When I first got my Atari ST, it came with Starglider 1, which had the absolutely fantastic theme music when it loaded (see video below), and an absolutely gorgeous bit of art on the loading screen.
The game however was a bit of a disappointment, wireframe graphics just didn’t do it for me. Enter Starglider 2, correcting that issue. Loading Starglider 2 we get the loading screen which is somewhat less fun than Starglider 1, and lacks music – such a shame when the Amiga got this:
Of course the Atari ST’s problems with audio are well-documented, it struggled with samples, but it can do them, as evidenced by Starglider 1, Xenon 2, Speedball 2, Mega Lo Mania, etc all of which used samples in wonderfully creative ways. Maybe the issue was one of RAM or disk space.
On loading, the game dumps you into an abstract 3D world where the floor is chequered to give the illusion of movement and I guess there are buildings on the ground though it’s hard to identify them as such. I managed to get into space and shoot some pirates which was reasonable fun but it became abundantly clear that I was missing something – after all there had to be more to the hype than just a space shooter. I had another look at the ST Format review (this is from the days when the gaming press was made up of enthusiasts who could actually bring you useful information) confirmed this – it seems I needed to get 15 parts of a bomb to blow up the bad guy, as well as finding underground arms depots to get the weapons needed to destroy ground targets, which seemed to involve tunnels. It seems I needed to do a bit more research – my modern gaming ways of expecting arrows and in-world exposition perhaps failing me. Looking further, at a walkthrough (don’t hate me – just wanted to get some pointers on where to start) it seems there is an expectation that I read the novella as that gives some indication of what to do. Right.. back in a couple of weeks.
[reads ‘novella’ with clear attempted imitation of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams – to be fair it’s not as bad as I was expecting and raised a few chuckles – some lines like “The dignity of the stranger’s bearing was eclipsed by the twin companions of defeat and despair mirrored in his large, brown eyes” – who writes that shit? – so the naughty Egrons want to build a beam in the Solice system using a magnetic planet with some moons forming some kind of defence… ]
Things I learned from the novella:
Planets: We’ve got Dante (think Mercury), Vista (think Venus), Apogee (admin centre – think Earth) with two moons Enos and Castron, then an asteroid belt, then Millway the big gas giant with seven moons, and finally Aldos with it’s magnetic moon Q-Beta – the magnet which would drive the beam that would blow up Noveria.
Looks like they’re building defences on each of the 7 Millway moons so I’ll need to take those out.
Landing on Apogee I need to find underground depots to pick up supplies for my barely-armed ship. Only Apogee will have the technical ability to build the big weapon needed to take out the big bad.
Go to the inner worlds first, keep the hell away from Millway and Q-Beta for now, seems like a sensible plan.
I need minerals from Dante, nodules are apparently lying on the surface. That’ll get me lasers. Cool.
Castron supplies food, and they need wood from Enos.
Refuelling is done by breaking up asteroids, or by using the towers on Castron’s surface, or hovering over Dante’s volcanoes.
We need to capture a professor on Broadway, one of Millway’s moons.
I need to keep battering their defences until the bomb is ready – slow up enemy construction.
So.. lots of exposition, lots of useful information, certainly a different way of delivering that info than I’m used to but now hopefully I am armed with the required knowledge to play the game.
Back To The Game
First try: I land on Apogee and scan the ground looking for a tunnel. No luck. Searching some more I find some power lines which maybe I could use to fuel up. Tried and failed, they seem to be more a perimeter fence unless I’m missing something. A further wander and I find a walker. It kills me, though I’m not entirely sure how. Rating: Dead so soon. Let’s try again.
Second try: I spot a ship coming out of the top of a building – I wonder.. I aim for it and finally enter my first tunnel. Let’s see where this leads.
Eventually I find myself in an empty room but happen to spot the text at the bottom of the screen – looks like someone’s communicating with me. Asking if I’d like to build a neutron bomb. I reply yes obviously. I need to supply a case of nuclear material, a lump of mineral rock (Dante), a crate of castrobars (food – from Castron), a cask of Vistian wine (planet 2), an Egron mini rocket (no idea how to get that), an asteroid (oookay), a flat diamond, a cluster of nodules, and the aforementioned professor holed up on Broadway. I finally escape the tunnels (slow, jerky and not much fun) and head out into space.
Ahead we see the 2nd planet Vista and just behind it is Dante, which is where I want to go.
Making it to Dante I decide to perform the volcano refueling trick. I die – though it’s not entirely clear whether the volcano is responsible. Let’s go back to a save en-route to Dante.
Once again, I line up Dante, descend to the planet’s surface with a brief period of confusion as a pirate shoots me with something that reverses the controls, but once again fall foul of whatever it bloody is that is killing me.
In the end my patience just wasn’t there for this one. I wanted to like it, but ultimately it’s a shooter with a few bits tacked on and it never creates a feeling of a real living world in the way that the Elite games of Damocles and Mercenary 3 managed to do. In a way, the problem is reminiscent of the comparison between Bioshock Infinite and System Shock 2, where one is just a shooting gallery with the trappings of story attached and the other is an immersive world that feels like a believable space.