SGJ Podcast #71: Elite Clones for Your Space Trading Needs

Surprisingly Pretty
Surprisingly Pretty

Say you wanna play in the open playground that is Elite: Dangerous, but don’t want to shell out $75 for the beta version. You’re in luck, my friend, because this week Jim and I take a look at some of the open-source Elite alternatives that cost significantly less (or nothing at all) yet still scratch the same type of itch as Elite: Dangerous. These include:

  • Oolite – This free clone of the original Elite has over 200 mods one can download in the game to make it more expansive or appealing, but we found the difficulty to be a bit on the brutal side. Still a good time if you want that original Elite experience.
  • Pioneer – This free clone of Frontier: Elite II has an expansive universe and detailed gameplay, and I was quite enamored with it, at least until…
  • Paragon – This is a $15 fork of the Pioneer project, and comes with prettier graphics, more streamlined gameplay and a more alive universe. While this is the only one of the games we tested that cost moneys, we found it was worth it, as both of us (especially me) have put a good amount of time into it since purchasing it. It’s still early access, so it’s got bugs (like a sometimes-suicidal autopilot) and crashes here and there, but overall, it’s a great time.
  • First Encounters D3D – This is a free port of the third (and worst) game in the original series, Frontier: First Encounters. Since we couldn’t even get this game to run on the stream, and found it as cumbersome as the original, we skipped it, but I put it here for your reference.

It made for a fun show, especially in the surprise discovery of Paragon, which I sadly forgot about until we were rolling. ;)

As always, if you have a suggestion for a guest or a topic you’d like us to cover, hit us up below or directly at Also of note, the video had some issues as we were streaming, both with my audio and with the Twitch cutting out a few times. YouTube can stitch videos together, but it still might be a bit jarring, so please keep that in mind if watching the video. Thanks again!

Author: Brian Rubin

21 thoughts on “SGJ Podcast #71: Elite Clones for Your Space Trading Needs

    1. Hey Moonrogue, welcome to the comments. While Drifter is a fun game, to answer your question, it’s not a straight-up clone of one of the Elite games, which is what we were going for here. It’s a great open-world space game though, but not exactly the same.

      1. Thanks, it’s nice to be here. Sorry, I misunderstood what the focus of the podcast was.

        How about Ms. Pac Man??????

        1. While Ms. Pacman is a fun game, if I may say so, it doesn’t really match the open-world stylings of Elite, nor does it have a dynamic economy or even random missions. ;)

          Seriously, good point, I changed the title of the show to hopefully be more clear. :) Thanks!

  1. Great video! I put in an embarrassing number of hours on Elite and Frontier. I’m not sure how I missed First Encounters, but after a bit of googling, realize I had never seen it before. I guess I was too busy playing flight sims and the late Wing Commander games when it came out. Thanks Brian!

    1. You can skip First Encounters. It’s basically the same as Frontier with slightly prettier graphics, more bugs and a much shittier UI.

  2. Hi Brian,

    I wonder what are the discouraging points for you for the original First Encounters? I only remember ever playing that game (never got to play the prequels), so cannot compare myself…

    1. Interestingly enough, First Encounters, to me, felt like a few steps back from Frontier. Frontier had a simple, uncluttered interface and, while it was buggy, it still ran fine most of the time. FFE, on the other hand, tried to be too slick I think, and lost something in the user experience as navigating the menus and such became a super chore by comparison. Thing was also amazingly buggy, as I never got more than 15-20 minutes without a crash. To me, Frontier is the best in the series, while First Encounters is the worst. It’s basically the same thing as Frontier with a slightly glossier coat of paint, more bugs and a worse interface.

  3. Paragon is fun, but it’s flaky in places. I had the autopilot go pathological on me several times; I’d get to the vicinity of a space station where I was supposed to land, hit the “dock at” button, and the ship would start spinning like a top, or fly into the station and then fly in little circles endlessly without docking. I failed several timed delivery missions because the autopilot went nuts in one way or another.

    1. Yeah, Paragon still has some quirks, like it’s ocassionally suicidal autopilot, but I’m having a blast with it regardless. I hit up the devs in the Steam forums about my joystick issue and they were pretty up front about how awful it is right now, which is kinda refreshing. They also said they’re working on the autopilot AI too I believe. Which is good because damn.

  4. I’m working my way through the podcast, but “witchspace” has always been the term.

    I don’t know about all the poor suckers on Commodores or other platforms that used Atari joysticks, but on the Apple ][ with a nice Kraft analog joystick docking could be mastered. I can’t imagine trying to dock with an “on or off” joystick. Yikes. But I’d still buy a docking computer just because it saved time.

    1. I had, I believe, this joystick at the time:

      And yeah, it made docking quite challenging.

        1. Sorry, when I tried to add the HTML code to make that an actual image, it broke the damned thing, so I had to upload it to imgur. Regardless, I totally remember that thing. Didn’t have one, but some friends did I think. IIRC it was a very solid little stick.

        2. I played the original version on the BBC Acorn with the keyboard, and it was great. You n00bs and your fancy Apple ][ kits…

  5. I’ve played Oolite, found it a lot harder than the original Elite and with all the upgrades and mod packs its hard to figure out which ones to use. It can be a fun experience.

    I was actually involved in the development of the Pioneer story for a bit before writing Elite:And Here The Wheel and it is very interesting. I found it quite interesting to see how Pioneer handled a three-dee galactic map versus how Elite:Dangerous has handled it.

    I briefly touched the First Encounters D3D but I actually preferred the original which I probably played the most.

    Unlike Brian I had massive squee on First Encounters and it is probably the game I channelled the most when I wrote Elite:And Here The wheel. The universe feels less static than Frontier – Elite II. The game provides so much more backstory to the universe and the dirty deeds of INRA which my novel expanded on.

  6. Oh, and not to repeat myself, but:

    Guys! Elite II combat is not jousting! It certainly can be, before you get a good bead on the enemy. But once you figure it out, you can match course and speed with your target and keep him from shooting you while you can just dissect him. It’s great.

    You turn your engines “off” so you have manual control of the flight. Right click will make the mouse rotate your ship. Right AND left will fire your laser. Return is forward thrust, right-shift is reverse.

    When you see the enemy’s laser in front of you use reverse thrust to back away from it. For some reason this works. This usually also slows him up (relative to you) enough to get a good bead on him.

    And yes, the autopilot is more dangerous than a TNG holodeck.

  7. I just wanted to say, this is my first time listening to your podcast, and two seconds in I’m like, “Wait, is that he Bad Movie Podcast guy?!”

    You, sir, have a very distinctive voice. :D

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