Monday, July 11, 2011

Star Command: Making the Galaxy Safe for Democracy

And I will not be burning it for fuel.

Star Command is a fun, fast-paced, uncomplicated, and delightful little game that came along just when I needed it. I'm spending the week in one of my least favorite cities--let's just say it's in the southeastern U.S. to avoid upsetting any of my readers--where it's 100+ every day this week. I've been returning to my hotel room at night after hours of teaching, exhausted, with less than an hour to devote to fun things, and if I had to face Sentinel Worlds during that hour...well, I wouldn't. I'd just watch TV, and you'd all be waiting until next week for the next posting.

Star Command is apparently not big on "due process."

After my triumph in my first mission yesterday, I immediately headed to headquarters and got another one, to defeat five transports of criminals circling a planet within the Triangle. I decided to postpone this and just explore a little of the galaxy outside the Triangle first. So after upgrading some of my ship's weapons and buying more armor, I headed out. This turned out to be a mistake. First of all, fuel decreases fast as you explore the galaxy, and until I get a bigger ship, I can't go very far from a starport. Second, there's some mean, mean stuff in the area outside the Triangle.

The pre-combat screen tells you a little about the terrain you're fighting on and what you're facing.

I had some luck exploring planets and retrieving artifacts and biospecimens for later sale (although it turns out you don't really get much money for either). But in the midst of my explorations, I was attacked on a planet by hordes of "insect hatchlings." This was my first experience in squad-based combat (as opposed to space combat), and it was fairly interesting. You begin each combat with a "communications phase" in which your codebreaker or psychic tries to speak to the enemy. If this fails, you go into a tactical combat screen. The game tells you what squares represent good offensive positions, which ones represent good defensive positions, and how many squads of enemies you face. You maneuver around this combat screen, engaging with heavy or light weapons (some neat animation associated with this), until one of you is dead.

This is the best depiction of a flamethrower yet seen in a CRPG.

Unfortunately, it was me. I faced far too many enemies to even hope to win, even though I enjoyed watching my characters mow them down with flamethrowers. Lesson learned: stay in the Triangle until I'm stronger. There are other combat variables associated with gravity and atmosphere that I still have to learn.

So far, lots of armor has saved my ship from serious damage in combat.

Reloading, I went out to perform the mission. I found the group of five transports after exploring several planets in the system, and I defeated them all in a very satisfying round of space combat. I had trained a couple of my characters in astro-gunnery, and I had spent money outfitting every angle of my ship with one weapon or another. This allowed me to shoot at enemies no matter what direction they came at me from.

And when you defeat ships, they don't disappear, but rather disperse into chunks.

After my victory, I returned to the starport for more rewards, promotions, and training. Training and leveling are quite satisfying in the game. You gain one training session for every mission that you complete, and you can purchase additional sessions for 200,000 gold, meaning--and this is a big thing for me--you never run out of reasons to make money. Each training session raises one chosen statistic by 1-10 points, and it also raises a skill by a half or whole point. There seems to be some randomness associated with this, but it's partly based on the character's intelligence score. I don't know if this is a good strategy or not, but I've decided to have each character specialize in one or two skills instead of trying to create "well-rounded" characters that have lots of skills.


I've been saving my money for a new ship, so I didn't buy much in the way of upgrades. My third mission asked me to visit a planet just outside the Triangle where some miners were being hassled by pirates. When I encountered the pirates, they were in just one ship, so I took the opportunity to close with it and board:


The shipboard combat screen was just like the planet-based squad combat, only with tables and chairs instead of rocks and trees. This time, I won handily and towed the defeated ship back to base for some nice salvage.


There are three things that I really like about this game so far:

1. "The Triangle" helps define a fairly small section of the galaxy, from which you can explore in relative safety. This makes it easy to ease in to the game. Contrast with Sentinel Worlds, where you start in the middle of combat.

2. There seems to be a lot of freedom of movement. You can take missions or just start exploring. If you do go exploring, there are lots of things to do, from fighting pirates and aliens to exploring planets. The exploration isn't as detailed or nuanced as Sentinel Worlds (or even Starflight), but it's still fun.

To the hypotenuse...and beyond!

3. The missions are really well-constructed to introduce you each gameplay element in turn. I know there's a lot more to come because I can buy espionage equipment and environmental suits and such. I haven't even experimented with chemical weapons or explosives or my "Esper" abilities. But the game eases you into its complexities instead of throwing them all at you at once.

4. Completing missions (at least so far) is fairly fast-paced and immediately rewarding with money (I keep writing "gold" and having to delete it) and training.


Again, a perfect game to play for short bursts of time. To the extent that I post any more this week, it'll probably be about Star Command exclusively.

26 comments:

  1. Kellandros:

    The different weapon skills you can train just cover different weapon types:

    - Light weapons are generally single target attacks; also do lesser damage.
    - Explosive and chemical weapons attack an entire enemy group, so could damage everyone in those five insect worker groups you saw.
    - Heavy weapons generally all hit full groups as well. Some are machine gun, hitting random people in each group; rockets act like explosives.
    - Hand to hand weapons require you to be adjacent to the enemy, and do respectable damage.

