Sunday, April 21, 2019

Star Control II: Why Can't We Be Friends?

Home planet encounters make it clear that you're not getting on the ground without going through a lot of combat first.
Star Control II is easily the most information-rich game that we've had so far. The two Starflight titles were well above the average RPG, but even they didn't have half the dialogue and lore of this one. That's good for me as a player, but not so much as a blogger--and perhaps not so much for you as a reader. I could describe what I did in the last six hours in about two paragraphs; what I discovered will take many more, and I'm not sure if you want entries that long. You're going to get this one anyway, but I welcome your feedback on whether it's too much.

Imagine when I get to the modern era and a game like Skyrim. The simple act of entering a dungeon, reading two skill books, killing a draugr, and finding a shrine to Clavicus Vile might take 10 minutes of game time, but I could get 10,000 words out of that with the associated descriptions and lore. As the genre as a whole becomes more information-rich, it's going to be difficult to determine where to draw the line.
Even with the dialogue summaries the game provides, you have to take a lot of screenshots.
But I have no complaints as a player. One of the finest moments I've ever had with an RPG came with Morrowind about 15 years ago, the first or second time I'd played, before there were wikis all over the Internet that spoiled plot developments. One of the great mysteries of the game is what happened to the dwarves, whose ancient ruins dot the landscape, and I found myself more interested in solving that riddle than progressing with the next official quest. I looked at the map that came with the game, identified every little dome that even hinted at a Dwemer ruin, and started to explore them systematically. And the amazing thing is, my explorations bore fruit! The developers rewarded this kind of "side-curiosity" with enough evidence among the ruins that you can basically piece together the story (although you need some plot-related events to make it 100% clear).

Most of the time, your effort in an RPG rewards the character, which in turn rewards the player somewhat vicariously. When you have a curious player, however, and you reward that curiosity with information, you are directly rewarding the player. This is something that Bethesda does exceedingly well and, in my opinion, does not get enough credit for doing. Whether you like Fallout 4 for its RPG mechanics, you have to admire how information-rich its world is. Every building has a story to tell. You'll stop by one building and read a computer log about how they were expecting some kind of shipment on October 23. You know that's the day the bombs fell. A few hundred yards down the road, you find the remains of the truck carrying that shipment. It clearly ran off the road into a tree. There will be a skeleton a couple dozen feet beyond the tree, as if ejected from the cab of the truck. If you just tromp from quest to quest, blowing through all the areas in between, you're cheating yourself out of a world of detail. 
Star Control II doesn't quite reward random exploration this way. Particularly given the time limit, I don't think you could solve the game by simply visiting random systems. You have to follow some kind of quest track. And I suspect that most of the information I'm discovering will turn out to be necessary, not ancillary, to the plot. I also prefer my plots a bit more serious than Star Control's. But even with all those limitations, this game is a welcome relief from era titles that are nothing but combat.

