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The best gaming platform is always the one that you own.
I have no need to write a detailed history about Super Star Trek, because over at this excellently-written blog there is more lovely details than I could muster myself. It has quite an interesting history, and is well worth the read.
Super Star Trek
This game holds-up fairly well to this day, mostly because of two simple things: It has just about the lowest system requirements you could imagine (the original being totally ASCII based). If you read the nice history of the game at the other blog site you’ll note that a version of this game soared to popularity by being included in a book on BASIC games – this also spawned about a zillion versions of the game. In my collection alone there are 20 different versions! The original is available online as a Java applet (see above blog posting… again, it is very well done).
In trying to figure out which version to highlight for this post I booted-up all 20 of the ones in my collection, and took into account visual appeal, ease of use, and emulator requirements. There was one, with a title of “Star Trek: The Computer Game” that sounded, and looked, rather official – but had zero credits attached to it, not even a copyright claim, so it was obvious done on the Commodore 64 by an enthusiastic fan. The original ASCII-only version is rather primitive. There’s even a nicely-done version for free in the App Store for iPhones and such (called Padd Trek.
In the end I found that a very nicely-done shareware version, with spiffy EGA graphics, really captures the wonderful essence of this nice game. The only thing that registering with the original shareware creator (ZERO idea who this is… they seemed to just have vanished from the planet for all I can ascertain) was the removal of a very simple “Please Register” blurb on the title screen. The entire game is fully functional in all other respects.
The Gameplay Itself
Born out of the same philosophy as the old Interactive Fiction titles (see my earlier posts), the game was created in an era where graphics were so primitive on computers that pure text evoked more imaginative games. A handful of the Commodore 64 versions indeed have better graphical fluff – like an actual USS Enterprise ship on the map, among other things – but no matter what version of this game you boot-up and play, certain core elements remain a constant (oh, and you do NOT have to be a Star Trek fan to enjoy this game – it actually has little in the way of Star Trek in it!)
All commercial versions of the game, such as EGA Trek (the one I’ll be talking about here) don’t even mention Star Trek, for legal reasons. Klingons are changed to Mongols, and generic terminology is kept whenever they can get away with it (for example, a star base is pretty generic, and not infringing on copyright).
Basically, bad guys (Klingons, Mongols, etc.) are attacking the good guy’s space (the Federation), and you must travel around space, one turn at a time, blowing them up. Various versions place different victory conditions onto this, such as you only have 25 days, or some other such. You raise you shields, and then input simple text commands to “warp” to a sector that is under attack. Once there, you launch either powerful torpedoes to blast the bad guys away, or less-powerful phasers. You then probably will have to find a Starbase to dock at for repairs and re-supply. Oh, and having the bad guys attack one of your precious Starbases must be addressed immediately.
EGA Trek added some other nice elements to the gameplay: Friendly ships under attack must be defended; invisible black holes can warp you into other sectors of space – or even knock your photo torpedoes off course; you can land on some planets to find precious energy resources; and invisible ship from another hostile (but less invasive) faction will harass you on occasion. There are other nice touches in the game as well, such as stars going supernova and obliterating entire quadrants.
Add to that some nice EGA graphics and this is really the best version of the game I can think of.
In 1983, certainly during the height of this game’s popularity, SEGA released an arcade game that bears a strong resemblance to this game, but in a simpler, more real-time format. I have never found any evidence that designer Sam Palahnuk took inspiration from Super Star Trek for the SEGA Star Trek: Strategic Simulations arcade game – but the two really complement each other. One is turn-based, the other real-time.
The arcade game didn’t do to well, despite having some rather ground-breaking speech synthesis plugged into it (a big achievement at the time, since the synthesis had to be painstakingly coded. There was just no memory capacity at the time to handle an actual voice sample. The opening line really sounds exactly like Leonard Nemoy!)
