Monday, March 25, 2019

Game 321: Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters (1992)

Let's not judge this one by its title screen . . .
               
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

When I started this blog in 2010, I had already played, at least in adolescence--most of the RPGs that everyone else knows. I may not have remembered all of the details, but I at least could remember the basic outlines of The Bard's Tale, Might and Magic, Wizardry, Questron, Pool of Radiance, and all of the Ultimas. There were lots of games I had never played--never even heard of--of course, but those were games that most other people my age had never encountered either. It wasn't until about a year into my blog, with Dungeon Master, that I truly felt I was blogging about a game that I should be ashamed for never having played previously.

For the first time since then, I am in that position again with Star Control II, a game that frequently makes "top X" lists of the best games of all time. My commenters have mentioned it so many times that my usual pre-game search of previous comments turned up too many results to analyze. This one, in other words, is really going to fill a gap.
       
. . . even though the first game had an awesome title screen.
        
There has been some debate about whether Star Control II is an RPG, but at least almost everyone agrees that its predecessor was not. That predecessor went by the grandiose name Star Control: Famous Battles of the Ur-Quan Conflict, Volume IV (1990), in an obvious homage to Star Wars. It's an ambitious undertaking--part simulator, part strategy game, part action game. The player has to manage ships and other resources and plan conquests of battle maps, but in the end the conflict always comes down to a shooting match between two ships using Newtonian physics and relying almost entirely on the player's own dexterity. This combat system goes back to Spacewar! (1962) and would be familiar to anyone who's played Asteroids (1979).

The setup has an Earth united under one government by 2025. In 2612, Earth is contacted by a crystalline race called the Chenjesu and warned that the Ur-Quan Hierarchy, a race of slavers, is taking over the galaxy. (Star Control II retcons this date to 2112.) Earth is soon enlisted into the Alliance of Free Stars and agrees to pool resources in a mutual defense pact. The Alliance includes Earth, the philosophic Chenjesu, the arboreal Yehat, the robotic Mmrnmhrm, the elfin Ariloulaleelay, and a race of all-female nymphomaniacs called the Syreen who fly phallic ships with ribbed shafts.

On the other side are the Ur-Quan, an ancient tentacled species with a strict caste system. They make slaves out of "lesser races" and only communicate with them via frog-like "talking pets." Their allies include Mycons, a fungus species; Ilwraths, a spider-like race that never takes prisoners; and Androsynths, disgruntled clones who fled captivity and experimentation on Earth. Each race (on both sides) has unique ship designs with various strengths and weaknesses, some of which nullify other ships. There's a kind-of rock-paper-scissors element to strategically choosing what ships you want to employ against what enemies.
          
No "bumpy forehead" aliens in this setting.
         
The occasionally-goofy backstory and description of races seems to owe a lot (in tone, if not specifics) to Starflight (1986), on which Star Control author Paul Reiche III had a minor credit. There are probably more references than I'm picking up (being not much of a sci-fi fan) in the ships themselves. "Earthling Cruisers" (at least the front halves) look like they would raise no eyebrows on Star Trek, and both Ilwrath Avengers (in the back) and Vux Intruders (in the front) look like Klingon warbirds. The Ur-Quan dreadnought looks passably like the Battlestar Galactica.

The original Star Control offers the ability to fight player vs. player or set one of the two sides to computer control (at three difficulty levels). In playing, you can simply practice ship vs. ship combat with any two ships, play a "melee" game between fleets of ships, or play a full campaign, which proceeds through a variety of strategic and tactical scenarios involving ships from different species in different predicaments.  The full game gives player the ability to build colonies and fortifications, mine planets, and destroy enemy installations in between ship-to-ship combats.
         
The various campaign scenarios in the original game.
      
The "campaign map" in the original game is an innovative "rotating starfield" that attempts to offer a 3-D environment on a 2-D screen. It takes some getting used to. Until they reach each other for close-quarters combat, ships can only move by progressing through a series of jump points between stars, and it was a long time before I could interpret the starfield properly and understand how to plot a route to the enemy.
         
Strategic gameplay takes place on a rotating starmap meant to simulate a 3-D universe.
             
I have not, in contrast, managed to get any good at ship combat despite several hours of practice. I'm simply not any good at action games. At the same time, I admire the physics and logistics of it. You maintain speed in the last direction you thrust even if you turn. You have limited fuel, so you can't go crazy with thrusting in different directions. You can get hit by asteroids, or fouled in the gravity wells of planets. And you have to be conservative in the deployment of your ships' special abilities, because they use a lot of fuel. Still, no game in which action is the primary determiner of success is going to last long on my play list. For such players, the game and its sequel offer "cyborg" mode, where technically you're the player but the computer fights your battles, but I'd rather lose than stoop to that.
             
One of my lame attempts at space combat.
          
Star Control II opens with a more personal backstory. In the midst of the original Ur-Quan conflicts, the Earth cruiser Tobermoon, skippered by Captain Burton, was damaged in an ambush and managed to make it to a planet orbiting the dwarf star Vela. As they tried to repair the ship, crewmembers found a vast, abandoned underground city, populated with advanced technology, built by an extinct race known as the Precursors.
        
The backstory is reasonably well-told with title cards.
      
Burton reported the find when she returned to Earth, and she was ordered to return with a scientific team led by Jules Farnsworth. Shortly after they arrived, they received word from Earth that the Ur-Quan had learned about the Precursor city and were on their way. Burton balked at Earth's orders to abandon and destroy the base with nuclear weapons. Instead, she sent her ship back to Earth under the command of her first officer and remained behind with the scientific team, planning to detonate nuclear weapons should the Ur-Quan ever arrive.
         