A recap is in order. I am a young starship captain in an era when the human race has become "fallow slaves" to the squid-like Ur-Quan, confined to Earth under a red shield that prevents off-planet travel. The Ur-Quan give conquered races a choice between "fallow slavery" and "thrall slavery" in which they fight for the Ur-Quan Hierarchy as battle thralls. I grew up off-world, son of a marooned group of scientists studying the ruins of an ancient race called the Precursors, and I've been able to stay alive because I'm flying a Precursor ship. Now based out of a starbase in orbit around Earth that the Ur-Quan mysteriously abandoned, I have been collecting advanced technology, improving my star-ship, and finding allies to throw off the yoke of the Ur-Quan.
My starmap has been annotating various territories as I discover them.
I originally assumed those allies would come from races that were part of the old Alliance against the Ur-Quan, but it's becoming clearer that all races--including Ur-Quan allies and non-affiliated races--are up for grabs, partly because the Ur-Quan have been distracted by a distant war. This is the rundown of the races I have so far:
  • Androsynth: Old enemy of Earth because they had once been Earth's slaves. They seem to be gone now, destroyed by the Orz who now inhabit their system.
  • Ariloulaleelay: An old Alliance race that mostly disappeared after the Ur-Quan victory. Classic "little green men" who may have been responsible for abductions and experiments on Earthlings in the past. Current whereabouts unknown. They may not live in regular space.
In fact, as we're about to find out, they do not.
  • Chenjesu: Crystalline beings who originally drew Earth into the old Alliance against the Ur-Quan, now trapped on Procyon under a "fallow slave" shield, along with the Mmrnmhrm.
  • Kohr-Ah: Some new race that the Ur-Quan are currently fighting, distracting them from my attempts to rebuild the Alliance.
  • Ilwrath: Cruel spider creatures, allies of the Ur-Quan, whose only weakness seems to be a fanatical belief in their gods. The Umgah are currently exploiting that weakness.
"Subtlety" does not translate well in Ilwrath.
  • Melnorme: A neutral race that trades in information. They're responsible for half my clues.
  • Mmrnmhrm: Robotic species, member of the old Alliance. Now trapped with the Chenjesu on Procyon under a "fallow slave" shield.
  • Mycon: Fungoid race allied with the Ur-Quan. I haven't met them yet in this game, but they've apparently taken over the old Syreen system, and I suspect they had something to do with the destruction of Syra.
  • Orz: Weird yellow fish-flowers who come from the same alternate dimension as the Ariloulaleelay. Seem to have destroyed the Androsynth and taken over their space. They appear to have allied with us, but it's hard to understand what they're saying.
  • Pkunk: An unknown race currently being attacked by the Ilwrath.
The Pkunk end up being somewhat weird, but no more than most of the creatures on this list.
  • Precursors: An ancient race within whose ruins the main character grew up. Members of the "sentient milieu," Their technology built my flagship. Probably extinct.
  • Shofixti: Cat-weasel warriors given advanced technology by the Yehat. Destroyed their own star to avoid surrendering to the Ur-Quan. One lone male warrior with a thin hold on sanity still keeps a vigil from orbit. A group of females are possibly in the hands of a VUX admiral.
  • Slylandro: New to the galaxy, this race has sent probes all over the place. The probes, after first claiming to be on missions of peace, are attacking everybody. In the last session, I got a clue as to where they might be coming from. One of their damned probes is almost always on my tail when I sail through hyperspace.
Captain Chester has lost all hope when it comes to these probes.
  • Spathi: Race of cowardly mollusks who surrendered to the Ur-Quan despite having decent ships and technology. Now serve them as battle thralls. One of them was assigned to monitor Earth but instead joined my crew early in the game.
The Spathi have a particular outlook on life.
  • Syreen: All-female race of buxom sirens. Joined the old Alliance after their planet, Syra, was destroyed by what they thought were natural disasters. After they surrendered to the Ur-Quan, given a new homeworld called Gaia. Accepted fallow slavery (red shield) and unwilling to break their treaty.
  • Taalo: Another member of the "Sentient Milieu," a cooperative of ancient races. Probably extinct, though I had this theory that they're the "Talking Pets." I have one of their artifacts, a stone that blocks psychic influence.
  • Talking Pets: Little frog-like creatures who do all the communicating from the Ur-Quan because the Ur-Quan feel it's beneath them to speak directly to lesser races. Unknown if they have their own history or world.
  • Umgah: Blob-like creatures with a cruel sense of humor. Allies to the Ur-Quan. Lately amusing themselves by impersonating the Ilwrath gods with something called a "HyperWave Caster."
These guys turn out not to be the likeable kind of jokesters. They're just jerks.
  • Ur-Quan: Putative enemies of the game. They want to conquer every other race in the galaxy. They've been around a long time, as they were also "Sentient Milieu" members. Willing to let conquered races live out their own destinies as "fallow slaves" under red shields, and demand that the decision be put to a popular vote.
  • VUX: One-eyed, snouted race allied to the Ur-Quan. Humanity apparently insulted them the first time we met, leading to an enduring hatred. I hadn't met them yet when this session began.
The VUX are maddeningly vague on the nature of the supposed insult.
  • Yehat: Race of pterodactyls who chose to be battle thralls under the Ur-Quan.
  • Zoq-Fot-Pik: Cooperative of three small races from one planet. Caught in the crossfire between the Ur-Quan and the Kohr-Ah, glad to ally with us in the last session.
I'm going to relate what I found this session below, but as I do, it's important to keep in mind that I usually only had a constellation, sometimes a star, as a hint. This means that for every encounter, I might have had to explore several stars and dozens of planets before finding it. Naturally, I mined those planets that had minerals and took life forms when I found those, but those tasks have become so rote and procedural at this point that there's no point narrating them. I still haven't found a "Rainbow World" yet.
I've learned to prize heavy "biological" worlds as much as mineral ones, as it gives me more to sell to the Melnorme.
As this session began, I had "to do" items related to almost all of these races, if only to make contact and find out where they stand. Because I was sick of spending so much money on fuel (I hadn't even had enough money to purchase the "Fusion Blaster" the Melnorme gave me), I prioritized the locations closest to Earth, at least at the beginning, which is how I found myself in the Giclas constellation, looking for a rumored other neutral race. It turned out to be the Pkunk, a race of hippie birds who believe in reincarnation and positive energy and all that New Age stuff. My negotiations with the first ship I encountered went well, and they directed me to their homeworld.

