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Aviator on the BBC Micro

About this project

During the global pandemic of 2020, I accidentally stumbled on the perfect lockdown project, and ended up documenting the source code for the classic space game Elite. In a world suddenly wrong-footed by stress and uncertainty, I fell in love with the zen-like simplicity of 6502 assembly code, something I hadn't enjoyed for a good 35 years. That project gave me a purpose, and it got me through lockdown intact.

One of the more interesting things I came across was in the disc version of BBC Micro Elite. If you visit the Anreer system in galaxy 3, then instead of the normal system description, you get this message:


I'm pretty sure A*****R is a reference to Geoff Crammond's flight simulator Aviator - after all, Acornsoft had released Aviator to rave reviews about six months before Elite came along, and at the time it represented the state of the art on the BBC Micro, with its smooth 3D graphics and sophisticated flight model. Given that the long and secretive development cycle of Elite was well underway when Aviator was grabbing the headlines, it's understandable that the authors would have enjoyed poking a bit of fun at their stablemate; but when I stumbled across this bit of banter some 37 years later, I couldn't help thinking that this seemed a bit harsh, even given Elite's undeniable status as one of the greatest games of all time. I mean, I completely adore Elite, but I still think that Aviator is a pretty neat game, and I'm not even from Anreer.

So I just had to give Aviator the same treatment as I'd given Elite, to see exactly how Aviator works under the hood. This site is the result, where you can discover that not only is Aviator a coding gem, but it does quite a few things better than Elite: it has smoother graphics, for a start, and it simulates proper physics rather than the arcade physics of Elite's space simulation. Given the constraints of developing for the 32K BBC Micro, simulating an entire Spitfire is no mean feat.

Aviator is not just a pretty neat game, it is seriously impressive. I guess that's why the authors of Elite couldn't resist having a dig; they clearly knew a classy bit of programming when they saw it, and Aviator is classy indeed.