Video Game / Star Trek Text Game

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A stunning "Full Screen Display" of your quadrant, not available in the original teletype version

I've seen the sources to dozens of Star Trek computer games that various people have written, and I have to believe it's some kind of law. In all of these games, for many different systems, written in many different computer programming languages, and all written independently of each other, all have one thing in common. The variable used to count the number of remaining Klingons — the enemy — that haven't been killed yet, is always K9.
— Paul Robinson

The first Star Trek computer game note  is a Turn-Based Strategy game written by Mike Mayfield in 1971 on a Sigma 7 mainframe, using the BASIC programming language. It became one of the big hits of the early home computer era in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Klingon warships have invaded Federation space, and it's up to the Enterprise to hunt them down. Federation space is divided into a grid of 8 by 8 quadrants, and each quadrant is a grid of 8 by 8 sectors. The Enterprise starts in one quadrant, which may have Klingons in it. If not, use long-range scanners to determine the contents of nearby quadrants. Quadrants may contain Klingon warships, friendly starbases, and/or stars. Once you find the enemy, warp to that quadrant.

Combat is turn-based. You have phasers and photon torpedoes, and the Klingons have phasers. Your phasers automatically target the enemy, but may take several shots to destroy them. Torpedoes will kill an enemy in one shot, but you only carry a limited supply of them and you have to aim them by typing in a shot angle. The ship's computer (usually) includes a calculator to help you set up the shot. You can also maneuver using impulse drive. Meanwhile, the Klingons are shooting at you and moving around, and stars can get in the way of the fighting. The Enterprise takes Subsystem Damage, so a lucky shot can cripple you until repairs are made.

The Enterprise runs on a Power Source of energy units. Warp drive, shields, and phasers all cost energy. (In some variants, taking a hit to your shields consumes energy.) Dock at a starbase to replenish your energy and torpedoes.

The game ends when all the Klingons are destroyed, or you run out of energy (destroyed by enemy fire or out of warp fuel).

BASIC was a very common programming language in the '70s, so the game was ported to minicomputers, and distributed in books and magazines as a type-in program. Later versions deepened the gameplay with exploration, mining missions, and (in some cases) "real time" play where the Klingons acted once every few seconds instead of once per turn.note  It became one of the most popular games of the pre-PC college minicomputer era. In 1978, it was ported to Microsoft BASIC, the emerging standard for microcomputers. Versions appeared for the Apple ][, TRS-80, and IBM Personal Computer, and it was one of the most popular games on those platforms too. Derivatives with graphics and sound started appearing, in particular Star Raiders, and the original faded into history.

Star Trek the text game provides examples of:

