Star Control II: Deadlines and Dead Ends

From The CRPG Addict


The Prydwen butts up against the literal edge of the universe.

          
I started this session wondering what would happen if I flew to one of the “borders” of the galaxy. Would it wrap around? Or would I fall of the edge of the universe? To check it out, I only had to fly “south” a few sectors. The answer had implications for how I would navigate for the rest of the game, so I figured I’d check it out now.

On the way, I stopped by the Centauri sector where I’d previously met the race that I want to call the “Mel Tormé,” which amuses me enough that I’m not even going to look up their real name. They had previously said that they were interested only in data on life forms and data on planets that confused sensor readings. I didn’t have any of the latter, but I’d stunned and scanned a few life forms on a previous expedition. I sold them what I had and got a modest number of credits to spend on information or technology. It wasn’t enough to do much with, so I just left the balance for now.
But during the course of the conversation, the aliens related that they had a device called a MetaChron, “a kind of trans-time alarm system.” It warns of oncoming dangers by predicting its own demise, slowly turning from white to black at a rate commensurate with the amount of time it has remaining. Apparently, while the Velvet Fogs are in this sector of space, the MetaChron is slowly turning black, at a rate that suggests some kind of disaster in the early part of 2159. It’s late 2155 now, so that gives me a little more than three years to solve this quest.
         

That extra month might be vital.

       

That’s a generous time allotment but not an infinite one. An expedition from starbase to a handful of planets, returning with a full cargo hold, can take a couple of months. I can’t spend a lot of time just randomly exploring. While I don’t want to engage in save-scumming, I suspect that as time goes on, I’ll be likely to reload when a visit to a planetary system turns out to be a complete waste of time.
          

A system with this many planets (including several gas giants with their own moons) can easily burn an hour or two of playing time.

        

I got hung up for a while in the Ptolemae system, which had four stars, one of which had about eight planets, including several gas giants with a handful of moons. I picked up a fair amount of new lifeform data on a marine world. The variety of planetary life forms is interesting and amusing. Among them are simple blobs, giant ape-like creatures, fleet little goblins with mean faces, giant urchins, tree-looking things with tufted tentacles, and bio-mechanoid beings that are rooted in place. They take anywhere from one to six shots to stun, and some of them will proactively attack the landing craft. I’ve learned to count myself lucky if I can bag half a dozen, and not to push my luck trying to clear the planet of all of them.
        

Three local life forms swarm and destroy me in the lower-right corner.

          

During these expeditions, I’ve also been paying more attention to the type of mineral I’m collecting, especially since I noticed that the rarer ones are worth more “resource units” than the more common ones. This game doesn’t seem to be like Starflight, where you had to find specific elements for ship repair and whatnot. Since everything gets converted to generic “RUs,” you might as well prioritize the valuable stuff. Every once in a while, the game explicitly tells you that you’ve arrived at a “treasure world” full of platinum and gold. Supposedly, there’s a way to identify the more valuable planets by color, which means I might as well just guess.
          

This one mining trip will be worth more than all of the other planets I’ve visited on this expedition combined.

        

Anyway, my question was answered when, in hyperspace, I butted up against the edge of the galaxy and could go no further.
On the way back to Earth, I was pulled out of hyperspace by another ship belonging to some beings that the game labeled the “Slylandro.” The aliens on the ship looked crystalline, but the ship said it was a “probe,” so they might not have been individual aliens at all. Anyway, the encounter started off friendly, with the probe claiming it was on a “peaceful mission of exploration.” But all of a sudden, it said that its protocols had changed, and it was now required to “break target into component compounds.”
         

Way to ruin a nice conversation.

         

I had to reload several times to beat it in combat. I don’t know if I’ll ever come to enjoy the game’s approach to combat. I don’t even understand what’s happening most of the time. Once you’ve selected your ship and you’re tossed into the battlefield, gravitational forces pull you this way and that with no logic that I can discern. Sometimes, the ships are just about to close in on each other when something suddenly flings them apart. It seems like every time I turn in the enemy’s direction, at that moment, something happens that reconfigures the entire battle map and has him suddenly come up behind me. I have to spend more time in practice mode, I guess.
           