The Pkunk are aware that the Ilwrath are only attacking them because someone is impersonating the Ilwrath gods. They didn't seem to mind much. They happily agreed to join my Alliance, gave me an artifact called a Clear Spindle, and also gave me four ships (with crews) for my fleet. (I'm going to have to stop using my flagship for every combat.) Before I left, they predicted my future and said that the Ariloulaleelay would give me the ability to summon dimensional doors and travel in a way that's even faster than hyperspace.
Well, that sucks.
The "other dimensions" thing gained even more traction with another visit to the Melnorme. I sold them the bio scans I'd made since our last contact and used my credits to buy plans for some kind of laser defense system for the Prydwen plus some information. One of the things they told me is that there is a "weakness in the division between dimensions" that manifests itself in between the Chandrasekhar and Columbae constellations on the 17th of each month (we'll just ignore the absurdity of that).

My next trip, again based on proximity, was to the VUX (no idea why that's always capitalized) worlds, hoping to find the Shofixti females and otherwise gauge their status. Conversations with the ships were mostly futile; the captains refused to explain the specific nature of the offense we gave them, only that they hate us forever, and even if they didn't, they'd destroy us because that's what the Ur-Quan want. One of them did mention that if I wanted to meet a "friendly" VUX, I should try Admiral Zex at Alpha Cerenkov. VUX encounters inevitably led to combat, so I didn't stay in their system long.
Maybe I'll just skip those planets.
At Alpha Cerenkov, Admiral Zex proved to be an affable, if perverted, member of the species. A hero of the earlier war, he retired to a hedonistic lifestyle years ago and seems to fetishize other races. He was willing to give me the Shofixti females if I could bring him some animal from a planet that "basks in the yellow light within the eight-star constellation of Linch-Nas-Ploh," which he translated as "the snake-like creature who has swallowed the elephant beast." Studying the star map, I think this probably refers to Lyncis, way up at the "north" edge of the galaxy.
Unfortunately, I think he means that last part literally.
I next went to the Yehat space nearby. When I finally encountered a Yehat ship, they were surprised to see a human outside the red shield around Earth. The crew of the ship I encountered was reluctant to kill me because of our former friendship, but their desires were at odds with the mandate from their queen to follow Ur-Quan orders. They seemed to respond when I told them that the Shofixti were still alive, but they demanded proof that I didn't have.
At least they feel bad about it.
Around this point, I returned to starbase, where Captain Hayes told me that they'd received a distress call from the Zoq-Fot-Pik, whose home planet was under attack from a "black destroyer." I bought an extra fuel pod, fueled, up, and headed for the ZFP homeworld.
While at starbase, I was able to buy the "Fusion Blaster" and "Point Defense" upgrades.
On the way, I encountered a Spathi ship in hyperspace. They said they wouldn't attack but begged us not to tell the Ur-Quan that they'd let us go. Conversation with them solved one mystery: why they, as cowards, accepted "battle thrall" slavery instead of "fallow slavery." They said they'd meant to do the latter, but the Umgah had interfered with the voting as a joke. I still have to visit the Spathi homeworld.
The Spathi and Tyron Lannister would get along.
The first major surprise came when I arrived at the ZFP world, encountered the black ship of the Kohr-Ah, and found myself speaking to an Ur-Quan! (Or, more accurately, to his Talking Pet.) It turns out that the Kohr-Ah are a faction of Ur-Quan, not a separate race. They call the regular Ur-Quan the "Kzer-Za," and the two sides are fighting over "supremacy of Doctrine and possession of the Sa-Matra." "We cleanse," the captain explained. "You are the filth."