  • Abandon Ship: Doubling as Video Game Lives. Some variants of the game allow you to abandon the Enterprise; you're then given command of a weaker ship, the U.S.S. Faerie Queene, which you can't abandon.
  • Badass in Distress: Allied starbases and ships sometimes put out Distress Calls if enemy ships are in the same quadrant, whereupon the player can come to their aid for bonus points in their game score. Starbases tend to last a fair while in combat, while allied ships tend to be Glass Cannons (if they contribute to the fight much at all) that can't take more than a direct hit or two before being destroyed.
  • Boring, but Practical: Energy weapons (phasers, lasers, etc.) require a lot of energy to fire, drop off in effectiveness at longer ranges, overheat if used excessively, and can take multiple shots to eliminate an enemy ship, although the last two depend on the skills of the player. At the same time, however, energy weapons never miss the target.
  • Boss in Mook Clothing: Mongol Bases in EGA Trek scarcely look any more intimidating than their usual array of ships — until the player gets anywhere close and has to deal with the ungodly amount of damage that they quickly dish out. If the Lexington is not at full strength confronting one, and there are multiple Mongol ships around it (which usually happens), it's often a good idea to pull a Tactical Withdrawal, go find a friendly starbase, or keep on raiding until a Mongol supply ship or planetary supply base yields a Plasma Bolt or two, then come back and crack the Stone Wall.
  • Captain Ersatz: Since the Star Trek franchise was copyrighted and trademarked, any company that wants to sell a variant of the game has to file all the serial numbers off. It's not hard to guess why.
    • When Radio Shack wanted to sell the Sol-20 variant "TREK 80" for its TRS-80 microcomputer, they renamed it "Invasion Force", and had it feature the starship U.S.S. Hephaestus firing its masers and triton missiles at Jovian warships.
    • Similarly, EGA Trek began with Klingons, the USS Enterprise, the Federation, and Star Trek ship designs, changing them into "Mongols", the U.S.S. Lexington, the "Union", and somewhat redesigning the ships.
    • Sears Telegames' exclusive release for Atari 2600 was called Stellar Track. Interstel's Star Fleet series had the United Galactic Alliance fighting off "Krellans" and "Zaldrons".
  • Cloaking Device: EGA Trek also included Romul... "Vandal" ships with this ability. The Zaldrons of "Star Fleet I" had this ability as well.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Played with; enemy ships that suffer damage generally deal less damage to the player's vessel in turn. At the same time, however, they don't suffer Subsystem Damage and, once cut down to no Hit Points, promptly explode.
  • Death-or-Glory Attack: One frequent addition to the game is to equip a superweapon on the player's ship, like the Death Ray from EGA Trek. If it worked, it killed every enemy in a quadrant. When it didn't work, it could do enough damage to destroy or cripple the player's ship, cause Black Holes to appear all over the current quadrant, or in EGA Trek, temporarily mutate your crew and leave them drawing smiley faces on the interface while ignoring your orders and speaking nonsense.
  • Deflector Shields: A staple of Star Trek, these serve in-game to absorb most of the damage before it impacts the ship and causes structural and subsystem damage.
  • Dirty Coward: In EGA Trek, Kling... sorry, "Mongol" scout ships have the ability to flee into neighbouring quadrants if damaged and not destroyed, necessitating pursuit sooner or later for cleanup.
  • Elite Mooks: In EGA Trek, these come in the form of Mongol Commander battleships, and on higher difficulty levels, the occasional Mongol Base; both are significantly tougher than the average battlecruiser of their faction.
  • Enemy-Detecting Radar: Long-range scanners. Possibly the Ur-Example in video games. You could tell how many Klingon warships were in a neighboring quadrant, but not precisely where they were in the quadrant.
  • Evil Only Has to Win Once:
    THE ENTERPRISE HAS BEEN DESTROYED. THE FEDERATION WILL BE CONQUERED
  • Exploding Barrels: Stars can explode if a torpedo is fired into them in some versions, destroying anything in the surrounding sectors. (The game penalizes players for stars destroyed to discourage this.) Some versions, like EGA Trek, also have the risk of stars going supernova, destroying the entire quadrant (and damaging the player's ship as it's thrown out).
  • Explosive Overclocking: The player's ship usually has a cruising speed of Warp 6, although Warp 8 can be attempted in emergencies at the cost of damage to the warp drive subsystem.
  • Flip-Screen Scrolling: Moving from quadrant to quadrant.
  • Fragile Speedster: In EGA Trek, Mongol scout ships are capable of repeatedly retreating to adjacent sectors when attacked, but ultimately they pack less of a punch and are destroyed more easily than standard Mongol battleships in a straight fight.
  • Freeware Games: It was released into the public domain shortly after it was written.
  • From Bad to Worse: Some versions, particularly at higher difficulty levels, allow enemy ships to warp in from adjacent quadrants to your own to join in a dog-pile on the player's vessel. That said, if the player is defending a starbase at the time, it becomes a case of Too Dumb to Live and/or Suicidal Overconfidence.
  • Game Mod: Since it's a type-in BASIC program, you can change it any way you like.
  • Game Over: Possibly video gaming's Ur-Example:
    THE ENTERPRISE HAS BEEN DESTROYED. THE FEDERATION WILL BE CONQUERED
  • Guide Dang It!: The game generally doesn't mention that the player has to manually reset their warp factor from 1 up to the desired speed (usually Warp 6, unless an emergency demands Warp 8). This can result in an incautious or unaware player blowing a massive amount of time and ruining their score right off the bat, if they forget to call up Engineering before they try to leave their first quadrant and take the fight to the enemy.
  • Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels: EGA Trek has Lieutenant-Commander, Commander, Captain, Commodore and Admiral.
  • Immune to Bullets: Vandal ships in EGA Trek, being cloaked, automatically dodge all torpedo attacks. The only way to take them out, short of an exploding star (assuming they're near a star at all), is to fly up to close range and pour a large amount of phas... sorry, laser energy into them until they explode.
  • Invisible Wall: You'll run into one of these if you try to leave the 8x8 quadrant playfield. In some variants, your engines automatically shut down and you get the message "Sorry, edge of galaxy in that direction." In others, you crash into the energy barrier surrounding the galaxy and get damaged.
