Monday, May 20, 2019

Star Control II: Summary and Rating

            
Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters
United States
Toys for Bob (developer); Accolade (publisher)
Released in 1992 for DOS, 1994 for the 3DO console; later fan ports to other platforms
Date Started: 23 March 2019
Date Finished: 14 May 2019
Total Hours: 47
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 51
Ranking at time of posting: 308/322 (96%)
      
Summary:

Star Control II takes the ship-by-ship action combat of the original Star Control and places it solidly within an adventure game of epic proportions. In a galaxy of more than 500 stars and 3,000 planets, a captain must build alliances, find artifacts, mine minerals, and coerce information from alien races so that he can ultimately throw off the yoke of the Ur-Quan Hierarchy and free Earth and its allies from slavery. Gameplay comes with a lot of lore and plot-twists, but every so often it reveals its origins and requires the player to defeat enemy ships with selections from his own armada, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities. Although the sense of an open world and a nonlinear plot both end up being somewhat illusory, the game is still fun and memorable.

****
        
In the comments for my winning entry, several readers have offered descriptions and text that occurs when you try some of the game's alternate strategies, such as surrendering to the Ur-Quan, provoking the Orz, or selling your own crewmembers to the Druuge. Most of them are either dead-ends or offer such harsh consequences that you'd best not do them in the first place.

One thing I was curious to check out is what happens if you wait out the game's time limit. The Melnorme originally told me that the Earth would be destroyed in January or February of 2159, but my actions in the game managed to delay the apocalypse by almost two years. As I sat in hyperspace and watched, nothing much happened until November 2159, when the Supox and Utwig returned to their original systems, much diminished. 
          
No one remains but the Ur-Quan.
         
Around the end of 2159, the Kohr-Ah won the civil war and started to circle the galaxy, destroying each sentient race in turn. Some of their ships reached Earth in April, but they weren't here to destroy Earth just yet. I fought a few dreadnoughts and the horde moved on. The Arilou, Umgah, and Zoq-Fot-Pik were all gone by June 2160, the Supox and Utwig a month later. By October 2160, the Ur-Quan fleet had reached the "southern" end of the galaxy and destroyed the Yehat. Finally, in November, I received a broadcast from the Ur-Quan notifying me of Earth's destruction, and the game was over. My ship was parked right next to Earth at the time, and I was hoping I'd see a bunch of dreadnoughts approaching it, but alas, it wasn't quite that detailed.
             
The "bad" ending, unless you're a big Ur-Quan fan.
          
If I hadn't cheated a bit during the game by reloading when an expedition proved a waste of time, I probably would have run into issues with the time limit. Watching the slow destruction of every race, along with the intelligence that they possessed, would have been mildly horrifying. But apparently you can still win the game at any time during this process, with nothing altered in the endgame sequence.

I confess that the last bit bothers me a little because it's indicative of the approach taken by the game as a whole. When I started playing Star Control II, it gave the impression of an open-world game with multiple narrative possibilities. But it turns out you have to follow a few paths in a relatively specific order, and most of the choices turn out to be illusory. Oh, it certainly does better than the typical RPG of the period, I hasten to add. It was just a bit disappointing to find that open exploration isn't really rewarded. If you're lucky enough to stumble upon a key location amidst all the planets in the vast galaxy, you probably won't be able to do anything because you haven't bought an important piece of information from the Melnorme first.

I have similarly mixed feelings about the game's approach to the alien races and racial characterizations. On the one hand, I enjoyed the variety. When you're making a game (as opposed to shooting a film or television show), you have the freedom to make some interesting races without worrying about the CGI budget. I appreciated that there were no "bumpy forehead" aliens except perhaps for the Syreen.
           
I could have done with less of this.
         
I also don't fault the game for broad characterizations. It's a longstanding trope of science fiction and fantasy to paint races with a broad brush: the wise elves, the logical Vulcans, the proud Klingons, the evil orcs, and so forth. You rarely have time to explore the detailed characteristics of an entire culture. It's perfectly acceptable that Star Control II decided to highlight one major attribute of each race, such as cowardice, depression, loneliness, and greed. When it did go into more detail, such as in the case of the Ur-Quan and the Syreen, the detail was generally good, and it was rewarding to unlock those stories. I also appreciated the consistency of characterization. The Spathi locking themselves under their own slave shield amused me to no end because it was perfectly in keeping with the Spathi personality--and, in hindsight, 100% foreseeable. 

But I also felt there were too many moments of outright goofiness and parody among the racial interactions. The Orz, the Pkunk, the VUX, the Umgah, and the Utwig mostly just exhausted my patience. I couldn't help but think how the same races with similar characteristics might be handled with less silliness. We don't have to look very far to find an example. Starflight and Starflight II had some of the same broad racial characterizations, but rarely crossed the line into outright slapstick. I felt the stories and plot twists of those games were much better, too.

Nonetheless, I understand why Star Control II is regarded as the better game: it's all about the combat. I wasn't any good at it, but I can see why people like it. Until I played it, I wouldn't have thought that a single choice--what ship to pilot--could have so many tactical implications. There are 14 ships that can join the New Alliance and 13 potential enemy ships, resulting in 182 potential battle combinations, and each has completely different tactical considerations. (With the Super Melee application, you can fight any of the ships against any of the others, for 625 possible combinations.) Slowly mastering the strengths of your ships and learning the weaknesses of the enemy ships is a huge and rewarding part of gameplay. Later in the game, when you have to fight multiple ships in a row, there are strategic implications for what ships you send into combat first and which you reserve for later in the battle.
            
The typical outcome of my combats.
          
Still, the nature of combat, plus the lack of "character development," really makes this a non-RPG, which means it might not do so well on the GIMLET as an RPG. I played it as an exception. I don't want to hear any future comments along the lines of, "Well, you played Star Control II, so to be consistent, you should also play This Game." The point of exceptions is that I don't have to be consistent with them.

