Friday, April 26, 2019

Star Control II: We'll Have to Destroy Them Ship-to-Ship

The ship stood no chance.
For me, Star Control II's combat system is the most difficult and disappointing element of the game, and yet I recognize that it isn't "bad." To the contrary, it was a genius idea to take the ship-to-ship combat of Star Control and embed it in in a world with a complex, developing story. I'm struggling to think of any other series that has done the same thing--that started with a game that was good at principally one thing, then made a sequel that preserved that element but within the context of a much more expansive experience.

I'm simply not any good at this kind of gameplay. I'm not really good at anything that requires quick reactions, which I suppose is why I've never played any competitive sports. (There was a time I could have buried 99% of you at pool, but I wouldn't consider that a "sport.") Back in the early 2000s, it became fashionable among the young men in my office to play a couple of hours of Team Fortress or Counterstrike after work (to be honest, there were times we were flexible about the "after" part). I really enjoyed those sessions, but I was always last in the standings. 

I certainly don't mind a little action in RPG combat, mostly because in a true RPG, you can compensate for a player's weakness with character buffs, healing, and so forth. In fact, in an open world RPG (where combat and exploration are integrated), combat often becomes extremely strategic despite its action-oriented nature. You just have to carefully choose your approach and terrain, and use options like traps, stealth, explosives, summoning, leading two hostile enemies into each other, and so forth. 
Is there a gameplay method by which a player could literally destroy all those ships instead of doing things the diplomatic way?
But there are no such options in Star Control II. When combat begins, your two ships appear on a field of stars, and there's nothing but you and your reactions. Thus, I end up reloading a lot. Things are worse whenever combat begins near a planet. The planet's gravity well exerts an influence on the ships, but not in any way that seems to me consistent or predictable, particularly when your ship changes screens. The planet itself isn't always visible, but when it does appear, you have to struggle not to bonk into it, and trying to fly directly away from it almost never works. You're trying to figure all this out, of course, while the enemy is shooting at you.

The only tactic you get is the choice of ship, which makes a huge difference in the difficulty of combat, particularly for someone like me. Your choice of ship depends heavily on the enemy, of course, which requires taking careful notes about each enemy and what it can do. If you're facing off against an enemy with weapons of limited range, you want to choose a ship with long-range options. If the enemy is slow and cumbersome, you want something lithe and maneuverable. If the enemy's ship has only a few hit points, maybe it's best to choose a ship with a lot of hit points (like your flagship) and be willing to absorb a little damage while you wait for a one-shot opportunity.

Once selected, your choice of ship is difficult to change. You can hit ESC to warp out of combat, but it takes a few seconds, and the enemy can often destroy you in those few seconds. Of course, if your ship is destroyed, you get an option to choose a different one, but then you've lost the crew and have to re-build the ship back at the starbase.

During this session, I found myself facing a regular Ur-Quan dreadnought. The ship has devastating cannons, but with a relatively short range. Its secondary attack is to launch mini-fighters that bombard you like gnats, but they're relatively easy to out-run. Since I had saved the game just before the encounter, I took some time to grade the performance of each of my ships against the dreadnought. (Instead of saving and reloading, there's also a separate program that lets you practice combats; I used this a little but found the bouts annoying to set up.) These were the results:

1. The Earth Cruiser. It was promising at first. The ship's main attack is a homing missile that, if shot from far away and on a reasonably straight path towards the target, almost always hits. I'd had a lot of success with it against the VUX, which have limited-range attacks. But the ship is slow and hard to maneuver, and it's a nightmare to pilot when the gravity well of a planet is nearby to muck things up. Its secondary attack, point defense lasers, rely on proximity to the target, which is a bad idea with the Ur-Quan. C.
The cruiser scores a hit, but it lacks enough maneuverability to get out of the way of the incoming Ur-Quan shot.
2. The Orz Nemesis. This is a relatively fast ship with a mid-range cannon. It became much more useful once Wonko instructed me how to rotate the cannon so you can fire it from the rear. Since the Nemesis cannon has a greater range than the Ur-Quan cannons, I could turn my tail to the dreadnought and keep him just in range of my own weapons, although actually hitting him required a precision in aiming that I was rarely able to achieve. The best part about the Orz Nemesis is the secondary attack, which fires a pod containing a "space marine" who latches onto the enemy ship, boards, and kills as many crew members as possible before getting killed himself. (Basically, it's a missile that costs you one crew member and does a variable amount of damage.) The Ur-Quan fighters nibbled away at my hit points, but I was able to prevail 2 times out of 3. B.
The Nemesis stays out of range while firing its cannon to the rear.
3 The Pkunk Fury. This was a horrible choice for the dreadnought. Although the main weapon shoots out of three sides (which helps someone like me), it has an extremely limited range, so you have to bring it close to the enemy, and "close" is a bad idea with an enemy like this. When the batteries run dry, you have to mash the secondary attack option to re-charge them (the option for some reason casts audible insults at the enemy). The only benefit is that when it's destroyed, it is sometimes resurrected. D.

