Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator (1982)

Name:Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator
Time:50 minutes
Won:Not possible

*The company is listed as Sega/Gremlin, but Mobygames lists that company as Sega Electronics, so in the process of my usual company brevity, its just going to be Sega.

Star Trek was in a weird state after the first motion picture but before The Wrath of Khan. Technically, Star Trek was back, but it sure didn't feel like it. While The Motion Picture is a source of debate today, it did well enough at the time to warrant continued interest in the series. Its success then, of course was down to the hardcore fanbase of the series. Its those fans who took Star Trek and put it into its first gaming form, on mainframes, and then anything they could get their hands on. You can divide these into the many simulations based off the mainframe game, and numerous text adventures. This is not quite the first official game, Moby lists one based off the movie, and a couple odds and ends that seem legitimate, but this is the first one I'll actually be playing.

The plot is that NOMAD, from the season 2 episode The Changeling is destroying the Federation, and only the Enterprise can save it. However Klingons have decided now is the perfect time to invade and as such, ten levels of them need to be cleared out before NOMAD can be reached. When it rains, it pours. And it seems like all early Star Trek games run into a similar theme of just blasting Klingons.

This process happens every time you start the game, its slow and unskippable
The game is a wireframe game functioning in 2D space. Think more Battlezone than proper space simulation. On most waves, you have the Enterprise, you have some starbases, and what seem to be Klingon Birds of Prey. Moving around is done via a rotary dial (which I simulated with a joystick) pressing a button to accelerate, and a faster but limited warp option. For attacking you have phasers, which are unlimited but have a limited range, and photon torpedoes...which are limited but have unlimited range and create a big explosion. All together its a very satisfying game to control. Just make sure you use a joystick, because using keyboard controls is going to drive you up a wall with how slow it is.
There are three types of Klingons, the red ones going after bases. These turn purple after destroying their target. The purple ones go after you. I've read that after some time the purple ones turn white, but no level lasted long enough for that to happen. Rounding out the enemy force is some saucer thing which mimics your movements, but moves slightly faster than you. If it touches you, it starts draining warp.
Of note is the split screen of the game. What the authors intended, judging by what I've read, is for you to play using either one as your point of view. Either the top-down or the first-person perspective. In practice, the first-person view is the only one in which you can actually hit something, and the top-down perspective is a very effective map. As I played more and more of the game I kept finding myself using the top-down for everything...and failing because of it.
I've been hit, but I managed to get him at the same time. Meanwhile, the map is showing another Klingon chasing after me while a third bombards the base
Once you have that out of the way, the game is very simple. Shoot Klingons, and if you've been damaged, run into the starbase to dock. You restore some of your shields, photon torpedoes and warp power this way. This is also restored by getting enough points, 30k by default. This game is quite generous with how many hits you can take. I'm not necessarily going to say this game is easy, but it seems like if I can reach 100k points on the first try, this isn't that hard. Its mildly annoying dodging things, and you can take out multiple enemies fairly easily. Plus I think I killed NOMAD like twice. What gives?
I have a clear shot on NOMAD, but unlike other enemies, he can take multiple hits. He also drops mines with a range like my photons
A couple more times in, and what do you know, the game consistently gets me after the second NOMAD level. Even by wandering around the options menu to decrease the number of points to get another repair job it doesn't give me that much improvement, just a few levels more, and I never reach the third encounter with NOMAD. The optimal strategy is basically just, dodge shots, and while he's reloading fire at him. This works flawlessly early in the game, but as multiple ships start popping up, this doesn't work quite as well. Enemy shots seem to be a lot faster in the late game and there are a lot of them. The big issue is that the player's hitbox seems to be off somehow. Like I'm much bigger than I should be. If its me whining that I'm not winning or if the game is genuinely wrong in this regard, I couldn't tell you.
I do know that the Klingons slowly get longer ranges, to the point where I'm losing because they can shoot me practically across the map, and move faster too. I believe what I'm failing to do is properly use both the photon torpedoes and the warp to deal with this, but I suspect I've hit a limit to my skill level for this game. Irrespective of this, slowdown is happening during these last levels, and my patience is as an end.
Despite the guarantee that he'll bite it, this Klingon's shot will take out my shields and result in me quickly losing to his compatriots
Generic lasers and a special weapon that doesn't seem all that special. 1/10