As to the GIMLET:

1. Game World. Star Control II manages to check most of the boxes in this category. It has a rich, detailed backstory, an open world, a clear place for the character and his quest, and an evolving game state that responds to the player's actions. (I particularly like how the starmap continually updates to show the dispositions of the various races.) The plot and its twists are original and interesting. The only fault I can find is that there isn't much to see or do in the open universe. I wish the creators had seeded more planets with optional encounters and finds, perhaps replacing the system by which you purchase all your technology upgrades from the Melnorme. Score: 8.

2. Character Creation and Development. Alas, there is none of either except for the ability to name your own captain. Even if you regard the ship as a "character," it doesn't get innately better so much as it gains better equipment. Score: 0.

3. NPC Interaction. Another strong point. I've given my thoughts about the NPC personalities, but I should add that even goofy personalities are better than we get from the typical RPG of the period, which is no personality (or even NPCs) at all. I wish there had been more honest variety in dialogue options instead of one that's obvious, two that are stupid, and one that's evil. The Starflight games did a better job giving the player real "options" when talking to different alien races even though they came in the form of "stances" rather than specific dialogue choices. 

I should also note that most NPCs aren't individuals but rather representatives of their races who somehow know the previous conversations the player has had with other representatives. But the game otherwise hits most of the criteria for a high score here, including a plot that advances based on NPC interaction. Score: 7.
            
My thoughts exactly.
             
4. Encounters and Foes. The game has an original slate of foes (ships) that require you to learn their individual strengths and weaknesses. There are otherwise no real "encounters" in the game that aren't also NPC dialogues. Score: 6.

5. Magic and Combat. I can't give a high score here because my scale is about RPG-style combat and the various tactics and strategies that draw from attributes, skills, and the player's intelligence rather than his dexterity. Still, as I discussed above, the choice of ship and the way you plot long combats create some important tactical and strategic decisions. I just wish combat had only been about ship versus ship. The planets, which show up suddenly as you switch screens, were unwelcome guests. Score: 3.
          
The asteroids, on the other hand, I didn't mind so much.
        
6. Equipment. All of the "equipment" in the game is ship-related rather than character-related, and it all applies to the flagship, which a good player arguably does not rely on. I wish there had been opportunities to upgrade the other ships in the fleet. It would have been tough to offer meaningful options with so many of them, but even just generic attack or defense improvements would have been nice. Beyond that, it's fun to figure out how to best make use of the limited modular space on the flagship, particularly as new options come along regularly. Score: 3.

7. Economy. There are really two economies in the game: the "resource unit" economy that lets you build a fleet and equip your flagship, and the Melnorme "information" economy that depends on bio data and Rainbow World identifications. I found both rewarding enough for about two-thirds of the game. Score: 7.

8. Quests. The game has one main quest with a few options (though, as I mentioned before, a lot of the options are illusory) and side-quests. There's only one ending. Score: 4.

9. Graphics, Sound, and Inputs. I don't have many complaints in this category. The graphics are perfectly fine for the scope and nature of the game; the sound effects are fun and evocative throughout; and it's hard to complain about the interface of a game that supports both joystick and keyboard inputs and lets you customize the keyboard. I had problems in combat despite these advantages, but I don't think I can blame the game.

I do have one major issue, or several related issues, that fits into this category. The dialogue is delivered one line at a time in a huge font. You can hit the SPACE bar after each bit of dialogue to see a transcription in a smaller font that you can barely read. Either way, if you don't make your own transcriptions or screen shots (which must have been tough for an era player), the dialogue is lost once you leave the screen. In most cases, you can't prompt the NPC to speak the same lines again, and there's no databank in which to retrieve it as there was in Starflight II. Thankfully, I took copious screenshots, but they're a cumbersome way to review previous dialogue and I think the game should have offered a better system. Score: 6.
            
This text is better than nothing, but it's still not very easy to read.
         
10. Gameplay. I give half-credit for non-linearity. The game is more linear than it seems when you start, but you still have a lot of choices about the order of your activities. I also give half-credit for replayability. As I mentioned earlier, many of the "options" seem illusory, and a replaying player might find himself swiftly on familiar paths, but there is at least some variety for a replay. The hourly total is just about right for this content, and while I had difficulty in combat, I still managed to win with an acceptable number of reloads, so I can't fault the difficulty. Score: 7.

That gives us a final score of 51, surprisingly close to the 53 I gave both Starflight and Starflight II, which had actual characters and character development. But reviewing those games, I'm reminded how awful combat was, and how many issues I had with the interface. I'm thus comfortable with the rating. 
             
The ad makes it seem like the game's enemies are the Umgah.
         
There are plenty of players, however, who would consider a 51 an insult. Star Control II still continues to make "best games ever" lists compiled by various publications. In a March 1993 preview in Computer Gaming World, Stanley Trevena liked the game enough to put it on his "top ten list of all time." "It is not often," he says, "that such a perfect balance is struck between role-playing, adventure, and action/arcade." In the November 1993 issue, they gave it "Game of the Year" in the adventure category (or, at least, it tied with Eric the Unready). Dragon gave it 5 out of 5 stars. It's rare to find an English review out of the 90s, though for some reason European reviews tended to put it lower, in the 70s.

The 3DO version from 1994 has some significant differences from the DOS version. It has an animated, narrated introduction and cut scenes plus voiced dialogue for the conversations. (My understanding is that the open-source Ur-Quan Masters would use some of this voiced dialogue but re-record others.) Some readers encouraged me to play this version specifically because of the voices. I'm not sure I would have liked it better. There's really just too much dialogue overall. Some of the voices are good: I appreciate the Vaderesque bass of the Ur-Quan, the lispy enthusiasm of the Pik, and the weird Scottish accent the creators gave to the Yehat. For some reason, they decided the Shofixti was a bad English translator of a 1970s Japanese kung-fu movie; the Orz, Spathi, and Utwig are just annoying; and the Umgah is the stuff of nightmares. The Talking Pet is the worst, with some ridiculous southern "Joe Sixpack" accent. I was also disappointed by the Syreen, who sounds like Doris Day rather than . . . well, honestly, I'm not sure what would have done justice to the Syreen. How do you blend a fierce Amazonian and a seductive vixen in a single voice?

