Star Control II: 25th anniversary - On the shoulders of giants

Published on Thursday, November 16, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

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This week, the first beta of the Star Control reboot is unleashed on an unsuspecting universe.  25 years ago, Accolade released Star Control II.

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Back in 1992, Accolade was a major game publisher.  Some of the best games of all time came from them, including Test Drive, Power at Sea, Hard Ball, Steel Thunder, and many, many other games.  During the late 80's and 90's, they were a match for Electronic Arts and Activision. 

Eventually, Accolade was acquired by Atari. Stardock acquired Star Control from Atari in 2013.  But, 25 years ago this month, Star Control II was released making gaming history.

 

When Giants walked the earth

Many fans are familiar with Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford's contributions to Star Control II.  After Star Control II, they would go on to form Toys for Bob, which was later acquired by Activision.

What most people may not realize is that the team who made Star Control II later went on to create other things that you are probably quite familiar with.  These legends came together in a moment in time and created one of the greatest games ever.

Let's take a look at some of the industry legends who teamed up to create Star Control II.

Greg Johnson, who designed the Starflight series, worked on Star Control II. He also worked on Deluxe Paint!  He later joined Electronic Arts back when it was only a couple dozen employees and worked on the Adventure Construction Set.  He also was the lead on ToeJam & Earl. Today, he leads HumaNature Studios.

Mat Genser and Robert Leyland also worked on the writing for Star Control II and have gone on to have careers in games and movies.

Speaking of movies, Iain McCaig, who worked on Star Control II as an artist and writer, is an industry legend today in movies and film. He designed Darth Maul and countless other Star Wars characters.  Recently, he worked on character designs for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  He also worked on Terminator 2, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Iain McCaig, one of the writers for Star Control II, would later go on to design Darth Maul

You can find more of Iain's Star Wars related work here.

Another writer on Star Control II was John Estes, who went on to work in the film industry and today is an active producer and director of documentaries.

Prominent science fiction artist, George Barr, also contributed his work to the art of Star Control. He was best known for those "pulpy" sci-fi images you'd see on book covers.

George Barr was the artist behind many classic science fiction scenes.

If you want to see more of his work, visit here.

Another legend, Erol Otus, was one of the leading artists on Star Control II and was even the voice of the Chmmr.

Artist Erol Otus may be familiar to you from his work in Dungeons & Dragons, as well as his art in Star Control II. 

Erol Otus also did music for Star Control II as well.  Here's a fantastic interview with him.

Erol Otus designed the Zoq-Fot-Pik for Star Control II and is also known for his D&D fantasy art.

Kyle Balda worked on animation for Star Control II.  You may not recognize his name, but you've seen his work. A lot.  He is the director of Despicable Me, Minions, The Lorax, and led the animation department on Monsters, Inc.

You've seen Kyle Balda's work somewhere besides Star Control II we suspect.

Another legend who was part of the art animation team was Greg Hammond.  Most recently, he produced The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition.  Before working on Star Control II, he was a producer on Loom and Wings of Fury.  After Star Control II he went on to work on games such as Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE-Fighter.

Armand Cabera was the artist who designed and created spaceship art and the spaceship animations on behalf of Accolade and Toys for Bob, and has gone on to have an amazing career.

The music for Star Control II came from a contest in which anyone could submit a proposed track to a given description. Riku Nuottajärvi was one of those who created music for Star Control, most famously the Hyperspace sequence. He is now the lead composer for
Star Control: Origins.

This is by no means a complete list of the men and women who worked on Star Control II.  25 years ago, Star Control II served as a nexus of amazing talent.  

For a full listing of the Star Control II team, visit the credits page.

Winning Inspiration

It is no secret that Star Control was influenced heavily by Starflight.  Starflight's lead designer, Greg Johnson, helped write the dialog for Star Control II.  David Brin's science fiction series about the Uplift Universe and Larry Niven's Known Space universe were influential in creating the setting. 

In the Uplift universe, a patron species will genetically modify a pre-sapient client species until it is sapient and then have it serve the patron for a period of time.  This concept found its way into the Star Control classic games lore and helped create a universe that felt well lived in. 

What made Star Control II so special?