4. The Zot-Fot-Pik Stinger. Not only was it useless against the dreadnought, I can't imagine the ship ever being useful for anything. Its only benefit is speed and maneuverability, but its weapon is weak and its range is laughably short. The secondary attack just seems to fire a laser beam so small that you'd have to be within boarding range of the enemy for it to hit. F.

5. The Ariloulaleelay Skiff. Flying this one is weird. It has no inertia, so you have to hold down the thrust button constantly. It's very maneuverable, and its main weapon is an auto laser that aims itself, which is nice, but it dies in one hit from the dreadnought and probably any other ship. C.

6. The Spathi Eluder. As others have pointed out, sometimes this ship almost makes it too easy. The ship's secondary attack, BUTT missiles, have a decent range and do a great job homing in on the enemy. You can even arc them around other obstacles. The ship is fast and agile, and it's easy enough to stay just outside the Ur-Quan's range while you fire off bursts of missiles. A.
The Spathi does its best to "elude" the enemy while firing its rear missiles.
7. The Flagship. There are no universals because its strengths and weaknesses depend heavily on what you buy. The ship's primary advantage is that at a full crew complement, it can really take a beating. I have trouble aiming the cannons, but as long as I'm willing to temporarily forget that my hit points are really people, I can usually wait around long enough to fire at just the right moment. Against the Ur-Quan specifically, it wasn't a great option because the dreadnought also has a lot of hit points, and the main weakness of the flagship is that if it's destroyed, the game is over. B.
Going nose-to-nose was a bad idea.
By the end of this trial, I was feeling pretty good about my developing skills and knowledge base, but later I was reminded that you have to essentially repeat this process with every ship you encounter. The next "new" enemy I fought was the Mycon podship, and the thing absolutely devastated me. Most of my strategies revolve around not having to be very quick, but you can't go that route with the Mycon because they're capable of generating new crew members (growing them from spores, I guess) in the middle of combat. Their homing missiles are tough to dodge. I was unable to reliably defeat them with any ship and eventually had to flee combat.

As this session began, I had just dealt with the Slylandro probes once and for all. (I met a few more before they disappeared entirely, but I had destruction codes to transmit.) I was on my way back to the Ariloulaleelay in "quasi-space" hoping that they'd give me a "portal spawner," which would let me enter quasi-space from anywhere in hyperspace instead of just the one weak point. I hoped this would make travel faster and less costly in terms of fuel. In fact, I was counting on it, because I didn't have nearly enough fuel to get back to Earth as it was.

Well, I was in luck. The Ariloulaleelay gave me the spawner.
This is true, but it uses nothing while in quasi-space itself.
It took me a while to figure out how quasi-space works. You always enter at coordinates 500,500. Exit points surround you. The exit points seem to have no correlation with the positions at which they dump you in hyperspace. I spent a lot of wasted time trying to figure out a formula, but it seems instead that you have to simply try each quasi-space exit and record where you land. I ultimately did that, but because entering quasi-space takes 10 fuel units, and I was down to 32, I had to reload a bit.

Eventually, I found that the quasi-space exit at 492,492 took me to hyperspace/true space coordinates 191,93, which are pretty close to Earth. I stopped at Alpha Centauri on the way and met with the Melnorme, selling some accumulated bio-scans for technology that helps defend my lander against the life forms it encounters. I had just enough credits left for a little information, and they told me that the Pkunk are an offshoot of the Yehat. This ended up being somewhat timely.
A starmap of quasi-space. All the exits are clustered together in the center.
Back at the starbase, Commander Hayes told me that the Ariloulaleelay had joined us and given some of their ships and ship schematics. My fleet of attached ships was now full with the addition of two Ariloulaleelay Skiffs. He also related that there had been a hyperspace disturbance near the edge of Pkunk space, as if hundreds of ships had entered hyperspace at once.