I have trouble taking screen shots in the chaos of combat, but here I am just after having destroyed the Slylandro ship.

         

Despite readers’ claims that the Spathi ship and its BUTT missiles made the game too easy, I couldn’t get anywhere with that ship. It’s too hard to tell which direction is forward, for one thing. Every time I managed to get the ship’s rear facing the enemy and launch the missiles, the fast-moving Slylandro just darted away from them.
I had installed ion cannons on the Prydwen that launched missiles from the sides of the ship as well as from the front. The only way I could defeat the Slylandro, after multiple tries, was to use my flagship. But I lost a couple dozen crewmembers with every victory.
Back at Earth, pondering my next move, I took the time to have the full set of dialogues with the base commander. I know, it’s shocking that I didn’t do that when I first met him, but for some reason I wasn’t in the mood. Now, I was curious about the dispositions of each of the former Alliance races so I could determine if they were worth a visit. This had become particularly important because the commander was telling me that the Prydwen had been upgraded enough and what we really needed now was to find allies. To recap the game’s lore as well as the commander’s answers:
             
  • The Yehat are an avian race (they look like pterodactyls) organized into warrior clans and ruled by a queen. They specialize in fast ships called Terminators. According to Fwiffo, they surrendered to the Ur-Quan and became battle slaves. 
  • The Shofixti were a mammalian race (“sort of a killer shrew”) who were found and given advanced technology by the Yehat. Fierce, proud warriors, they refused to submit to the Ur-Quan and destroyed their own planetary system rather than surrender. I still added them to the list in case there were any remnants.
  • The Chenjesu were crystalline beings who first contacted humanity and warned us about the Ur-Quan. Ancient and technologically advanced, they were also peaceful and philosophical, which didn’t serve them well in the war. The last anyone heard of them, they were fighting the Ur-Quan alongside the Mmrnmhrm in the Procyon system.
  • The Mmrnmhrm are self-aware robots built for an unknown mission by an unknown alien race. The commander thinks they’re the “leading edge of a colonization project.” Like the Chenjesu, they were last seen in the Procyon system.

        

When microphones gain sentience . . .

        

  • The Ariloulaleelay are classic pointy-eared, large-eyed aliens who may have visited Earth in the past and been responsible for stories of kidnappings and experimentation. Their homeworld location is unknown, and they have some technology that lets them move faster through hyperspace than any other race. The commander doesn’t like them (“something about them gives me the creeps”).
  • The Syreen were the almost all-female race of buxom humanoids who can ensorcel other races. Their ships were often a motley of crewmembers form multiple species working to please a Syreen captain. They reportedly allowed their planet to be quarantined (as Earth did) after the Ur-Quan victory.
          
The commander also filled me in on some odd and horrific aspects of Earth’s surrender. Apparently, the Ur-Quan required Earth’s surrender conditions (to become battle slaves or be quarantined under a shield) to be put to a popular vote. After Earth voted for the shield, the Ur-Quan told us to vacate any cities and ruins more than 500 years old, and then they systematically destroyed them. The Earth of Star Control II is one with no Athens, no London, no Great Pyramids, and so forth, but the Ur-Quan also destroyed some oddities like “a kilometer of land in central Iraq,” several acres of Amazon rainforest, and an underground section of the Antarctic. This suggested that they weren’t just trying to destroy humanity’s history but perhaps also some ancient secret or technology capable of defeating them.
          

He goes on to say that the United States made out comparatively well. U.S.A! U.S.A!

        

Other things that came up during the discussion included the possibility of a second ancient alien race (other than the Precursors) that settled in the Vulpaculae constellation, now in Androsynth space. Also, the Ur-Quan might have some kind of doomsday device that they’ll use if the tide turns. I need to find out what it is and deactivate it. Finally, he mentioned that there are three races that were neither part of the Ur-Quan hierarchy or Alliance and he gave me their approximate locations.
          

The mini “conversation logs” for each topic really help in organizing notes.

