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Video Game / Starfighter

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StarFighter — unofficially called SC-78503 to distinguish it from the F-104 and The Last Starfighter — was a TRS-80 game written by Larry Allen "Sparky" Starks (b.1951 – d.2011) and published in 1980 by Adventure International. To many TRS-80 afficonados, it was the best game ever put out for that platform.

In the far future, "hypercharge" technology has completely reshaped interstellar civilization, and the Solar Galactic Authority is at war with the Petro Resource Conglomerate. You, the player, are a mercenary hired out by the S.G.A. and given your own SC-78503 Starfighter spacecraft with which to vanquish the ships of the P.R.C..

Your mission consists of locating other spacecraft flying between the stars, flying in to intercept them, determining whether they are friend or foe, and then either attacking them or flying away. A hypercharge field surrounds your craft, which allows for FTL Travel and acts as both Deflector Shields and weaponry. Taking hits, firing your weapons, or flying through hyperspace drains hypercharge. A successful kill goes on your record and can be redeemed either for (A) bounty money, which you need to keep your craft fuelled, repaired, and charged; or (B) rank grade points within the military. Earn enough military grade and you get a promotion, which entitles you to install an entire extra layer of hypercharge field on your spacecraft (which you still have to pay for with bounty money). Killing friendly craft, even by accident, makes you lose military grade.

The opening screen proclaimed that the game was "Future space combat simulation number one." Numbers two and three were planned, but never written, as by that time the age of the single-author computer game was coming to an end. In a private correspondence in 2003, Sparky Starks wrote:

Starfighter was originally intended to introduce a world of 'all bad guys', depending on your perspective. PRC represented power as acquired by indiscriminate use of resources. SGA represented power as acquired by indiscriminate use of untested technology, and IMRC represented power as acquired by pragmatic prioritization of profit above all else. StarMerchant was planned as a sequel to StarFighter, to be followed by Marauder, with each perspective so being represented. But.. (smile) the computer industry moved forward faster than anyone anticipated, and before I could get out two more TRS-80 products, I was busy rewriting StarFighter for Atari 400/800 as Destiny: The Cruiser (I had sold rights to the name StarFighter to Lorimar to make a movie: The Last Starfighter, and StarCruiser proved to be already owned).

Nope, I've never written anything (yet) except softwar[e] documentation but I have been considering writing one of two things: either a near-future novel about an Internet special interest group overwhelming traditional ideas about things like unions, elections, etc with widely published straw polls, or a novella sized essay arguing that we are within 10 years of being (literally) servants of computers. Its not certain, but reason suggests that computers will soon be self-aware, un-unpluggable, and likely to wish to protect us 'for our own good' (scariest thought I've every had...). Who knows.

Only 50 EPROM copies of "Destiny: The Cruiser" were ever released.

This computer game contains examples of:

  • Cast from Hit Points: Battle damage reduces the strength of your hypercharge field. So does driving FTL and firing your weapons. If your field strength drops to zero, the next damage point will kill you.
  • Deflector Shields: The same hypercharge field that powered your weapons and your FTL drive also protected you from harm.
  • Fantastic Rank System: The five ranks you could earn as a Starfighter pilot were:
    1. New Pilot
    2. Ensign
    3. Captain
    4. Inspector
    5. Star Lord
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The hyperspace Drive system propels you between the stars at a rate measured in "distance units per second". Exactly how long one of these distance units is is classified.
  • Feelies: If you managed to get promoted beyond the rank of Star Lord, the game would give you a secret password that you could mail into Adventure International. Adventure International would then send you a certificate granting you a chair on the (fictional) S.G.A. board of directors. Note that even getting to Star Lord rank took a lot of playing time, and exceeding it was almost impossible to do without cheating.
  • Money Sink: Every time you fired weapons, used hyperdrive, or got hit, you lost hypercharge from your drive field. Recharging your drive field cost sovereigns. It also cost sovereigns for maneuvering fuel, tow tickets (for when you were stranded without enough hypercharge to fly anywhere), and repairsnote . And, worse, as you got promotions to higher military rank, you earned less bounty for the same kills. Evidently, the IMRC (who pays the bounty) figured that since your spacecraft could store an extra layer of hypercharge shielding, you therefore must have had an easier time killing their enemies — but the reality is that the wear-and-tear on your spacecraft caused by pursuing any given kill was just as expensive to remedy for a single-hypercharge-layer New Pilot as it was for a quintuple-hypercharge-layer Star Lord. It's a wonder you can make a profit as a mercenary at all.
  • Old-School Dogfight: Your Starfighter always followed its nose. If you were moving forward, and you turned, you'd actually change course. Accelerating or decelerating cost fuel, but turning didn't — so braking to a stop at speed 32, turning around, and accelerating back up to speed 32 again cost you 64 fuel units, but keeping your speed at 32 and turning around cost you no fuel at all.
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: If any enemy shot you while you had no field in place, even if the shot was extremely weak, your spacecraft was instantly destroyed. Your "repair" status was a result of the normal use of your spacecraft systems, not battle damage.
  • Proud Merchant Race: The Independent Merchant’s Resource Corporation (IMRC) paid your kill bounties and pretty much owned all the friendly Star Merchant spacecraft you ran into from time to time. Officially, their corporate charter was with the SGA, but there's no guarantee they weren't also trading with the PRC.
  • Real-Time Weapon Change: Averted. Your field cones can be configured to fire your Beam Weapon, to fire your Wave Weapon, or for FTL Travel, but it takes time to switch from one configuration to another — and during the transition, you can't do any of those things.
  • Save Point: You could only save the game if you were docked at Landbase Central — and flying to Landbase Central with no kills since your last visit (or only with kills you made in the future, or only with kills for which you took bounty money) will make you lose a little bit of military grade.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The smallest enemy craft, nicknamed the Gnat, was the PRC Exxonnerator. The name was a shout-out to Exxon (appropriate, since PRC stood for Petro Resource Conglomerate). The shape of the craft was clearly an homage to the Tie Fighters from Star Wars.
    • The second-smallest enemy craft was nicknamed the "Cluster Chuck," which officially was a trio of Khomendier Class C Raiders acting in concert. "Khomendier" was a reference to Ayatollah Khomeni of Iran, as Sparky Starks confirmed in a late-2000s message board post:
      If you like the Clusterchucks, stick to the Tandy version. I cut them out of the Atari version because the Iran hostage crisis was old news by then, and substituted an armed version of the Scout, the TAC (I think) or Tactical Assault Craft, and one other thing that I forget. The TAC was a larger but slower version of the Starfighter craft.
    • While the PRC was clearly a dig against oil companies, it could also have been a double-entendre reference to the People's Republic of China.
    • The Ball Turret Gunship was a reference to an earlier Sparky Starks game called "Ball Turret Gunner".
  • Shown Their Work: The user's manual went into exhaustive detail about the political entities, hypercharge physics (including Alsinger's Klien/Kline Cone Imaginary Matter model), etc..
  • Time Travel: FTL Travel, as any good student of Relativity will tell you, implies time travel. Frustratingly, it was possible to kill an enemy spacecraft, then warp to Landbase Central to earn military rank for it, only to learn that you'd arrived before you actually made the kill! (For some reason, the Landbases that paid out bounties always knew about your kills, even if travelling to them put you in the past; perhaps Landbase Central just had a more entrenched bureaucracy.)
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future: Averted. The unit of currency is the "sovereign." (Hopefully, it wasn't the same Sovereign that the British minted as a gold coin in prior centuries.)