        
The team ended up spending 20 years on the planet, which they named Unzervalt, with no contact from Earth. During that time, the scientists discovered that the city had been created to build ships, and eventually they were able to activate the machines, which put together a starship. The machines shut down just as the ship was completed, reporting that there were insufficient raw materials to continue. About this time, Farnsworth admitted that he was a fraud, and all the success he'd experienced getting the machines up and running was due to a young prodigy born on Unzervalt--the player character.
         
They're not kidding about the "skeleton" part.
         
Burton assembled a skeleton crew for the new starship, with the PC manning the computer station, and blasted off. Three days out, they discovered the derelict Tobermoon, damaged and bereft of any (living or dead) crewmembers. Burton took command of the Tobermoon while the PC was promoted to captain of the new ship. Tobermoon was soon attacked and destroyed by an unknown alien craft, leaving the new ship to escape to Earth. Here the game begins.
         
What "plight"? You live on a technologically-advanced Eden where your enemies seem to have forgotten about you.
         
The player can name himself and his ship, and that's it for "character creation." He begins in the middle of the solar system, in a relatively empty ship with 50 crew and 10 fuel. I intuited that I needed to fly towards Earth, so I headed for the inner cluster of planets.  
            
"Character creation."
             
As the screen changed to show Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, a probe zoomed out and attached itself to our ship. It played a recording from an Ur-Quan (with the "talking pet" doing the talking), informing me that approaching Earth was forbidden, as was my status as an "independent" vessel. The probe then zoomed off to inform the Ur-Quan of my "transgressions," leaving me to explore the planetary area at will. I guess the war didn't go so well for the Alliance.
            
Well, we now know how the first game ended, canonically.
        
As I approached Earth, the screen changed to show Earth, the moon, and a space station orbiting Earth. Earth itself seemed to have some kind of red force field around it, so I approached the space station.

As I neared, I was contacted by a "Starbase Commander Hayes of the slave planet Earth." He indicated that his energy cores were almost depleted and asked if we were the "Hierarchy resupply ship." At this point, I had a few dialogue options. One allowed me to lie and say I was the resupply ship. Another had me introduce myself. A third--more reflective of what I was actually thinking--said "'Slave planet?!' 'Hierarchy resupply vessel?!' What is going on here?'" The commander said he'd answer my questions if we'd bring back some radioactive elements to re-power the station. He suggested that we look on Mercury.
        
I like dialogue options, but so far they've broken down into: 1) the straight, obvious option; 2) the kind-of dumb lie; and 3) the emotional option that still basically recapitulates #1.
          
I flew off the Earth screen and back to the main solar system screen. At some point during this process, I had to delete the version of the game that I'd downloaded and get a new one. None of the controls worked right on the first one I tried. I particularly couldn't seem to escape out of sub-menus, which was supposed to happen with the SPACE bar. The second version I downloaded had controls that worked right plus someone had removed the copy protection (which has you identifying planets by coordinates). The controls overall are okay. They're much like Starflight, where you arrow through commands and then hit ENTER to select one. I'd rather be able to just hit a keyboard option for each menu command, but there aren't so many commands that it bothers me. Flying the ship is easy enough with the numberpad: 4 and 6 to turn, 8 to thrust, 5 to fire, ENTER to use a special weapon. There's a utility you can use to remap the combat commands, but using it seems to run the risk of breaking the main interface, which I guess is what happened with the first version I downloaded.
            
Running around Mercury and picking up minerals. The large-scale rover window (lower right) is quite small.
           
When orbiting a planet, you get a set of options much like Starflight. You can scan it for minerals, energy, or lifeforms, and then send down a rover (with its own weapons and fuel supply) to pick things up. Minerals are color-coded by type, and at first I was a little annoyed because I can't distinguish a lot of the colors. But it turns out that the explorable area of planets is quite small, and you can easily zoom around and pick up all minerals in just a few minutes. In that, it's quite a bit less satisfying than Starflight, where the planets were enormous and you'd never explore or strip them all, and you got excited with every little collection of mineral symbols. 

The rover doesn't hold much, but returning to the ship and then landing again is an easy process, so before long my hold was full of not just uranium and other "radioactives," but iron, nickel, and other metals. In mining them, the rover was periodically damaged by gouts of flame from the volatile planet, but it gets repaired when you return to the main ship.
        
Returning to base with a near-full cargo manifest.
         
We returned to the starbase and transferred the needed elements. With the station's life support, communications, and sensors working again, the captain was able to scan my vessel, and he expressed shock at its configuration. Rather than give him the story right away, I chose dialogue options that interrogated him first.
              
This seems to be everybody's reaction.
          
Commander Hayes explained that the Ur-Quan had defeated the Alliance 20 years ago. They offered humanity a choice between active serve as "battle thralls" or imprisonment on their own planet. Humanity chose the second option, so the Hierarchy put a force field around the planet, trapping the human race on a single world and preventing assistance from reaching them. But they also put a station in orbit so their own ships could find rest and resupply if they happened to pass through the system. The station is maintained by humans conscripted from the planet for several years at a time.
          
Humanity's fate didn't seem so bad until he got to this part.
          
When he was done, I (having no other choice, really) gave him our background and history and asked for his help. Pointing out that starting a rebellion and failing would result in "gruesome retribution," he asked me to prove my efficacy by at least destroying the Ur-Quan installation on the moon, warning me that I would have to defeat numerous warships.

