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Gaming, Geekery

At the suggestion of my friend Grandy I have utterly blown off his request that I help him write a review of YET ANOTHER MMORPG that is fashionable for some reason, to play a game that was in vogue twenty years ago.

I'm speaking of Star Control II.

For our readers who WERE NOT ALIVE twenty years ago, and we have a number of you, I'm pretty damned old.

And yet old men occasionally have things to say that are worth hearing.

To be less abstruse, Star Control II was published by a now defunct publisher called Acclaim in 1992.  It was developed by a pair of dudes who went under the name Toys for Bob, a reference that none of you children will get, I AM SURE!

Taking off my old man wizard hat, Star Control II was one of the last games written before Wolfenstein 3D  came along and crystallized all games into distinct genres, in other words fucking everything up:  Star Control II is, in terms kids would use today, an amalgamation of a Sci-Fi RPG, a flight simulator, a tactical battle simulator with side advancement for goal completion, and a Larry Niven novel.  It was so far ahead of its time that it's still ahead of its time, easily, TODAY, one of the ten best computer games ever made despite the fact that the idea of a black man wielding as much power as Bill Clinton was SCIENCE FICTION on par with a Larry Niven novel back in 1992.

And it's freeware, though you have the option of paying five bucks to enjoy it in a version even more primitive than the freeware.  I play the freeware, but I bought the five buck version to give back to the guys who made this game in hopes that Electonic Arts or Activision, two other long defunct game publishers which are still around for some reason, will buy the rights for a measly million bucks and create a modern version of something that's STILL better than anything they've ever published.

Still too abstruse?

Star Control II places the player in a near future in which a space traveling humanity has encountered alien intelligence, in fact a galaxy full of alien intelligence: Humanity joined the losing side of a galactic civil war between a "libertarian" coalition of races that wish to exist in chaotic individuality, and an "authoritarian" coalition of races dominated by the Ur-Quan, who simply wish to impose ORDER on the galaxy for everyone's benefit.  While humanity almost turned the tide with our comically primitive ships (looking like space shuttles bristling with nuclear missiles and surplus SDI lasers), the freaks lost, and ORDER was imposed on the galaxy.

Until a lost human expedition to the galactic core discovers a "Precursor" starship built when all of the protagonists of the last war were using femurs as weapons against space leopards.  You are the captain of this ship.

And yet there's so much more: twists and plot turns I won't mention,  voice acting (from a console version on the sadly defunct and all but forgotten 3DO) on a par with James Earl Jones voicing Darth Vader (for the scary Ur-Quan who are the INITIAL villains), and dozens of riddles and hints for the future, like the information-trading Melnorme, who promise you secrets and mysteries about the real history of the galaxy which you can only almost afford, and the Orz, a race of friendly, smiling space-goldfish, whose speech is never QUITE accurately captured by your universal translator (the title of this post is one of the translations), who may or may not FREAK YOU OUT when you realize that they are in fact Lovecraftian horrors from another universe, who intend to merge our universe with their own in order to…

Your mouse will not work in this game.  It's all keyboard.  But you can configure the controls to familiar WASD standards in the freeware version that I therefore recommend you download, known as "The Ur-Quan Masters," which includes the wonderful voice work from the console version:

Here is is.

Don't be frightened by the less than zero version number.  I've played about twenty hours (SC II requires about a hundred hours to complete) on a Windows 7 64 bit machine without a single crash.

After you're through with it, buy the official, DOSbox version from Good Old Games, both to give the developers money, and to reward Good Old Games for republishing this and many other good, old, games. As a bonus, you'll get the original Star Control, which is an entirely tactical, non-RPG game featuring great space combat with even more varied alien ships and races.

At five bucks, it's more entertaining, and less expensive to you, than a speech by a black man who wields as much power as Bill Clinton.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. ecurb  •  Apr 30, 2011 @1:37 pm

    When I was 10 (1996), a friend had the PC version of this, but I never got the chance to borrow it…
    Downloading. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Kevin  •  Apr 30, 2011 @3:23 pm

    Couldn't agree more – this is one of the best games of all time, which goes to show that plot and humor and so forth are so much more important than graphics. (Also explains why most of the Star Wars movies are so awful despite ground-breaking visuals.) The graphics were just fine for the time, I think, but this game will still be fun today. Two other older games in this category are Planescape: Torment and Grim Fandango, both of which are also probably in my top ten all-time – and I'm probably almost as old as Patrick.

    BUY IT!

  3. matt  •  Apr 30, 2011 @3:54 pm

    i remember this im just floored you found it i really am

  4. Grandy  •  Apr 30, 2011 @4:05 pm

    matt, I'm sorry we haven't talked about this before on the front page; I've known about UQM for years. Patrick only recently tried it because he hates me.

    There are reasons, as he said, to get the GOG version (though the money from that goes to GOG – good – and Atari and nobody else AFAIK). GOG is great (they have Torment too Kevin and it works *fantastic* on win 7 x64). It's nice to reward publishers who share their back catalog with GOG. And there are people who understandably have an attachment to the old version.

    I personally still prefer the original music. They remixed them usic for UQM. It sounds terrific, but I suppose I have both an emotional attachment to the old and also like the minimalistic style. But I listen to both on occasion. SC2 is an amazing game, no doubt about it. And I agree with Patric, one of the game's strengths is how it so elegantly blends genres. I wish more games tried this.