When I asked why they were destroying us, he gave me a big info-dump of Ur-Quan history. It basically went that their species is hostile and territorial by nature. Even civilization among their own kind came late to them, and only with great difficulty, and it was even worse when they started to explore the stars and meet other races. Their only friends were the rock-like Taalo, "the only people we could stand with, or talk to, without the hunter inside us screaming, 'Kill the interloper! Rip out its life!'" (Their description of the Taalo as sentient rocks makes me wonder if I don't have a Taalo, rather than a Taalo "artifact," on my ship.) Eventually, a psychic race called the Dnyarri wiped out the other "Sentient Milieu" races. They enslaved the Ur-Quan and used them to destroy the Taalo.
The Ur-Quan goes through his history.
Twist #2 came in further conversation. The Dnyarri are actually the Talking Pets! (At this point, my Taalo=Talking Pet theory was completely debunked.) They kept the Ur-Quan as slaves for thousands of years, experimenting on them genetically and splitting them into two species: green ("effete scientists and bureaucrats" and black ("the builders, the fighters, the doers"). The green became the Kzer-Za and the black became the Kohr-Ah. The Ur-Quan eventually discovered that excruciating pain could block the Dnyarri influence, so they created devices called "excruciators" to wear and thus maintain their independence.

Once the Ur-Quan achieved victory over the Dnyarri and enslaved them in turn, they decided they'd better destroy all other life in the galaxy to avoid ever being enslaved again. The Kzer-Za faction insisted that they only enslave or neutralize (i.e., fallow slavery) other races, while the Kohr-Ah demanded that they kill them outright. The schism led to the Kohr-Ah fleeing the galaxy until just recently.

The captain attacked when he was done with his speech. The huge Kohr-Ah ships fire giant throwing stars, which linger until something hits them. But you'll be happy to know I was able to destroy the dreadnought with the BUTT missiles of the Spathi ship. I'll talk more about combat next time, but suffice to say that I'm starting to get the hang of it.
The Ur-Quan dreadnought spams giant iron swastikas.
The ZFP were grateful for their rescue and gave me several more ships for my fleet. My flagship now has about as many escort ships as I think it can accommodate.

When the battle was over, I checked my notes and found that I was pretty close to a few other "to do" items. I started with the Umgah. I don't know what I was expecting. Clearly, I wasn't going to have an encounter in which they just handed me the HyperWave Caster with instructions on how to use it. Instead, in about six encounters in a row, they laughed at me and attacked. Each battle involved multiple Umgah ships. Their primary weapon has a limited range, but they have a special weapon that can suck you into proximity. I got pretty good at destroying them with the Spathi, but eventually the attacks became too much and I fled the system.
BUTT missiles home in on the Umgah ship while his weapon fires in vain.
The 17th of the month was near, and I was near the weak point in space, so I headed there. Sucked through it, I found myself in a place called "quasi-space." Time passes there, but it doesn't seem to use any fuel. The map showed a bunch of small blobs and one big blob. The small blobs were portals back to hyperspace, but the big blob was a portal to a planet.
Beyond hyperspace.
The planet turned out to be the homeworld of the Ariloulaleelay. The representative who contacted me explained a bit about the history of our two species, which came across as less sinister than I expected, although of course I was hearing his side. He suggested that the Ariloulaleelay had been guiding human development for a long time, and that they made themselves known, and joined the old Alliance, as a way of protecting us against other hostile species. When they were no longer needed because humanity was "safe" under the red shield, they disappeared for a while. I'm the first human to reach their homeworld. There was this chilling sequence, which may be the best RPG text so far in my chronology:
Part of what we do on Earth is for your own protection. There are parasites. Creatures who dwell Beyond. They have names, but you do not know them. They would like to find you, but they are blind to your presence, unless you show yourselves. The Androsynth showed themselves, and something noticed them. There are no more Androsynth now. Only Orz. Ignorance is your armor. They cannot see you now. They cannot smell you. Much of our work with your people involved making you invisible, changing your smell. If I tell you more, you will look where you could never look before, and while you are looking you can and will be seen. You do not want to be seen.
Traveling in quasi-space is how the Ariloulaleelay get around so fast. The alien said he'd give us a "portal spawner" so that we can use quasi-space, but we'd need to find a warp pod first. He suggested we'd find one on the wreck of an Ur-Quan dreadnought at Alpha Pavonis, not far from our current location. He mentioned that the Ariloulaleelay had recovered a Talking Pet from the same wreckage and had given it to the Umgah for care. He wanted us to stop by the Umgah and see how it fared.