Some of my commenters have mentioned checking the starmap repeatedly. As you meet new species, circles appear on the map showing the species' relative territories. What I didn't realize until this session is that those circles can move. In this case, they showed the Pkunk territory swiftly moving "eastward," towards the VUX and Yehat, though for some reason the Yehat weren't marked on my map.
The status around the beginning of this session.
I flew down to see what they were up to. It didn't take me long to find a Pkunk vessel in the Ptoloemae constellation. They had decided "our Yehat siblings are in need of our love and good counsel" and that they intended to sail to Yehat space and "greet our Yehat brethren with warm hugs of affection." I knew how that would go, but they wouldn't listen to me until I told them that I'd consulted a Ouija board and it spoke poorly about the timing of this voyage. The alarmed Pkunk agreed to return home and read the signs once again.
This part was a bit alarming.
After this, it was time to return to my "to do" list. The next item was to visit the Spathi homeworld, for which I had exact coordinates. Giving the password supplied by my Spathi ally, Fwiffo, it wasn't long before I was talking with the High Council. I asked them to ally with me, but they quite frankly admitted that they were "too afraid of the Ur-Quan to consider such an alliance." When I pressed them by boasting about my own strength, they said they'd join if I would rid their home planet of the "Evil Ones."
The aliens in this game are often goofy, but you can't deny that they have a certain consistency of characterization.
A little backstory followed: the Spathi used to be somewhat dormant, lazy mollusks living on the planet Spathiwa. But eventually a race of carnivores evolved on the same planet, and they apparently liked eating mollusks. The Spathi "fled across oceans, from continent to continent, but the Evil Ones always followed." Eventually, they fled off-planet, to their own moon, and abandoned Spathiwa to the carnivores. They wanted me to visit the planet and get rid of them.
Zapping the "Evil Ones."
Despite the absurdity of scooping up an entire race in my lander, it wasn't hard. The "Evil Ones" turned out to be lemur-looking things that didn't even move. I collected them all and returned to the High Council, which expressed gratitude and said they'd begin moving back to the planet immediately--but then almost immediately reneged on joining the Alliance. I had to threaten to release the Evil Ones from stasis to compel them to keep up their end of the bargain.
The Spathi concede to my Alliance.
During the conversation, they mentioned that they'd taken a HyperWave Caster from the Umgah--presumably the same one that the Umgah had been using to impersonate the Ilwrath gods and convince the Ilwrath to attack the Pkunk. I had made a bungled visit to Umgah space hoping to secure this device. But I got no dialogue or other options that would have allowed me to obtain the Caster from my new allies.

Dialogue with the Spathi also revealed the existence of yet another species, the Thraddash, "a weak and obnoxious race from the Draconis group of stars." I had a note to visit Draconis to see about an un-aligned species, so that was useful intelligence.

My next stop was Vela I, the Precursor world where I'd grown up, which I visited thanks to the completely innocent suggestion by commenter Viila that my folks might be wondering what happened to me. When I arrived, I was dismayed to find a red shield around the planet, plus an Ur-Quan dreadnought guarding it in orbit. A brief dialogue conveyed what I already suspected: the Ur-Quan had found the Earth colony and forced them to accept the same fate as their relatives on Earth itself. A combat ensued, which I recorded at the beginning of this entry.
I audibly gasped when I saw the planet, which is a tribute to how well the game set up the red shields as a plot device.
My last stop was at Beta Copernicus, the old Syreen homeworld, where I hoped to find some evidence of what had destroyed the planet. I found it quite quickly: the remains of a huge egg shell. I'm 99% sure the Mycons destroyed the planet by sending some kind of spore to penetrate it and crack it open--the planet is actually called a "shattered world," and I later encountered several more of them in Mycon space. 
My crew discovers evidence.
I met the Mycons themselves somewhere in the Brahe system. They're an arrogant species, convinced of the superiority of their type of lifeform over non-fungal life. When I asked about the shattered worlds, they told me about their "deep children" who "build" new homes for Mycons, apparently by destroying existing ones, so I was right. Anyway, every dialogue with the Mycons ended in combat, and I was unable to defeat their extremely fast, maneuverable, regenerating ships. I gave up and fled.
And the Mycon incriminates himself. Case closed!
I assumed when I returned to the Syreen commander, news of the destruction of her world might motivate them to break their treaty with the Ur-Quan, but she had no new dialogue options. I thus reloaded and headed for Draconis, which has 14 freaking stars! The second one I explored, Epsilon Draconis, finally gave me one of the mysterious "Rainbow Worlds." It had some minerals and life forms but wasn't otherwise special. I assume the Melnorme will give me credits for it.
Captain Chester finally makes the "Rainbow Connection."
I ran low on fuel before I found any Thraddash, but I returned to Earth with my storage pods bursting with minerals and life. Commander Hayes told me that the Spathi had arrived as promised, and had given us plans for their Eluder starship, so I can make more.

At this point, my flagship is "full," in that all the module bays are used. I have:
  • 4 storage bays
  • 4 fuel tanks
  • 2 crew pods
  • 1 point defense system
  • 3 dynamo units
  • 1 ion bolt gun
  • 1 fusion blaster
I'm happy to take opinions on a more optimal configuration. My plan is to next try to solve the VUX Admiral Zex's quest to find a special life form in the Lyncis constellation.

Time so far: 27 hours


  1. (Instead of saving and reloading, there's also a separate program that lets you practice combats; I used this a little but found the bouts annoying to set up.)

    If it helps, memory suggests that you can set up the Supermelee to have two computer players play against each other. Spending an evening watching ships tear each other apart might give you some direction regarding how this interstellar ro-sham-bo is best executed.

