|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 are 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?