Starcross was the fifth game released by interactive fiction pioneers Infocom.
The game designer/programmer (or as Infocom called it, "implementor", or "imp") for Starcross was Dave Lebling.
While the Zork trilogy had set a template of a combination between adventure gaming and a puckish sense of humor, Starcross is a far less comedic work.
(It's perhaps surprising, then, that Zork's grues appear in Starcross as well. They are described as "inhabitant[s] of the dark underground passages of a forgotten planet", a statement with interesting canonical implications.)
Starcross is influenced by much "classic" science fiction, most obviously Rendezvous with Rama and 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.
Starcross performed well for a game of the time, falling just short of 100,000 copies sold.
The player plays as a "prospector", looking for "quantum black holes" that can be harvested for energy. While the player is asleep in their one-person spaceship "Starcross", somewhere in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the ship's "mass detector" goes off. The mass detected turns out not to be a black hole, but rather a forbidding, huge alien craft.
In keeping with principles elucidated by Clarke and his science fiction contemporaries, the craft rotates to create gravity (thus, gravity is weakest at its center). In addition, the player also encounters many strange alien creatures that were being held in zoos by the mysterious shipmakers.
The player moves throughout the ship, solving puzzles and repairing systems until the ship can be flown back to Earth. Once this is achieved, they are told that:
the knowledge [the ship] contains will immeasureably benefit mankind. Within a few years, there could be human ships flying out to the stars, and all because of your daring and cunning...
An alien -- obviously a member of the race that constructed the ship -- then appears holographically to the player and informs them that they have "passed [the] test", and that the human race "shall benefit thereby." "I expect to see you in person, someday," the alien concludes.
Starcross was originally packaged in a round, "flying saucer"-esque package. Although retailers often found it difficult to shelve the product along with other games, the novelty value did prove to be appealing. The "flying saucer" packages are now collector's items, selling for hundreds of dollars.
Starcross continued Infocom's then-recently-established tradition (beginning with Deadline) of containing collectibles (or, as they were referred to, "feelies") to help set the mood of the game. Starcross's "feelies" were:
- A map of the asteroid belt area. This also served as copy protection.
- Later releases (post-"flying saucer") included:
- A letter from the "Bureau of Extra-Solar Intelligence", warning of the dangers inherent in "first contact" with alien races.
- "Log of the M.C.S. Starcross", a 10-page-long booklet that humorously depicts the player's struggles as a prospector prior to the game's beginning. "Leather Goddesses of Phobos" -- at the time, still a company in-joke, rather than the game it would later become -- is mentioned.
- Maps of the alien ship.