    Enemies are represented by their weapon- claw for melee, thin blue gun for laser(light/single target), wide white launcher for rockets, and yellow nozzle for flamethrower.

    When your characters get hit in combat, your current ammunition can be blown up or your weapon damaged; so its recommended to keep something for backup. Of course you can do this to the enemy as well...

    Don't forget to use distance and the bonus terrain to your advantage; range is probably further than you think. You can also try backing away to try to keep the enemy out of range; especially if you can get something impassible between you and them.

    Gravity and atmosphere only affect fatigue in combat- you'll notice in a longer fight occasionally you hit a round where your character 'rests' and can't do anything. Encumbrance also makes you have to rest more often, so watch your weight limits. If the atmosphere is not breathable and you lack the full set of environmental gear, you will end up having to rest almost every other turn. Also, if you don't move your full distance, it cuts down how often rest rounds happen.

    ------------------
    Fuel costs 5 points for each square you travel; I can't remember if you can have it cost extra. Each class of ship larger holds 100 more units of fuel. When you scan down and move between stars and planets it will occasionally use up a unit of fuel; you don't get the out of fuel message until you end up back at the normal sector view. The plus side is you might find a planet that sells fuel, or run into a ship that you can either demand fuel from or board and capture.

    Not sure how much you have messed with planet exploring yet. The stuff you can find is a combination of the planet type and the technology level. Everything you collect can be sold off in a starport.

    On any planet you can do scientific exploration that will get you primitive resources. On low tech worlds you might find primitive technology or art. (I always remember the ambulatory fungus).

    The trade option will either offer to sell you something or state a specific item is needed. If you have that item, they will specify a price they are willing to pay. Once you sell them that, you can try immediately trading again and find some new product they wouldn't otherwise sell you.

    It was too time consuming for me, but potentially you could build a spreadsheet of collected items and their starport sell prices. Then you could identify sectors and planets that had each one, and places that wanted to buy each item and what they would offer. I ended up building a quick list useful planet coordinates for later reference(like refueling spots to stretch out my travel distance).

    Espionage missions let you collect unique artifacts(each type of life has a specific set) that are worth more money when you get back to starport. I think this is tied to the mission progress, as you will reach points where nothing new can be found. The downsides are this can only be done on high-tech worlds, and the locals tend to be hostile.

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  2. I remember what your favorite city is!
    Catch some jazz for us, Addict ;-)

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  3. Glad to hear your enjoying Star Command

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  4. Great coverage, I was looking forward to this game. My feelings are: Sentinel Worlds sounds (and looks) interesting, while Star Command sounds plain great. I remember reading a short review of the game on a magazine ages ago, it sounded good back then too. Great to learn more about it! I hope I have the chance some time to try the game myself.

    --Eino

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  5. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to start in the year 2005 or so. You will never complete your quest to play all PC RPG's otherwise. You'll have the added bonus of graphics actually worth looking at.

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  6. Damian, he may find better graphics but he may also find it harder and harder to find game play worth playing as the years advance.

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  7. Yup, the nineties is where the meat's at. From 2000 on, it pretty much only goes downhill.

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  8. @trudodyr:
    It depends on whether or not he chooses to include indies, perhaps limiting them to either ones you have to pay for and/or not made with a toolset like RPGMaker.

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  9. I, Giauz, haven't been able to sign in for weeks not to mention the internets eating my posts either while typing or during submission.

    Just wanted to let you know this is still my favorite website. Anyway, glad this game is going good for you. Also, wanted to say that you forgot to put my name in PoR, so I hope you will do that for a sword-user in Magic Candle.

    PS: Don't give up on Lost Odyssey if you can bear the beginning you had trouble with. There are tons of usefull tactical options as the game progresses, and the characters and lore in the dreams can be quite compelling.

    Finally, hope you are still considering giving Final Fantasy 3 (NES 1990) a try (hope you find it as charming as I did).

    -Giauz

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  10. This game has always had a spot in my heart. It was one of the first games my Dad brought home for our PC(the other was a hybrid text parser called Star Trek: First Contact that has nothing to do with the film that came out decades later).

    Never originally got very far into it, because could never figure out how to leave the starport once everything was set up; sadly it wasn't until a year or two later finally realized that you had to fuel the ship first. Navigating through the menus is second nature now at least; I can still remember the cadences to grind out extra money from the repeatable event early on.

    But once that was reached, spent quite a while on this game. Probably end up playing this again at least every 5 years or so. And last week decided to take a look through the manual again, and found a lot of information in there I didn't remember; it actually explained the mechanics of the stats and skills pretty well.

    I've been trying to avoid spoilers, but did want to ask the other people who have played through this heavily.

