Star Control

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Star Control
Star Control cover.jpg
Sega Genesis cover art by Boris Vallejo
Developer(s)Toys for Bob
Producer(s)Pam Levins
Designer(s)Fred Ford
Paul Reiche III
Programmer(s)Fred Ford
Robert Leyland
Composer(s)Kyle Freeman
Tommy V. Dunbar
Platform(s)Amiga, MS-DOS, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum
ReleaseJuly 1990 (Amiga, DOS)
1991 (ports)
Genre(s)Action, strategy
Mode(s)Single player, multiplayer

Star Control: Famous Battles of the Ur-Quan Conflict, Volume IV or just simply 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 ports for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum in 1991. A sequel, Star Control II was released in 1992.


A ZX Spectrum screenshot

Star Control is a combination of a strategy game and real-time one-on-one ship combat. The ship combat is inspired by the classic game Spacewar!, while the turn-based strategy is inspired Paul Reiche III's 1983 game Archon.[1]

Players begin the game in one of 15 different scenarios, on a rotating star map. The player has up to three actions per turn, which are used to colonize or fortify worlds, explore new stars, and so on.[2] These colonies provide resources to the player's ships, like "starbucks" and crew.[1] The goal is to move your ships across the galaxy, claim planets along the way, and finally destroy your opponent’s star base.[2]

When two rival ships meet on the battlefield, an arcade-style combat sequence begins.[2] The different ships are deliberately imbalanced, and match-ups have a major influence over combat.[1] There are 14 different ships, with unique abilities for each.[2] Ships typically have a unique firing attack, as well as some kind of secondary ability. Both actions consume the ship's battery, which recharges automatically (with few exceptions). Ships have a limited amount of crew, representing the total damage a ship can take before being destroyed.[1] This ties into the strategic meta-game between combat, where crew can be replenished at colonies[1]

During combat, the screen frames the action between the two ships with an overhead view, zooming in as they approach each other. The combatants try to outgun and outmaneuver each other. There is a planet in the middle of the battlefield, providing a centre of gravity, which players can either crash into, or glide nearby to gain momentum.[1]

The story is minimal compared to the sequel, described mostly in the game's scenario introductions, and the lore in the manuals about the two warring sides. The game can be played by one player against the computer, or two players head to head.[1]


Concept and origins[edit]

Paul Reiche III, Fred Ford, and Rob Dubbin give a postmortem of the game's development at GDC 2015

Star Control is the first collaboration between Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford.[3][4] Reiche had started his career working for Dungeons & Dragons publisher TSR, before developing PC games for Free Fall Associates.[5] After releasing World Tour Golf, Reiche created an advertising mock-up for what would become Star Control, showing a dreadnaught and some ships fighting. He pitched the game to Electronic Arts, before instead securing an agreement with Accolade as a publisher, thanks to Reiche's former producer taking a job there.[6] Meanwhile, Ford had started his career creating games for Japanese personal computers before transitioning to more corporate work.[4] After a few years working at graphics companies in Silicon Valley, Ford realized he missed working in the game industry.[6] At this point, Reiche needed a programmer-engineer and Ford was seeking a designer-artist, so their mutual friends set up a gaming night to re-introduce them.[5] The meeting was hosted at game designer Greg Johnson's house,[6] and one of the friends who encouraged the meeting was fantasy artist Erol Otus.[7]

Originally called Starcon, the game began as an evolution on concepts that Reiche first created in Archon: The Light and the Dark, as well as Mail Order Monsters.[4] The vision for the game was science-fiction Archon, where asymmetric combatants fight using different abilities in space.[5] According to Ford, "StarCon is really just Archon with an S-T in front of it", pointing to the one-on-one combat and strategic modes of both games.[6] Star Control would base its combat sequences on the classic game Spacewar!,[3] as well as the core experience of space combat game Star Raiders.[8] As Ford and Reiche were still building their workflow as a team, the game took on a more limited scope compared to the sequel.[5]

Design and production[edit]

Fred Ford's first prototype was a two-player action game where the VUX and Yehat ships blow up asteroids, which led them to build the entire universe around that simple play experience.[4] The Yehat ship was Ford's crescent-shaped design, and its shield-generator led them to optimize the ship for close combat.[6] They built on the two original ships with many additional ship and character concepts,[3] and playtested them with friends such as Greg Johnson and Robert Leyland.[6] The team preferred to iterate on ship designs rather than plan them, as they discovered different play-styles during testing.[6] The asymmetry between the combatants became essential to the experience. Ford explains, "our ships weren't balanced at all, one on one... but the idea was, your fleet of ships, your selection of ships in total was as strong as someone else's, and then, it came down to which matchup did you find".[9] Still, the ships were still given some balance by having their energy recharge at different rates.[6]

Although the story does not factor heavily into the game,[1] the character concepts were created based on the ship designs.[5] The team would begin with paper illustrations, followed by logical abilities for those ships, and a character concept that suited the ship's look-and-feel.[4] The first ship sketches were based on popular science fiction, such as SpaceWars! or Battlestar Galactica, and slowly evolved into original designs as they discussed why the ships were fighting each other.[6] Paul Reiche III describes their character creation process, "I know it probably sounds weird, but when I design a game like this, I make drawings of the characters and stare at them. I hold little conversations with them. 'What do you guys do?' And they tell me."[3] By the end of this process, they wrote a short summary for each alien, describing their story and personality.[6]

