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Newsbyteblog: the blog of newsbyte regarding all things IT, free speech, copyright and patents and other things deemed interesting.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A game of fun

A new version of UQM has come out, which stands for Ur-Quan Masters, which in turn is actually a ported, open-source implementation of Starcontrol II (SC2).

Now, even hearing this, not all that many will know what I am talking about. Neither did I, before I stumbled upon it thanks to (yeah, I know...) slashdot, when 0.3 was just out. Now, I like free games, and I especially like *good* free games, and many arcade games and other 'oldies' ARE in fact, often extremely good. Which is why I love the internet (well, one of the reasons): you can almost find all the golden oldies online for free, these days. This includes one of my favorites: civilisation II (which, for some reason, I even prefer more then civ3 - just like with SC3, which absolutely sucked, I heared).

Now, it is difficult to say WHAT exactly is so appealing about old games, and especially SC2. I never played nor even heard about it in the past (was an amiga/sega/atari game or something, I forgot), and while the graphics may have been extra-ordinary in the early 90ies, it only shows how much graphics have improved since then.

When I first tried it, my primary reaction was rather disappointment, even to the brink of getting completely rid of it, almost. No smooth-looking state-of-the-art-graphics, that's for sure. It showed some simple 'spacevessel' on a simple presentation of our solarsystem, and you were supposed to guide it towards the planets. It looked crude, simplistic, totally out-of-date and obsolete with a stupid navigation. This is the normal reaction, when one is used to 21st century games, rest assured. I once showed and pushed a friend of trying it out too (with the 0.3 version), and when I asked what he thought of it, he told me he trew it away after the first minutes. It was only after he'd played it for some time with me on my computer, that he actually started to like it.

So, what is the secret?

Well, it is difficult to put your finger on. Like most oldies, it's not about the graphics, it's about the *depth* of the game. The way things are portrayed. Simple, yes, but with a good story and an appealing gameplay. Starcontrol is, even today, a jewel in that regard, and it must have been an overwhelmingly awesome game when it was first released. One of its strengths is that it has it all, as far as arcade goes. It has the typical 2D 'melee' fights between two spacecrafts - ah, the nostalgic memories! It has the basic 2D scooter-shoot-aliens-on-the-planet-and collect-valuables which we all loved to play on those mysterious electronic machines on the fare, when we were kids, remember? All very simple considering todays standards, but fun in a pac-man way, nevertheless.

But, aside that, it has also RPG elements in it, and some strategic gameplay - and, most importantly, the game is HUGE. Even for todays' standards, the amount of stars and planets one can go to is immense, and one can only wonder how this must have made an impression when it first came out. The 'world' (starmap) that one has to its disposition is so vast, it reminded me of the world of Morrowind (although that is a more modern and totally different game, obviously). The alien characters you encounter are sublime, original, and often funny as hell. More then once, I was laughing aloud because of the totally hilarious dialogs some aliens would engage in. Ofcourse, there is also a more serious side to it, with a well-thought-of, in-depth story, ancient mysteries to solve... and Earth to save, of course.

That's why, even when my first impression was 'throw it in the bin', it really IS getting under your skin after a while; so, be warned: it's addictive!

Now, what's new in 0.4 from version 0.3? Well, a lot of bug-fixes, obviously, but you don't really see that (unless you encountered a bug ;-). It's very stable to play, even as beta, now, but that was true even for the 0.3 version, frankly. Improved graphics in some cases (improved in the original-90ies sense: I repeat, DO NOT expect flashy 3D graphics). Optional new (remixed) music from the precursors, at least when you manually insert them (for the moment, the tendency of the coders is to be as perfectionistic as possible to the original). And truth be told: even the original music can be quite good.

The most obvious things are the intro and ending sequence - which didn't exist on the 0.3 version: a slide of 'oldie' graphics which are today completely obsolete, but cute in a nostalgic way. The other major improvement is the options in 'settings', which has considerably improved, and which allows you to actually make some resolution-settings, game-play options, make use of a graphic accelerator, etc. This was, indeed, a very welcome improvement. For the full list of changes, go here.

And now, download and enjoy!


Anonymous Kaiser II said...

Hey, though the graphics are a bit dated, there are still quite a few pretty ones. Personally, I'm fond of Hyperspace and especially the Starbase. No matter how much time has gone by (I played it on the 3DO) I'm still impressed by just how pretty that little rotating graphic is.

6:09 AM  
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3:31 PM  

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