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Starfleet Orion

Entry updated 8 May 2015. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (1978). Automated Simulations (AS). Designed by Jon Freeman, Jim Connelley. Platforms: PET (1978); AppleII, TRS80 (1979).

Starfleet Orion is the earliest known example of a science-fictional Computer Wargame which was sold commercially. The game, played by two participants in alternating turns, revolves around combat between small fleets of spacecraft; there is a marked resemblance to such board and counter Wargames as Triplanetary (1973) or the tactical variant of Starfire (1976). Many common features of these games appear, including the use of a limited energy reserve for each ship which must be divided between various systems. (In Starfleet Orion, functions to which energy can be allocated include launching smart torpedoes, absorbing hostile fire with shields and deploying small, agile starfighters which can be pushed rapidly towards the enemy with Pressor Beams.) The general absence of geographical features in space means that, in contrast to such contemporary land-based games as Tanktics (1976) (see Computer Wargames), all the necessary graphics could (barely) be displayed on the computer screen, using a two-dimensional overhead view. Various scenarios and ship designs compatible with the game's flamboyant Future History of rebellious interstellar colonies are provided, with additional examples based on such printed fictions as Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry sequence. Unusually for such an early work, Starfleet Orion also includes a tool which allows the player to construct scenarios of their own design. While Starfleet Orion is an entertaining and strategically challenging game, it suffers from one significant flaw: the requirement for two players, who must take turns at the same keyboard, carefully ignoring each other's moves. This problem was resolved in the otherwise broadly similar sequel, Invasion Orion (1979 AS, AppleII, PET, TRS80; 1981 Atari8) designed by Jon Freeman, which allowed a single player to fight off the invading robotic Klaatu – named in honour of the alien ambassador in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). [NT]

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