Moving Towards 2010

The year 2009 is coming to an end.

I remember asking myself if I have any new year resolutions for 2010.  Here are some of the things I thought of:

  • Learn about current trends in software development
  • Keep closer watch of news related to Activision, other game developers
  • Stay informed of IGF events; Joe Larson is a fan of Star Control and he submitted his ASCIIpOrtal game
  • Spend more time reading and writing on the forums, blog, etc.

I recently got my hands on the Japanese version of Star Control II for the 3DO.  I only understand English, so I won’t be playing through it anytime soon.  Maybe I’ll write something about it for 2010.

The TFB news remains quiet and we all know that they’ve been working hard on an unknown title.  The clues that Alex gave were that it is not based on a license and that it has story and gameplay elements that feel more “classic TFB”.

Happy holidays everyone!  I’m really excited to see what will happen next year.

Farewell Shaba Games
Star Control Christmas Cards 2009

A Campaign for a New Star Control

We will slowly build our strength, unify an allied starfleet, and bring the Ur‐Quan to their knee‐equivalents.
‐ The Captain

A long time ago, I considered writing directly to an Activision employee regarding Toys for Bob wanting to make a new Star Control game. I wanted to write a letter to one of their producers about TFB’s desire to make a new Star Control game and how it would influence the gaming world positively. It would be great to have someone from Activision who supports our cause. I know that Alex wrote on their news page about how they once showed interest in a new Star Control:

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.
‐ Alex Ness, "To All That Doubt The Power Of News, Behold!", June 14, 2007

Ultimately, I chose not to send the letter. My main reason is that a single letter couldn’t get Activision to open their minds to a new Star Control. Even if I got more people to do it, it wouldn’t change the fact that they’re notorious for pumping sequels to their main franchises (e.g. Guitar Hero, Call of Duty, Movie licenses).  Some people say “please and thank you go a long way”, but it takes a lot more to convince a multi-million company to try something new.

A few weeks ago, Serge (meep-eep) started a thread on the UQM Forums called “A Campaign for a New Star Control”.  Since TFB’s unannounced game may be released sometime in 2010, he wanted to do more than collect “I love Star Control” testimonials.  He wants to collect information and put it together as an article on Ultronomicon, UQM’s Wiki.  It will contain information such as games that share similarities to Star Control, praise Star Control as an amazing game and most of all, how Activision will benefit from a new Star Control game.

Whenever TFB makes any announcements about completing their current project, we could spread the word about Star Control and get Activision’s attention.

We’ve got plenty of time and I think this is an incredible idea.  The Star Control fan base is full of artists, bloggers, writers, coders, posters, lurkers, poets and musicians.  If you would like to contribute, please check out the UQM forums and the Ultronomicon.

UQM Forums: A campaign for a new Star Control
Ultronomicon: Campaign for a new Star Control

Blizzard Wanted to Copy Star Control?

I was reading an article about StarCraft II by Mike Fahey, where he asked the lead producer Chris Sigaty about the game’s single-player campaign splitting into a trilogy.  When Chris mentioned elements such as upgrading technology and diplomacy, Mike mentioned Star Control, which Chris replied that they considered using Star Control’s gameplay elements:

"The initial campaign would feature Terran Jim Raynor, with a meta game that involves upgrading technologies. The second focuses on the Zerg, with a meta‐element involving diplomacy. I mentioned Star Control, and Chris said that that sort of gameplay element had been discussed."
Mike Fahey,  BlizzCon 2008 StarCraft II Lead Producer on the Split Single Player Campaign

It’s good to know that there are people who work at Blizzard Entertainment who know about Star Control.  Whatever they decide to do with their game, there is no way they can rip off Star Control.  StarCraft and Star Control are too different from each other.  Yes, there are wars and both include an incredibly deep storyline, and the fan bases are completely different from each other.  While StarCraft take on a serious tone, Star Control likes to switch between serious and humorous with mixing personality such as the Ur-Quan slavemasters, cowardly Spathi and the frungy-playing Zoq-Fot-Pik.