Having designed a larger ship that launches fighters on command, Reiche and Ford decided this would be a dominating race.[9] These antagonists would be called the Ur-Quan, with a motivation to dominate the galaxy to hunt for slaves, and an appearance based on a National Geographic image of a predatory caterpillar dangling over its prey.[3] They decided to organize the characters into nominally "good and bad" factions, each with seven unique races and ships, with the humans on the good side.[6] The cowardly personality of the Spathi were inspired by their backwards-shooting missiles.[5] After deciding that the game would need more humanoid characters, they created the Syreen as a powerful and attractive humanoid female race.[6] A more robotic ship inspired an alien race called the Androsynth, whose appearance was imagined as Devo flying a spaceship.[4] The Shofixti were inspired by concepts in David Brin's The Uplift War. Reiche and Ford asked themselves who might be uplifted by the Yehat, a fierce warrior race, and decided upon the Shofixti as ferocious super rodent.[5]

Porting and technology[edit]

A technological limitation at the time was the limited number of colors, which required that they create settings for CGA, EGA, and VGA monitors.[5] A separate team ported a stripped down version of the game to the Commodore 64, Spectrum and Amstrad, which meant reducing the number of ships to 8, not to mention the introduction of new bugs and balance issues.[10] Additional problems were caused by the number of simultaneous key-presses required for a multiplayer game, which required Ford to code a solution that would work across multiple different computer keyboards.[5]

The game was ultimately ported to the Sega Genesis,[11] in a team led by Fred Ford.[6] Because the Genesis port was a cartridge-based game with no battery backup, it lacked the scenario-creator of its PC cousin, but it came pre-loaded with a few additional scenarios not originally in the game.[12] Whereas the Star Control initially featured synthesized audio, they discovered the digital MOD file format to help port the music to console, which would later become the core music format for their sequel.[5] It took nearly 5 months to convert the code and color palates,[12] leaving little time to optimize the game under Accolade's tight schedule, leading to slowdown issues.[13][14] Also, the port was not authorized by Sega, which led led to a lawsuit between Accolade and Sega of America.[5] Sega v. Accolade became an important legal case, creating a precedent to allow reverse engineering under fair use.[15][16] This led Sega to settle the lawsuit in Accolade's favor, making them a licensed Sega developer.[17] Released under Accolade's new "Ballistic" label for high quality games, the game was touted as the first 12-megabit cartridge created for the system.[11]


Review scores
CGW3/5 stars[18]

The game was a commercial success at the time, reaching the top 5 on the sales charts by September 1990.[5] The game was also well-received critically. MegaTech gave the game 90% and a Hyper Game Award, but noted that it was "not quite as much fun on your own".[19] In a 1992 survey of science fiction games, Computer Gaming World gave the title three-plus stars of five, stating that "Despite (or maybe because of) its lack of depth, it remains an enjoyable challenge".[20] A 1994 survey of strategic space games set in the year 2000 and later gave the game three stars.[18] In 1996 the magazine ranked it as the 127th best game of all time, stating "Space War enters the 90s with a touch of humor."[21] Entertainment Weekly gave the game a B and wrote that "if wreaking havoc in distant galaxies is what you do best, I can think of no better game for you."[22] The game was voted the 1990 "Best Science Fiction Game" by Video Games and Computer Entertainment.[23] Video Games & Computer Entertainment stated that "Reiche and Ford's action-strategy tour de force is one of the most absorbing and challenging science fiction games of all-time."[24]


As the first game in the series, Star Control has a legacy of its own. Retro Gamer describes it as "the seed from which the vastly expanded narrative found in Star Control 2 grew", with numerous "elements that gave Star Control 'soul'".[10] Polygon mentioned it in their top 500 games of all time, with its flexibility "as a melee or strategic game, it helped define the idea that games can be malleable and dynamic and players can make an experience wholly their own".[25] It is responsible for creating the Ur Quan, as "one of the all-time villainous races in the history of computer games".[3] Founder of BioWare Ray Muzyka cites Star Control as an inspiration for the Mass Effect series of games, stating that "the uncharted worlds in Mass Effect comes from imagining what a freely explorable universe would be like inside a very realistic next-gen game."[26]

The legacy of the original Star Control is also its foundation as for the critically acclaimed sequel, Star Control 2.[27]

Sequels and spin-offs[edit]

Star Control II[edit]

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[edit]

Star Control 3 is an adventure science fiction video game developed by Legend Entertainment, and published by Accolade in 1996. The story takes place after the events of Star Control II, when the player must travel deeper into the galaxy to investigate the mysterious collapse of hyperspace. Several game systems from Star Control II are changed. Hyperspace navigation is replaced with instant fast travel, and planet landing is replaced with a colony system inspired by the first Star Control game. Accolade hired Legend Entertainment to develop the game after original creators Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford decided to pursue other projects. Though the game was considered a critical and commercial success upon release, it would receive unfavourable comparisons to the award-winning Star Control II.


