Star Control 3
|Star Control 3|
Cover art of the DOS version
|Director(s)||Michael J. Lindner|
|Programmer(s)||Michael J. Lindner|
Glen R. Dahlgren
Michael J. Lindner
Michael J. Lindner
|Platform(s)||DOS, Mac OS|
|Mode(s)||Single player, multiplayer|
Star Control 3 is an adventure science fiction video game developed by Legend Entertainment. Released in 1996, it is the third instalment of the Star Control series. The game's story takes place after the mysterious collapse of hyperspace, at the end of Star Control II. The player investigates the hyperspace collapse by travelling to a new quadrant of space, joined by several aliens from the previous games.
The game offers both player versus player combat, as well as a story mode. The combat mode is updated from the previous games with improved steering and aiming, as well as further multiplayer options. Diplomacy with alien races remain a core part of the story mode. Several game systems from the second game are replaced, with direct hyperspace travel replaced with a fast travel system, and the planetary resource gathering replaced with colony management. The colony management system is inspired by the first Star Control game.
Legend Entertainment was hired by Accolade to create a sequel to Star Control II, after the original creators Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford decided to pursue other projects. It was released for DOS in 1996 and the Macintosh in 1998, and re-released in 2011 for modern operating systems on GOG.com. 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 3 is a space adventure game with ship-to-ship combat and strategic elements, combining the experiences of the first two Star Control games. The hyperspace navigation of Star Control II is replaced with an instantaneous "warp bubble" fast travel system, justified in-universe as the result of a mysterious hyperspace collapse. This mystery becomes the central story of Star Control 3, as the player travels to the distant Kessari Quadrant to investigate, with the help of alien races from the previous games. The star map is navigated on an SVGA user interface using a mouse, which is both faster and less dangerous than the direct movement of the previous game.
The players travel the Kessari Quadrant, recruiting and managing alliances with the old and new alien races, before facing off with the game's ultimate threat. Gameplay is a mix of the 2D ship combat and dialogue trees from Star Control II, with new colony management elements. The colony management system replaces the planet landing and resource gathering sequences from the second game, actually returning to the colonization mechanics from the first Star Control (which had been omitted from Star Control II). In this game, the player establishes colonies on planets that are suited to the player's unique alien allies, allowing their colonies to build ships, train crew, generate fuel, accumulate resources, and find artifacts. The scattered colonies offer the player a fast way to refill crew and fuel, without returning to a singular central star base. Players can manage a colony's priorities between ship, fuel, or resource production, and is otherwise simpler than other strategy games of the time.
"Melee" ship combat remains a core game system, common to all three games in the series. The game adds a 2.5D pseudo-3D viewpoint, while also offering the classic 2D overhead viewpoint of the original games. Every alien race has a unique ship, each with a unique combat and secondary ability. The combat sequences have improved aiming and steering compared to the previous games, with more degrees of rotation. Player versus player mode also returns from previous games, with expanded multiplayer options, including network, modem, and serial connections. However, the player versus player mode omits any ships that don't appear in the game's story mode.
The dialog screen is with digitized full motion video of mechanical puppets, instead of the 2D animated pixel art of the previous games. The soundtrack is also a change from sample-based module music of the second game, opting for a more standard MIDI score.
Shortly after the end of Star Control II, hyperspace mysteriously collapses throughout the galaxy, stranding most spacefaring races. The Captain develops a new Precursor ship on Unzervault, with an experimental "warp bubble" drive that allows the ship to travel between star systems without using hyperspace. The Captain contacts several alien allies, and they discover that the hyperspace collapse originates near the galactic core in the Kessari quadrant. To investigate further, the Captain is sent to the distant quadrant, accompanied by colony ships from several other alien races.
In the Kessari quadrant, the captain clashes with the local power bloc, the Hegemonic Crux, led by the Ploxis Plutocrats. The investigation also reveals an even larger threat, the imminent return of an ancient race called the Eternal Ones, who consume the energy of all sentient beings once an eon.
The Captain discovers that the Precursors genetically modified themselves to a non-sentient state, to hide from the Eternal Ones. The Precursors also created semi-sentient robots, the Daktaklakpak, to reverse the process after the Eternal Ones left. However, the Daktaklakpak malfunctioned and forgot their purpose, leaving the Precursors stranded at that intelligence level. The Captain temporarily reverses the process on a single Precursor, who explains that the Eternal Ones will collapse the galaxy due to their unnatural use of interstellar fatigue. Before the Precursor dies, he tells the player to stop the Eternal Ones.