Star Control II left a satisfying number of mysteries, such as the fate of the Precursors and why they seemed (to the Slylandro) to be nervously searching for something. We never learned about the Rainbow Worlds or why they (apparently) form an arrow pointing to the "northeast" of the galaxy. We never learned what the Orz did to the Androsynth, what the Orz really are, and how they relate to the Arilou. I was disappointed that we never found out why the Ur-Quan destroyed historical structures of humanity, including some places we weren't even aware of. I was disappointed to find that most of these questions are unanswered in Star Control 3 (1996), although we do apparently learn that the Precursors genetically modified themselves so they would have the intelligence of cows, thus protecting themselves from a race that periodically harvests the energies of sentient races. I think the creators missed an opportunity by not making the Precursors actual cows. There could have been a Gary Larson tie-in and everything.
          
The creepy cover to the game's sequel.
         
The direction of Star Control 3 reveals some of the background drama between developer Toys for Bob (authors Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford) and publisher Accolade. According to Reiche and Ford, Accolade gave the developer such a limited budget that they had to essentially work for free for half a year to create a quality game. Accolade would not increase the budget for the sequel, so the original creators refused to develop it, and the job went to Legend Entertainment instead.

In 2002, authors Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford made the source code available for free, and some fans used it to create The Ur-Quan Masters for Windows, with multiple releases starting in 2005. It has since been ported to multiple additional platforms. The effort also led to the creation of the Ultronomicon, a Star Control II wiki.

The Star Control trademark passed to Infogrames when it purchased Accolade in 1999; Infogrames soon rebranded itself as Atari. When Atari filed for bankruptcy in 2013, its assets were sold. Stardock Corporation managed to acquire the Star Control license and produce Star Control: Origins (2018). Set 26 years before the original Star Control, the game would seem to retcon when Earth first encountered alien life. During development, Stardock claimed to be in contact with Reiche and Ford, and were developing the game along their vision, although they couldn't technically participate because of their Activision contract. If this relationship was ever friendly and cooperative, it soon became otherwise when Reiche and Ford announced they would be creating Ghosts of the Precursors and Stardock started selling the first three Star Control games on Steam. Both parties counter-sued each other for copyright and intellectual property violations, and Steam removed the Star Control titles (including Origins, at least temporarily) after receiving DCMA takedown notices from Reiche and Ford. As far as I can tell, the litigation is still ongoing.
           
Combat in Origins has improved graphics but seems to adhere to original principles.
       
Toys for Bob still lives as a subsidiary of Activision, and Reiche and Ford still continue to direct the development of its games. I don't think we'll see them again, however, as none of their titles are RPGs. (For more on Reiche and Ford, see Jimmy Maher's excellent coverage of Star Control II from this past December. My favorite part is when Reiche gets fired from TSR for questioning the purchase of a Porsche as an executive's company car.)

I am often dismissive of calls for remakes, usually considering them to be the products of dull, dilettante gamers who can't handle any graphics more than 5 years old. But I would like to see, if not a remake, a modern game that has the basic approach of Star Control II (and, for that matter, Starflight)--perhaps even one that realizes it better by offering truly alternate plot paths. We have plenty of games (although, in my opinion, not enough) that allow us to explore open worlds; have any so far allowed us to explore an open universe? Perhaps that's what we'll get from Bethesda's forthcoming Starfield.

80 comments:

  1. I'm a huge SC2 fanboy but hey, I accept it scores lower than the Starflights on a scale meant to measure RPGs. Although, the Starflight "character development" doesn't really do much for me as a player -- your characters hit max training levels very early (20% into the game?), and the rest of the game is all about exploration, ship upgrades (which you classify under "equipment"), and combat, and I feel SC2 does all of those better. I actually feel the upgrading of the "equipment" on the flagship to be more like gaining levels in a traditional RPG, because as you did that your combat prowess increases remarkably, to the point that you can easily one- or two-shot the Mycons, Druuges and Umgahs that you need to destroy to progress along the main quest.

    I didn't see in your review how the "new" arcade-like endgame of the Sa-Matra platform impacted your enjoyment of the game. Mind saying why in the comments?

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    1. I didn't see it as fundamentally different from the rest of the action-oriented combat in the game. It just featured a different "ship" with different strengths and weaknesses. Like the rest of the combat in the game, I didn't much care for it because I wasn't good at it, but I didn't mind it more or less than regular ship-to-ship combat.

      I agree with you on Starflight character development. It added enough to the game to make it technically an RPG, but in neither game did I rate it high (2s)

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  2. Also, looks like there was a typo here : "In most cases, you can't prompt the NPC to speak the same lines again, and there's no databank in which to retrieve it as there was in Star Control II. " What game were you trying to reference?

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  3. I don't think anyone reasonably expected SC2 to score well in a system built for RPG evaluations. I expected it would be a one-and-done "this peripheral thing exists" rundown than a full playthrough, but am happy to have been proven wrong. It's been great to (vicariously) revisit that game.

    I'm looking forward to more "exceptions" in the future, but there's plenty of well-regarded traditional CRPGs I'm excited to see coming up soon.

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    1. Yeah, this was an extra-mile one for sure. But most welcome, because I remember the feeling of it and always thought of it as an RPG (in my memories)...

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  4. I never liked the combat in Star Control and Starflight, and I wish someone would remake them with combat like Gradius or Wing Commander. Star control has the advantage of not being a Roguelike, but it still has tedious combat. It belongs with the worst CRPGs like Ultima 8, Underrail, Betrayal at Krondor and Might and Magic

    Star Control is the next one, and welcome to Hell. I love Legend, but everything I have seen and heard about Star Control 3 is terrible: Long, boring dialogue with no humor; boring combat and base building; and a nonsensical story.

