Jades's First Encounters Site

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Musings on 20 Years of Running an FFE Site

At some point during 2015 I realised that it was the 20th Anniversary Year of the release of Frontier: First Encounters (FFE), the second sequel to the classic space sim Elite and the subject of this website. This realisation led me to two disturbing thoughts, the first being that I'd probably already missed the actual Anniversary Day and was running out of time to put up something of value before the year was out. The second was that if it had been twenty years since the game came out, it wouldn't be too much longer until it was twenty years since the launch of Jades' First Encounters Site - whenever that was!

The first problem was solved when I just managed to complete the addition of a Potted History of Frontier: First Encounters to the What is FFE page on the 31st of December 2015. Having only just managed to get that done in time, the next issue was what to do about the site anniversary, and when was that anyway?

The origin of the site

The spiritual ancestor of Jades' FFE Site pre-dates both the Web and FFE by several years! Like quite a few of you, I first started playing Elite on the BBC Micro. I loved the game, playing it heavily, taking occasional breaks to play Arcadians, Pole Position or Daredevil Dennis. I decided that I would take my interest further and write a book which I hoped would become the definitive playing guide to playing the game - The Elite Tactics Manual (TETM).

Looking back now, the idea was part ego-trip, partly a desire to help other players and (probably mainly) an interesting way to take up my time. Of course, as I got older, TETM looked less and less realistic a proposition as far as actually making it to print was concerned. Therefore I decided not to develop the idea further, and decided to concentrate on other things (which must have been really interesting, since I can't remember what they were...).

In the years between my abandoning TETM to the Paper Eating Monster Under The Bed (ever noticed how if you organise your life on pieces of paper you keep losing them?) and the creation of Jades' FFE Site I kept my interest in Elite alive by playing ArcElite (in between playing other Arc games, too numerous to mention) and Amiga FE2 (in between playing Championship Manager, Sensible World of Soccer, Colonization and other stuff). However, I never thought about writing The ArcElite Tactics Manual or The Frontier Tactics manual.

So, anyway... Back to FFE... Sometime in early 1996 I was rummaging through the software bargain bins in Makro out of curiosity, and spotted a number of full boxed versions of FFE there, at quite a nice price (seven pounds, excluding VAT). I'd known about the problems with FFE after reading about it in 1995, but decided to buy it, if only for completeness' sake. At this time I didn't have a PC, but figured that it wouldn't matter anyway due to the infamous bugs...

At University, I was introduced to the Web for the first time. After a couple of months I'd reluctantly come to the conclusion that my trusty Amiga 600 just didn't have enough power to do the sort of work I would be doing. After a bit of thought, I persuaded the parents that I should get a PC since this was likely to be compatible with the machines on the campus, they agreed and very generously covered the £1,300 cost. As an added bonus, I got to play FFE after all and decided to see if I could find any information about it on the web. There wasn't very much! There were only three sites which had a reasonable amount of information, and of those Case's FFE Site was the only one that offered a comprehensive coverage. So I started to write my own!

What has become Jades' FFE Site is, in spirit, the realisation of my ambition to create The Elite Tactics Manual.

Getting Started

It's funny looking back how clueless I initially was about the actual process of setting up a website. I bought Mac Bride's book Teach Yourself HTML, so I could learn how to write the site, and had software on my PC that would allow me to produce the content. I had web browsers installed on my computer for testing (installed from magazine cover discs). What I didn't have was an Internet connection in my digs or indeed any webspace. Time to do some research!

I did have access to the Internet on the University of Sunderland's computers on campus and in their libraries, and soon found out that the Unix accounts on which we had our email could also be set up to work as webspace by creating the correct directories and then putting in the files. This still left the question of how to actually transfer the files to the Unix account.

It being the Nineties, the ubiquitous method of transferring a file from one computer to another without the aid of a network was a floppy disk, typically with a capacity of 1.44 Megabytes on a PC-format High Density disk. Tiny by the standards of the 21st Century, this was still enough to contain quite a bit as file sizes were small. Even now the largest HTML file on my site is the FFE FAQ, which is just over 100 Kilobytes. I could copy the files from my PC to a disk, and then take that disk down to campus and put it in one of the University's computers. All that remained was for me to find out the way to copy the data from there to the server.

This required a bit more reading and after a reasonably interesting, but not particularly useful at the time, diversion involving reading a book of Unix commands I found out that the way to transfer the files was by using a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) application on a computer with a network or Internet connection. I was now able to upload the site and after a bit of testing and feedback I was happy enough with it to announce it to the public.

Jades' First Encounters Page was announced on the news group alt.fan.elite on the 27th of January 1997. The first feedback was from people telling me that I'd forgotten to include the address, a mistake I corrected on the 28th. Not exactly my finest moment on the Internet!

Moving the Site around

This website has changed location a few times, as is probably common with a lot of fan sites. In the early days this was mainly due to size of the site exceeding the available space on the server, which was typically only a few megabytes - tiny by today's standards but document sizes were usually small back then.

As I mentioned above, I first hosted the site on my account on the University of Sunderland's Blake server. While this was very fast, I didn't realise that the space on the account was shared with my e-mail account. This was fine while there weren't many graphics in the site, but as my site grew I started to have problems with the email package, PINE, complaining about a lack of space and ceasing to be able to send or receive emails. At one point, I actually had to delete most of the pictures from the shipyard section!

I had at some point in March 1997 set up a sub-site hosted by a Canadian company called Stratec which apparently had 10Mb of space but could be quite slow to access from the UK. The main intention had been to use it to host larger files, easing the pressure on my limited space on Blake but I also used some of the space to set up a website for The Elite Project, an initiative originated by a number of readers of alt.fan.elite which aimed to create our own Elite sequel since all we were getting from Frontier Developments was a stony silence. By June I was increasingly unsure of what would happen to my account on Blake at the end of the academic year so took the precaution of making a full mirror on the Stratec server. As it turned out, my fears were unfounded and the account was still active a few years after I had left Sunderland Uni.

