First off, thanks to reader LordKarnov42, who clued me in to the fact that an EGA version of Starflight exists. I found it and downloaded it. The screenshots should be a little improved over the ones I posted two days ago. This process forced me to finally do some Googling and learn about the history and chronology of different video standards (until yesterday, I wouldn't have been able to tell you that EGA was better than CGA). Now I have to do the same thing for sound.
As for the game itself, I'm starting to get the hang of it after a few false starts. I've yet to encounter any aliens, but I have explored several planets.
When you arrive at a new planet, you take a sensor reading that tells you about its atmosphere, gravity, weather, and climate. Your crew wears spacesuits and can survive in any atmosphere or weather, but you have to be careful about landing on planets with a strong gravity. When you choose to land, the game provides you with a Mercator map of the surface and asks you to select the landing coordinates (all planets have 180 degrees of latitude and 360 degrees of longitude, just like Earth). I haven't figured out how to choose the best coordinates (absent a specific clue) except that landing in water is rarely helpful.
On the surface of each planet, there seem to be three basic things that you can encounter:
- Mineral deposits, which you can mine and take back to Starport to sell
- Alien lifeforms, some of which attack you. You can try to stun or kill them, record their biometrics, and take them back to Starport as specimens.
- Ruins of past expeditions or even the Old Empire, where you occasionally find messages or artifacts.
I spent most of my last playing session mining one of the planets in the first star system. When you land on the planet, you exit your ship in a Terrain Vehicle that has a fixed amount of fuel and cargo space. If you wander too far from your ship (I learned this the hard way), you can run out of fuel and lose your Terrain Vehicle and have to hike back, which generally causes damage to your crew. Whether there are any valuables near your landing site is the luck of the draw, I guess. Sometimes, I hunted in vain for anything, and other times I landed in the middle of a vein of ore.
You can load only a certain volume of minerals into your Terrain Vehicle before you have to return to the ship and dump it in the cargo bay. Your ship, in turn, holds only a certain volume based on the number of cargo pods you have purchased. It obviously makes sense to fill your hold as much as possible before returning to Starport.
In a few trips to the third planet of the original solar system, I had enough money to equip my ship decently, buy enough fuel for an extended trip, and train my crew to the maximum of their key abilities (I still don't know if it makes sense spending money training the Captain). I even bought a couple of useful-sounding artifacts that were in the Trade Depot.
On each return to Starport, I got a series of new messages in the Operations Room, including this ominous-sounding one. Is this the game's main quest? Stopping the instability in the galaxy's stars?
Other notices gave hints to quests or were just goofy.
Finally, I felt comfortable leaving the original solar system. I discovered the key to doing that is just to fly to its edge. I didn't go far, however--only to a neighboring system where I had a clue about ruins of the Old Empire on one of the planets.
Following the coordinates provided by the clue, I landed on a high-gravity planet and did indeed find ruins. There was a message in one that gave coordinates for another set of ruins and made a clear references to Tribbles from the old Star Trek series.
I also bagged a few critters on the same planet.
Another notice had asked me to watch out for planets suitable for colonization. The game manual tells you what that means: gravity with a certain range, oxygen in the atmosphere, at least some water, biodiversity, minerals, and mild to moderate climate and weather. I found a good candidate in the second system, logged it for recommendation, and was rewarded with 30,000 monetary units when I returned to Starport.
When I returned to Starport after my first interstellar trip, I had artifacts, a cargo hold full of minerals, and several creatures, and I was doing fairly well financially. I maxed out the number of cargo pods on my ship, Talyn, and bought several weapon, armor, and engine upgrades.
So do I like Starflight so far? Unquestionably yes. First, there's a real sense of danger in the spaceflights. You have to pay careful attention to things like fuel, gravity of planets, and proximity of alien creatures. If you don't, you die, and death in this game is permanent.
Second, there's an absurd amount of joy associated with finding a bunch of mines close together and filling your cargo hold with minerals. It reminds me of playing Pirates! as a kid and sailing into harbor with six ships overflowing with sugar, tobacco, and other goods.
My only quibble is that I'm not sure it's a CRPG. So far, there's no role-playing, as such, and the character development is very limited. But I'll reserve judgment on that point until I play longer and start encountering aliens. I hope my next post will be about that.