Do you remember the first video game you ever played? I used to think mine was Zork, played on our family’s home computer. I remember unwrapping it on Christmas and being excited just looking at the box. It took me several years to beat because in those days if you got stumped, you had to wait until you solved it or found someone in real life who knew the solution.
Recently, I saw an image that reminded me that Zork wasn’t my first game. In the early 70’s my dad worked at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratories. One year, during their open house, they had a PDP-1 running a game where two ships could blast away at each while orbiting a star. That game was Spacewar! and the image of commanding a spaceship was burned into my memory like the background stars into those old phosphor displays.
Anyone who played the Starcom Flash game would recognize that it’s core game mechanic is pretty much Spacewar! with some more features, like missiles and shields.
A few years after I finished Zork, I played another game that put the idea of space exploration + story + blowing up aliens = amazing game into my head: Starflight.
Starflight was amazing for its time. Not only did you command a spaceship that you could take into battle, you explore space. There were 269 star systems with a total of 800 planets. You could land on those planets and search them for minerals, lifeforms or artifacts. And with the resources you found on those planets you could upgrade your ship and fight even more hostile aliens. And the graphics were pretty good for 1986. Here’s an animated GIF of landing on a planet:
Incredibly, Starflight fit on just two 360KB floppy disks. All the game code, dialog, artwork and 800 planets took up less space than that GIF.
Obviously there have been many other games that influenced Starcom, such as Star Control II and Wing Commander, or even non-space games like Diablo. But Spacewar! and Starflight defined the genre for me.