Starflight was a game that was almost impossible for me to play, even though I loved it. Let me explain.
One of the reasons I know I’m getting old is that I’m starting to say things like “Kids today didn’t know how it was when [archaic technology] was around,” which wins friends in all sorts of circles. But the truth really is that most younger computer users today really have no idea how fickle and tricky PCs in the 80s and even early 90s could be. They weren’t like consoles with games, where you just plugged in a cartridge and went at it; each title had requirements that, depending on your rig, could make it completely unplayable on your machine. I know it’s like that now, but it certainly doesn’t seem as severe an issue as it was back then. Computers were expensive, upgrading them was expensive, and just to get some of these programs to work required manually fiddling around with Autoexec.bat and Config.sys files (I even had a load screen menu created that would allow me to swap between them).
Starflight was brutal to run on our family’s aging computer, because we really were at the minimum required stats AND we had no hard drive. This was an issue because, for whatever reason, Starflight didn’t have a friendly save-and-reload game system — that sucka was permadeath, all the way. If you lost a game, you’d have to start over (or turn off the computer and reboot, hoping that it wasn’t saved at that point). And because of the no hard drive situation, each new game required a set of copied floppy discs, since you really wouldn’t want to play on the originals, lose, and then never be able to play it again. Add to that an obtuse copy protection wheel chart, and the whole game was a hassle from start to end.
And yet I loved it, because it really was the closest I could get to living out my Star Trek fantasies in video games at the time. The premise was simple: You started out with some cash to equip a spaceship, you made up a crew compliment, and you went out into the stars for fame, fortune, and (in my case) gas. I’ve heard there was a story somewhere, but I barely even knew what I was doing, so my main goal was to head to a nearby star system and mine for valuable minerals to haul back for meager upgrades and lots more fuel. Sometimes I’d encounter an alien ship and then pee my pants because I’d get creamed, but it was an invigorating experience even so.
I’m recalling Starflight now because my recent adventures in STO have reminded me how attached I got to my crew and the concept of decking out a ship. But unlike STO, outer space in Starflight was a truly daunting experience full of instant death at every turn.
I got so excited when they announced a sequel, but I think at the time I hadn’t purchase my own computer and the specs were way too high for our old one, so oh well. Such is the life of a galactic captain.
As an aside, man was the manual weird:
I also want to say that when I was doing a bit of poking around regarding this game, when I saw the picture of the developers (Binary Systems) I had such a nostalgic rush. I read this manual front to back many times, and this image was burned on my brain (what were they IN, by the way? An actual spaceship?):