We left the station and sailed over to the moon. An energy scan showed one blaze of power, so I sent the rover down to it. The report from the rover crew said that the alien base was abandoned and broadcasting some kind of mayday signal, "but great care has been taken to make it appear active." My crew shut the place down and looted it for parts.
           
My crew files a "report from the surface."
         
Lifeform scans showed all kinds of dots roaming around the moon, most looking like little tanks. I don't know if I was supposed to do this or not, but I ran around in the rover blasting them away in case they were enemies. I also gathered up all the minerals that I could.

I returned to the starbase, and the commander accepted my report. Just then, an Ilwrath Avenger, having found the probe, entered the system. The arachnid commander threatened us. There were some dialogue options with him, all of which I'm sure resulted in the same outcome: ship-to-ship combat.
           
They're not just "spider-like"; they actually spin webs on their bridges.
        
This part was much like the original game, although with the ship icons larger and against a smaller backdrop. I (predictably) lost the battle the first two times that I tried, but won the third time. In my defense, the game's backstory specifically said that I had minimal weapons. It was also a bit lumbering--slow to turn, slow to thrust.
         
The alien ship destroys me in our first encounter.
       
When I returned to starbase after the battle, Commander Hayes said he would join my rebellion, and the starbase would be my home base. He asked what we would call our movement, and there were some amusing options.
           
The last option tempted me, but I was boring and went with the first one.
           
Through a long series of dialogues, I learned that as I brought back minerals and salvage, the base could convert them into "resource units" (RU) which I could then use to build my crew, purchase upgrades for the Prydwen (improved thrusters, more crew pods, more storage bays, more fuel), get refueled, and build a fleet of starships. I can even build alien ships if I can find alien allies to pilot them.
         
My own starbase. Why can't I name it?
         
Hayes had a lot more dialogue options related to history and alien species, but I'll save those for later. It appears that the introduction is over and I now have a large, open universe to explore, where I'm sure I'll do a lot of mining, fighting, and diplomacy. In this sense, Star Control II feels like more of a sequel to Starflight than the original Star Control.
            
One part of a nine-page starmap that came with the game. I'm tempted to print it out and assemble it on the wall in front of my desk. I suppose it depends on how long the game lasts.
         
I appreciate how the game eased me into its various mechanics. I'm enjoying it so far, and I really look forward to plotting my next moves. I suspect I'll be conservative and mine the rest of the resources in the solar system and buy some modest ship upgrades before heading out into the greater universe.

Time so far: 2 hours



87 comments:

  1. "The occasionally-goofy backstory and description of races seems to owe a lot (in tone, if not specifics) to Starflight (1986), on which Star Control author Paul Reiche III had a minor credit."

    Greg Johnson, the creator of Starflight, also worked on Star Control II, particularly on dialogue. He also did a few of the voices in the 3DO version. He actually both wrote and voiced my favorite alien species in the game (I'm erring on the side of excessive caution re: spoilers here).

    The previous year he had also made ToeJam & Earl for Sega. Dude loves his weird, funny aliens. Although of course it's an action game, Johnson cites Rogue as an influence. It's fashionable now for games outside the RPG/dungeon crawl genre to claim 'roguelike' influences, but TJ&E might be one of the first to do so. (And, given Johnson's RPG bona fides, I'm inclined to believe him!)

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  2. I'm very excited to read your take on this game, it's been a favourite of mine since I was a teenager and I just finished another playthrough. Although it's RPG credentials are a bit sketchy (as mentioned about 100 times in comments on your blog) I still think it will perform pretty well in the end on the Gimlet, there aren't too many other games of the era that have such a complex story. I will be interested in your take on the overall tone of the game, the super serious over-arching plot somewhat clashes with the goofy alien races.

    A very minor tip which I had forgotten in my recent playthrough in case you have missed it (yeah yeah I should have RTFM...), to completely flee combat use your main ship for the fight and then press Escape, it's very handy early game when you don't have any upgrades.

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  3. Starcontrol II is my absolute favorite computer game and I've been waiting for you to get to this one for years. I remember saving up lawnmowing money as a teenager to buy this one when it first came out and loving every minute of it.

    One of my favorite things about this game is that some of your actions and decisions have major consequences that can play out almost in real time across the universe.

    With regards to whether or not this is a true CRPG, my suggestion is to think of your ship as your character. Chester the pilot won't change much during the game, but your ship definitely "levels up" as you unlock new abilities and upgrades. Happy exploring!

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  4. Yeah, nobody spoil the game by hinting and gushing. Come on. In fact, I don't know if I would read any more comments past this point. You just know someone is going to do it, just like they spoiled the Diabolical Demon Director in Chaos Strikes Back.

    Definitely print out the starmap, if you can afford the printer ink. The game has an in-map starmap, but not with the names on it. Plus, it's a fun arts and crafts project with office supplies. I got an opportunity to use office supplies recently, and we've been so long in the digital age that I forgot how fun it was to cut, staple, tape, and label things.

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    1. Speaking of spoilers, that version of the starmap has a bunch: in particular, it shows where all the alien races are. There's a scan of the map that came with the game at www.star-control.com/sc2/images/sc2_color_map.jpg, and cleaned-up pdf versions of it at www.highprogrammer.com/alan/games/video/uqm/index.html.

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    2. Well, it is somewhat spoilery. After all, Earth would know the homeworlds of its allies and possibly its enemies from the first war. But it looks like it also includes the new races introduced in this installment, like the Pkunk. Ah well.