A neverending number of Klingons, along with NOMAD, who throws mines at you every so often. 1/10

A starbase one has to save for points. Its actually valuable since you need to recharge your shields and the ilk. 1/10

Some number of Klingons and starbases are plopped down, where they are don't really matter. 0/10

Player Agency:
A solid proto-FPS control set. There's no sidestepping or backwards. Using the photons or warp is a bit awkward though. 4/10


For a game called Star Trek it doesn't feel all that Star Trek-y. 0/10

Simple wireframes, everything is depicted as it should be. 1/10

Basically an excuse for shooting Klingons. The backstory doesn't matter as soon as the game starts. 0/10

I didn't mention it, but the game has robotic imitations of Spock and Scotty. Its got nothing on Sinistar. Otherwise the typical blips and bloops and a few music bites. 1/10

That totals up to 9, but this is more than the sum of its parts, so let's give it another point, for a final score of 10.

This game feels weird for a Star Trek game. There's just something lacking here. I know some might put this down to it being based exclusively off TOS, but I'm certain that's not true. The first two Starfleet Command games and the two Interplay adventure titles are, or at least might as well be based off TOS. They're not this weird. Thinking further, I'm not so certain that also having the movies in hindsight truly made Starfleet Academy all that special either. Starfleet Battles, the tabletop wargame was released around this time too, so its not that. It doesn't feel like it has anything but the barest trappings of the franchise. This isn't unique to this game either, that mainframe game? I've played clones of it and that felt weird too. I guess the whole concept of the Enterprise fighting against endless hordes of Klingons feels completely anti-Trek. I'm not even saying you can't do war in Trek, just that one ship against a never-ending horde doesn't work in regards to this particular property, quality of the work be damned.

Owing to several IRL issues, I've been distracted from finishing Star Cruiser. The only issue has been the game's length and my inability to set aside time for it.


  1. Well, this looks neither strategic nor operational. I guess it is a simulation of sort, so 1/3.

    What's your criteria for playing games ? You really play the games I have never ever heard off, though I wasn't even born then.

    1. When I was doing the list that was the predecessor of this, my criteria was it was in first-person, you shoot things, its not a non-combat sim and you don't really do any kind of vehicle combat. (no Descent, Shogo or vehicle based FPS titles)
      When I started this blog, my idea was to not ignore vehicle-based titles and to play any games that would be like a FPS, but with a different viewpoint, so long as they weren't rail shooters or shoot 'em ups. (later, only if they're really good rail shooters or shoot 'em ups) Games directly related to known FPS titles like some of the Catacomb series, Heretic 2 and the original Postal were the reason for that line of thought.
      But as it turns out that can cover a lot of games, so then my line of thinking was sometimes go a little bit further afield if a game looks interesting or if I'm in an unusual mood. I think only Bump 'n' Jump qualifies as that as of yet, but car combat games are something I'm not entirely sure how I want to treat yet. Which is probably why I try to keep a hard rule where if a game looks like it isn't going to reach 10 points just from the screenshots/description, I'm not going to play it. (doesn't really apply after I've played it for a while, since its already too late, might as well just talk about it)
      And there is the inevitable problem of some genres having a lot of misuse for them. A lot of horror-themed stealth games where you run away from a monster are called that, and a lot of games claim to be a predecessor to the genre.

    2. Thanks for the answer.
      I guess at this point, the two remaining criterias are "arcade" and "looks interesting"
      Can we do requests ? :) I always thought that a blog where you request games to be played would be tremendous. See someone play a game the game loved when you were younger, and tell you whether it is all nostalgia or whether it is a really great game.

    3. Sure, within reason. Since I realized I never did a post where I mention what my criteria for covering games are, I'll be making one shortly, and I guess I should also post the list/spreadsheet of games I've covered/plan on covering, as unwieldy as that is.

    4. That spreadsheet thing is more time consuming than one would expect if you want to do it properly. That's my experience anyway. We are all in awe by the CRPGAddict's spreadsheet but he put a LOT of work in it indeed.