Space Rogue FM Towns Unboxing

I’m still waiting for IIGS parts to get to me so I’m taking a look at a recent addition to the collection, Space Rogue for FM Towns (this time fully boxed). I’ve had a loose CD of this for some years but stumbled across a boxed copy recently when I wasn’t really looking and couldn’t pass it up. Space Rogue is very much a forgotten part of Origin’s catalogue these days but I really quite enjoyed it myself. I always thought a combination of Wing Commander and Ultima would be awesome and this kind of got there before we even had Wing Commander (within the technology of 1989 at least). I’ve already tried to play the FM Towns port (my Japanese wasn’t up to it) and uploaded the CD audio in a previous post so this is going to be a straight unboxing and comparison to the Western release. I daresay this isn’t all that rare a game but I’d be surprised if anyone else will have posted anything about it so without further ado:-

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At the end of the 80’s Origin temporarily decided to do away with the great box artwork we all know and love and went for real life “actors” instead for 3 of their game covers. Space Rogue was one of these leading to this guy in his best leathers standing astride a rock on an unrealistic alien landscape. It’s clearly the same photo but the FM Towns version takes the unwise approach of showing this scene from further away so we can truly grasp just how cheap that set is. I wish they had gone the full hog and got rid of the white border so it could be fully appreciated but at least the FM Towns box is the usual plastic case that all these FM Towns games came in and far more durable than the cardboard boxes we all got.

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Both games come with a paper map of the Far Arm star cluster where the game takes place. These proved to be less than photogenic as far as my phone is concerned but are basically identical apart from a slight variation in colour tone and the translated text.

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The original manual on the left and top has a colour exterior and larger pictures on the inside. True to Origin’s usual documentation philosophy this was all done in character as a guide for owners of the spaceship and had coffee stains and annotations scribbled throughout from the previous owner/space rogue. The Japanese manual is clearly a translated equivalent but squashes it all down into fewer pages.

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Aside from the CD the final contents (assuming I’m not missing anything) for the FM Towns are the reference and registration cards. The Western version has a few other extras however…


All the bars in Space Rogue have arcade machines where you can play a game within the game called Hive and this flyer was packed in to advertise the fact.


The Amiga port I’ve unboxed here had the 1990 Origin catalog and also Stars Of Opportunity, a novella written by Neil Shapiro which sets the scene for the game. The cover should give the space rogue guy a chance to prove on the cover that he is ambidextrous when it comes to standing on moon rocks but he clearly wasn’t as the photo is flipped the opposite way around judging by the scarf & background set. This novella was put into the back of the other manual on the FM Towns.


Finally, there is a card sheet with representations of ships in the game that can be cut out and glued together to make a 3D model. This is just the sort of entirely unnecessary extra that got me into collecting Origin games in the first place. They should have included some of these with the Wing Commander games, but the models would admittedly have been far more complicated.

The main thing that strikes me looking through this lot is how much better quality Origin’s original packaging was. The amount of stuff packed into that small box is pretty impressive. The FM Towns had the edge in technology but we were better off in every other aspect at least as far as this game is concerned. When playing the game however, I’m sure the CD audio would have been enough to win me over on its own to the FM Towns port if I could understand any of it.

10 Things I Learned In Austin

My time in Austin is up and I’m heading back for England and real life. This has been one crazy week especially Thursday when we got a Portalarium tour + questions with Richard Garriott, then went out later for margaritas and dinner with Chris Roberts. This isn’t the sort of schedule I’m used to.

I have things to write up but it can wait until I’m not just using my phone. So instead to keep me occupied while I wait for my first flight here are 10 things I learned this week:-

1. You need to have a flexible itinerary to work for a game company that is running a funding campaign.

2. Hardly anyone out here knew about this site except for Chris Roberts who uses it to check out things about his own games. I guess I can settle for that.

3. Texans apparently shop for guns like other people shop for grocery.

4. The long missing Wing Commander 2 for SNES probably exists in Richard Garriott’s archives but it could be a year before he has time to look for it. He isn’t at all confident about having The Lost Vale though which he didn’t think ever got finished.

5. The margaritas on sixth street are a whole lot better than the food.

6. Contrary to what I had heard, Garriott was well aware of Escape From Mt. Drash and agreed to the Ultima branding to help out the author as Sierra wouldn’t have published the game otherwise. The downside here is this makes it official enough for me to want a copy now.

7. The WC CIC team put a whole more effort into their site than I do mine.

8. Space Rogue wasn’t in fact the inspiration for Wing Commander but Chris Roberts did get some advice on 3D programming from Paul Neurath. Roberts already had a 2D sprite based prototype running prior to this and it definitely wasn’t a fantasy game.

