Joseph Larson Gives a Shout-Out to Star Control in an Interview

A video game blog by the name of Games Fascination, recently had an interview with Joeseph Larson, the creator of ASCIIpOrtal. Entar asked Joseph “What are some of your favorite games out there today, independent or otherwise?”, and he replied:

I’ve bugged certain channels with my favorite game of all time a lot. That would be Star Control, and I could go on about it, and would because it’s an obscure title and I feel like everyone needs to know about it. I still play it occasionally today. But on titles that I think everyone would like, one thing I find frustrating right now is how transient our tastes have become. Flash games have trained us to play a game out today, then forget about it because there’s another coming tomorrow. That’s, like, a year’s worth of somebody’s life that we’re dedicating an hour of our time to there. That said, my current “disposable” game is Knightfall 2. I loved the first and the second is just as good. I’m really looking forward to Half‐Life 2: Episode 3 as well, but mostly because I still love Half‐Life 1 and I just kinda want to be done with the series, but my tastes have kinda moved on from that sort of game lately. I’m currently playing Super Mario Galaxy, and while I know it’s all big, flashy, and corporate, I like it because it’s fun and I can play it while my children are awake. In fact they love to watch their Mom and I play it.
‐ Joseph Larson

Before I saw this review, I was already aware of the existance of a text-based version of Portal; it’s been covered by other video game sites such as Offworld and it’s just as intriguing as Flash Portal; if I never saw ASCIIpOrtal, I would continue to believe that it is impossible to turn into a text-based version.  And most of all, the companion cube (or companion block in this case) is still easy to recognize. :D

So, who is Joseph Larson?  In addition to programmer, author and all-around cool person with a good sense of humor, he is also Guesst on the UQM and SCDB forums.

Hey, man. I think I've seen you on the Star Control boards, as well as the Ur-Quan Masters boards. I'm guesst on those boards. But I was the one that made everyone there aware of dragon's remake, tho it doesn't seem to be going anywhere right now.

I'm not as active as I once was on those boards. I think an official sequel to Star Control by FF & PR3 would be the coolest thing in the world. I also think we've got a better chance of getting a cloaking device and finding Groombridge in the DOS version of SC2. (Had to say DOS version becuase some yuker could add it to UQM, you never know.)

But I still can't stop loving the game. Bytejacker has heard way too much from me about Star Control to the point that... well fastforward to 4:32 in Yeah. Also the TIGSource forums I tipped the ballance in a "best games evar" competition by half my available point on Star Control 1 putting it in the top 10, even tho I was the only person who voted for it.

So yeah, I'm obsessed. I know all about Star Control and Toys for Bob and the petitions. I miss the old fan site that had that great artwork. I bought Unholy wars just because they made it. There's probably nothing about Star Control or TFB that you could whip out that I don't already know. - Joseph Larson

I have heard about Dragon’s remake of Star Control 1 and I remember playing a very early build of it where there was a planet, 2 ships and all they could do was fly around.  It looked very sharp and has a lot of potential.  I know there have been much more updates since then and I’ve been so busy with personal stuff that I didn’t have a chance to write about it at the time.

Thank you Joseph for mentioning Star Control in the interview and good luck with ASCIIpOrtal.

Interview with Joseph Larson
Bytejacker Episode 038 (Skip to 4:32)

Matt Chat 24: Star Control II and the Spacewar Legacy

"Covering one of the best action strategy science fictions of all time: Star Control II, The Ur‐Quan Masters!"
‐ Matt Barton, Matt Chat 24

Matt Chat reviews classic video games for old platforms every week. It is hosted by Matt Barton, an English professor at St. Cloud University. He has written two books about video games: Dungeons and Desktops and Vintage Games.

Matt talks about Star Control’s influences and similar games such as Spacewar, Traveller, Elite and Starflight, a game with a strong legacy of its own.  Starflight was created by Greg Johnson, who is a friend of Paul Reiche and Fred Ford.  Greg also created ToeJam & Earl, where Paul Reiche is credited under “Invaluable Help”.  After talking about various influences and Star Control 1, he talks more in detail about how Star Control II evolved as a sequel with alien races, great dialog and diverse combat.

