Starflight: FTL

(This is part of my journey playing through Starflight. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

planet2Back to the inner planet to make my fortune!  Or at least to get my ship up to par.

Money drives EVERYTHING in Starflight.  It not only lets you buy fuel and starship upgrades, but allows you to train (level) your crew as well.  Ergo, you need a LOT of cash.  Yes, it’s pretty annoying to spend the first few hours in this game doing little else but mining, traveling, and selling, but that’s part of the space sim genre tradition!

clearWhile I do yet more mining, I want to point out that this game has a surprising amount of detail for such primitive graphics, up to and including a real-time weather system.  Yes, there are storms and yes, they are bad.

So as I continue the dull cycle of mining, returning to the ship, returning to the station, selling, returning to the ship, returning to the planet, and mining some more, let’s talk about Starflight’s little UI quirks.  It’s all controlled with the cursor keys and enter key, which is simple enough, but often when you want to go DOWN in a menu you have to press UP.  But not ALWAYS.

And then there’s the DOS save feature, which makes this version of Starflight far more Rogue-like than the later Amiga and Genesis versions.  Basically, you can’t save and restore multiple files; instead, you save when you exit and restore when you boot back up the game.  That’s it.  If you — if I — die, that will be it for the game.  So I am trying to be as careful as kittens here.  Have I mentioned how many ways that this game wants to kill me?  Oh so many.

So as I type this, I notice a funny little detail: My spacesuited man at the space station starts tapping his foot all annoyed if I leave him standing in one spot too long.  Hee.

iceTaking a break from mining on the first planet to check out the third, which is an ice giant.  The second I get out of the ship, I’m informed that I’m in the middle of a raging thunderstorm and that both Rubi and MJ are injured.  I rush back inside the ship, even though it says I’m “lost”.  Not going to take chances.  Not going to take chances.  This will be the dullest playthrough ever.

After picking another site only to lose the ship again thank to hail and “steaming heavily,” I decide that it’s probably safer to return to the first planet.  So much for being a dashing space explorer.

I’ll spare you a LOT of exceedingly tedious mining tales — suffice to say, I make around 111,000 MUs, which gives me enough to buy a chunk of fuel, class 3 shields, class 3 engines, and class 2 armor.  I’m not interested in fighting, so no worries about weapons.  It’s time to jump to lightspeed and ditch this solar system!

…oh man, I am so going to die, aren’t I?

galaxyHere’s the galaxy map, such as it is.  You can see that there’s not a lot in the immediate vincinity of Arth, my home world.  So I guess my choices are limited unless I want to get stranded, quick.  The only thing I recall from my youth is that there’s a nearby system with a planet that has minable fuel.  Maybe that’s just in my head, because I thought it was north-east.

Actually, there’s a system just a smidge to the north-west.  Maybe that’s it.  Lots of planets, so let’s get surveying!

The inner-most planet is a rock with very little to mine.  Boring.  One survey and I’m done.

syptopiaThe second planet is far more interesting.  For starters, it sorta looks like it could be a colony planet, so I log my recommendation and then land on the little bit of land that there is.

ruinsNearby the ship I see my first icons that aren’t merely mining nodes.   Actually, there’s a mining node there that spits out fuel (score!), but the triangle thing is an ancient ruin.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do with it, but it’s cool to see anyway.

I find several more empty ruins, which is disappointing, but at least this planet is lousy with minerals.  I go on several trips to stock up my holds.  Are the ruins a sign that I’m going to meet aliens soon?  I really hope so!

My top 10 favorite PlayStation games

To go along with my previous listings of top favorite games from various consoles (Atari 2600, SNES, 90s PC games), I wanted to add a similar list of my top 10 favorite titles from the PlayStation.

When I went to college in 1994, I got out of console gaming.  We all had laptops at our college and thus mostly focused on PC gaming, and (hard as it is to believe today) only a small handful of us actually owned TVs in the dorm.  So during a good chunk of the 90s I was mostly ignorant of what was going on in consoleland — and generally OK with that.