9. The Ultima anime series is a myth and never existed.

10. This is how to pack a suitcase:-

Huge thanks to all the crew from the WC CIC for letting me tag along all this week.

Space Rogue – FM Towns

One of the titles I remember most fondly from over a year of playing Origin games was Paul Neurath’s largely forgotten Space Rogue. Those memories are fairly cloudy at this point and it’s a game I’ve been looking for an excuse to revisit. After some searching that excuse arrived in the post recently in the form of Space Rogue for the FM-Towns:-

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I only managed to find an unboxed CD, so I’ve had to borrow the cover image above. The photo may have looked dodgy on the regular cover but we get to see the whole thing here and realise it could have been worse. From reading through the IRC log of Chris Robert’s visit to the WC CIC birthday bash, it seems he wasn’t a fan of these cheesy cover photo’s Origin were using at the time either which is why they were lacking for Bad Blood and Times Of Lore.

I read an interview with Paul Neurath the other week where he said that Roberts played Space Rogue for several days straight and then came to him with loads of questions about how the 3D worked. He had been working on a fantasy game at the time but shortly afterward changed his mind and started on what would become Wing Commander. I’d love to know if Space Rogue really was the inspiration for Wing Commander and would have asked on Saturday morning if I’d not managed to sleep through the whole of Chris Roberts’ Q&A session.

Paul Neurath had already attempted a 3D space sim with his first game Deep Space : Operation Copernicus which was published in 1987 by Sir-Tech. That was arguably the first ever filled polygon game allowing 6 degrees of movement and is one of the games I’d like to have a go at for the blog at some point. Space Rogue took the concept further by trying to combine simulation and RPG elements into one game. These two genres weren’t truly merged however and it was more a case of swapping between gameplay styles. It still worked well enough that Neurath wanted to fuse these parts together into a more cohesive whole which is what led eventually to Ultima Underworld. If it can claim to have been the genesis of both Underworld and Wing Commander, it’s fair to say that for a game no one remembers Space Rogue made some big waves.

It was originally developed on the Apple II not long before Origin finally made the move over to PC as their primary platform. The PC version I played did support VGA but was restricted to PC speaker sound and there was certainly room for improvement from a technical standpoint which is one of the reasons I wanted to try the FM Towns version. After creating a virtual floppy to save the game, it ran perfectly in the Unz emulator. My hopes that it would largely be in English were dashed though. Flying and controlling the ship + the game menus are OK and this part of the game is playable. On landing however, all the conversations are in Japanese so I’m not going to be able to do any more than take this game for a quick spin.

The biggest change comes right at the start as the intro has been completely redone with new animation, graphics and sound. The in-game graphics are much closer to the DOS version being only marginally more colourful but the biggest improvement after the intro comes from the CD music. The original game had no music whatsoever and it helps the atmosphere no end having it here. Gameplay appears to be identical although I have to confess to struggling to control my ship and it needed some finesse to dock with the space station. I expect I’d soon get the hang of it and setting up a joystick instead of using the keyboard would certainly have helped. Initial impressions then are that this looks to be a good port, not a huge step up from the original but a definite improvement. I’ve put up a short clip below of the intro + a visit to a space station (apologies about the mouse pointer):-

All the CD music is available in mp3 format below:-

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Not being able to play this game is entirely unfulfilling but on a brighter note it turns out that thanks to the efforts of R. Capowski, there is already a translation of the first Ultima Manga which I’d managed to never hear about. I guess I should have known to Google. I’ve not read it yet but intend to put that right shortly.

Space Rogue – Press Release

I’ve been hunting through Japanese auctions this last week or two, and one of the items I’ve managed to get hold of is an FM Towns version of Space Rogue. Space Rogue is a game I’ve been looking for an excuse to replay for ages and this will give just the reason when it arrives. While I’m waiting for that, here is a related item I acquired from Rhea Shelley 6 months back, the original press release for the more conventional versions of the game:-

Space Rogue Press Release Folder

The phrase that caught my attention on here was “a multi-media sensation spawning the beginning of the Origin Cinematic Experience”. As much as I liked the game, I wouldn’t describe it as either cinematic or multi-media but standards were of course very different back then before being redefined by Wing Commander a year later. I did wonder if this might actually be a reference to Wing Commander which must have been in early development around this time.

Space Rogue Press Release - Front Space Rogue Press Release - Back

Day 45 & 46

Something I’ve noticed as I play through all these games is that I’m taking more and more screenshots. I’m far too lazy to take notes and I’ve started using screenshots as an alternative way of doing this. This habit has taken new extremes with about 70 screenshots for this space rogue post. To rub this in most of these screenshots just show the conversation text from the game. They are less than exciting therefore but I could just dump them all on here and you would get an idea of the storyline (which isn’t that far off what I’m going to do). I will annotate them a bit.To start off I finished upgrading my ship with another couple of trading runs. At this point it was time to set out and actually try to complete the game.
My first mission is to take an artifact to a government official as a ‘gift’.

