Sunday, September 12, 2010

Starflight: Races

It loses something without the animation.

Tonight, I discovered something delightful. If you're in Starport and you don't move for a while, your character begins tapping his foot impatiently. This is an ancestor of the funny comments ("Booooring!", "I grow weary of standing still") that your Baldur's Gate characters make when you abandon them for more than a few minutes. I have to start tracking all of these "firsts" in a spreadsheet or something.

Finding New Scotland (which I was talking about at the end of my last post) was easy with some deduction. The clue was that the planet was the second one in the star system at the upper end of the "Staff Constellation." There were several constellations that looked like they could have been in the shape of a staff, but I noted one was a fairly quick flux ride from Earth. I figured anything called "New Scotland" would be easily accessible from Earth. (Incidentally, LordKarnov42 also used the same logic and tried to help me out in a comment. I'm sorry I didn't read his comment until after I had found it, but I'm also glad I figured it out on my own.) I was right. Landing, I found a lot of Ancients ruins with fuel plus a clue to go to a specific location. There were a number of newspapers referencing "Harrison," who appeared to be a space pirate based on New Scotland. I visited a couple of his bases and found a "rod device" and a clue as to another of his bases on a distant planet. There, I found a colonizable planet and an "ellipsoid" artifact that turned out to have been stolen from the Veloxi. Returning it made them my best friends.

Tonight, this blog is going to help me get my notes together. I spent a while talking to the Spemin, the Veloxi, and the Elowans, and among them I learned so much that I'm having trouble keeping it all straight. Here is what I know, at this point, about the various races in Starflight.


Humans discovered Endurium (the mineral that allows faster-than-light travel) in 2100 and began using it to explore the galaxy and colonize planets. The Old Empire was formed, and contacts were made with the Velox (2300), Spemin (2675), and Thrynn and Elowan (2770). Between 3000 and 3400, there was a galactic war between the Old Empire and four other races that seemed to result in victory for the Old Empire, but on the cusp of this victory, some phenomenon caused numerous stars, including Earth's, to "flare" and destroy all life in their galaxies. A group of scientists called the Institute initiated Project Noah to save humanity by seeding the rest of the galaxy with colonies and ships. Only one of these, on Arth, seems to have survived. (At least one of the others was sabotaged by Laytonites.) Even Arth collapsed into dark ages for 900 years after an alien bomb went off on the planet. Humans on Arth rediscovered Endurium in 4594 and began exploring again. So far, I have encountered no other humans in the galaxy.


The Veloxi are a hive-based insect species ruled by a queen. They are described by others as "isolationist and arrogant." They became allies of the Old Empire after a few misunderstandings and skirmishes. They claim that they helped the Old Empire when the "first wave" (Phlegmak and Numlox, who the Veloxi claim to have destroyed) attacked, but that the Old Empire refused to assist when the Veloxi alone were attacked. In response, the Veloxi refused to help against the "second wave" (Uhlek and Gazurtoid), dooming the Old Empire to destruction.

Some Veloxi were living on Arth during the collapse, but presumably they have more in common with Arth humans than their cousins in the galaxy (I have two Veloxi in my crew). The Veloxi demand Endurium from me every time I encounter them.

Their "Prophecy of the Egg" concerns the Crystal Planet that causes suns to flare. They think it will destroy all life in the galaxy except the Veloxi queen. It will then hatch, revealing an Ancient named Xpu, who will mate with the queen and create a new race.

They were the ones that put the probe around the planet I wrote about yesterday. Apparently, my answers were supposed to have something to do with multiples of six (the Veloxi holy number). My destroying the probe doesn't seem to have bothered them. They became my close friends immediately after I returned to them an artifact that had been stolen from them by a human space pirate named Harrison.


The Elowan are a plant species that speak like a cross between Einstein and Hamlet. They are scientists and healers. They and the Thrynn hate each other for reasons so far unrevealed. Like the Velox, there were Elowan living on Arth during the dark ages that have lost touch with other Elowan in the wider galaxy. I have two Elowan in my crew.

From speaking to them, I learned that they are on their third homeworld, the first two having been destroyed by flares. They and the Thrynn are originally from the same system, and the Thrynn make war on them to find and consume their "headfruit," which bestow intelligence on the Thrynn (this sounds a bit like a Farscape episode involving the Scarrans). The Elowan know that the Thrynn's sun is due to flare soon but don't intend to tell them.

