Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Starflight: Artifacts and Aliens

I just had to see what would happen.

In my last posting, I said that I had a clue about ruins on the third planet of the home system, but I couldn't find any even though I'd strip-mined the planet for minerals. Well, it turned out I had miscounted. That was actually the fifth planet. When I realized my mistake, I went back to the third planet, and boy were there ruins.


 
I landed at six locations on the planet and found three or four ruins at each site and pulled artifacts from each one. More important, many of the ruins had endurium, the mineral that powers spacecraft. From around 15 units when I started, I had about 147 when I left the planet. Since endurium retails for 1000 credits each, this was a heck of a find.

Unfortunately, it cost one of my crew members his life. The planet was subject to hostile weather conditions, and Rigel was killed in an electrical storm. A lot of my other crew members took damage as I explored, too. But I returned to spaceport with a full hold and had more than enough money to train a new communications officer to a full skill level.

Alas, the artifacts turned out to be a disappointment. I had two existing artifacts that the Trade Depot assured me were useful, one having something to do with communications and the other providing a shield for my Terrain Vehicle. When I came back, I had 16 new artifacts, including:

  • 3 quivering lumps
  • 2 ticking spheres
  • 2 oval objects
  • 2 pretty pictures
  • 1 strange cloth
  • 1 glowing disc
  • 1 metal ball
  • 1 frightening apparatus
  • 1 pyramid device
  • 1 mobius device
 
Unfortunately, the Trade Depot told me that none of them were anything more than "historical curios" and offered me a slight amount of credits for each one. That was a lot of exploration for nothing. Is the Trade Depot shining me on, or are these things really worthless?

You know what? You're "totally useless" to me!

Anyway, with as much fuel as I had, I figured I was ready to start exploring the galaxy. I decided to head to the planet referenced in the "Tribble" clue from two days ago. On the way, though, I encountered my first aliens: the insectoid Veloxi. These aren't the same Veloxi from Arth, you understand, but distant cousins.

Distant bastard cousins.

I didn't cotton to their demands for three of my hard-earned fuel cells, so I said no. They responded by cutting off communications and attacking me. While I tried to figure out the combat interface...


 
Well...bollocks. Starflight is a permanent death game. Not only does it kill you, but it corrupts the save files so you have to reinstall the game to play it again.

Faced with the choice of having to start all over (and, frankly, probably moving on to Swords of Glass instead) or restoring from a backup of my saves, I chose the latter, even though I technically regard it as "cheating." I mean, I could have done that with Wizardry or Rogue and just taken all the challenge away.

This time, I played the encounter a little smarter and gave up the fuel. As you speak to each alien race, the game gives you the choice to be hostile, friendly, or obsequious. You then have the options to make statements or ask a series of questions. As you speak, the game represents your dialog according to your disposition. Take a simple question like "tell us about your race." The variations might be:

  • Obsequious: "Oh, please, mighty ones. Can you enlighten us as to the glories of your magnificent race?"
  • Friendly: "We are interested in establishing contacts with other races. Can you tell us about yours?"
  • Hostile: "Transmit data about your species or be destroyed."

These are, therefore, I believe, the first real "dialog options" in a CRPG (aside from being able to answer yes or no to a few questions in Ultima IV). I don't know when we see this level of immersion in dialog again, but it's not for a while.

I chose to be "friendly" with the Veloxi and found out some clues, including they have something called the "Prophecy of the Egg," live under the direction of a queen, and believe themselves descendants of the Ancients. They also gave me a set of coordinates where they said they had been receiving a distress call from the Old Empire.

This went a little better.

Stopping off at my original goal, I picked up a new Old Empire message with yet another set of coordinates.


 
So far, so good. I then went to the coordinates given to me by the Veloxi and found the ruins of an Old Empire ship in space, and an abandoned camp from said ship on a nearby planet. A message indicated that the ship had been the Lasthope skippered by a Captain Shelenuf of the "Noah 9" expedition.


 
I assume, then, that Noah 2, which established Arth, was one of only many colonization missions around the same time. The cryptic message alludes to a sabotage of Noah 9 by the "Laytonites." There was also a reference I didn't understand to "mechans," which I took to mean androids.

After that, things got weird and went to hell, in that order. Heading back to Starport, I encountered this WTF ship with its equally WTF message:


 
I don't know binary off the top of my head, but I used an online converter and got a series of numbers: 1, 15, 0, 65, 3, 1, 28, 33, 24, 15, 31. No idea what these mean. The ship eventually left without telling me anything more useful.