  • Insistent Terminology: The galactic grid is usually said to be composed of 64 quadrants in a standard game. A quadrant is actually a fourth of something. So it would be more proper to call them sectors, and their divisions subsectors. The Star Trek universe does properly divide the galaxy into four quadrants, but these games were made decades before that development appeared. It may be an understandable mistake, as the original series was sometimes erroneous and inconsistent in the use of the terms "quadrant" and "sector".
  • Interface Screw: Damage to the Main Computer results in the loss of data on the long-range sensor map, meaning the player has to fly around to scan it all again, or reconstruct the last known tactical situation from their own memory.
  • It's Up to You:
    THE ENTERPRISE HAS BEEN DESTROYED. THE FEDERATION WILL BE CONQUERED
  • Kill Steal: Can occur in EGA Trek, when the player has damaged one or more enemy ships nearly to destruction and a "Vandal Death Pod" or two just happens to enter the quadrant and deal Scratch Damage to everybody, barely affecting the player's shields but putting the enemy ships over the edge to a Critical Existence Failure. Particularly frustrating if the enemy ships in question were supply ships that were almost at the point of surrendering.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Torpedoes generally destroy standard enemy ships in one hit and require very little energy (if any) to fire. At the same time, however, the onboard stock of them is very limited, they have to be aimed manually, and in some versions (like EGA Trek) they can miss the target completely, which generally happens at long range.
  • Non-Standard Game Over: Running out of fuel. Probably the Ur-Example.
    THE ENTERPRISE IS DEAD IN SPACE. IF YOU SURVIVE ALL IMPENDING ATTACK YOU WILL BE DEMOTED TO THE RANK OF PRIVATE
  • One-Hit Kill:
    • Photon torpedoes usually achieve this in most versions, if they make contact with the target.
    • EGA Trek takes this Up to Eleven with Mongol Plasma Bolts, which are capable of safely taking out the Mongols' hostile starbases — or damaging the Lexington severely if deployed by the Mongols.
  • Piņata Enemy: EGA Trek sometimes spawns Mongol supply ships, which are weaker than their usual battlecruisers, and if the player batters them merely to the point of surrender (not destruction), they hand over their cargo to the player's ship before vanishing from the map. This loot can vary from emergency life support supplies to Mongol power crystals (i.e. dilithium) and plasma bolts.
  • Power Source: Your energy. In some versions, it is finite; in others like EGA Trek, it replenishes very slowly — and guess which subsystem tends to fail the most?
  • Press X to Die: You can shoot your own starbases! Another probable Ur-Example. Depending on the version, torpedoing your own starbase will either destroy it — thereby making it impossible to refuel there again — or cause the starbase to destroy you in retaliation.
  • Randomly Generated Levels: The number and locations of Klingons, starbases, and stars are random.
  • Ray Gun: Phasers, or their renamed substitutes.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil: In EGA Trek, on lower difficulty levels the Mongol fleet consists of standard battleships, while higher difficulty levels add variety in the form of scout ships, supply ships, Mongol Commanders, and eventually Mongol Bases.
  • Space Station: Friendly ones are encountered frequently, where the player can repair and resupply their ship. EGA Trek adds hostile Mongol bases that serve as immobile Elite Mooks.
  • Stone Wall:
    • Vandal ships in EGA Trek never move, and they don't attack the player's vessel, but they No-Sell any torpedo attacks (due to a Cloaking Device) and generally require about 1000 units of laser energy damage to actually destroy — which is multiple times the damage that typical Mongol battleships can take in the same game.
    • Allied Union starbases in EGA Trek serve the same function — if the player docks with one while in combat with Mongol warships in the sector, its shields will then protect the Lexington from return fire (although the starbase itself is still an obstacle to the player's attacks).
  • Subsystem Damage: Happens frequently during gameplay, usually as a result of combat, but random breakdowns can still happen and require repair time all the same. Either the player can attempt repairs in deep space, or complete them more quickly when docked with a friendly starbase.
  • Turn-Based Strategy: Combat alternates between the player's ship and the enemy factions (Klingon, Mongol, Vandal, etc.).
  • 2-D Space: By virtue of having a strict X,Y coordinate system with no Z-axis.
  • Underground Monkey:
    • EGA Trek had a variety of Palette Swapped "Mongol" ships as Elite Mooks, scout ships or supply vessels.
    • EGA Trek also had the possibility to explore planets, sending either a shuttlecraft or a landing party to get the stuff detected by the Lexington's sensors. These attempts can frequently end in failure, as the landing party would often be attacked, resulting in the loss of crew members.
    • Supertrek has a use of shuttlecraft where you would mine for dilithium crystals on planets. This was an alternative to refueling at a starbase.
    • Supertrek also had Romulans that were more of a nuisance than a threat. If you entered a Romulan quadrant, they'd simply politely ask you to leave. They didn't attack unless you attacked them first. And their attacks were weak.
  • Up to Eleven: Spare energy crystals (i.e. dilithium) obtained in EGA Trek are a crapshoot when used, but the player can luck out with one and boost their energy reserves over 100%, though of course the effect is temporary until the excess energy is used up.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: Later versions of the game, like EGA Trek, feature allied ships that can be saved from enemy attack, although responding to their Distress Call grants no bonus points (unlike starbases). And in the same versions, there are weaker enemy ships (generally supply ships) that will surrender once damaged to minimal health instead of stubbornly fighting to the death.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: A mild case, but if the player sees on their star chart that a starbase has enemy ships in the same quadrant, it can be worth waiting until the starbase puts out a Distress Call, and only then moving to that quadrant to clean up. Or if an enemy ship moves into a quadrant with a starbase, it can be worth warping away and attacking the enemy elsewhere until the call for help arrives. Both allow the player to get credit for destroying the enemy ships and bonus points for saving a starbase under attack.

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