"Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

reminisce about bbc micro & electron games like chuckie egg, repton, elite & exile

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davidjefferies
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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby davidjefferies » Fri Sep 01, 2017 3:37 pm

it's very close to a circle. Here's the Minsky circle in red and a sine/cosine circle overlaid in yellow - almost no difference. Clever stuff.

minsky.png

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby BigEd » Fri Sep 01, 2017 3:42 pm

I was thinking about this a few weeks ago, and I thought one way to make it faster without losing much circularity would be to run the iteration twice - or more - between plottings. I
haven't yet tried it though.

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby John_Acorn » Sat Sep 02, 2017 9:29 am

Rich Talbot-Watkins wrote:
Like David, I'd love to know if there were any such routines copied from Elite (as Superior claimed), or even just algorithms lifted and reimplemented (multiplication/division techniques, line clipping/rendering, etc). As I said, the end results look markedly different in each game, so I'd be surprised.

What about UIM?

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby CHRISJJ » Wed Sep 27, 2017 11:08 pm

nix wrote:BBC B Elite, which must be considered to eventually have been completed because there was literally no more RAM in which to fix the single remaining known bug: IIRC, it needed three bytes, and after many sweeps through the code, optimizing each time, there was no more fat to be wrung out of it.

That sounds very improbable to me. Neither DJD nor myself knew of any bug that reached release. Also I can think of at least one undocumented feature we could have dropped to free three bytes.

Wouter Scholten wrote:It was Superior who protested, not Acornsoft, right?

Right.

Wouter Scholten wrote:As to the scanner, that was apparently not an idea by Braben and Bell but someone from Acornsoft...

Correct. For interest, here's the the pre-Acornsoft version.

Wouter Scholten wrote:What is clear from what Braben tells about Elite, is that he is a story teller, and not someone who cares a lot about details and getting it right. He is I would wager the person behind the story in Spufford's badly researched "Backroom boys".

Correct. From a letter from Spufford to me at the time:

"I'll certainly delete the erroneous stuff about the contract, and I'll adjust my description of DB's original demo so that it is as unfictional as possible, though I may have to keep some diplomatic fudging as the accounts I've had of it are utterly incompatible with each other, and I think I have to aim at something minimally acceptable to everyone."

Wouter Scholten wrote: I have received comments that the history of Elite is different than portrayed, though details are elusive (mainly because of the inane libel laws in the UK!).

Those UK laws have been recently reformed to prevent abuse for the purposes of silencing truth. The Elite libel case could not happen now, so it's only a matter of time before the real story of Elite is told.

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby Ian Bell » Sat Oct 14, 2017 11:51 am

Wouter Scholten wrote:
As to the scanner, that was apparently not an idea by Braben and Bell but someone from Acornsoft...


This is incorrect. David Braben had the idea for the final "ellipse" scanner and I coded it, after we took the original game (with two "box" scanners) to Acornsoft quite late in production.

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby Wouter Scholten » Sat Oct 14, 2017 12:26 pm

Ian Bell wrote:
Wouter Scholten wrote:
As to the scanner, that was apparently not an idea by Braben and Bell but someone from Acornsoft...


As Jordan knows, this is incorrect. David Braben had the idea for the final "ellipse" scanner and I coded it, after we took the original game (with two "box" scanners) to Acornsoft quite late in production.


Well, perhaps a distinction needs to be made. The ellipse is just the 2d distance in one plane, and Braben may have come up with that but the final scanner was apparently with input from people from Acornsoft, so why do you say "As Jordan knows"?

Here is the web page that I found back again, which mentioned the scanner:

http://www.drewwagar.com/lore/elite-dan ... nal-elite/

Edward Rothman April 2, 2017

I worked for Acornsoft and was present during many of the meetings ( including the first). The initial scanner was two circles which scanned ant 90 degrees to each other and the pilot had to merge those two in his/her brain. Not easy. Even Alan Bellingham who was the chief play tester on elite (and as I recall, unsurprisingly, the first to achieve the rank of elite) had a hard time with it. The suggestion of the ‘periscopes’ cane during a brain storming session on methods of overcoming the confusion
I think Alan and myself first came up with the idea but Braben and bell caught on quickly and had a working demo inside of a day.
Incidentally as I recall there was a constant shortage of ram available in the 32k memory of the bbc micro for the game. I think the final version used every single available byte.


