Star Trek (text game)

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Star Trek
Developer(s) Mike Mayfield
Designer(s) Mike Mayfield
Platform(s) SDS Sigma 7, HP 2000, Data General Nova
Release date(s) 1971
Genre(s) Strategy game

Star Trek is a text-based computer game that puts the player in command of the USS Enterprise on a mission to hunt down and destroy an invading fleet of Klingon warships.

Written in BASIC, it was widely distributed and ported for many minicomputer and mainframe systems. This was aided with the publication of 101 BASIC Computer Games, which included the most widely played version, Super Star Trek. This version was relatively easy to port to Microsoft BASIC, and appeared on many of the early microcomputers throughout the 1970s. This version was included in BASIC Computer Games, propelling it to become the first million-selling computer book. Due to availability of the source code this version was ported to practically every minicomputer and later home computer system of the era.[1]

In addition to being tied to the Star Trek subculture, popular with computer experts and programmers, Star Trek is itself a piece of hacker lore. In recent years it has been ported to different languages, platforms, and seen the replacement of the text-based display with a variety of graphical versions.


A simple version of Star Trek, running in a Linux command terminal. The Enterprise, represented by the "-E-", is alone in a quadrant with four stars.
This description is based on the most common version, Super Star Trek.

The game was non-graphical and was played out visually by printing each successive screen following each player command. On early machines this was printed to a printer, which resulted in a lot of paper being used. Smart terminals began to become widespread by the late 1970s, and the game was generally designed to refresh the screen with every command.

The game starts with a short text description of the mission, which required the Enterprise to fly through the galaxy and hunt down a number of Klingon ships within a certain time. Each game starts with a different number of Klingons, friendly starbases and stars, spread throughout the galaxy.

The galaxy map is arranged as an 8 by 8 grid of quadrants. Each quadrant is further divided into an 8 by 8 grid of sectors.[a] The number of items in any one quadrant - stars, Klingons and starbases - is fixed at the start of the game, but their exact position within the quadrant would not be recorded, and the precise layout would change when the quadrant was left and re-entered.

The Enterprise's local surroundings can be displayed by issuing the short-range scan command, SRS, which prints a text-based map of the current quadrant's sectors. Stars were represented with a *, Klingon ships as a +K+, star bases as an <*>, and the Enterprise itself with an -E-. The user can also use the long-range scan, LRS, to print out an abbreviated map of the quadrants lying directly around the Enterprise, listing only the number of stars, Klingons and starbases in each quadrant.

Klingon ships can be attacked with either phasers or photon torpedos. Phasers do not have to be aimed, but their power falls off with distance, requiring the player to estimate how much power to put into each shot. Torpedoes do not suffer this drop in power and will destroy a Klingon ship with a single hit, but they have to be aimed using polar coordinates, so misses are possible. Klingon ships move after firing on the Enterprise, making re-aiming torpedoes after every "turn" a chore. Most versions of the game included a calculator that will provide the proper angle, so in spite of the tedium of re-aiming it was commonly the primary weapon used. In most versions of the game, stars will absorb torpedoes and require the user to maneuver within the quadrant using the impulse drive, IMP, to get a clear shot.

Movement, combat and shields all drain the energy supply of the Enterprise, which can be topped up again by flying to a starbase.

In some versions of the game there are additional options for emergency situations, such as calling for help from a Starbase, using the experimental Death Ray, loading raw dilithium crystals into the warp drive, or abandoning ship.

The game normally proceeds with the player eliminating Klingons in the opening quadrant, if any. The player then uses long-range scanners to look for nearby ships, selecting a new quadrant and moving there using the warp drive, WAR. Play continues in this fashion until the Enterprise is low on energy or torpedoes, requiring the player to warp to a starbase to refuel and repair. Each command takes up some game time, closing on the limit imposed at the start of the game.

The game ends when the Enterprise is destroyed, all Klingons are destroyed, or the time limit runs out. A score in the form of a ranking is presented at the end of the game, based on energy usage, damage taken and inflicted, and any remaining time.



