Space Games

I owned an Amiga A600 and anticipated owning Frontier: Elite II hugely, watching a rolling demo of the intro sequence movie from the coverdisk of CU Amiga (Nov. 1993) as I went to bed at night! The game was given to me that following Christmas, and I never really looked back, continuing to play the game in some form until 2014!

Elite II really was an amazing game, because although I played through the Wing Commander series, the X series by Egosoft, and even EVE Online, I always went back to Elite.

Despise initial concerns from me during the Kickstarter campaign about timing, I am actively playing Elite: Dangerous, the long-awaited game from David Braben. With ED I actually once again feel like I can escape life.

I also backed Star Citizen on Kickstarter, this game from Chris Roberts (of Wing Commander), and I'm quite excited to see where that goes with both the Squadron 42 single player and multiplayer versions of that.


So you want to play Frontier – Elite II?

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Frontier was released in 1993 and is still among the games I play most regularly. I admire how difficult it is to play, as you basically start with nothing, and it can be incredibly difficult to survive (you only have one life).

It is set far into the future, where you equip your ship with various upgrades in an effort to improve your chances. You then complete various missions for clients, or even become a pirate and feed off the profits of others.

Here is the text from the back of the box:

The original game, ELITE, shook the computer games industry to its foundations as the first 3D polygon space simulation back in the mid 1980s. The game was an unprecidented success and grew to such a cult status that games’ players formed their ‘ELITE Fan Club’. A feat yet to be repeated, the standard was set and gave rise to a multitude of sci-fi simulation ‘wannabees’.

Now as popular as ever, this unique style of game has been taken to the limit with the astonishing FRONTIER – ELITE II.

The most eagerly awaited sequel to date, FRONTIER pitches you far, far into the future to the year 3200. Civilizations have spread through the galaxy hundred of light years from earth in all directions. Vast areas of the galaxy remain unexplored and with many thousands of world now settled in the cosmos, a rich and varied life of adventure awaits.

Take on the role of a space trader known to moonlight as an intergalactic mercenary and watch the Universe unfold before your very eyes.

It also had a list of features:

– Beautifully animated introduction sequence
– A choice of classical music compositions to accompany your missions
– Due to the author’s interest in astronomy, all the planets and moons of our own star system and others, (around 100,000,000,000), are generated in accordance with current theories of planet formation
– Play the game in a variety of ways including manning your space craft through a massive 82 basic missions, or play without risking the missions at all.

So now that you are familiar, what are your options?
Play the original, on the original machine.
Play the original, using an emulator.
Play an updated version on a modern machine, without an emulator.

Play the original, on the original machine
I own an Amiga 600, upgraded to 8MB RAM and with an Indivision ECS board, giving it VGA output. I also own two boxed copies of Frontier – Elite II.

Much like I did as a teenager, I can put the 3.5″ floppy disk into the drive, and it runs perfectly. The only difficulty is finding one of these older machines, finding the (working) game, and then paying for the after-market updates to improve it’s performance.

Another similar option, is to run the software from the hard drive. My Amiga 600 has a 4GB CF Card (most commonly used as camera storage) connected to the IDE, and uses that as a hard drive. This removes any chance of damage to the original floppy disk.

The only downside, of course, is the poor graphics of a 1993 game on a 1993 machine.

Play the original, using an emulator
This is a great way to play the game without having to find suitable hardware, or even find suitable software.

Frontier Developments and David Braben (the creator of the software) made Frontier available years ago in a shareware basis. Basically try it and if you continue to run it, you send them a small fee. You can find Frontier – Elite II PC version on my downloads page (under 2001, see the readme in the zip for information on how to pay for it).

You should just be able to run it on 32bit Windows, by running frontier.bat. If you run 64bit Windows, or it fails for some reason, you’re going to need an emulator. I highly recommend DOSBox, which runs it perfectly once you set it to 8000 CPU cycles.

The only downside, again, is that you’re running a 1993 game on emulated 1993 machines.

By using the above methods, you’ll get this:

Intro sequence in an original (PC DOS) version of Frontier

Play an updated version on a modern machine, without an emulator
Those who don’t play retro games regularly will probably need to use this option, because it improves the graphics vastly. There’s really one option for running Frontier native on modern hardware, and that is GL Frontier.

GL Frontier was the Atari ST version of the game. It was disassembled, OS calls and hardware access removed, and is now compiled to C or native x86. It has also been modified to draw with OpenGL at any resolution, with 8xAA.

Simply download the Frontier – Elite II PC version on my downloads page (under 2001, see the readme in the zip for information on how to pay for it), then download the Windows Binary and Sound Effects (optional) from this page. Put all the files into the ‘game’ directory of the PC version, then change the path and resolution as required in the shortcut.

For example, my shortcut Target box says:

C:\frontier\game\glfrontier.exe −−size 1728

My shortcut Start in box says:


And I obviously have the game located in c:\frontier. Remember when setting resolution that Frontier isn’t a widescreen game, 1920 won’t work on a 1920×1080 monitor because you won’t be able to see the game interface. I use 1728, which gives me a 1080 vertical resolution.

The benefit here, of course, is that you get a fairly modern graphic update to a 1993 game, and it runs on a modern machine without issue. The only problem is that the graphical glitches present in the original versions, are still here. And perhaps because everything else looks better, you notice them a lot more. The HUD/UI is also low res.

By using the above method, you’ll get this:

Intro sequence in GL Frontier

The above intro looks a lot worse (with more glitches) than actual play. But, the choice is yours…

If you are still undecided about trying Frontier, perhaps for the first time, check out this tutorial someone else made:


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Tim is British and lives in the United States with his wife and kids.

He works for software developers Image Space Inc. and Studio 397 on their racing simulations, and is a fan of Gaming, Motorsports, and photography.