Star Control 3
|Star Control 3|
|Release||September 24, 1996 (DOS)|
February 23, 1998 (Mac)
|Mode(s)||Single player, multiplayer|
Star Control 3 is a 1996 action-adventure game developed by Legend Entertainment. It is the third installment in the Star Control trilogy. The story takes place after Star Control II, beginning with the mysterious collapse of hyperspace. This leads the player to investigate a new quadrant of space, joined by allied aliens from the previous games.
The single-player mode is similar to the previous game, combining space exploration, ship-to-ship combat, and alien dialog. In contrast to Star Control II, hyperspace flight is replaced with fast travel. Planetary exploration is also replaced with a colony management system, inspired by the original Star Control. Combat offers more detailed steering and aiming, as well as additional player versus player multiplayer options.
Game publisher Accolade hired Legend Entertainment to create this sequel, after the series creators Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford decided to pursue other projects. The game was considered a critical and commercial success when it was released. However, the legacy of Star Control 3 would suffer from comparisons to the award-winning Star Control II.
Star Control 3 is an action-adventure science fiction game with strategic elements. The gameplay combines features from the first two Star Control games. Whereas all three games feature ship-to-ship combat, this game recreates a colonization system last seen in the first Star Control, with story, exploration, and dialog similar to the second game.
In contrast to Star Control II, hyperspace flight is replaced with fast travel, in the form of an instantaneous "warp bubble" device. The player's allies create this warp device in response to a hyperspace collapse, which becomes the subject of the player's investigation. They must follow the origins of this mysterious collapse to the galactic core, where they encounter new alien friends and foes. The player can warp between locations by clicking on a SVGA star map with a mouse, which is both faster and safer than the hyperspace flight of Star Control II.
Where the previous game had the player gather resources by landing on planets, Star Control 3 has the player earn resources through a colony management system. This builds upon the colonization system seen in the first Star Control. Eventually, a planetary colony will provide resources such as fuel, ships, crew, and artifacts. The player manages each planet's priorities, and each planet is suited to a different alien race. These colonies offer the player a convenient way to resupply, without returning to a central star base.
All three of the original Star Control games feature 2D "melee" ship combat. Star Control 3 offers the overhead viewpoint from the first two games, as well as a new 2.5D pseudo-3D viewpoint. Each alien race has a unique ship, with a unique weapon and secondary ability. Combat allows more degrees of rotation than the previous games, with more detailed aiming, steering, and scaling. The multiplayer player versus player mode also returns from previous games, with new options for network, modem, and serial connections. However, multiplayer combat only features ships from Star Control 3's story, leaving out some ships from the first two games.
Much of the game involves dialog with alien races, each with unique personalities. The dialog screens feature 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 events of Star Control II, hyperspace mysteriously collapses throughout the galaxy, stranding most spacefaring races. For the next several years, the Captain experiments with ancient Precursor artifacts, and creates a new ship that can instantly "warp" between stars without hyperspace. The Captain eventually traces the origins of the hyperspace collapse to the galactic core, and assembles an alliance of ten alien races to investigate the unexplored quadrant.
In the distant Kessari Quadrant, the Captain clashes with the Hegemonic Crux, a power bloc of several alien races led by the Ploxis Plutocrats. The Captain's investigation also reveals an apocalyptic threat, the imminent return of inter-dimensional beings called the Eternal Ones, who appear once an aeon to consume all sentient energy.
The Captain eventually discovers that the ancient Precursors disappeared on purpose, devolving themselves into a non-sentient species that the Eternal Ones would not consume. The Precursors also created semi-sentient robots, the Daktaklakpak, to reverse this process after the Eternal Ones left. However, the Daktaklakpak malfunctioned, leaving the Precursors stranded at an animal intelligence level. The Captain temporarily restores a single Precursor to their full intelligence, who explains that the hyperspace collapse is connected to inter-dimensional fatigue caused by the Eternal Ones. Before the Precursor dies, they tell the Captain about an unfinished Precursor project, which could harvest sentient energy for the Eternal Ones in a non-lethal way.
The Captain encounters other urgent threats 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 Captain also breaks the power of the Hegemonic Crux, culminating in the defeat of a Crux Precursor battleship at the galactic core.
