Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Starglider 2 (Amiga)

Starglider 2 title screen amiga
Today I thought I'd take a look at ancient 80s space shooter Starglider 2 and it's already been worth it just because of this art at the start. That picture is just plain awesome. Fortunately the developers realised that a some people would have to eventually skip past the picture to play the game, or to do whatever else people used home computers for in the 80s, so they thoughtfully provided a poster of it in the box.

Back in the day the developers, Argonaut Software, were known for their 3d graphics know-how and a few years after Starglider 2 was released they were hired by Nintendo to develop the Super FX chip for the SNES and program a certain famous space shooter starring talking animals in spiky starfighters. So yeah this game is pretty much Star Fox's older brother.

Wow it's just dumped me straight into the action; no intro cutscene, no mission briefing. I didn't even get any scrolling text. Okay then, I suppose I'll just fly around and shoot things then I guess.

The cockpit frame is a bit crappy looking and there's no music, but this 3D is ridiculously slick for a 1988 Amiga game. Plus I'm sure this must be pretty close to Star Fox quality graphics.

Star Fox/Starwing (SNES)
Well, okay maybe it's not quite at Star Fox's level: there's no sky, or floor shading, and the draw distance in particular is pretty terrible by comparison. But Star Fox did come out five years later.

To put it in context, Starglider 2 was throwing polygons around the screen the same year as games like Super Mario Bros. 3, Ninja Gaiden and Wasteland first hit the shelves. Though that's still four years after Elite pioneered space exploration action with its wireframe universe.

Well, shooting things at random doesn't seem to be helping much. Unlike Star Fox, I've got the freedom to fly my starfighter anywhere in the level, but there doesn't seem to be anything for me to actually do: no objectives to complete or waypoints to fly to.

There's a few different control options, but I'm using the mouse right now and it works about as well as you'd expect. I can swoop around okay, though I'm struggling to get the thing to do a loop (or a barrel roll).

Hey, I flew so high that I actually entered orbit.

Okay, so the holographic bar on the far right must be my altitude, and the grey one next to is is my engine thrust. I'm still working on figuring out the three on the left. You know what would've been nice here? Labels. Real cockpits are covered in labels: half a novel's worth of vaguely decipherable text scattered across a thousand buttons and dials. Here the best I get is "-: Leaving Planet :-".

Oh no, there are Space Pirates in this game and I'm in space right now! Whatever shall I do?

I think I'll start by blowing them up, and stealing their Pirate Ship Cargo. Somehow.

I'm pretty sure 'T' activates the tractor beam, but finding out where the damn cargo ended up in the infinite reaches of space might be a problem. Especially with this radar. It's a long way from the two screen radar perfection of TIE Fighter.


TWO MINUTES OF INTENSE DOGFIGHTING ACTION LATER.


Okay, I'm starting to suspect that these spaceships aren't ever going to stop flying in to kill me. The solar system has an infinite number of Space Pirates lining up to annoy me and they never give me second to slow down a bit and catch their discarded cargo.


TWO MORE MINUTES OF SPACE PIRATE SLAUGHTER LATER.


Well, now I know not to hang around and fight the Space Pirates. GAME OVER.

I'm blaming this on whoever had the bright idea to call my ship the 'Icarus', because that never works out well for fictional spaceships. If you're going to pick a mythological character to name your ship after, try picking one who got a happy ending or else nominative determinism will inevitably kick your ass at a suitably dramatic time.

Uh, that's more of a hint than a rating...

It would have been nice if they'd given me a hint about what the hell I'm actually meant to be doing while they were at it. There must be some goals in this game besides getting a high score.

There are no lives or continues (though there are saves), so I had to start a new game. Thankfully the game restarts in a flash. Apparently the game's tiny enough to fit entirely in memory.

Well, I'm trying the fire button like they said, but it's not really working out for me. My lasers are so damn slow that it's difficult to get them to connect with anything moving.

Huh, seriously? I just ran out of laser power and it doesn't recharge. So I guess all the shooting's over then? I tried switching between my different guns, missiles, bombs, and bigger bombs, but I'm entirely out of ammo here. Bummer.

Okay I'm bored of flying around this crappy little planet and not being able to shoot anything, so I'm trying out my FTL drive instead. I'm aiming for the planet, not the star by the way. Even I'm not dumb enough to get too close to the sun in a ship called the Icarus.

And then I ended up accidentally crashing into the planet at full speed and blowing up. But hey at least I learned a important lesson about managing my reentry velocity (is it even still called reentry when you're entering an atmosphere you've never entered before?)

Aha, I've finally found something I can use my tractor beam on. I have no idea what a crate of wine is doing out here in the middle of nowhere, just lying on the ground in a blue checkerboard wasteland on a distant alien world, but that's not important right now. It'll soon be lying in my cargo bay, enriching my life.

Okay, so now I know that the far left bar is my laser energy, the grey one next to it is my shield energy, and the one after that is my fuel. And none of them recharge. So I may have just burned up too much fuel getting here to be able to get back home again. Damn.


LATER.


Okay I started again, and now I'm systematically searching the first planet for anything I can use, or any hint of an objective. I can scan objects by pressing 'I', so maybe if I scan the right object it'll give me some indication of what I'm meant to use it for.


LATER.


I gave up in the end and went running to the internet for a clue, and apparently I'm supposed to be looking for a tunnel somewhere on this world.

But I've been all around this planet already and I haven't seen even one damn hole in the ground, though I have been seeing these domes around. They're (apparently) indestructible, but every now and again the doors open up for a vehicle to come out. I'm thinking that maybe if I time it right I can fly inside their base.

Well, it turned out that I couldn't. So much for that idea. Still, at least it gave me a chance to catch a nice screenshot of a walker stomping by.