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    3. Indeed - don’t use this map it is massively spoilery.

      Mankind is not supposed to have such a perfect knowlegde of which races are around them by that point.

      Some other notes (no spoiler - but « rules »)

      - Your rover is not «  repaired » when it goes back on the main ship, rather it is recrews with crew from the main ship.
      - In Star Control, crew = HP which may be another reason why you had issues destroying the first Ilwrath ; you lost a lot of crew/HP in the rover phase,
      - Turnind and thrusting does not cost fuel and fuel regenerate during battle (with maybe 2 peculiar cases) so hit that special attack button !!

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    4. Of course. The reproduction of the map that came with the game, with a white background instead of black to save printer ink, is at this link as a PDF in a ZIP (for some reason). The original map is printable but will soak your pages with ink. I suppose if you had a laser printer at work and some photo paper, it would work.

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    5. Yes, Harland map is what mankind would know at the time of the return of the precursor ship, before various... changes.

      I recommand using it.

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    6. Thanks. I'll swap out the maps. The one I posted came withe my download; I just assumed.

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  5. Regarding Keys of Acheron, I found an image of the loading instructions for Atari diskette:

    1. Load Hellfire "Innkeeper" program normally
    2. Answer all prompts
    3. The computer will prompt you to "Insert disk with levels"
    - Insert expansion disk at this time
    4. After the "Levels Complete" prompt, re-insert the Hellfire disk to load the Dunjonmaster.

    Hope this helps!

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    1. Between this and a comment on my Patreon page, I think we've solved it. Thanks!

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  6. I think it makes sense to view the ship itself as a main character of the game. The fact that it's unique will come up several times in dialogue.

    You'll want to be careful with the landers. They don't take damage, exactly - that's your crew dying. You do lose the lander if they all die, but ultimately it will deplete your reserve crew of you take repeated hits. This can leave you with very few hit points if you're mining in or near unfriendly space.

    StarCon 2 is currently a part of a lawsuit between the creators and Brad Wardell, CEO of a company called Stardock, which launched a new StarCon game a few months back. Apparently ownership of the rights became very murky over the last 25 years, and the lawsuit spiraled out of an announcement back around September that Paul and Fred are working on a sequel to the story of StarCon 2. Sadly it'll be in the courts for awhile yet, but there have already been some rather dirty moves.

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  7. This is a game that I’ve always wanted to finish but never did. The first problem was due because of a bug; my ship could not travel up, across an invisible line in the map. I don’t remember what was the solution to overcome this; magazines offered disks and I probably got a patch… The second problem was the first combat; I've won only after managing to decelerate the computer a lot. But even so, because of my studies at the time, I never managed to go very far.
    I believe that, as with Staflight 1 and 2, this is not really an RPG but more of an adventure-action game. But, even so, it will be interesting to read your “travels” across the galaxy and to see if you manage to defeat the evil Ur-Quan. If not we’re all doomed!
    I think that you are playing the version of 1992 (probably patched). It would be interesting – if you have the time, of course - to compare with the new version “The Ur-Quan masters” available in https://sourceforge.net/projects/urquanmastershd/ It is the same game but the graphics are a lot better and it works fine on modern machines.

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  8. "The alien ship destroys me in our first encounter."

    Uh, why were you fighting with your flagship? The Earthling Cruiser you started with would've been a much better choice with its homing missiles. I guess this qualifies as general advice: if you're doing badly in combat, try a different ship. The rock-paper-scissors of the first game is still very much in effect.

    You'll be probably doing that anyway, but speak to the commander from time to time. He'll have new information about current events, and will also tell you details about any items you find. It's also necessary for formalizing any new alliances you make.

    "I suspect I'll be conservative and mine the rest of the resources in the solar system and buy some modest ship upgrades before heading out into the greater universe."

    That's a very good idea. I'd suggest to start with maxing out thrusters and turning jets. It saves precious fuel and time, and you'll be able to outrun most enemies as well. Though fighting them is also a good alternative to mining if you get good at combat, as destroyed ships also provide RU as salvage.

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    1. Oh, and don't forget that most ships have a secondary weapon or device of some kind. For example, in that Syreen vs. Ilwrath fight, you're supposed to use its "charm crew" secondary ability to drain the enemy before finishing him off with a single shot.

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    2. I somehow missed the fact that I had a second ship. Maybe it's a good thing that I have to restart.

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    3. The degree to which the flagship progresses from "molasses-slow peashooter as easy to hit as the broad side of a barn" to "unstoppable juggernaut" is one of the things that makes SC2 feel more like an RPG than not. But it remains important to know how to pilot and pick other ships.

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  9. This reminds me of the time you took a couple of entries to write about Pirates! Both are borderline CRPGs at best, with the ship/crew being the primary vehicle that improves and action sequences, but both are great games that inspire the "just one more turn" feeling. You deserve a fun time after slogging through some of the dreck of the CRPG universe!

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  10. Once I saw this game on the upcoming list, I've been looking forward to seeing you play this. I played the first Star Control on my Sega Genesis way back in the day, and several years later found my way to getting this game. I can easily say I've enjoyed it immensely and I'm hoping you will as well.

    Ship combat can be kind of difficult, especially with keyboard controls. Unfortunately, if you are playing the original DOS version, I think you are stuck with them. I know it's against how you usually do it but I would have recommended The Ur-Quan Masters version, which splices in the vocal work from the 3DO version and has several quality of life improvements, including a much larger window when using your lander and controller support, which I think is more intuitive than trying to play with keyboard. That's just me, though, and likely a holdover from playing the first one on a Sega Genesis...

