Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Retrospective on Star Trek Video Games! Part ONE.

Hello fellow Trekkies! After taking a little break, I'm back in the command chair and ready to move ahead! Starting off the next feature article set, will be Star Trek Video Games! Over the next few weeks I will be revisiting select Star Trek computer and video games, covering as far back as 1971 all the way until today, up to the behemoth, Star Trek Online. This will not be comprehensive. I won't be playing every single game, as many are long out of print, and some of them I don't have the technical know how to be able to emulate. (Though I will try.) But I will try to cover all of the major titles from every era. The story of Star Trek Video Games is almost the story of video games themselves, having had iterations on almost every computer and home console available, and covering almost every single genre (thankfully there was never a Star Trek fighting game, which is more than can be said of Star Wars.)
Star Trek (1971)
The first title, "Star Trek", is from 1971. The series had just started airing in syndication and it was a hit. Picking up new fans left and right, this is really when the era of Star Trek Fandom began, in the 70's. Obviously I was not around to see it, but it was an interesting time in our nation's history: Technology was taking off quickly. Computers, if huge and complex, were finally starting to exist, not just in some Sci-Fi authors thoughts, but on college campuses and in corporations. It was created by Mike Mayfield who has said it was thought up during geeky garage sessions with then-high school friends, and then developed on an SDS Sigma-7 with a friend's computer lab account. The game is text only, as the computer systems it was developed on didn't even have a screen! The game would print out on reams of computer paper! Mayfield than got a chance to port his game to the HP 2000C in exchange for access to the computer. HP then gained access to the game and started distributing it as "STTR1" via the contributed program library. This led to the game being seen by David H. Ahl, who distributed the game in a newsletter that he wrote about DEC BASIC programs, which led to the game being widely distributed through out that community. David later published a book containing many of those programs in 101 Basic Computer Games which saw "Star Trek" widely distributed amongst virtually every major computer platform. Hell, back in the early 90's I found a box with my mom's old Apple II and opened it up. There was a 8 inch floppy that said Star Trek. Being the young inquisitive nerd I was, I set up the computer (thank god I knew how to run DOS games!) loaded up the files, and saw this game, imagine my utter shock when the game was just numbers and letters, I think I got bored and went read comic books... The look of the game is stark, to say the least. With text characters representing a grid, you fly around the galaxy looking to blow up Klingons. There are photon torpedos and phasers. Phasers are weak but plentiful, and torpedos kill with one shot, but are limited. For the time, the complexity is rather impressive, with complex shooting mechanics and different strategies used for play. It almost resembles something like a digital board game, which given the era and the types of games available for reference at the time, seems reasonable. The game was procedurally generated, and had repair stations where you could patch up your wounds. Having different sectors, you would use the warp drive on the Enterprise, represented by -E-, to go to each sector looking for Klingons, +K+, or Starbases <*>, winning when all of the Klingons were defeated. The success of this game led Ahl to create Super Star Trek with Bob Leedom in 1978, at which time he acquired the official rights from Paramount Pictures to use the name and IP of the series, thus making it one of the very first licensed video games.



"Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator" is an arcade cabinet produced by Sega in 1982. From the get go, it is rather impressive. It utilizes digitzed speech and vector graphics, looking and playing sort of like a mashup of Asteroids and Battlezone. The game has a unique 3 panel layout, with the forward viewer providing a first person view on the bottom half,  with the top down sensors display and the supplies readout taking up the top half. The point of the game is to shoot down all of the Klingon K′Tinga class, making a return from Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, and save the Starbases which will in turn provide you with all important shields, after which you will warp to a new sector to protect the next Starbase. Having a fast paced, action approach, the game is rather fun. The fantastic graphics, for the time, make the game really feel like playing a simulation ala The Kobayashi Maru. I actually have played this cabinet before, when I was young lad. Having grown up in the late 80s, Early 90s, there were places like Wunderland that spotted the country that had a paid entry but once you had entered the neon palace, were a mere nickel a piece (some games sat defiantly at 10 cents) and this was a popular addition in the various Wunderland's I attended. Especially as a young Star Trek fan, with a fair amount of Star Trek movies under my belt, (8 years old in 1994, I had seen WoK, SFS, The One With The Whales, UC in the theaters in 91, and Generations, but not Motion Picture or The Shatner Effect.) I was hooked by the look and feel of this retro game that played better than a lot of games from that era (remember graphics and the first person thing were big for an 8 year old.) The digitized voices are really fun, even recreating the accents of the characters.
Captain's Chair Variant of Star Trek: Starship Operations Simulator (1982)

Pictured above is the "Captain's Chair Variant" which had I seen at 8 would have blown my head wide open, it even has the controls in the arm chair (though it seems that would make it more difficult than less.) The gameplay was impressive. The faster Battlezone-esque action had surprising tactical depth, with my personal favorite move being to warp past the enemy and turn around quickly before they set their sights on you. It was hard, but not impossible to save the Starbases to get the shields for the next round. If you are killed once, you are dead, but before you go the shields, photons, and warp will go down, which is actually fairly canonical, if even by accident. All in all it was a pretty fun game, and I remember sinking quite a few nickels into it back in the day. Now I know some people might have played something similar to this game, with less than stellar memories as it was ported to 9 different consoles throughout the 80's with some less than stellar results. Yikes. Along with this and the fantastic Star Wars cabinets of the early 80′s, I have many fond memories of arcades and older arcade cabinets as a young sci-fi nerd. I actually think gameplay wise this was a golden era as newer late 80′s and early 90′s cabinets relied more on cheap gimmicks and beat em ups with better graphics (I′m looking at you Konami and X-Men arcade!) 

Well, thats it for now folks, come on back on Friday for my first post in the Chronological Rewatch Project starting with Enterprise Season 1 Episode 1: Broken Bow, and then next Tuesday for my second entry in the Retrospective on Star Trek Games, covering the famous Simon And Schuster produced text game  "Star Trek: The Promethean Prophecy," and then the rest of the best of Star Trek games from the 1980's.

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