There are many answers to this question.  I can only speak for myself.  The "cute" art style of Star Control II contrasted nicely with the quite dark story.  There is something unnerving talking to a seemingly pleasant alien whose theme song is "DIE! DIE! DIE!".  Star Control II broke all the rules for a 1992 game.  You played Star Control? Great. Guess what? You lost. The human race is stuck behind a slave shield.  You discover that within minutes of the start of the game.  In an age where every game seemed so happy, this was quite a change of direction. 

To put the innovation behind Star Control II's story in perspective, imagine if you went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens only to learn that after Return of the Jedi the Empire had won and had killed the main characters.  That's how startling the beginning of Star Control II was. It was unexpected.

Nowadays, players are a little more jaded.  But in 1992, the Star Control II opening was downright dark.  Moreover, the "bad guys" of Star Control -- the Ur-Quan -- were actually the lesser of two evils.  Their cousins, the Kohr-ah, weren't satisfied with merely enslaving everyone.  They wanted to cleanse the galaxy.

Star Control II's lasting influence

Some people consider Mass Effect a high budget remake of Star Control II.  That should give you an idea of its influence.  Stardock's own Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar took inspiration from Star Control II as well.  In that game, the primary villain, the Drengin Empire, had been victorious in the war against the Terran Alliance and its coalition.  The Dregin's shock troops, the Korath, weren't satisfied with enslaving the enemies -- they wanted to exterminate them.  Thus, when Galactic Civilizations III came along, several of the species from the previous game were gone -- exterminated forever. 

Mass Effect and Galactic Civilizations aren't the only games that Star Control II influenced.  Many games today have a concept of Precursors.  Was Star Control II the first game with the concept of an all powerful Precursor civilization? It's hard to say.  Babylon 5 had "The first ones" but in terms of games, I am not aware of any game that touched on it before Star Control II.

Happy Anniversary

One of the greatest gifts ever to befall the gaming community was the creation of the Ur-Quan Masters.  In 2002, 3DO's version of the game assets were turned over to the fan community allowing any fan to use the ships, source code, aliens, etc. as they saw fit, provided it was for non-commercial use.  The result: The Ur-Quan Masters.

And so, here we are, 25 years after the release of Star Control II.  Happy anniversary!

 

Cheers!

Stardock has a new killer app: Groupy - organize your windows together

Published on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Object Desktop blogs

From the people who brought you Fences, Start8, ObjectDock, DeskScapes, and countless other amazing programs comes a new one that will transform the way you use your PC: Groupy.

At any given moment, people have a lot of windows open. 

Maybe it's a few Explorer windows, a couple of Excel spreadsheets, maybe a a Word document or a PowerPoint presentation.  Maybe they're working with Adobe Premiere and After Effects and a few other windows.  In any event, dealing with all these windows can get to be quite a mess. So what's the solution?

The answer is: Stardock Groupy, the program that lets you treat all your windows the same way you are now used to treating browser windows -- put them them together with each window given its own tab.

Example 1: Got lots of Explorer windows?

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No problem:

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Example 2: So many spreadsheets

Lots of people end up with several Microsoft Office apps running that can easily get misplaced, especially if you have multiple monitors.  Groupy fixes that.

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Just put them together.

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Example 3: For the Adobe power user

Many artists are familiar with working between the various amazing Adobe applications.  Navigating between them adds up over time.

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Instead, just put them together.  Now you can switch between tabs with the Win-~ key instantly.

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Now it acts as a single app.  If you need to pull them apart, no problem - just drag the tab off like you would with a browser window.

Example 4: Chrome and Edge living together in harmony

Do you find yourself using multiple web browsers occasionally?  Groupy can help with that, too.

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Groupy supports tabs within tabs.

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Edge and Chrome are now acting as a single web browser.

Example 5: Mix and Match

Maybe you are a power user or developer who has a diversified mix of applications in use to get a job done.  No problem, Groupy will let you group any window with another window.

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And to ungroup, just drag the tab off from the group.

It's both the simplest app and most useful app you may ever buy.  Get it now as part of Stardock's award-winning Object Desktop suite of utilities at www.objectdesktop.com today.

 

Are you an active Object Desktop owner?
Get access to the Groupy beta today by logging into your Stardock Account. If you can't remember the email you used to purchase Object Desktop with, check out this helpful post.