    Anyways, good luck with this game! There is a lot to discover, so try to immerse yourself if you can.

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  11. I was excited to read about this game because I thought I'd never played it. Turns out I played the hell out of it in head-to-head mode when I was a kid. I don't think I even realized there was a campaign mode back then, I just remember long hours of dueling with my friends and the CPU. The ship designs were really creative!

    Looking forward to learning about the single-player part.

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    1. Yeah, I primarily thought of this game as a 2-player Spacewar. We played the crap out of it, it was a good head-to-head game. It wasn't until the Dosbox era that I actually sat down and played through the single player RPG part. Then I found out about Star Control 1, and I liked that even better. A strategic minigame instead of an RPG. Only problem was the CP wasn't a great opponent, and I had moved on from being able to arrange multiplayer computer gaming sessions.

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  12. If you're having technical issues with the game I would recommend playing the Ur-Quan Masters version. Star Control 2 has some minorish bugs, and at least one version without copy protection is unwinnable. The GOG version works fine as well.

    UQM has some changes to SC2, but they are mostly quite minor. The biggest is probably the planetary lander moving in the big window instead of the small one. Most of the other 3DO features you have enable/download separately.

    On a totally different note, Prydwen rang some bells, but after googling it I'm sorry to say I probably recognized it from Fallout 4, instead of its Arthurian source.

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    1. I don't see the game in either form coming up on GOG.

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    2. "We'd like to inform you that on Tuesday, December 5th, [2017] we will be removing Star Control: The Ur-Quan Masters and Star Control: The Kessari Quadrant from GOG catalogue. There is an ongoing discussion between the original developers and Stardock, which leads us to this removal. For some more details you can read a recent blog post by Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III.
      We hope this is just a temporary thing and both games will get back to the catalogue. Of course if you have the game already, you won't be affected by the removal."

      https://www.gog.com/forum/general/star_control_1_and_2_being_removed_from_gog/page1

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    3. The way Stardock is treating this makes me irrationally angry, and is the sole reason why I'm not going to purchase their new Star Control game. From what I can tell, Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III have made very reasonable counter demands compared to what Stardock originally sent them... Eh, you don't need to hear me ranting about how greedy I feel Stardock is being regarding the whole issue of the lawsuit...

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    4. The blog is here :

      https://www.dogarandkazon.com/

      I am pretty sure you can get an original version from the authors directly, @CRPG Addict. They are very reachable (esp. Paul Reiche III)

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    5. I don't think you even need to contact the authors, I think you can just download it directly from their webpage:

      http://sc2.sourceforge.net/downloads.php

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    6. Oh sorry, I wasn't reading carefully. The link above is for the free Ur-Quan Masters version, not the original version.

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    7. Yes, the Ur-Quan Masters version I was referring to is the fan "remake". As asimpkins said it is available from:

      http://sc2.sourceforge.net/

      The GOG version is, as stated above, not currently on sale, unfortunately. But as I said, I think you should just play the UQM version which you. Fred and Paul also recommend this:

      https://www.dogarandkazon.com/blog/2017/12/4/star-control-i-ii-and-iii-arent-for-sale-on-gogcom-any-more-how-come

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    8. The unfortunate thing about the Ur-Quan Masters remake is that it is missing a decent amount of content present in the original, by going full voice acting they found the need to cut some material for budget reasons. Unfortunately a mission critical clue ended on the cutting room floor.

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    9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    10. Really? If so I guess I should stop advocating it. I do know some lines were cut, but I didn't notice it when playing. Of course I had played through the game before, so if the clue is something relatively minor I probably just didn't notice. I think I still could plot half of SC2 from memory.

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    11. If the remake has fully-voiced dialogue, that's enough of a difference from the 1992 version that I wouldn't feel comfortable "upgrading."

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    12. The remake can be run without the voiced dialogue. It has a few settings where you can choose between PC-style or 3DO-style, mainly concerning audio and graphics.

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    13. Note that the voiced dialogs comes from the 1994 3DO version, so it is not like it was added recently.

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    14. Yeah, you can turn off the spoken dialogue and I think this gets you access to the dialogue bits that were cut. From the most recent version changeset, v0.7:

      "Added the missing bits to the no-voice versions of Mycon, Syreen and Utwig dialogue"

      So I think the differences are trivial, and there are even some nice changes like the larger lander screen. Since you are having crashes, I think it will be a less frustrating experience and not significantly influence your review of the game.

      But Ur-Quan is the only version I ever played (and what I guess most people will play now and in the future), so maybe there's something I'm missing.

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    15. FWIW, my two cents is that the Ur-Quan Masters is a meaningfully different experience from vanilla SC2.

      However, some of the "SC2 experience" I'm referring to is the technical achievements in sound, which Chet generally doesn't have much to say about, specifically the digitized voices pushed through vanilla PC Speaker audio...

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    16. I hate to sound like a broken record, but by default the Ur-Quan masters is very close to the original PC version. It has the same music, no voiced dialog and same opening. You have to specifically download and enable the 3DO voice, music and animation. The big difference is the planetary lander.

      As far as I can tell the editing of the dialog text to match the voiced dialog is the only reason to prefer the original PC version. I did not notice the changes in the dialog when I played UQM, and I was not aware of the change beforehand.

      Also I don't like the 3DO music or voices, but I suspect nostalgia is a big part of my dislike.