My return to consoles came in the summer of 1998.  I was living in an apartment away from home for the first time in my life and feeling lonely now that my friends had left until the fall.  A certain “must have” killer app for the PlayStation caught my eye and convinced me to cough up cash for it.  And that’s where our list begins…

ff71. Final Fantasy VII

I sort of believe that Final Fantasy VII was the key factor in the PlayStation crushing the competition and becoming the “must have” console of that era.  For me, it was absolutely amazing: a multi-CD adventure featuring 3D graphics, the biggest Final Fantasy story yet, a huge world, tons of cinematics, and logically impossible giant swords.  I was so instantly addicted to this game that I called off work for three days straight to play it non-stop, something I’ve never done since.  Now, it’s fashionable to bash FF7 these days and say that it really wasn’t as good as nostalgia has us believe, but whatever — it was and still is a great game that was a blast to play.

re22. Resident Evil 2

Along with FF7, Resident Evil 2 was one of my initial PlayStation purchases based on the power of strong reviews at the time.  I certainly got my money’s worth, as I played the heck out of this survival horror zombie title.  There were a few parts that had me jumping every time, and I loved the bonus stages they threw in.

silent3. Silent Hill

Silent Hill had so much good buzz that I knew I had to buy it, even though I was starting to wise up to the fact that my temperment was too weak for survival horror games.  This game equally fascinated and terrified me, as I stumbled around the fog-shrouded town of Silent Hill trying to find my daughter while avoiding getting killed by everything that moved.  The devs were brilliant in how they used limited visuals and sounds (such as radio static) to enhance the experience.

ff94. Final Fantasy IX

After the super-serious and somewhat ambitious Final Fantasy VIII (which I really did not like), it was terrific to see the series lighten up and get a bit more cartoony with IX.  It was like a love letter to the entirety of the Final Fantasy franchise and honestly an enjoyable ride from start to finish.

cross5. Chrono Cross

Nobody, the least of all me, is going to argue that Chrono Cross was better or even as good as Chrono Trigger.  But you know what?  It was a really terrific game in its own right, with parallel world-hopping, a fun combat system, and the ability to collect many, many party members.  One of the very last PlayStation games that I bought.

parasite6. Parasite Eve

To this day, I don’t even know what Parasite Eve was about or what kind of game it was.  It was like part contemporary RPG, part survival horror, and part bizarre science fiction.  It did have a kick-butt theme song and was interesting enough to play through at least once, and any game that lets me take shotguns to dirty mutants is a good time.

wipeout7. Wipeout

I’m not normally one for racing games, but in Wipeout’s case, I’ll gladly make an exception.  It was a fast-paced racer with a toe-tapping techno soundtrack that just got me pumped every time I played.

metal8. Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid was something special and different from the rest of the pack, and it made that apparent right away.  It was an endlessly clever and inventive “tactical espionage action” title that had me surviving torture, breaking necks, sneaking through halls in boxes, sniping targets, crawling through ducts, and hoping desperately that I wouldn’t be spotted.  Seriously one of the best console games that I ever played.

castle9. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

The PlayStation was, in some ways, the successor to the SNES.  It’s where the Final Fantasy series went (not to mention a lot of the fans), and it’s also where the “good” Castlevania sequel landed.  Symphony of the Night was absolutely tremendous, from its soundtrack to its RPG-like inventory and stat system.  There were just so many types of weapons to try and a huge sprawling castle that, once beaten, could be replayed upside-down.

medi10. MediEvil

This strange Halloween-flavored platformer became an instant favorite due to its Tim Burtonesque landscapes and its bizarre skull-headed protagonist.  They did a lot with the basic PlayStation graphics, making them cartoony and spooky-ooky in the vein of atmospheric haunted houses.  Loved it.

Starflight: Copyright protection

(This is part of my journey playing through Starflight. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

warnYeah, they weren’t kidding around with software copyright protection in the 80s.  Or, more accurately, they totally were kidding around, even though they were deadly serious.  It was a weird decade.

Wow… the feels that this screen suddenly gave to me as decades-old memory neurons were fired back up.  Welcome to my crappy spaceship.  Let’s launch this thing and make our fortune!

codeUnfortunately, I’m not allowed to launch unless I enter in the copy protection, which (if I recall correctly) was some sort of code wheel.  A code wheel that I do not have. has my back on this with two options.  The first is a very confusing PDF file, and the second is a handy little application that takes the on-screen clues in and spits out a helpful code.  Thanks, GOG!

After a little launch sequence (ooh, whizzing stars!), I’m in the void of space with nothing on the screen.  Hm.

planetStarflight is very, very menu-driven, and quite reminiscent of the original Wasteland in that regard.  So to access various functions of my ship, I have to talk to a specific crewman to open up that department.  Navigation allows me to fly around my home solar system via the cursor keys.  Nothing like a spaceship making an abrupt, sharp left turn to mimic accuracy!

Operations told me that there’s some good mining on the inner-most planet, so I fly around the sun and see what I can do to land on this brown blob.