    1. Its secondary attack, point defense lasers, rely on proximity to the target, which is a bad idea with the Ur-Quan.

      The Earthling Cruiser's SDI defence is a custom antidote to the crew-diminishing fighters and space marines of the Kzer-Za and Orz.

      This was a horrible choice for the dreadnought.

      To be fair, the Dreadnought is the traditional toughest opponent of its "team": most ship types fare very poorly against it.

      Not only was it useless against the dreadnought, I can't imagine the ship ever being useful for anything.

      Sure, but try taking to the frungy field with any of the other vessels and see how well they fare!

      its main weapon is an auto laser that aims itself, which is nice, but it dies in one hit from the dreadnought

      The trick is that you use its secondary ability, which you don't even mention, to avoid ever getting hit! Blink up behind them, zap them with a dozen little volleys, then disappear to the other end of the arena before they can turn around!

    2. I laughed at :
      "Sure, but try taking to the frungy field with any of the other vessels and see how well they fare!"


    3. If you notice, the Ur-Quan is well aware of its fighters' vulnerability to the Earthling's SDI Defense and won't even launch them.

      I always liked that the Earthling ship was the "answer" to the Ur-Quan. Takes 2 or 3 of them, though. Don't get discouraged just because you can't destroy an opponent in a single ship. Think of a SuperMelee match, every encounter in the RPG is an arena combat with multiple opponents. There's no shame in losing a few ships attriting down the opponent, as long as you can afford to trade with them. Fabian tactics.

      The real strength of the Dreadnought is when it is on your side. It is the Queen of the chessboard, deciding when to deploy it is part of the strategy of SuperMelee. It can easily take out several opposing ships or even win outright for you when used correctly. Obviously this won't work in the RPG part of the game.

      Perhaps playing SuperMelee as an entire team of Dreadnoughts against a team of Alliance ships that can be in your fleet at this point in the game can give you clues on how to beat the Ur-Quan. You'll see the tactics the computer uses. As well this is great fun blasting them to smithereens with the fusion cannon. Six damage per shot and it can fire fast. The Dreadnought's only weakness is its turning rate.

    4. If it helps, think of buying new ships to replace destroyed ones as hauling corpses (empty ship slots) of your 12-member party back to town and paying for them to be resurrected at the temple (starbase). Same-same.

    5. Earthling Cruiser is surprisingly good ship, but its survivability in combat against many ships depends greatly on whether you can manage to gravity whip around the planet to get extra speed. After which you can coast fast enough to be a difficult target, and just pepper your enemy with the homing nuclear missiles.

      Note that when executing a gravity whip, you need to stop thrusting. As long as you're not thrusting your momentum is not capped, but if you thrust it is capped and thus you slow down if you're going faster than your "top speed". This is a non-obvious quirk in the combat system. This also applies to the ship with the afterburner. Don't thrust while you use the afterburner and you go faster.

    6. Seconded. Mastering the gravity whip is the key to victory with most ships.

      This is rather reflex/arcade, but the the key to a successful gravity-whip is to accelerate towards the planet with your vector slightly off, so you can near miss it.

      Yes, it is an odd paradox that if you thrust while above your max speed, you slow down. That's not how physics works, but that is how SC2 works.

      After you're moving really fast, the AI ships will usually try to give chase. They shouldn't be able to catch you. Turn 180 degrees (but don't thrust) and fire your main weapons. Because of Doppler shift, your missiles will travel faster and further than the ship that's chasing you. (Or you can keep firing rear missiles if you have those.)

      Never thrust directly away from the planet. Turn 90 degrees to freefall around it in an increasing spiral.

      The Ariloulaylee are immune to gravity, so they can't gravity whip.

      Great post as always, Chester! Thank you for updating these.

  2. Have you tried changing the Cyborg setting? Turning that on hands your space battles over to the computer. I don't know how you'd feel about that, but if combat is nothing but tedious, you might give it a try.

    As far as optimal configurations go, all I can say is you have quite a few more upgrades available if you can get enough credits with the Melnorme. Dare I say, some of the later ones make fighting the dreadnoughts with your command ship a piece of cake.

    1. I don't even see that option in SC2. I saw it in SC1. But in any event, that would feel like I'm not really playing the game, so I think I'd avoid it.

    2. The save/load/quit game menu also has a settings sub-menu.

      'Game' -> 'Settings' -> 'Combat' -> 'Cyborg'

  3. I'm a bit confused by you claiming the Mycon ships being fast and maneuverable, seeing as they are essentially the most sluggish ship in the game and only get by with their guided weaponry.
    Are you sure the game is running correctly for you?
    If so,I found the Skiff to be the counter to them as you can outmaneuver them and if their projectile gets close you can simply telepott out.

    1. I'm not sure he's read the manual.

      The AI routinely gravity whips the Podship around the planet. This gives it high speed, but only so long as it does not maneuver, which means that you have to use the warping nature of the arena to get "in front" of the ship, at which point it can't shoot or avoid you without slowing down.

