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Make sure your rose-tinted glasses are on nice and tight, and prepare for a lovely walk down nostalgia lane.
Star Control is a series of science fiction adventure video games developed by Toys for Bob, back when they did something other than make overpriced Happy Meal toys to scam children with. Their plots revolve around the struggle between the cultures of the known galaxy and the militant Ur-Quan Hierarchy of Battle Thralls. Both games in the series are legendary for their strategic gameplay, killer music, high-quality (for the time) graphics, shockingly deep background, and endlessly entertaining multiplayer. What the fuck are you waiting for? Go play it. Nobody's selling the games anymore, so feel free to pirate the shit out of them.
The original Star Control (subtitled Famous Battles of the Ur-Quan Conflict, Volume IV) was a simple two-player turn-based strategy game, where you play as either the Alliance of Free Stars or the Ur-Quan Hierarchy in one of nine (15 in the Sega Genesis version) scenarios, building colonies, mines, and attack ships in a trippy-looking star cluster map. Instead of relying on a bland, non-interactive mechanic like unit stacking or random chance for combat, battles are resolved with a game of Spacewar! Each species has a unique ship with its own weapon type, attributes and a unique special ability (like an energy shield for the Utwig Jugger or a crew-stealing "hypnotic field" for the Syreen Penetrator) that can turn a battle on its head when used well. Hit points are fluffed as crew members, as we all know that any damage inflicted on a starship is redirected straight to the nearest occupied console. You could also skip the strategy layer and play "Melee mode," which is just you, your enemy, and two fleets of ships to slam into each other.
Star Control II
After the rousing success of Star Control, Toys for Bob took a page (along with several devs) from the venerable Starflight series and tore the world wide open, making Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters an exploratory adventure game that dumps you into a mostly unexplored galaxy and leaving you to make allies and enemies as you see fit on your quest to defeat the Ur-Quan, generating much win in the process. You take the role of a human colonist descended from a research team that discovered a Precursor starship factory on an unexplored world at the close of the war with the Ur-Quan. Having lost contact with Earth, the colony sends you headlong into space in what is essentially a Precursor tugboat (which, while absolute shit at combat compared to the escorts you can get, is still an awesome flagship) to figure out what the hell happened. You rapidly find out that the Alliance lost the war, Earth has been enslaved (though slavery is a loose term, everyone is free to fuck around in Earth, except rotated 2000 humans in orbit to work as bored gas station attendants to Ur-Quan ships), and the Ur-Quan are nowhere to be found. Linking up with Earth's Hierarchy starbase, you set out to gather the resources and allies you need (battle cries of "GENOCIDE! MINING! GENOCIDE! MINING!" optional) to take the fight to the Ur-Quan and liberate the galaxy. To say any more would take away from the sheer awesome of the discoveries you make along the way, but you're basically set free to do whatever the fuck you want; Star Control II set a standard for player freedom that had never been seen before and arguably has never been seen since. And the plot turns out to be a rare "good Grimdark" story rather than an Edgefest of author's childhood catharsis.
In 2002, faced with the fact that they'd never make another Star Control game again, Toys for Bob released the resources and source code for the 3DO version of Star Control II, which featured voice acting (minus a few lines, see below) and enhanced graphics over the original PC version; this has become The Ur-Quan Masters, an untrademarked sourceport of the original game for modern platforms. Get it. Get it now.
Tips & Tricks
- TAKE. NOTES. This isn't your fucking JRPG cancer where everyone has a glowing neon sign over their heads telling you what to do next, you'll be given locations and coordinates once and it can be wasteful or impossible to have them given to you again. Keep a notebook or text file and record anything that seems important.
- There is a time limit. Because of a dev oversight this is never mentioned in the 3DO version, and therefore it's not mentioned in The Ur-Quan Masters without a mod. You have until the year 2159 (four years) to win the game "cleanly." If you don't make it because you spent two years gathering minerals or something, then bad things happen although you can still retrieve the items needed to win the game if you're quick enough to avoid hitting the "real" time limit shortly afterward.