I have a difficulty time finding what these games have in common:

  • They both have "Star" in their names.
  • There's a war.
  • There are aliens.
  • They have different strengths and weaknesses

Star Control is just so different that I cannot simply pick another game and say “This is how they are related”.  It does such a great job at standing out through dialog, gameplay, exploration and non-linear adventure.  Every race and ship have different shapes and colors that are as different their personalities.

The fact that Blizzard considered using elements from Star Control in their games shows that it left a good impression strong enough for them to think about it in their design.  There still has not been a single game that can replace the magic of Star Control II.  Yes, there are many great games out there and not a single one can make me say “It’s exactly like Star Control”.

The gaming world is different than it was 16 years ago.  No matter how many improvements have been made in technology or how much budget a company does, good writing, well-thoughtout design and taking the time to make sure everything is right (ignoring the planet lander bug and the true purpose of Groombridge, of course) will make the biggest difference in making a good game.  The concept of Star Control in the “seventh generation” of gaming does not scare me one bit.  Star Control still stands out to this day and Toys for Bob are the only ones that can keep it original and fresh.

Did you know? Slylandro

I remember I was playing UQM a few years ago, I was collecting minerals from various star systems and I noticed that there was a Slylandro Probe orbiting a planet.  I’ve different ships orbiting planets such as the Orz, but never a Slylandro Probe up to this point.  I was surprised by this, so I looked on the UQM forums and noticed that someone else started a topic about it.  Serge had this to say about this new discovery:

It was in the original game code, but due to a bug it was never activated. We merely fixed the bug.
And I think the Slylandro are supposed to be somewhat annoying, so that you go do something about them.
‐ Serge van den Boom (meep‐eep)

According to the Bug report, there was a condition that was placed in one of the functions in the source code which prevented the Slylandro from appearing in star systems.  This was fixed and updated October 6 2005.

The Slylandro Probe is a very interesting ship; it is constantly in motion and cannot stop, unlike the Arilou Skiff, which is the exact opposite.  Its crew is not affected by the Syreen song and can destroy the Penetrator before it got a chance to deal significant damage with its particle beam stiletto.  Also, according to the Slylandro, the Probe also has the ability to fire missiles, which is never used in the game itself since the Probes code had it break down materials with its lightning bolts as the highest priority.

And now you know. :D

Slylandro in-system?!!
Bug #768
Probe on Ultronomicon

Star Control II, Wii Edition

Note: Running homebrew software on your Wii is not supported by Nintendo. Please read the latest documentation before attempting to do so.

There have been discussions before about porting Star Control II to the Wii through WiiWare.  Unfortunately, Nintendo restricts WiiWare titles to a maximum size of 40 MB.  Therefore, it would not be easy to pack in the remixes and hours of dialogue into that small size.  Helix was able to compress 26 songs using an unnamed algorithm.  The developers claim they were able to fit over double the amount of songs they wanted.  Unfortunately, 26 songs and hours of spoken dialog are two different things.

I have played with the current build of Wii UQM and I am impressed with what I have seen so far.  Other than a few minor issues, it’s a really awesome start to a port that people have been thinking of for a while.  It’s definitely a big step in the name of console ports, even though it doesn’t have Nintendo’s seal of approval.

Since I have a widescreen television, I had to install the “black borders” patch, to prevent the screen from being cut off. If you’ve got your Wii set for homebrew, check it out. Other than that, it’s just like the PC version.

Thank you Zared for working hard on the Wii port and keep up the good work and to Scott for recording some gameplay on his TV.

Wii Love Star Control II
Wii Port

Let's Welcome Archon Classic

Archon is a very fascinating game with a strong legacy of its own.  The first game in the series is Archon: The Light and the Dark.  It was released in 1983 and developed by Free Fall Associates, a terrific trio composed of Jon Freeman, Anne Westfall and the future TFB kingpin, Paul Reiche III.  It is a combination of chess and 1 vs. 1 combat.  This game has very strong ties with Star Control.  For example, Star Control 1 had a rotating 3D star field, where players can move their ships to different starts and when opposing ships occupy the same star, battle ensues and a 1 vs. 1 match will occur like Archon.  Abandonia even theorized that the name Archon is hidden in the title: StAR CONtrol.

