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Cover art by Boris Vallejo
|Developer(s)||Toys for Bob|
|Designer(s)||Fred Ford, Paul Reiche III|
|Programmer(s)||Fred Ford, Robert Leyland|
|Composer(s)||Kyle Freeman, Tommy V. Dunbar|
|Series||Star Control series|
|Release date(s)||July 1990|
|Mode(s)||Single player, multiplayer|
|Distribution||Floppy disks, cartridge|
Star Control is a science fiction video game developed by Toys for Bob and published by Accolade in 1990. It was originally released for Amiga and MS-DOS in 1990, followed by a Mega Drive/Genesis port in 1991. Simple ported versions were also released for the Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum. A sequel was released in 1992.
The game features the basic Spacewar!-style combat engine and wraparound screen, Mêlée (as it was called due to the close combat involved, even though the ships actually fire projectile weapons at each other and engage one by one), as well as a strategic game engine with a three-dimensional cluster of stars as the terrain. There is no real story component to the game, aside from a cursory background story explaining the existence of two alliances of alien races at war, the Alliance of Free Stars and the Hierarchy of Battle Thralls. The game can be played by one or two players as the complete game, or purely as either melee or strategy. Single player mode pits the player against the AI, that features a selectable ferocity.
As in the later games, the various races' ships have widely differing appearances and abilities. The ships' sizes, maneuverability, and speed vary; in addition, each ship has a distinct primary weapon and a secondary ability. For instance, the Ur-Quan Dreadnought has a powerful main gun and the ability to launch independent fighters; while the Mmrnmhrm Transformer has the ability to change between two forms, a slow but quickly-turning one with a short-range laser as its main weapon, and the other quick but slowly-turning with long-range guided missiles.
Rampant slowdown marred much of the core gameplay on the Genesis, much to the chagrin of the creators, who were not given the time by Accolade to optimize the gameplay for the platform. This led to a lawsuit between Accolade and Sega of America. At the time, Sega regulated the release of third-party software through a licensing arrangement, which Accolade had bypassed (by creating their own development systems). Although the lawsuit was settled in Accolade's favor, making an extremely important legal precedent, the company later became a licensed Sega developer. Star Control was touted as the first 12-megabit cartridge created for the system. Because it was a cartridge-based game with no battery backup, the Genesis port lacked the scenario-creator of its PC cousin, but it came pre-loaded with a few additional scenarios not originally in the game. Accolade published the game under a then-new company label, Ballistic.
In 1996, Computer Gaming World ranked it as the 127th best game of all time, stating "Space War enters the 90s with a touch of humor."
Sequels and spin-offs
Star Control II
Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters was written by Toys for Bob (Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III) and originally published by Accolade in 1992 for MS-DOS; it was later ported to the 3DO with an enhanced multimedia presentation, allowed by the CD technology. When the original creators released the source code of the 3DO version as open source under the GPL in 2002, an open-source project was created aiming to create an embellished remake called The Ur-Quan Masters.
Star Control 3
Star Control 3 was developed by Legend Entertainment, hired by Accolade to create a sequel when the original creators expressed disinterest in creating a sequel for the same amount of money they were paid for Star Control II (which left them working for several months without pay). Star Control 3 features some of the same races as previous games, as well as new ones. It was released for MS-DOS and the Macintosh in 1996. Toys for Bob was not involved in the development of this game in any way. The story expanded on the mystery of the Precursors' disappearance and introduced new enemies in the form of the Hegemonic Crux, however, it also removed several aspects of game play present in Star Control II, such as the ability to modify the equipment and capabilities of the player's flagship. Star Control 3 was used as a visual showcase of computer technology at the time of its release.
Star Control 4, or later StarCon, was Accolade's final attempt at profiting from the franchise. Few details are known, as Accolade reshaped and eventually cancelled it during the development stages; however, the Harika had been confirmed as a returning alien race. While originally touted as another space adventure, the idea quickly changed into an action-oriented combat title, to be viewed largely from behind the ship, with gameplay similar to Psygnosis' Colony Wars series, somewhat like a shooting-oriented X-Wing.
Star Control: Interbellum
Star Control: Interbellum is a novel written by William T. Quick set in the Star Control universe. It was first published in 1996, shortly after the release of Star Control 3. Several details in it are inconsistent with the games, especially the depictions of the alien races.
