Starflight vs. Star Control II: FIGHT!

I didn’t want to clutter up the games that will never get a sequel thread with more talk of this, and I was asked to make a new thread, so boom.

Now, personally, while I enjoyed Star Control II a lot (love the game, really), I feel it lacks the…awe of discovery and space exploration, the depth of planetary exploration and actual feel of being in command of a spaceship. I felt much more like a captain in Starflight, where I had control over my ship and crew to tweak them as I so chose, adding RPG elements to the game as well. Star Control II is a great, fun, and well-written game, but I think in nearly every way, Starflight trumps it.

I will admit though, that by the time SCII came out, I had played both Starflight games multiple times, and had a “been there, done that” feeling when I played it, so that might be a bias on my part.

What say you?

Star Control II always wins.

Lack of poll here a bit conspicuous.

Starflight 1 > Star Control 2 > Starflight 2 > Trespasser

Although I never played Starflgiht, SCII still ranks as one of my all-time favorite games. The real clencher for me was the writing and the amazing interactions you can have with the aliens. I think my favorite dialogue in any game ever is the conversation you can have with the Supox (I think that’s what that species was called) where you discuss with a species of plants that it is scientifically impossible for a species of sentient plant to exist, and the plants agree.

No, it doesn’t. And totally forgot about that, sorry, I’ve added one.

You rate Starflight 2 UNDER Star Control 2? Why?

What? WHAT?

Get this. Now. ;)

I’ve never played Starflight. But in Star Control 2, I definitely felt the sense of exploration, awe of discovery, and the feeling of being a captain in charge of my crew. Though it is true that I also felt like the crew themselves, controlling the little landing parties and the ship encounters myself.

I’ve played through Star Control 2 many times, but that first time really was the most special. The galaxy was such a huge and dangerous place to explore. Hyperspace itself was so dangerous as little black blobs would try to track me down and suck me into their vortex. Then discovering the Arilou and their quasispace was such a relief. I had a little hand drawn paper map that I made to let me know where every hole in quasispace led to.

The first time I discovered the Zot Fog Pik and thought I’d made some great allies? When I discovered the druuge and they kept asking me to sell them crew members as slaves (shudder)? The Spathi who were so cowardly and yet had ships that helped me the most to win the war effort? (By the middle of the game, I could defeat any of the major enemies in the game with my Spathi ships).

God, there was just so much exploration and joy and discovery in that game. And every step of the way, the core gameplay itself, the rock-paper-scissors nature of the space combat with all the different ships? That was divine. I’ve always been more a core gameplay guy myself. If I don’t enjoy the basic gameplay, I find it really hard to make it through a game, even one with a really good story and universe. But Star Control 2 never had that problem. It has one of the best combat engines in any game that I’ve ever played. And even though I’ve never tried the Starflight games, hearing you talk about them Brian, it sounds like I wouldn’t have enjoyed them for this particular reason. I don’t think they had really enjoyable core gameplay that I could sink my teeth into like Star Control 2 did.

Starflight and Starflight 2 have their place in the Elder SciFi Game Pantheon. But they’re just too old and clunky now, filled with too many anachronisms and compromises. The core concept – rich, semi-hard-scifi space exploration – is timeless, and sadly underutilized these days.

Star Control 2 has its own anachronisms – who does Space War combat these days, much less base an entire game on it – but it’s less offensive to modern game palates, and the story and the interaction between the races is leaps and bounds above anything that’s been done since.

Here’s a video which shows space combat in Starflight. It just looks way inferior than Star Control combat. And the interface looks so clunky. In the same video, I will admit that planetary exploration is much more detailed, but even fighting alien creatures on the planetary surface looks so clunky and hard to do. And even simple stuff like picking up debris looks clunky and complicated.

Fair point, like I said, I might have nostalgia blinders on, but SCII just didn’t click with me like the SF games did.

So here’s the long version of the above.

Starflight 1 was profound. It is, in the context of the era in which it was developed, the greatest PC game ever made, and second place doesn’t even come close. There are definitely aspects of it – aspects of its era, really – that suck; the lack of EGA support in the original release, the way it deals with savegames, the “home base” screen, the so-so combat interface. But those are so small compared to what they accomplished:

[li]An entire galaxy that fit on 2 5.25" floppy disks, created through a very clever algorithm generated from a single seed[/li][li]In-depth exploration and advancement of systems and planets[/li][li]A UI simple enough for consoles but with the depth of the PC[/li][li]A meaningful story that reveals itself organically without devolving to “reading the game” or channeling the player through corridors[/li][/ul]

But by far the greatest thing it did, and as far as I can tell the first of only a handful of games to ever do this, is that it told a story in a way that could only be told through an interactive medium. This is in part due to the organic way it told the game, but also in the way that it took the language of gameplay and used it to make its point. The message of Starflight 1 is as profound as the one in Bioshock and makes as much impact, and for the same reasons; by the time you realize what’s going on, you discover you’ve been complicit. It makes its point personal, in the same way that your vendetta against Shodan is in System Shock.