      And yes, the Skiff is the traditional counter, as you can teleport away from the plasma and can often make the plasma hit the Podship.

      Chester, I believe the manual also reveals that the plasma ball can be shot. Doing so damages and then destroys it.

    2. He read the fine manual. He always reads the manual. He complains when there's no manual to read.

    3. I always read the manual. I just don't remember every part of the manual.

      I didn't fly the Mycon ships myself, of course, so perhaps calling them "fast and maneuverable" was wrong. All I can say is that I couldn't get near them, but it's been over a week since I fought them, so I don't remember if maybe there was more gravity influence in that combat than normal.

      I discovered that I could destroy the plasma balls, but I was no better aiming at them than the ship firing them. For my ships that had missiles, they seemed to spawn the balls faster than my ships spawned missiles, so I'd destroy two or three but then end up waiting for my batteries to recharge while two more plasma balls were hurtling towards me.

  4. Yes the Mycoon is widely considered the worst price/capacity ship of the Hierarchy, as it is slow and while its attacks are long range, homing and powerful they are slow and destructible. On SC1, anything that can’t outrun or dodge the blob of plasma can destroy said blob of plasma. Some ships can manÅ“uver the blob back into the Mycoon.
    If it had been on the Alliance Star, it could have been devastating versus the VUX, the Ilwrath and the Umgah and efficient against the Androsynth

    In SC2 of course you don’t have the same Alliance of the Free Star of course.

    Interesting though to see that while I thought that SC2 balance was out of whack due to giving you an Eluder so early making combat trivial, for people not over trained with their brother on SC1 each new ship is actually a new tool in the shed (except the ZFP which is just crew storage :). )

  5. I believe the Pkunk moving across the map can have a different outcome. If you can, reload a save and let them get where they're going.

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  6. "though for some reason the Yehat weren't marked on my map."

    If I remember right, you have to know the homeworld of a species first before it appears on the map.

    "When the batteries run dry, you have to mash the secondary attack option to re-charge them (the option for some reason casts audible insults at the enemy)."

    Holding down the button is also an option. The insults are a reference to the Pkunk philosophy that something at one end of a spectrum can "wrap around" to the other end, so they use these childish gestures to compensate.

    "Wouldn't you know it, get too perfect and you wrap right around to evil. That is why we Pkunk strive to be perfect but always do little bad and annoying things to keep from ending up like the Ilwrath."

    "I was unable to reliably defeat them with any ship and eventually had to flee combat."

    Unless you're at short range, the Mycon AI prioritizes healing above all else. This can be exploited by damaging them quickly so they stop attacking and switch to healing.

    Use the Earthling Cruiser and immediately fire two missiles at a slight angle (so they don't get destroyed by the incoming plasma balls). This should cause them to stop shooting and run away trying to heal. Now you can keep shooting them with missiles until they die. While they're slightly faster, the cruiser is somewhat more maneuverable, allowing you to reverse direction and get closer before they can react.

    "I assumed when I returned to the Syreen commander, news of the destruction of her world might motivate them to break their treaty with the Ur-Quan, but she had no new dialogue options."

    That's strange. Telling her requires that you know the function of the Deep Children, and the Mycon should have already told you. Maybe you have to return to Starbase first to analyze the artifact?

    "I'm happy to take opinions on a more optimal configuration."

    This should be fine until you get more Melnorme technology. Sell all ZFP ships if you still have any, they're useless.

    1. Come on, the ZFP are great for extra crew, if you don't need their cash value :)

    2. Perhaps the issue is that he restored after talking to the Mycon (because they attacked him), so he doesn't IC have that information to give to the Syreen?

    3. The trigger for telling the Syreen about the Mycon Deep Children is relatively hard to trip and may be bugged in some versions of the game. I think there's two ways to be "told" that allow you to tell the Syreen. One source of information Chester hasn't discovered yet. I think the Melnorme is the other, but I believe it's a later information clue, not about the Mycon but about the Syreen.

      It's a frustration in an otherwise pretty well-designed open world that you have to hit the right flag to officially know what you've certainly figured out already.

    4. Yeah, I'm pretty sure you need to have the starbase analyze your egg fragment before you can talk to the Syreen about it.

    5. Love this game, but the trigger for your character to "know" that the Mycon destroyed the Syreen homeworld is my least part of it. If I recall correctly it's the only hidden flag like that, and it seems like too few dialogues in the game set that flag.

  7. This is where getting a clearer idea of ship capabilities comes in really handy. For example, the Arilou Skiff is a great counter to the Mycon, because the Podship isn't immune to its own weapon. The Skiff is fast enough to "steer" those plasma blasts right back into the Mycon ship.

  8. >I'm happy to take opinions on a more optimal configuration.

