Not A Question Of If But When…

It’s been two years since Alex Ness wrote on the Toys for Bob website that they believe that the time is now for true sequel to Star Control II:

“We (I) want us to do a Star Control sequel. Back in the early 90s, Paul and Fred and some other people made Star Control 2.  Personally, I thought it was pretty amazing. It was like a drug to me.”
– Alex Ness, ToysForBob.com, April 11 2006

Since that time, Alex has received thousands of e-mails supporting Star Control and he made it clear that he loves it very much and writes “please keep ’em coming”.

Some people may be confused to the fact that Alex wrote “We (I) want us to do a Star Control sequel.”  This isn’t just a simple wiseguy comment; Alex has an incredible sense of humor and is also a fan of the Star Control series himself.  Paul Reiche III, Fred Ford and the rest of the TFB crew really do want to make a Star Control sequel with Activision.

Unfortunately, with the two years that passed, people have had doubts about whether or not Toys for Bob will successfully convince Activision to let their next game be a Star Control sequel.  It’s quite understandable and even after all this time, I still don’t feel like giving up on supporting Toys for Bob and their quest of having a new Star Control game by the rightful creators/gods, Toys for Bob!

One major thing that publishers want from video games is high sales. Many gamers including myself, are aware that publishers have been known to do things such as make deals with major video game reviewers in exchange for high-ratings to increase sales.  Activision is well-known for publishing games such as Guitar Hero, Call of Duty and Tony Hawk franchises.  As a result, they are more likely to support these games buy increasing their budgets and promoting these games more than others.  For example, Activision published Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam (developed by TFB), a racing game with the Tony Hawk license that differs from the other games in the series.  When THDJ was released, Activision also released Tony Hawk’s Project 8 at the same time which followed the original style of Tony Hawk games.  By releasing two types of Tony Hawk games at the same time, they still maintained the regular Tony Hawk fans while being able to experiment with a new spinoff.  This shows that Activision is in fact, willing to experiment with new ideas.  When the TFB staff show all the fan mail to Activision, they are showing them that we are more than just people who love Star Control.  We are ready and willing to buy another Star Control game and it will be successful because of its fans.

“Activision’s goal is to make a profit. They will weigh the risk against the expected gains. And they will compare that to what they can expect if they were to invest the same money in other games, like more licensed movie-based games.

And as I understand it, the risk in those licensed games is pretty small. The sales for something original are much harder to predict, and even though Activision is big enough to take a chance on such games, they tend not to do so. Perhaps that even though Activision can afford to get it wrong, the person making the decision cannot.

So getting Activision’s support for a new Star Control would mean convincing them that it would likely be a (big enough) commercial success. And if I look at the varied bunch of people who hang out at the UQM forums, their stories, the complete lack of negative opinions on the SC2 game as a whole, and how SC2 still keeps finding new audiences, I am confident that a new game like SC2, released today, would succeed. Activision may yet reach the same conclusion.”
– Serge van den Boom, UQM Core Team

Serge has a good point that Activision wants to take less risks.  They do this by supporting sequels to popular franchises such as the usual Guitar Hero, Call of Duty, Tony Hawk and creating movie-licensed games.  If Activision could promote the new Star Control as much as they did with their other games, it will get the name out there instead of simply relying on reviews alone.  No game will sell as much as Tony Hawk Project 8 without the proper advertising.  When I think back to the 1990s when Star Control I and II were released, I only found out about these games because my father found them.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember how he found them himself.  My brothers also enjoyed the games too.

Ever since Star Control II was released in 1992, Accolade has tried to continue the legacy, but without Paul or Fred’s help.  They had another company work on two more sequels for Star Control.  The third one didn’t live up to fan expectations and the fourth one was cancelled in development.

There is nothing to prove that Toys for Bob has given up on a new Star Control game.  In 2007, Toys for Bob held an IRC chat session where they would answer any questions about Star Control, and Fred answered an interesting question in the forums:

There’s probably a more tactful way to say this, but I’d really like to know how you went from making brilliant original games like Archon and Star Control to licensed kid’s games like 102 dalmatians. What happened?

0xDECODE is pretty much right on.  We have chosen this as our career and we prefer to have food on the table.  Games cost so much to make these days that originality was one of the first casualties.  Paul and I are still biding our time.
– Fred Ford, Official UQM Forums

This is common among all video game developers.  It’s better to work on a licensed game than working on nothing and not get paid.  Toys for Bob is now at a point where they can say that they are ready to put Star Control back in the spotlight.  They still have a contract with Activision, and Activision won’t suffer the same fate as Accolade.  In addition, Activision will be merging with Blizzard soon and they’ll be able to accomplish much more things in the video game industry.

There are many popular RTS games, RPGs, action and adventure games, and not a single one matches the deep storyline, unique music, diverse strategy and well-written humor and dialog packed within Star Control.  There are games out there that look better, have longer playtime and even multiplayer, but Star Control II will always be different and is still a challenge by today’s standards.  Even the pixel-art quality images still appeals to people today.