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 fighter.

Star Control: Interbellum[edit]

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[edit]

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.[citation needed] 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.[28] 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.[citation needed]

Cancelled games and sale to Stardock[edit]

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)

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".

In 2008, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell had expressed interest in purchasing the rights from Atari and creating a Star Control sequel.[29] However, negotiations between Stardock and Atari fell apart. As Atari liquidated its assets as part of a chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012,[30] Stardock had the winning bid in an auction of Atari's franchises and acquired the rights held by Atari over the game in July 2013.[31] It was announced in 2014 that Stardock had started a Star Control reboot;[32] The Star Control website and forums were also relaunched.[33]

Star Control: Origins[edit]

Stardock's game Star Control: Origins was released on September 20, 2018.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Kurt Kalata (2018-09-11). "Star Control". Hardcore Gaming 101.
  2. ^ a b c d Brett Weiss (21 September 2016). Classic Home Video Games, 1989-1990: A Complete Guide to Sega Genesis, Neo Geo and TurboGrafx-16 Games. McFarland. p. 202. ISBN 978-1-4766-6794-2.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Rusel DeMaria (7 December 2018). High Score! Expanded: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games 3rd Edition. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-429-77139-2.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Matt Barton (19 April 2016). Honoring the Code: Conversations with Great Game Designers. CRC Press. pp. 203–. ISBN 978-1-4665-6754-2.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Fred Ford & Paul Reiche III (2015-06-30). "Classic Game Postmortem: Star Control". Game Developers Conference.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Sean Dacanay, Marcus Niehaus (July 7, 2020). "Star Control Creators Paul Reiche & Fred Ford: Extended Interview". Ars Technica. (2:00-16:04)
  7. ^ Lee Hutchinson (October 26, 2018). "Video: The people who helped make Star Control 2 did a ton of other stuff". Ars Technica.
  8. ^ Heidi E H Aycock (January 1992). "Principles of Good Design - Fun Comes First". Compute. p. 94.
  9. ^ a b "War Stories: How Star Control II Was Almost TOO Realistic". Ars Technica. 2018-10-23.
  10. ^ a b Staff (2005). "Control & Conquer" (PDF). Retro Gamer. pp. 85–87. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-07-06.
  11. ^ a b c Benjamin Galway (2006-08-14). "Genesis Review - Star Control". Sega 16.
  12. ^ a b Staff (May 1991). "Behind the Screens at Accolade Software". Electronic Gaming Monthly. p. 36.
  13. ^ 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."
  14. ^ 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."
  15. ^ Raja, Vinesh; Fernandes, Kiran J. (2007). Reverse Engineering: An Industrial Perspective. Springer Series in Advanced Manufacturing. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 199–201. ISBN 978-1-84628-856-2. ISSN 1860-5168. Archived from the original on 2018-03-04.
  16. ^ Sega Enterprises Ltd. v. Accolade, Inc. (977 F.2d 1510 (9th Cir. 1992)). Text
  17. ^ Kent, Steven L. (2010). The Ultimate History of Video Games: The Story Behind the Craze that Touched our Lives and Changed the World. New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0-307-56087-2. OCLC 842903312. Archived from the original on 2016-06-24.
  18. ^ a b Brooks, M. Evan (May 1994). "Never Trust A Gazfluvian Flingschnogger!". Computer Gaming World. pp. 42–58.
  19. ^ MegaTech rating, EMAP, issue 22, October 1993, page 102
  20. ^ Brooks, M. Evan (November 1992). "Strategy & Wargames: The Future (2000-....)". Computer Gaming World. p. 99. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
  21. ^ "150 Best Games of All Time". Computer Gaming World. November 1996. pp. 64–80. Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  22. ^ "New videogames".
  23. ^ "Star Control 2 Ad Blurbs". MobyGames.
  24. ^ Arnie Katz (April 1991). "Games Beyond Tomorrow". Video Games & Computer Entertainment. p. 86.
  25. ^ Polygon Staff (2017-11-29). "500 Best Games of All Time". Polygon.
  26. ^ John Gaudiosi (2007-11-20). "Critically Acclaimed Mass Effect Powered by Unreal Engine 3".
  27. ^ "10 Franchises We Want Resurrected"" from IGN
  28. ^ Declaration of Use in Commerce for the Star Control trademark
  29. ^ Stardock CEO Wardell Eyes Star Control, Orion, And More by Chris Remo
  30. ^ "Wargaming, Rebellion and Stardock all bid on Atari assets". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2014-05-08.
  31. ^ "Odd war of words erupts in the messy world of Star Control". Eurogamer. Retrieved 2017-12-05.
  32. ^ "Stardock CEO reveals details about new Star Control title in development". ArsTechnica. Jan 3, 2014. Retrieved 2014-06-19.
  33. ^ "Star Control Reboot making progress and looking for players". Nov 24, 2015. Retrieved 2015-11-24.

External links[edit]