- The Flagship is bad at combat. Your Ion-Bolt Gun is very shitty and very expensive, and while you can fix this later if you're caught without escorts early on you might as well reload. Sell it as soon as you can and use the resources to build actually useful things like storage upgrades and take as many diverse and high-tech escort crafts to your hangar as possible. THEN find new technologies and get yourself two modules of hellbores, 3 shiva furnaces, 4 guidance modules and 3 dynamos, and watch Ur-Quan shit themselves the moment you fire.
- Knowledge is power, guard it well. There is a godsend race that sells technology for abstract things. Without spoiling, hunt exotic creatures, photograph exotic planets and search massive stars for a funky merchant ship. They also sell direct clues on how to win the game. And ask the human captain about EVERYTHING. Ask every race about EVERYTHING.
- Read The Fucking Manual. There are a lot of hints in there about what to expect from the different aliens, and you're pretty much guaranteed to waste valuable time in the middle of nowhere if you don't consult the paper starmap included with the game to see where everyone lives.
- Know your limit. You'll often find situations that are just too dangerous for you at the moment. Remember, your escape unit is there for a reason. Don't waste resources chasing minerals or fighting ships you can't handle.
Star Control "Not3"
Toys for Bob were unwilling to work on any Star Control sequel on a shoe-string budget after working for several months without pay to finish SCII, so for the third game the higher-ups at Accolade hired Legend Entertainment, known for interactive fiction (think Zork) and graphic adventure games (first-person adventure games).
And right from there a problem becomes apparent. A studio known primarily for adventure games is making a non-adventure game, and it resulted in a 4X Strategy-RTS hybrid welded on top of SC game, and it didn't quite work. But at least with their writing pedigree they wrote a good story, right? Wrong. Half of the script is directly lifted from the second game with no change in context, most of the new stuff don't hold a candle to Ur-Quan Masters, many old favorites races got less than stellar treatment, and the Precursors are revealed to be Space Cows. And all of this made worse by pre-rendered puppet graphics that were already dated back then, and is horrible today.
The only good thing that can be said about this game is when in the rare moments the writing is good, it is good enough to be praised by Toys for Bob. It's still officially non-canon, though but you can fuck around in Super Melee or single player to try out the new ships in combat.
Star Control: Origins
When Accolade went belly-up, they got bought up Infogrames, who later renamed themselves as Atari, and then they got bankrupt and sold a lot of their IPs to cover their debts. The Star Control name, but not the contents as those still belong to Toys for Bob, was sold to Stardock of the Galactic Civilization fame.
With the rights to the name but not the content, Stardock are basically making a Spiritual Successor that just happens to have an official name attached to it, resulting in the not-quite-prequel, not-quite-alternate-universe of humanity taking the first step into the interstellar scene, meeting new friends and enemies.
Also, Stardock once requested help from Toys for Bob with this, which they sadly refused since their Activision overlords would not permit to work on anything other than Skylanders. The fact that they sued Toys For Bob in a lawyer-assisted fraud scheme (see below) and then tried to release DLCs based on their work (which they didn't and still don't have the rights to) probably burned that bridge anyway.
Ghosts of the Precursors
SUDDENLY! Toys for Bob had announced that "the stars have aligned" (read:The Skylanders franchise in particular and the Toys-to-life market in general are in downward spiral, so Activision has allowed them to do something else for a change) and are working on the true sequel to Ur-Quan Masters, named Ghosts of the Precursors.
And then Stardock sued Toys for Bob claiming that they didn't make Star Control and that the whole franchise is totally theirs because they pried the trademarks from Atari's cooling corpse, after 4 years of assuring Toys for Bob that they weren't going to lay any claim on the content of the previous games because they didn't and don't own the copyrights to their content. They also attempted to trademark almost every name associated with the classic Star Control games (and very specifically "Ur-Quan Masters") in a blatant assassination attempt against both Ghosts of the Precursors and the Ur-Quan Masters source port. You can send the creators money to support their legal defense (and thereby keep Stardock from stealing the rights to Star Control) here. You can also read Stardock founder Brad Wardell (under the alias Frogboy) try to defend his company's actions on the UQM forums here.