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Star Control

Entry updated 8 May 2015. Tagged: Game.

Videogame series (from 1990). Toys For Bob (TFB).

Star Control (1990 TFB, Amiga, Amstrad, DOS; 1991 C64, MegaDrive, Spectrum) designed by Fred Ford, Paul Reiche III is a Computer Wargame set during an interstellar war between the Alliance of Free Stars and the Hierarchy of Battle Thralls. The titular Star Control is the military arm of Earth's United Nations, a member of the Alliance. The game features a wide variety of ship designs with varied abilities which are nevertheless well balanced in gameplay terms (see Worlds in Balance). Combat between individual ships is handled using a two-dimensional system modelled on that of Spacewar (1962).

The sequel, Star Control II (1992 TFB, DOS; 1994 3DO) designed by Fred Ford, Paul Reiche III, is a more interesting game, heavily influenced by Starflight (1986). In its Future History the Alliance of Free Stars have lost the war described in Star Control. However, an isolated human scientific expedition discovered the ruins of a powerful alien civilization in the last days of the war, and twenty years later they have used its technology to construct a working, if incomplete, starship. The player takes the role of captain of this vessel, which has just succeeded in reaching Earth. While the story of Star Control II rarely rises above the level of generic Space Opera, the game is remarkably effective at generating a sense of an open, freely explorable universe in which any choice is available and all actions are meaningful. The strongly modular plot (see Interactive Narrative) focuses on the player's attempts to recruit allies, rescue enslaved worlds and finish assembling their ship, in preparation for freeing the galaxy from the Hierarchy. The major characters in the game are the various alien races with which the player can negotiate, each of which has a strongly developed "racial personality"; the species designs were influenced by David Brin's Uplift series (see Uplift) and the Known Space stories of Larry Niven.

Star Control 3 (1996 Legend Entertainment, DOS) designed by George MacDonald, Michael Lindner, created by a different developer, attempted unsuccessfully to reproduce the formula established in the second game. This iteration of the series adds the ability to found colonies, but changes the default combat view to an Isometric three-dimensional perspective which is notably difficult to use. More fundamentally, the story – which begins with an expedition to another region of space containing the source of a mysterious effect which has disabled normal forms of Faster Than Light travel – often feels forced, with the player required to proceed down paths they might not otherwise follow.

Related works: The Ur-Quan Masters (2002 Lin, Mac, Win) is a freely available release of Star Control II, based on the 3DO version. Star Control: Interbellum (1996), by William Quick, is a spinoff novel. [NT]


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