      All in all, if you have a working version of the original, there's nothing wrong with it. It's just not trivial to get it at this point in time, whereas UQM is.

      Delete
    17. Exactly. Just turn off the new stuff and you have something that's pretty much the same as the original SC2 experience except it's been recently designed and playtested for modern systems.

      And in one case UQM actually fixes a (minor) bug from the original and restores the intended behavior.

      Gur CP naq 3QB irefvba jbhyq arire unir Fylynaqeb Ceborf va fgne flfgrzf, ohg HDZ vg pna unccra. Gur CP naq 3QB irefvba qvq pbagnva pbqr vagraqrq gb znxr vg cbffvoyr, ohg qhr gb n oht vg qvq abg jbex. Va HDZ gur oht vf svkrq.

      Delete
    18. There is one useful (but not essential) piece of dialogue missing from UQM even with the voice acting turned off. I'll rot13 it below for any readers that might be using UQM for their first playthrough. You can read this after your first contact with the Melnorme early in the game:

      Ubj avpr gb frr lbh ntnva, Pncgnva.
      Orsber jr tb ba, V unir n fznyy naabhaprzrag.
      Nf lbh znl xabj, va bhe geniryf guebhtubhg gur tnynkl
      jr Zryabezr unir sbhaq znal fgenatr naq vagrerfgvat nyvra negvsnpgf.
      Bar bs gurfr qrivprf vf gur ZrgnPueba, n xvaq bs genaf-gvzr nynez flfgrz.
      Va n ahgfuryy, vg jneaf zr bs shgher qnatref ol cerqvpgvat vgf bja qrzvfr
      juvpu vf zbfg yvxryl yvaxrq gb zl bja jryy orvat, fvapr V xrrc vg haqre zl cvyybj.
      Gur havg vf n fznyy clenzvq naq, jura nyy vf jryy, juvgr va pbybe.
      Ohg vs jr ner cebprrqvat nybat n gvzryvar juvpu jvyy riraghnyyl erfhyg va gur qrfgehpgvba bs gur ZrgnPueba
      gur havg fybjyl qnexraf. Cerfhznoyl, vg jvyy or qrfgeblrq ng gur fnzr gvzr nf vg gheaf pbzcyrgryl oynpx.
      Jura jr svefg ragrerq guvf ertvba bs fcnpr, gur ZrgnPueba jnf juvgr.
      Abj vg vf yvtug tenl.
      Ng vgf cerfrag engr bs punatr, fbzrguvat jvyy qrfgebl gur ZrgnPueba
      va gur rneyl cneg bs gur lrne 2159.
      Va beqre gb nibvq guvf hacyrnfnagarff, jr znl or yrnivat whfg orsber guvf gvzr
      fb vs lbh unir ohfvarff lbh jvfu gb pbaqhpg jvgu hf
      V fhttrfg lbh qb fb orsber Wnahnel 2159, be Sroehnel ng gur yngrfg.

      Delete
    19. I should mention for any readers that want to play UQM with the voices on, that there's really just one additional critical missing bit of dialogue to worry about, so it's not like the experience is thoroughly broken.

      After you encounter the Mycon:
      Guvf vf n fcrpvny cynpr
      svyyrq jvgu Whssb-Jhc.
      Ohg vg vf abg gur fbhepr.
      Whssb-Jhc fcevatf sbegu sebz [tbbtyr vg].
      Jr zhfg abg nyybj guvf cynpr gb or fbvyrq ol gur Aba.

      Delete
    20. I swear to you, I've heard these lines spoken in UQM. When I read it, I can hear it in their voice. Either I'm going nuts, or that got fixed at some point... or I played an earlier version that it wasn't broken? I don't know, but I tell you, I've heard this line spoken in the game on one of my playthroughs...

      Delete
    21. All my posts are just based on researching on the internet over the past few days, so they might be incorrect.

      But also, most of that IS in there, it's just the critical piece of data, that one line, that's allegedly missing.

      See this page (spoilers):
      http://uqm.stack.nl/diff/mycon.html

      Delete
    22. Please proofread your posts even with ROT13, as it only obfuscates alphabetical characters. Numerical spoilers like dates remain intact.

      Delete
  13. Well, rough start. When I went to reload for a second session, the game wouldn't load my save. Looks like I'll have to start over. Is this a known issue?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Never had an issue like that. Weird.

      Delete
    2. Seems to have been a one-time fluke. I'm being extra cautious to use multiple save slots, though.

      Delete
  14. A minor note is that "Unzervalt" is almost-German for "our world". The proper German spelling would be "Unser Welt".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Unser_e_ Welt" (because the world is female). "Unzervalt" sounds more like "our forest" in German, though.

      Delete
    2. To quote from the games manual:

      Eventually they gave their planet a name: Unzervalt. It meant, simply, “our world.”

      Delete
  15. It's nice to finally see you play this. I decided to play it myself a month or two ago specifically because I didn't want to have it spoiled like Starflight, and there's several parts that I can't wait to see your reaction to

    ReplyDelete
  16. One mechanic that snuck up on me at one point is that you spend fuel landing on planets, and it varies depending on the mass of the planet. So, it may be a net loss to get crappier materials from some planets...

    They have so many mineral types that they don't have enough distinctive colors to disambiguate them all that well, even with a full RGB spectrum. I recall there was one practically worthless mineral that looked like a reasonably valuable one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're thinking of how metals are silver, while common is a weird cobalt that can be hard to distinguish from the silver when you don't have them side by side to compare.

