Oh, you want me to tell you about the glory days? Well sit on down John me’ boy and I’ll tell you how me and my crew saved the universe. When we heard about the stars going nova, we knew we had to take action. We lost Earth centuries ago, and were not about to lose our new homeworld, Arth, so I made the only choice one could make! I suited up in my best white space suit; I looked like a million credits! Once I arrived at the space dock, I marched straight into the Personnel offices. I had some good people in mind who would be perfect for the job at hand. I hired Michele for her expertise in navigating out of any paper bag, wet or otherwise. Roger was a knowledgeable virologist and medic, so hiring him was a no-brainer. Priya was a skilled linguist; just two words from her, “trust me”, and even the most dangerous adversary accepted her at her word. She would be great on coms. And Paul had grown up in a mining village and knew how to fix any lawnmower he’d ever laid hands on. He was the perfect engineer. All I needed was a science officer, and I’d noticed the Omega Jr. androids were available. I hired one that did a damned fine job masquerading as a human being, and the crew quickly started calling him Jerry because they said when they saw JR. Omega on the personnel sheet, it looked like Jerome. With a skilled crew, we were ready to venture out. Paul suggested putting our available credits to upgrading the engines and cargo hold before getting training. He figured we’d make money off our planetary explorations, so with each payload, we’d train one crewmember to the max. Seemed logical to me!
We launched from Arth and headed Coreward where there had been some chatter of unexplained phenomena. We had barely left our solar system when we fell into a wormhole and found ourselves in some unknown part of space. With no advanced training, Michele could not identify where we were. She worked furiously but the coordinates jumped like Veloxi jumping beans. Jerry picked up something on the long range scanners. We were surrounded in seconds. Priya tried to hail them but whether they understood her or not, we never knew. The shots fired before we could even raise shields. “This is..!”
…I suited up in my best white space suit; I looked like a million credits! Once I arrived at the space dock, I marched straight into the Personnel offices… When Paul suggested enhancing the engines, I biffed him upside the head! Then we used every possible credit to get Michele trained on navigation and Priya some added classes for interstellar communications. Fool me once, and all that…! Now Michele could see the wormholes before we slipped into them and Priya would be able to explain our presence to any potential threats. We made it to a nearby system and ran planetary scans. The first planet we saw was full of minerals. Paul looked at me knowingly, as if to say “see, we should have done it!” I ordered a landing, once Jerry identified that the air was breathable. Jerry’s skill was naturally high in the sciences, but that didn’t stop him from missing that the gravity was too high for our ship. “Captain, the ship is caught in the gravity well of the planet; we’ll be crushed like a melon!” “This is som…”
… We arrived at a star that was about to supernova. “How long until that thing goes critical?” “If we don’t leave 5 minutes ago, we’re toast!” “OH, this…”
… a giant ship of massive proportions, but the species only spoke in 0’s and 1’s. “What’s it trying to say?” “No idea, and it’s leaving!” “Oh come on, this is some …!”
…My god, that planet matches the descriptions of old Earth! The legends might be true. Let’s land and explore! “Records show something about a plague in 2020 that we might not have immunity to; the virus could still be active”! “This is some bull****!!”
… space whales that sing?? “Time it seems doesn’t flow…” “Poetry? This is some … actually that’s a really nice poem and I’ll remember it for the rest of my days!!”
You think I’m kidding, but I still remember that wonderful poem! And let me tell you, Starflight was one of the most amazing games I’d ever played. The fact that I can still read my notes from way back in 1986 proves how it sparked the imagination. Look, we’ve seen some true giants since the days of Starflight. Mass Effect is very much a descendant of Starflight but the crew you meet is all scripted. Back in 1986, you created the crew for Starflight, they were from whichever race you decided they’d be from and you gave them names so I invariably had a crew of my real life friend. Sure my friends were very different than the ones of today and only one of those I made up for this story would actually have been part of it back then but the entire thing was driven by your own imagination!
The map was colossal too and the exploration was everything. You never knew what you’d find around the next “corner”. Exploring planets could unearth strange things indeed. Some still have not given up their secrets. My neighbor would often come over and help me map out each and every system in details. I still have the bulk of those notes listing all the coordinates with the planet count and any special qualities about them. And of course I still have the tattered star chart to prove it. Making contact with other races was immense fun, but sometimes quite unnerving. Talking to an alien race could be disastrously bad. But assigning the right crew member to each task was critical. Your crew might consist of the bug-like Veloxi, the plant-like Elowan or the reptile-like Thrynn. The problem however was that the Thrynn had a thing against the Elowan, so I almost never had both on my ship at once. There were humans and androids too. Weirdly for a guy who loves alien races, I typically played human captain but my crew was always a mixed bag.
No denying, but today’s standards, the graphics are old. I played on a monochrome monitor. I had one color for the first Starflight game! (Well two, I guess: yellow and black!) Didn’t stop me imagining the wonders across this vast galaxy. The music was of that lovely 8-bit ear destroying variety too, but the sound effects were magnificent. Scanning a planet was a sound that I can still hear in my head to this day! I loved that sound. Flying into a nebula (see image below; the blue splotches) would cause your shields to drop. Wormholes were everywhere! And something new could be found wherever you explored.
Starflight was published by EA games, making them a name I always loved. Binary Systems was the developer of this classic. At the time, the game retailed for $35, which was high; well outside of my youthful budget. The local Radio Shack had it and I’d eye it every time I went in there. Then my uncle gave me a gift for (maybe my graduation?) and I have him to thank for eventually buying this mind candy. It was $35 well-spent dollars.
I ordered the special clue book to help me solve the game; this was way before websites provided walkthroughs. I have the 2 floppy disks with the clue book “Project: Flying Dutchman” and all the original packing material right next to me as I write this. The crazy thing is that I spent weeks playing this game, over and over again. I’d save as often as I could because death was common, but here’s the clincher: the game was actually solvable in around 30 minutes to an hour if you knew what you were looking for but that wasn’t fun. You’re trying to find out why the stars are going out and it wasn’t Davros! The exploration, lore and a very well designed science fiction story made this among the most enjoyable game experiences of my youth.
For me, this wasn’t a “game” but an experience and it’s one that I have yet to recapture. Well, I say “yet to recapture”, but what I mean is in a modern game. When Starflight 2 came out, I was amazed. Back then, we really didn’t know that much about computers, so when I bought the game I didn’t know a CGA monitor was needed to play it. (Hell, I probably didn’t even know what a CGA monitor was!) But I told my dad, and like the hero that he was, he raced out and came home with a clunky 4-color monitor, and the crew of the ISS Intrepid was back in action. But that’s a story for another day…
For now, take a look back in time at one of the most amazing, imaginative games I ever loved. As you might imagine, there is no “trailer” for this game, but I was able to find an hour long video to give you a taste of it. (I’m not suggesting you watch the whole thing, but it’s worth a glimpse. If you’re really inclined, get the game and play it. It’s out there for free and those two floppies only held about 700Kb of data!) ML