Star Control II: Building the Empire

From The CRPG Addict

The aptly-named “Orz” do indeed make me want to kneel down and bang my head against the floor.
If I do end up running out of time and having to start over with Star Control II, at least I’ll get to revise my decision to name my new alliance “The New Alliance of Free Stars.” I didn’t realize I’d be giving that name to everyone I meet. Next time, I’m going with “The Empire of Chester.”
The Empire is growing. In contrast to my last session, where I didn’t seem to make much progress, I did nothing but accomplish things this time around. It began with a slight rewind. After I reloaded from my fatal (for him) encounter with the Shifoxti rogue ship, I was back at starbase. I returned to Delta Gorno, but by way of the Melnorme ship at Alpha Centauri, where I sold a heap of biological data and now had enough credits to actually start buying things.
No rainbow worlds yet, though.
When dealing with the Melnorme, you can buy a piece of technology, information on current events, information on alien races, or historical information. You only get to choose the category; they choose the next item to give to you. I altered among the categories and ended up obtaining/discovering the following:
  • A schematic for blaster weapons twice as powerful as my current ion-bolt guns
  • A schematic for faster lander speed
  • In addition to the Shofixti warrior I’d already met, there’s another solo warrior out there plus several females in the menagerie of the Vux admiral Zex. If I can bring the females to the two males and things work out, there will be millions of new Shofixti within a few human generations. The Melnorme recommended that we adopt an approach of insulting the Shofixti and then fleeing if attacked.
  • The Ur-Quan are presently at war with a race called the Kohr-Ah, which are not the alien probes, so I was wrong there. The major fighting is in the middle of the galaxy. The Kohr-Ah seem to be winning. Their war has caught the Zoq-Fot-Pik in the crossfire (something I’d already heard from that race).
  • The Ur-Quan are part of an ancient alliance of races called the “sentient milieu.”
  • The blobbish Umgah, one of the races in the Ur-Quan hierarchy, renowned for their sense of humor, has begun screwing with the Ilwrath (the spider-like creatures) by using a device called a HyperWave Caster to impersonate the Ilwrath gods, Dogar and Kazon. When the Ilwrath priest caste decried this fakery, the rest of the Ilwrath population slaughtered the priests. If we could get our hands on this Caster, we could effectively neutralize the Ilwrath.
I ran out of credits at this point, but I’d added a few new items to my “to do” list. On we went back to Delta Gorno, where I ran into Tanaka the Shofixti again and this time insulted him. When he attacked, I fled. I re-engaged him almost immediately and noted that I had different insults among the dialogue options, so I figured I must be getting somewhere. He attacked again; I fled again. I think on the third attempt, he realized that the Ur-Quan had never insulted him before, and thus slowed down enough to figure out that we were his allies. Although glad to hear of a new alliance against the Ur-Quan, he declined to join us, preferring to stay and guard his old system. I assume I need him there for when I bring back the Shofixti females.
I’m going to try to get you some company.
Back I went to my quest list. Let’s divert for a moment to note that this is one of the few games of the entire 1975-1992 period in which you have anything like a “quest list.” It’s extremely common now, of course. Fire up any modern RPG, and you’ve got a dozen items on your “to do” list (which the game now helpfully keeps for you) before you’ve left the first town. There are multiple approaches to deciding what item to pursue next, and I’ll explore the consequences in a future special topic entry. Briefly, some of them are:
  • Gingerly: Do the easiest item (or what sounds like the easiest item) next
  • Chronologically: Do the oldest item next.
  • Geographically by Proximity: Do the closest item next.
  • Geographic by System: Explore the game using a systematic geographic approach (e.g., west to east), solving quests along the way
  • Consequentially: Do the most important item next.
  • Comprehensively: Do all the side quests before the next step in the main quest; the side quests are probably prioritized using another approach here
  • Organically: Do the item next that you’d really do next if you were the character, which probably juggles a lot of these options.
  • Mercenarily: Do the item that sounds like it will give you the greatest reward next.