The Captain also solves various problems in the Kessari quadrant. They persuade the Owa race to stop dumping their antimatter waste on Rainbow Worlds, which was preventing them from performing their function of mitigating interstellar fatigue. The player also breaks the power of the Hegemonic Crux, culminating in the defeat of a Crux Precursor battleship at the galactic core.
The Captain finally meets with the Heralds of the Eternal Ones at the galactic core. After defeating them, the Captain discovers that the Eternal Ones are using highly inefficient technology to gather the sentience energy they need to survive. The Captain is finds a way to harvest the required energy in a non lethal manner, combining the Eternal Ones' technology with various artifacts and technology from the Precursors and the Daktaklakpak. The Captain finally gathers sentience from many Kessari quadrant races, and uses it to satisfy the Eternal Ones.
After the success of Star Control II, Accolade offered Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III the same budget to produce a third game, which they turned down to pursue other projects. As Ford and Reiche had retained the rights to their characters and stories from the first two games, they licensed their content to Accolade so that the publisher could create Star Control 3 without their involvement. Producer George MacDonald from Accolade decided to work with Michael Lindner and Daniel Greenberg of Legend Entertainment, after hearing about their love of Star Control from Legend president Bob Bates. MacDonald and Lindner would lead the game design, and the story would be written by Lindner and Greenberg.
Legend Entertainment's writers were arguably "some of the best writers in the game industry at the time", with veterans from acclaimed adventure game developer Infocom. To guide the project, the staff at Legend created a "bible" about Star Control, assembled from the earlier games' manuals and scripts, with further feedback and corrections from the fan community. The new team also consulted with Ford and Reiche to answer open questions from Star Control 2, such as the true fate of the Precursors, and the relationship between Earth and the Arilou. Legend wanted to continue the previous story while adding new characters and plots, so they set the game in a new area of space. The story expands on the mystery of the Precursors' disappearance, and introduces new enemies in the form of the Hegemonic Crux. MacDonald described the game's relationship between gameplay and narrative, explaining that "Star Control is at its core a giant story, and you have to find this story and explore it".
Early in development, a concept document was created by Legend Entertainment founder Mike Verdu. Legend also compiled an inches-thick binder of letters, faxes, and e-mails, with fan suggestions for the next Star Control game, which they incorporated into their plans. A major target of fan criticism was the tedium of the planetary resource gathering from Star Control II, as well as complaints about returning to Earth to refuel. The team decided to replace planet landing with a colony management system, an allusion to the strategy elements from the first Star Control game. The colony feature developed out of a need for a refuel system, and also provided a logical place for players to recruit crew and ships. MacDonald explained, "we wanted a big universe to explore, but we wanted to make it easier to actually get places."
The team were fans of the original 2D art of the Star Control II aliens, and were hesitant to transition to 3D graphics that were too mathematical or robotic. However, they were also concerned that the style of 2D graphics created in the early 1990s were already obsolete. Finding a third way forward, they designed the characters by filming live animatronic puppets, taking advantage of the increased storage size on CD-ROM. MacDonald wanted the new game "to bring the visuals and multimedia elements as far forward as we could". Working with special effects company "State of the Art", they transformed their character sketches into fully automated animatronic puppets. The registration points on the robotic puppets were integrated with software that could control their movements. While a few aliens would be rendered in CGI, most of them were crafted, filmed against a blue screen, and then composited with footage of miniature film sets that they built. The team eventually finished 24 alien characters and animations (12 new, and 12 returning), which required extensive personnel to engineer, program, film, and convert to digital video. Their design goal was to reveal the mood of the characters through dynamic animations, though the final game seemed to repeat the same animations in most situations.
The developers also added an isometric pseudo-3D view option to the combat screen, which created aiming challenges that required more dynamic camera-movement. They also rendered more ship angles than previous games, in order to support more granular aiming and steering. This array of camera angles and lighting effects proved to be a challenge, but ultimately ran smoothly on a 486.