The Captain finally confronts the Heralds of the Eternal Ones at the galactic core. After defeating them, the Captain finds a way to combine the Eternal Ones' technology with the unfinished technology from the Precursors. The Captain uses the new device to peacefully gather enough sentient energy to satisfy the Eternal Ones, saving all sentient life from destruction.
Hiring and continuity
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 led the game design, and the programming team was led by Mark Poesch. The game's story was written by Lindner and Greenberg.
Legend Entertainment's writers included veterans from acclaimed adventure game developer Infocom. To guide the project, the staff at Legend assembled a "bible" about Star Control based on the series' manuals and scripts, with the fan community providing corrections and additions. Fan feedback was actively solicited through magazines and the bourgeoning internet. Legend Entertainment also consulted with Ford and Reiche to answer open questions from Star Control II, 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 quadrant 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".
Design and production
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 was designed to provide a convenient place for players to refuel, as well as a logical location to recruit crew and ships. MacDonald explained that "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 utilize 3D graphics that were too mathematical or robotic. However, they were also concerned that the 2D graphics created in the early 1990s were already obsolete. Finding a third way forward, they designed the characters by filming live animatronic puppets, designed to take advantage of the storage potential of 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 SOTAFX, they developed their character concepts 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 constructed in person, filmed against a blue screen, and then composited with background footage of hand-crafted miniature film sets. 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.
The developers also added an isometric pseudo-3D view option to the combat screen. This led to 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.
Star Control 3 features professionally voiced dialog with a different cast from Star Control II, which was 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).
A version was planned for the Sony PlayStation, as well as the Sega Saturn (the first Star Control game for Sega consoles since the original), but the console port was cancelled during development of the PC version. The game was also delayed. Star Control 3 had been scheduled to be released in the Fall of 1995, but 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.
|Next Generation|| (PC)|
|PC Gamer (US)||90%|
|PC Game Parade||83|
At the time of its release in 1996, critics gave Star Control 3 positive reviews. 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 II 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". Overall, 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 similarly praised its integration of strategy, action, exploration, and adventure, and rated it 9/10 as one of the best games of the year. Computer Games Magazine gave the game 4.5 stars, celebrating the plot and characters, and calling it one of the best games of the year. Giving the game four stars, Next Generation felt that the game's graphics and strategy mechanics did not live up to expectations, but the story and gameplay variety were more than enough to make it a great game. PC Games gave the game an A-, explaining that "Star Control II was a funnier, more colorful game, but Star Control 3 supplies a superior gaming engine, [...] a sophisticated strategy-based colony system, fine Super VGA artwork, and far better game balance". 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. Macworld's Michael Gowan wrote that Star Control 3 was lacking a modern feel, particularly in its action and dialog. Next Generation called it "obsolete" and rated it lower than its PC version, saying it falls short of other space simulation games on the Macintosh. 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 3 "paled in comparison". Upon its re-release in 2011, GOG.com noted that fans were critical of the game, despite receiving excellent reviews. 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 was not successful at reproducing the successful design of the second game. Historian Rusel DeMaria also explains that fans did not consider Star Control 3 as good as its predecessor, noting that they were developed by different teams. 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 3".
Initially, series creators Ford and Reiche had promoted Star Control 3 as a "visually rich" and "captivating sequel". Years later, the duo cautioned against focusing too much on questions from the previous games, concluding that a "smattering of that is fun, but the whole point is to extend the mystery". Reiche also felt that the new character design lost the charm of Star Control 2's digital paintings. 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".
In 1998, a follow-up game called StarCon was planned with the Crux as a major faction, but Accolade put the project on hold to rethink their plans for the Star Control license. Star Control 3 thus marked the last official instalment to the series.
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Paul Reiche: ... it wasn't entirely clear to us as we were making it how large of an audience there was, or if that audience would react to it and they really did. Pretty dang fast after we released it we started looking in the pretty primitive online forums and finding out that people were having fun. And they were starting to imagine beyond what we'd put in there, asking questions that we hadn't answered and that's super inspiring. Fred Ford: Although we intentionally asked questions in the game that we didn't answer, which created a sense of, what happened, this wasn't on the main path, but something happened here. And to this day people speculate about what we didn't answer. Reiche: And one of the biggest mistakes we see when people have tried to make sequels of our work is the sequel is all about answering the questions we set up from the first game and that is not a good idea. I mean, a little smattering of that is fun, but the whole point is to extend that mystery and keep you going, keep people hungry for the adventure.
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