This Starflight tonight
The kids are now all grown up, so I am no longer as
cash-rich/time-poor as I used to be.
With all three brats at Uni, I am definitely not
cash-rich any more, especially since Mrs Fiendish was made
redundant late last year. I do have a lot more time on my
hands, though, as evidenced by my experience over the
Saturday was unseasonably warm, and the sort of day which
would have demanded a trip to the seaside back when the
kids were toddlers; with even the youngest of my progeny
leaving the ranks of teenagers this week on his 20th
birthday, none of them were up for a trip to the seaside,
which is probably just as well, as they all have plenty of
catching up to do on their course work.
Old habits die hard, however, and so Mrs Fiendish and I
drove to Southend-on-Sea with our children-substitutes:
A 100-mile round trip for a 90-minute walk along the
beach with the dogs seems a bit excessive, but for various
historical reasons, Southend is one of my happy places. It
was the place where my parents took my sister, brother and
me for day trips; the place where I took my kids and, I
hope, will be the place where my kids will take their
sprogs if and when they have any.
Mrs Fiendish, having been raised in a seaside town, sees
very little appeal in a day by the seaside, but she
humours me nevertheless, helped by the bribe of the
peerless vanilla ice cream made by Rossi’s (get
the scooped ice cream, not the curly gloop that comes out
of a machine).
What was once termed as the “Blackpool of the south” is
not the East-End-on-Sea attraction it once was; the pier
– the longest in the world – is empty, the Kursaal
fun fair is long gone, and the amusement arcades seem to
be barely hanging in there in this Xbox, PlayStation, and
So long as Rossi’s ice cream parlour in neighbouring
Westcliffe remains open, however, it will always be worth
The other sign of me having more time on my hands is a
return to serious amounts of time spent on playing
computer games. In keeping with the theme of nostalgia, I
am starting with the games I already have that I never got
around to playing, or which I never completed.
One of these games is Star
Control II, a sort of role playing game in a science
My return to vintage gaming was sparked by my
transformation from being primarily a Windows user to
primarily a Linux user. Great though Linux is, especially
if you are trying to breathe life into a 20-year-old
computer that you are too stingy to get rid of, it is not
exactly a big market for the game publishers.
One of the games I did notice while looking through the
Linux software packages was called “The Ur-Quan Masters”.
I thought the name was familiar, and sure enough, it is a
port of the aforementioned Star Control II.
Though I like Star Control II, it is clearly heavily
influenced by Starflight, a
Star Trek-style game that was, like Martin Peters, ten
years ahead of its time. I like this game so much I have
kept a 5.25” floppy drive in the loft just so I could play
it again should I ever get the urge. Hard though it is to
believe, the game originally came on two 360k floppy
disks, and yet somehow they managed to cram a whole
universe on those two disks.
As it turns out, I needn’t have bothered keeping that
5.25” disk drive around, for two reasons: one, the game is
available for download on numerous abandonware sites; two,
when I did download the game and then went looking for the
game manual and star map, I discovered that I had
transferred the files on the 5.25” disks to 3.25” disks.
The trouble with playing some ancient games on modern
computers is that the clock speed of modern computer chips
makes the game unplayable, at least when it comes to the
occasional action sequences in Starflight. By the time I
have instructed my crew to raise the shields, I am usually
Last time I played Starflight, back in the early
nineties, I got round this by using some software that
slows down the motherboard. Thanks to Starflight fan sites
on the web, I learnt the modern way to go these days is by
Ah, DOS. Time for another digression. Fascinated by the
chance to travel back to the eighties and a command line
interface (I know what you are thinking, but Linux is a
graphical environment these days and I hardly ever use the
Terminal command line), I experimented with putting DOS
6.1 on a memory stick, and booting from that on one of my
Acer Aspire One netbooks. There was even room on the USB
stick for the Starflight files.
As it happened, it was possible to run the game this way,
but you still need to slow down the motherboard, even on
the low-spec netbook. Fun though it was to mess around
with DOS – it is surprising how many DOS commands I can
still remember – DOSbox is definitely the way to go.
I reckon I spent about 40 hours playing Starflight before
I failed in my mission to save the galaxy. As ever, I got
fixated on making money and not on solving the mystery.
I will probably give it another go, but not just yet. To
be honest, though the storyline and the open-endedness of
the game still hold appeal, the harvesting of minerals
from planets does get a bit wearing after a while.
In the meantime, a number of delights await, including
various Ultimas, Tunnels & Trolls, various
Civilizations, two Railroad Tycoons (like crack cocaine
for me), Dune II, a couple of Imperium Galacticas, a
couple of X-Coms and, God help me, Championship Manager .
After that lot, I might move on to games made in the 21st
century, though that is dangerously modern for me.
Lest you think I am a total loonie, I am not the only
person doing this: if well-old computer games are your
thing, you are advised to check out the CRPG