After watching the video, I wrote to Matt about how he feels about Toys for Bob wanting to make a new Star Control game. Here’s what he had to say:

Hi, Anthony. I've heard a lot about the FOSS Ur‐Quan masters, but YouTube limits me to only 10 minutes! Not nearly enough time to talk about everything I wanted to, such as the connection to the earlier Archon and Mail Order Monsters.

In any case, I think a new Star Control (done right) would be an almost certain hit. It is still widely regarded as an excellent game, and would probably work well as a mobile game (iPhone or DS) as well as a big release. The networking capabilities would certainly open up some interesting possibilities for scenarios or campaigns like Star Control I had. It'd be really neat to see co‐op dog fights, with players on a team taking on AI or players from another team. Just imagine if they had to carefully work together, complementing or substituting for each other's abilities.

It’s always great to see people support a new Star Control game. I remember reading threads on the UQM forums about porting The Ur-Quan Masters to the iPhone and the DS. I don’t have an iPhone, so I would love to see UQM on the DS. I know there is a version for the PSP, but I cannot softmod my PSP at the moment and I heard that it’s not exactly “stable”. There is a large market on the iPhone and millions of people continue to buy apps and the DS remains a hot-selling item. There is still the complicated legal issue of Atari owning the title “Star Control” and I hope that someday it will be resolved in time for a new Star Control game.  I would love to see UQM on Xbox Live, which has been mentioned in forums.  If there are ports of Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Perfect Dark (currently TBA), Banjo Kazooie, Duke Nukem, Teenage Mutant Turtles and The Secret of Monkey Island, I’m sure there’s room for Star Control II.  The challenge would be promoting the game and making sure it gets good sales and reviews as a port.

Many of these ports have been done by other developers or an internal department within the company that made the original game.  Theoretically, Toys for Bob could appoint a trusted developer to port Star Control II and label it as “The Ur-Quan Masters”, but there are many factors that make this very complicated.  Personally, I would feel better buying a Star Control port where TFB gets some kind of profit from it.

Thanks to Matt Barton for talking about Star Control and taking the time to write back to me.

Armchair Arcade
Matt Chat 24 Video HD
UQM Forums: iPhone Version?
UQM Forums: Initial DS Port – Help Wanted!

Star Controller Turns 1

1-Year OldThat’s right!  Star Controller is now 1 year old.  It has now been a year since my first post and this is my 121st post and it’s definitely been a great year.

I still remember what I was going through my mind as I thought about the blog.  I wanted to create something where I can get more hands-on experience with blogging, customization, communication and web design.  I’m glad that I chose to write about Star Control.

With all the things I’ve posted and all the feedback I’ve received, I’m glad that I started this blog.  It wouldn’t made it this far without everyone’s support.  There was no way I could do this without any help.  I appreciate everyone who has read, visited, commented, and gave me ideas, questions and tips.  It really means a lot to me.  I also appreciate everyone who took the time to read and reply to my messages; it has helped me write about things and get opinions about the video game industry in general and Star Control itself.

I must take this time to thank all the reviewers who compared Spore and Star Trek DAC to Star Control and recommended its readers to play The Ur-Quan Masters.  Thank you Ronimo Games for giving a very special thanks to “Fwiffo the Spathi” in the Swords & Soldiers credits under “Very Special Thanks”.  Thank you Jon St. John for the Duke Nukem recording; it created much stronger positive reception than I expected.

An epic thank you to everyone at Toys for Bob for their sense of humor and deep respect for the fans.

So, what’s next for Star Controller?  I have a bunch of ideas for future posts and I plan on getting more details to write enough about it.  The Star Control news has been quiet lately and there’s no accurate way to predict the future, so anything is possible.  If there are any major Star Control-related updates, I’ll definitely write about it.

Best Game Ever

I was looking through a bunch of video game blog sites when I came across an article titled “Best Game Ever: Star Control II” from  The article is written by someone who calls himself Golden Jew.  He is a fan of Warcraft 3, Warcraft 3: Defense Of The Ancients, World of Warcraft, Eve Online, Civilization 4, Alpha Centauri, Call of Duty 4, Rock Band, Final Fantasy, and Phantasy Star.

Videolamer is a blog that is dedicated to articles about obscure topics and other things that would differ from mainstream sites.