EVEN LATER.


Still nothing, just towers and domes. Actually wait... this one looks like it's got a hole in the roof!

Oh shit, it DOES have a hole in the roof! Well now I know where to find the entrance to these tunnels I might actually make some progress.

It seems like there's miles of curvy tunnels down here, branching off into even more curvy tunnels. My years of practice in the TIE Fighter training sim are finally paying off.

Damn, how deep does this hole go? It just doesn't want to end.


TWO MINUTES LATER. SERIOUSLY.


Oh well that explains it; I just flew right through the entire planet. This side looks pretty much the same as the other one though, so I guess I must have flown past whatever it is I'm meant to be looking for. Guess I'm going back into the tunnels then.

These damn tunnels are just as confusing when flying through from the other side, and there's no landmarks to help me figure out where I am. I'm starting to get the feeling that I'm supposed to be drawing out a map, because this is ridiculous.


FIVE PAINFULLY LONG MINUTES LATER.


I wandered into a blank empty dead-end room out of desperation and it started talking to me. I think I've been down in these tunnels too long, I'm starting to go mad.

The message continued, very slowly:

Uh, sure, I guess. A Neutron Bomb sounds nice. I was kind of hoping for some information though...

Holy shit, am I supposed to be writing all this down? There's no journal that I'm aware of, so if you forget any of this later you've got to fly back down the tunnel and go through all this again.

I like how they slipped in 'cask of wine' there, as if I wouldn't notice. I'm sure that'll be an absolutely vital component of my awesome new Neutron Bomb.  

Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawn.

Wait, what was that? The Professor is headlining a show on Broadway you say? Uh whatever, just point me where I need to be already and I'll go save the day.

Well that's finally over with. The timer at the top says 109, it was 76 when I got here and I'm pretty sure that ain't seconds. By my calculations I must have been waiting for that dialogue to finish for... around five minutes maybe. Nothing but scrolling text and a blank wall.

So next time you get tired waiting for a cutscene to finish in a modern game, spare a thought for the unfortunate souls who bought Starglider 2 back in the day. At least you have graphics to look at, maybe even a few explosions.


TEN MINUTES LATER.


For fuck's sake, getting out of this maze turning out to be even harder than finding my way in! I have no idea what the hell Argonaut were thinking when they made this. Every bloody tunnel down here looks the same!

Advice for players: Draw a map.
Advice for developers: PLEASE don't add a pointless empty tunnel maze to your games.


FOUR MINUTES LATER.


As soon as I got out of the tunnels I flew off to the nearest moon to start hunting down the items on my shopping list. Though I managed to end up low on shields along the way, so I'm hovering around these energy pylons for a bit because the internet assures me it'll refill them (eventually).


LATER.


Well I got bored of waiting for my shields to recharge and went flying down another tunnel maze instead. This time I found a row of bouncing bombs waiting for me, which aren't actually on my list but I'm sure I'll find a use for them. I tractor beam'd them up into my cargo hold and headed back down the tunnel.

Awesome, I've located item #5 on my list: an Egron Mini Rocket and it's just sitting out in the open. I'll tractor beam that up as well. I'm actually doing pretty well this time I reckon, though I'm getting seriously low on shields now so I should probably do something about that next.

Aw crap, I was right next to the energy pylons too! And I hadn't saved! Not that it matters much, all I'd really done in half an hour was fly to a moon and grab a rocket. Well that was Starglider 2 then, technically impressive but awe-inspiringly tedious to play.

Actually before I turn it off, there's a mysterious option on the menu screen called 'Painting with Rolf' that I have to check out.

Hey, it's a model viewer where I can flick through all the vehicles and items in the game! I like how they even went to the effort of modelling the pilot chair even though I never get to see the inside of the ship; that's the level of attention to detail this game has. I wonder if they've got the Icarus's kitchen sink in here too.

Not only can I browse through the models, but I can also draw squiggles by dragging the item around, for whatever reason.

There you go, a genuine piece of Ray Hardgrit artwork: a space whale, drawn with space whales. I've finally achieved something I can be proud of and now I can happily turn it off and never play it again.


I think Starglider 2 was a fantastic idea for a game and it is surprisingly slick and good looking for its time, but I just didn't find it very entertaining. I'm all for flying around in space doing missions and shooting pirates, believe me. (I'm sorry, but if anyone ever made Skyrim in space I'd quit this site in a heartbeat to make more time for space adventuring). But hunting for items and exploring endless tunnel mazes is incredibly boring. And with the crap radar, slow lasers and no targeting, even the combat in this is a pain. Still I suppose it could've been worse, I could've been playing the ZX Spectrum version. Next game.

5 comments:

  1. I miss model viewers in 3D games. Or those credits where you could see the names of all the enemies. They had something like that in the end of Modern Warfare 2 with the museum, but a single screen where you could just rotate and zoom the crap out of those models is more interresting.

    Then again I miss plenty of stuff.

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    1. Yeah I agree, model viewers were fantastic. It's nice to see them still spring up every now and again, like in Arkham Asylum, but they're definitely rare.

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  2. The Atari ST version had a wicked studio produced theme that played as a digital sample while the title image was displayed. Staaaaaaaaar glider! Wait, maybe that was the first one...

    The second one certainly came with a novella that explained the back story (tying it in to Starglider) and the situation, and ends with the protagonist arriving at the beginning of the game. Without the novella it's pretty hard to understand what you're doing. I think it might explain the recharging trick too; iirc you have to fly along the pylons as fast as you can, not just hover near one.

    There is a cheat code: "WE'RE ON A MISSION FROM GOD" that provides a full inventory iirc.

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    Replies
    1. "...From Rainbird, Rainbird, Rainbird..." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAVqOBCHxkM

      It is glorious.

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