As basic as the graphics are, it’s got a nice style to it and there are a few neat touches.  I really like how, when you orbit a planet, you get to see the planet slowly “rotating” in the window.

landAlso, landing uses a primitive 3-D landscape view — hey, back then, anything remotely 3-D kind of blew our minds.

groundNow that we’ve landed, it’s time to mine this planet for all it’s worth.  So my crew all piles into the all-terrain vehicle and starts puttering around on the surface, looking for those oh-so-valuable mining icons (crossed pickaxes).  It’s *amazing* to me how fast all of this is coming back to me; less than a minute out of the ship, and I’m driving around and mining like I used to do back in the day.

I don’t find a lot of stuff my first time out, just some chromium.  But I’ve got tons of space, so I pick everything up.  It’s important to keep an eye on the energy gauge so as to not run out of power and get a big fat game over.  At least the readout there tells you where you left your ship, which is quite helpful.

bonanzaAfter some trial and error, I figure out that my best mining prospects are on the grey and white patches (mountain and snow?) and worst on the yellow and blue (sand and water?).  I don’t quite fill up my cargo hold, but I’m excited to go back to the station and see how much I’ve made.

cargoIn that short mining jaunt, I end up making around 28,000 MUs, which — at least to me — seems like a nice haul.  I will be going right back to do a lot more in the next session, because I want to deck out this ship as much as possible before leaving this system!

Starflight: Intergalactic nostalgia trip

(This is part of my journey playing through Starflight. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

I may have yammered on a while back about the importance that Starflight held in my life back in the 80s.  It was the confluence of several factors: my obsession with Star Trek, my love of science fiction, and my copious amounts of free time unfettered from a social life.  And yet this game was brutal to me, as a single game over would effectively end that game and require a completely new one (which was compounded by the need to make copies of the game disc to run it on, lest I accidentally auto-save a failed game on the main discs).

And yet I loved being able to make up my own crew, fly my own ship, and set out into the galaxy to find my fortune.  Starflight’s been lurking in my GOG library for a while now, so let’s take it out for a spin — even if it might end up being a short ride.

modeOK, this start-up screen made me laugh, because you have to be pretty old to remember these sorts of menus.  Basically it’s asking me how crappy my monitor is.  Hercules?  I don’t even recall what that is.  I’ll go EGA and thank my lucky stars that I’ll get about four colors.

After a warning screen (games were very heavy-handed about piracy issues and copy protection back then), I get treated to this lovely sight:

titleJust be glad you can’t hear the awful bleeps and bloops that are attempting a main theme but are actually scoring your own personal hell.

stationWithout further ado, the game dumps me into the main space station.  As I recall, this is the central hub of Starflight that functions as a character creator, mission generator, bank, and vendor.

objOperations has an infodump for me, including a few suggestions where to go starting out and these helpful objectives.  Don’t get killed?  Rip off Star Trek as much as possible?  Check!

dodgeOver in personnel, I create my crew.  Once again, I’m going to be pulling names from whoever is currently on my Twitter feed.  Starflight doesn’t give us the best in the graphics department, opting for silhouettes instead of actual art or headshots.  I vividly remember loving the android option because they start with really good navigation and engineering skills, even though they can’t learn anything past that.

Can someone tell me what this human is doing here?  The Egyptian dance?  I mean… I don’t even…

So my crew is (drumroll): Dodge the human, Rubi the android, Pasmith the Velox (big praying mantis), Ardwulf the Elowan (plant-thing), MJ the human, and Ferrel the Thrynn (dinosaur).

crewEveryone gets a spot on the ship based on his/her/its best skill.  Don’t complain to me, it’s a pure numbers game.

gameThe space station bank informs me of two interesting facts: (1) I’m getting a whopping 12% interest, and (2) I apparently spent 200 MUs buying this game.  Guh?  Are we just getting meta and breaking the fourth wall, or did my captain decide to buy some apps before heading out on his journey?

shipAnd finally, it’s time to customize my ship, the ISS Bio Break.  Now, back when I played this as a kid, there weren’t any strategy guides and I didn’t notice that thing in operations basically telling me to stick around this system and mine it to make money.  Instead, I bought engines and spent so much fuel flying to the nearest system that I usually went broke.

This time, I’m being smart.  I load up the Bio Break with 16 cargo pods and nothing else; we’re going to hang around here and mine, mine, mine like I’m a newbie in EVE Online.