Archon spawned various sequels and even games that are similar including TFB’s own Unholy War for the PlayStation.

On December 12, 2008 (1 day before my birthday :D), React Games announced that they have signed a deal with Free Fall Games* to develop Archon for various platforms.  React is currently a licensed developer for the iPhone, Nintendo Wii and DS, PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 3.  At the time of this writing, they have released Archon Conquest and Archon Classic for the iPhone, which have received positive reviews.

They are currently working on the PC version of Archon Classic.  I have pre-purchased for $15 and I am having fun with the beta version.  It is also compatible with Windows 7 if anyone’s curious.  At the moment, only local play is available; conquest (single-player campaign) and network play is unavailable.  Like the game’s manual, I also recommend playing with a USB controller; I find it more comfortable and there’s no need to share parts of the keyboard.  I used my Xbox 360 controller.  Another feature I enjoyed is being able to have 4 players fighting the board, both teams and free-for-all.  The AI skill level can be adjusted.  I admit that I’ve never been a skilled Archon player and I am still getting used to the pieces, the board’s layout and the way it changes.  Luckily, I am able to choose a CPU player to fight on my side to help me get through the game.  I love playing a 4-player game because there are times when 3 or 4 pieces occupy the same space, creating very interesting brawls.

I e-mailed Chad Lee, CEO of React Games about Archon and Star Control.  He wrote that “Star Control 2 is a favorite around here” and here’s what he said about Archon:

We've showed Paul [Reiche] our Demo and the iPhone version and his comments thus far were:

"...GREAT JOB! The game feels very much like the original."

He hasn't had a chance to delve into our demo as much, because of his own game...but we'll get quotes from him later.

- Chad Lee

It’s great that Paul got a chance to take look at what they’re working on and provided some feedback.  I’ve seen many articles and reviews about Archon and how there should be a new one.  Archon Classic has a fresh new look, classic gameplay, support for USB controllers, up to 4 players at the same time and HD graphics.  If Archon can get a revival in HD, so can Star Control.  I only paid $15 for pre-ordering and it will cost $20 when it is ready for the public.  I’d recommend this to anyone who loves Archon and wants something new; it’s much more fun with 4 players and I can’t see what network play and conquest are like.  It’s really great to hear that Free Fall Games and Paul Reiche have faith in React Games and their work.  I’m impressed with what they’ve got so far.  The fact that I’m not very experienced in Archon reminds me of when I barely had any combat experience in Star Control; I remember reading about all of the units, strengths, weaknesses and just getting used to how they play and develop my own strategies.  Nicely done React, and I hope that the Archon legacy grows for another 26 years.

I’d like to thank Chad Lee for writing back to me, Paul Forest and everyone else who sent me tips me about this and Free Fall Games and Paul Reiche for supporting Archon.  I hope that in the future, this can be used as an example that if Archon can leave its mark, Star Control can do the same with its fan base.

React Games website
Archon iPhone Gameplay Video
* Free Fall Games (Formerly Free Fall Associates)

Alex O'Neil Plays Hyperspace Theme

(Video removed)

A few weeks ago, Angelfish sent me an e-mail about a video he found on Youtube. It was a video of Alex O’Neil playing the Hyperspace theme on his microKORG keyboard, a very interesting synthesizer.  He dedicates the video to another Youtube user, UBCForce who is also a big fan of Star Control and has some gameplay videos of his own.  I think this is the first time I have ever seen anyone play Star Control music on camera.

One of the many things that make Star Control unique is its music.  Each track represents feelings of space exploration and meeting different types of aliens who are friendly, confused and downright hostile.  The music can feel very exotic at times and each race has its own style, mood and diverse choice of instruments.  Star Control II is one of the first PC games to use Amiga’s MOD music format.  While Star Control II was in development, Paul and Fred created a contest asking people to compose some music and send it to them.  The authors of the music chosen would receive a cash prize, their name in the credits and a copy of the awesome game.  I even loved the music from Star Control 1; I still remember the loud music blaring out of my PC speaker back in the days for every victory ditty, sound effect and Hierarchy and Alliance victory music at the end of each Melee and Full Game.