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    1. Huh, what's so bad about Underrail's combat? It's pretty good as far as single character turn based goes. Of course it would be better with controllable party members, but it's comparable to Fallout, if not better.

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    2. Star Control 4 was going to use WC combat per the PCGamer previews on it in 1997 or so. But that game got canceled.

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    3. Wing Commander: Privateer is essentially a Wing Commander with RPG elements thrown in. I wouldn't dare to suggest that the Addict must play it because he played SC2, but...

      MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries is a few years later, but similar to Privateer. But mechs.

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  5. I felt a bit spoiled on Precursors and Star Control 3. Not sure if I would have ever played that game though.

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  6. I'm a big fan of the Strange Adventures in Infinite Space / Weird Worlds games, which are basically 30-minute roguelike versions of Star Control.

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  7. Well, for not being a RPG, Star Control at 51 beats Dungeon Master (best 1987 RPG and more than that a cult-classic), finishes only 2 points below the best RPG of 1989 (Hero's Quest) and ends only one point below the best RPG of 1991 on the Gimlet score. It also beats all 1992 RPG so far if I am not mistaken.

    I guess it makes it a RPG without character development, since even without that it is more RPG than most RPG.

    I believe the next popular game in this situation will be the 1994's Jagged Alliance.

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    1. The issue is that the GIMLET ranks games in every category that I like about RPGs, but most of them aren't exclusive to RPGs. Dungeon Master barely goes beyond the core RPG categories whereas games like Star Control II and Pirates! have nothing in the core RPG categories but do so well in the other categories (which they share with other genres) that they rank high.

      I could have made the GIMLET give extra weight to those categories that actually make a game an RPG. Maybe I'll play with that.

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    2. What is the ultimate purpose of the GIMLET? Is it to quantify the enjoyment you received from the game, or to quantify the quality of the game as a CRPG? If the former, it's probably working great as it is. If the latter, then yes, you will probably need to weigh the categories. Out of curiosity, I went back and looked at Pirates!, the other great mostly non-CRPG game you've rated, and it scored 48 on its GIMLET.

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    3. The purpose of the GIMLET is definitely to quantify my enjoyment of the game as an RPG. The question is whether this means that categories that are "optional" to the very definition of an RPG should count less than those are core to it.

      I don't know. I feel like it's been working generally okay. I just worry about some future games, but perhaps I should actually wait for it to clearly fail before I fret about it.

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    4. I don't think it would be an improvement to increase the emphasis between "core" and "optional" categories, and if anything I would move the other direction.

      Why is character development and equipment more vital to an RPG than game world, NPCs, and quests? It doesn't make sense to me that games weak in the former but strong in the latter are not considered RPGs by some, but games the other way around are uncontroversial.

      My guess is that this is because the earliest CRPGs were much better at adapting those former aspects from tabletop RPGs, so they had a headstart. But those latter categories are, in my mind, just as (or more) core to an RPG.

      RPGs can downplay that wargame aspect in favor of the story, some go the other way around, and some do both well. These are all subgenres of RPGs, and one style isn't more true than any other.

      I'm glad games like SC2 and Pirates were played as "exceptions" -- the story of CRPGs would be incomplete without them -- but it would be better if the definition wasn't so rigid as to exclude them in the first place.

      The definition of a genre is subjective, and the only good way to measure it is how useful that definition is. Games that provide similar experiences and therefore appeal to the same type of player should be grouped together. If your definition isn't doing that, then the problem is with the definition.

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    5. The thing is, the concepts of "game world", "NPC", and "Quests" are too intrinsic to gaming in general once you get past the basic arcade-style format. Even the original Super Mario Brothers (about as far from an RPG as you can get) has all three.

      Meanwhile, character development and equipment are much more strongly associated with the RPG genre specifically. It is no coincidence that many of the games that have often-argued RPG status are those that have one or the other of these, but not both.

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    6. Giving different weights to the categories is easily done in the spreadsheet. You could have several different rankings with different weights without too much effort, and shut up most people who complain about their favourite game not being ranked high enough ;)

      I played around with this by giving Characters, Encounters, Magic & Combat, Equipment, Economy and Quests twice the weight of the other categories. It doesn't change too much in the top 10. Ultima Underworld drops from 4 to 7, Curse of the Azure Bonds from 8 to 10 - the order of the other games in the top 10 remains the same. Omega rises above the bulk of games with a 53 rating and ends up at 11, while Starflight and Hero's Quest drop slightly but not much. Biggest changes were +28 (Sandor) and -28 (Hillsfar, B.A.T.), but that's not very precise as many games had the same gimlet and I gave them an artificial order.

      So, you'd have to make more drastic changes to see a big difference in the rankings.

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    7. I'd be interested in hearing games that counter my argument, but I don't think Super Mario Bros. is one of them. If we are going to stretch Toad and "our princess is in another castle" to cover NPCs and Quests, then we might as well count eating mushrooms to get bigger as Character Development and collecting Fire Flowers as Equipment.

      What I keep coming back to is how effortless it is to imagine SC2 as a tabletop RPG campaign. Sure it may de-emphasize some of the wargame roots, but that's not uncommon. Otherwise it's all there. You can't say that about SMB. Sure you could borrow the SMB theme and make up a campaign in that world, but it would have no deeper connection to the video game than that.

      There might be something I'm not thinking of, but I think the only troubling distinction is between RPGs and Adventure games, which I think are very worth being separated, but at the same time they are closely related, so it's not surprising. But I think games like SC2 and Pirates fit much better in the RPG bucket than the Adventure bucket.

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    8. A couple of years ago, I ran the SC2 storyline as a tabletop RPG using the Spacemaster system. It was done mostly for a change of pace for my group, both in setting (SF versus fantasy) and certain game tropes (mostly eliminating ideas like treasure for individual characters.) My voice acting skills are minimal, but I think I did justice to Fwiffo. The Ilwrath, however, left me almost unable to speak for the rest of the evening.