Quest for Glory: The Three Stooges

(This is part of my journey playing through Quest for Glory 1. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

f1After far too many failed attempts, my hero finally scrabbles over the wall and into the brigand’s fortress.  Woo!  It looks intimidating but is eerily devoid of other people.

f2Walking over the rug causes me to fall into a pit (while my eyes hilariously bug out).  Even though I am dead, four bandit archers pop out of nearby windows to pile on the overkill.

f3Is this another trap or just the brigands being so dumb that they need to label their non-traps?  Oh well, that’s why God invented save games.  Happily, this bridge holds.  There are also triplines all over the place, but once I investigate them, my character automatically walks over them without setting them off.  I AM ALL THAT IS THIEF.

f4Inside the brigands’ hall is a tricky section where three guards (who look — coincidentally, I’m sure — like the Three Stooges) keep trying to get into the room.  I can’t fight them; they’re instant game over if they come in.  So I have to keep moving around to block the different entrances, topple some candles to stop their advance, then leap up on the table and bring the chandolier down on their heads.  It’s actually tricky in terms of timing to do all of this, and I had to reload about a dozen times until I got the pattern just right.

f5It’s quite worth it to see the Stooges do their panicked dance and then be knocked out.  Quickly, I duck through the back door before more guards arrive.

f6What the… bloomin’ onion…

Well, Mr. “Me” here is that laughing warlock I’ve heard so much about, who is also Yorick, the jester who supposedly went off looking for the Baron’s daughter.  Seems like he got mixed up in a bad crowd, now didn’t he?  The room is tacky, covered in smileys and whatnot, and it’s also extremely weird to navigate.  Like a fun house.

Now Yorick claims that he’s here in disguise as a warlock but still wants to help Elsa.  The problem isn’t Yorick — it’s Elsa:

f7Plot twist!  Elsa is the brigand leader!  Huh… this changes a lot… and makes a weird sort of sense.  I sense family angst coming on soon.

f8Navigating this room requires figuring out which door goes where, all while avoiding trap doors and Yorick’s attempt to throw fruit at you.  Again, if he knows that I’m here to help and he’s all for it, why is he doing this to me?  Happily, all of this is a lot easier to beat (and less deadly to slip up) than the previous room.

f9This brings us to the brigand leader, Elsa.  She’s… not happy to see me, if that sword didn’t give it away.  Actually, she’s still cursed by the Baba Yaga and can’t remember who she really is.  So I give her a face full of dispell potion, which wakes her up.

f10Huzzah!  That’s two kids and two curses down.  Naturally, Elsa and Yorick can escape with her amulet but I can’t, so she gleefully leaves me behind as brigands attempt to knock down the door.  That’s the thanks I get?  I snatch up the magic mirror on the table and dash out the secret passage.

f11The mirror makes defeating Baba Yaga a trifle — I merely point it at her while she’s trying to turn me into a frog (yet again) and the spell bounces back on her.  In her anger, she sends me outside and her chicken hut flies off.  I don’t know whether to question why the hut has chicken wings and legs or the fact that chickens can’t, y’know, fly, but hey, I won!

f12It’s back to the Baron’s castle for a well-deserved celebration, as I am officially crowned the Hero of Spielberg.  I’m sure this picture has a lot of Sierra in-jokes going on, although I’m most drawn to the Starfleet officer on the right-hand side.

f13And with that, I board the magic carpet and head south for Quest for Glory II.  The end!

Final Thoughts

For a game that I had never heard of nor played until recently, Quest for Glory is undoubtedly one of the best old-school Sierra titles I’ve experienced.  It’s certainly unique, with a hybrid adventure/RPG setup and three classes with their own playstyles.

I loved how many of the puzzles had several solutions and how the world felt cohesive and immersive.  After bumbling about for a few weeks now, the forest of Spielberg will forever be remembered by me as a “real” place with iconic locales and characters.  Major props go out to how the game allows you to explore and solve it (mostly) in a non-linear fashion, giving you time to establish yourself and build up your inventory and stats.

On the down side, the RPG mechanics are certainly lacking.  I wasn’t a huge fan of how you needed to do repetitive tasks to level up skills, nor how bland fighting was.  Combat should have been exciting, but ended up being annoying speed bumps between where I was and where I wanted to go.  From start to finish, every encounter played out pretty much the same.

As a thief, I only got to steal from one house (there was another one, but I couldn’t get in) and only had to sneak once or twice.  It didn’t really feel like a huge difference in playstyle.  And all of that gold I ended up getting mostly went to waste, as there wasn’t much to buy.

Quest for Glory is funny, interesting, and lacks a lot of hardcore frustration that was present in early Sierra titles.  This VGA remake version looks pretty good, with colorful sprites and some hilarious animations.  I won’t be going into the next chapter of the series, at least for now, but I’m glad I got to play through the original at least once.

Quest for Glory: Climbing lessons

(This is part of my journey playing through Quest for Glory 1. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

ur1Flush with recent success and recent funds, I head back to town to see if there’s anything to buy.  There isn’t, really.  I pick up a new dagger from the store and a tool kit from the Thieves Guild, but for the most part I’m pretty set.