If I were to teach a course on games and storytelling, this is what I would do, what I would use. Rather than pointless, shit-tastic art games like “The Path,” I’d use Starflight 1 and Bioshock to show how games can make their points personal and reveal their story in non-linear, organic ways that no other medium can achieve.

Starflight 2, while more advanced in terms of gameplay and graphics, lacked a story that was quite as meaningful.

Star Control 2 is obviously based on the design Starflight for its single-player campaign. The trips to the planets’ surfaces are infinitely simplified (to the point of triviality) when compared to the depth and detail of Starflight’s, but the combat interface is far superior. And while Star Control owes more to Douglas Adams than Gene Roddenberry, it still manages depth (hey, let’s use an entire race’s religious beliefs to trick them into thinking their gods are sending them on an insane crusade!) and some damned quotable lines:

[li]“Goodbye, Human fluid sac.”[/li][li]“I have a plan. A good plan! But for now, it must remain a secret.”[/li][li]“It is squishy to smell you.”[/li][li]“Hold! What you are doing is wrong! Why do you do this thing?”[/li][li]“We’re the ethics police, justify that outfit immediately!”[/li][li]1-900-PKUNKRA.[/li][/ul]

Well said, Rimbo. The way the story was pieced together in Starflight was just astounding.

I remember the time where I realized what was going on in that game with the same intensity as the time when the Challenger blew up, or when I found out about 9/11. It was that big of a deal. No one had ever done that before – used the language of gameplay to make a point about the world around us. Star Trek: The Next Generation actually borrowed a similar (but weaker) idea later on in one of its later seasons and made it a permanent part of the ST universe – so the Star Trek universe ultimately ended up borrowing from something inspired by the Star Trek universe. :)

For those who haven’t played the game yet and don’t know what Brian and I are talking about, YOU MUST go to Brian’s GOG link and do so. The rest of your game backlog can wait. I’m deliberately avoiding giving away the spoiler here because finding it out on your own is worth the effort. And don’t use any cheats! They’ll give it away. Warning: This is one of those games where you have to take notes; on the flip side, they give you a journal in which you can write them in-game.

Yeah, if I recall, nothing with that same level of emotional gravitas had even come close to hitting me except for the Challenger disaster. It was just a HUGE gut punch. Even subsequent replays, wherein I KNEW WHAT WAS COMING, still hit me hard.

I’m not, however, recalling your TNG reference. Could you PM it to me, please?

Starflight certainly looks like an interesting game. I do not think I could deal with the UI / Graphics at this stage. It could definitely use a modern re-make.

Actually, its UI has aged very well, because they chose to use a very simple control scheme; if you have a numeric keypad, you’re pretty much good to go. It’s the kind of control scheme that could be executed with a 2-button joystick – 8 directions, select and escape are all you ever use.

When you think of the view-screen as a tactical view, like what you’d see on a ship’s systems monitor, it helps with suspension of disbelief.

It is still very, VERY playable. The only real difficulties are (a) having to take quest notes manually and (b) that rather than save games, the entire universe is altered permanently, so you have to play the game from a complete copy of the original installation. But those are easily dealt with.

Starflight sounded familiar to me but I wasn’t sure if I had played it. After a bit of research it seems that I did indeed play it. On the Commodore 64. The floodgates of memory opened up. And IIRC it was much more of a RPG than SCII. So I reluctantly have to give it my vote.

I too rate Starflight above its sequel, but that’s mainly because I played the first game as a teenager on my old C64 and the Starflight 2 was never released on that platform so I only played it fairly recently. So, yeah, nostalgia plays a part.

I mentioned in the other thread that SC2’s combat feels a little too arcadey to me, and is really the only knock I have against that game. Rock8man mentions Starflight’s combat seeming inferior to SC2’s, and I guess that’s true but mainly because combat was not the point of Starflight. It’s there, but almost an afterthought, especially once you upgrade your ship a bit. I do think the sense of exploration and diplomacy options in both games are pretty strong for games of their time.

I would absolutely love an updated version of the games. Yeah, I do have the Ur-Quan Masters and that’s cool, plus the unofficial sequel to Starflight, The Lost Colony, but they’re not quite the same. I think I would like SC2 or the Ur-Quan Masters better with joystick controls, and I’d like to see an XBLA or Steam update to facilitate that if possible. Or hell, actual sequels to both games as long as I’m dreaming.

Sequels would be the most desireable. Starflight would gain a ton from a graphics overhaul, and I still think that a “true” Star Control 3 but with the Skylanders approach would be a knockout business plan.

Skylanders? Whut?