The voice acting became more professionalized compared to Star Control II, which were previously performed by personal friends of Reiche and Ford. Audio producer Kathleen Bober auditioned talent from other games, as well as soap operas and documentaries, until they arrived at performances that felt accurate to the alien characters. They directed the actors to convey the feel of the characters based on inflection and tone, rather than accents or distortions. The result was a unique voice and lingual pattern for each alien, with over 11 hours of audio created from 18 voice actors. The designers also chose a MIDI soundtrack instead of the previous sample-based module format, in order to make it easier to port to consoles (which ultimately never happened).
Although the game had been scheduled to be released in the Fall of 1995, the game was finally published a year later, due to the complexities of all the interactions between the different aliens. Much later, in 2011, the game would be re-released for modern computers through GOG.com.
Star Control 3 was considered a commercial success. It debuted on PC Data's computer game sales charts at #11 in September 1996, and climbed to tenth place the following month. The game exited PC Data's top 20 in November. In its initial two months, Star Control 3 surpassed 100,000 units in sales.
At the time its release in 1996, critics gave Star Control 3 positive reviews, despite inevitable comparisons to the highly acclaimed Star Control II. According to Metacritic, Star Control 3 has a score of 89% based on the reviews of 5 critics, indicating "generally favorable" reviews.
Writing for PC Gamer, Michael Wolf places the game in context of the series, "where Star Control 1 contained mostly strategic elements, as well as action-oriented melee between ships, Star Control 2 focused mainly on telling a story, while retaining the ship-to-ship combat. Star Control 3, on the other hand, attempts to incorporate all three aspects of strategy, story, and action, with mixed results." PC Gamer awarded the game an "Editor's Choice" with a 90% rating, stating that the game "has some pretty big shoes to fill, and it does so beautifully". Tim Soete of GameSpot gave the game a 9/10, proclaiming it "one of the best titles to come out this year", and calling it "a vast oddity, integrating real-time strategy and action elements with the exploratory playability of an adventure title into one game". Computer Games Magazine gave the game 4.5 stars, explaining that the "plot is deep, the characters are brought to life effectively," and that "this is one of the best games of the year. It might even be the best adventure game of the year." PC Games gave the game an A-, explaining that "Star Control 2 was a funnier, more colorful game, but Star Control 3 supplies a superior gaming engine, excellent online help (including a tracking system for hints), a sophisticated strategy-based colony system, fine Super VGA artwork, and far better game balance." Giving the game four stars, Next Generation states that "although the strategy elements and uninspiring footage of the aliens aren’t as exciting as fans of the series might have hoped for, the story and variety more than make up for it.". That year, Star Control 3 was nominated for a 1996 Spotlight Award at the Computer Game Developers Conference, for "Best Script, Story or Interactive Writing".
Two years later, the Macintosh version received more mixed reviews. Next Generation rated this version with just two stars out of five, stating that "although there are worse space conquest/simulation games out on the game market, not one of those is on the Macintosh." Macworld's Michael Gowan wrote that Star Control 3 "lacks a modern game feel, with stale character interaction and clumsy fighting modes." That said, the game still received 4 out of 5 stars in MacHome Journal.
Ultimately, Star Control 3 is not remembered as fondly as its predecessor. Despite earning critical praise on release, the fanbase never warmed up to it. When IGN compiled their 2003 list of greatest games, they celebrated Star Control II while noting that Star Control III "paled in comparison". Upon its re-release in 2011, GOG.com draws the contrast that "it got excellent reviews though some of the hardcore Star Control fans weren't entirely thrilled by the innovations". Critical Hit describes Star Control 3 as "an able demonstration of computer graphics technology of the time," but "it went a little backwards in its integration of the series alien races, and poor combat modes. Developed without any input from designers Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III from Toys for Bob, most fans don’t consider it part of the series canon."
Game developer and historian Neal Tringham suggests that Star Control 3 "attempted unsuccessfully to reproduce the formula established in the second game", along with Rusel DeMaria who notes that the game "was not done by the original team and was not considered nearly up to the standard of its predecessor." According to Kotaku, "no one's really nailed a successor to Star Control II and an official addition to the series was killed off by the lacklustre Star Control III."
Series creators Ford and Reiche initially described Star Control 3 as a "visually rich" and "captivating sequel", but Reiche would later reflect that the new character designs "didn't have the same charm as the hand painted ones". Kurt Kalata describes the efforts of Legend Entertainment, that it's "obvious the designers of Star Control III had great reverence for the older games, it still can’t help but feel like fan fiction. That feeling, that everything is slightly off, is what harms Star Control 3 the most."
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