Exile Tribute: The Package


In the run-up to Christmas of 1988, then Acorn leisure-software leaders Superior Software released the arcade adventure Exile for the 8-bit range of BBC Micro's. From the outset, it was clear that Superior knew they were unleashing an epic game onto the then established BBC Micro User base. Two page full-colour advertisements were placed in the Acorn press complete with detailed artwork and strikingly impressive screenshots showing the game in action.

Inevitably comparisons were to be drawn with the ground-breaking Elite re-released by Superior 2 years previously. This contest of the two games was encouraged by the inclusion in Superior's advert of quotes from the co-author of Elite, David Braben, stating 'Exile is even more enjoyable to play than Elite or Zarch [the latter being a ground-breaking game early in the life of Acorn's 32-bit machines]'. Intriguingly, the advert also questions whether the reader has the 'elite status' to complete the game!

Later, versions were made for the Commodore 64, Atari ST, Amiga and CD32 (a console I believe). All four were published by Audiogenic and I am told that the Amiga and Atari St versions are still available. At the time of writing (April 2000) I have not had the opportunity to play or see screenshots of these versions but I believe they are well worth a look. Indeed, it may suprise some people to learn that the 16-bit versions are apparently superior in a number of ways to the original BBC Micro version. The technical accomplishment of the original perhaps though, is the greatest of the group.

It is fascinating to think that the games reputation had spread such that conversions were made onto other more games-orientated platforms. Indeed the Atari ST and Amiga had superior graphics and sound facilities and were amongst the latest home computers and the convention was to port games from these machines onto the older 8-bit computers!

I would like to include any details on the packages for these other versions and, if possible, screenshots eventually.

The information I have so far is sorted into three sections according to the various versions I have information for:

What kind of game is Exile an introduction to its features

Exile was, in fact, an immense game in terms of scale, complexity and technical achievement. The player takes control of the space-adventurer Mike Finn to navigate him thoughout the vast network of caves on the planet below his orbitting spacecraft. Reminiscent of the original Elite package, Exile included an engaging and well-written 'novella' setting the background and motivating the player perfectly for the game. From the moment the game begins, it is clear Exile is something special. Its beautifully detailed, full-colour graphics, realistic character animation and implementation of gravity on objects and particles are a joy to watch and interact with. After descending from the orbiting spcaecraft, the player can explore the planet below and it is here where the player can be overwhelmed at first by the sheer size of the world (visible in a scrolling cross-section format) and the variety of caves, passages, machinery and creatures. An equally taxing and large range of puzzles remains to be overcome and the genius of the author's was such that, for the most part, many of these puzzles had no fixed solution. Instead the player had to be resourceful and plan their strategy, often with clever use of the teleportation device. The most striking feature was that the game was accommodated entirely in the BBC's limited memory!

Peter Irvin, co-author, puts the situation into perspective:-

It amazes me how slow modern machines perform given their processor speeds and memory. Scary how the BBC had only 32Kb of RAM!

Today, even 1000x more memory is more than common, especially in PC's!

The package from Superior Software


BBC 5.25" disc Loading Screen

Exile was released for the BBC Micro in three versions:

Exile was also released for the Acorn Electron as well, a fact I overlooked when interviewing Peter Irvin. The Electron version was identical to the BBC version in terms of gameplay but had fewer colours and much graphical 'noise' around the playing area, something I'm told that was common in Electron games. This was due to the fact that the Electron was not capable of performing the same range of video functions due to it's different hardware. David Boddie, a fan of the Electron version speculates:

The Electron version appears to be very much like the BBC version of the game (from what I've seen of the BBC version). It runs in MODE 5, with data stored on the screen, but still presents quite a large view onto the world. I would imagine that the Electron version was at least as much of an achievement as the BBC version, especially since the Electron was slower and couldn't perform the same video hardware tricks as the BBC. Running in MODE 5 will have compensated for these disadvantages, but I suspect that a lot would have needed to have been changed specifically for the Electron.

One obvious example of the feats Irvin and Smith accomplished with regards to David's description of the technical of the ability would be that screen modes could be defined on the BBC for example to use a larger number of colours but with a trade-off in screen size to reduce screen memory demands - this I believe was not possible on the Electron.

Both the cassette and 5.25inch disc version included an enhanced version of Exile which took advantage of the extra memory available on the BBC B+, BBC Master 128 or BBC which had been upgraded with 16K sideways RAM.

If I remember correctly most Electron games were provided on cassette as disc usage required a sizeable interface to be attached to the machine so I assume the Electron version would just have been provided as a different tape to the BBC/BBC enhanced tape that I received for example.

I have added numerous Electron screenshots, most animations, to the screenshots page and I am grateful to David Boddie for sending them to me.

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Last modified 04/02