Saturday, May 19, 2012

Star Command: May Day

Hey. I think this comment is referring to my ship.
I woke up this morning to find a beautiful spring day in Massachusetts. As I lay in my bed, looking out the window, seeing the sunshine streaming through the trees, I felt an intense desire to get up and play Star Command. This is good news for my blog, but bad news for my weight and tan. Meanwhile, if it's a normal weekend, you're all doing better than I am: data I exported from Google Analytics shows that my traffic is highest on Monday, and it drops steadily throughout the week, reaching a nadir on Saturday. I trust your abdomens and skin tones are outperforming mine.

I continue to be generally happy with Star Command even though it's become a lot more difficult and I end up reloading a lot. It balances the main quest--organized in a series of missions--with random exploration in a way that's rare for...well, I was going to say "for the era," but it's really rare for any era. I think games like Might & Magic, Morrowind, and Baldur's Gate, in which almost all the game maps are ready for exploration at the outset, are generally outnumbered by games like Icewind Dale, Wizardry, and Diablo in which you have to move progressively through the areas. I don't want to oversell Star Command by comparing it to that previous list of games because there's not very much in the areas that you can explore, but I still like having a large galaxy to explore at my leisure. 

The CRPG Addict is not dumb enough to do this for real. I just wanted to see what would happen.

This facet of Star Command is also important because, as an anonymous commenter first told me last year, it's a good idea not to hurry back to base after you complete a mission. Your crew gets paid based on rank and the amount of time since they embarked on the mission, so returning after three months gives you triple the salary as returning after one month. In a game where the economy is vital, this can make a big difference.

But hanging out in space also has its dangers. Primary among them is running out of fuel, an extremely costly endeavor that usually results in one or more dead crewmembers. Every scientific or espionage visit to a planet can result in fatal ground combat with the locals. Every sector you explore increases the chances of encountering pirate ships or aliens. For each mission I've completed, I've died several times while dithering around before returning to base--and since base is the only place you can save, that means repeating the missions.

The missions in this game are easy to grasp.
The missions have been varied and interesting. After the initial three, I was asked to leave the immediate area of "the Triangle" to report back on a pirate base. The base was presented similar to the indoor areas of Phantasie (another SSI game), with the map slowly revealing itself as you explored, and with special encounters in certain rooms. Within the base, I found notes about a bar at one set of coordinates and a refueling point at another set. There was a vault in the lower right-hand corner that, maddeningly, opened with my lockpick on my first visit, but refused to open with any of my lockpicks or torches when I died and had to do the base again.

Rose brandy. What an abomination.
The base also threw a lot of melee combats at me, and I'm still not quite versed enough in them to describe them thoroughly. I'll try to give you some basics for now. You can face up to five parties of up to five opponents each, and each combat begins with a quick screen that summarizes the tactical scenario you're about to face:

I guess "defensive areas" are things you can hide behind, and "offensive areas" are places where you can get a better shot.

The game hasn't been shy about sending me against impossible odds on one trip, only to give me much easier combats upon death and reloading, so there must be a lot of randomness to their difficulty. Each round consists of a communications phase (in which you can surrender or try to get them to surrender), a movement phase, and a combat phase. Chief among the things I don't understand is why some of my characters aren't able to attack during a round.

A simple combat in boring terrain (a corridor) against four pirate mutants.
I learned the hard way that I want to keep a couple of backup weapons with me, because they have an annoying habit of breaking in the middle of combat, requiring the use of a repair kit (if I have one) or a return trip to starport.

Returning to the base, I was rewarded for the intelligence I had collected and was given a new mission to destroy two pirate scouts that had followed me from the base. Before I did that, however, I decided to check out the refueling point that I'd been told about I was immediately set upon by four pirate ships. I took them out in a masterful display of tactical maneuvering. When I got to the planet, though, my rockets wouldn't penetrate the shields of the much-more-difficult pirate sloop, so I flew up next to it, docked with it, and surprised myself by winning the melee combat. It was worth $1,570 in salvage, and I got other credits for the other pirates I'd defeated. Unfortunately, I never did find any way to refuel there.