Trek developed out of a brainstorming session between Mike Mayfield[2] and several high school friends in 1971. The original Star Trek television show had only recently ended its run and was still extremely popular. Mayfield and his "geek friends" wrote down a number of ideas for a game, and during the summer holidays he then started incorporating as many of them as he could on an SDS Sigma 7, using an illicitly borrowed account at the University of California, Irvine.[3][b]

Later that summer Mayfield purchased an HP-35 calculator and often visited the local Hewlett-Packard sales office looking for help using it. The company offered time on a HP 2000C time-sharing computer system if he would port his Star Trek game to it. HP distributed this version of the game as "STTR1" on its Contributed Program tape library.[3]

David H. Ahl worked in DEC's education department, and as a hobby he collected BASIC games and distributed them in a newsletter for DECUS. After he found Mayfield's HP2000C version, Ahl and Mary Cole ported it to DEC BASIC-PLUS and he sent it out in the newsletter. This version rapidly proliferated through the large DEC community of the early 1970s. He later collected many of the DECUS games into a book, 101 BASIC Games, calling the DEC version SPACWR (as in Space War).[5][6]

Super Star Trek[edit]

In early 1974 Bob Leedom saw Ahl's DEC BASIC version and started porting it to the Data General Nova while working at Westinghouse. During the porting process he took the time to clean up the user interface, introducing the three-letter commands that all following versions used. He wrote a letter about this version in the People's Computer Company magazine, offering a copy to anyone who wrote to him.[3]

Ahl had recently left AT&T (where he worked after DEC) to start Creative Computing magazine, and saw Leedom's letter in the PCC. He obtained a copy and published it under the name Super Star Trek in Creative Computing with both of their names on it, describing it as "by far the best" version. It was republished in The Best of Creative Computing in 1976.[5]

Ahl ported many of the games in the original 101 to Microsoft BASIC, which was rapidly becoming a standard in the home computer market, and published the results as BASIC Computer Games in 1978.[7] This book was published right as the home computer revolution was really starting, and the game was easily ported to most of the platforms being released. Sales of the book, of which Super Star Trek was by far the largest game, reached one million copies by 1979, the first computer book to do so.[8]

Although the history is not recorded specifically, at some point during the game's evolution Ahl obtained permission to use the Star Trek name from Paramount Pictures.[7] David Gerrold, one of Star Trek's writers, was featured in Creative Computing advertising.[9]

Other versions[edit]

The original Sigma 7 version, and its descendants, were ported or copied to a wide variety of platforms. David Matuszek and Paul Reynolds wrote UT Super Star Trek, a version written in FORTRAN that is unrelated to the Super version above. Eric Allman (of sendmail) ported this version to the C programming language to become BSD Trek. The Allman version still exists today as part of the bsdgames package which contains several classic UNIX text games.[10]

A variation common in college systems was Trek77 and a parody version followed the next year called FooTrek. FooTrek replaced the normal responses, like "Missed", with humorous alternatives, like "Sulu, you couldn't hit the broad side of a barn!". If you mistyped a command you saw "Doctor to the bridge, the captain is babbling again. While we are waiting, here is a list of valid commands:"

Microcomputer versions were widely available and modified. BYTE published a BASIC version by David Price in March 1977, which used a different command system based on numbers.[11] More major changes were required for a TRS-80 port, allowing it to work within the machine's limited memory and variable space. This version added more interactivity and a number of new options.[12] In 1983 BYTE columnist Jerry Pournelle claimed to have written "the world's most complex Star Trek game" in CBASIC.[13] A version written in Integer BASIC for the Apple II+ was called Apple Trek. Yet another version was written in BASICA for the IBM PC; written by Windmill Software, it was called Video Trek 88, and used numbers for most commands, like the earlier BYTE version. Texas Instruments released TI-Trek for the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, which incorporated speech if the speech synthesizer and either Speech Editor or Terminal Emulator II cartridge are present. A version of the original game for the Commodore PET was published in the cassette-based magazine CURSOR. A lesser known variant, which was also inspired partly by Seabat in More Basic Computer Games, was named Quadrant.

The original Super was later ported to GW-BASIC and shipped as part of that distribution on all new IBM PCs in the early 1980s. By this point the era of type-in programs was ending, and BASIC on the PC never had the same universality as it did on the 8-bit home computers. However, this version kept the game alive and under constant development due to the large installed base of machines. This led to the shareware EGATrek,[14] which replaced the original text-based screens with basic graphics that implemented a multi-paned display.