      Delete
    2. I guess my monitor was not well calibrated back in the day, because screenshots on my phone's OLED make them seem more distinct. Or maybe they tweaked the colors in the OSS UQM?

      I was always confused between Corrosives (red) and Radioactives (red-orange)... And between Common (cyan) and Noble Gasses (blue).

      I think also on a noisy planet surface, they are harder to distinguish.

      Delete
    3. Colorblind gamer here. I found the colors vrey frustrating. The materials weren't that big a deal, since the orbital scanners generally tell you what kind of material is found on the surface. But the colors of the stars, planets, and orbital trails are clues meant to help you pick out where to go for the most valuable hauls, and didn't help me nearly as much as it was supposed to.

      Delete
    4. For what it's worth, I found planet color to be of absolutely no help in predicting mining value, and star color to have minor impact at best. (Star size was a much better predictor.)

      I'd think color-blindness would be more of an issue identifying the materials - red's nearly worthless, green's above average, and orange is the second-best. I haven't tried it, but there's a mod here for the Ur-Quan Masters remake that changes the mining colors.

      Delete
    5. See, here we are and people are already dropping spoilers in the comments.

      Delete
  17. I must have played this in the mid-late 90s, when the first "abandonware" websites started to crop up, I really never heard of it before then.

    I remember it as a nice surprise and truly excellent, unique experience, a weird mix of action, exploration, adventure and CRPG,before games became too streamlined in set genres (another favorite of mine is the first Dune, which unfortunately has even less CRPG creds).

    It will be nice to relive it through the blog, and I cannot imagine Chet not enjoing it, given how much he liked the Starflight games.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Addict, IMO, you're messing up pretty severely here, in that you're not playing the right version. The PC version has really limited sound and music. I think it was Adlib sound, even, just really old.

    What you want is the 3DO version, which took advantage of the newfangled CD drives to deliver a full talkie experience. The voices in this game are so good, and they add so very very much atmosphere. Toys For Bob did an incredibly good porting job; it is BY FAR the best version. You desperately want to play that one, even though you may not know it now.

    Unfortunately, emulating the 3DO is hard. Fortunately, however, you don't have to. Ten or fifteen years ago, Toys For Bob released the code and rights to everything they had control over, which was the program itself, art assets, sound, and music. But, critically, they didn't own the name. They also didn't own the videos that were added to the 3DO.

    A group of hobbyists grabbed the available code and assets, and ported everything to Windows. But they couldn't call it Star Control, that name was owned by someone else. (Atari, maybe?) So the project got the moniker "The Ur-Quan Masters". It's Windows-native, and supports all the upgrades of the 3DO version. There's no emulation layer, it's just running native code, so it will be fast and highly compatible. (You may have to fool around in settings for a while to get a resolution you like, I remember that as being a bit arcane, but it'll be fine after that.)

    UQM also supports the 3DO videos if you can find them, but I was not able to source those when I went looking a few months ago. They used to be omnipresent on the torrent sites, but seem to have fallen out of circulation, and I wasn't able to find any. But the game plays really well sans videos; you're losing an opening, a closing, and I think the finish of a major battle near the end of the game. It's not a crippling loss.

    The loss of the voices, however, would be crippling, and UQM has those. Even though it's not quite period-accurate, play that version. It's totally free, and easy to find. It's the game the way it was intended to be, and it remains truly excellent.

    Don't miss the voices. You want the voices.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I find the original version superior. The voice acting only diminishes the alien-ness of the aliens, and music is BETTER in the original version.

      Delete
    2. I also absolutely prefer the game without voices. Also, music in the dos version is not Adlib/fm synth based like most dos games, but module based. The soundtrack is a classic, one reason I prefer text to voices actually.

      Delete
    3. Another vote for the original DOS version from me. Better music, plus what's good about the aliens is the writing, and voice acting doesn't elevate it.

      Delete
    4. I guess I'll say that I love the voice acting and agree that the 3DO changes are mostly improvements (I prefer the original hyperspace theme, though), but I don't agree that playing the DOS version is "messing up" or losing the voices is "crippling", and the Addict's policy is pretty clear in terms of playing contemporary versions rather than remakes.

      Delete
    5. I'd honestly say whatever you are most comfortable with. I know I earlier advocated for the Ur-Quan Masters version, but this mostly comes down to my own comfort levels, what with piloting the lander in the larger window and the controller support, which I'm far more used to using with this game.

      Delete
    6. I like the 3DO voices a lot, really enjoy the hyperspace music (also, aside from hyperspace and battle, music is the same as in the PC version, though UQM also supports optional remix tracks and I hate them), and really appreciate the graphical and interface settings which let you mix and match features from the PC+3DO versions and defaults to the best of both worlds.

      But I must emphatically disagree that it would be "crippling" to play without them. The PC version came out in 1992, the 3DO version came out in 1994, and UQM came out in 2002. There's no reason to believe that Toys For Bob released the game in 1992 absent of a significant feature that they always intended to be part of it.

      And in fact, the 3DO version is missing something that could more reasonably be called crippling. There's a vital clue missing; [ROT13]gur Zlpba ner fhccbfrq gb gryy lbh gur pbbeqvangrf sbe gurve ubzrjbeyq[/ROT13]. But in the 3DO version, this line is absent for some reason, and you can't win without this information. There are other missing lines too, but that one is the most important. UQM's developers have refused to fix this on the grounds that there wasn't any graceful way to put it back in, but I feel not fixing it at all was the worst possible outcome of them all.