Thanks to Pirates!, I know what a sloop ship is.

I decided at this point to complete the assigned mission. Not only did I find the two pirate scouts, I intercepted the transmission of another pirate named "Skullface" who gave the coordinates of his base.

I defeated Skullface and his companion after a very long battle in which I used most of my ammunition and nearly died. Returning to base, I got my new mission: to go to the base and destroy the pirate Blackbeard.

But after the battle, it was fairly clear to me that I seriously need to upgrade my ship, arms, and armor, but I lack anywhere near the amount of cash to do it. I've been hovering at about $15,000. Better missile weapons run around $40,000, and the next best ship I want costs around $150,000. It looks like it's time to grind. Fortunately, I have a project to work on as I do so. I realized that to properly record my discoveries in the galaxy, I need to be mapping. There are 1,024 sectors in the game (1,1 through 32,32); think I'll get them all before the game is over?


  1. I've never played this game before, but it sounds interesting. I look forward to seeing how you approach it and whether or not it improves or goes stale as you progress.

    1. Not stale yet, but it's getting so difficult I feel I must have done something wrong somewhere.

  2. Hello, my name is Bob and I read the crpg addict blog on weekends. I remember when I put 500 units of fuel into my ship in Star Control 2, cool music playing in the background as I filled'er up! I love an open world too, but sometimes the world is semi open, you can go where ever you want, but sometimes there are places you can't get to because you don't have the right tools yet, for instance you might need a hookshot to get over an abyss or a horse to be able to jump over a fence.

  3. Hmm...I don't remember the game being particularly difficult, nor requiring any grinding.

    But I think you need to grab every opportunity to board ships. IIRC that is what you earn most money on.
    Also, you should get a nice economic boost if you found Blackbeard's treasury at his base.

    1. I was figuring out that ships were probably my best solution, but I'm starting to worry about aging now.

  4. Quick combat rundown- the number in [ ] next to the name is fatigue level - when it hits zero that character has to rest and can't attack. Its based upon a few different things- lots of movement draws it down quicker, being unable to breathe in the current atmosphere(really bad), carrying more weight than your max capacity all make it drop faster.

    Offensive terrain: +25% bonus to hit and also to being hit
    Defensive: -25% to hit and being hit

    So you could aim in one terrain then move when ready to fire back.
    You can make multiple trips back to the space station to crack the vault by brute force still. You can also try using your guns on it I believe, but that could use a lot of ammunition(I like the Needler for that).

    Or keep a supply of torches in your ship inventory.
    Like you saw with the pirate sloop, lots of little guns don't help that much against heavy shields on a big ship.

    Don't forget your small ship is faster and harder to hit- bigger ships will start getting slower and have less base defense bonus.

    And have you looked at all the different types of defenses your ship can carry? 'Defensive hardware' gives you a straight avoidance bonus; missile killers have a chance to intercept incoming non-beam attacks. I think shields reduce the damage taken per attack.

    And you saw boarding makes a nice way to avoid having to compete with heavier armed ships directly.

    It looks like you noticed the differences between the various ships within each class (generally defense bonus and cargo capacity), good eye.
    As for money, most ways to get it will be pretty slow.

    Have you considered doing your exploring/grinding before actually starting the mission? That way you can still return to Starport to heal, repair, sell, and save.

    If you are wandering from planet to planet, make sure to do scientific investigations, then make sure to sell from your ships cargo all you collected; not much money but some.

    Generally, trading is unlikely to make you money- at least unless you want to build a database of the cheapest place to buy every good other places might want. And then your profit margin per transaction will still be under 100 credits per cargo. But if you do deliver a good a planet 'needs', they will have something new they are willing to sell on that visit(subsequent visits back to needing 'Dirty Rags' or such.

    For ships, you get paid a bounty based on weight of ship destroyed (think 20x tonnage) and a bonus for boarding and capturing (~10x). In the ship view menu, under computer, you can see the list of what ships you are currently towing (up to 9 at a time, regardless of size: bring back a full fleet of sloops :) ). I believe there is a bug where the heaviest enemy ship you could destroy or capture is only worth a tenth of what it should be.

