Have You Played… Starflight?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Before Mass Effect. Before Star Control 2. Slightly after Psi-5 Trading Company. Starflight was one of the original space games that didn’t just provide a universe, but filled it with with stuff worth seeing and doing. Mining. Combat. Diplomacy. Assembling the perfect crew to explore the universe, from some five different races of the eight available, and heading out to seek fortune and mysteries at the other end of the cosmos. Its Terrain Vehicle is essentially the start of the path that would lead to Mass Effect’s Mako. Though don’t hold that against it. Not too much, anyway.

On top of all this, it even managed to have a proper plotline, and a great twist! The stats of the galaxy are flaring, meaning bad news for everyone living on them. The only hint as to why is on a crystal planet moving slowly through the galaxy. It’s here that the player discovers that one of those pesky precursor races is not only responsible, but that the universe is literally burning its Ancients as space fuel. With this depth, this ambition, great alien races and even some humour (though not to the same extent as Star Control 2), it’s no wonder that Starflight is widely considered the foundation of the space exploration RPG. The likes of Elite would soon make the final frontier bigger, but few have given as good a reason to actually head out and see what there is to find.

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23 Comments

  1. CarthAnne says:

    *stars

    Sorry.*

    *Not sorry.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      Nah, the universe’s charisma got buffed. Now less-cool universes are being pulled into its orbit.

  2. mike2R says:

    Man I loved this game on the Amiga, but I only had a pirated copy where the copy protection (some sort of code wheel) hadn’t been hacked. I played it many times up to the point where a huge fleet of enemy ships wiped you out for failing the copy protection :( I think I fluked it once and got much further in, until a subsequent check caught up with me.

    Then it, along with most of my other pirated floppies, got wiped out by the Lamer Exterminator virus. I’ve always wondered if viruses of that era were made by pissed off game developers…

  3. Erithtotl says:

    1st, how about a spoiler alert for people who haven’t played it?

    2nd, this is the game that has more to do with me being a gamer than any other. It (and it’s excellent sequel) are the definitive games of my youth. Probably much of my gaming life has been trying to find another game that has the same impact on me that these did!

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      Bozzley says:

      So you’d like a spoiler alert for a 30 year old game, even though Richard said it’s got a great twist and then had 3 more lines of text before explaining that twist? Surely you had enough warning to avoid that paragraph? Also, the game is 30 years old. I’m fairly sure the spoiler alert statute has expired by now. Incidentally, can we get a spoiler alert statute, please?

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        Bozzley says:

        Damn lack of edit – I’,m sorry, I’ve just noticed that you’ve finished it already, a long long time ago. I’m old. Please forgive me for not reading properly.

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      phuzz says:

      It was released in 1986, I think we’re a little beyond spoiler warnings at this point.
      Unless you think I shouldn’t mention that the Ferrari in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off gets trashed, or that Sean Connery’s character in Highlander dies?

      (Man, there was loads of classic films released in ’86, I could have gone on for ages)

      • ScubaMonster says:

        DAMMIT! I was going to watch both of those for the first time this weekend!

      • Sin Vega says:

        Not everyone has been around since 1986, and even those of us who have do not have infinite time to watch and play and read everything that has ever been created.

        • welverin says:

          While very true, we can’t all avoid spoilers for everything forever. There’s a limit on how long you can expect to avoid spoiler things and when you need to take responsibility for avoiding them yourself.

        • LionsPhil says:

          More pertinently, this is an article in a series about classic games you may have missed. Those who didn’t catch it in those intervening years are half the target audience! (The other half being those reminiscing.)

          So, yes, it’s a pretty dumb to include spoilers in this context.

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    SimonOrbit says:

    I would play the hell out of a modern remake of Starflights 1 and 2. I remember SF2 being amazing.

  5. Cross777 says:

    There was a re-make, newish game a couple years ago..

    Starflight:The Lost Colony.
    link to sites.google.com

    But they didn’t address the main problem, that being the game is so slow. Everything is so slow.

  6. geldonyetich says:

    Starflight is definitely one of the all-time greats for me. The way the developers managed to cram a galaxy onto a floppy was pretty remarkable, and unlike Elite you could actually drive around on the surfaces. Looking back, it’s sort of dated and kludgy in some ways (the character skill system is basically garbage) but in other ways it’s a lot more innovative than current-day games bother to be. For example, the dialogue system is a very well-balanced way to distribute breadcrumbs of information without spilling the beans entirely on first contact. Ironically, I recommend the Sega Genesis version of Starflight as the most advanced and fun to play.

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    Tallfeather says:

    Oh wow. I just hit nostalgia overload.

    I lived this game for quite a while, and it’s successor. It really captured the feeling of exploration, dealing with the unknown.

    I tried to replay it lately, but I’m spoiled with modern UI conveniences and it was tough sledding. But back in the day, I had a notebook filled with notes, charts.

    Seriously a ton of fun for a younger me.

  8. wonkavision says:

    Oh wow. I never expected to see this. My friend had this game on his Tandy. He said the *adult* game store employee told him he’d played it for years and never beat it.

    I wonder if this game can even be pirated, because the included books were so crucial to gameplay.

    This game set my expectations for all games to come–and those expectations have seldom been met!

  9. wonkavision says:

    Actually, nevermind. I thought this post was about Sentinel Worlds.

    • Scandalon says:

      Oh yes, Sentinel Worlds I must be considered a bridge between Starflight(s) and Star Control(2). Doubly so if SF had a land based ATV…

  10. Durgendorf says:

    I was thinking about this last week with Jupiter in the news. I kept thinking, “I committed suicide trying to land on SO MANY gas giants!”

  11. Rufust Firefly says:

    I so loved this game and the sequel, they were amazing. The writing in the second is so great, what with the Spemin (a joke in the first game) becoming powerful in the second, and then the joy of other races like the Dweenle and the Humna Humna.

    The strategy guides were really well done, too. They managed to tell you where all the fun stuff was in their own narrative. Somewhere I have a box with my original notes from my first playthrough, I wonder where that ended up?

  12. davos555 says:

    I would just like to recommend the amazing Sega Megadrive version of Starflight 1, if you can get it, it’s much improved from the one above!

    • Partialist says:

      I was just logging into to say that, as it was the one I played and it’s way up the list of my favourite gaming experiences :D

  13. NephilimNexus says:

    Was this the one where the big plot twist was finding out that the fuel everyone was using was actually a type of living organism, and the whole reason the doomsday device was built was those creatures trying to save themselves from genocide?