Star Control (Atari) Flash game
In September 2007, Atari put online a simple Flash game with the name "Star Control" on the Atari Play website. This game was created by independent game developer Iocaine Studios. Atari ordered the creation of the game, to be delivered in just four days. The web page containing the Flash applet has the title "Welcome to the Star Control Preview", suggesting that there is more to come. As of August 2011, there has been no news of further developments. The gameplay resembles the 1962 game Spacewar!, a spiritual ancestor of Toys for Bob's original Star Control.
Meta-data of images inside the Flash applet show a modification date of either 2007-09-16 or 2007-09-17, suggesting that this was the weekend during which the game was created. One day later, images of this game were used in Atari's Declaration of Use in Commerce submitted to the United States Patent and Trademark Office with Atari's application for renewal of the Star Control trademark. The suspicious timing, together with the simple nature of the game and the fact that the game had to be delivered in just four days, has led some to believe that the game was created specifically for the purpose of retaining the Star Control trademark.
Cancelled Star Control games and sale to Stardock
On April 11, 2006, Alex Ness (Producer of Toys for Bob) wrote an article on the Toys For Bob website, titled "Star Control Sequel - Get Out Of My Dreams". It stated that Toys For Bob had been working on a new, unnamed title for the previous year, and that it was scheduled to come out in early November. Near the end of the article, he hinted that "if enough of you people out there send me emails requesting that Toys For Bob do a legitimate sequel to Star Control 2, I'll be able to show them to Activision, along with a loaded handgun, and they will finally be convinced to roll the dice on this thing." (quote:Alex Ness) The article also mentions that Activision has apparently revealed their game (Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam) at the 2006 E3 convention.
On April 16 that same year, the Ur-Quan Masters website added an article to their page titled "Toys for Bob want another Star Control and need your help!" It gives a link to a petition page with a form that would e-mail a message to Alex Ness, so that users would not have to open any other third party clients. In addition to an e-mail form, the mailing address of Toys For Bob was also given on the website. Since the mention of the possibility of a new Star Control game, the number of visits to the Ur-Quan Masters and Star Control Timewarp website has doubled.
On April 28, Ness wrote another article titled "Only 997,700 more emails to go!", stating that he has received around 2,300 e-mails on that day, with a long way to one million. With the time passed since April 28, 2006, the number has increased to almost 10,000. He then made joking references that both Jack Black and Steven Spielberg are fans of Star Control. On October 18, Alex Ness wrote another article about finishing development of Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam. Regarding a new Star Control game, he mentioned that he does not have any news regarding the development of a new Star Control game with Activision, but he mentioned that Activision must realize that "this isn't just some flash-in-the-pan, support-of-reviving-an-old-franchise craze".
Stardock CEO, Brad Wardell, had expressed interest in purchasing the rights from Atari and creating a Star Control sequel. However, negotiations between Stardock and Atari fell apart. Stardock had the winning bid in an auction of Atari's franchises, as Atari liquidates its assets as part of a chapter 11 bankruptcy. Stardock officially acquired the rights to the game in July 2013.
In February 2009, Cedric Horner undertook the creation of a Star Control II mod based on the source files released by Toys For Bob in 2002. Over the first three years, his mod, entitled Project 6014, evolved into a completely new story based on the Star Control universe. Unlike Star Control 3 by Accolade, Project 6014 tries to stick to the script as established by Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III. As of April 7, 2012, Project 6014 is still in development but there is a free, downloadable, playable demo available. The latest release of the demo is 0.2.1.
Notes and references
- Email from Fred Ford: "We are still mad at Accolade for giving us zero time to enhance the Sega version. We pretty much ported it and as soon as it was up and running, they said "ship it." We could have made the space combat much more fluid."
- Log of the 2007-06-13 IRC session with Toys for Bob: "The same goes for the Genesis version of SC1 where we did a quick port with the intention of optimizing it for speed, but they though having a 12megabit cartridge was a much better selling point."
- MegaTech rating, EMAP, issue 22, October 1993, page 102
- CGW 148: 150 Best Games of All Time
- Declaration of Use in Commerce for the Star Control trademark
- Stardock CEO Wardell Eyes Star Control, Orion, And More by Chris Remo
- Star Control series at MobyGames
- Star Control at World of Spectrum
- Star Control 1 + 2 at GoG.com
- The Ultronomicon, a dedicated Star Control wiki
- The Pages of Now and Forever, a comprehensive fansite
- Tea Leaves, spoiler-free review and retrospective of Star Control II
- Star Control: Timewarp, a fan-made melee clone
- TW-Light, a fan-made melee clone