  5. matt  •  Apr 30, 2011 @4:11 pm

    i have it now so im hasppy ill check into gog later i have to relive my childhood again without resorting to rule 34 lol

  6. jb  •  Apr 30, 2011 @7:54 pm

    Did you ever play the original X-Com UFO Defense? That (from 1993) was amazing, with a small-unit battle system that is still the most innovative I've ever played.

  7. CarLitGuy  •  Apr 30, 2011 @9:57 pm

    XCom was pretty awesome, but there was a real temptation to save the game, then fast forward through the month, see where the aliens wher attacking, back up the month, then place your base accordingly.

    And the money we made selling those laser rifles on the open market…. seemed it was the only way to ensure you had funds for operation. XCom II was a bit of a let down. Better graphcs, larger maps, but the technology trees were basically the same as the prior, ony with new names and skins.

  8. Rliyen  •  May 1, 2011 @7:24 am

    Patrick, I'd like to thank you for that trip down memory lane. GOG is a GODSEND for old school nerds like myself. I just wish they'd get a chance to acquire the licenses to Metal Fatigue or Knights of Legend. I still have my DOS disks for KOL, but not the manual (which rocked). I still love that game, even though it was bare bones.

    Also, if you haven't played it, I HIGHLY recommend Evil Genius. It parodies the 60's Bond films to a tee, and there's references to Enter the Dragon, Dr. No, and Rambo.

    The best way to describe it is take a Bond film and Sims-ify it. It's frickin' great.

  9. Rliyen  •  May 1, 2011 @7:33 am

    Car,

    I didn't really worry about the aliens attacking the base. I found out early on that the best way to deal with it was the "Corellian Corvette" defense.

    1) Line your men and women in the hallways, near a room with a door, preferably crouched and ALWAYS readied. Have them covering all avenues of attack.

    2) wait for aliens to arrive.

    3) Aliens arrive, they more often than not would get torn to shreds as they blundered into LOS. If not, you would continue the assault; making sure you had enough APs to move them into the nearby rooms if they were not successful in killing the enemy.

    4) When your turn came around again, send out one of your least capable men to test the waters and find out if where the enemy is located. Then, if they're still alive, move them back into the rooms.

    5) Move your capable men into position, blast away, and then move them back into the rooms.

    6) Wash rinse repeat

    7) Profit

    Maybe if the Rebel soldiers at the beginning of Star Wars would have used this maneuver, they would have won! =o)

  10. jb  •  May 1, 2011 @9:50 am

    Base defense was always about base design–separate the hangars from the rest of the base by the access lift, and then just use whatever your best high explosives were in excessive amounts. The real temptation was to save game while in a battlescape and just replay turns over again until you got the right result.

  11. Joe  •  May 1, 2011 @6:31 pm

    You mean guys never really outgrow their videogame obsessions? I'm in trouble, then.

  12. G Thompson  •  May 1, 2011 @7:51 pm

    Actually owning the original boxed Star control 1 and SCII and still having them (and pulling them out to play sometimes) really proves I am a geek [yes yes and old ]

    The storyline of SC1 & 2 were amazing, the amount of hours spent looking for resource rich planets was mind boggling and those fights with the irquan were fantastic not just for the standard of the time but also now.

    In fact only recently have games started to actually do what we of pre 1990 era expected in all our games, to involve you in the story and have an actual PLOT and a game length of over 10hrs. Zork , Ultima, Text based HHGTTG (Hitch Hikers), all Sierra games, were games of substance, intrigue, drama, emotion and WOW factor.

    Thankfully recently games such as RedDead Redemption, Mass Effect, Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Dragons Age (Baldurs Gate revamp), & Gears of War have kept up with tradition but they are few and far between.

    Now don't mind me but I'm off to ask the Mycon why they look so delicious.. mmmmm talking mushrooms

  13. jb  •  May 1, 2011 @8:14 pm

    Yes, we never outgrow it. I am now playing Dominions 3, which is the ultimate 4x game, what the Civ series wishes it was; Europa Universalis, which is the geekiest awesome computer game ever; and Strat-o-matic baseball, which is even geekier and more awesome.

  14. gbasden  •  May 1, 2011 @8:53 pm

    Star Control 2 is easily in my top 5 games of all time. Patrick, that was an excellent write up.

  15. Mark  •  May 2, 2011 @2:39 pm

    Man what a wonderful, happy-making flashback to find lurking under OBL's Obit!

    I loved this game. My brother played it to exhaustion almost every night for an entire summer. We co-played it and argued strategy notes until late, late at night.

    And it caused me to think back on an even older favorite: Starflight. A game you ran off two 3.5" floppies, and changed the data on the disk as you went. In this age of paranoia over copying it is nice to remember a game that required as a first step "Copy these disks! Don't run the game from them!". I had no EGA system at the time so I ran it in GLORIOUS 4 color CGA mode.

  16. Kelly  •  May 2, 2011 @8:45 pm

    I can see my boxed original copy of SCII from my desk. It's right next to my boxed original copy of XCom. :-D

    Agree with the high praise for UQM. I played it a year or so ago and had a great time.

  17. jb  •  May 6, 2011 @8:33 am

    Going back even further, anyone here remember The Ancient Art of War At Sea?

  18. Tam  •  May 9, 2011 @4:06 am

    I had no idea that Good Old Games even existed.

    Curse you.