viznut's amazing discoveries

[2007-04-06]

The strange worlds of Elite

One thing that has always fascinated me in the space game classic "Elite" is how it uses procedural generation to synthesize a huge universe from a mere 48 bits of pseudorandom seed. There are many more games that use similar techniques for similar purposes (e.g. the Starflight series), but they usually add human-made content on top of the generated stuff rather than just accepting the universe the way it comes out.

There's one problem in Elite, however: the information about individual worlds is very scarce. All the planets look similar and you can't land on them, so you will need to resort to a bunch of statistics and a short descriptive text to fuel your imagination.

Fortunately, there's also a German translation of the Commodore 64 version of Elite, and it happens to have different descriptions. (Of course, we could also look for information in the sequels, but we won't because they aren't CANON!)

Let's look at Tionisla first. It is a technologically advanced democracy of shyish lizards at eight light-years from Lave:

[Tionisla English]

There isn't much more information - the novella accompanying the game, however, describes an orbital graveyard located in the system. Perhaps that somehow relates to the melancholy.

Okay, let's look at the German version then:

[Tionisla German]

First of all, the inhabitants are described as "Nagetiere" (rodents) rather than lizards. Perhaps it's just a bit difficult to classify alien species in Terran terms, so different scientists get into different conclusions.

Then, let's look at the description. "This system is very famous for the merry songs of its inhabitants". Okay, perhaps this was more important information than the ingrained shyness. The mental image I get from "lustigen Lieder", however, is more like "hilarious German folk-songs", so, in my imagination, the shyish rodent-lizards of Tionisla wear lederhosen and Tirol hats and sing some "hei▀a, hopsassa" songs they consider funny with their totally alien sense of humor.

There are many more systems with shyish aliens. Esteonbi, for example, is located some tens of light-years to the galactic north of Lave, and it is described as follows:

[Esteonbi English]

And what does the German version say about Esteonbi?

[Esteonbi German]

Okay, so we have another world of shyish aliens singing hilarious German folk-songs, and this time the lederhosen-wearing creatures look like small black slimy frogs. Is this some kind of cultural imperialism in the Elite universe, or is it just a law of nature that all the intelligent beings with "ingrained shyness" eventually develop the concept of German folk-songs?

Dunno, at least it seems to be a common law in Western space opera that all the sufficiently advanced civilizations eventually discover the ultimate system of communication, i.e. American English. So why not a similar law for "lustigen Lieder"?