    I don't remember my exact setup (it was decades ago), but look for two things: an upgrade that lets you fire in three directions at once, and an upgrade that makes your shots track enemies (I think this is sold by Melnorme). These used in tandem make all three shots hit the target simultaneously, and with other upgrades let your flagship one-shot everything lighter than a Dreadnought.

    1. The triple shot is a function of where on the ship you place your weapons on. First slot fires directly ahead, second slot fires at 45 degree angles each side, third slot fires directly to the sides, and the rearmost slot fires directly back.

      You can load every one with weapons if you so desire and fire everywhere. (Though most useful are the two front slots or the rearward slot.)

      With the equipment Chet has, the current selection looks all right.

    2. I have the first upgrade MOZA mentions but not the second. I've been spending most of my Melnorme credits on information.

  9. I'd recommend thinking about configuration in terms of missions. What you need to collect minerals, bio data, or rainbow world locations is much different than when you go into the heart of Ur Quan space.

    For mining missions, I'd use 3 high efficiency fuel tanks, 4 storage bays, 4 crew pods, 2 hellbore cannons (front 2 slots), 1 shiva furnace, 1 dynamo, and 1 tracking module.

    For combat missions, I'd generally use 2 high efficiency fuel tanks, 1 storage bay, 3 crew pods, 2 hellbore cannons (front 2 slots), 3 shiva furnaces, 3 dynamos, and 2 tracking module.

    While this list assumes you have all the Melnorme upgrades, you can still downgrade to regular capacity fuel tanks and fusion blasters, and replace shiva furnaces with more dynamos, if needed. Don't use ion-bolt guns if you can avoid them.

  10. I remember playing almost exclusively with the Arilou skiff. I eventually got to the point that I could beat every ship in the game with it, although some of them took some time. I found it particularly effective against the Dreadnought, largely for the reasons that Narwhal mentioned above. And you can use the laser to take out his fighters by positioning them between you and the Dreadnought, even if the big ship is far out of range. Then just hit the blink button before his fusion blasts reach you. Very, very effective.

    1. You need to have some skill and agility for that, though. E.g. I keep mixing up the buttons for primary and secondary weapon, and with the skiff that is a problem.

    2. No way he can handle the Arilou like that with his lack of dexterity. I found the ship tricky and frequently collided with asteroids, the planet, the enemy ship, the enemy ship's guns...and the lack of hit points quickly does me in.

    3. "I keep mixing up the buttons for primary and secondary weapon." Yeah. I mean, it's just two buttons, but DAMN, I manage to screw it up about a quarter of the time.

    4. Good point. Of course, this WAS more than 25 years ago. I probably couldn't do it anymore, either. But I used to play melee mode with my college roommates and would piss them off by choosing and winning with the Skiff every time. Good times.

    5. There is one minor problem with the Skiff; it teleports to literally anywhere on the map, including locations that are already occupied. Which telefrags the Skiff, whether it landed in the omnipresent planet, one of the asteroids, or even the enemy ship.

      Never landed in something like a DOGI or Orz marine, but one would expect similar results.

      Mind, I'd take a Cruiser or Fury over a Skiff for taking on Podships, because the Cruiser's range renders the Podship's weapon impotent, while the Fury is faster and even more maneuverable than the Skiff while being more durable.

  11. Heh heh heh. ;)

    The encounter at Vela is a nice bit of storytelling that is very easy to miss. It's also a good introduction to the Ur-Quan Dreadnought, which is another reason why I prompted you to visit.

    The Melnorme will pay you 500 credits for that Rainbow World. The most special thing that is relevant to gameplay about Rainbow Worlds is that they tend to be very mineral rich. Otherwise they are very mysterious.

    Homeworld encounters can't be beaten by combat, there is an infinite number of ships. If you can't talk your way out, your only option is to warp out from combat. (Best chance is right after you destroy one enemy, immediately hit ESC so you charge your warp engines while waiting for the next ship to warp in.)

    As game developer myself, it's very interesting to see your experiences and impressions on the combat. You're probably the only person to have described the Ur-Quan Dreadnought short ranged and the Mycon Podship fast and maneuverable :P

    1. How are you supposed to know in-game to visit your homeworld? I never got any hints to go there that I remember. Maybe I did?

    2. The game doesn't give you a hint to do it. It's just a plot 'reward' for the player who thinks "hey, I wonder how things are going at the planet I came from".

    3. Oh, and be sure to circle the location of every rainbow world you find on your paper map. There's a bit of dialog at the Sylandro home planet about it you might have missed.

  12. I've only played SC1, but I spend probably 100+ hours playing it on my old Sega Genesis. Back then, there were a couple of good ways to counter an Ur-Quan Dreadnought:

    1. The Earthling Cruiser was the single most effective weapon against the Dreadnought's fighters. The point defense laser can destroy 6-8 at a time if they're within range. Slingshot an Earthling cruiser past a planet, and do a fast fly-by at the rear of the Dreadnought. It'll launch fighters, but won't have sufficient time to turn around and fire its torpedoes before you're out of range. Slow down to a normal speed, and destroy the fighters when they're in range.