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  8. When I rated it, I ended up in the low 60s, about 10 points higher. I guess I gave combat a much higher rating - even if I didn't like it myself. I do realize though, that RPG combat is a different beast and a different view ends up at a different score.
    The music was also very impressive for the time. Hell, I still even listen to it sometimes.
    I'd give the game world a 9, but I am relatively immune to the silliness, I guess.

    Thank you for still playing the game and your lively reports. You didn't have to.

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  9. Well, you played Star Control II, so to be consistent, you should also play Protostar: War on the Frontier (basically Starflight 3). Sorry for the pun :) but at least Wikipedia rates it as an RPG.

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  10. I used to like Stardock as a company, but how they are treating Reiche and Ford in regards to Star Control is genuinely terrible. The rights aren't necessarily with Stardock, or at least it's questionable if they got the rights legally, and when Reiche and Ford started making their own Star Control game, the reaction from Stardock made me feel sick. This is why I have a hard time justifying buying or playing any of their games, anymore...

    I should also say that based on what I heard, Star Control Origins completely disregards any and all story from the original 3 Star Control titles, which makes it pretty pointless to actually be a Star Control title. Of course, Reiche and Ford own all the races from Star Control 1 and 2, so I guess they would have to in order to even make the game...

    I'm rambling. I'm glad you enjoyed playing through Star Control II. I think it'll be awhile before you run into another game I'm truly interested in.

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    1. Indeed, I think due to the litigation, they pivoted Origins to be a reimagining of SC2, with completely different aliens. It doesn't live in the same universe at all. I have to say that Origins is a quality product. Way better than Star Control 3, IMO.

      I am on TfB's side, though. Stardock has come off as particularly childish, as TfB has offered a go-our-separate-ways settlement several times (from what I've read).

      The people that made Origins clearly loved the original, attempted to live up to the legacy, and succeeded more than I expected. All the drama is not their fault...

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    2. I actually just played Origins while the addict was playing SC2 and that might explain why it went the way it did plotwise. I was expecting it to better explain maybe the rise of the alliance, but was shocked they were all new aliens and a completely different story that doesn't fit with SC2 well.

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    3. Origins was always intended to be a reimagining of SC2 so that they wouldn't stomp over the story that TFB created.

      Here's the thing; all this stuff started because Stardock purchased the trademark for Star Control and then TFB said they were creating a new Star Control game. That's about as blatant as you can get with trademark violation. Stardock HAD engage to stop it or they risk losing their trademark, which then turned into the current legal kerfluffle, which includes the question being raised as to whether or not Atari was in the position to sell Stardock the trademark in the first place. If indeed Stardock owns the Star Control trademark then they are not only within their rights to tell TFB to not use the name, they are obligated to. My read on the situation is that Stardock politely told TFB they couldn't call Ghosts of the Precursors "Star Control" and TFB got pissy about that and started the shit they're currently mired in.

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    4. It's a touchy subject, and hard to talk about Origins without mentioning the surrounding controversy. Both sides are making conflicting statements, not only about IP rights, but about who said and did what when. It's difficult to know what to believe...

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    5. I'm firmly on Reiche and Ford's side regarding this. I'll admit that I mostly attribute that to Stardock's horrible response to them and the disregard for their counter-response. I don't really understand any of this legal mumbo jumbo that's going on.

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    6. Reading some of the legal papers, it does look like Stardock didn't have the copyright like they thought. There is a lot of BS flying between the two, with wrongs by both sides....but it does look like Reiche and Ford are more in the right than Stardock.

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    7. Community journalists are reporting that a settlement was reached between Stardock and Paul & Fred.

      https://www.reddit.com/r/starcontrol/comments/by25ut/settlement_reached/



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    8. Nothing about that post fills me with any kind of good feelings. I find myself doubtful that Reiche and Ford are getting a good deal out of this, just from what little was being stated there. I guess we'll have to see what their response is; I hope this doesn't cause them to abandon their game or interfere with work on Ur-Quan Masters...

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    9. The official statement from Paul & Fred is that Stardock® and Frungy Games™ (Fred and Paul) are happy and relieved to announce that all parties have settled their disputes amicably and in a way where the fans of Star Control® and The Ur-Quan Masters™ are the biggest winners. Details in a week at E3.

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    10. I suspect that P&F did not get exclusive rights to the Star Control™️ Trademark, but I doubt they gave up any copyrights to the Ur-Quan Masters. The question is, did they get any rights to use the Trademark?

      I'm not sure how valuable a Trademark it is, anymore. Even if they can't call anything Star Control™️, I'm not sure that's a huge loss.

      Delete
  11. Looks like I accidentally skipped the "encounters and foes" section when I did my own estimate on the score, so I ended up low. Not that I complain, 51 is a fine score for a game that scored a straight zero in one category!

    Regarding the emptiness of the galaxy and upgrading your escort ships... Star Control 1 had a mechanic where you could find old Precursor relics on random planets that would upgrade an attribute of the ship that found it. Say an Earthling Cruiser finds Precursor thrusters on a planet and gets improved top speed.

    I think it would have been nice if they had brought that mechanic forward to SC2 as well. It would have helped making the universe more full. It would be perfect match for the Energy Scan function too. Limit it so you can install only one module per escort ship to curb worst abuses and I don't think it would have ruined game balance either.

    Canonically the universe is littered with Precursor ruins, it would've been nice to see some of them.

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    Replies
    1. I agree.

      I think the main problem is that we've gotten used to open worlds going hand-in-hand with lots of side quests. That wasn't true back in the 90s, when "side-quests" were barely a thing at all.

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  12. I'm looking forward to you tackling Planet's Edge. It should come up fairly soon I think, since it's also a 1992 game. It's got a 4 character party with their own stats and skills, planet exploration with turn based combat, as well as an upgradeable ship and real time space combat. Very cooland very underrated game

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  13. Seems like a completely reasonable rating to me. The "best game" monikers apply for people who also really enjoyed the combat (like me).

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  14. After your Patreon comment yesterday I was bracing for a score in the 30s but overall it's a fair score which I was expecting. I would have liked another 2 points somewhere so it made it onto your "Highest rated" list, but it's not really an RPG so I guess doesn't quite deserve to be there.

