So DOSBox is up and running, I’ve spent 15 minutes of trial and error trying to figure out which graphics mode to use, and ignored the copy protection warning which suggests that I may be vaporized by Interstel Corporate Police for playing an unauthorized copy of the game, it’s time to play some Starflight!
This would apparently be my home starbase, and that exceedingly sluggish little spaceman on the far left would be me. Each one of the six points on the star in the area displayed above contains a door which leads to a menu.
This appears to be the rough equivalent of the Starbase in Star Control 2, or the Citadel in Mass Effect—a central location that I can come back to between expeditions to refuel and replenish my supplies. In Operations, I conveniently find a message detailing my primary directives:
- Seek out and explore strange new worlds
- Boldly go where no man has gone before
- Establish contact with any sentients
- Capture and bring back non-sentient lifeforms
- Record alien lifeform data
- Bring back alien artifacts
- Bring back any valuable minerals
- Keep from getting brutally killed
I’m glad they included that last, I was starting to think that things might be too easy.
Preparing for Departure
My first notice gives me a good deal of other information, including the amount of the monetary stipend I’ve been given to start the game with, as well as the coordinates of a number of other locations around the galaxy that may be worth investigating. I decide that I’m going to have to take notes as I proceed with this game. I am charmed by the novelty of playing a game again where note-taking is necessary, and reminded of the eternally unused “Notes” section at the back of every 8-bit console game manual.
I use the keypad to clumsily maneuver my tiny spaceman to the other doors around the space station, to learn their function. They are
- Operations: My inbox.
- Personnel: Where I hire and train crew members for the journey into space.
- Crew Assignment: Where the crew are assigned to their posts.
- Bank: Where my monetary units, or “M.U.,” are tracked. I find it amusing both that I can view my transaction history, and that it includes a 200 MU charge for having purchased the game. It also has a 12% interest rate. Were 12% interest rates a thing in the mid-80s? We HAVE come a long way.
- Ship Configuration: Where I outfit my ship with weapons, armor, cargo pods, etc.
- Trade Depot: Where goods are bought and sold. A number of things with unclear functions are for sale here. I decide to investigate later.
I make note also of the fact that none of these doors appears to be the actual exit to the Starport. I find this concerning, but set it aside for now.
Building a Crew
The gist of this screen seems to be that there are five races to choose from for crew members. There doesn’t appear to be any penalty for hiring new crew members. For variety, I decide to hire one crew member of each race.
The different races all have different starting skills in each of the disciplines, as well as different durabilities and learn rates. Hiring a crew member seems to be free, but training them up to actually be GOOD at anything costs cash. I decide not to spend anything to train them right away, and assign crew members to tasks as their base skills dictate
So there are five races. What are they good at?
- Humans. Humans are apparently good at science, and mediocre at everything else. I hire a human to be my captain, because I’m a racist, and I name him Zelnick.
- Velox. These look something like giant ants. They have a knack for navigation and engineering. I hire one and name him Thri-Kreen.
- Thrynn. Thrynn look like intelligent iguanadons. Iguanadons that are very good listeners, apparently, as communication appears to be their strong point. I name mine Razz.
- Elowan. These are apparently bipedal plants, with high scores in communications and medicine. I hire one and name him Elwynn.
- Android. These have extremely high scores in navigation and engineering, but have a learn rate of 0. I imagine this makes them impossible to train. Presumably Androids make good navigators or engineers in the early game, but are better off replaced with Velox navigators or engineers later in the game when you can afford to train them up. Since I’m still in the early game, I hire one and name him R66-Y.
Immediately after I head over to Crew Assignment to assign my new crew to their posts. I seem to be short a crew member—apparently there are 5 races and 5 skills, but 6 crew assignments. I zip back to Personnel and hire a second human, then assign my crew as follows:
- Captain: Zelnick. Human.
- Science Officer: Kelvin. Human.
- Navigator: R66-Y. Android.
- Engineer: Thri-Kreen. Velox.
- Communications Officer: Razz. Thrynn.
- Doctor: Elwynn. Elowan.
More or less satisfied, I head over to Ship Configuration. Laser cannons, missile launchers, shields, armor, and engines are all for sale. Not yet being sure what is a good value and what isn’t, I buy only level 1 shields, figuring that I won’t need much more on my first expedition just to gather mineral resources and return.
Satisfied, I name my ship the I.S.S. StarCrossed, and return to the central room of the Starport to try and figure out how to get the hell out of here. It takes me several minutes to discover that it’s actually the central pad in the middle of the starport that sends me to my ship to disembark. My tiny spaceman glares at me impatiently.
But that aside! We’re ready to launch. I maneuver my way through the menus and get ready to leave the station, only to be greeted with the following request:
Dammit. I guess I’m going to need to track down some documentation for this game after all.
Join us next time, when we actually read the manual and discover we’ve done everything wrong!