G.J. wrote about why he considers Star Control II the best game ever, discussing things such as the non-linear design so the player is never forced to do anything in a specific order.  G.J. briefly mentions the new NetPlay feature which allows 2 people to play against each other in Super Meelee over the internet.  Although it is not yet complete, it is not the most user-friendly multiplayer systems, but it’s good for anyone who is computer literate and is willing to change some of their own home network settings to get it working.  I remember trying to explain how Netplay works to a friend of mine who knew nothing about Star Control and I summarized it as “Don’t expect anything like Xbox Live”.

Another thing that interested me is the fact that he mentioned Atari’s ownership of the name “Star Control”.  Before Accolade closed down, they owned the rights to the name until they were purchased by Infogrames which was purchased by Atari.  However, this does not mean that a new Star Control game is impossible.  Atari only owns the name but not the content itself.  Toys for Bob own the plot, music, voices, characters, races, etc.  If Atari still holds the rights when Toys for Bob get a chance at that new game, it simply means it cannot be called Star Control.  I once thought about calling it “The Ur-Quan Masters 2”.

G.J. had a nice conclusion, pointing out that anyone who plays this will be hoping for more:

"On the whole, Star Control II is a very cool RPG. Typically we think of RPG games as adventuring across a planet, wielding gun‐blades and finding out that we're either the dream of a dying civilization nightmare, or roaming about a nuclear wasteland looting WalMarts. Star Control II was unique in that it had a galaxy of things to do and a deep, compelling backstory. Although a legitimate sequel seems extremely unlikely, due to a number of rights issues, anyone who plays Star Control II will be hoping for more."
‐, "Best Game Ever: Star Control II"

There’s been plenty of discussions towards whether or not Activision will ever say “yes” to a new Star Control.  I have a bunch of my own thoughts about how a new Star Control could be made but most of them are just theories without strong points and I don’t want to speculate at the moment until I get more information.  Hopefully, I’ll find the time to write about them in the future.  The currenty mystery I’m trying to solve is whether or not the formation of Activision-Blizzard will have a significant impact on Toys for Bob and Star Control.

Thanks G.J. for taking the time to write about Star Control II.  I’m glad  to see that there are people out there who continue to give it recognition.

Link: Best Game Ever: Star Control II (

Toys for Bob RSS

Subscribe to the TFB RSS feed

I’ve been learning PHP for a while and I decided to write a script that will take the contents of the news page from the Toys for Bob site and convert it to an RSS feed.  This means that anyone can subscribe to the RSS feed and any new entries will automatically appear in everyone’s RSS reader when Alex updates the TFB news page.

Check it out!  I know that many people have subscribed to Star Controller’s RSS feed and this would make a great addition.  When TFB adds a news update, everyone subscribed to the feed will see it immediately without having to manually navigate to the TFB site.

I hope that this helps people stay up to date with news updates directly from Toys for Bob themselves.  This RSS feed is still in its testing stage.  If anyone has any feedback, I would love to hear it.

In Response to Shane Satterfield

I was watching Bonus Round, Episode 306 Part 4 on GameTrailers last week.  They were answering user questions.  What caught my attention on this episode is Shane Satterfield’s answer regarding video game developers moving from one company to another:

Q: What do you think about all the corporate company shifting?  Like John Shappert moving from Microsoft to EA?  Does it hurt a company when their talent moves from one place to another so often?

I think gamers are wrong for being attached to these people.  At the end of the day, this is their job.  Nobody's going to sit there and be like "Well gee, I can make like an extra 200 grand working for EA, or say Microsoft.  Oh, but the kids.  The kids won't like me anymore!"  Noone's going to do that.  This is the real world, where people have to put food on the table or they want to buy a new car.  Whatever.  I don't think gamers look at it realistically as "These are just people who have families and concerns with their own lives".


At the end of the day, it's life.  Sometimes it's hard to separate the video game world from the real world.  But at the end of the day, these are real people with real concerns and I don't think we can fault people for trying to do good, bigger and better things.

‐ Shane Satterfield

Even though the question is geared towards larger video game developers and publishers, Shane Satterfield’s response about being attached to individual video game designers immediately made me think about myself as a fan of Star Control, Paul Reiche, Fred Ford, Alex Ness, Chris Nelson and the rest of Toys for Bob.

