Starflight is a computer game published by Electronic Arts and developed by Binary Systems in 1986. Originally developed for DOS and Tandy, it was later released for the Amiga, Atari ST, Macintosh and Commodore 64. A fully-revamped version of the game was developed for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis in 1991.
Set in the year 4620, the game puts players in the role of a starship captain sent to explore the galaxy. There is no set path, allowing players to switch freely between mining, ship-to-ship combat, and alien diplomacy. The story eventually expands to resemble a space opera à la Star Trek. Self-aware humor also plays a role within Starflight, such as an encounter with the Starship Enterprise, infrequent messages between a disgruntled loan shark and a smuggler, and a hidden binary code which reveals the telephone number of the developers' home office. In March 1987, Computer Gaming World declared it "the best science fiction game available on computer."
Starflight is a futuristic shooter/role-playing game hybrid set in outer space. Much of the game takes place within a small starship which seen from a top-down perspective. The ship navigates across the game's universe at the expense of endurium (a mineral which serves as fuel). It is initially equipped only to haul minerals, though it can be modified into a dogfighter through costly upgrading. Also included onboard is a Terrain Vehicle for exploration and mining on a planet's surface. Before the game begins, players must name their ship and assign a crew to operate it. The ship has six posts: Captain, Navigator, Science Officer, Engineer, Communications Officer, and Doctor. There are a total of five species (including androids) from which to hire crew members; each person's proficiency is measured by their skill stat, which in turn is partly determined by their species.
The main hub of the game is Starport, the Interstel headquarters, a space station which orbits the planet Arth. From here players receive MUs ("monetary units," a fictional currency), recruit and train crew members, upgrade parts of the ship, and buy or sell minerals and artifacts. The most lucrative source of MUs is the colonization of planets. The Science Officer can be consulted in order to determine whether a planet is capable of sustaining human life. Once the planet is logged, players may return to Interstel HQ to receive a reward; if the planet proves to be unsuitable, a hefty fine is issued instead. Player also incur fines for sending out distress signals or becoming stranded on planets, both of which result in a rescue ship being sent.
While in space, players can enter any of the game's numerous solar systems, each indicated by a blue 'star'. Once this is done, the game shifts to a smaller map containing 0-8 planets, with the star in the center. When a landing is ordered, pixelated map shows the various topography of each planet, as well as a cursor to select a landing point. The Terrain Vehicle can be deployed once the ship is parked on the ground, allowing the crew to drive across the terrain and scan for minerals. As is the case in outer space, a heads-up display monitors the Terrain Vehicle's current fuel level, which is replenished by simply re-entering the ship. If the Terrain Vehicle is destroyed or irrevocably lost, a fee is automatically deducted for a replacement.
At any time while traveling through space, the ship may encounter an alien spacecraft. Most alien races (Velox, Thrynn) begin by scanning the ship for potential danger, while others (Uhlek) merely start shooting. If the player chooses to arm weapons or raise shields prematurely, the aliens will interpret that action as aggressive and begin firing. Alternatively, the Communications Officer can hail oncoming ships in an effort to be friendly.
The galaxy is composed of a number of species which can be encountered in space and five of which can be hired as part of the player's crew. (Humans apparently only exist on Arth and are not to be found among the stars other than on Interstel ships.) Other species include the Veloxi, large insects who demand bribes from ships which violate their space; androids (Interstel models which can be part of the crew, and a mechanical "race" (the Mechans) left over from the days of the Old Empire; the Elowan, a pacifistic race of sentient plants; the Thrynn, reptile creatures who are primarily interested in money; Spemin, gelatinous blobs who are known for their cowardice; the Gazurtoid, octopus-like zealots who regard all "air-breathers" as infidels; and the Uhlek, a destructive fleet of ships with a hive mind.
Further investigation leads the crew to Earth, the homeworld of the Old Empire. The planet has been burned to a cinder and is devoid of all life. Additional clues are found in the "Four Seedlings", a symmetrical system made up of four suns. Centuries ago, the leaders of the Old Empire realized something was causing hostile aliens to flee from the center of the galaxy. The greatest minds from each of the races gathered at this location, where they discovered that the Crystal Planet was slowly eradicating all life. In a last act, they sent a human named Commander McConnell to end it, but he apparently failed.
At the end of the game, the player must obtain certain artifacts in order to penetrate the shielding of the Crystal Planet and destroy it. Commender McConnell's last journal entry can be found on the surface; in it, he shares his discovery that endurium is actually a race of living, sentient beings who are being burned up as fuel for interstellar travel. Because their metabolism is extremely slow due to their crystalline makeup, they are not even aware of outside life and have come come to view mankind as a virus. The game ends after the player successfully plants the "Black Egg" artifact on the planet's surface and retreats back into space, causing the Crystal Planet to explode.
Starflight was ported and re-released for the Sega Genesis in 1991. Aside from graphical upgrades, there are very few changes to the overall game. In addition to modifications made to the ship itself, several upgrades can be purchased for the Terrain Vehicle — renamed "ATV" — including pontoons and snow treads (for transport over water and snow, respectively). The Shimmering Ball, an artifact which doubled as a cloaking device in the original DOS version, has no such ability in the remake. The option to name newly-discovered planets was also removed.
Starflight - The Lost Colony is a sequel slated for release as freeware in March 2008 under the banner of the original Binary Systems. The timing for The Lost Colony parallels Starflight I, but the setting is in a different part of the galaxy, with new alien races, a new homeworld called Myrrdan, and new gameplay. It was developed by a team of volunteers and game development students from the University of Advancing Technology. It is for Microsoft Windows, but Linux and Mac are planned to follow in mid-2008.