When the Old Empire first encountered the Elowan, humans didn't even know that Elowan were sentient because the Thrynn told them they weren't.

The Elowan say that Arth's sun will flare in the final week of the tenth month of the year.


The Thrynn are a saurian species that specialize in statescraft and oratory. They look like small dinosaurs and dislike the Elowan for reasons I don't know, although the Thrynn and Elowan stuck on Arth seem to have found a way to get along. A Thrynn captained one of the earliest expeditions from Arth and ended up destroying an Elowan ship. He came across as a bit of a jerk in the manual, so I decided not to include a Thrynn crewmember.

According to the Elowan, the Thrynn are a predatory and treacherous species who will soon be dead when their sun flares, although the Thrynn don't know this.

Either because I have Elowan in my crew or because I spoke to the Elowan first, or both, the Thrynn won't even talk to me. They attack when they see me.


The Spemin are a bunch of blowhard slugs who worship a "blob goddess." During the Old Empire's war, they constantly switched sides to their own advantage. When I first encountered them, they claimed to be a superior species that could destroy me easily and demanded that I worship them. When I accidentally happened upon their home planet, they swarmed and attacked me, but after I destroyed one of their ships, they immediately capitulated and started kowtowing to me. In one encounter (I forgot to take a screenshot), a Spemin captain said something like, "WE SURRENDER! DON'T HURT US! HERE IS THE SECRET LOCATION OF OUR HOME PLANET: 82, 148. GO THERE AND DESTROY OTHER SPEMIN BUT SPARE US!" It was a riot. They also claim to have avoided destruction by the Gazurtoid by sitting in pools of water every time they encounter them.


The Gazurtoid are an octopus-looking aquatic species who believe it is their destiny to rid the galaxy of "air-breathers." They fly around spouting biblical-sounding verse to that effect. They were one of the four races who attacked the Old Empire, although they don't seem to have been working in concert with the other evil races. By some accounts, they hate the Uhleks in particular. The Gazurtoids fly in spaceships impervious to missiles.


I haven't encountered the Uhlek yet, unless they are the species that keeps attacking my ships without even hailing me. The Spemin and Elowan claim that the Uhlek are actually a single creature (a "mind-ganglion" according to the Spemin) that lives deep in its planet and sends "parts" of itself into space. Sounds like a good place to drop my black egg bomb.


The Numlox were one of the races that attacked the Old Empire. I haven't even seen a description of them yet. The Mechans say there is an 84% chance they were completely destroyed in the war with the Old Empire, and the Veloxi claim they wiped them out.


Same as the Numlox.


Mechans technically aren't a race but are simply androids created by humans. The only group of them I've encountered were from the Old Empire and were guarding a colony world called "Heaven." There are Mechans on Arth, too, and you can choose them as crewmembers although their utility is limited because they can't be trained.


The Ancients were a race that existed long before humans left Earth. Their ruins are found all over the galaxy, and they seem to be the first to have used Endurium for faster-than-light travel. Some races say they came from a distant galaxy and seeded this one with life, and that they will later return to judge the races. Others say that they created something called a "Crystal Planet," to which I recently got coordinates. No one seems to know what kind of race they were.

The Veloxi say that the Ancients were Veloxi, but the Elowans say that this is just "conceitful folly."


The Minstrels are a strange race floating about the galaxy singing, according to the Elowan, a "song about what was." I haven't been able to decipher their cryptic riddles. Also according to the Elowan, what we see of the Minstrels is the Minstrels themselves, not their ships--they apparently do not require any ships. They are also known as Delasa'Alia.

Mysterions or Unknown Morse Code Species

This is the species that transmitted what turned out to be Morse code for the telephone number (now disconnected) of the game developers. Technically, I suppose they could be Uhlek, Numlox, Phlegmax, or Ancients, because I don't know what any of those races look like, but I'm guessing they are "Mysterions." This latter term appears on the Starflight codewheel with all the other races, but I otherwise haven't encountered them.