         

When I was done with the discussion, I had a potential “to do” list of 11 items, one for each of the surviving Alliance races, three for the unknown races, one for the Zoq-Fot-Pik homeworld, one for the Spathi homeworld, and one for the possible ancient race. I selected rolled a random number and landed on the Mmrnmhrm.
To make a long story short, my expedition to their home system, Virginis, was a waste of time. None of the four stars had any sign of energy or ships. (It was lucrative for minerals and life form scans, however.) I therefore headed for Procyon and the site of their last known battle. There, I found a red shield around the second planet of the system, and a space station in orbit around the planet.
When I approached the space station, my away team reported that it was deserted except for maintenance robots From what they could tell, the Ur-Quan set up the same thing at Procyon that they did on Earth: the Mmrnmhrm and Chenjesu were confined to the shielded planet, with a rotating crew brought to the space station for several years at a time. However, just as on Earth, the supply ships stopped visiting the station, so the Chenjesu and Mmrnmhrm crewmembers somehow figured out a way to penetrate the shield and return to their colleagues on the planet. There were also indications that the two races were exploring ways to create a hybrid Chenjesu-Mmrnmhrm being.
             

I’m not sure how you create a half-crystal, half-robot.

         

The findings have a lot of implications, particularly if there’s a way to penetrate the barriers. But I couldn’t figure out anything else to do in this system, and it didn’t give me any new leads, so the expedition was also a bit of a waste of time.
I was dogged throughout this process by the Slylandro. I think they attacked me four times between Earth, Virginis, Procyon, and back to Earth. By the time I limped back to the starbase, I had 26 crewmembers out of an original 100, and there were ships more chasing me through hyperspace that I fortunately managed to avoid. At each encounter, my contact options got increasingly desperate, from selections like “We are from Earth, on a mission of peace” to “Is there something wrong? We seem to be miscommunicating” to “We too come in peace! Please believe us!” But no matter what I chose, they just kept initially claiming peace and then suddenly changing their moods.
            

The four black dots on the mini-map represent enemy ships chasing me.

          

I was in for a bit of a surprise when I got back to the starbase after this futile expedition. The commander said that he’d analyzed my contact with the Slylandro, and they were the same species that destroyed the Tobermoon in the introduction. I didn’t put that together because they were described as “black as midnight” or something in the intro, and they’ve been red or orange or green when I’ve encountered them. Anyway, if that’s the case, then the same probes must be bedeviling the Ur-Quan, too. Commander Hayes suggested we try to find their source and stop them but didn’t offer any clues along those lines.
         

Sure, I’ll get right on that after I defeat the Ur-Quan.

         

0 for 2 on my attempts to advance the plot, I rolled the dice again and landed on the Shofixti. Yes, they apparently destroyed their own system to avoid surrendering to the Ur-Quan, but I figured visiting the system might still be useful, if for no other reason than to see how the game graphically depicts the destroyed worlds.

There are five stars in the Gorno cluster. At the first one I visited, I saw a little ship darting around. I approached, and it turned out to be piloted by a Shofixti! He introduced himself as Tanaka. Unfortunately, he’d been driven mad by the loss of the rest of his race. He refused to accept my pleas that we were allies, not Ur-Quan, and attacked us. I destroyed him in one shot. Reflecting that there must have been a better way–perhaps one of the other dialogue options–I reloaded, but I was back on Earth and my time to play games had run out. We’ll have to check it out next time.
            

Is a “roof-rabbit” like a “trash panda”?

         
Despite what seems like very little progress, I am still very much enjoying the game. They seem to have taken the best parts of Starflight, including the open exploration, the nonlinear plot, and the sense of wonder and mystery within the galaxy. I love the excitement of arriving at each new system, not knowing exactly what I’ll find, or even if I’ve interpreted the clues correctly. I love piecing together my next move from some vague allusions in a dialogue, or from references in the manual. Although I admit part of me wonders if the path is supposed to be this mysterious and open-ended, and that perhaps I missed something obvious in the opening moments.

I appreciate everyone’s restraint in the comments–so far there have been no game-spoiling “hints.” Please keep that up. I’d rather bungle the game and have to replay than have the next step spoiled.
       
Time so far: 11 hours



Original URL: http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2019/04/star-control-ii-deadlines-and-dead-ends.html