Then, close to Starport, I ran into a ship of "mechans" right in the place where a message in Starport had told me that androids were destroying ships. I managed to screw up dialog with them twice. The first time, they asked if my ship was from Empire technology, and I said yes. Then they asked if I was Noah 9, and I truthfully said no. They attacked. I fled, returned to Starport, sold my goods, and repaired my ship.


 
Eager to solve the mystery of the androids, I returned to the same area and met them again. This time they asked me if I was a follower of Layton. Believing that Shelenuf's message indicated the mechans were in league with the Laytonites, I said yes. Big mistake.


 
So, now I'm faced with the prospect of cheating again to keep playing and work out these mysteries. Or maybe I'll be true to my rules and start completely over. I'll mull it over tonight and decide tomorrow. It remains a fun game, and I can tell there's some interesting lore to uncover along the path to the main quest.

In the meantime, I'd appreciate any confirmation of my binary!

27 comments:

  1. From the looks of it, Starflight has captured the feel of Star Trek better than any actual Star Trek game. This one's totally going to be next once I'm through with Might & Magic.

    Regarding the binary: I imagine that it's just random 1's and 0's because they're in groups of 5 and 6... if it was meant to be a message they'd be in groups of 8. Because the total number of bits isn't divisible by 8, I had to chop some off to make it work. Without the last six 1's, it says " Á ÃÈqç." Without the first six bits, it says "ðB0ò yÿ." Finally, I chopped three bits off each end and got "^ F C�?." If the aliens are trying to communicate something, it must not jive with ASCII.

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  2. In Starflight 1 you CAN save your progress but you need to do it manually using two batch files that came with the game. I copy here a relevant forum post by user jlhorner1974 I found in the Interstel Comm Center website about SF1 and SF2 save features:

    "SF2 came with a nice batch file that automatically backed up and restored your game for you from copies. When you play SF2 for the first time, it copies STAR2A.COM and STAR2B.COM and names the copies ORIGINAL.A and ORIGINAL.B for you. This way, you can easily start a new game from the beginning. Also, when you save your game and quit in SF2 (assuming you have been launching the game from SF2.BAT), the game will automatically copy STAR2A.COM and STAR2B.COM to LASTSAVE.SVA and LASTSAVE.SVB, respectively. That way, if you find yourself on the wrong end of a plasma bolt, the game could delete STAR2A.COM and STAR2B.COM and recreate them from LASTSAVE.SVA and LASTSAVE.SVB. Thus you could die, and come out and choose "Resume current game" from the batch menu, and you would be right back in business. It was easier because the game pretty much handled the backups for you.

    Unfortunately, SF1's batch menu system was not as good. They did provide batch files for you, to save and reload your game (they are called REMEMBER.BAT and GOBACK.BAT, respectively).

    What you are supposed to do is after you have saved and quit SF1, if you don't want to lose your state, invoke REMEMBER.BAT with a name, like "REMEMBER START". This will backup your game to a subfolder called "START". Then fire up STARFLT.COM as normal and play. If you get toasted, you have to exit and type "GOBACK START" to restore your Play directory to the state it was in when you REMEMBERed it. You can REMEMBER as many different games as you want.

    Now if you did not use REMEMBER and GOBACK (and did not back up your files anywhere else on your own), when you get killed, your STARA.COM and STARB.COM are now hosed and you have no backup, so you are screwed. ("Game in progress was not saved.")"

    Also, the http://www.starflt.com/ website provides a version of Starflight 1 with a custom batch file that makes saving easier.

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  3. Seems like the blog ate my previous post so let's try it again...

    You CAN save your progress in Starflight 1 but you need to use two batch files that came with the game. Here is a post that I found in the Interstel Comm Center forum:

    "SF2 came with a nice batch file that automatically backed up and restored your game for you from copies. When you play SF2 for the first time, it copies STAR2A.COM and STAR2B.COM and names the copies ORIGINAL.A and ORIGINAL.B for you. This way, you can easily start a new game from the beginning. Also, when you save your game and quit in SF2 (assuming you have been launching the game from SF2.BAT), the game will automatically copy STAR2A.COM and STAR2B.COM to LASTSAVE.SVA and LASTSAVE.SVB, respectively. That way, if you find yourself on the wrong end of a plasma bolt, the game could delete STAR2A.COM and STAR2B.COM and recreate them from LASTSAVE.SVA and LASTSAVE.SVB. Thus you could die, and come out and choose "Resume current game" from the batch menu, and you would be right back in business. It was easier because the game pretty much handled the backups for you.

    Unfortunately, SF1's batch menu system was not as good. They did provide batch files for you, to save and reload your game (they are called REMEMBER.BAT and GOBACK.BAT, respectively).

