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Category: Star Trek

Game #19 : Star Trek (1971+)

In this blog’s first entry, I briefly discussed some candidates for the title of very first computer wargame. I mentioned Civil War (1968) and the various games called Empire, but I forgot a stronger contender : Star Trek.

I planned to cover Star Trek eventually, but it did not fit in my initial definition of wargames so I felt like I should start with purer examples of the genre and go back to it later. As I reviewed more games, especially space games, I realized how influential Star Trek was, so it is high time I cover it.

The history of Star Trek the video game as been covered better than I ever could in other places, in particular by the Digital Antiquarian but also by gameoffame, which managed to collect the testimonies of the first developers. Here is the short version : starting in 1971, Mike Mayfield programmed the game on a mainframe computer (a Sigma 7), and then he programmed it again in BASIC on a HP2000C, finishing in October 1972. This BASIC version was added to the HP public program library. There the program was spotted by David Ahl and Mary Cole, who modified the code further before republishing it in the 1973 edition of 101 BASIC Computer Games.

The moment Star Trek became a legend of videogaming

Thus began a process in which the code of the game was copied, modified and republished ad infinitum. There were quickly a myriad of versions, many of them having their own sub-branches. Most faded to obscurity.

Two of the many lost versions of Star Trek, May 1974 in People’s Computer Company

Most, but not all. In September 1974, Robert Leedom proposed his own version in the People’s Computer Company newsletter. David Ahl, who had at that point launched Creative Computing, took notice and reached out to Leedom. In June 1975, Alh would publish the code for “super STAR TREK” in Creative Computing and, absolutely critically, publish it again in the second 1978 edition of 101 BASIC Computer Games.

Robert Leedom’s letter to People’s Computer Company (I reorganized it on 3 columns for easier viewing)
Presentation of Super STAR TREK in Creative Computing

This was a turning point. With Creative Computing in 1976, Super STAR TREK (which I will write Super Star Trek from now on because I am already tired of shouting) became a great version among many. But 101 BASIC Computer Games sold more than one million copies starting in 1978- enough to enforce a new standard. The not-Super Star Trek branch would carry on, but most versions from that point onward would be derived from the Super Star Trek version.

March-April 1976 in People’s Computer Company – Super Star Trek is not yet standard and someone proposes an ULTIMATE Star-Trek
May 1976 : Someone is not happy about the previous ULTIMATE Star Trek, and proposes his even better, closer to lore, version. This person wants everyone to know he cares about canon.

Ultimately, every new computer and/or coding language would have at least one and usually several versions of Star Trek, with its own variations compared to earlier versions, sometimes due to the limitation of whatever platform they are made for, but more often stemming from the creativity of the developers. This is still true today, though of course the game’s popularity waned starting in the mid 80s. There are most probably more than one hundred versions of the game : this site lists about 50 of them, but I found many that were not listed (for instance, I found between 3 and 5 versions for the TRS-80 alone).

This leaves the question of which version I am going to play. I could have played the original Mayfield or Ahl/Cole, but decided against it : it has been done already by the Data Driven Gamer and I wouldn’t have much to add. Plus, I don’t strive to necessarily play the earliest version of every game. Leedom’s Super Star Trek was a stronger contender, but I couldn’t initially find it. Then I discovered Stu managed to extract the code directly from 101 Basic Computer Games and played it on Twitch/Youtube, so it is covered as well.

I cannot tell you which is the best Star Trek, but the worst one I checked out was “Star Trek 3.5” on Atari. But eh ! It had graphics.

I decided to play one of the DOS versions of Super Star Trek. This version was supposedly coded by David Matuszek and Paul Reynolds in 1982, and then resurrected and improved (bugfixes, and a few features I will not use) by Don Smith and Tom Almy in 2014. Checking screenshots attributed to the not-improved 1982 version and what I see in my game, they actually look nothing alike ; but then I cannot rule out that the screenshots attributed to the 1982 version are incorrect – such is the magic of Star Trek. In any case, it is a Super Star Trek game, so it will do.

This was my initial situation :

Note that this version uses a 10×10 quadrant, which is unconventional as most Star Trek use 8×8 quadrants.

The USS Enterprise (“E”) started in an empty quadrant, except for 6 stars (*) which are simply obstacles. I must destroy every single one of the 57 Klingon ships in the galaxy (including Commander ships and one super-Commander ship). With that number they would conquer the universe in 14 time units, but the more ships I destroy, the longer it will take them.

Given there was nothing in this quadrant, I activated my long-range sensors :

The long-range sensor told me what I could find in the 8 quadrants around me. Information is conveyed by numbers. For each quadrant :

  • the last digit is the number of stars (useless to know),
  • the second digit is the number of starbases,
  • the first digit is the number of Klingon ships.

There was a large number of Klingons on my left, so that’s where I headed next :

Three regular Klingon ships (K) and one Klingon Commander ship (C). My shield was down so I had to destroy them all quickly. For this, I decided to use my phaser.

This version of Star Trek tells you how much energy you must spend for a sure kill. You can allocate less of course, if you like to live dangerously.

In this case, my shield was down (which allowed my phaser to be more efficient), the Klingons were not too far from my ship (phaser efficiency decreases with distance), I was almost at full energy and there was a starbase not too far away to refuel, so I had no reason to take risks.

And since I took no risks, I destroyed them all :

As I was preparing to jump to another system, I had a surprise :

I was tracted to quadrant 3-7 (something only commanders and Super-Commanders can do). But it could not be the Super-Commander, because it was currently in quadrant 7-4 blowing up planets. The Super-Commander is the only Klingon ship that is moving on the galaxy map, blowing up stuff that could be useful to you (including starbases !).

I got lucky though : I got pulled by a lone Commander into a quadrant with a starbase :

As you can imagine, that Commander did not last long, and I could directly refuel at the base. Thanks for the ride !

Full energy again, 5 Klingon ships down, and I had more time than I started with.

Assessing the situation by a long-range scan, and then checking the galaxy map :

I was on the other side of the galaxy. That was some powerful tractor they used. A good thing they did not try to pull and destroy starba…

AGAIN ?

Well, here I was faced with one Klingon Commander, two Romulans (R), and there was also a planet (P).

Romulans can be pretty dangerous opponents. They are not displayed on the map, and they don’t attack you if you are in a Federation quadrant (=there is starbase) or if they are alone in a quadrant and you are just passing. But here, they were working with the Klingons.

In any case, I was at full energy again, and therefore :

I scanned the planet and interestingly it had dilithium crystals. As in a real Star Trek episode, I shuttled down with my crew, Uhura, Spock and Ensign Riley (shuttles are safer than teleportation beams) :

Not recorded: Ensign Riley’s untimely death upon