We returned to hyperspace, sailed to Alpha Pavonis, visited the right planet, and got the pod.
My lander crew loots the wreckage.
At this point, I noticed that I wasn't too far from Vega, which was one of the possible sources of the Slylandro probes. It actually turned out to be nearby Beta Corvi, but I found it. The Ariloulaleelay had said that the probes came from a world with no surface, so I hunted for a gas giant until I found the right one.
This looks promising.
I was surprised to find myself talking to a friendly group of gaseous creatures named "Content to Hover," "Joyous Lifting," and "Sullen Plummet." They explained that they hardly get any visitors since the "Sentient Milieu" races were destroyed eons ago. (They went on for a while about a race that used to visit them called the "Shaggy Ones" that seemed worried about something and seemed to be seeking something.) Lonely and unable to leave their planet, they were excited when the Melnorme visited and sold them a probe.

In further discussions, it transpired that the Slylandro had mis-programmed the probe. It was supposed to seek out life forms and communicate as its top priority, but somehow "self-replicate" got set as the probe's top priority, which means that it sees every ship that it encounters as a source of replication materials. Horrified, the Slylandro promised to try to recall the probes. In the meantime, they gave me a self-destruct code to use if I encounter any more. I thought these probes were the main quest, but it really just turned out to be a side quest.
The Slylandro reach a horrifying conclusion.
I end here, poised to swing by the Umgah (though I'll probably just get attacked again) and then return to the Ariloulaleelay. I might need to use that portal spawner immediately because I'm running pretty low on fuel. I have three questions on my mind:
  • When I joined the Orz to the Alliance, did I give some unspeakable evil from another dimension access to Earth?
  • Are the Melnorme necessary? Meaning, are the clues that they offer exclusive to the Melnorme, or do they exist largely as a kind of backup in case a player spends more time randomly visiting planets than following the initial clues? It feels like most of the things they've told me have been double-confirmed in later encounters.
  • I've mostly been diplomatic in my encounters with other races, but there are also some very aggressive options. Is there a more aggressive path through the game? If I was better at combat (and enjoyed it more), could I be subjugating the other species? Could I beat Admiral Zex into submission instead of doing his quest?
Captain Chester briefly considers a different path.
The game began in January 2155, and Earth is scheduled to be destroyed in January or February 2159. It is now November 2156, so I'm about halfway through my available time. I'm hoping this portal spawner allows me to accomplish more in less time. We'll soon see!

Time so far: 21 hours


  1. That Umgah art is the work of Errol Otis, long time friend of Paule Reiche III and the guy who got him the gig at TSR, Otis having done tonnes of artwork for 80's era D&D works (he also did the Ur-Quan theme music)

    As for the questions that end of your article, in case they were legit questions to your audience and not just questions in the mind, here's the most spoiler free answers in ROT13 format.

    1) Nzovthbhf

    2) Unaql ohg abg arprffnel, gurve grpu vf terng ohg nyfb abg arprffnel

    3) Cebonoyl abg, pregnvayl Mrk'f cynarg naq bgure yvxr gur fperrafubggrq Cxhax bar unir shapgvbanyyl vasvavgr fuvcf.

  2. VUX is an acronym... Very Ugly Xenoforms. I recall this is mentioned in SC1.

  3. I wanna say the insult to the VUX is mentioned in the manual, and was more or less the captain of the ship that made contact with them calling them ugly without realizing they can understand them. Also, I believe the Ur-Quan are supposed to be more of a giant caterpillar thing

    1. I think this is also one of the bits of lore you can get from Commander Hayes. And yeah, the Ur-Quan are giant centipedes.

  4. It does look like your escort slots are nearly full (you have 12). IIRC, it's a good idea to trade in some of them at Earth for RUs, because you will get stronger escorts later. Not all ships can be repurchased, so I tend to trade in only the repurchasable ones (such as Earthling Cruisers) and/or the really weak (cheap) ones.

  5. These SCII posts are my favorite in awhile--love the description, especially in times like this when it's clear you're wondering/investigating more than reporting.

  6. In my opinion, it's the best game world in gaming up to that point, and is going to be that until the perfect 10 of Fallout.
    The Orz question - well, it should be addressed at some point. In some ways, the most sinister plot of the game.

    1. Since post-apoc isn't Chester's favorite, I'm not sure if Fallout will be a perfect 10.

    2. He's heaped quite a bit of praise on the later Fallout games, although those had some significant differences in the setting.

    3. Chet tends to rate "game world" down for games that are silly or break immersion, so Fallout's surely a 9 at best...

    4. Are the early Fallouts worse in that regard than the later ones? Although I generally prefer fantasy RPGs, I find the Fallout universe very well-detailed and interesting, if a bit bleak. In the ratings, quality of the story and detail of the lore will reliably overwhelm any general preferences I have about the sub-genre.

