Tag Archives: Star Control 2

Game Pile: The Androsynth

Talking about Star Control 2 is a process of pulling apart an encyclopedia of a game and turning all the phrases in it around until they catch the light. A sprawling epic you can fit on a floppy disk, it was one of the most thoroughly crafted games I ever experienced, supported both by its own historical text (Star Control 1), supplementary text (the manuals) and even the first version of The Author’s Twitter (a set of IRC interviews with the developers back in the days before twitter was a thing). Then there’s the implied spaces of that text, where just by dint of being science fiction made by dorks in the 90s, and drawing on a trope space like that with no real shame, there were a host of things in this universe that even one-note gag characters presented to be the point-and-click adventure temporary problems you routed around were still imbued with personality and culture.

It was also that particular characteristic of writing of the time, which I saw as well in other ‘expansive’ universes where every individual character had basically a single hook to get them into your head. In the same way that you can point at each member of the Transformers core cast as a set of speech tics and single personality traits, it’s not hard to look at the cultures of the Star Control 2 universe as kind of two simple ideas mashed together. Xenocidal spiders, capitalist slavers, sweet plants, blue lesbians, miscellaneous shitposters (malicious), miscellaneous shitposters (harmless), lovecraftian fish — they hold together simply, and they do their job.

I talked about the Ur-Quan, the Thraddash and the Dynarri (a culture represented by an individual). I mean ostensibly, I do want to talk about all the interesting cultures of Star Control 2, and probably get to the Supox as well, but there’s one culture, one group, that deserves special attention for being an absentee. It’s not like the Taalo, who you only know of through their absence — an alien culture you encounter in the backstory of the Ur-Quan. Rather, it’s one of the cultures you met in Star Control and then, in Star Control 2

are gone.

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The Worst People In The Universe

The universe of Star Control is and I say this with a sort of modified care, sizeable. It’s a space travelling adventure game and space, if you weren’t aware, is bloody huge, like, it’s so big it’s where we keep everything else (except some stuff we don’t keep there, don’t ask me, ask a scientist, they’re still not sure where it all is), but almost all videogames that have ever been set there have avoided depicting that, because, uh, being that big is really boring.

Your typical space videogame is not very varied or complicated. Doom is technically, a shooter set in space, but you might notice that the vast majority of it is set in ‘hell,’ and ‘base that is becoming hell.’ Videogame space tends to be small, to make it manageable, and videogame space cultures tend to be A Guy. Like, any given alien culture is not likely to give you multiple representatives with wildly competing personal tastes on things, you’ll instead be dealing with The Collective Will Of The Culture, as if cultures are these big unified stomping things. The result then, is that for all that you may have a relationship with The Pkunk, the Pkunk are really one guy, and he’s just a little guy.

The Star Control cultures are therefore, just some guys. The best of these characters are guys who you can sympathise with (the Supox, the Ur-Quan, the Androsynth), guys you can make a joke with (the Umgah, the Orz), guys who are just trying to do their job, man (the Humans), Scared Weird Little Guys (The Spathi, the Zoq-Fot-Pik) and The Guy Who Spent Too Much Time Studying The Blade (the Shofixiti, the Yehat).

But one thing that let the setting hold together reasonably well is that some of the guys in its space sucked (the Druuge, the Thraddash, the Ilwrath, the Chmmr), meaning that their interactions and behaviour were in some cases fantastically unhelpful. Yet, even then, there was another: One culture that didn’t even get a spaceship to their name, let alone planets.

The culture that was, at the point you deal with them, reduced to just one guy.

And that guy is probably one of the Worst People in the Universe.

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The Thraddash

In the classic science fiction DOS game, Star Control 2, you’re a human captain asked to contend with a variety of different alien cultures, who have a host of different possible reactions to the things you do and a fairly interesting broad range of wants and ideologies. My normal go-to example of the work done to make these cultures interesting is the Ur-Quan, who basically are two cultures engaged in a literal war over who’s got the better unhealthy way to reckon with their personal trauma.

And like, Star Control 2 is still at its root a game which is basically giving you individual people to chat with, with a slightly slack memory. Like, these aren’t cultures cultures. They’re a single surface of a culture that it sometimes implies that there’s degrees within that culture, with individuals that don’t necessarily comply with the standard you’re presented. The Vux have Admiral Zex, the Spathi have the Black Spathi Squadron (and Fwiffo, to an extent), and the Zoq-Fot-Pik show the way their culture varies within itself just by their constant bickering.  The Slylandro talk amongst themselves right in front of you, showing they’re not all these vast monocultures.

This isn’t true of all cultures, though. In this space bursting with life, you have cultures that just don’t get that much variety, so they’re kind of ‘lesser’ cultures. The Supox barely get any screen time. The Druuge are just capitalists. The Umgah are Ettin.

One of these ‘lesser’ cultures – who you can still bully into joining your alliance, mind you – is the infinitely pugnacious Thraddash.

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Game Pile: The Ur-Quan Heresies

Surely I’ve done this already.

Surely.

Digging back through my history on this blog, I’m stunned to find that I never did an article espousing the classic MS-DOS era space exploration game, Star Control 2. In fact, if you go back looking for it, the closest you get to me commenting on it is that I once said Mass Effect 2 is a worthy second Star Control 2, a point that doesn’t feel like hyperbole in hindsight. It only took eighteen years for them to catch up.

Star Control 2 was a 1992 PC Game, which was released on a handful of platforms, including the 3D0. In the past few years, it’s been subject to a mess of copyright nonsense, and I’m mostly disinterested in talking about that, except to mention that Stardock is a bad company run by a raging asshole who a reasonable industry would have driven out.

Anyway.

Star Control 2 is a game that’s hard for me to talk about because it is both so old that it’s really quite annoying to play and yet so important you’ve played thousands of games that do all the game and infrastructure bits better. Star Control 2 is a game from 1992 that might as well have been an MMO for the scope of its lore and its attempted breadth of interactions; you explore, you map planets, you collect information, you do space battles, you manage resources, you connect story tidbits between people, you negotiate treaties and you can even manage multiple routes towards races collaborating on the way to the end of the game, which is about destroying an important military resources of an empire that would otherwise be the doom of all freedom in the galaxy.

It is a lot and it was distributed on two 3.5 inch floppies.

I never got to the end of this game as a kid because the game was really quite vast. You can make mistakes in the game that mean some tasks take ages, and you need to sometimes compensate for weaknesses in one area with strengths in another – like being really good at ship-to-ship combat to make up for being terrible at fuel management (damn Slylandro probes).

I don’t really want to talk to you about Star Control 2, the game though. You can go download the Ur-Quan Masters and play the game for yourself. Instead I want to talk to you about specific lore from this game universe, to talk about one of the things that this game world is about.

I want to talk to you about the Ur-Quan.

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