Shane is absolutely right that a video game developer is just like any other job; it helps pay off bills, debts and most importantly, putting food on the table.  Everyone has their own reasons for doing what they do and I respect that.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling attached to game developers.  It’s no different from being attached to Stephen Spielberg, Stan Lee, Todd McFarlane, Dave Gibbons, Boris Vallejo, Frank Miller, Jim Carrey, Johnny Depp or Tim Burton.  If someone admires a person’s style and creativity, it’s only natural to learn more about them and feel excited for whatever they have planned next.

I remember the first time I discovered the names of Paul Reiche and Fred Ford.  I was in my final year of high school, I was playing Star Control II on DosBox.  Before finding the open source version, I never had the time to get into the DOS game very much because of homework and studying.  I wasn’t even aware of the 3DO version or even the existence of the 3DO console itself until someone told me about the Ur-Quan Masters and that’s when I started to get more into it.  I started to read the UQM Sourceforge page and the Path of Now and Forever pages.  I slowly started to learn about the people behind Star Control and the fact that TFB released the 3DO source code which lead to the creation on the Ur-Quan Masters.  When I first installed UQM, the first thing I said was, “Wow.  I didn’t even know there were voices.”  At this point, I was aware of Paul, Fred and Toys for Bob, but I did nothing more than play the game whenever I had any free time.  I also realized that they were responsible for Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure and Madagascar, which was strange to me; I didn’t know much about the video game industry at this time.

Just after I finished my final exams for my first year of college, Alex Ness announced that they would like to make a new Star Control game.  Like many fans, I just felt surprised and I really wanted this to happen.  Star Trek Enterprise was canceled and forgotten because of ratings and fans being “split apart” and I didn’t want this to happen to Star Control.  I had a sudden rush and started writing letters to as many people as I could.  First, I wrote to Alex, then I started writing to other developers and video game news sites.  Even though I rarely receive a reply from these people, I appreciate the few who had the time to write back to me.  As I continued reading information and writing letters supporting Star Control, I started to see the video game industry in a different way.  I learned about things such as Intellectual Properties, Al Lowe’s disconnection from Leisure Suit Larry, and the real reason why Activision pushes so many sequels and movie-based games.

That’s a brief description of the flashback I had when I heard Shane Satterfield talking about gamers being attached to people.  Until Alex’s announcement about wanting to make another Star Control game, I never thought about video game developers and publishers.  I just wanted to play video games and wait the another sequel without caring about who is behind it and whether or not they took their time.  That news posting was the first time I have ever heard of a developer wanting to work on something of their own instead of what the publisher wants them to do; at this time, I thought video game developers were free to do what they want.  If I didn’t get into Star Control, learn about Paul Reiche and Fred Ford and write to people, I’d probably have 3 versions of Guitar Hero, Rock Band and a bunch of Spider-Man games without even thinking about why there are so many in such a short time.  It’s really been a great learning experience and I would have never had a blog like this.  I respect whatever contract is between TFB and Activision-Blizzard and I hope that someday, TFB will get that chance to bring back one of their most beloved games.  Our loyalty to Toys for Bob is not the result of desperation, nerdiness or ignorance; it is the result of our respect of them.  If someone can release source code to the public, respond to our messages and arrange IRC chats, we deserve to give something back to them and support whatever it is they would like to do next.

Thank you Shane Satterfield for your honesty.  It gave me a lot to think about.

Link: Bonus Round: Episode 306 - Part 4

Two Points of Speculation

Usually when I read about rumors, I generally ignore them because they can it can lead to false hope and potentially puts trust into people who have no real connection to the people responsible for the games we love. I’d like to discuss two articles I came across a month ago: One article that describes Stardock’s plans and an article that briefly describes what the Activision’s studios are working on.

Alexander Sliwinski from wrote an article about Brad Wardell from Stardock announcing that they are currently hiring people to work on various projects.  It gave vague descriptions:

CEO Brad Wardell tells us the company is currently looking for "experienced" devs to work on:
  • "Turn based fantasy strategy game" -- Likely, Elemental.
  • "Real-time space strategy game" -- Speculation: More Sins of a Solar Empire, the diplomacy pack?
  • "Party-based, single player, role playing game"
  • "Real-time land-based strategy game"
  • "Turn-based space strategy game" -- Likely, Galactic Civilizations III (but, could be Master of Orion or Star Control.)