Since Atari currently holds the rights to the name “Star Control”, some people aren’t sure what the next Star Control sequel will be called.  When Star Control II became open source, it was renamed to “The Ur-Quan Masters”.  The sequel could be called anything, even “The Ur-Quan Masters 2”.  It’s not the name that matters.  It’s the fact that the original creators of Star Control are ready to make a new one and get it right!  I don’t care what they call it, as long as it continues the events in Star Control II.  Also, Atari only owns the “Star Control” name and not the story, aliens, dialog, etc.  They can take the name but they can’t take the game!  I wish I could buy the rights to the name from Atari and give it to TFB for free, but I do not have the money to convince them to do anything!

If I could choose a factor that made Star Control a cult-classic, I would say it’s the fan support.  If the fan base wasn’t as large as it is now, we would have never seen an open source version with remixed music and spoken dialog added for the PC.  Without UQM, I would have continued playing Star Control II on DOSBox and probably would have forgotten about Toys for Bob’s desire to make a new one, and this blog wouldn’t have existed either.  Any video game obviously needs a fan-base in order for it to succeed or have a lasting impact on gaming culture:

“The fanbase shows that Star Control has left an impression. But it in itself won’t be big enough to convince Activision to invest in a new SC game. They need to see that a new Star Control would sell beyond just the active fan base. It may help to show how varied the composition of the fan base is and that SC2 is still finding new audiences today. Also, the fact that some SC fans are in a position to generate publicity is not going to hurt.”
– Serge van den Boom, UQM Core Team

Activision won’t just magically say, “Yes, we’ll let you guys make a new Star Control game!  Here’s $50 million!”  We have to keep writing letters, drawing artwork, and show them that the Star Control series is very different from games today and that publishing a new Star Control game will get good reviews and good sales that will make it worth it to have another Star Control should Toys for Bob decide to do so.

As fans we need to do what we can to support TFB’s quest to make that Star Control sequel a reality.  Many games are being released in November, just before the holiday season.  This may even include TFB’s unannounced game.  During this time, TFB is working hard to get everything done on time, and when Activision starts choosing what game will be next for them, we need to be there (in spirit) and stand with TFB to prove that Star Control is the right game to make an impact on the gaming industry.

The matter is only relevant once every few years, when TFB have almost finished their latest game and it has to be decided what the next one will be. It’s important NOW, because TFB are nearing completion of their current game.
– Serge van den Boom, UQM Core Team

One thing that makes Star Control easy to learn is because it mixes a “pick-up-and-play” learning curve with a “difficult-to-master” strategy.  This is very important compared to today’s games, some of which put the player through lengthy tutorials.  Players can practice their combat skills by playing the melee section with various kinds of ships.

It’s only a few months to November and it’s important that we continue to show our support for a new Star Control.  As long as people keep writing to Alex explaining why they love Star Control and why we need a worthy sequel, and keep downloading the game, discussing it online, creating fan art, fan fiction, etc., it will show that the Star Control community is extremely active, and not just a bunch of people who play it through DOSBox.

In conclusion, Toys for Bob still needs their fans, even if it’s only been 2 years since they announced wanting to make a new Star Control game.  Science Fiction will never die.  No matter what game I play, it may be one of my favorite games and that doesn’t mean that I forgot about Star Control.  Publishers such as EA Games and Gamecock Media Group are supporting games that that are unique and interesting such as Spore, Mushroom Men, Mirror’s Edge and Legendary.  Activision knows that in order for a game to succeed in the video game market, they need to be different from others in the same genre and developers need enough time to make sure everything is done properly.  Regardless of the Star Control trademark, the sequel will be good because the original creators will know what to do with their masterpiece.  I will be pleasantly surprised to hear what they will call it…

Please don’t give up on Star Control!  It has so much potential and there are so many questions unanswered from Star Control II that only a true sequel can answer.  It could even ask more questions to warrant another sequel.  It will have good sales and will appeal to today’s gamers.  Toys for Bob never said “stop” and I won’t until they tell me to do so.

“Well, we have talked to our parent company Activision about doing a Star Control sequel, quite seriously, and there did honestly seem to be some real live interest on their part.  At least on the prototype and concept-test level.  This is something we may in fact get to do when we finish our current game and clean our room.”
– Alex Ness, ToysForBob.com, June 14 2007

P.S. A special thanks to Serge van den Boom for providing for his valuable insight to this topic.

2 Responses to “Not A Question Of If But When…”

  1. Great site / blog btw, especially like the Youtube links for mobile browsing.

    It looks like the iPhone Application market is taking off.

    The codebase for UQM is open source and has a small footprint, I wonder how hard it would be to port, completely ignoring the control issue (several apps already have.)

    Obviously you couldn't get anyone to pay for it (since UQM is free), but if TfB allowed someone to do it for them, and monitor the downloads...
  2. I think UQM relies on a library called SDL that smooths over the differences between the way different operating systems (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, etc.) handle graphics and such. I don't believe the SDL is avaliable for iPhone users, though I don't know how much of an obstacle that would be. It's certainly an option. Post it a few places on the UQM forums and see what kind of response you get from those who know more about the code than I do.