Starflight is an open-world RPG/space-sim in which the player's ship is able to explore space, talk to aliens, gather resources from worlds, mark them as suitable for colonization, and eventually solve a far-reaching quandary that threatens to extinguish all life in the galaxy. First released on PC, it was eventually made available on multiple home computer platforms as well as the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. It was followed by a sequel, Starflight 2, in 1989.
Starflight takes place in a galaxy comprised of 270 star systems, each of which contains a number of planets (there are over 800 planets in all). Each planet has its own unique topography, climate, and gravity. The player is tasked to maintain, upgrade and staff their own starship in an RPG-like fashion. The ship is used to explore the galaxy and retrieve artifacts, minerals, and life forms from the surface of planets, which can then be sold to further upgrade the ship and the skills of its crew. While exploring the galaxy, players may also come across a number of alien races. How the player chooses deal with these encounters plays a major role in the progression of the game.
The story begins on a planet named Arth. Years earlier, scientists discovered a deep shaft in the crust of the planet, leading to a vast and ancient underground network. Investigation of this network revealed it to have been built by the first colonists of Arth (remnants of an ancient society called the Old Empire). In addition to this historical data, scientists also uncovered sufficient technical data which allowed them reconstruct some of the Old Empire's technology. The most significant discovery was that of a mysterious crystalline substance known as Endurium, which served as the fuel for their superphotonic (faster than light) technology.
Using this information, a company named Interstel is able to successfully build new ships capable of interstellar travel. With limited supplies of fuel available, Interstel builds a small fleet of ships and tasks them to search the galaxy for more resources (most importantly, Endurium). Players assume the role of a starship captain recruited by the Interstel corporation. In addition to procuring Endurium and other important minerals, players are also given a number of other goals: search for new habitable planets; discover more information about the Old Empire and the history of Arth; and build relationships with the other spacefaring races in the galaxy.
As resources are built and more of the galaxy is explored, this initial setup (while seemingly simple) eventually gives way to a more complex over-arching narrative. Through a series of events (involving hostile alien races, ancient artifacts, and a mysterious Crystal Planet), the fate of the entire galaxy ends up in the player's hands!
The Making of Starflight
The following information is taken verbatim from the packaging of the DOS version of Starflight:
"Back in 1982, we approached E.A. with the idea of creating a universe on a disk that would let people experience the feeling of exploring the universe. It was an ambitious idea. We knew it would require a lot of time and the development of some new technology. We were more right than we knew."
The Cutting Room Floor
"We rewrote the game script several times as we struggled to achieve our goals. We wanted the universe to convey a gigantic sense of space, complexity, and life. And we wanted an exciting fantasy role-playing game, with a wide spectrum of character interaction and activity. It seemed like whenever we were close to finalizing the script, we'd find another way to make the game more fun."
The Planet Builder
"About nine months after we started the actual programming, we came up with the idea for the fractal generator. A fractal generator so powerful that it could create surfaces in space. It took 6 man-years to create the technology, but it gave us the ability to cram 800 complex and unique planets into each game, instead of the 50 we'd had before. There are so many that even we haven't explored them all."
"To find the right names for each race, we wrote long profiles and histories for each, then tossed random syllables at each other for several days. To handle their languages, behavior, and combat-action, we had to devote months to building a sophisticated artificial intelligence system. We threw away the communications module three times before we had exactly what we wanted. Sometimes we wondered which would come first, flying to the stars in Starflight, or flying to the stars in real life."
"Once the fractal generator builds a planet, the eco-system generator creates environmental conditions for it, like gravity, atmosphere, minerals, and temperature. Once we took a journey back to Earth, only to find the eco-system generator had given it new continents and an ammonia atmosphere. It took two years to perfect the technology."
15 Man-Years Later
"The last several months were spent tying all the various technologies together. Because of the program's complexity and scope, the play-testing alone took months. But all the time and effort has proven worthwhile. We had a vision of what an outer space fantasy game could be, and now that vision is a reality."