I wasn’t a particularly sweary individual back in my teens, but whenever I ended up in Witch-Space, Elite’s nether realm that just so happened to be populated by the galaxy’s meanest, nastiest alien race, you can bet the air would turn blue around me and my trusty 48K ZX Spectrum. It wasn’t just that Thargoids were difficult to beat, it was that without the necessary fuel to reach another system, they were impossible to evade. Sure, you could perhaps take out one Thargoid invasion ship before it released it’s Tharglets, two if you carefully managed energy levels and angled your deflector shields during a tactical retreat, but taking down more than three of them was practically unheard of – at least in the Elite-obsessed circles I frequented back then. I think I managed it once, although it was more than 30 years ago since I last stepped in one of Elite’s bear traps. I doubt I’d last more than 10 seconds in Witch Space these days.
Witch-Space was essentially Elite’s unofficial Survival Mode feature, a place you were sent to without warning and had to contend with waves of hex ship shapes coming at you until you exploded in a puff of pixels. Part of the problem was that once you got into a groove of shifting furs to high tech systems and computers back again, and could pretty much survive any encounter and dock without impacting on the side of a station, there was less of a need to save the game at every stop and so it was a chore easily forgotten (and if you played the cassette version, like I did, saving was a chore, believe me). Then, just as you say to yourself “I’ll save at the next station for sure this time,” there was that telltale pause at the end of the hyperspace tunnel when the game would yank you out of your planned journey, take your fuel reserves and throw you in its Thargoid-infested snakepit with no nearby planet or station to escape to. Just you and the ominous hexagonal profile of the galaxies most relentless alien swimming around you, ready to cut your ship and its cargo of computers into little polygon pieces. Aaargh!
“Load Commander Y/N?” Happy days!