Originally launching in 1992 for MS-DOS PCs before being ported to the 3DO console, Star Control II is regarded by many as one of the greatest PC games ever made. However, its near perfect blend of story, humor, ship-to-ship combat action and gameplay made it a tough act to follow, which is one of the reasons its sequel failed to catch on with both fans and critics.
But there was still a great deal of enthusiasm for Star Control II, as evidenced by a community developed project called The Ur-Quan Masters, which remade the 3DO version of the game for modern systems. Hope for a new game was revived when Stardock Entertainment (makers of the Galactic Civilizations franchise, Ashes of the Singularity and Offworld Trading Company) acquired the rights to the franchise in 2013 and later announced that a reboot was in development. The game, titled Star Control Origins, is expected to release later this year and will have players exploring the galaxy in a prototype vessel as humanity embarks on its first journey into the depths of space.
Stardock Entertainment’s CEO, Brad Wardell, recently spoke with [a]listdaily about reviving the 25-year-old franchise and bringing back the excitement of space exploration with it.
What attracted you to the Star Control franchise?
Star Control II was my favorite game of all time. When Accolade went out of business, Infogrames picked it up, and when that went out business, Atari got it. When Atari declared bankruptcy, we picked up the publishing rights to Star Control I, II and III so we could create a home for the existing trilogy. What we want is a space adventure game. I like Space Rangers and a few other games that touched that genre, but nothing scratches that itch like Star Control does. You go out, meet a bunch of aliens, have cool battles, explore planets and build up.
One of the problems that I think No Man’s Sky ran into is that people want to explore space, but they want to be guided a little bit. They want a reason to go out and see these planets, not to have a giant procedurally generated universe that offers all the same stuff. That’s where I thought the magic of Star Control was at. There’s a story, there are aliens out there, and I don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Star Control III released in 1996. Is there still interest in a game franchise that’s over 20 years old?
We know the appeal of Star Control exists because we just saw No Man’s Sky scratch the itch of wanting to explore the universe. The two games aren’t in the same genre, but we know that there’s that desire. Also, when people see Star Control, they know what it’s about. There are enough people that know that it involves space battles, having a cool ship, exploring planets and meeting whacky aliens. The name has a certain kind of gameplay associated with it. From there, it’s merit—you have to deliver a game that people want to play, and that’s enough to get other people on board. I still think that Star Control’s gameplay is super-compelling, especially nowadays.
Star Control III was panned by both critics and fans when it released. Does that history make it difficult to make a new game?
I guess it was a good thing that Star Control III came out. SC2 was made by a guy named Paul Reiche III and his friend, Fred Ford. They went on to create Skylanders, which is a super-popular franchise. What happened with SC3 is that you had a different group try to take what they did and run with it.
We got to talk to at length with Paul and Fred, and what they hope to do someday is continue their own stories. So, what we’re going to do is make the new Star Control a multiverse, where SC1 and 2 are one universe. Since we can’t pretend that SC3 didn’t happen—that happened in a completely different universe. Our universe is going to be an alternate history with a different cast of aliens. You’re still the Earthlings, but you’ll meet a different cast of characters and that allows us to go back to the start, where humans are just going into space while dealing with how their android servants took off.
Will there be an entirely new cast of aliens, or are you keeping some of the more iconic ones?
I don’t want to have any spoilers, but the main cast of Origins is all-new.
Are digital stores like GOG helping to revive nostalgia for the franchise?
Absolutely. Both GOG and Steam have been super helpful to us on this side. We sell the Star Control trilogy on GOG right now and we’ve been playing around with putting it on Steam.
How is Stardock adding its own flavor to the franchise?
We’re trying to keep the flavor the same as Star Control II. For example, we were able to recruit the original musicians that did SC2’s music. The art style is very much a modern version of SC2, it’s cartoony, but not in a comic book kind of way. We contracted writers from Cracked.com to make sure the writing is funny but not stupid.
The graphics of Star Control II may be retro, but the gameplay isn’t. When you play Star Control Origins, nobody is going to say that this is a retro game. I like to think that we’re expanding Star Control into areas that make sense, like planet exploration, interaction with aliens, and the ship designs.
What other features will help provide a fresh take on Star Control?
We have a powerful story editor that we can give out to others, so people can make their own stories. The other thing is that the aliens are dynamic. We’re using the Nitrous Engine, which we used in Ashes of the Singularity. The founders of Oxide Games (makers of Nitrous) were the same guys who did Civilization V, including the leader heads. All the alien lip-syncing and movements will be procedurally generated on the fly, with nothing pre-canned. You can literally put in the words and they will say them.
We could (and totally should) do a podcast or livestream with the aliens saying the words, because they will have the full facial movements.
Given how games like Homeworld have been remastered recently, has there been any consideration given to remastering Star Control II?
Unless we use the community developed project, The Ur-Quan Masters, we would have to go back to DOS. So, we would be rewriting it from scratch instead of updating it, and that would be really hard to do. Homeworld was a 3D game that had a Windows version. I think we’ll have to wait until Origins comes out to see if we can go back and (with Paul’s permission) do an update to bring back the game using the new engine.
Are there concerns that Star Control will be compared to current popular space adventures like Mass Effect?
Yeah, a lot of people have said that Mass Effect is basically a reimagining of Star Control. Since this is Star Control, we don’t have to get into the third-person shooter gameplay. It’s much more about ship-vs.-ship combat and the adventure of meeting crazy aliens. I think most people who played Mass Effect realize that it’s an epic adventure, but the field of it is more of a third-person action game.