    5. The first Fallout is pretty serious, more so than Wasteland. Fallout 2 is quite a bit goofier.

    6. I think Fallout is very consistent within its fictional world. For example Vault Boy could be goofy in other contexts, but I don't think it's goofy in Fallout. The only exceptions I recall are a few silly random encounters.

      Fallout 2 has more jokes and references, both within the main plot and the random encounters. In fact I'm quite sure several random encounters will earn the Addict's ire. As a whole though Fallout 2 does take itself seriously.

    7. Yeah, the relative silliness of Fallout 2 is often overstated. It's not like the original game was lacking in goofy random encounters or references. The biggest change is that FO2 is less consistent with (or, some might say, less constrained by) the original game's retro-futurism. The Bethesda games tend to feel more like 2 than 1 in this way.

      (I would also argue that FO2's breaks from retro-futurism actually work as a narrative device, but that would get into spoiler territory.)

  7. The plot where the Ur-Quan using pain to free themselves from mind controlling aliens appears to be inspired by The Brains Of Earth, by Jack Vance. Of course, a game with this many alien races is probably going to draw inspiration from various science fiction works.

    1. It seems that the "the snake-like creature who has swallowed the elephant beast" may be inspired by "The Little Prince" - a work that seems fantasy-like, but the titular Prince is actually a space-farer from a distant planet who travelled between stars before coming to Earth.

      About this Orz story - it seems to reek of horrors of H.P. Lovecraft and/or of Carlos Castaneda (the stuff about ignorance - well, technically not ignorance but rather "usual human mind processes" - being the shield from the existences that cannot see you if you don't see them, either.)

  8. "I welcome your feedback on whether it's too much."

    Not at all. In fact, I vastly prefer these lore-rich, enjoyable posts to ones that deal with painfully slogging through yet another amateur, unbalanced, barely playable Ultima Clone.

    "The VUX are maddeningly vague on the nature of the supposed insult."

    It's in the manual, page 68.

    "My flagship now has about as many escort ships as I think it can accommodate."

    That would be 12. If you're willing to save-scum combats, one ship of each race is enough, and you can scrap the extra at the Earth Starbase. In fact, you should definitely do that, because if your slots are full, you cannot receive gift ships.

    "I might need to use that portal spawner immediately because I'm running pretty low on fuel."

    Don't forget that using the spawner also costs 10 fuel. Still, this thing saves immense amounts of fuel and time. If you ever start a second playthrough, rushing to get this artifact ASAP should be your first priority.

    Oh, and if you're in the neighborhood, you should contact the scout ships of races you've already met and talked to. They might offer new information on their neighbours from time to time.

    1. "Home planet encounters make it clear that you're not getting on the ground without going through a lot of combat first."

      See page 54 of the manual on this.

    2. Ah, that was a vital bit that I overlooked. "If alien ships fill the entire screen, you are facing an enemy task force of UNLIMITED size which you CANNOT defeat in combat." I'm glad I sucked at combat and didn't try.

  9. Having 14 childeren would suck indeed. Better save up on those resource units ;) As for dying at an early age, you don't know what these birds consider early. They get reincarnated quite a lot after all.

  10. With regard to the Vux (not Zex), you should keep trying to apologise for the insult humans gave to them.

    When you finally get the answer, you should be somewhat entertained I think. I was.

  11. It is remotely possible that the Pkunk don't always know what they're talking about.

    SC2 is one of those games where a second experimental playthrough offers some ability to uncover a few bits of extra content. There's at least one subquest that can be "solved" in at least two different ways, though aggression won't work against problems like the VUX admiral and you can't strongarm the Pkunk to get their item of unknown value and usage.

    But you can do things which I don't advise doing on a first playthrough, that involve frequent combat and reveal a little extra content, at the cost of crew and time. As it's possible you might spontaneously decide to do one, I won't even ROT13 them but will wait until you win to post. (I will be happy to spoil what you find out.)

    1. Later, I had to repeatedly save the Pkunk from themselves, so my estimation of their intelligence has dropped considerably.

  12. Despite knowing the lore already, I'd prefer to read entries that go into what you've discovered of the lore and your thoughts and theories as to what you have found. It makes for much more entertaining reading.