    2. Use an Ariloulaleelay Skiff's no inertia ability to park near a planet. Try to get the enemy to crash into the planet and snipe at them with your laser as they fly by. This works against most ships, actually.

    Re: the Mycons: the Ariloulaleelay Skiff is the best way to go. You won't do a lot of damage with the laser, but you can circle behind them, which causes the homing plasma to crash into the Mycon ship. Any time the Mycon is facing the wrong direction when it shoots at you, this'll happen. The Earthling cruiser is terrible against the Mycons, though. The point defense laser does nothing against the plasma. Fire your missiles directly into the plasma ball right before it hits you to weaken it.

    IDK if you can get them in SC2, but the Chenjesu and Yeehat ships were the two most powerful in alliance ships in SC1. The Chenjesu in particular, could shoot exploding crystal torpedoes with unlimited range. Chenjesu vs. Mycon was the only bad matchup because both ships were so slow, which made it turn into a real slog. Yeehat vs Mycon was great though. Just activate Yeehat shields right before the pod hit, and then charge in and fire cannons.

    Hope some of that was helpful!

    1. The AI in SC2 will straight up refuse to launch fighters when fighting an Earthling Cruiser.

      Also, in supermelee I always found the Chenjesu to be well equipped for fighting the Mycons. They're so energy dependent the you doggis could effectively lock it down, and exploding crystals are decently effective and destroying incoming plasma bursts.

    2. I appreciate comments like ThaneduFife's for future readers' sake, but telling me something like, "Slingshot an Earthling cruiser past a planet, and do a fast fly-by at the rear of the Dreadnought" is a bit wasted. I'd have a better chance executing such a maneuver in a real ship. However, #2 seems like something I could pull off. I hadn't thought of that benefit to the skiff.

    3. At the point in the game you're at, I am typically loading up just on Arilou ships and only fighting with them and Fwiffo. Arilou ships are utterly unstoppable against most other ships in the game if your trigger finger to warp away is quick enough.

      'Fun' thing is (and I believe the manual does mention this), the warp can occasionally warp you directly into a planet. Always keep more than one arilou ship around as insurance.

  13. I find the difficulty of combat is generally a function of what I'm using to control my ships. I first played Star Control 1 on the Sega Genesis, so I learned to play with a controller originally. When I first played Star Control 2, I found I was terrible with the keyboard.

    This is why I enjoy the remaster so much; I can play with my gamepad, which is far more comfortable for me.

    1. I can't imagine playing Spacewar with anything but the original left/right/thrust/fire buttons. To each his own, I suppose.

  14. That's a darn shame you suck at the Spacewar combat. It's the star of the game. You've always said you were weak at action RPGs. I suppose it's a testament to your openness, masochism and general bloody-minded obsession to play every CRPG ever made that you're even playing a title like this at all.

    Quick historical question, and you'd be the man to know: is Admiral SEX (I mean ZEX) the first CRPG character to be into bestiality? It might be entertaining one day to do a digression post on the biggest pervert NPCs you've ever run into.

    1. Unless I'm misremembering something, I'd think the admiral's interests are more in line with xenophilia than beastiality

    2. This is reminiscent of the dark elf merchant in Oblivion who tells you she's new to the province, and, hey, do you happen to know what the punishment is here is for necrophilia? No reason for asking.

    3. Wouldn't any game with a "half-orc" class be the first?

    4. Well, that's a PC and not an NPC with dialogue. Plus the half-orc himself wouldn't necessarily be into bestiality. Unless he was an NPC and stated so.

    5. Besides, even in a setting that classifies Orcs as monsters/universally evil, I wouldn't call them beasts.

  15. "But I got no dialogue or other options that would have allowed me to obtain the Caster from my new allies."

    This is an important item and the game won't give you any further information about it, so: Gurl yrsg vg ba gur zbba nsgre zbivat gb gur cynarg.

    1. Yo don't get any more information about it specifically, but you do get a reason to visit the Spathi homeworld again.

    2. And there's another solution to everything that item accomplishes; it's completely skippable.

  16. If the Mycon are truly your Achilles heel, try playing one of them in Super Melee against the ships you have. You'll see they're not nearly as manueverable and fast as you think.

    Ironically, while I agree the ZFP is mostly cannon fodder, I've had good success with it vs. the Mycon. It's fast and manueverable enough to have the initiative and you can use the primary attack to weaken the Mycon spore attack and inflict one or two points of damage to send the AI into healing mode. Once it does that, you can close in and give it a good licking (secondary attack) for massive damage.

    1. This is actually a really good suggestion. If you want to get really familiar with a ship's weaknesses, try playing as one and see where it fails.