Then I notice that there’s a new mysterious note under the barstool in the tavern, telling me of a meeting at the local archery range.  Guess I have somewhere to go now!

ur2I arrive at the archery range in time to evesdrop on two brigands.  They’re talking about me (yay!) and how I’m futzing up things.  They also mention how “she” (I’m assuming Baba Yaga) is getting agitated and they indicate that there is a lack of trust between the brigands and her.  Finally, they conveniently mention a back door into the brigand fortress, complete with key and password.  Glad I showed up then!

ur3One brigand leaves and I take the other one out with a dagger throw to the stomach (ouch!).  His corpse rewards me with a key, and I leave him to rot in the hot noonday sun.  I’m so awesome.

ur4As mentioned in the secret conversation, the back door to the fortress is hidden in some rocks.  The rocks are easy enough to find, although I have to navigate around this jumping… jellybean thing.  According to the description, it’s an Antwerp and it’s on the endangered species list.  It also has the most annoying sound effect and oh my gosh do I wish I could kill it.

ur5Going through the dull cave, I arrive at the front gate of the fortress behind a patrolling minotaur.  Man, he grumbles a lot!

ur6Sneaking past the minotaur to get to the gate is the easy part, but unless I want to fight my way in (and I do not), I’m going to have to clamber over this wall.

That… is a problem.  Remember when I didn’t have enough sneak skill to rob the kobold wizard?  Well, now I don’t have enough climbing skill to hoist myself over this wall, even though there’s a convenient slanted rock to my left that would make it easy.  So the only way through, once again, is to practice, practice, practice.

Then begins an agonizing 15 minutes of gametime during which my character tries to climb, slips down, and gets a failure message all while the oblivious minotaur patrols and shrill music assaults my ears.  Eventually my guy gets too tired to climb, so I have to tell him to rest for a few hours and then attempt again.  And again.  And again.

This goes on for a DAY AND A HALF of in-game time.  It goes from midnight to day to night again before I finally get to 75 climbing skill and hop on over.  Ugh.  What fresh hell will this fortress bring?  We’ll find out next!

Quest for Glory: The man in the cave

(This is part of my journey playing through Quest for Glory 1. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

ca1Nearby Erana’s Peace is a cave, which is guarded by this fearsome-looking ogre.  While I have better armor on now than before, I’m still a thief fighting with a dinky dagger.  I should have chosen the fighter class, shouldn’t I?  Oh well… I actually muddle my way through this encounter, striking at the creature when he steps in to swing.  Once again, I am severely underwhelmed at the combat mechanics in this game.

The ogre’s corpse does cough up a treasure chest with a lot of money in it, which I add to my growing hoard.  Seriously, I’m up to 18 gold or something now, which is enough to buy pretty much anything I want.

ca2Inside the cave is a bear (which is normal) that is chained up (which is not as normal).  For kicks, I go right up to him and then get mauled to death.  This prompts the above death notice, which I applaud most vigorously.  Best pun ever.

ca3Getting past the bear isn’t hard at all — as the description tells me, he’s a HUNGRY bear.  Here dude, have an apple from an underage centaur filly who won’t date me.  Rawr, that’s good fruit.

ca4In the next room of the cave is a kobold wizard (I love his tattered robes!) who has a key around his neck.  Well!  We must be unlocking that murderous bear, mustn’t we!  I try sneaking up to him, all thief-like, but since this is literally the first time in the game that I’ve tried sneaking, my skill is horribly poor and I get fried by magic(tm).

ca5Since I need a higher sneaking skill, you know what that means.  The game is going to require that I do a repetitive task over and over again while it slowly levels that skill up.  So I head back out in front of the cave and practice my sneaking to the vast approval of the decaying ogre.  He gives me important tips like how to blend in with one’s environment, and I feel less like a complete fool for mincing back and forth for over ten minutes.

ca6At least all that sneaking practice pays off: I easily boost the key from the kobold and free the bear.  Said bear transforms into — shocker! — the Baronet, Barnard von Spielburg.  He’s a tool, too, sneering at me as if he wasn’t just wallowing in his own filth and happy for a bite of apple.

ca7The upshot of all these trials is that I am now welcome into the Baron’s halls.  He’s pretty glad to see me and far more appreciative that I rescued his snooty son from eternal bear-hood.  I haven’t quite saved everything — I still need to find his daughter, drive out the brigands, and reverse the Baba Yaga’s curse — but it’s a really good start.

I even get invited to dinner and am rewarded with 50 gold for the baronet’s rescue.  I need to go on a shopping spree!