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Developed by Binary Domains and published by Electronic Arts way back in 1986, Starflight is a classic but often overlooked series that can be found among the inspirations for many a sci-fi RPG. Despite that, apart from a failed attempt to revive the series a couple years back, today it lies dormant.
But even so, you may be interested in learning a thing or two about the first entry in the series and how it came to be. Especially since this Eurogamer retrospective doesn’t just tell us those things, but instead has two of the key team members share their stories.
Here’s a couple of sample paragraphs:
Beginning in a circular star base that instantly betrays Starflight's main inspiration, TV series Star Trek, the player first assembles their team and assigns training to each crew member in the familiar roles of science officer, navigator and so on. Following this, it's time to pimp up your spaceship before beaming aboard and setting off to the stars. There's a catastrophic event brewing: stars throughout the galaxy are flaring up, destroying any planet within their fiery reach. The crew's ultimate goal is to discover what's causing these occurrences in order to prevent the same happening to their home planet of Arth. Throughout the galaxy roam many alien craft, each with its own personality and demands, and the quest for endurium (Starflight's equivalent of Star Trek's dilithium crystals) drives the need to explore new worlds and extract their valuable minerals.
"For all of us, it was our first videogame, and we pretty much made it all up as went along," reveals Johnson. "Star Trek was definitely the biggest influence, and maybe to some extent Dungeons & Dragons in general." Interestingly, Johnson was mentored in his student days by Paul Reiche, who would go on to design the first two Star Control games along with Fred Ford. In a neat development cycle, Reiche used his experience helping Johnson and his colleagues with Starflight to design his own series of which the Binary Systems game is often cited as an influence, before Johnson lent his own experience on Starflight to his friend and Star Control.
By the end of 1983, the Starflight team had expanded to include designer/programmers Bob Gonsalves and Tim Lee, joining Kercso, McConnell, Yarborough, Johnson and an experienced engineer called Dave Boulton. It was a large team for a videogame of the time - although unsurprising considering what they were looking to create. "That was part of the original concept," explains Kercso. "We wanted to create a game the likes of which had no-one had seen before. It wasn't going to be just a single game, but an entire universe."