      Delete
    7. I did some research into this today and what I could gather is that most of the missing dialogue, particularly what you just mentioned, was restored in 0.7 as long as you play without the voice acting.

      Delete
    8. Huh, so it is. I wonder why haven't they got Paul Reiche III to re-voice those lines, as it was him playing that part. Maybe legal issues.

      Delete
    9. It looks like they tried to do that, but nothing came of it for some reason:

      http://forum.uqm.stack.nl/index.php?topic=3615.15

      Delete
    10. I'm afraid I have to rule this discussion inconclusive. As such, I must default to the original 1992 version.

      If saved games aren't shareable between the two versions, it's a moot discussion anyway.

      Delete
  19. Important tip for our host: Write down ALL coordinates given to you in conversations, as well as names of star systems. Most of these are only said one time ever, the game doesn't keep track of them for you, and if you miss them or forget them, you effectively lock yourself out of quests (you can still stumble into the correct system by accident, but in practice not really since the map is huge).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is a great tip. The game doesn't remember them for you.

      IIRC, when you are in the dialogue menu faced with options about what to say there is a way to see past dialogue. I think pressing the space bar will show you scrollable text of the conversation up until that point. It's one of those game functions that isn't immediately obvious but is nice to know about if you accidentally speed through some important information or set of coordinates that you didn't write down. You don't have to go back and try to have the same conversation all over again.

      Delete
  20. As an aside... the Precursors and their city seem likely to be based on the Krell and their great machine in the seminal sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet.

    The great machine of the Krell was also the direct inspiration for the great machine under the surface of Epsilon III in Babylon 5 as well.


    Anyone know if the authors ever commented on this?

    ReplyDelete
  21. You may be expecting it because Starflight did something similar (I think) but the game *is* time sensitive. Events progress whether you're vigorously pursuing the main plot or dawdling about strip-mining every planet.

    It's a fairly generous timeline, and you shouldn't feel the need to overly rush, but it's worth knowing.

    The ideal experience is probably playing about half the game, seeing what happens with the timeline, going "Oh crap", and then restarting and playing with that knowledge in mind. A lot of the game is finding coordinates to plot critical worlds or resource-rich worlds, so a replay goes much faster once you have those.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I suppose the best of all worlds for the debaters above is that I run out the clock on the original version and then re-play it with voiced dialogue.

      Delete
    2. I assume you are joking, but that would result in a really messy set of blog posts on this game and everyone else would suffer. A normal playthrough will not result in time limit issues, in my experience.

      Delete
    3. "A normal playthrough will not result in time limit issues, in my experience."

      I ran against the time limit in my first playthrough. What's normal for one person may be quite abnormal for another.

      Delete
    4. True, after reading about the various ways you can approach things, I guess I picked ones that made it less likely (trying to avoid spoilers) and those weren't all "default" choices.

      Delete
  22. This is great! I just started a playalong with you and this is the first time I'm actually enjoying the game!

    To make my life easier I used the UQM megamod version (http://megamod.serosis.net/) which gives you options for god mode (IDDQD!) and unlimited fuel if you want it. This lets me focus on the story and exploration not the combat which I suck at and fuel management which I hate.

    I don't think it's an option for a completionist such as yourself but for us who only have an hour in the evening to play after the kids and the wife go to sleep, this is a good option :)

    ReplyDelete
  23. Yay, Star Control II. Have fun, don't worry about which version you're playing (unless it's broken of course), and watch out for those darn Slylandro probes.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Both Star Control 1 and Star Control 2 were some of my favourite games from childhood, must have played 2 through five times at least <3
    Supermelee was oh so much fun and frustration, we played it with my cousin, spending hours after hours thinking about fleet compositions and bickering about the balance of different ships :)

    ReplyDelete
  25. Just wanted to say thanks for this blog! I started reading it last summer from the beginning and just caught up today. Can't wait to see you tackle the rest of the '90s and beyond.

    ReplyDelete
  26. This game changed my life. Not because of its content (which are awesome) but because having it started a chain of events that eventually brought me where I am now. So, yeah, I guess I have a sweet spot for this. I guess when I feel like terminating my humble, verbose blog I'll have to close it with a post about SC2, I guess.

    And of course I second the motion of going with the original 1992 version, because you just can't beat the MOD arpeggios in the hyperspace tune.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I found this on TV Tropes...
    "The executives wanted to release the game in a buggy and highly incomplete state with placeholder dialogue everywhere. The developers spent 6 months of their own time and money to finish the game, rather than have the unfinished version released."
    Whether or not you end up liking the gameplay, this is still very impressive.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I am looking forward to rwaread and playing this, looks like another gem I never would have heard of without you and starlight was awesome too which I have you to thank for.

    ReplyDelete
  29. If you like Super Melee, you may be interested in some edited files I made from the game back in 1992. Thirteen year-old me was an amateur hacker and I used a little hex editing to modify certain bits of data in the ship data files. You can place these in your game directory and they should show up just fine in Super Melee (if you're using the original version of the game). Placing these in your directory won't overwrite anything, it'll just add some new ships like Zardz and Xopus that you can use in Super Melee. Here's the link: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1_SFNtSCOBwj1GjbtNdb0Gm4ahTKR5-A3
    -Jim

    ReplyDelete
  30. Mostly off-topic: I was playing this game while there were a lot of blackouts in my neighborhood. If you crash out of the game, EVERY save game you touched in your play session is corrupted, not just the last one. I never crashed the game any way but the power outages, the game is quite solid. Always remember to exit the game properly before powering off.

    ReplyDelete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

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