Star Control: Origins - The lore we know so far

Published on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

Players have been contributing questions to the Lore Google doc.  There is a lot even we don't know yet about this universe.  It's a strange, complicated and ancient place and many of those who do know are not very cooperative with us for various reasons including excuses like "You're just meat" (whatever that means) and "Seriously, you're just meat".

So let's go over what we do know as of November 14, 2087.

[POSSIBLE MINOR SPOILERS]

A few assumptions about you

If you have access to this Star Control intelligence document, we will assume you are already familiar with the universes we already have some familiarity with.  Thus far, Star Control Universe Intelligence (SCUI) has categorized information from what we refer to at the 6000 series of universes. Specifically, the 6014 universe, the 6058 universe, the 6015 universe and of course our universe which is designated at 6091.

Answers to Questions from the Google Lore document Q&A:

Are the Orz in our universe?

Not that we are aware of.  Thus far, the Orz have only been seen in the universes that also feature the Ur-Quan.  We do not know if there is a connection.  But thus far, none of the aliens from that universe have appeared here.

What do we know about the Faction of Eight?

Very little so far.  What little we know comes from the Tywom Science Council.  They existed approximately 11,000 years ago.  We don't even know what worlds they were on.

How big is the known universe?

There is known and then there is known.  With modern telescopes, including the Hercules that orbits Neptune now, we can see a lot.  However, we still can't see most brown-dwarfs.  The star charts we've received from the Tywom don't go out very far.

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We can reach approximately a thousand star systems with the Tywom Hyperdrive.  Unfortunately, most stars are too dim to see until we are relatively close.  After all, only 50 years ago we only knew about 8 planets in our own solar system.

What do we know about "Jeff"?

We aren't even sure that's his real name.  The only race that even speaks our language are the Tywom and without their universal translation technology, we wouldn't be able to interact with anyone.  Jeff is simply the name the translation software converts his name to.  What we do know is that he's incredibly powerful but also not particularly interested in any of us.

What is Jeff helping the Mowlings?

We don't know yet.  The Mowlings technology is less advanced than even our own.  They don't even appear to have Hyperdrive (well, technically, neither do we yet but we're working on it).  Clearly, the only reason the Scryve haven't wiped them out is because of Jeff.  Why is he helping them? We don't know.

How did we first learn of the other universes?

Mostly through the Tywom. They have not encountered an Origin yet but they have researched the various oral histories from non-uplifited species who seem to have originated elsewhere.

What do we know about the Scryve and their empire?

Unfortunately, not a lot.  They are the primary power in this sector of the galaxy and their empire has thrived for thousands of years.

What do we know about the Precursor starbases?

They seem to be automated which allows for upgrading and refueling of ships provided that they provide the necessary resources. 

What happened to the Precursors?

We don't really know.  Something pretty awful happened around 250,000 years ago. We humans were still messing with stone tools back then.

Can you elaborate on the rumors that there is a powerful being called "The Ancient One" roaming this sector?

We know it's powerful and that it fled from the galactic core.  It hasn't yet come anywhere near this part of the sector.

What is the current policy regarding the Synths?

The technological singularity was as good and as bad as we thought.  As a species, we had to make some tough choices.  One of those choices led to the flight of the artificial beings referred to as "Synths".  There has been no contact with them since.  However, as they were the impetus for the Star Control program, we remain committed to finding out their fate.

Are there any more comments regarding the artifact found on Mars?

No.

What is the ETA on us being able to manufacture our own Hyperdrives? What do you have to say to those believe that our tax dollars are better spent simply purchasing more from the Tywom or the Menkmack?

Star Control's policy has not changed.  The generosity of the Tywom is appreciated as well as the...eagerness of the Menkmack.  However, for Earth to survive what is obviously coming, we cannot rely on others to supply our fleets.

Is there a comment regarding Gliese 942 vanishing?

No.

What about the rumor that something sent two Mars-sized objects into it at near relativistic speeds?

There is no evidence for that. That is a baseless rumor.

Can we really trust the Tywom?

Yes. Probably.

A Guided Tour of Star Control: Origins BETA 1

Published on Friday, November 10, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

It has been over 20 years since the last Star Control game was released.  Today, we open up Beta 1 of Star Control: Origins in the form of Star Control: Origins - Fleet Battles.