    Your upcoming list looks promising. I know nothing about Darklands except lots of commenters are claiming it's the best game ever, so I thoroughly look forward to it. The Gold Box game should be nice and comfortable, and I'm looking forwards to you playing Prophecy of the Shadow, one of the reviews on MobyGames describes it as "the worst game SSI made" so it should make for interesting reading for us, if not necessarily fun playing for you.

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    1. When I wrote that Patreon comment, I had drafted a final review that bitched a lot more about the races and a few other elements. But I re-read the draft and realized it made it sound like I disliked the game a lot more than I did, so I softened things in the final.

      Delete
  15. My apologies if I'm missing something, but why does this entry start with the box art for the original Star Control, rather than SC2?

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    Replies
    1. That would be "bad Googling" for 100, Alex.

      Delete
  16. Congratulations on another win! I'm glad you enjoyed the game, as I am one of the people who played and loved it as a kid. And SC2 is one of the few games that I think time hasn't hurt that much.

    I think one of the reasons the game looms so large in my mind is that it was a huge game with a detailed story. This was still the era where genres were being made, and as a player you never quite knew what was the full extent of any given game. SC2 has a large galaxy to explore, even if the path through the game in reality is quite narrow. As a kid I didn't understand that. The detail there is made me imagine any of the planets I did not visit might contain some new thing or some new alien. It has enough open mysteries that you imagine you could perhaps find the Androsynth, or something of the precursors. Few games of the era were as successful in tickling the imagination as SC2, and that is why it lived for a long time in schoolyard conversations. *happy campers*

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  17. "I'm not sure what would have done justice to the Syreen. How do you blend a fierce Amazonian and a seductive vixen in a single voice?"

    A top-tier voice actress can pull it. Grey DeLisle as Princess Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender comes in mind, especially if you cross-reference it with her role as Viconia in Baldur's Gate 2. A non -English example would be Mami Koyama as Kycilia Zabi.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39pg8uBU8XA

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  18. have any so far allowed us to explore an open universe?

    One could argue that the Elite series offers an open universe, or at least an open galaxy, to explore, but the common problem with those games is that there isn't much to do, not in rpg terms anyway.

    Mercenary II: Damocles gives you a solar system to play around in, and gives you plenty to do, but it's lacking in people with which to interact. I think the sequel improves on this by introducing NPCs but I've never played it.

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  19. I understand your sentiment about fan games having old graphics but just to represent the other side for a moment-- the graphic setting of a game gives it all the wholesome feel it has, but more than that fans just get sad when a character "dies" because there are no more stories. Space Quest has already had its series extended by fans´determination and they haven´t disappointed. If done right, fan games let people to continue to live in the wonder of their favorite stories. We do have to be careful of the trap of overly done graphics anyway. How many books have become films, and yet books leave so much of the visual to our imagination.

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    1. I think you MISSED my point about graphics, which was supposed to be something along the lines of "the opportunity to introduce better graphics is a poor reason to remake a game." Almost everytime I hear a call for a remake, it's with the idea that "today's graphics" will somehow improve upon the gameplay experience. I reject that idea, whether it's applied to Ultima IV or Star Control II. The graphics for most great classics are just fine for what those games were trying to achieve, and players who think they're too good for the iconograpy of Ultima or the textures of Dungeon Master are exhibiting, in my opinion, an actual character flaw rather than just a difference of opinion.

      There are some good reasons to remake games, principally when the technology of the time (which MIGHT occasionally include graphics, but is more likely to be related to disk storage and processing power) wasn't up to what the developer wanted to achieve, or when the production company under-funded the developer's vision. But even then, I often wonder why "remake" instead of just writing a new game in a similar spirit?

      Delete
    2. Hear hear (to the Addict). I'd go one step further and say that I reject the idea that increased graphical resources are in any way synonymous with "improvement" or "superiority" -- that they're in any way intrinsically "better".

      That might be true if realism, hyper-accurate simulation, and/or sheer horsepower were the primary or only goals of a work of art. But the development of photography didn't make painting or mosaic obsolete -- it only superseded them as pure representation, which is but one of the many jobs art can have -- and the development of amplifiers and synthesizers didn't make the violin and piano somehow "less than".

      It's not just that the stylized nature of older games' graphics is inherent to the medium within which they work, but that the non-linearity and resistance in the materials is what makes them interesting. In retrospect there was a kind of inverse uncanny valley that persisted for a while, sometime between 1983 (or so) and 2000 -- a time where the graphics were good enough to be immersive, but required the player's imagination to fill in some of the details.

      Once devs were able to fill in those details themselves, it turned out that 90% of the time, their conception was crushingly banal -- which wasn't a surprise, since 90% of everything is crushingly banal per Sturgeon's Law. But now there was no mediating factor, no technological veil, to help us ignore it.

      So when I read people urging for remakes and updated graphics, I wonder what it is they really want. Is it a fulfillment of the promise of the original? Or is it just a revision that brings the original in line with contemporary aesthetics -- in which (at least 90% of the time) everything is "in your face" or cutesy/kitschy or otherwise overdetermined so that there's no room for real ambiguity?

      I think it's the latter, which suggests that a whole lot of people have more in common with 1990s George Lucas than they'd like to admit. (Except the money, natch.)

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    3. Sorry, that last sentence should start "I think it's OFTEN the latter". I know the above is a bit polemical, but I'm not quite so categorical as all that...

      Delete
    4. @CRPGAddict, I've never heard the opinion that somebody thought they were "too good" for the original's graphics. Usually when talking about remakes, remasters, etc. for games, they simply want to see the original game elevated to a new level precisely because they enjoyed the original so much. They don't want the game to end, they want to keep experiencing it in different ways, which can include new graphics to bring to life the world that you previously had to imagine from a selection of eight tiles of no more than 16 colors. (Gasp! Heresy!)

