Originally published 1984 for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron computers and was later released on the Atari 512. The thing I liked most about Elite was the open-ended game model which meant that I didn't have to follow a set path or do what the developers wanted me to do. I could go where I want, do what I want. I did not however like those Thargoids. Unfortunately by the time I got into Elite, it was quite dated, however, there was a new version coming very soon.
Frontier: Elite II
By the time I got hold of Frontier, I had an Amiga 500 which could play better games thanks to its superior hardware. Frontier brings the open-ended gameplay of Elite into a better galaxy and extended the gameplay. There wasn't a plot to Frontier; instead, you could explore space, trade (legally or illegally), carry out missions for the military, ferry passengers from system to system, engage in piracy or any combination of the above. As a consequence, Frontier could not be completed - you decide what to aspire to and set out to achieve it.
I have probably clocked up more hours playing Frontier than any other game.
Wing Commander: Privateer
The only reason I stopped playing Frontier was that I upgraded from the Amiga to a PC, and the PC version of Frontier was utter trash. It wasn't all bad, however, because around this time I was introduced to the Wing Commander series, specifically Privateer. Like Elite, Privateer follows an open-ended design in which you are a freelancer and can choose to be a pirate, a merchant, a mercenary or any of the above in some combination. It did feature a built-in plot, but you were free to adventure on your own, even after the plot has been completed.
After I finished playing Privateer (once I had all the money in the universe, the fastest and strongest ship, completed all the quests) there was an empty void. Nothing else was around to fill it. Privateer II was a poor effort and didn't follow the same gameplay, Elite 3 was also a failure. I had to wait a long time for the next "Space Trader" games.
I had to wait until 2003 before I could get back to space trading, but it was worth the wait. Freelancer was a space trading and combat simulation game from Microsoft. While the game featured open-ended gameplay, it was closely tied with the main plot. In between storyline missions you are free to do whatever you want, be it exploration, trading, mining, mercenary work, piracy or working for the police. The problem with Freelancer was that once you had completed the story, there wasn't much left. Just more of the same. And it now seems like the space trading and combat simulator has ceased to be.
Fast forward to 2010 and I have just been introduced to EVE Online. Just like Elite back in the 80's this game is totally open ended and you can do whatever you want. There are a number of careers you can work in: mining, exploration, piracy, merchant, mercenary, manufacturing, hauling, business and so much more. EVE is an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) which means that there are tens of thousands of other players in the game to interact with. Some like me a just starting our, while others have been playing for years.
One thing that I always found a drawback to the other games was what to do once you had the fastest, most powerful ship. You've been to every system, completed every mission, got the best guns. There is nothing much left to do except get even more money. EVE Online has a solution to this. Once you have the biggest baddest ship, why not get a space station or a small moon? A planet may be. You can start your own corporation and create alliances with other corporations and players. Join fleets, even start wars. In this game, you can literally do whatever you want. There isn't anything to hold you back (except pirates).
If you are also a fan of the space trading games then you have to check out EVE Online.
Thanks to the buddy program, I have just started a free 21 day trial of the game. While I am only a week into the game (I haven't even completed the tutorial yet!) I can see huge potential for this game. It may even rival Frontier.
As I get more involved in the game I will be keeping a log of activities and finding here so I can look back in reflection. Maybe it will help somebody become inspired and try the game, maybe I will look back and think "oh God, I've wasted my life". Who knows? At the moment I am enjoying playing EVE and that's what matters.