    What you are supposed to do is after you have saved and quit SF1, if you don't want to lose your state, invoke REMEMBER.BAT with a name, like "REMEMBER START". This will backup your game to a subfolder called "START". Then fire up STARFLT.COM as normal and play. If you get toasted, you have to exit and type "GOBACK START" to restore your Play directory to the state it was in when you REMEMBERed it. You can REMEMBER as many different games as you want.

    Now if you did not use REMEMBER and GOBACK (and did not back up your files anywhere else on your own), when you get killed, your STARA.COM and STARB.COM are now hosed and you have no backup, so you are screwed. ("Game in progress was not saved.")
    "


    Also, at www.starflt.com you can find a version of Starflight with an easier to use save feature.

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  4. Your binary is a tiny bit wrong too. You put a 65 in there. I read:
    1 15 0 33 3 1
    28 33 24 31 15 31

    Doesn't make any more sense.. yet..


    But there appears to be a pattern to it..

    I'll think on it.

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  5. Can it be Morse code? If you take 0 as . and 1 as - you get 415-348-7910

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  6. OK.. It was driving me up the wall.. Skirie got it.. It's morse code..

    That numbers is the phone number of the home office for the developer of this game.. Serious... O_o

    So.. There you go.. Weird.

    AD

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  7. Ah, go ahead and restore your save. We won't hold it against you. It's like how old two-word text adventures had the "insta-death" monster that would just kill you at random. Best solution is to reload.

    I've played the Sega Genesis version of Starflight, which is actually pretty close to the original in style. Bonuses are awesome scary music like Forbidden Planet and a bit of a simplified interface. I don't think there were "junk" artifacts in it either.

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  8. I vote to reload your game as many times as necessary. This isn't a roguelike :)

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  9. If Starflight is as interesting for you playing it, as it is for me reading it, I'd say "cheat" as often as you like!

    I wonder how long it would take to make an updated version with better graphics and a mouse-based interface...

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  10. Hey, everyone. Thanks for your comments on this, especially to Skirie for solving the riddle! Although, hearing the solution makes me like "Starflight" less. I figured it was a major clue.

    On the re-loading issue, it's not that I don't know how to make backups. I've been doing that. But my ultimate goal is always to play the game on the level of difficulty that the developers intended. This is why I didn't make backup of my "Rogue" saved games, for instance. I guess in this case, since the developers provided the batch files, they DID intend for players who died to restore their saved games, so I'll keep doing that--but only when my entire party dies.

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    1. I don't think the corruption of save games was built in there. This game was released on multiple platforms, DOS is arguable the worst of them. I've never heard of this being an issue on the Commodore 64 and as I played the Amiga version (far better than the DOS version) I know this was not an issue on that. It also featured 5 save game slots which could be saved and loaded at any time. That tells you all you need to know about what the designers wanted. Honorable that you wanted to stick with what they wanted, but I would have immediately thought the programmers screwed up if I came across a game destroying saved games.

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  11. Well, I was referred to this site from somewhere else and I found Starflight. I figured I recognized it and then I remembered. :) I think I played this on the Amiga. Great gods, those were the times. Many hours trawling the vast space and getting crushed on planet surfaces and whatnot.

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  12. if I remember right, there is no riddle with the binary as far as the story goes. You just need the right artifact to translate for you in order to talk to them.

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  13. "so I'll keep doing that--but only when my entire party dies."

    I can only laud you for doing this as it is more in the spirit of role-playing, compared to simply reloading your game at the slightest hindrance to "optimize" the gaming experience.

    Party member X dies and not enough gold or too avaricious to pay the resurrection fee at the temple? Simply reload!
    You used up your precious fire arrows on a lowly enemy? Reload!
    You wandered into the wrong direction and "lost" some time? Reload!

    Yes, reloading a campaign save (this is what a save state in a 40-hour-game really is) is no luxury, it's a *necessity* to make breaks possible in the first place.

    Yes, comfy and extensive loading/saving capabilities of modern games are a given on modern platforms as they have enough storage space compared to older platforms.

    Yes, limit saving and loading and be prepared to get heavy flak from reviewers and your customers.

    And yes, saving and loading supports experimenting, trying out different tactics and taking risks - in other words "playing" in the best sense of the word.

    On the other hand saving and *re*loading runs contrary to a basic role-playing principle: The gamer has to live with his decisions.
    Whether he learns from it and profits in a new game is a different question, of course, but reloading whenever a hurdle, however low, pops up is not only lowering the difficulty level dramatically but also avoids "playing" - as the player won't have to endure situations (low ammo for example) that force him to re-think his strategy.
    This is what role-playing is about: The gamer is not only playing a role in good times - he should also play through the bad moments, especially if they are caused by his own decisions.