While I believe that Stardock does have plans to publish different strategy and role playing games, none of five descriptions would fit Star Control II or a sequel. Although the first Star Control 1 does have turn-based elements, Star Control is a mix of action, adventure, science fiction, RPG, strategy and space combat.  In addition, Atari still owns the rights to the name “Star Control”, while Toys for Bob own the game’s content such as the characters, ships and the plot itself.  If Stardock is planning on a game similar to Star Control, I’d love to see what it would be like.

A California-based magazine company by the name of Variety wrote an article about Activision’s studios.  They are fully aware of Activision’s tendency to push sequels and movie tie-ins:

The publisher's business model is based entirely on brands that it "exploits" (sequelizes and spins off) on a regular basis. Once in a while a studio gets to make a new property, like Raven is doing with "Singularity," but most of the time, they're working on a franchise. Infinity Ward has "Modern Warfare," Neversoft took ownership of "Guitar Hero," Vicarious Visions does Wii versions of "Guitar Hero," etc.

I completely agree with them.  It’s the classic “low risk, low investment, high sales” formula that is geared towards family audiences.  Here is the list of what Activision’s studios are working on as of April 22:

This list is based on publicly available information and my own reporting, but is probably a bit incomplete. And certainly doesn't include any potential new franchises that haven't yet been announced or uncovered.
Toys for Bob: DreamWorks Animation games

While the author admits that this is based on public available information and his or her reports, it’s the only thing I can think of that Toys for Bob is working on that isn’t Star Control. DreamWorks Animation does have Madagascar 3 planned for 2012. Activision would definitely appoint TFB to work on the third one because of their experience with the first two. It makes me shudder a little bit because we’re not the target audience and only have good sales because of the movie’s success. I definitely agree with Variety’s article which points out how the different studios constantly have their responsibilities switched around sequels and movie tie-ins. Every time I think about the video game industry in this way, I constantly remember Fred Ford’s words about how it is important to have food on the table.

I’ve read about how Activision was once a struggling company until Bobby Kotick took over, eventually into Activision Blizzard.  I have no experience or professional knowledge of the video game industry; I can only offer my opinions and hope that it’s worth reading.  Every form of entertainment is constantly being worked on in such a way that it pushes sales with a low investment and it’s not just video games.  While people describe Prototype as an original IP, it too is based on the open world genre trends such as Grand Theft Auto, Saint’s Row, Infamous, Crackdown and True Crime.  One of the reasons why Prototype received so much attention is because it is a big-budget project, has been delayed a few times and is one of the few games that wasn’t scrapped when Activision merged with Vivendi Universal.

In conclusion, Stardock has various games planned, with no solid evidence that it is remotely close to Star Control other than Brad Wardell’s previous interest in purchasing the rights from Atari.  The Star Control news has been quiet lately and hopefully, new information will come in the future.

Joystiq - Stardock hiring lots of devs, hints at upcoming projects

Vorosh Plays Star Control 1

Vorosh provides English commentary for various Korean StarCraft tournament videos on his YouTube page. He also plays other games and provides his own commentary on those as well. This time, he chose to play Star Control 1. He is playing against the computer in Melee mode with the difficulty set at Awesome.

Nobody should be this good.
- Awesome difficulty caption

Out of the three difficulty settings, Standard is the only one where the computer does not use secondary functions; Ur-Quan Dreadnoughts will not launch fighters, Shofixti Scouts will not explode, Mycon Podships will not heal, etc.  This is also the same for Star Control II.

One thing that interested me is the turning radius he mentioned.  The ships cannot turn in 360 degrees.  There is a seperate bitmap image for each angle the ship is facing.  This can make it difficult to aim at the opponent and sometimes requires the player to turn and fire at a certain angle while building up inertia.

The combat in Star Control 1 is significantly slower than Star Control II.  This is due to the hardware and software available around 1990.  Star Control II was released in 1992 and shows how much computers have changed in such a short period of time.