The up/down position with 'periscopes' is the essential, which makes the 2d projection on an ellipse usable.

Note as to remembering: Very few people remember everything accurately. The ones who remember most accurately are logically those who did something or thought of something that stands out from the situation for them. So I would not simply disregard the above quote unless he didn't work there. As an example of remembering and not-remembering, I once asked about 1987 hi-basic (on the BBC mailing list) which is mentioned in Tubelink's ad for their (2p) Advanced basic, and was told by someone who at the time worked at Acornsoft something like "I worked there, it doesn't exist or I would know" (see the BBC mailing list archive for an exact quote). Such things, knowing and esp. remembering and knowing what you know and knowing what you don't know, are tricky, definitely after 15 or more years, and in reality it did exist, confirmed by someone sending me 'Advanced basic' not long after my query.

Another example: I was curious to find some confirmation on who wrote the manual for Elite. I long ago (in the late 1980s) read somewhere that Holdstock wrote that along with 'The dark wheel', but nobody seems to remember, even though it's quite a big part of Elite... The only place my recollection was confirmed is on your page with the HTML copy of the manual where you write that Holdstock wrote it... Why doesn't anyone else know/remember about this?

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby Ian Bell » Sat Oct 14, 2017 2:28 pm

To the best of my recollection the new scanner did not emerge from a brainstorming session at Acornsoft, at least not one at which I was present. David Braben told me his idea presented to me as his idea, we coded it and took it in to Acornsoft, surprising and initally alarming them with the notion of a new scanner so late in production, or so I recall. However, you are right about remembering. Perhaps the origional idea was just to render the "lollipop" head , or the head and the projection into the plane, and someone at Acornsoft suggested the "stalks" which I agree are crucial. That is not my recollection but it is conceivable.

I believe that the "flavour text" in the manual was mainly written by Rob Holdstock and possibly Piers Dudgeon, with some input from myself and David Braben. It reads like Rob and I think Rob was primarily chosen on the basis of his previous (as Steven Eisler) "The Alien World" which is more pertinent for the manual than the novella.

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby daveejhitchins » Sat Oct 14, 2017 2:55 pm

Ah! Memories . . . I recently had a favorite memory completely destroyed - leaving me, well upset, sort of. My memory is one of listening to The Doors – Riders On The Storm played on Luxembourg - listened to on a crystal set under the bed sheets (fortunately my mother never did catch me 8) ) Now this memory was from my school days - I left school in 1964 to join the Army. Recently I noticed that Riders On The Storm wasn't released until 1971 :? Go figure . . .

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby Rich Talbot-Watkins » Sat Oct 14, 2017 10:09 pm

Thanks for joining the conversation, Ian! Nice to hear your memories and perspectives on BBC Elite, and many thanks for the hours and hours of fun I had playing Elite as a kid!

Do you remember anything about the Star Clash row (alluded to upthread)? Was it ever demonstrated that any of your code was lifted directly, or was it more just an attempt to protect your IP and scare Gremlin into withdrawing the game?

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby Rich Talbot-Watkins » Sat Oct 14, 2017 10:12 pm

Ian Bell wrote:David Braben told me his idea presented to me as his idea, we coded it and took it in to Acornsoft, surprising and initally alarming them with the notion of a new scanner so late in production, or so I recall.

Yes, that's the story that I've heard directly from Braben in the past; I was always under the impression it was an eleventh hour change you decided to make yourselves, and it was such a big improvement that the risk paid off.

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby jonb » Sun Oct 15, 2017 4:46 pm

One more thing to add: Ian, you are most welcome here.

Thanks for chipping in! :)

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby lurkio » Sun Oct 15, 2017 9:21 pm

jonb wrote:One more thing to add: Ian, you are most welcome here.

Hear, hear!

:)

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby sbadger » Thu Nov 02, 2017 3:18 pm

I stumbled across this video by David B, a postmortem of Elite.

http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1014628/Classic-Game-Postmortem

It's worth a watch, he describes some of the optimisation they did but also very much on topic regarding the scanner, he describes how it came about. He says it was a very late change, the game had been finised and the manuals all typeset with old scanner screenshots. David did a prototype build with a view to using the new scanner in a sequel, but the demo scanner was universally loved so Acornsoft went with it.