This is easily done.

I return to Sir Eid and he gives me some sort of stealth device. I guess this reduces attacks by pirates but its hard to say if it made a difference.

In the bar I bump into an alien trader. He offers to trade in information. I try a few keywords and when I ask about the manchi (the race who attacked my ship in the intro) he offers to give me the information in trade for something valuable. The only thing I have is the malir artifact which he accepts straight off and a get a good few pages of info + some coordinates for the homeworld which will no doubt come in handy some time.

In another system there is a huge military carrer ship which I dock at.

There isn’t that much to do here but breaking through a locked door and searching around I get hold a transmutation coil which must be useful somewhere.

Sure enough one of the remote systems has a scientist on it looking for the coil. He is working on a warp drive which would mean we didn’t need to use the malir gates to travel between systems. I can’t get the warp drive yet but he does give me a null damper which stops me taking damage in worm holes.

One of the travellers in a bar gave me some hints about nsb’s which can be used to keep people sane apparently. I go off to the base to try and get them. There is an extremely fast moving monster on this base though, which I manage to trap between a couple of bins. I find an NSB at the other side of the base and just about manage to make it back to my ship.

 This took a good few attempts I should point out, and after every death in this game you are dumped back to DOS and have to restart and reload. I’m really glad I’m using a hacked version here so I don’t have to look up the word in the manual to get past the copy protection.

One of the stations, has a man called Gut on it who I can’t get to see until I’ve commited an act of piracy (i.e. beating up another merchant). Gut is the leader of a pirate group who’s name escapes me for now. I set out to beat up a merchant but mistakenly go for a military titan craft (oops). It goes down anyway without that much trouble but it does take a lot of shots. I eventually get the idea and beat up a tanker instead. When it gets weak, it surrenders and I nick the cargo.

I get through to see Gut now, but he doesn’t have much to say.

I run into a robot who wants me to go after his girlfriend robot. I realise now writing this that I got sidetracked and never did this mission so its obviously not crucial to the game. What sidetracked me is that my rating finally went from pesky to fierce which means that the duchess will finally talk to me.

This is where the games main plot really starts. Apparently my ships last owner was trying to uncover a conspiracy to start a war with the manchi. I have to track him down. I ran into a mad guy on one of the stations earlier and guess its him.

I can’t get much sense out of him and know I want to inject the nsb. It takes a while to figure to type nsb as a conversation option but it works anyway. I say the mission codeword and he spills the beans.

While I’m out this way, I get another mission to track down someones wife who has apparently joined Vilanies cult.

I have to go to the other side of the galaxy to get to this guys wife so I stop off to see the duchess on the way but she has disappeared after an assassination attempt.

I also pop in to see Gut. He comes up with a plan to steal back the Manchi egg but first off I want to get Omas his wife back.

Omas’s wife doesn’t want to go however.

Omas doesn’t take it so well but he does give me his psionic shield which should protect me while I get the egg.

A quick flight across the galaxy later, I land on the station. There is no visual clue to it but the guards are allegedly distracted despite all been stood around in their usual positions. However, when I try to get to the egg and Vilanie calls the guards they don’t come and I’m free to pick the lock at the back of the room and steal the egg.

Now I have the egg, Gut tells me to seek out the warp drive.

I fly off to talk to the professor and he agrees to try his warp drive out on my ship and send me to the manchi homeworld.


I’m warped into the Manchi system and make my way to the homeworld. I was expecting to be bombarded by hostile aliens at this point.

But this vulture at the homeworld is the only one I see and I polish him off in no time.

I just have to fly into the alien planet now and the final cutscene starts.

I enjoyed this game and got quite drawn into it, enough to want to finish it last night rather than updating this blog. It could have been a lot better, I’m aware of all the components that are missing from it which I would expect from a space trading game but this was 5 years before Privateer came out so I probably expect too much. I would have expected missions to go and destory a particular target and the like, new ships to purchase and a bigger universe to explore. Despite this I reckon I enjoyed playing this more than any other game since 2400AD. Partly, this is just because it was a bit of a change from the usual RPG’s I’ve been playing, but the storyline is well delivered also.

The last few games, I’ve played have been a lot more visually impressive and its about this point in time for me that PC gaming was just coming into its own. Soundcards were about to get widely accepted and every Origin game from this point on has soundcard support (Sierra had already been using them for a while). VGA was also about to take off and was a huge leap forward. All Origins games from hereon also have MCGA/VGA support, although Windwalker reverts back to 16 color some of the time and is kind of a transitional title.

Next: Windwalker