    Keeping this in general terms: Do you know if there were any easter eggs or hidden sites that were not a part of the mission structure? I keep wishing for a cheat option of unlimited fuel and no random encounters to just explore the whole galaxy.

    If I wasn't still in the process of moving, I'd be starting a new play-through. Probably would have to add some sort of imposed challenge on myself; then again I doubt I have the patience to spend a week just boarding and capturing ships before even finishing the first mission anymore.

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  11. I love your blog and always look forward to new posts! It's fantastic to read your playthroughs of all these classic RPGs.

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  12. I'm starting to go through cRPGAddict withdrawl and am attempting to finsh a playthrough of Wizardry I myself. It's just not the same though :(

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  13. I know what you mean Raifield. I didn't want to be the first one to say it but if we don't have an update soon we should send a rescue party. Who else around here is a high enough level to help me find addict and bring him back to the temple?

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  14. I've been playing through the new Wizardry game for the PS3. Disappointing, to say the least; what a shallow game world :(

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  15. I've been playing this game for a while now and thought I make some comments.

    Firstly, the manual leaves something to be desired.
    There is no pictures, only descriptions of the various screens.
    Radiation is not explained - how it works and how you can heal it. One of my guys were the victim of radiation, but my medic was not able (or nor skilled or lucky enough?) to heal him. He did not take any more damage while walking inside a complex, so I forgot about him while traveling back to base and he died on the way. I assume he could have been treated in the sickbay if I'd kept him alive?

    I found a reference site that makes the tables for all the items you can buy easier to read - http://pastebin.com/mvVcREQg.

    I've seen people advicing that you should wait with completing missions to get more money. Personally I think that it's better to complete the easy ones ASAP to train up your characters as much as possible, since better stats and skills help.

    Apart from completing missions, the best way to earn money is to board pirate ships. Spying on high tech worlds may sometimes yield a nice amount of money, but has a high risk of hostile encounters. Scientific surveys have a smaller chance of encounters, but the profits are rather pitiful. Trading is for the really desperate - only worth it to find planets that sell fuel.
    You don't get any XP, money or items from squad fights. Instead you lose HP, ammo and risk damaging or destroying equipment. So squad fights outside of boarding ships and exploring "complexes" are not really worth it.

    Apart from space combat (which is more fun than in a game like Starflight) and encounters on planets, there's also the possibility to explore "complexes", like for example other space stations or pirates' hideouts. This is the most CRPG like part of the game and where it is most obvious that this game was made by the same guys that made the Phantasie games.

    All in all a nice game, but the UI is rather clunky. The game appears to have mouse support, but there doesn't seem to be anything to do with the mouse...
    On the plus side the Amiga version that I'm playing has support for using two disk drives.

    I'm surprised the game is not better known, since it's not a bad game. It's not as epic as Starflight or as tactical as Pool of Radiance, but it probably had the largest list of stuff you could buy in any game when it was released. So those who loves spreadsheets should like it.

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  16. What the hell happened to the long message that I posted?!?

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  17. PetrusOctavianus, sometimes blogger put posts into internet customs screening to see if your a spammer or not.

    I Don't mind the pat down but it would be nice if they told you what was going on so you would know what is happening when you type something up and then disappear.

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  18. UbAh, thanks for explanation.
    Seems my post made it though the "internet customs" since it's back now.

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  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  20. No problem glad to be of service.

    It helps that I am some kind of wizard!

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  21. But even my power can not allow me to edit my blogger comment...

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  22. I wish there was something I could do about the posting issues. A lot of people complain about posting and then losing everything, too. But I'm not going to switch blog platforms after 18 months, so the best I can suggest is that people compose their entries in Notepad and paste them into Blogger to ensure they have a backup.

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    1. Notepad++ is quite nice, and free. I highly recommend it as a basic text editor.

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    2. I always ctrl-a ctrl-c, copy everything, that way if something goes wrong I have a backup in clipboard!

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  23. I hope you will finish this game eventually. My own playthrough came to a grinding halt when the Amiga version I used bugged out on me. I was nearing the end of the game and only had 2-3 missions left I think, when I left a "complex" and the game hung.

    In hindsight I wish I had played the DOS version because it actually has better graphics (apart from the title screen) than the Amiga version. On the DOS version the enemy pics are animated; on the Amiga version they are not. I didn't think that was possible in 1988. All in all the Amiga version seems to have been only an afterthough that was not even play tested, since some screens flash by so fast it's hard to read them. "Did it say Privateers or Pirates?"
    So anyone else thinking of playing this oldie: use the DOS version!

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  24. Star Command has to be my favorite CRPG of all time that I basically never made any real progress in. I would get as far as clearing out the Pirates' hideout station, and even upgrade my ship enough to be able to defeat things near the safe triangle, but every time I got into hand-to-hand combat I would get completely wiped out, and eventually that drained on me. Of course even from reading these few halting postings it has become apparent I should have tried to just NOT DO THAT and stick to space, haha.

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