Star Control II mod

For the past couple of years I’ve been involved in a game project.  Its working title is Project 6014.  We had a real title, “Crystal Storm”, but soon learned that it was also the name of an adult entertainer. Always do a Google search before you choose a project title!

Project 6014 is a sequel mod (or mod sequel?) to the classic Sci-Fi RPG, Star Control II. This 19 year old game has entered a minor renaissance in recent years, triggered by the release of its source code and content to the free software community.  The free software game is now called The Ur-Quan Masters, because Atari owns the trademark “Star Control”.  (There will probably never be another proprietary Star Control game, but you can’t risk antagonising trademark lawyers.)  It has been ported to a large number of systems and refitted with modern technology as far as practicable for such an old game. The graphics are still designed for a 320×200 screen, but it incorporates pixel scaling to render them smoothly on a larger screen.  It has also had completely new network multi-player implemented.  Sadly there is a common prejudice against anything old, irrespective of its actual quality.  But those of you mature enough to look beyond that will find plot, dialogue and overall drama that is among the best of any game.

To briefly compare it to a modern RPG:  Mass Effect has about five or six sentient species in its universe.  All them are 2 metres tall and bipedal.  Star Control has… dozens, including human-sacrificing insectoids, overly-territorial caterpillars, gas-giant dwelling sacs, hyperdimensional fish, intelligent plants, terraforming fungi, mind-controlling amphibians, chivalrous avians, and shifty little green men with ulterior motives.  In SC2 there are 23 aliens you can meet and converse with, each with pages of story, humour, drama, its own musical score, and an import significance to the player’s mission.  To be fair, Mass Effect has beautiful 3D models and textures and hours of professional voice acting.  But in terms of story and writing, and the scope of its plot, SC2 is easily in the same league.  It is amazing to think that this was achieved with one designer and writer (Paul Reiche III), and one main programmer (Fred Ford).

Hence, its cult following, one member of which is my brother (I am, to a lesser extent, also a member).  When he realised that anyone could now modify the game, he immediately began planning a sequel.  One of the first steps was roping me in, because he needed “a programmer” and I seemed to be one of those.  :-/  We started by setting up the source in Subversion.  Our first change was translating the quadrant map away from the Sa-Matra into unknown space, and inventing hundreds of new stars.

Since then we’ve had a team of about 10 people (programmers, artists, composers, writers) work on it.  This culminated in our first demo, released in September.

Naturally, the aim of our mod is to replicate all the successful elements of Star Control II, while learning from its (very few) mistakes and applying other modern design lessons. Since we are basing it on the UQM, we inherit its game play and content.  Technologically, the most obvious improvement to be made is the use of higher-resolution graphics (which our artist Damon has been working on already).  Most of the other programming work is new game play (yet to be invented, largely), and the implementation of the plot.  UQM is legacy C program with many low-level optimisations, and there is no higher-level scripting language in use.  Implementing dialogue means writing code like this:

static void CombatIsInevitable (RESPONSE_REF R) {
    SET_GAME_STATE (BATTLE_SEGUE, 1);

    if (PLAYER_SAID (R, you_must_surrender))
        NPCPhrase (NOPE);
    else if (PLAYER_SAID (R, whats_up_1)
            || PLAYER_SAID (R, whats_up_2)
            || PLAYER_SAID (R, whats_up_3)
            || PLAYER_SAID (R, whats_up_4)) {
        BYTE NumVisits;

        NumVisits = GET_GAME_STATE (URQUAN_INFO);
        switch (NumVisits++) {
            ...
            case 2:
                NPCPhrase (GENERAL_INFO_3);
                /*
                    In our twenty thousand years along the Path of Now and Forever
                    we have dominated thousands of species, yes
                    but we have saved hundreds from extinction.
                    You imagine the threat of unknown invaders, or alien pestilence borne on the solar wind.
                    We have seen these. But you do not acknowledge your own worst enemy, yourselves.
                    We have found dead worlds without number, planets ravaged by atomic fire or gaian collapse.
                    These planets were not rendered sterile by outside forces.
                    They bear sad testament to the effects of unrestrained instinct and emotion
                    or simple ignorance.
                    We will prevent such mistakes.
                */
                break;
            ...
        }
        SET_GAME_STATE (URQUAN_INFO, NumVisits);
    }
    else
        ...
}

Ok, I couldn’t resist pasting in the dialogue string, too. ;-)   That’s from the original game; our challenge is to make a game that is equally grave and epic.  Our writers and artists are doing a great job so far, though we only have one new alien (out of planned five, I think).

I’m really impressed of what we’ve achieved.  And I am proud of my brother Cedric who founded and has lead the project, with little experience of game design or open source projects.  It’s kind of a unique project in the open source world, both as a sequel to a commercial game, and as a plot-based game that will nevertheless have an open source approach (in which anyone can just read our code to find out how it ends!).

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4 Responses to Star Control II mod

  1. Pingback: Not a Julia set! | EJRH

  2. Pingback: SC2 mod next steps | EJRH

  3. Dylan says:

    Well done guys! As a fond lover of SCII since I was a kid I was very excited to find the Ur-quan masters release over 10 years ago. Now I am even more excited to play this sequal! well done for all the hard effort and keeping the dream alive!

  4. veedoubleyou says:

    Is this project still active? Is there anything people can do to help?

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