    I'm not sure if it's in the original release of the game or just in the remaster, but when you speak with the VUX, they blink their eye. According to the race descriptions in at least the Star Control 1 manual, and maybe the Star Control 2 manual, their eye is supposed to be "unblinking", which was a consequence of their Home Star being incredibly dim. But I can't remember if the mistake of them blinking was made when the game was first created, or if that was introduced by the HD Remaster. Perhaps you could find out should you decide to complete Admiral ZEX's quest?

  13. It's good when lore books and such actually tie in to details in the world, without those details, it can feel like someone just made it up to fill a book/note etc. Does remind me of one Dwarf Fortress moment. I had a ghost running around, whose name was not one of mine. I eventually worked out he was a visiting diplomat but not how he died. I told my dwarves to make a picture on a wall. One went okay boss how about this picture of when that got a drawbridge dropped on to his head...Ahhh

  14. It's fun watching Chet play through this game and learn the story for the first time.

    Isn't there some special way you have to learn the "words" that prompt the Ur-Quan historical info dump? Looks like he stumbled on them by accident.

    1. The Arilou and Pkunk can both teach you The Words as part of their normal conversation paths. He hasn't talked to the other source yet.

      The Kohr-Ah response to The Words is one of my favorite moments in any game ever.

    2. I always preferred the Kzer-Ah answer myself. With voice :).

    3. The Melnorme know 'the words,' too, and not just because they're information brokers who know everything.

  15. Kudos finding the Arilou and the Slylandro. The portal-spawner and probe self-destruct code makes the game significantly more pleasant.

    The idea with the Melnorme is that you have their info to point you in the right direction (or just learn some lore) and their tech to make the more action-y parts of the game (combat and planet resource-gathering) easier. If you're on a second run you can skip most of the advice and mainline those tech advancements, so they're always worth trading with if not strictly compulsory.

    1. As memory serves, the portal spawner is attached to what TVTropes calls a BrokenBridge; if you don't get it, another event won't occur off-screen that allows you to win the game.

  16. Reading these entries reinforces in my mind one of the less-heralded strengths of the game: There are so many different ways to play Star Control 2!

    Chet's playstyle is pretty much the opposite of mine. In a very RPG grind-y sort of way, he's doing a lot of mining and bio-harvesting work, buying plot leads and tech from the Melnorme, using that tech to upgrade his flagship in combat, and powering through.

    I tend to go at the game differently: I focus on the plot leads and exploration, using those to build up my alliances and acquire fresh ships. I almost never use my flagship to fight, but instead send my escorts into combat and build up RUs through salvage instead of mining. I don't interact much with the Melnorme except to grab a few key pieces of technology.

    And both these approaches work! Sure, there are plenty of games with multiple viable playstyles by this time period, but how many of them are also story-driven RPGs?

    On an unrelated note, I want to correct one item Chet mentions about the Precursors. He should know this by now--I suspect he's seen it stated outright and just missed it--but I'll ROT13 anyway out of an abundance of caution: Gur Cerphefbef jrer ABG zrzoref bs gur Fragvrag Zvyvrh--gurl'er fvtavsvpnagyl byqre guna gung. Guhf, gur He-Dhna, gur Gnnyb, naq fb sbegu qvqa'g xabj jub gur Cerphefbef jrer rvgure.

  17. "I welcome your feedback on whether it's too much."

    Please, write as much as you think is necessary to document your thoughts as you play these. And then maybe write a little more!

    I remember playing through this game as a teen when it came out. I spent months playing and replaying the game and talking about it with my friends who were doing the same. Reading about your thoughts and experiences as you go through it is like I'm sitting in the school lunchroom again waiting to see how my friend solved some problem or found some clue. Did they do it the way I did it or is there a better approach?

    It's the same with the Gold Box games or Might and Magic titles. I doesn't matter that I've played those games into the ground. Your experiences are why I'm reading this blog. Please don't hold back.

  18. The Melnorme are kind of like the king in his castle. In case you run out of things to do, he's always got a quest for you. He also accepts your melf pelts for more gold and has some equipment upgrades for you to spend said gold on. An all-around good guy.

    I got the impression the aggressive comments are there for the dumb gamers to get themselves in trouble. Too many RPGs of the era had combat as the only way to interact with other beings. SC2 is teaching them that it doesn't have to be that way.

    I always found the Pkunk ships hard to use due to their short range. It wouldn't be out of order to sell them off to buy more fuel.

    The time limit shouldn't be an issue. To be pedantic, Trade Master Greenish never said that Earth will be destroyed in February 2159. He just said that his MetaChron has predicted its own destruction by that date. The clock speed is 5 real seconds per game day in HyperSpace and QuasiSpace and 30 real seconds per game day in interplanetary. Otherwise time doesn't advance.