    Have you started exploring Beta sector yet? The insects are also a threat, but somewhat less dangerous than pirates right now.

    Marine skill Scouting/Recon reduces the likelyhood of being attacked on a planet- plus you can normally run to the edge of the screen and escape in 2 turns. Higher skill lets you see them coming, and have the ambush to avoid or have a surprise round.

    What weapons are most efficient for cost? Look at how many rounds per clip, number of targets that could be hit, and listed damage. If you are expending ammunition equal to half the reward for killing or capturing a ship, will it earn you much money? Relatedly though, bigger missles/guns/explosions/etc. are more likely to kill something faster (take less damage from return fire, fewer shots needed).

    1. Thanks for all of this, Kellandros. You helped clarify things I didn't understand about melee combat and fatigue. (I DID read the manual, but there's a lot to absorb.)

  5. One more quick thing- the only rewards you get for ground combat are a few credits- basically what they are carrying as loose change. The only exception is ship boarding- you have to fight to the death(with no escape), and you get to take their ship and fuel when you win.

    And there is no experience/XP in this game from combat- you only get to improve characters from training after completing missions.

    So feel free to run away constantly- it is much safer and faster.

  6. Kel's comments make me want to play. Scouting/Recon sounds vital to strategic advantage in selecting when to fight and fighting on your terms. Interesting that the game is mostly about capturing other ships. Sounds like YOU are the pirate. Or perhaps it's a space version of the game Pirates (which came first?) where a Letter of Marque legitimizes your plundering.

    1. Pirates! came first. In this game, you don't get credit for killing innocent ships, so it's not quite the same thing, but you're right that there are definite analogs.

  7. I remember the easiest way to make money in Majora's Mask, outside the Swamp Shooting Gallery there was a ledge with bushes that contained many rupees, just quickly jump in and out the building and the bushes are reset. You can quickly grind and get 500 rupees which, if I remember correctly, was the most you could hold. Majora's Mask had a bank in it where you could deposit money, Pool of Radiance could have used that.

    Speaking about grinding, isn't that what makes rpgs rpgs in the first place? And isn't that pretty much all you do in World of Warcraft? Although I havn't played it myself.

    1. Are you really talking about the same game? Not doubting you, but I'll be surprised of a shooting gallery and rupees play a part in Star Command.

    2. No shooting gallery :)

      He's just trying to draw a parallel to Majora's Mask.

      You could just spend a while exploring the triangle, doing science explorations and selling off what you collect. No risk, but slow reward.

    3. Oh, I see. I was thinking "Majora's Mask" was a bar on some planet somewhere. Dumb. Just got up.

    4. I was just reminiscing old memories that come to mind when speaking about grinding, sorry if I caused confusion. Well good luck on grinding, I hope you get enough to by some cool stuff.

    5. When I was grinding for money in Majora's Mask, I'd usually just kill Takkuri over and over (the bird that steals your sword). He drops 200 rupees a time.

    6. Why not just grab the chest in town for 100 with no fight?

  8. I've got my next blog post re: The Magic Candle up:

    I generally read your blog as posts go up, with an additional check for new posts if I see you replying to comments in my email.

    1. Damn, quite a lot of stuff! I've got a Commodore 1702 monitor that I bought for an Atari 800XL, but I keep thinking I should buy a C128 or something instead.

    2. Someone just gave us a new C64 monitor last night! We've not bought any of this stuff since the C64 was new.

  9. Though from reading the next post I realize you do start to make headway with the difficulty, I remember the only reason I was ever able to get a good start going in the early part of this game was by keeping a backup of whatever file had the special area contents on it and then replacing the "un-visited" version of Blackbeard's base to get the 50,000 credits again ... and doing that a dozen more times or so. I think I tried to be """reasonable""" with my cheating and just buy the next level ship to make things easier. But the game certainly stayed hard enough to dissuade me from ever getting past the "start getting missions far away from Triangle Space" phase.

    Still one of my favorite SPACE! games ever, though, along with Lightspeed/Hyperspeed, Space Rogue, and the first Mass Effect.


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