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BRIEF : Star Trek (1971) [Peterson/Daglow]

[This article (after the AAR) has been significantly modified on 29/12/2022 after some email exchanges with Don Daglow]


Well, Lieutenant Narwhal. Yet another assignment for you. Congratulations! You will return to the USS Enterprise. You know, NCC-1701! The good news is that you will be immediately operational!

But ! Sir ! I thought we said “no more Star Trek” !

Yes ! Yes ! We said that ! But this one is neither a Star Trek (1971)-clone nor a Star Trek (1974, aka Trek73)-clone. And it is attributed to Don Daglow !

One of the reasons I don’t watch Star Trek on a regular basis is that there are too many “Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Ensign Jones beam down to investigate a mysterious signal on an uncharted planet” episodes and not enough “Eat photon torpedoes, hostile alien with a weird warrior culture !” episodes. Luckily, Don Daglow’s Star Trek cuts to the chase and puts you immediately in the kind of situation I like :

I am not sure how they compute altitude in space

It looks like I am fighting “Kelvans” this time. Apparently, they are gigantic creatures with hundred of tentacles, but conveniently they are also shapeshifters and were only ever met by humankind while in humanoid form.

Just like in Trek73, the game is played using a list of orders :

Unlike Trek73, there are very few options related to navigation : I can only move toward or away from my target. Well, let’s shoot then! I have 3 weapons available (plus the transporter if I am into boarding actions), with different ranges :

My target is at 926 MGM, so probe it is !

Missed :

Well, time for torpedoes then. I apparently have 50% chance to miss… but I try to shoot one of my frontal torpedoes when the enemy is behind me :

I got 29 casualties, but worse, much worse, I looked like an idiot in front of Mr. Spock. Making a similar mistake 5 times will result in Spock immediately relieving from command for incompetency !

After that mistake, there is a fruitless exchange of torpedoes, until one of mine hits its target :

The Fesarius is now matching my speed, and we can carry on exchanging torpedoes – maybe 15 or 20 of them. I am hit sometimes, but the Fesarius is hit a lot more, and all its phasers are destroyed !

The safest course of action is now to get close at phaser range and blow up the Fesarius to smithereens.

Easier said than done. With so few options to control the ship, I sometimes end up further away from my target when ordering Mr. Spock to close in on my target !

“I ask you to get closer and I end up further away ? Why can’t I relieve YOU of command for incompetency ?

Eventually I managed to get close enough, soon destroying the enemy torpedo launchers !

Out of options, the Kelvans try to launch some inaccurate probes, but they have only 10 of them and soon run out. Just to assert dominance, I send one of my own probes, and bullseye ! Their ship is crippled and unable to escape – they have to surrender.

Finding the Star Trek attributed to Don Daglow was a bit of a surprise. First, I considered it lost until I realized the streamer Retro Gaming Junction had posted a video of it in July 2021, with a link to the source code. Second, I always assumed that the game was a Star Trek (1971)-clone, and the game I played has a lot more in common with the later Trek73. My incorrect assumption, which I repeated in the previous version of this article, comes from the fact that Daglow consistently described his Star Trek not as a game he designed himself but as a more narration-driven iteration of a Star Trek already circulating in his college, and of course the only famous 1971 Star Trek is Mike Mayfield’s “STTR1“. I also made the mistake because, quite frankly, most of the usually trustworthy internet sources did the same mistakes – though not all.

Daglow confirmed to me by email that the Star Trek branch he worked on was started by Bill Peterson, who should be considered the original designer. Daglow asked me to make it clear that Peterson was the author and him the “modder” ; he never mentioned the name of Peterson before because… so many years later he had forgotten Peterson’s name until I sent him the previously-lost source code.

Intro to the source code, available here. You can compare with the original code of Trek73 there.

The context surrounding this early Star Trek is well-known, as Daglow is committed to preserving the history of video games and has given a lot of interviews about his role during the heroic era, the most complete of which is the one he gave to the Smithsonian. A playwright major, Daglow attended Pomona College in Claremont, California, and by chance lived in a dormitory in which a computer terminal had been set up. He was immediately fascinated by computers and very soon learned BASIC by programming Ecala, a “tribute” to the famous ELIZA. Two weeks into this project, he realized he knew enough for more ambitious projects, first Baseball and then in November 1971 his iteration of Peterson’s Star Trek.

When I wrote my article for William Char’s Trek73, I assumed that Char had come to his design independently. But now, I realize that some of Trek73‘s features are very similar to features of Peterson/Daglow’s Star Trek :

  • the introduction (including a mission, a ship name, an enemy race and the name of the enemy ship and captain),
  • the immersive way the crew reacts to your orders or to enemy actions
  • some oddly specific orders like the corbomite bluff, which according to Daglow were already in Peterson’s 1971 code,
The corbomite bluff according to Peterson/Daglow’s Star Trek

On the other hand, Trek73‘s gameplay is distinctive : the game can manage several enemies simultaneously and the player has to manage the bearing of their ship but also the orientation of its weapons. From my limited understanding of BASIC, the two codes are structured differently.

I can hypothesize, but of course I cannot prove it, that Char played Daglow’s version a few times but did not have access to the code ; and thus decided to design and code his own tactical Star Trek from scratch.

Trek73 is by far the superior game as Peterson/Daglow’s Star Trek gives too much sway to luck and has fewer tactical options. Still, Daglow’s Star Trek seems to have been similarly influential and had its own clones, for instance Deepspace (1975) that I had erroneously called a Trek73-lite.

Boarding attacks cannot be avoided, and give the attacker (whether player or computer) 30% chance of conquering the enemy ship… and 70% chance of losing the game.

When I started this blog, I never imagined I would spend so much time playing Star Trek games, but I believe those are now behind me for a long time. For the coming updates, we will go back to Earth with Norway 1985, the last opus of the 1985 series, in which the snow speaks Norwegian.

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