    As for allowing saving and loading in RPGs: The "truth" lies probably somewhere in the middle between not being able to save at all and being able to save anywhere/anytime.

    Note that this isn't a question for the mass market. These games will continue to allow for nearly unrestricted saving and loading as it is being seen as a standard feature.

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    1. Even as someone who loves quicksave/quickload in CRPGs, I do think it would be nice if games somehow subtly encouraged players to use saves minimally. "Hardcore" mode is an interesting trend in this regard, but I would rather that the game somehow built saving into the storyline of the game itself, like the reason you are the world's greatest hero is because you found an artifact that let you skip time back five minutes but every time you used it you lost something (or maybe you aged, or something similar). Or there was an actual powerful entity in the game world who could reverse time for you, but it demanded substantial sums of gold/portions of your "essence"/et cetera.

      Realistically none of these things are going to happen, and I am also going to reload my Legend of Grimrock save for like the fifteenth time to try to get through this one room without dying, so clearly it might end up being a system that just punishes people who are not good at CRPGs. But it is still something to consider.

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    2. Quarex: The problem with this is that saving has an essential use beyond reloading: Splitting play over sessions. Resident Evil 2 gave you a better ending if you did it without saving. While possible, this means you have to play the entire 4+ hour game in one session, and it is only 4 hours if you already know exactly what to do and don't waste any time problem solving. Imagine expecting a 40 hour CRPG without a save feature.

      Heck, I've played old console JRPGS that only have save points, and it is really annoying when you want to goto bed, get dinner, hang out with the family and you have to play for another half an hour to get to the save point.

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    3. I kind of covered this in my "difficulty" posting a few months ago. I try to impose my own limits on saving, but I agree with you in rather wishing the game did it for me, or had some other cost associated with reloading. I understand Canageek's point and I agree, but you could make a "Save and Quit" option different from just "Save."

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    4. Addict: Yes, a 'suspend' option is a viable solution. The old Dragon Warrior games on Gameboy had that, since the original only let you save in town which isn't viable on a mobile platform.

      Another peeve: No saving in combat, if your combats EVER go over 10 minutes. Give me some kind of suspend mode. I KNOW it will be extra work on your part, but damn, double so when I was a kid it would suck having Mom calling you for dinner, and having to leave it paused, or trying to sleep with your computer on....

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  14. Calibrator, you and I are on the same page. Abuse of the save ruins all the role-playing and tension in a game. It does take some self-discipline, though, especially in games like "Rogue" and "Wizardry," when the stakes (losing all of your progress) are so high. I'm glad I forced myself to suffer through them.

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  15. "Well, it turned out I had miscounted. That was actually the fifth planet. When I realized my mistake, I went back to the third planet"

    Three, sir!

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  16. "Well, it turned out I had miscounted. That was actually the fifth planet. When I realized my mistake, I went back to the third planet"

    Sounds to me like the navigator will be wearing a red shirt on the next away mission!

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    1. I'm reading this 18 months after I first posted it, and I honestly have no idea what I was talking about. "Miscounted?" I counted 3 instead of 5? There must be some better explanation, but I can't figure it.

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    2. I remember it was actually very easy to miscount the planets due to the way the planetary systems were represented with the CGA and small screen.

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  17. There is a set number of orbital rings around each sun, but some of those rings do not have a planet on them. Thus, a planet could be on orbital ring number five, but be the third rock from the sun.

    Regards,


    John

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    1. I searched two planets and still didn't come up with ruins on the "third" planet. I didn't know if the starport was considered orbiting the second planet or not. In any case, there seemed to be a lot less ruins and artifacts in the Genesis ports. None of these useless artifacts.

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  18. Appreciate I'm coming a little late to the party but one game mechanic I found particularly interesting/fun I didn't see mentioned (maybe because you maxed commo skills early) was that some of the aliens messages to you would be garbled if your communications officer wasn't skilled enough. You'd get nonsense intermingled with words depending on your skill level and had to guess at your response with what you made of it. Heh, doesn't sound fun actually but I remember it as interesting from the mechanic of misunderstanding first contact. //break// really enjoying your site!! Just found it recently off a link from "Tales of the Rampant Coyote" blog site. Bookmarked and subscribed! Thanks!!

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    1. I'm not sure I encountered this in the first game, because I trained my communications officer up to the max very quickly. I do remember seeing it in Starflight II and talked about it in that game. I think Space: 1889 featured a similar dynamic.

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