GameSpite Journal 12 is a print-on-demand book and will never run out of stock, but the coupon code WONDERFUL (which nets you 15% off a purchase our Blurb store) ends tomorrow. Like sands of the hourglass: Dust; wind; dude.
Given that the theatrical success of Star Wars opened the door for the resuscitation of Paramount’s Star Trek franchise via motion pictures, perhaps the fact that Sega’s Trek game took a few notes from Atari’s Star Wars should come as little surprise.
By no means were the two games identical, of course. Both featured immersive 3D gameplay from a first-person perspective, rendered with crisp vector line art against the stark black of outer space. Both revolved primarily around space combat. But the action of each game fit the personality of its respective property.
Where Star Wars saw players hurtling toward the Death Star and eventually into a surface trench leading to an unshielded exhaust port—an interactive reenactment of the film’s climactic finale—Star Trek played out in a far less direct and considerably more complex format. Players took on the role of James Kirk, and the first-person point of view represented not the perspective of a fighter cockpit but rather the more detached overview of a bridge commander’s chair. The game’s control interface consisted not of a flight yoke but rather a knob and several buttons, including a warp control that stood apart from the rest of the interface to give the sensation of reaching for a panic button if combat went horribly wrong.
Trek’s action avoided the rail-based simplicity of Star Wars in favor of free galactic navigation as players commanded the Enterprise from sector to sector, defending Federation borders against Klingon incursion and occasionally defending Starbases. The reward for successfully protecting a Starbase? The Enterprise’s all-important shields would be replenished.
Sega’s Star Trek wasn’t an easy game, nor was it necessarily easy to understand. The spinner control made sense enough, rotating the Enterprise to face assailants—though Mr. Spock would surely chastise designer Sam Palahnuk for “two-dimensional thinking”—but the four control buttons were unusually complex for the era and probably only made sense to gamers immersed in Trek terminology. Though, it should be said, Palahnuk did a remarkable job of converting the “sub warfare in space” feel of Trek into a stripped-down, quarter-munching arcade title without losing the essential sensibility of the show. Combat played out through multiple perspectives, giving a better sense of the action yet running the risk of over-stimulating players.
All things considered, Strategic Operations Simulator did about all that could be expected with the property in light of the format and limitations of its time. Honestly, with its rapid pace and overwhelming odds (not to mention the titular conceit of being a simulation) Sega could just has easily have called it Star Trek: Kobayashi Maru. S.O.S. also led to a surprising number of ports; I remember playing an incredibly cramped (yet fundamentally faithful) rendition of the game on my uncle’s portable mini-computer with its amazing five-line amber LCD display in the mid-’80s. Try saying that about Star Wars.
Article by Jeremy Parish
GameSpite Journal 12: Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator