Privateer / Ultima Underworld 2 Previews – PC Format

One last scan before I get started on FM Towns Ultima 3. This article is from the January 1993 PC Format:-

Image 0001

Privateer was originally going to use Strike Commander’s realspace engine and run in SVGA but ultimately reverted to using an updated Wing Commander engine and VGA only, presumably shortly after this preview was written.

QEMM & 2 Hot Games

After getting set up to run BBC games last week, I thought I ought to have a look at Chris Roberts’ other games on the system. This led to the idea of doing a longplay for Wizadore which sounded like a good idea until I realised how ferociously difficult it is. I am starting to get the hang of it but it’s a serious challenge. I may get that done by the end of the week but in the meanwhile it’s going to be more UK magazine scans as I have stacks of them lined up.

Today however, I thought I’d share an Origin compilation I found last week. I’ve never gone out of my way to pick up compilations but the only mention of it I could find on the web was a mostly blank entry on Mobygames with no scans so I had to buy it.

It’s a compilation of the floppy versions of Privateer and Shadowcaster bundled with QEMM 7 and it was released in 1993. QEMM was a memory manager for DOS which freed much of the base 640K of memory by loading drivers into higher memory. Before Windows 95, there were games where if you had the wrong combination of drivers (especially for certain CD drives) it was literally impossible to run them as you couldn’t free up enough memory. QEMM was the best choice in memory managers for years and simplified the whole process of freeing up base memory compared to the Microsoft equivalent.

To get back to the compilation, it’s got the uninspired but accurate title of QEMM & 2 hot games and comes in a box that is a fairly average size from the front but ridiculously wide from the side. As you can see from the photo it isn’t pretty. For such a large box it would have been nice to see a more attractive design as it looks like it was knocked together using clipart by someone colourblind.

The sides of the box have pictures of the side panels of the original boxes on them although their dimensions have been distorted adding to the general ugliness. The whole box is also a little flimsy for its bulk and the whole presentation gives a cheap feel to the package.

The box isn’t exactly crammed full but still includes a monster array of manuals including the full documentation for both games and the software on 3.5″ floppies. All the documentation looks to be exactly as it would be in the regular versions. In terms of content this is a great package with what were at the time brand new games, one of which is a classic. I remember what I paid for Privateer alone, so I can only assume that this compilation wasn’t cheap when new.

Whether or not that makes it rare I have no idea, but with nothing much on the web about it I thought it was worth a post. Rare or not, I can’t say it’s the most appealing item I’ve ever bought and it’s going to end up relegated to the dark corners of the collection where it is well out of sight.

Day 100!

I get my final mission from Cross which is to go and explore another system attached to the last one I explored. Theres something funny going on here as I can’t make that many jumps and get back again.

Flying out to the system is not a major problem, a few random encounters and when I get there it just has the one nav point. Of most interest is an unidentified ship floating in space.

This thing is huge and when I get nearer its clearly not in the best of shape.

When I get close enough I land and have a look about.

There is only one thing to do here and thats examining an ancient fighter and remove one of its guns.

I’d have thought I’d need to get someone to fit it but when I launch one of my guns is now green and does a lot more damage.

The major downside to this is that I’m now being chased by that glowing green ship that we last saw in the games introduction. This thing is impossible to shake off and I can’t damage it. The best I can do is afterburn until it hovers 5000m from me. This leaves me afterburning across whole systems to try to get to the nav point. The asteroids don’t help here but worse still there is a bug in the game where if you enter a nav area not in autopilot, half the time your shields go down to nothing for no reason. This leaves me fighting through asteroids with no shields and an unstoppable ship on my tail. Not to mention the hits I take jumping out. To make this worse as soon as I jump out I have to fight 4 pirates in an asteroid belt. After a few attempts I limp through then hang around to repair before I leave for the next nav. I keep running into the drone but at least there are no more asteroids.

Cross doesn’t give me anything to go on so I’m just left to explore for a bit.

There is a naval base I come across but there is nothing new to do here. The alien ship is still following me around and I can’t shake the thing off.

I finally run into a woman who seems to think I’m testing weapons for the Kilrathi and wants me to go to the Perry naval base (where I just came from!) and talk to the admiral. I don’t seem to have a choice about this.

On the way there some retros take offense about my new gun. I burn past them and jump out before they have finished talking.

This time at the base I get let in to the admirals quarters.

They still think this alien is a Kilrathi weapon and want me to lure it into an ambush where they will destroy it. Sounds easy enough assuming their weapons have more effect than mine did.

Before I get to the ambush I run into another alien ship.

It seems all the myths about the aliens were true. The alien powers up my weapon and tells me I will now be able to use it to destroy the drone. I fly out to the ambush and the final battle is surprisingly easy after having such a hard time with some of the other missions. As soon as I blow up the drone a cutscene kicks in.

The drone explodes, the alien removes the derelict ship and I get to keep the nice new gun. The game itself isnt quite over yet. I go back to see the admiral.

I get a medal (but no ceremony) and get to keep being a Privateer. If I go back to talk to the admiral again I get a strange conversation introducing the credits for the game.

I’ve definitely enjoyed Privateer more than any game for a while. I went in with high expectations and its pretty much lived up to them. I’m glad the missions got harder near the end as I would have been complaining about the story campaign being too short and easy but in the end they got it about right. The presentation of the game was better than I’d hoped for also and it still looked and sounded amazing for 1993 but unfortunately not on the hardware most of us were using back then which is why its taken this long for me to play it again. 

It has to be said that there isn’t really anything original about Privateer. Looking at other Origin games, it is little more more than Autoduel in space or Space Rogue with the Wing Commander engine. There are obvious comparisons to Elite also. It does however combine these elements in a way we haven’t seen before and does with style. It took Wing Commander and turned it into an RPG and I won’t be sorry to revisit it when I play its add-on pack.

There is a hidden extra in Privateer. One of the files in the game folder is named tabtne.vda – if you reverse it to advent.bat it creates a batch file which you can run to create a mini text adventure game (all working from dos batch files). This doesn’t work in dosbox or the XP command prompt though so I’ll have to leave trying it out for now. 

Next: Bad Blood

Day 99

I make my way to the frontier of space and sign on to map new systems. For my first mission, I have to fly out to an unmapped system that has already accounted for 3 ships which never returned. The system is teeming with pirates, not to mention asteroids but its not too hard.

Next is another system attached to the last one I explored. There is a lost pilot I have to look out for out here.

I find the lost pilot but hes gone nuts for some unexplained reason.

Next mission is yet another new system attached to the last one. This is where things get much more tricky.

Apart from having to go through 4 fighters at every nav point on the way and endless asteroids, the system itself is chock full of Kilrathi who I can’t afterburn away from.

I even encounter my first cap ship although its doesn’t seem to have much firepower. I just park on its tail and keep shooting. I’ve struggled a lot with this mission. I finally cleared out the system and mapped every point then managed to press J instead of L after I’d jumped out and jumped straight back again thereby running out of fuel so I couldn’t get home. At this point I gave in and called it a night. I think I know what I’m doing with this mission now but the numbers of enemy on this one are just ludicrous. If I took out every one, going both ways I’d have to kill over 40.

I was expecting to finish this game tonight but that mission has put the brakes on. It should only take a couple of gos now I’ve sorted my tactics out tommorow, I just hope there isn’t anything much harder than this one to come.