While the main game of Star Control is about exploring the galaxy, meeting various aliens, investigating strange new worlds all within a living universe, we also include a combat mini-game that we call Fleet Battles.  In Fleet battles, you assemble a fleet from a group of ships and then engage in battle with an opponent controlled by the computer, a human online, or a soon to be former friend sitting next to you.

Not only can you take your ships into battle but you can also design your own ships with the in-game Ship Crafting system.  Design your own ships or download ships created by others and see how they perform.

Here is a guided tour of how Fleet Battles works.

Setup

When you load up the game, the "New Game" option is disabled since this first beta focuses strictly on Fleet Battles.  Choose Fleet Battles and you will be presented with this:

setup

Your options are:

  1. Play against the computer
  2. Play against the person sitting next to you (either sharing a keyboard or with a game controller)
  3. Custom match (this will be enabled in Beta-1A) will let you try out your custom designed ships in multiplayer
  4. Unranked play (the game automatically pits you up against someone of similar skill online with the results not being counted)
  5. Ranked play (same as above but your wins and losses are counted so that you can see your relative rank.

Assembling your fleet

Next up, you set up your fleet.  Here you have 100 points to set up a fleet.  Each ship costs a differing number of points.  Think of your fleet as a deck of cards.  Each ship has strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited.

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Into the fire

Once the battle is joined, each commander picks a ship to send into the fight.

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When one of the ships is destroyed, the losing player picks a new ship.  There is no "perfect" ship for all situations.  A really fast ship is vulnerable to mines and other obstacles.  A ship with a great ranged weapon is often very vulnerable to someone getting in close. 

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Each ship to ship battle is relatively short. Maybe a minute or two.   A given fleet might have somewhere between 6 to 12 ships depending on the selections. Thus, a given fleet engagement is typically over in around 10 minutes.

If you play ranked games, you will find yourself slowly going up in rank until you reach a point where your opponents have roughly equal skills as you do.

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Battle5

Eventually one player will emerge victorious and the cycle repeats.  Unless it's  me and I lose. If that happens then I'm going to toss the floppy disk across the screen and take the game back to Micro World. (editor's note: Brad sometimes forgets that the age of the 1541 is long over)

Crafting

Another cool element of Star Control is the ability to design your own ships.  A big part of the Beta 1 series and our focus on it is to find out what cheese you guys create.  Cheese is a term where someone discovers a loophole in the design and is able to exploit it with deadly effects.  Much of Beta 1 will focus on this as players will create and share their ships online with a warning that "this ship is over powered!".  This is why the multiplayer for custom ships is disabled for the first beta.  We think we've got this covered but we're not positive enough to unleash that on the unsuspecting multiplayer community.

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Your ship designs are only limited by your imagination.

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Another ship created by someone with skill.

As you can see, it's pretty easy.  So here is the ship I created:

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Don't judge me.

You can take your creations and share them online as well as make use of other people's creations.  The system is relatively simple. Pick a ship size which determines what components are available.  Then pick a primary and secondary ability for your ship. Then choose an engine (for max speed) and a thruster (for acceleration).  We will be adding crew and reactors later for providing more control over crew count and max energy.

Once you make your ship, you can play it out in Super-Melee.

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The goal of the Beta 1 series

The goal of the first beta of Star Control: Origins is to help us with balance, compatibility, eliminating cheese tactics and improving the user experience in designing ships and creating fleets.  There will be a lot of changes coming into these betas as we go forward.  For example, additional elements will be added to the combat arena such as salvage, temporary boosts to speed, crew replenishment, Precursor relics that help your entire fleet, etc.  The arena will be randomly chosen at the beginning of the fleet battle and we hope to have many different arenas available (and possibly an arena editor for players).

What we really want to emphasize is: DO NOT assume that beta 1 is representative of the final game.  It is a beta for a reason.  We think most people will really like Beta 1.  But every time I play it, I find something that has to be changed (the look of the planet or the variance in space backgrounds or a sound effect or a weapons effect or the way the planet interacts with something, etc.).  This is where you guys come in: Make sure that the final released version of the game isn't a 1.0 but is more like a 1.5 of a normal game.

Good luck! I'll see you online.

Super Melee weapon ideas thread

Published on Tuesday, November 7, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Star Control

Post here your ideas for a super-melee abilities.