  • Randomly: Count the number of items on the list and roll a die.
  • Anarchically: Explore the game completely at whim without regard to quests, solving them if you happen to stumble on them.
(Let me know if you think I’ve missed any.)
I find that altering your approach to quests makes a lot of modern games extremely replayable. I tend to play the first time using a “consequential/geographic proximity” combination, meaning I prioritize by importance but pick up side quests as they exist along the route. This ensures that I actually finish the main quest. I don’t want to be one of those people that says things like, “I have 1,200 hours into Fallout 4 and I still haven’t won the game.” I go for the win the first time. The second time, if I’m motivated to play again, I might try a chronological approach to ensure that I explore more of the side quests. Lately, though, I’ve been prioritizing a random approach, such that Irene is sick of hearing me say, “Hey, Siri, give me a random number between one and twenty-five” before heading off to bag a Legendary Elk.
With Star Control II, I’ve been using the random approach, mostly because none of the quests seemed obviously more important than the others. But by the end of this session, I had decided to revise my system and use a geographic proximity approach instead, mostly because I nearly ran out of fuel twice while in the fringes of space.
Still using the random roll, I next chased rumors of an unknown ancient race who used to make their home in the Vulpeculae constellation, in the middle of Androsynth space. I didn’t expect much from the expedition. Indeed, I figured I’d be attacked by Androsynth and that would be the end of it. Sure enough, I arrived to a swarm of ships who immediately started approaching my own.
Well, this doesn’t bode well.
They weren’t Androsynth, though. They were bright yellow things, looking like a combination between a fish and a flower. When they made contact, my translation program warned that it was having trouble with their speech, and it put asterisks around words they weren’t sure about, so in an early speech, we got:
Hello extremely! I hope you like to *play*. Some *campers* are not so good for *games*. . . Who are you? You are not Orz! We are Orz! Orz are happy *people energy* from the outside. Inside is good. So much good that the Orz will always *germinate.* Can you come together with Orz for *parties*?
At first I thought something ribald was going on here, like “parties” meant “orgies” or something. But things didn’t develop explicitly along those lines. The best I could work out from their many lines of only partly comprehensible dialogue is that the Orz come from another dimension, that the individual Orz we perceive are all just “fingers” of a single being (like a happy version of the Uhl from Starflight), and that they destroyed the Androsynth for some unknown reason. (They got mad when I even asked about it.) They also don’t seem to like the Ariloualeelay, whom they suggest are from their dimension, but from “above” while the Orz are from “below.”
Let’s just make sure we agree on a safe word.
Anyway, they seemed to join the Alliance. They let me land on their planets, and they gave me specifications for an “Orz Nemesis” ship that I later had built. Good to know that the Androsynth aren’t a threat anymore.
On one of the planets–the second around Eta Vulpeculae–my scanners picked up energy signatures for the first time since (I think) Pluto. There were a lot of them–destroyed Androsynth cities, it turned out.
As my lander explored these cities, the game again invented names and personalities for some of my interchangeable crewmember-hit points. Their reports together created a kind of mini horror story. It began with “xeno-historian Kilgore” reporting that some kind of land war destroyed the cities but left no corpses. Later, “science officer Bukowski” that the Androsynth had been researching “Dimensional Fatigue Phenomena,” based on their discovery of some Precursor artifacts. They were generating waves that allowed them to see into other dimensions. They ended up making contact with some life form on the “other side,” after which their research degraded into rantings about ghosts and poltergeists before abruptly coming to an end.
Multiple lander reports deliver a growing horror story.
In continued reports from the lander, “Ensign Hawthorne” radioed that Bukowski had continued his inquiry into the Androsynth research project and had himself gone insane, ranting that “they” could now see him and that he had to stop “them” before “they” could see everyone else. Stigmata started appearing on his body, as if he was being cut by an invisible source. The crewmembers on the lander begged to be brought home, and running them into other cities didn’t seem to generate any new reports, so I complied. Lots of mysteries here. Are “they” the Orz? The Ariloualeelay? Some other beings from another dimension? Just who have I allied with here?
