Frontier ranks up there with Total Annihilation as one of the biggest time wasters of my teen years. One of the things that got me hooked was the detail involved - not only did the game somehow contain approximately 100,000,000,000 stars, but many of them had their own planets and moons. Our own Sol system was faithfully recreated, with spaceports in most of earth's major cities (and even one on the moon, hooray!)

The inhabited systems were also split into three main political divisions, each with their own history and government, which I present to you now, whether you like it or not:

The Federation was formed in the 2240s and initially comprised the Sol, Tau Ceti, Delta Pavonis, Altair and Beta Hydri systems. Their influence slowly increased to embrace many other systems by the year 3200, the starting point of the game. It was formed when the settlers in Tau Ceti started killing off many species of the native lifeforms, and Earth threatened to send a police force if they did not stop. They ignored the warning, and a force was sent which crushed the rebellion. Earth then set about forming an alliance and a military, and thus was the Federation born. Basically democratic in government, trading in goods considered unacceptable (eg slaves) is illegal, although many Federation systems have their own ideas about what is and what isn't acceptable.

The Empire has its seat in the Achenar system, on planet 6d which is known locally as Capitol. Before the empire was formed, this planet was rumoured to harbour a sentient race. However, in the 2320s the Federation heard that private colonists were wiping out this race, and sent a huge war fleet to Achenar only to suffer defeat. The Empire was born, and its influence spread to surrounding systems during the 2330s. Wars between the Imperial Navy and the Federal Military continued until an uneasy peace treaty was signed in the 2380s. The Empire is strictly capitalist and trade in almost anything is legal, although nerve gas is usually off limits.

Independent Systems soon sprang up which wanted no part with either side, and a space fleet called Interpol was formed. Unlike the two powers, there is no one planet or star system which governs the independents nor is there any particular indentifying form of government, although the systems themselves are fairly numerous.

Progression up the ranks of either military is achieved by accepting advertised missions which usually start out as simple package deliveries. As their trust in you grows, more lucrative offers become available, such as the assassination of a prominent enemy figure or photographing an enemy base. Eventually you can even nuke enemy bases which shows how insincere the signing of the peace treaty was. As such, ranks of both sides are mutually exclusive, so running a mission for the Federal Military will get you points but immediately doing one for the Imperial Navy will cancel them out, leaving you with nothing. Federal ranks are as follows:

Imperial ranks are similar:

Of course, as in the original Elite, a rank is awarded by the Elite Federation of Pilots which is calculated according to the number and size of kills. These ranks are:

Systems which border the core systems generally have no organised society or government and are usually the haunts of miners and pirates, with very few ports or colonies in which to land and trade. Anarchy reigns in these systems and you will most likely be a target as soon as you hyperspace into one. If you have a decent ship, this is a good way of boosting your Elite points.

It is also possible to gain a criminal record in the organised systems. If you are caught trading illegal goods or even take off without clearance, the police ships are immediately on your tail. Some crimes may only get you a fine but others can lead to the confiscation of your ship and thus end the game. As in reality, the criminal record is permanent and can damage your reputation which means less people may trust you in the future.

As well as all of this there was still so much more which made it all too easy to become totally immersed in the Frontier universe. Whether you were out to make money, climb the military ranks, become a feared space pirate or just wander the stars, there was so much out there that practically anything was fun. I ended up playing this every day for almost a year before I finally got sick of the repetitive nature of trying to boost my imperial title. I managed to become a Marquis (and Elite, of course) but with each progression the amount of work required until the next increases significantly, and after a little research I discovered that to reach Prince I would have to do so many missions that it really wouldn't be worth it. I did, however, indulge in a little hex editor hacking to boost myself to Prince but nothing new or unusual happened; I think the game noticed I hadn't got there by honest means.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that Frontier is a brilliant game. It is involving, detailed, and will last you for ages - get it right now!