      The ZFP Stinger is pretty good against Dreadnoughts. At least, AI Dreadnoughts. It is faster than the fighters and can turn and fire to take them out. Each fighter costs the Dreadnought a crew (temporarily until the fighter returns to the mothership and they are lost crashing into asteroids, planets, and by enemy or friendly fire), and after about a third of the crew is gone, the computer will stop launching them. Then if you like playing the chase-me-until-I-turn-and-fire-at-you game, which the AI always plays, it's pretty much just down to maneuverability and weapons range. You can slaughter AI Ur-Quan Dreadnoughts with the ZFP ships if you get really motivated to try. (the Kohr-Ah ships are different kettle of centipedes though)

      Don't stress TOO much about combat. You can get through the game without needing to be very good at it. Steering around and avoiding your enemies is probably more than half the battle, so be glad of your little, maneuverable ships. Late in the game you get probably the most overpowered ship of the bunch. It really levels the playing field.

    2. Yes, I didn't mean to imply that the ZFP is only good vs. AI Mycon, it's definitely good vs. AI Ur-Quan in the hands of a skilled player. But if you can't beat AI Mycon with ZFP, you won't be beating AI Ur-Quan either, which is a harder fight because it feels like the Ur-Quan turns and recharges faster.

      Here is a Youtube video of a skilled ZFP player taking down a Kohr-Ah and an Ur-Quan, using the same strategy you described:

    3. "This is actually a really good suggestion. If you want to get really familiar with a ship's weaknesses, try playing as one and see where it fails." Weird. For everyone of them, I noted the weakness as, "some clod who can't keep two keys straight."

    4. Sounds like me playing RDR 2: "no get ON the horse, not the... Why did you shoot that man!?"

    5. For clods who can't keep two keys straight but know how to hit two keys at once, use the Orz Nemesis. Send lots of space marines by mashing both attack keys (primary and secondary) several times, then focus on running away from the slow plasma balls. When the marines eventually catch up to the Mycon, they'll take care of it; each one does around 3 damage before dying, and if multiple marines are on the ship at the same, the Mycon won't be able to handle it. This tactic not only works well against the Mycon, but other tough ships (Ur-Quan, Kohr-Ah) as well. It's not the most poewrful move, but it's extremely powerful relative to the amount of dexterity needed to execute it.

    6. Hahaha I've been replaying God of War on the PS2 recently and I can't seem to remember what button is which in the heat of battle. Goes to show that reflexes and muscle memory atrophy with age

  17. Qb Abg Sbetrg Gb *Rawbl Gur Fnhpr*!!!

    1. You don't need an rot13 decoder to figure out what this says xD

    2. Really? Because I put it into a ROT13 translator, and I still don't know what SillyCow is saying.

  18. Just thought I'd mention that Strange Adventures in Infinite Space and its sequel Weird Worlds are basically tiny, roguelike versions of SC2. Quite fun games to play over a lunch break.

  19. Chet, the planets and their gravity aren't random, they are modeled after how real gravity wells work, and thus you must respond to them in your ship as you would a real gravity well. Study up on "slingshotting" that NASA uses to speed up their spacecraft. To me, the gravity wells of planets has always been very intuitive.

    1. Gravity assists have little to do with it as the planet is in a fixed position - you'd need a third body for that to be relevant. But I think the real confusion comes from keeping track of the position of the planet, especially since the maps seems to wrap around.

    2. "The real confusion comes from keeping track of the position of the planet, especially since the maps seems to wrap around." YES, that is precisely the problem.

  20. Chet, just thought I'd post to say that I love the mini-updates that we get as Patreons.

  21. Something that this game does very well is showing the impact of your actions (or simply of time progressing) on the gameworld.

    The changing areas of influence on the starmap are a simple mechanic, but it goes a long way to make you feel you are playing in a dynamic universe.

    Also things like going back to your starting system and finding it quarantined by the Ur-Quan are small touches that go a long way towards breathing life to the gameworld.

  22. Addict, have you played the roguelike FTL?

    To date, for me it's most accomplished rendition of strategic ship-to-ship space combat (in terms of challenge and fun, rather than "realism"), it has a Baldur's Gate-like engine (real-time with pause), decent variety and challenge level.

    Worth a try, given how much you seem to enjoy roguelikes.

    1. No, I haven't played that yet. It does sound like I'd find the combat more enjoyable.

  23. Longtime lurker; really enjoying your write-up of SC2. (And, as an academic myself, congrats on your new university job!)

    I confess I'm a bit sad that the combat isn't to your liking, but not surprised given what you've written before. To each their own, of course; conversely, I'm sure there are fans of action games who don't like turn-based strategy, and thus would get frustrated with really great RPGs.

    But for those who like action combat, wow, SC2 is top-notch -- especially if you have memories of many a SuperMelee match duking it out with a sibling or friend.

  24. Chet, I just wanted to say I'm loving these SC2 entries, this has been a very pleasant way to spend my vacation while hiding from the sun on the porch when it gets to intense at the beach


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