This is another game I’ve never so much as started up before, let alone completed. I’d always had the idea it was a Chris Roberts game but he wasn’t even involved. It actually by Paul Neurath who went on to found Looking Glass Studios who created Ultima Underworld (probably my favorite game of all time). Warren Spector was also involved who went on to produce some great games.
The game itself is a space sim combined with RPG. Its very much in the mould of Autoduel with driving replaced with flying. Think of a primitive version of Privateer and you won’t be far off.
The plot of the game is simple enough. You are an employee on a merchant vessel, a year into your career when you come across an abandoned scout spaceship called the Jolly Roger. While you go over to salvage the vehicle the merchant ship is blown up by a squad of evil aliens leaving you on your own with the scout ship. The game doesn’t give you a clear aim as such beyond learning why the merchant ship was destroyed.
The storyline is told in one of the games manuals but is also recovered in the games intro. There is a little animation but this is told with small static graphics as seems to be standard for Origin games around this period.
On loading the game this is what you see. The space flight is rendered in full 3D but is very primitive. Bear in mind this game was made for 8088 PC’s though.
The ship has a navigation computer which uses the usual tile graphics. I can pick a location and the ship will autopilot to it one square at a time.
I head for the nearest starbase which looks as above. The 3D really is basic here. The space station is 3 polygons! It runs smoothly enough though which is more important. I fly into the white bit in the middle to dock.
One of the games, I’ve got coming up will be Wing Commander. That came out just 1 year after this – if you ever wondered what the fuss about the graphics in that game were a quick play of Space Rogue and you’ll realise what an improvement it was.
When you dock your ship is checked for contraband and its confiscated if you have any and don’t have fake docking id.
Once on the space station, the game plays like another tileset RPG. Doors open smoothly which I’ve not seen before but theres not much new here. The stations are pretty small and easy to explore. You seem to get your standard shops to fix your ship, buy new parts, buy cargo etc. Before I can buy anything I have to get a pilots license though.
There is a bar in each station and they all have an arcade game in them which you can play for money if you want. Its a pretty slow way to make cash so I’ve left it alone so far.
I do run into a guy who will give me a pilots license. A quick pop quiz later and I’m fully qualified. I start the game with 1500 credits. I buy a full set of cargo pods, some armor and a load of cargo then set off.
There are 8 star systems in the game, all of which I know already from the games map. Each system is 32×32. To get between systems you have to fly down these giant tubes called Malir gates which then warp you to the next system.
When you enter these worm holes you have to fly through each one manually. This is just going through a load of rings and not too hard as long as you go at a slowish speed. The spaceships conserve a lot of momemtum and any high speed manoevers mean you keep sliding in the old direction.
On the next space station, I run into a duchess who will give me some work but not until I’m much more experienced. I’ll return later.
I establish a standard trade route between deneb and the free traders station shown above. This nets me quite a bit of money and they are in neighboring systems so its pretty quick.
The free traders station looks pretty much like the last once I’m on it but there is nowhere to buy ship parts. There is also some sort of pirate boss here but he won’t talk to me until I destroy a merchant vessel. I’ll try that later but right now I just want to upgrade my ship and carry on trading.
I run into a wasp fighter which attacks me. The combat turns out to be very basic and easy. I just turn towards it and fire a lot. It takes a lot of hits but I have got the games worst laser. I can buy missles as well but I’m avoiding them as they cost money. For killing the ship I get a meagre 64 credits bounty. For one of these trade runs I can make as much as 1500-2000 credits in each direction so killing ships seems like a poor way to make money.
Back on the next station, I get give a mission by a student in a bar who wants to know what would happen if I insult a particular species.
I fly off the the station where I can find this species of alien. This does look quite different as its based on an asteroid.
Suprisingly the alien takes it quite well. I fly back to the student and she gives me a Malir artifact. I’ve no idea what use this is but I’m sure it will come in handy.
At the end of my first session, I’ve very nearly got all the maximum upgrades on my ship. I’m just missing an ECM and I haven’t bought any missles yet. The game looks to be pretty short, if this is anything to go on. I’ve speeded this up a lot by not buying anything except the best equipment so I don’t waste my money. I’ll finish upgrading next time then go off looking for missions.
The universe of the game is also quite small really with only the 8 systems. After the likes of Elite which was truly epic on a 32K machine no less you kind of expect this sort of game to be bigger. Theres still a lot of game for a single floppy disk I guess so I shouldn’t complain. The game is enjoyable so far, the 3D spaceflight isn’t bad (once you get over the graphics) and the added RPG elements work well enough. The technology really limits the 3D though. To do a decent full-3D flightsim you really needed more power. X-Wing would be the first I can think of and that needed a 386 to run at all and a 486 to run well. Considering this runs on an 8088 its not bad at all.