A feature I liked that was in Star Control 1 that wasn’t carried over to the second game was the Cyborg and Psytron players.  Cyborg allows the player to make a move or select a ship while the computer takes control of the actual combat.  Psytron takes over the movement strategy and gives player control over ship combat.  I liked playing as Cyborg in the full game mode of SC1 because when I first played the game, I never fully understood what exactly I was supposed to do when I had to move my ships and it really helped me concentrate on the combat.  At this time, I have never heard of Archon.  Sometimes, I would play as the Psytron in melee mode, choose ships and watch the computer fight against itself for fun.

Thanks Vorosh for recording some gameplay.

Vorosh’s YouTube page
Star Control 1 on Abandonia

A Very Special Thanks to Fwiffo the Spathi

(Video removed) Skip to 1:51 to see “Fwiffo the Spathi”

On May 22 2009, Nightshadow posted on the UQM Forums about a WiiWare game called Swords & Soldiers. He was reading through the credits and noticed that of all the names under special thanks, our beloved Fwiffo was one of them.

Swords & Soldiers is a sidescrolling real-time strategy game developed by Ronimo Games.  They have created the freeware version of de Blob for PC before THQ picked it up and turned it into a Wii game.

Swords & Soldiers costs 1000 Wii Points ($10.00) to purchase.  It has a zany plot which involves chilis, sauce, an enemy named Lovsbattl and more.  The levels are very short and is great for anyone who wants to play a level for 20 minutes or less.

The biggest factor that made me buy the game is the fact that Fwiffo’s name is in the credits and they have a decent sense of humor.  There are more people in their Special Thanks sections than the people working at Ronimo games and there are so many to thank in addition to Fwiffo.  I’d love to see more developers add Fwiffo under the Special Thanks section in their games.  cough  I said… I’d love to see MORE developers add Fwiffo under the Special Thanks section in their games! :P

If anyone wants to play a WiiWare game and not sure what to get, give Swords & Soldiers a shot.  Any friend of Fwiffo is a friend of ours! :D

Thanks Nightshadow for posting about this on the UQM forums and everyone at Ronimo Games for their work and taking a few extra seconds to enter “Fwiffo the Spathi”.  It’s awesome when Star Control references pop up by surprise.

Swords & Soldiers homage to Star Control on UQM Forums
Dogar And Kazon pay homage to Ronimo Games

StarCon - Assassins Mission

I recorded the Assassins mission and achieved victory. There was no victory cinematic and it only showed Ra-Gar congratulating me. It was a simple mission where I hunted down someone named Hantiir. In the video, I launch a fighter then abruptly left because there were multiple ships attacking my Hyperium Cruiser and its guns were more powerful, so fighters were useless to me for this mission. Like the previous mission, I continued to mash the X button until whatever I targeted explodes.

I noticed a few things after I played this mission.  The first thing I noticed is that there really is no sign on the Alliance of Free Stars.  Apparently the player takes the role of a Hyperium captain.  This could further prove that nothing significant from Star Control I or II carried on to this game.  I don’t even know for sure if the captain is human.

Another thing that puzzled me is the use of the word “shear”.  An example of its usage here is “Captain, we must mop up all enemies here to shear away.”  I’ve never seen “shear” used to describe evading or warping away, so I had to look it up:

transitive verb
1 a: to cut off the hair from <with crown shorn> b: to cut or clip (as hair or wool) from someone or something ; also : to cut something from <shear a lawn> cchiefly Scottish : to reap with a sickle d: to cut or trim with shears or a similar instrument2: to cut with something sharp3: to deprive of something as if by cutting <lives shorn of any hope — M. W. Browne>4 a: to subject to a shear force b: to cause (as a rock mass) to move along the plane of contact
- Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary

If I had an unabridged dictionary, I could probably find a better explanation of this word.

It can be a tedious mission and I managed to get record a victory by aiming and mashing the X button.  There are no powerups and damage the player takes carries on throughout the mission.  This mission could have been more fun in 2-player mode where the second player can take control of the fighter ship launched while the player maintains the cruiser ship.

If have you haven’t read my previous article about StarCon, check that out as well.  It has video of the other mission and a link to the StarCon BIN/CUE image and ePSXe if you’re looking for the emulator.