Now, on the main quest and next steps. The Elowan claim that the Ancients created the "Crystal Planet" whose function is to "destroy all life," so I'm guessing this is what's causing the stars to flare. I have coordinates for the Crystal Planet from the Veloxi. I can't just head over there and drop my egg bomb because, according to the Elowan, it "unleashes a mighty force" that I need a "certain device," known to the Institute but not to anyone else, to protect me against it. I also need some "cone of crystal" to enter the "nexus of control" on the planet.

Fortunately, I have a lot of other places to explore based on my conversations with these races:

  • The location of the Uhlek homeworld, which I might be able to bomb
  • The location of the Elowan homeworld
  • The location of the Thrynn homeworld
  • Various clues that point me to the location of Akteron-6, where the Institute had a base
  • A fabled City of the Ancients in a nebula near Spemin space (I actually found this planet, I think, but without specific coordinates I couldn't find any city, just ruins and lots of Endurium, and an artifact called a "red herring" which, predictably, wouldn't fit into my Terrain Vehicle)
  • More Old Empire ruins on an ice planet
  • Another set of Old Empire ruins in a yellow planet system
  • The planet Sphexi where the Veloxi claim is a "magnificent hexagon" (a hive?) in which another egg bomb is stored

This game sure doesn't get boring. I feel like I'm on the right path, which is a good thing, because according to the Elowan, I only have five months to save Arth.


  1. The earliest game I can remember about the tapping foot thing is "Captain Goodnight", on Apple ][. That was in 1985:

  2. Well, as far as i remember, tapping foot was already in Boulder Dash (C64/Atari), released in 1984 :). Anyway pretty good articles :).

  3. I'd say this is the first game you have written about where the story has a good amount of intrigue and mystery. M&M could have been if more thought had been put into it, such as a more cohesive story.

    The only problems I see with these old computer rpgs is that they seem to be more of concepts made physical than games. Just because a "real" interstellar crew would spend much of their time mining doesn't mean that has to be a main focus of the game. Same with all the training and money farming of the other crpgs just to survive. Other than doing these laborious and repetitive tasks that "real" magical adventurers would have to do, you have no other way of playing the game.

    User interface seems to also have not been a major concern. Aside from games requiring good advertising, computers are largely less approchable than a game console, and rpgs were always of relatively minor commercial success, these UIs definitely would not have turned me on to the games.

    When do we start seeing crps that focus more on being a well thought out and ballanced game rather than a fake simulation?

    (I am not trying to be harsh as I totally did the commedy in your writing and appreciate that people can make these early crpg projects. Just felt it necessary to be direct. I'll try to explain more of what I mean if you like.)

    - Glass2099

  4. Doh!

    "dig the commedy" not "did..."

    - Glass2099

  5. Glass2099, I agree. Ultima IV had as rich a back story, but there wasn't a lot of mystery to the main story. Now that I think of it, Origin really missed an opportunity here. The game never explains much about what the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom actually is, and this would have been a fantastic place for a twist ending in which it turns out their is no Codex and you've just unleashed a demon, or the Codex turns out to be "Green Eggs and Ham" or something.

    Not only is Starflight a bit of a mystery, but it has a twist ending worthy of the Sixth Sense. Maybe it was because it was really late last night when I won, or maybe it was the four vodka gimlets I'd consumed in the two hours prior, but I thought the final twist was spine-tingling.

  6. Oh, and I see your point on the mining. This is the main objection a lot of players have for the need to keep a stock of food in the Ultima games, for instance. But in the case of Starflight, I actually found the mining part to be a lot of fun.

  7. On the foot-tapping, sometimes it's hard to remember that a "first" in a CRPG isn't necessarily a first for games in general. CRPGs weren't even the dominant genre of the time.

  8. So having won Starflight, you are moving on to Swords of Glass? I hope you enjoy it- particularly just after the varied experiences of Starflight, I suspect you may find it... lacking. And I enjoyed it in its day, but it really felt like a poorly done imitation of other games, rather than anything even slightly innovative.

  9. Btw. is there any more fantasy/medieval set game in type of Starflight? Like traveling to cities, trading, etc.

  10. Glass2099 makes some good points, especially the level of abstraction that is necessary to make a game fun - and the appropriate user interface to take advantage of it.

    Yes, the "world simulation aspect" in some games is higher but where many designers failed is to recognize the difference between a repetitive task and a trite one.