      I beat all of Morrowind on the original Xbox release, which of course rules out the possibility of any mods or tweaks. I beat the main campaign and loved it. But when I acquired a PC copy, I install Better Bodies and some higher-resolution textures, and I'm eager to see where the attempts to port the game to Oblivion and Skyrim's engine go. Not because I think I'm "too good" for the old game, but because I loved it so much that I'm excited to see it with a fresh coat of paint and new tricks up it's sleeve. The idea that valuing aesthetic appeal somehow makes you a lesser gamer ("dull" and "dilettante") is reminiscent of the high-and-mighty position taken by plenty of less-than-pleasant gaming communities out there.

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    5. I have, very frequently, encountered the sentiment that a game's dated graphics make it unworthy of play. On several occasions, I've seen players specifically tell others NOT to play Morrowind because Skywind will be coming out eventually.

      These players aren't viewing remakes as ways to extend the life of the original. They're viewing remakes as ways to replace it. That isn't to say that everyone who plays or calls for remakes won't tolerate old graphics, but it's certainly a driving factor for many. I've been there myself before; my first time playing Ultima IV was with an SVGA tileset on xu4 because they were "better," and when Super Mario Bros. DX came out I was disappointed that it used the NES graphics even though the GBC could do better.

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    6. I can't speak to the first case as it's not something I've encountered often. But in the case of xu4 and SMB: Gameplay being equal, and the assuming original version is still available... What's wrong with wanting the game to look better? (or more advanced, since you put "better" in quotes) You can still see what U4 and SMB and Morrowind looked like, on Google or YouTube if not personal experience.

      Are the enhanced editions of Baldur's Gate, Planescape etc. somehow violating the purity of the original by playing at a higher resolution than originally possible? Is DOOM not DOOM anymore because modern sourceports add a few more graphical tricks?

      I will always advocate for preservation and distribution of old games, graphics, glitches and flaws intact. But I reject the thesis that such is the only way, or the best way, to experience any given game for any given player. As the saying goes, different strokes for different folks. I'll never get why some people prefer Brutal Doom to just plain DOOM, but I draw the line at saying they're incorrect for doing so.

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    7. There are a couple of reasons why I now consider playing Ultima IV with SVGA graphics for my first time to be a mistake. For one, the "advanced" tile set is anachronistic, and doesn't mesh well with the tile-based iconographic approach. Just as grabbing HD texture packs will never make an N64 game look like a PS3 game, SVGA tiles did not make Ultima IV look like an SVGA game. Also, the new look, as with any graphical facelift, represents someone else's vision for how they think Ultima should to look. Only the original represents how Origin intended it to look in 1985. Last, going from Ultima IV to Ultima V, I actually experienced a downgrade in graphical fidelity, as Ultima V had no SVGA tile set at the time.

      I haven't played BG:EE, but I've heard enough about it that I don't want to. Cutting out the original FMVs alone violates purity in a big way. Even if you can just watch them on Youtube, it's not the same experience. They were meant to be seen while playing the game. Same goes for watching U4/SMB/Morrowind on Youtube; watching someone play them with their original graphics is not the same as playing them with their original graphics.

      Brutal Doom, whether one prefers it to Doom or not, isn't Doom anymore. And I've actually seen players say "if you're going to play Doom, make sure you get the Brutal Doom mod to make it good." Not as often as I've seen players say not to play vanilla Morrowind, but it's happened, and I don't hesitate to say that this is both incorrect and does newcomers a disservice.

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    8. I haven't played BG enhanced, but PS:T enhanced does have the original game's FMVs as far as I can tell. I haven't beaten either version of the game, but the ones I saw in the original are also present in the enhanced edition.

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    9. I don't want the purest experience, I want the best experience that's faithful to my memories of the original. I would never go back to the original BGs GUI after playing the enhanced edition. I don't want the inventory irritations that they largely addressed in BG 2.

      There's a fantastic remake of wonder boy: the dragon's trap. It has new sprites and new music, and you can seamlessly flick between old and new mid-game. And it's cute being able to see the 8-bit graphics and hear the midis, but I play with the facelift on 95% of the time, cos its gorgeous.

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    10. And yeah I did miss the BG cutscenes a little. I wish they'd been redone, instead of the semi-animated scenes they replaced them with. It might have been a bit jarring to put 90s FMV into a 1920x1080 experience though.

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    11. They did add them for BG2:EE or PT:EE with no jarring at all. At least Beamdog should have included the option to choose between the original cutscenes and the new ones.

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    12. This has been an interesting discussion, and I'm sorry I wasn't able to jump in sooner. Just a few comments:

      1. In response to Alex's original reply, I agree that perhaps my language was too harsh. However, I was objecting more to players who would refuse to play a game at all because of "outdated graphics" more than those who are just curious what the game would look like with a fresh coat of paint.

      2. I'm not very graphically-oriented anyway, as you all know. Part of it is my colorblindness. I am very easy to please graphically and have never seen a mod that changed the graphics enough to affect my experience of a game.

      3. Can someone give me an example of FMV in the original BG? I literally don't remember any at all.

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    13. In answer to point 3. Here are the original videos that were later scrapped for the enhanced edition of Baldur's Gate 1. They have aged badly but reflect the game creator's intentions. Moreover, the new comic like ones are even worse by today's standards:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zW63fmRj3x0
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbH41uYgj6U
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXqc3cNznqg
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yB6sz-Pq3Mc

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    14. There's the intro video, and vignettes when you enter certain locations for the first time: Friendly Arm Inn, Beregost, Nashkel, Gnoll Fort, etc

      You can see a few here: https://youtu.be/zW63fmRj3x0?t=309

      Delete
    15. I guess I've been using the term wrong. I thought FMV referred to LIVE-action video.

