "real world" features with the physics model allowing for planetary slingshots for experienced players. This divided fans and critics with some seeing this as moving away from the legacy left by Elite and making the game a slower and less action packed game. Nonetheless the game was popular and spawned a sequel.
Released early under heavy pressure from publishers GameTek Frontier: First Encounters was riddled with bugs and half finished. The most commonly cited bug is that of an auto pilot that will crash automatically when used. The game had aimed to build on the now established space trading/open world staples of the series with a story fleshed out by in game journals. However the critical response was dominated by the amount of game breaking bugs. David Braben eventually took GameTek to court for the botched launch and settled out of court. The game has subsequently been patched and with fan mods now has a modest reputation in the fan community.
After being in and out of development several times the fourth title in the Elite series appeared as a Kickstarter at the end of 2012. Promising the choice of offline and MMO style play, high customisation and the traditional huge game world to explore Elite: Dangerous achieved it's goal and raised over £1.5 million in crowdsourced funding. Elite: Dangerous is slated for release in Spring of 2014.
Elite inspired several straight up clones, usually open source games, some of the more notable being the unauthorized remake Elite: The New Kind, which was taken down for copyright infringement in 2003 and Oolite, Pioneer and Paragon, which stay close to Elite's formula, while keeping on the legal side of things.