Thanks Alex for uploading Star Control videos and to Angelfish for sending the Hyperspace music link to me.


Good Luck Joe

For those who don’t know Joe Larson, he is Guesst on the UQM/SCDB forums.  He is also a fan of Star Control.  A long time ago, he worked on ASCIIpOrtal which caught the attention of many video game blogs.

Joe has entered the 12th Annual Independent Games Festival.  A total of 306 games have been entered into this competition.  Each game will be evaluated by over 15o judges at the 2010 Game Developers Conference.

Joe also wanted to show the world that game designers don’t need art degrees, flashy graphics, and that anyone can make games.  I once tried to get into game design a few times, playing with various libraries and game engines and I realized there is so much for me to learn before I can make a serious game. :D

Since ASCIIpOrtal will be judged by a pre-determined group of people, we have no direct control over who will win.  It’s all up to them.  Joe’s a fan of Star Control and I’m glad to see that he’s getting some attention and got into the IGF.  All we can do is wish him luck and maybe hope that an IGF judge will see this and will have an even better impression of his game.

Good luck Joe and I wish you the best.  I’ll pay extra attention to the Game Developers Conference and I’m excited to see what will happen.

ASCIIpOrtal’s IGF Page
2010 Independent Games Festival Gets Record Main Competition Entries
Joseph Larson Gives a Shout-Out to Star Control in an Interview

Farewell Shaba Games

I’ve been reading through a list of video game related news and I discovered that Shaba Games closed their studios on October 8, 2009.  I never feel good about a video game studio closing down.  The last game that they made was Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. The reason why I am writing about Shaba games is because a few years ago I remember receiving a response to one of my e-mails from Alex about asking other developers supporting the idea of a new Star Control.  He told me that some people from Shaba Games have shown support for a new Star Control game.  Any friend of TFB is a friend of ours.  After reading the news about Shaba Games, I wrote a letter to Alex about it.  Here’s what he told me:

Yeah, too bad about Shaba, huh?  We have actually been hiring some of their people since we need a lot for this current project we’re working on. Hopefully the rest will find work soon.  You are right that there were some big time Star Control fans over there.  Their former studio head, Chris, has suggested several times to Activision’s top brass that they let us make a sequel.  He’s a good guy for sure.

Anyway, speaking of our next project, while I can’t officially say jack squat about it yet, I can tell you that I think you might dig it.  Probably not as much as you’d like another Star Control game but I think this title will interest you.  It’s not another game based on an animated movie, thank God, and it does have some cool story and gameplay elements that feel more classic Toys For Bob.  Supposed to be coming out this time next year.

So yeah, things are going well over here.  We’re all super busy but happy to be working on something real fun.  And we’re growing.  I think we have about 50 people now, which is weird for us.

Take care,


It’s great to know that the TFB crew is growing and now we have more clues about what TFB is working on.  Now I’m even more excited about whatever it is they are working on.  I’ll definitely keep my eye on this.  Who knows what will happen between now and next year?

Thank you Chris and everyone else at Shaba who supported TFB, and thank you Alex for writing back and giving some clues about TFB’s current project.

Kotaku: Activision Lays Off Shaba’s Ranks, Closes Studio [update]

SC2 Cameos in Zarla's DDR Video

I was reading some of the forum threads on the UQM Forums when I came across a thread called “zarla sheenaza - a tribute to StarCon Goddess”.  Zarla is known for her artwork on DeviantArt.  Some of her images can be seen during the installation process of The Ur-Quan Masters.  In addition to Star Control, she has also drawn images from Metroid, Metal Gear Solid, Phoenix Wright, Pikmin, Pokémon and EarthBound.  She has a fascination with Admiral ZEX and his love for humans.

At the end of the video, it shows a list of characters that appeared.  Here are the appearances from Star Control:

SC2 CameosNicely done as always, Zarla.

UQM: zarla sheenaza - a tribute to Star Con goddess
Newgrounds: Stamp on the ground
Zarla’s Star Control Webpage
Zarla’s LiveJournal: We’re sending out an invitation, to everyone in every nation