Here are some of mine:

  • Fast guided rockets. Similar to the Earthling Cruiser, these would be much weaker but also much cheaper.
  • Phaser.  Automatically hits nearby ships at short range for some damage.
  • Mirror.  Temporarily become the other ship for N seconds but with your health.
  • Cloak. Enough said.
  • Disruptor.  Greatly depletes enemy energy.
  • Betrayal.  Swaps the crew count of the enemy ship with yours.
  • Mine.  Lays a mine that sticks around for the rest of the round.
  • Mirage.  Creates a duplicate of your ship that doesn't do any damage.  You can have several.

What about you?

 

Star Control: BETA 1 schedule

Published on Monday, November 6, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

imageGreetings!


Beta 1 is fast approaching and we want to give you a tentative schedule of what to expect.


BETA 1: November 16
This is the Super-Melee beta.
Super-Melee is a ship vs. ship combat game. In it, you assemble a fleet of ships. You have a total of 100 points to use for your fleet with ships costing between 5 and 20 points depending on the ship.
You will be able to battle against the computer with various difficulty level or against other players via the Internet in either ranked or unranked play.
The Ship Crafter will also be enabled in Beta 1 (yay!) which means you'll be able to design your own ships and share them via Steam Workshop and play with and against those ships. If you want to play with custom ships, you will be able to choose custom multiplayer where you will see a list of games where the host can set up the rules for that game.

BETA 1A: November 30
This will largely be a bug fix of Beta 1. Our Founders group have done amazing work in helping us iron out connectivity issues, lag, video card compatibility, sound effects, balance, etc.
This beta will about refining the experience. There will be endless "ship X is OP" posts and "game is broke" posts that this Beta 1A will address.

BETA 1B December 14
This will add some new ships to the mix. This build will have more balance and bug fixes too but it's main focus will be to incorporate some of the initial feedback we get. We believe this build will also support local multiplayer (2 people, 1 keyboard) and have refined game controller in.
The general idea is that over Christmas, we want you and your friends to be able to get together and play the game with your Steam/Xbox/PS controllers.
Speaking of friends. We expect to also have the taunting system in for this build.

As it stands now, it is looking like there will be no actual NDA requirement for this builds.  However, we do intend to make a few "hoop jumps" so that players understand that yea, this is really and truly a beta and not a demo.

Ghosts of the Precursors

Published on Monday, October 9, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Star Control

Four years ago Stardock acquired Atari's rights to Star Control.  I soon got to meet my hero, Paul Reiche.  He was, more than anyone else, the person who inspired me to become a game developer over 20 years ago.

Over the past 4 years, we have communicated regarding the progress of Star Control: Origins.  He asked us not to try to make a sequel to Star Control 2 and said that he hoped one day to be able to return to the universe he and Fred Ford created.

Recently, Paul told me the good news: Activision was going to let him do a true sequel to their Ur-Quan story.

Today, they posted the news publicly:  https://dogarandkazon.squarespace.com/

It's still very early but they will have all the characters from Star Control 2 plus new ones.  It's going to be called Ghosts of the Precursors. 

For 4 years, people asked me why we weren't going to touch the Star Control 2 story.  Now you know.

As soon as they have an official site for it, we'll let you know.

 

GalCiv III: Beyond version 2.6

Published on Monday, October 2, 2017 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

Greetings!

So the team is starting work on the next major expansion pack.  But we also want to keep an eye on the base game.

Right now, the recent Steam reviews for GalCiv are pretty awful with most of the people reviewing it doing so because they don't like some of the changes in v2.5.  So if there are changes you would like in 2.7 and beyond, this would be the place to ask.

The Steam review system is something I have and will continue to complain about because frankly, it absolutely destroys games.  When it's less than 70, a game might as well not exist.  So I'll be explicit, if you want us to keep working on GalCiv III, please leave a Steam review.  If not, don't. If you already have, thank you!

As many of you know, I am AI biased. But I know I'm in a minority because there is another space strategy game outselling GalCiv III and, suffice to say, AI is not its focus. 

It is clear that narratives in games matter.  GalCiv has a quest system ala Fallen Enchantress/Sorcerer King.  But we have tried to avoid doing that because we don't want the game to be a series of scripted narratives.  We don't plan to change that position in the base game but we are looking at releasing DLC that will do that if players want it. 

Now, the next major expansion pack focuses on politics and government.  So we'll set all that aside for now.  Otherwise, it's all open. What would you like to see?

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