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 RobinsonThe 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 USS Faerie Queene, which you can't abandon.
- 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. For example, 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 went with "Mongols". Sears Telegames exclusive release for Atari 2600 was called Stellar Track.
- Cloaking Device: EGA Trek also included Romul... "Vandal" ships with this ability.
- 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, or (in EGA Trek) mutate your crew and have them draw smiley faces on the interface while ignoring your orders.
- 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: The stars will 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 also have the risk of stars going supernova, destroying the entire quadrant (and damaging the player's ship as it's thrown out).
- Flip-Screen Scrolling: Moving from quadrant to quadrant.
- Freeware Games: It was released into the public domain shortly after it was written.
- 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
- 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".
- It's Up to You:THE ENTERPRISE HAS BEEN DESTROYED. THE FEDERATION WILL BE CONQUERED
- Nonstandard 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.
- Power Source: Your energy.
- 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.
- That One Rule: Aiming torpedoes. The makers of the Star Trek III.5 variant of the game actually sold aiming charts, so that you could figure out exactly what bearing to fire your torpedoes at, depending on the sector the Klingon ship was in.
- Underground Monkey:
- EGA Trek had a variety of Palette Swaped "Mongol" ships as Elite Mooks.
- 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.