That sounds ominous.
On another old ancient ruin, my crew found an “unusual glowing rock-thing” that seemed to make some people sick with headaches and “mental disarray.” It was said to be Taalo in origin, this name appearing for the first time. I assume it’s the name of the ancient race that lived in Precursor times.
Back at starbase, Commander Hayes praised the design of the Orz Nemesis. Later, he reported that the Taalo rock seemed to have something to do with blocking psychic attacks. Those that had become ill were those with some psychic ability. (He referred to them as “espers,” either a reference to 1988’s Star Command, or just a term that’s more common than I thought for someone with E.S.P.)
Adding the Nemesis to my fleet. Now I have four ships that I can’t pilot effectively!
For my last expedition, my random roll gave me the Zoq-Fot-Pik homeworld, which is in the middle of the map but the farthest I’ve traveled so far. I stopped at a few systems on the way to search for minerals and whatever else. I’m finding that I hate planets with a “weather” score higher than 2. I can usually avoid earthquakes, and thus deal with a high tectonics score, but lightning bolts often seem to target my lander specifically, and none of my dodging and weaving helps. 
One of the worlds I stopped at randomly was Betelgeuse. There, I was surprised to find a red force field covering a planet and a starbase in orbit. It turned out to be Gaia, the new homeworld of the Syreen, their old one having been destroyed before the events of the first game. When the Alliance surrendered, the Syreen–like Earth–chose to live under a dome rather than serve as battle thralls.
This seems familiar.
In a long conversation with the Syreen Commander Talana–in which the game seemed to delight in giving me boorish, inappropriate dialogue options–I learned quite a bit about the race. They used to live on Syra–which we call Beta Copernicus–before an asteroid impact caused such volcanic upheaval that the planet had to be abandoned. Now, the entire system seems to have been taken over by the Mycon.
The game gives me one professional option and three takes on sexual harassment.
When the Syreen surrendered to the Ur-Quan, they chose the shield but noted that they had no actual planet. The Ur-Quan asked them about their requirements. The Syreen talked about Syra (“about the color of its sky, about the abundant, varied lifeforms, about the fertility of the soil and seas”). The Ur-Quan took an hour, then communicated back with the coordinates of Gaia, which the Syreen found to be absolutely perfect. “We’d been searching for a home planet for seventy-five years,” Talana said, “and in the end, it was our enemies who gave one to us.” Naturally, they were now uninterested in violating their treaty and upsetting the status-quo unless I could give them a good reason, and I had nothing. But I put their old planet on my “to do” list for investigation.
On to the Zoq-Fot-Pik system (ZFP from here on). When I arrived, I found it swarming with Ur-Quan, and before I could escape, one of the Ur-Quan dreadnoughts approached. Our dialogue just consisted of the Ur-Quan captain making threats. In the ensuing combat, I couldn’t do anything. I tried about five times. The dreadnought fires huge metal swastikas or something–I think they’re actually supposed to be autonomous ships–that fly around until they hit something. They have as many hit points as my own flagship. None of my smaller ships lasted more than a few hits and even with my flagship, it became clear that if I won, it would be with about 10 crewmembers left over. I really hope it’s possible to win this game without being good at the space combat.
I missed the shot of the enemy’s projectile. It’s just crashed into my cruiser.
So I ultimately sighed and escaped combat, which leaves your ship immobile for about 10 seconds as it jumps to hyperspace, which is enough time for the enemy to destroy a couple dozen crewmembers. I dodged the rest of the Ur-Quan ships and made my way to the ZFP homeworld, where the faintly ridiculous species agreed to join my alliance.
The Pik is the emotional one.
I leave you on my way back to starbase. The trip to the ZFP system took so much fuel that I have to keep my eye on the gauge as I explore for elements. But I do have to explore because if I don’t, I won’t have any money to buy new fuel when I get back. 
Lots of fun and progress this trip, though I’m not sure what it’s amounting to just yet.
Time so far: 15 hours

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