(~48 minutes in to the vid. )

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby Ian Bell » Sat Nov 04, 2017 4:36 pm

Thanks for all the welcomes.
That postmortem video conicides with my scanner recollection far better than Edward Rothman's acccount, although I recall coding the scanner while David produced the ellipse bitmap.
As to why Rob Holdstock's contribution to the Manual is forgotten, Acornsoft were not great at acknoweldeging authorship. David and I had our names as authors only on the "throwaway" single sheet game load instructions, but nowhere on the glossy packaging other than on the back of the Dark Wheel which Rob told me was at his insistance. We only got our names onscreen by sneaking them in enabled by an undocumented control key. While Rob was credited as the author of the Dark Wheel, neither he nor I nor David nor Piers Dugeon recieved any credits on the manual even though I believe it was mostly Rob's work.
The Elite Dangeorous novel and RPG authors have since shamelessly plundered Rob's and my words, concepts and designs without credit or acknowledgement so the tradition continues.
Last edited by Ian Bell on Sat Nov 04, 2017 8:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby trixster » Sat Nov 04, 2017 8:11 pm

Hi Ian. Some of my very earliest computing memories are of watching my Dad and brother play Elite in our dining room in Sheffield, and then me having a go too and eventually getting the hang of it. My Dad absolutely loved your game and i recall him considering the scanner a work of genius. Thanks for the memories! :D =D>
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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby Wouter Scholten » Sun Nov 05, 2017 5:06 pm

Ian Bell wrote:Thanks for all the welcomes.
That postmortem video conicides with my scanner recollection far better than Edward Rothman's acccount, although I recall coding the scanner while David produced the ellipse bitmap.


I watched it and it does not eliminate the possibility of someone else's input for an idea being told possibly as Rothman said it happened, which Braben then implemented and showed. Perhaps I'm negatively biased towards what Braben tells, but this is because of the story he told Spufford, and what I then saw him tell in various documentaries, which is just inaccurate in so many details, that as I said, from this I see him more as a story teller, than a fact teller. (note as example: he says 'Acorn' a few times in that video, but that should be Acornsoft). I.e. he is more concerned with making the story sound good, than telling it as it is... So from all that it would not surprise me if he also to you didn't mention that something was someone else's idea. But, I'd like to hear more from Edward Rothman about this...

Ian Bell wrote:As to why Rob Holdstock's contribution to the Manual is forgotten, Acornsoft were not great at acknoweldeging authorship. David and I had our names as authors only on the "throwaway" single sheet game load instructions, but nowhere on the glossy packaging other than on the back of the Dark Wheel which Rob told me was at his insistance. We only got our names onscreen by sneaking them in enabled by an undocumented control key. While Rob was credited as the author of the Dark Wheel, neither he nor I nor David nor Piers Dugeon recieved any credits on the manual even though I believe it was mostly Rob's work.


The loading sheet was not throw away material... I don't think any Acornsoft games have the author's names on screen, and as it's in the documentation or packaging of the games I don't see a problem with that. It gives the simpler Acornsoft games a clean uniform look, possibly that's what they went for.

However, it was known that Holdstock wrote the manual or at least was the major contributor. I think that source (it was likely a magazine) only mentioned him. For some reason I've not seen mentioned elsewhere who wrote the manual, but what you said makes sense in explaining why nobody was really sure who wrote it (e.g. people who worked at Acornsoft didn't know (any more)), not because of not acknowledging, but because if multiple people contributed then I suppose it grew organically and then it's hard to say "he wrote it" and likely also the people involved don't see it as "I did it" and feel the need to be credited... And then people are also not likely to mention it further, or perhaps people didn't really care about the manual and saw it as 'lower value' than the novel, but I think the manual is absolutely essential to the experience of the game and more important than the novel.

Ian Bell wrote:The Elite Dangeorous novel and RPG authors have since shamelessly plundered Rob's and my words, concepts and designs without credit or acknowledgement so the tradition continues.


Well, I don't know as I never read any of that and how much they took or just used to build on, but there comes a point where it is normal to use what is there, in what should after many years be, the 'public domain'...

