Frontier: First Encounters

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Frontier: First Encounters
Frontier First Encounters box.jpg
Cover art for Frontier: First Encounters
Developer(s) Frontier Developments
Publisher(s) GameTek, Konami
Platform(s) DOS, but with jjffe or FFED3D which also contains additional fixes, it can be played on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X
Release date(s) April 1995
Genre(s) Space trading and combat simulator
Mode(s) Single player

Frontier: First Encounters, also referred to as FFE or Elite III, is a space trading and combat simulator video game developed by Frontier Developments and published by GameTek in 1995 for DOS. The player pilots a spaceship through a universe pursuing trading, combat and other missions.

Frontier: First Encounters had a number of firsts to its name.[1] The detailed modelling of the geography of the planets was impressive given the relative lack of power of the PCs it would have been played on, typically Intel 386 machines. First Encounters was the first game to use procedural texturing to generate the vegetation, snow and other features on the planet surfaces.[1] Mountain ranges, cliffs and alien landscapes and visual effects all contributed to the atmosphere of the game, and the coloured lighting from the redder stars gave some planets an eerie look.

This third game in the Elite series, is the direct sequel to Frontier: Elite II and was followed by Elite: Dangerous in 2014.


Ship flying over the terra-formed planet Mars

First Encounters carried over the gameplay features from its immediate predecessor Frontier: Elite II, in that the game is a combination of trading, fighting, espionage, bombing and a variety of other military activities; the combat ratings were also carried over from the previous games. Like Elite II, First Encounters features realistic Newtonian physics, the ability to seamlessly land on 1:1 scale planets in authentic 1:1 scale star systems, and rival factions for which the player can perform missions, gaining or losing standing accordingly. The game's graphics were an improvement on the previous game, introducing Gouraud shading and more extensive use of texture mapping. As well as employing the same open-ended gameplay of its predecessors, First Encounters also features a storyline which takes the player through a series of events starting with the “Wiccan Ware Race” and missions concerning an alien race called the Thargoids. Some of these missions can only be completed under specific circumstances, or with specific combat ratings. The missions take place between 3250 (the start-date of the game) and approximately 3255.

Comparing First Encounters to earlier games in the series, creator David Braben said that where the original Elite was "basically just trading" and Elite II positioned the trading as "something to do while doing missions", the developers had done "almost no work" expanding the trading for First Encounters, as it was not seen as the focus of the game. The player's objective is instead to explore, have fun and "find out what's happening with the aliens", although how they achieve this would depend on how they played the game.[2]

In addition to these now-established tenets of the Elite series, First Encounters added full motion video BBS character faces in the CD-ROM version and journals which report on happenings within the game's known universe, occasionally mentioning the player's exploits. The game also allows the player to earn special ships that are not available to buy. These ships are given as rewards for completing missions; the ships are the Turner-class Argent’s Quest, the Stowmaster-class fighter (which comes with the Argent’s Quest, equipped as the escape pod) and the Thargoid Warship, given to you by the Thargoids at the completion of the Thargoid missions.


First Encounters was the sequel to Frontier: Elite II. It was released by the financially struggling publisher, GameTek in Easter 1995. Due apparently to being published in an incomplete state, the game was significantly flawed in a number of respects on release.[3] As FFE was originally ridden with many bugs, the game was extensively patched, later reissued as shareware (like Elite II) but finally withdrawn from sale. This was followed by a lawsuit brought by GameTek against David Braben.

As the official support has ended and the game being a DOS game, First Encounters has difficulty running with post-DOS operating systems such as Windows 95, Windows 2000 and Windows XP. Only with DOS-emulators like DOSBox the game was playable.

In 2000 Frontier Developments announced that FFE would be open-sourced under a GPL-similar license allowing ports,[4] but this never happened.[5] In response the community took up the support of the game, which was in October 2005 successfully reverse engineered by John Jordan and ported for modern operating systems.[6] JJFFE was updated until December 2009 and was later, due to the source code availability, taken up other community developers with improved ports like FFE_D3D.[7]


First Encounters was well reviewed, despite being released before the development team thought it was ready.[3] While the game employed an advanced and realistic Newtonian mechanics flight model, rather than the original arcade-style engine, many players found it frustratingly difficult, particularly in combat.[3] According to Frontier Developments the game shipped around 100,000 units.[8]


  1. ^ a b "Guinness World Records - First use of procedural generation in a video game". 
  2. ^ "'Life, The Universe And First Encounters' - PC Gamer (c) , Issue 18, 1995". 
  3. ^ a b c "The history of ... Elite", Retro Gamer (Imagine Publishing) (47), February 2008: 23–31 
  4. ^ News on "8th November 2000 - Following much discussion on the subject of open-source by the Elite community, we have decided to make some alterations to our previous plans for the Elite Club - we are going to relax some of the restrictions we were intending to put on the distribution of the source code. The source code will now be distributable more freely, under a licence agreement similar to the GPL (GNU Public Licence)."
  5. ^ Welcome Commander,to the AmigaFFE Project "after I have seen the announcement of a release of the Sources of Frontier Elite II and Frontier First Encounters on the Eliteclub-Website, I was very happy with it. Now it is 2001 (around 2 years since the announcement) and they still haven't released it"
  6. ^ Jordan, John (2009-12-01). "JJFFE Central". Archived from the original on 2011-03-03. Retrieved 2015-11-06. What is JJFFE? JJFFE is set of recompiled replacement executables for the 1995 Frontier Developments game Frontier: First Encounters. There are currently versions that run under Windows 95/98/ME, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows NT4, OS/2, Linux and Mac. As well as running on many more operating systems than the original, JJFFE also includes minor improvements and bugfixes. 
  7. ^ FFE_D3D on
  8. ^ "Frontier: First Encounters - Official site". 

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