  19. If you let enough time pass, some of your problems will solve themselves, in ways that still allow you to complete the "main quest", but you may not be satisfied with that outcome.

    From memory, some races can be recruited, some can be neutralised, some have both options, but there's generally really only one path to achieve each option.

  20. I'm more than happy to read these longer pieces going into the details of the game, as I find it interesting but I'm not likely to play it myself.

  21. Two small notes that may interest you about combat and SC1

    In Star Control 1, the VUX was a good ship but maybe a bit overpriced given its capacity. It has terrible speed, so not a chance to close up to use its laser, and its special attack is green … things, that slowly drift toward the enemy ship and if they attack they reduce forever the target speed and turning rate ; but really they are slow so easy to avoid.

    What made it absolutely special though is that the VUX was hardcoded to ALWAYS spawn next to its opponent (in its first battle), which would more often then not receive an healthy dose of green goo making it totally helpless.

    In Star Control II, this is retconned as being admiral ZEX tactical genius.

    The Umgah does not pull you toward it, instead its special weapon allows it to go backward insanely fast (faster than any spaceship can go I reckon). The problem is that the fuel for this special attack only recharges when the Umgah remains without using its main weapon for some time, and given the non-special speed and turning rate of the Umgah ship, its "anti-matter" field is its only defense, so well - it is pretty helpless once it ran out of energy.

    1. That's an interesting bit of lore that I wouldn't have picked up otherwise. Thanks! And I appreciate the correction on the Umgah. Functionally, it seemed like I was moving towards it, but I guess the opposite was happening.

  22. I don't find these kinds of grades that interesting

  23. Hard to get this from a still shot, but the Yehat on the left is a touch-typist while the one on the right clearly employs hunt-and-peck.

    spoiler free video

  24. For what it's worth, I enjoy the long-form writeup. I love this game, and watching you puzzle your way through it reminds me very strongly of doing it myself for the first time. Star Control 2 is one of the earlier games that's still genuinely, unambiguously good even by modern standards, and these entries are a good reminder of why that's true.

    IIRC, you weren't going to play this one because it's not an RPG, and strictly speaking, it isn't. But if you look at the ship as the character, then it's not too far off if you squint. I presume you're getting, now, why we kept banging our collective drum for you to play it.

    Chrono Trigger is the other one you really, really should break with your rules just a little to play. It's a JRPG, rather than a CRPG, and somewhat action based, but it is so good, one of the best games ever created. I think you will like it very much indeed.

    Back on topic: once you've got the portal spawner, the nature of Star Control 2 changes quite drastically. The whole map is in reach now, and there's a lot more to see out there. I enjoy the post-spawner game much more than the pre-spawner portion.

    It was a real temptation to nudge you toward finding it, and I'm sure that was true for almost everyone that knew the game. Fortunately, we all managed to resist. Well done, all!

    1. No, it's not a temptation to spoil the game. Why would anyone assume that everyone thinks like that? He's a clever boy, let him find his own dang quests. The game does enough nudging of its own.

  25. It reminds me of a story I've once read about these weird alien dudes on another plane of existence, who do nothing but stand around silently, looking at us. Since we can't sense them, we never notice how they're always there, looking over our shoulders.

    The story describes how some humans learn to look into this other dimension, and they start seeing lots of weird stuff floating or standing around, including the alien dudes. I think the story ends when the alien dudes notice some humans looking at them. At this point they suddenly charge at the poor bastards with blindingly fast speed and rip them apart. For everyone else it looks like something invisible tears the humans apart.

    That story seriously creeped me out and is what I remember whenever I think about what happened to the Androsynth.

    1. When I was a kid, I wrote a story like that. It was basically that demons are everywhere, but they've learned to keep just out of everyone's eyesight. Somehow, this one guy ends up fracturing his orbital socket in a way that he can actually see out the side of his head (it didn't make a lot of sense; I was like 11) and this extra peripheral vision means he can now see the demons. It was pretty stupid. I was influenced by one of the McBroom books where the protagonist tries to find the "Great Prairie Hidebehind."

    2. Those stories seem to speak to something in our subconscious, considering how often the idea of "invisible things hovering just behind you" creeps up in fiction. I even remember at least one horror movie from the 80s having invisible monsters from another dimension as a theme.

      As a kid though, the idea of invisible fish floating through the air and invisible guys creepily staring at us doing our thing just blew my mind.


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