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby paulb » Sun Nov 05, 2017 11:44 pm

Wouter Scholten wrote:Well, I don't know as I never read any of that and how much they took or just used to build on, but there comes a point where it is normal to use what is there, in what should after many years be, the 'public domain'...


Well, I'm sure things will get more interesting if Harry Potter ever shows up in his spacecraft.

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby CHRISJJ » Fri Nov 10, 2017 11:16 pm

sbadger wrote:I stumbled across this video by David B, a postmortem of Elite.

http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1014628/Classic-Game-Postmortem

It's worth a watch


Lots of classic Braben fabrication there, I'm afraid.

Anyone with a copy of Acornsoft Elite can disprove two of the claims themselves.

1) On the change to the radar (sic), "We then spent all night grabbing new screenshots for the manual!" Number of scanner appearances in the manual's screenshots: 2.

2) "Box design error by a couple of mm. It overflowed!" The content fits perfectly.

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby Wouter Scholten » Sat Nov 11, 2017 7:06 am

CHRISJJ wrote:
sbadger wrote:I stumbled across this video by David B, a postmortem of Elite.

http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1014628/Classic-Game-Postmortem

It's worth a watch


Lots of classic Braben fabrication there, I'm afraid.



There are other comments to be made on earlier stuff in the talk, such as that he doesn't make clear what exactly of some optimisations of the line drawing, are used in the BBC version, but I will start at about 43 minutes, where he mentions the demo by Acorn of their new disk drive, that was supposed to show the speed of the drive. 200K instead of 100K is about 80 track vs. 40, not double vs. single density, and Acorn didn't use anything but the 8271 anyway until the B+ (and that still was only in single density). The speed must have been about the differences in step times of the old 100K 40 track full height drive vs. the Mitsubishi 4853 80 track.

What he then mentions about the real time rotation by him being faster is not relevant to what was being showed. They perhaps just used the 3 d drawn image just because it's easy to create multiple pictures. They could have used screendumps from games instead. It depends a bit on what you know is possible though, what your attention goes to and how you interpret such a demonstration (Braben interpreted not as a demo on the speed of the drive!)...

CHRISJJ wrote:Anyone with a copy of Acornsoft Elite can disprove two of the claims themselves.

1) On the change to the radar (sic), "We then spent all night grabbing new screenshots for the manual!" Number of scanner appearances in the manual's screenshots: 2.


Well, I would start my comment on something he said earlier already:

Braben: "the manual having already been typeset, with lots and lots of pictures of the radar"

Well, just 3: 2 screendumps, on p. 19 and p. 30, and 1 drawn picture on p. 7...

So, there were not "lots and lots of pictures of the radar" in the manual

So you're correct that there are only 2 screenshots in the manual, and these are screenshots of only the radar and status itself, not a screenshot of the game in action with some ships or planet on the main screen. In that case, as with photographing, I could accept that it could take all night to get some interesting action on the main screen along with the scanner. That was not needed for the manual, but that did have to be done for the screenshot on the back of the box and it could definitely take a long time, to get a satisfactory screenshot. Same as with photographing, I often remake pictures when I really want a good picture something and the rest gets discarded or not used.

Still, I can accept that it took all night to fix everything and get "just the right screenshot" for the back of the box, and possibly also if they drew the picture on p. 7, to redraw that.

For screen dumps of the radar, all night was not needed, unless:

He mentions that he needed to make sure that the new ones didn't take more room in the manual than the old ones. This doesn't make sense, at least if with screen grabs he means screen dumps from game (direct to disk I presume), as these are always the same size...

So, did he photograph the screen to get the 2 scanner images in the manual? If so it means he must have had photo equipment and processed the pictures himself if done at night. If he did that then it would definitely be possible to take all night even for a few simple pics!


CHRISJJ wrote:2) "Box design error by a couple of mm. It overflowed!" The content fits perfectly.


That also stood out for me and the box feels full so much that it is almost like overflowing, compared to anything else I've seen. But it is perfectly filled (both for cassette and disc versions, I checked). You can take out all contents, then close the box, at which point you see that the top never fully covers the whole box to the bottom. This may give the impression that the box is too small, but with the contents in place it is exactly the same...

