Today we talk video games, dear reader!
As you may know, I’m far from a stranger to the carnal pleasures of…um…playing video games. Right, that’s what I meant to say, honest.
I’ve talked in the past about freeform gaming and storytelling in your head while doing so (some call this roleplaying, others having fun, still others skulk away and call the nice people down at the funny farm for you).
But facts are facts — games are more fun when they let you do the telling.
I have a fancy-pants computer, self built for POWAAAAAAA. My video card alone pulls in more juice than your TV. No joke, the thing is almost as long as a loaf of bread, and it is all simply for graphics in games. That’s it.
Yet I find myself playing older games as often as the newest, shiniest goodies on the market today.
And games like this are why.
Starflight: Fly in the stars and stuff!
Let’s talk universes here for a minute. Game universes, fiction universes, universe universes, etc. etc.
Some games talk about how big their worlds are. “ZOMG WE HAZ LIEK A MILE OF LIEK STUFF AND STUFF!”
Or about how ‘freeform’ they are. “ZOMG LIEK YOU CAN BE EVIL OR LIEK NICE AND STUFF!”
F. U. C. K. that.
Staflight lets you blow up planets. Home planets. Or make enemies of ALL THE THINGS and make it nearly impossible to complete the game. Or jack around while the universe literally burns in solar flares.
Strip mine planets, flag them for habitation and colonization, bully weak aliens, or trash talk the big baddies (who will eat your face).
There are 270 star systems in the game, each with 0 to 8 planets spinning around their respective star. Each planet has its own gravity, atmosphere, weather, etc. Some are gas giants, and you ain’t landing on any gas giant, but the rest are all fully explorable. That’s seven or eight hundred planets, waiting for you to come visit!
And by fully explorable, I mean a whole lot of open land, mountains, critters trying to eat your landing vehicle, and ancient ruins of long forgotten peoples.
There is a storyline, but you have to uncover it yourself. No opening video shows you what is going on, no scrolling text to hold your wee little hand. Nope, just plop into the space station and start reading your mail and following clues. The whole thing opens up to you as you play space sleuth.
BYONB: Bring your own notebook
To get full enjoyment of this open world — to even beat the game and save ALL THE THINGS — you need to be writing stuff down.
Pen and paper, quill and the tanned flesh of slain enemies, a personal wiki like WikidPad, whatever floats your goat.
But, like any good game, the story and the things you need to do are given to you in small bits here and there, often in conversation with alien species. Rough up the right alien and he might tell you about some ancient doohickie on the second planet of 124,124. Butter up a different alien, and they might tell you of a magic device that can do something way cooler than your toaster.
But if you don’t keep track of this stuff, you will be in for a sad, short run in space followed by the who universe blowing up. And we are going to blame you for it. And you’ll deserve it, damn it!
It is very rewarding, however, when you group a bunch of your seeming unrelated notes together and get that AHA! moment. “Oh,” you’ll say, “I bet there is something in that system I need, since the strange bug men told me their fancy holy relic thingy is there…”
Starflight had a wider impact than you might think. In fact, you may find yourself surprised at what games you’ve played or heard of that owe some of their existence to Starflight.
Mass Effect, for example. Casey Hudson, one of the people involved in the creation of the Mass Effect franchise, tweeted, “Starflight was a key inspiration for the ME series.”
Also, Star Control II, another famous (in nerd sci-fi gaming culture at least) space exploration game takes its share of cues from Starflight — no doubt in part because one of the Starflight developers worked on it.
Oh, and that developer? His name is Greg Johnson and he also worked on the ToeJam and Earl games on the Genesis. Anyone remember those?
Sounds good. How do I get to play it?
The original Starflight was made in the 80’s. It was quite the achievement at the time. Since then a few other versions have been made.
Here are your options:
1 – The original PC versions. Not too pretty, but fully functional. The one issue I have with the PC version is it actually saves the game back to its own executable. Back in those days of yore, all you had were floppy drives, and this kind of thing was not abnormal back then. This can cause problems, though, if it crashes in mid play or you quit without saving…
The best place to get this version is GOG.com – Good Old Games. The best part of GOG is the thing will come ready to play, all set up with DosBox, which lets you play old DOS games. And the GOG version automatically backs up your saves for you, helping to mitigate the crappy save system.
Get it here, or read on.
2 – The Sega Genesis version. Sadly, only the first Starflight was ported to the Genesis, but what a port it was! In my opinion, this is the best version of Starflight you can play. The screenshots in this post have all been from this version.
The graphics are revamped to a totally acceptable level even today, the mining of minerals (the best way to make $$ in this game) was improved and made a little more interesting, and the menus and save game system are up to par with 16 bit games.
To play this you will need a Genesis and the game cartridge, or a Genesis emulator and the game ROM.
The best Genesis emulator for Windows and Mac is Kega Fusion, and the best emulator for Android devices (a great way to play this game, BTW) is MD.emu. The legality of emulation and the download of game ROMs is all over the place, but be at peace, young padawan. No one in the history of the world has ever gotten in trouble for downloading a Sega Genesis game from 20 years ago. To find the ROM, Google “CoolROM”, and search for it there.
3 – The Amiga version. Another great port of this game (and its sequel) was to the Commodore Amiga. This one sticks real close to the original, and is really the PC game with minor tweaks to graphics and mouse support, plus a good save system.
Like I said, the save system is a real sticking point for me in the PC version, and the Amiga version has 5 save slots and no issues.
This takes a little more setup, to be sure. If you’ve never used an Amiga before, understand they are a different type of computer entirely.
Get yourself a copy of the best Amiga emulator out there, WinUAE for Windows, and various other UAE versions for Mac and Linux. Then you need the kickstart ROMs, and the Starflight disk images (easy to get, just Google Starflight Amiga ADF).
Like I said, this one is technical, but if you want to play it this way it is worth it.
Go forth and play!
Let me know if you give this game a whirl, or if you have fond memories of it yourself!