    A repetitive task isn't necessarily a problem - videogames *do* have a repetitive nature, after all.
    There is always a fine balance between fun and effort, though, and the goal should be to make repetitive tasks not a burden to the player but fun.

    My theory is that you have to have two ingredients to achieve exactly that: Make them easy and make them worthwhile.
    To achieve the former the game could demand few commands from the player (ideally a single mouse click) or a low price in game currency - depending on the game in question, of course.
    The latter however is perhaps even more necessary to not damage the game experience: If the player has to explore a whole continent by foot make damn sure he will see some wonders! If he casts a lot of identify-spells make sure he will find a "gold nugget" every now and then!

    Feeding your party definitely isn't a good repetitive task: While it's often easy to do, sometimes even automatic, there is nothing in return except that the party doesn't starve. In fact it not only costs attention but you also have to buy rations or spend time hunting/fishing/etc.
    In other words: It's not even work (you get paid for work) but *slavery* as you don't even get experience points for it!
    Make the player profit and he will play, make the player suffer and he won't - unless he is a masochist, but I guess this reduces your target group dramatically... ;-)

  11. You know, that's a really good model. Next time it seems appropriate in a game, I might do a special posting on this topic and refer to this. Spending hours collecting potion ingredients in Morrowind and Oblivion seems like a good example of what you're talking about: repetitive, but also easy and worthwhile.

  12. In my game I've been friendly with the Thrynn instead of the Elowan, and so far it's been pretty interesting. They really want artifacts and plutonium, and if you have any on board they'll trade endurium: even the least valuable artifacts are worth at least 1 cubic meter of it to them. It sure beats selling them for 100 MU at Starport.

    On the other hand, thus far they have told me nothing that would help me advance in the game. I get the impression that if you want to complete the game, you should ally with the Elowan; if you just want to explore and mess around, you should make friends with the Thrynn.

  13. Gotta love them spineless Spenims! :-)))

  14. Did you ever do up a list of firsts in crpgs? I would be really interested to read that.

    1. I made a post about it:

      But I didn't keep up on the list. I have plans to convert it to a "Page" (like the FAQ) and keep it going, just haven't gotten around to it yet.

  15. Awesome playthrough! Did you ever encounter a 'enterprise' like galaxy starship? I remember it hand the saucer and nacels with blue bio life in the center of the saucer and energy readings in the nacels? I tried communicating but no answer. Maybe it's appearance was Easter egg enough. I ended up destroying it, I was 12-14 or so, but I always wondered if there was more to it? Just curious, thanks!

    1. I feel like someone else told me about it, but no, I never encountered it. That would have been cool.

  16. Nostalgia! I didn't play DOS version though, but rather SNES one. It seems to have the same plot, but graphics was better.

    Anyway, found your post out of curiosity of whether there was a way to communicate Uhleks, I remember I thought I had to find an artifact, or something. So now I just downloaded StarFlight ROM, and printed all the text it has with `strings Starflight\ \(USA,\ Europe\).md > text`, and read trough. I found many interesting, debug strings in particular. And I notice many strings repeating, i.e. those "REPAIRED" words, so the team weren't probably the best coders in the galaxy :Ь

    What's important, I can confirm that I found nothing resembling speech of Uhleks, so there seems to be no way to communicate with them.

    1. Yep. The Uhleks attack and that is it. Their weapons and shields are better than the best you can get as well, so they are quiet deadly!

  17. I'm sure someone has already mentioned this, but Star Control seems to owe a big debt to this game.

  18. Having played this game extensively when it first came out I can tell you:

    1. The Mysterions are the ships that look like the OG Star Trek Enterprise looking ships.

    2. The Uhleks won't talk to you. They'll attack you on sight. Land on their homeworld and leave a black egg there. They'll be removed from the game.

    3. The spherical ships with the race that speaks in binary works for the ancients. They are the ones flaring the stars.

    4. You can get along with the Thrynn but they are not a nice people. They pay well for unique items but honestly, don't trade with them. The items are super valuable and irreplaceable.

    5. The game was very meta. It often alluded to a city of ancients. The exact landing coordinates were printed on the box (more like a sleeve really) that the game came in.

    6. Don't give the Velox the item you get at Harrison's base. It is a cloaking device and incredibly useful.

    7. Blowing up the crystal planet effectively ends the game. Mine it for all its worth. Ancients be damned!


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