A quick sample of me playing the actual arcade game can be found here. A Commodore 64 version, which has more visual color and solidity was my more favorite version – mostly because it was easier. You can see me playing it here. I do indeed last longer. =)
In the arcade game you defend the Starbases from Klingons, dock at them to repair and restore supplies, go into a bonus round where a probe is running amok with laying mines, and then repeat as it gets more difficult.
The Star Fleet Games
The original Super Star Trek game was really popular, like I said, and it quickly spawned the idea of a more tactical, “realistic”, and complex game. Again, as described in the other blog’s history, Star Fleet first appeared on mainframes back in the 1970s, but the version that really gained popularity on the home computer front was the commercial release by Cygnus in 1983. It would later be re-released by Interstel, in 1986, when they were an Electronic Arts affiliate and be re-named to Star Fleet 1 (which, naturally, made people anticipate a sequel). It was this re-released version that I saw being played in our computer lab, back when I was in school, and just knew I had to track down a copy. Mail-order was the method of getting games like this, back in the day, for me at least.
It came nicely packaged with a thick manual, which has some nice narrative-style instructions in it, and for its day this was a seriously-complex space combat simulator.
Nowadays, when I can play games like Starfleet Battles, or Falcon 4, it doesn’t seem to be that complicated anymore – but for its day this was a hard-core game! If it turns out that you like the simple, clean, and fun tactical combat of Super Star Trek and just want to add another layer of game to the whole thing, then Star Fleet 1 is certainly you best bet.
There was a version created for DOS and Commodore 64 platforms – among others. The Commodore 64 version was the one that I bought back in the day, and it sported more colorful graphics and lots of nice musical tunes – but it is also much slower than the nice, crisp simplicity of the DOS version.
But, for a nice gameplay demonstration of me failing to complete my mission – and then self-destructing in a fireball of glory, click here. =)
Now, I didn’t know this until I started doing research for this article, but the old DOS game called Empire: Wargame of the Century (a game I’ve hardly ever even played) is tied-into the Star Fleet universe game-wise, in that it was developed to be a planetary conquest module for Star Fleet II, but the two games were apparently never unified, and only a rather scaled-back version of this conquest module was included in the sequel. I had zero idea the two games were even connected.
Skipping ahead to 1989, when graphics were taking-off nicely in the computer world, Star Fleet II: Krellan Commander was released. Now, even by today’s standards: This is still a fairly complicated and complex game. Take all of the elements from Star Fleet 1, and now add (as I mentioned) a scaled-back planetary conquest ability, PLUS the ability to command and control multiple ships in your own fleet, this game was regarded as being very complicated when it came out.
It was also trashed by critics for having “primitive ASCII-only graphics” numerous game-breaking bugs, and an instructional manual and disk set that had to be bought separately. This is a formula for utter sales disaster, and Star Fleet 2 did indeed go down in a flaming ball of death. It was designed by Trevor Sorensen, Mark Baldwin, and Dennis Lawler. It should be noted that Dr. Trevor Sorensen is behind the entire Star Fleet series of games.
In 1993, a group called Supernova Creations hoped to release Star Fleet III – to be published via Mindcraft, and it was said that the Empire planetary conquest module would be fully integrated into the game – this would’ve created the most complete, and complicated, space combat simulation ever on the PC front.
But, gamers move on. The old-style ASCII graphics are what killed this series, more than anything else. Game series such as X (see my previous article on this) introduced amazing 3D graphics, and as that series progressed you could do almost everything that Star Fleet allowed, plus more – just no planetary conquest stuff. =)
Not too many years ago, Dr. Sorensen did try to revive the old franchise by getting a Star Fleet Deluxe project going – two beta versions were released, but it never did take off in the way that he hoped.
On June 1st I packaged and uploaded a nice and complete set of EGA Trek, Star Fleet 1 and 2, and the beta (and fully playable) version of Deluxe Star Fleet to my Downloads section. Full PDF manuals are there, as well as a DOSBox environment that is a snap to launch the games into! Just hop on over to the Downloads section and see if the files are still there!