E.P.T. was in development for a year or two between 1987-1989. The acronym stood for ‘Elite Piss Take’ and was – unsurprisingly – a temporary working title only.
Andy Beveridge and Adrian Stephens were the original developers behind E.P.T. Andy worked for Metacomco and Adrian had written a number of classic BBC computer games, including Micro Power’s Killer Gorilla and setting up a small games publisher called Arcana. They originally met through a mutual college friend, Martin Day.
After experimenting with an ST development kit, Adrian wrote his first hi-res (monochrome) polygon renderer on the Atari ST, and then added shaded polygons through various stippling effects. With a basic 3D engine up and running, Andy then approached Rainbird with the idea of them writing a 3D game for the ST and Amiga, despite the fact that they no design or even a basic idea of what the game would be about.
After seeing a demo of their 3D routines, Rainbird (and more specifically, Paul Hibbard) came up with a basic game idea set in deep space to kick-start the project. Adrian then began work on the graphics whilst Andy concentrated on the gameplay. Adrian wrote a circle renderer (used for planets, parts of space stations, etc.) as well as an elipse renderer (for non-polygonal rings around planets). It was during this phase in the development that the game was given the temporary (and tongue-in-cheek) working title of E.P.T.
The early versions of E.P.T. featured a basic rudimentary cockpit graphic and spacecraft designs. Despite officially being signed up to write the new space game, Andy and Adrian still had no actual game design to work from – ideas were simply thrown in as and when they came up. They both hoped that somewhere along the line the actual game would emerge from the ensuing creative chaos. Unfortunately, this only resulted in development versions that gave the testers at Rainbird very little that they could actually test!
I can remember a few people within TelecomSoft thinking that E.P.T. was a little ambitious for a game intended to run on an Amiga and ST. A few doubts were raised as to whether a game would actually emerge from any of the 3D demos.
Later development versions (based on the new design document) allowed the player to fly off to a new destination within the solar system, shoot at a variety of demo spaceships, dock with Skywheels (aka spacestations), fiddle with the interface that allowed purchases and bank loans, and switch between spaceship cockpit designs (the default cockpit was for a Mangoran Starhawk).
Ricardo Pinto had joined Rainbird from Torus (developers of Gyron, the Spectrum and Amstrad conversions of Elite and Hive) and was by now an internal producer working on a number of projects, including Realtime Games’ Carrier Command.
Ricardo paid Andy and Adrian a visit in Bristol, cooked them lunch and assessed what state the game was in. It became clear to him that what they needed was a proper game design specification to give some direction to the project. This realisation eventually lead to Ricardo leaving Rainbird and working directly with Andy and Adrian in an effort to get the title going again.
Ricardo wrote a new game design, which was pure space opera with politics, wars and conspiracies raging on in the background. In fact, the sub-title on the new specification dated April 4th 1987 was ‘A design for a space opera’. The specification was stuffed full of background story info, technical suggestions and other gameplay features. E.P.T. went from having no design to probably having too much!
The months of slow progress eventually took its toll on Adrian Stephens, who had long since lost the creative interest to continue working on the game. Sensing this problem, Ricardo gave Adrian an escape route by negotiating to move the project (with Andy Beveridge in tow) to Realtime Games in Leeds, who were still busy working on versions of Carrier Command. The basic idea behind this move was to give Andy a creative and structured environment with like-minded programmers in which to work, and to get Realtime to help implement some of the 3D models designed by Ricardo.
With hindsight, the move to Leeds was probably the beginning of the end for EPT. Unfortunately, Realtime (and Graeme Baird in particular) were swamped with their own work-load and were unable to contribute much time to EPT. The lack of real progress in the previous two years was stacking up the odds against EPT being completed. However, once a new game design had been drawn up by Ricardo, the contract was extended but with a diminishing royalty rate based upon newly agreed delivery dates. It was therefore in the developer's best interests to get the game finished and published on time. Unfortunately, the new and richly detailed game specification was a bit too big, and this just made getting the game finished even more of a challenge than before.
A number of additional external factors were also probably responsible for the game's ultimate demise. TelecomSoft had a number of other 3D space games in development, including Argonaut's Starglider 2 and Mr Micro's conversions of Elite for the ST and Amiga. Slightly further off in the future was Maelstrom's Starlord game, which shared a number of similarities with EPTs new game design. Lastly, there were grumblings from David Braben (via his agent, Jacqui Lyons) relating to the alleged similarity in some of EPT's design to the original Elite game and the (then) unreleased, undeveloped and deeply mysterious sequel. Ricardo fended off the accusations, but they certainly didn't help!
Although little was achieved after the Summer of '88, EPT wasn't officially cancelled until June '89, after the sale to MicroProse had gone through. MicroProse showed no interest in signing EPT, so it was down to Angela Sutherland (who had been Development Manager at Telecomsoft) to cancel the game on behalf of BT.
In the mean time, Andy Beveridge, Adrian Stephens and Martin Day formed The Assembly Line, who produced Cybercon III for US Gold (drafting in Ricardo Pinto again to help knock the game design into shape) and the Cyberpunk inspired Interphase (for Image Works) as well as working with the Bitmap Brothers on Xenon II: Megablast (again for Image Works).
Thanks to Ricardo Pinto, Ian Oliver and Adrian Stephens for recalling some of the above details and a huge thanks to Ricardo for the loan of his EPT development and documentation disks!
The naming game
For the computer press, the TelecomSoft marketing department often called the game STAR (which was an acronym for Space Time And Relativity) to avoid having to explain why it was being called E.P.T. by everyone else!
In the summer of '88, the TelecomSoft Games Development department came up with Frontier as an alternative title, and this was used in some of the computer magazines for a while afterwards. Interesting then that the eventual sequel to Elite (published in 1993) was also called Frontier! Great minds think a-like, eh?
Titles for EPT suggested by the developers included Empire of the Planets, Battle for the Middle Rift, Star Dreadnoughts, The second Ihranian war, Planet Supremacy, Planet Conquest, The War of the Planets, Warlord of the Planets, The Warlords of System Sol, The Battle for System Sol, Star Fortress, Planet Wars, Battleplanet, Lords of the Inner Worlds, Imperial Planet, To Conquer Planets!, Starblood, Starfire, Between Worlds, Quasar, Pulsar, Krilix, The Trouble with Krilix, and The Skywheels of Sol.