      Delete
  20. I don't mind the low GIMLET, especially as you underrate or disregard things this game is best at: for lovers of Space War-style combat over Wing Commander-style in-cockpit action, SC 2 is probably the peak (I likely have more time playing Super Melee than I have playing most full games). And the music, which is probably the greatest strength of the game, is something you don't care about at all. In a time where most games had one or two short MIDI pieces, having full MOD compositions for every alien type and almost every other type of screen in the game was amazing, and I still have a few of them on music playlists. Even the brief victory ditties help characterize the aliens of the game.

    The lack of side quests is absolutely a problem, although as you note about the development, Reiche and Ford were already not getting paid to do a game this complex, so spending another year implementing robust side-quests simply wasn't in the cards. In context, though, this was a sequel to SC 1, a pure strategy/combat game, so the addition of story at all came as a bit of a surprise.

    Some of the clever design relating to controlling what kinds of ally ships you have access to is invisible to someone unfamiliar with SC 1 combat. In particular, at the start your ship selection means you can't spend too long in VUX territory, need to avoid the Ilwrath, and must be concerned by Probe attrition. The first big breakthrough, assuming you don't really upgrade the flagship for fighting, is getting the Orz alliance, which you can do at game start. But the Orz are in what you believe to be Androsynth territory, and their ship is deadly to everything in your fleet for the first half of the game (plus the stars are all big and hot, making mining riskier). The designers thus create circumstances on your first play to keep you from getting the Nemesis immediately. Blending story with the specific characteristics of the various ships wouldn't have been necessary, either, but there's good reasons in game for the Pkunk to have trouble fighting the Ilwrath or the Druuge to have never conquered the Mycon or Utwig.

    I find Starflight combat unplayable (and did even in the era), and the EGA interface was muddy; SC 2 has a sharper, cleaner, more timeless look to it, and the combat (for all its twitch-fest faults) remains engaging. Arguably, the Mass Effect series owes much more to SC 2 & 3 than to Starflight; possibly, it owes too much to them.

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    1. I understand your points, except that the GIMLET really isn't all that low. A 51 puts it in top 10% of games I've covered so far.

      Delete
    2. As for the budget, they agreed to it. If you don't want to work on your own time, don't agree to the budget, or build a less complex game. Or manage your time better. If your budget is so limited, maybe playing around with a Universe generation algorithm isn't the best idea.

      I applaud the designers for making the game they wanted to make, and spending their free time doing it. But don't blame the publisher for not paying the developers.

      Besides, since long hours and lousy pay were kind of industry practice at the time (and still are?), I'm not sure if they really had it worse than other developers.

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    3. Then again, the developers did not complain about the budget originally (AFAIK). They only refused to make the sequel with the same budget.

      Delete
    4. They did have a readme file that (humorously) described how the game development had gotten away from them. It's clear SC 2 was a labor of love, and a lot of its best bits (music included) were done on the cheap.

      Delete
  21. You mentioned remakes. Are you familiar with the Ur-Quan Masters project? http://sc2.sourceforge.net/

    ReplyDelete
  22. "How do you blend a fierce Amazonian and a seductive vixen in a single voice?"

    Well, there was at least one effort. ;)
    https://youtu.be/3bk7RcSayaE?t=83

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  23. "How do you blend a fierce Amazonian and a seductive vixen in a single voice?"

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mrT2mqj0t4

    ReplyDelete
  24. The times for this game on howlongtobeat.com are quite low but they all mention using a walkthrough.

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  25. You are putting too much faith into Bethesda in creating something akin to Star Control in todays industry.

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    1. I don't feel that putting Bethesda's name in a sentence with the word "perhaps" is "putting too much faith." It's really putting the least amount of faith possible while mentioning them at all. "Putting too much faith" would be declaring that Starfield is the only game I'll buy in 2020, dumping all my money into their stock, and getting "Starfield" tattooed across my back.

      But, yeah, as one of the few RPG enthusiasts who doesn't feel that they've turned out nothing but rubbish since 2003, I at least have HOPE that it will be a good game.

      Delete
  26. As Star Control 1 and the precursor artifacts have been mentioned, one interesting anecdote. One of the updates was a dynamo that increased energy regeneration. They stacked. That meant you could get a Yehat to the point that you could keep your shields up all the time, even when firing. So you could become invulnerable.

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  27. I guess (from your descriptions) the Mass Effect series has a lot of Star Control in it. In fact your descriptions reminded me so much of it that I bought Andromeda :)
    Can you compare it to Mass Effect (if you have played,that)?

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    1. I'd say Andromeda is the Fallout 4 of the Mass Effect series. (Coincidentally it's also the 4th entry.) It gets a lot of flak, but it really wasn't a bad game. For me, it was a breath of fresh air to freely roam around again on large maps, exploring, finding mining deposits, etc. after the linear tunnel dungeons of ME2 and ME3.

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    2. I've got to say that, having just replayed Andromeda, I think it gets far too bad a rap. I think there's plenty of good stuff there, particularly the return of planetary exploration as mentioned above. It also helped to know, from the previous playthrough, which "tasks" were utterly pointless and best ignored.

      Delete
  28. The conflict on the Star Control franchise rights has been settled :

    https://www.dogarandkazon.com/blog/2019/6/11/the-only-way-to-win-is

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  29. These is an often overlooked Easter egg-ish silly dialog for the druuge you can get if you parse their dialog carefully. The reward for selling a key artifact (you can make a zombie state of you sell them the wrong one, or do this with 'backup' egg) is of course fuel.

    "All the fuel your ship can hold" if you make your entire flagship double capacity fuel tanks, and only take say 45 fuel to portal-spawn into the neighborhood and fly over one way... that's something like 20,000 RUs worth of fuel you can take back to base and sell. The worst part is selling it all at the starbase takes a solid 5 minutes of holding down the sell button.

    https://youtu.be/tKVXcw6hakU

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    1. Spoilers:

      I just remembered, it's not truly a dead game, even if you lose your Mycon egg and other key items, you can wait for the end game when the kohr-ah go around killing everyone. You need to get the utwig the bomb after they are dead, then go wait for them to kill the Myron and get the sun device, then rush over to the chmmr before they or earth gets killed, then hurry on to the final fight.

      Delete

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