How often is it that the creator of your favorite game from way back when you were a kid writes you? Not often, but it does happen. And it happened to me.
Last week, I got this email:
I noticed on your Village Idiot Savant blog that you liked the old PC game, Star Fleet I - The War Begins! I am the author of that game. Please reply if you get this. Thanks.
Trevor Sorensen? Dr. Trevor Sorensen? Oh. My. Goodness.
Starfleet I was my favorite game back in the 1980s. I got it from a college buddy in Cebu, Nino Sarmiento, also a fellow Trek fan. It probably won't excite a lot of people nowadays, what with the need for dynamic lighting and reflective surfaces, but for a Star Trek fan, it was great. I wrote about Starfleet three years ago when I rediscovered it. And it was that blog entry that Dr. Sorensen found.
From his email sig, I saw that Dr. Sorensen is now Professor and Project Manager of Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
I promptly wrote back, thanking him for the game. And big surprise, he wrote back again:
Glad to meet a member of the Fleet! Did you ever play Star Fleet II - Krellan Commander? It is also text-based graphics for the PC, but is much, much richer game with planets, planetary invasions, many ship types, fleet tactics, etc. I can provide you the zipped files if you like although I think it might be available from Underdogs. The exciting news is that a few years ago two programmers and I got together and made a Windows-based version of Star Fleet, which is a cross between SF I and SF II. It's called Star Fleet Deluxe and has the same basic navigation, ship resources, and combat systems as SF I (and your heavy cruiser is the only UGAS ship to be seen), but also has multiple Krellan ship types (battlecruisers, destroyers, freighters), planets (on which you can establish sensor and logistics bases), colonies (UGA planets), and upgraded starbases. Anyway, I am enclosing the SFD files and manual. I hope you like it.
Oh. My. Goodness.
Dr. Sorensen did send me the files and it ran beautifully under Wine in Ubuntu (after one little tweak in the video settings). See screenshots.
It was a real trip down memory lane. The controls were largely as I had remembered them. Function keys for Course Computer, Navigation, Shields, Phasers, Torpedoes, etc. My fingers moved over the keyboard instinctively. Just like riding a bicycle.
Gameplay was largely the same, though now, as Dr. Sorensen mentioned, there was greater variety in the enemy ships. Planets and planetary bases were also added to the game. Part of the mission is to destroy Krellan bases, and you can replenish supplies from the bases that you establish.
The GUI is a mixed bag, though largely positive. I sort of miss the pure keyboard control, as now I have to click on the screen to enter numbers and confirm commands. On the plus side -- and this is a very big plus -- I can now navigate with ease to any quadrant and sector.
Sounds have been changed, but mostly for the better. I miss the "Halls of Montezuma" theme whenever the space marines try to take over an enemy ship, but the fight sound effects -- complete with fisticuffs, opening doors, sneaky feet, and grunts and screams -- brings a level of suspense to the procedure.
The AI is also significantly improved. Now the computer does a lot of things for you. Previously, I would have to manually enter the shield settings because the computer always evenly distributed shielding on all four sides of the vessel. But now, the computer maximizes shields in the direction of the enemy. You'd still have to keep an eye on the shield settings, though.
There's a sad story behind Starfleet Deluxe, the details of which I've excised from Dr. Sorensen's email. There were plans to release Starfleet Deluxe three years ago, but unfortunately, the lead programmer passed away. Hence, the release plans stalled.
Fortunately, they did complete a playable game, and I'm very happy and honored to have been given the chance to play it. Ah, the memories!
Even with enhancements, though, most people will probably shy away from the game because of its lack of snazzy sounds and graphics. And that's a shame, because Starfleet, in my opinion, continues to be the best starship battle simulator out there today, even twenty years on.
Many thanks again, Dr. Sorensen!