In the early 2000s, Tom Almy created another C port[15] of the original Fortran code by David Matuszek and Paul Reynolds. This port was more feature-rich than the one of Eric Allman, and it became a base for a few independent projects to enrich the game functionality. In 2005 they joined their efforts and created SST2K.[16] This project later started the Python port of the code, but, as of 2012, it is still not completed. SST2K, in addition to the classic text-based control, also has a TUI that allows to see the long-range and short-range scans in real time, as well as many other useful things. In 2008, Michael Birken created a C# port of the original 1971 version,[17] and Kevin Gabbert in 2014 created another C# port called Star Trek KG which has additional features.[18]

Games inspired by it[edit]

The original Super Star Trek game also served as the primary inspiration that led former Atari employee Doug Neubauer to write Star Raiders for the Atari 8-bit line of microcomputers in 1979. It was later ported to the Atari 2600 and 5200.[19] Atari also produced an Atari 2600 version of the original text-based game in the Sears-only release Stellar Track. Unlike Star Raiders, the 2600 version more closely followed the layout of the original Star Trek text game. The joystick is used to scroll through the commands and the fire button selects the command.[20]

Another commercial variant was 1985's Star Fleet I: The War Begins, which was text-based and turn-based like the original, but featured greatly expanded detail in almost every part of the game.[21] This game was successful enough to spawn a series.

In the late 1990s, Tom Spreen wrote the Apple Macintosh game Rescue!, loosely based on the original Super. Like Star Raiders, Rescue! was real-time and fully graphical, although presented in 2D in a top-down fashion. Unlike Star Raiders, or the original Super, Rescue! had a much more in-depth mission outline and many more systems to operate (transporters, etc.) The goal in this game was to rescue a number of colonists on various planets and return them to a starbase, then strike out to eliminate the invasion fleet.

Rescue! was written to take place in the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe; by this point in time, Paramount Pictures was aggressively defending its intellectual property, and the author was forced to re-release it with all of the Star Trek related names removed.

Unrelated games[edit]

The popularity of the original Star Trek show in the mid-1960s generated in the 1970s a wide variety of games known as "Star Trek" or simply "Trek", but that are otherwise unrelated to the games discussed above. Examples include Trek73 and Netrek. A common example in the 1970s and 1980s was the Star Trek script game, which used a "conversational" interface based on statements between the crew and player. This version appeared in Announcing Computer Games for the TRS-80, which was sold through Radio Shack.


Star Trek was reviewed in The Dragon magazine #38. Reviewer Mark Herro described the game in 1980 as "one of the most popular (if not the most popular) computer games around."[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sectors were 10 by 10 in some versions of the game.
  2. ^ Computer Gaming World stated in 1991 that after an unknown author developed a text Trek computer game during the 1960s, it spread to colleges across the United States by 1969. However, it is unclear if the article is referring to this game or one of the many other Trek-themed games from the era.[4]



  1. ^ Super Star Trek and the Collective Serialization of the Digital by Shane Denson (on August 30, 2013)
  2. ^ "Mike Mayfield". 
  3. ^ a b c Markowitz 2000.
  4. ^ Wilson, Johnny L. (November 1991). "A History of Computer Games". Computer Gaming World. p. 10. Retrieved 18 November 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Ahl, David H., ed. (1976). "Super Star Trek". The Best of Creative Computing. pp. 275–281. ISBN 0-916688-01-1. 
  6. ^ "Star Trek". Pete Turnbull's Web site ( 26 March 2005. Retrieved 20 May 2009. 
  7. ^ a b Ahl & Cole 1978.
  8. ^ Anderson, John (November 1984). "Dave tells Ahl; The history of Creative Computing". Creative Computing. 10 (11): 66. 
  9. ^ ""Creative Computing" (advertisement)". Popular Science: 25. February 1981. 
  10. ^ "Package: bsdgames". Debian. 
  11. ^ Price, David (March 1977). "Flights of Fancy with the Enterprise". BYTE. pp. 106–113. Retrieved 16 October 2013. 
  12. ^ Information supplied by Knoder. The Intercom article can also provide supporting documentation.
  13. ^ Pournelle, Jerry (December 1983). "Buddy, Can You Spare a Door Latch?". BYTE. p. 59. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  14. ^ "EGATrek". GameSpy. Archived from the original on 28 April 2010. 
  15. ^ Almy, Tom. "The Classic Super Star Trek Game". 
  16. ^ "Super Star Trek — a classic computer game". 
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Star Raiders - One of the best games ever. - "History"". Games of Fame. 1 January 2001. Retrieved 20 May 2009. 
  20. ^ "Stellar Track". Atari - Atari 2600 Prototypes. 2002. Retrieved 20 May 2009. 
  21. ^ Murphy, Brian J. (September 1986). "Game Room". inCider. pp. 113–114. Retrieved 2 July 2014. 
  22. ^ Herro, Mark (June 1980). "The Electric Eye". The Dragon (38): 53–54. 


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