When at home I had access to the Internet with a dialup account provided by the University and a modem which my parents had bought themselves (capable of a blistering 33 kilobits a second). In July I decided to sign up to the recently launched BT Internet, one of the main attractions of which was a massive 5Mb of webspace at a very competitive (at the time) £11.75 per month. I was then able to put back all of the stuff I'd had to remove due to the space problems on the old server. At the same time, I added some stuff I hadn't been able to upload before, most important of which was the Downloads Page. I duly announced the move on alt.fan.elite, confidently predicting that "I'm not likely to move it again" and removed everything from Blake other than a couple of redirect pages and thier supporting files.

Unfortunately, I got back to University, and found out that there were problems with the move. I'd been working on new features for the site, but when it came to uploading them I found that I couldn't actually get FTP access to my webspace even though I was using the correct user name and password. After a lot of messing about and numerous e-mails to BT Internet Support, I found that I could only log into the account if I was directly connected to BT by modem. This was fine at home, but not possible in my phoneless digs.

To be continued! Next update: The birth of jades.org and the final hosting change - or so I thought!

Sources, Canon and Making Things Up

Official canon in the Elite series is a fairly new thing and has only really come in since the release of Elite Dangerous and its assorted spinoff products. This may seem a little strange nowadays, particularly in comparison with other long-established science fiction series. Official background information essentially consisted of only the documentation that came with the games themselves and what appeared during gameplay. Anything else was left up to the imagination of those playing the game.

With a few obvious exceptions, the majority of Jades' FFE Site is written from the perspective of a fairly neutral observer (contrary to alt.fan.elite legend) and the information presented is that which said observer could reasonably know at the start of the game on the 1st of January 3250. This doesn't preclude certain people or organisations that have a role in the forthcoming plot being discussed, but what happens in the game hasn't happened yet!

Official Sources

Writers on the Frontier: Elite Universe (FEU) have differing opinions on what constitutes an official source - bear in mind that a lot of stuff online was written well before even the announcement of Elite Dangerous let alone any thoughts David Braben et al had of establishing an official continuity/universe/whatever. A number of FEU writers were of the opinion that anything that came from releases prior to FE2 should be ignored altogether as the universes were too different. The ones used in the production of my website are as follows.

The main reason why I've discounted The Dark Wheel as a source is that I've always thought that it didn't bear a lot of resemblance to the gameplay of Elite itself. While I do see the point of those who would ignore the fluff from the various Elite 1 versions (in which ArcElite is included) I thought it would be a shame to not include some of the old information on my site.

I started writing my site in 1996 so my memory of some things is a little hazy - and while I did make some notes I don't know where they all are! I'm fairly sure I had compiled a list of all of the corporations mentioned in the game at some point, those mentioned in the actual printed documentation as well as ones mentioned in connection with missions etc. No idea where it is or whether I did try to break it down by presumed allegiance.

Ship Information

For all ships listed in the BBC Elite manual, that are also in FFE, the Designer and In-Service Date I've used are the ones stated in the BBC Elite Manual. With regard to the manufacturer, I've used artistic license in some cases. Where there was a large gap between the stated In-Service Date and the start date of FFE I've worked on the assumption that the ship is no longer produced and that its final manufacturer was unchanged in the run-up to FE2/FFE. All ships encountered in-game or available through the shipyards are assumed to be survivors from the original production runs.

For some of the ships that made it into FFE from Elite I've assumed that since the rough start date for Elite there would have been a number of mergers and takeovers, similar to the canon way that Faulcon DeLacy are now credited with a number of designs that the Elite manual says were originally made by someone else. Where I've done this and there wasn't a corporation actually stated I've chosen one from the list of corporations observed in-game.

While it's rare that the FFE manual specifically credits a manufacturer or designer, it does at least give an allegiance for all of the ships, which was quite handy for some of the manufacturers where there is a decent amount of background. The FFE manual, for example, tells us right at the start that the Saker you've just bought is from New Rossyth Shipyards and one of the co-owners of that company, Meredith Argent, also helped found The Alliance. It also credits Mic Turner as the designer

Elsewhere we're told that NRS is part of Argent Aerodynamics Amalgamated Inc and that their Lead Designer is Mic Turner. It's reasonable, therefore, to credit some of the other Alliance ships to them. I've also assumed that since Turner was around when the Alliance was founded he'd had a career before joining AAAI and have credited some other ships with notable design to him as well.

Faulcon DeLacy are another well-established manufacturer in Elite lore, and were credited with the Eagle Mark 1 in the manual for Frontier: Elite 2 and have numerous mentions in the manual for FFE as well. Unlike AAAI, there are no mentions of them in-game that I can recall. I have not considered the lack of in-game mentions of a particular company to be evidence that they no longer exist.

None of the documentation that came with either of FE2 or FFE gave in-service dates for ships so in most cases I made them up in order to add a little flavour. For the ships that debuted in FE2 I picked dates in between 3111 (the year after the Mamba's In-Service Date) and that game's start year of 3200. I initially had dates for the Eagle series that contradicted the descriptions of the ships - while no specific years were given the Mark 2 was said to have been the product of seven years development whereas the date I'd picked was only four years after the Eagle Mark 1.

For the ships that are new in FFE, the dates chosen are between 3200 and the start of the game in 3250. The Osprey X, which isn't listed in the FFE Manual, is presumed to be brand-new for 3250 which would partly explain it being fairly rare in-game.

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