After reading the manual a lot, it could be a bit less of a perfect fit though, when trying to put everything back into the box :) (as the manual and.or novella will expand a bit as it's not spiral bound!) I would say that to put it all back in the box, the box could have been a bit bigger to get everything perfectly back into the box but to me it was never important. What stood out to me in his talk is that Braben mentions this tiny detail whereas in many other places he is just not concerned with details at all! However, it is related to his story telling, to the fact that you got a good deal of stuff for your money that he mentions. What he says about the box being too small is a sort of emphasis, a story telling technique...

Incidentally, this is quite different from the huge box PC games in the 1990s, such as Descent, Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, all mostly empty! And these do feel a bit like getting not much value for your money: Hey, the box is mostly empty!

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby tricky » Sat Nov 11, 2017 8:10 am

Welcome Ian and thanks for your contributions.

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby jonb » Sat Nov 11, 2017 11:52 am

Wouter Scholten wrote:Incidentally, this is quite different from the huge box PC games in the 1990s, such as Descent, Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, all mostly empty! And these do feel a bit like getting not much value for your money: Hey, the box is mostly empty!


That's true - but I think (at least in the case of Doom) that the disappointment would soon fade as the game play started!

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby crj » Sat Nov 11, 2017 2:03 pm

Wouter Scholten wrote:Acorn didn't use anything but the 8271 anyway until the B+ (and that still was only in single density)

They offered a 1770 board for the Model B. The copyright date on its installation instructions is 1985, so it's not clear if it came before or after the B+'s launch.

Also, there was the Electron Plus 3 expansion in 1984. That was double density, ADFS.

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby Wouter Scholten » Sat Nov 11, 2017 6:09 pm

crj wrote:
Wouter Scholten wrote:Acorn didn't use anything but the 8271 anyway until the B+ (and that still was only in single density)

They offered a 1770 board for the Model B. The copyright date on its installation instructions is 1985, so it's not clear if it came before or after the B+'s launch.

Also, there was the Electron Plus 3 expansion in 1984. That was double density, ADFS.


I know but the electron is irrelevant even if that demo had been done in 1985, do I need to explain why? (and no, I won't, don't want to make everyone lazy in their thinking :) ) The exact date of b+ or 1770 interface and which came first is also irrelevant, no need to enumerate everything, clearly this is about the BBC B, and in 1983, perhaps these drives were even introduced even in 1982, but it doesn't matter to be precise because in those years there was no DD from Acorn, just SD in 40 or 80 track.

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby Ian Bell » Thu Nov 16, 2017 8:32 pm

Wouter Scholten wrote:
I don't think any Acornsoft games have the author's names on screen,


As I said: Acornsoft were not great at acknowledging authorship.

Wouter Scholten wrote:
and as it's in the documentation or packaging of the games I don't see a problem with that.


There' is the problem (from the authors' perspective) of pirated copies , magazine shots, shelf visibility, and advertising losing attribution. There is the problem (from the authors' perspective) of implied disposability of attribution from the actual work so long as it is printed somewhere in the interior accompagnying tatt.

Wouter Scholten wrote:
It gives the simpler Acornsoft games a clean uniform look, possibly that's what they went for.

Clean and uniform as in uncluttered by attribution. I suspect the motivation may have been was less aesthetic than the difficulties acknowledging authorship for arcade clones.

Wouter Scholten wrote:
but there comes a point where it is normal to use what is there, in what should after many years be, the 'public domain'...


The Elite:Dangerous authors paid Frontier substantially for use of these 'public domain' materials. Regardless, After how many years do the words, characters, and concepts from Rob Holdstock's clearly authored Novella become 'public domain' in the sense that it is "normal" rather than shamefull to literarily exploit them without acknowledging the source?

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Re: "Unfixable bug" in BBC B Elite

Postby crj » Thu Nov 16, 2017 11:40 pm

My own take on this kind of thing is that it ought to be legal to use copyrighted material if the copyright owners haven't exploited that copyright in five years. If they begin exploiting their copyright again, use should remain legal for five years, with new uses permitted for the first year (so they can't see you're about to release something and suddenly make nominal use of their copyright to frustrate/spite you).

Dormant copyright is a big problem. Many old movies have been lost from archives because of copyright issues transferring them from nicrocellulose film stock to modern media; retrocomputing is beginning to run into similar issues.


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