With all the recent rumblings of a Mass Effect sequel, the oft-rumoured second downloadable content package for the original, and the re-release that includes the previously released DLC plus a bonus disk, now is a great time to revisit the game that started it all, and in my opinion, was a heavy influence for Mass Effect, Electronic Arts's Starflight.
Before Mass Effect, Before Xbox, when console gaming was in its infancy a game arrived on the personal computers of the day (DOS, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64) that was remarkably similar to today's great space opera. Starflight had its debut all the way back in 1986. Often when people think of games from the mid-eighties visions of simplistic platforms will fill their heads. But Starflight's creators had their own vision, and ambition. They were able to produce a fantastic RPG the likes of which had never been seen before.
What may appear rudimentary by today's standards, Starflight allowed gamers experiences not unlike this generation's Mass Effect. Alien negotiations, space exploration, and planetary landings complete with searches for resources and ancient archeological sites. Clearly this game was ahead of its time. The Wikipedia page for Starflight continues:
Starflight, a computer game published by Electronic Arts and developed by Binary Systems in 1986, placed gamers as the captain of a state-of-the-art starship created to rescue a dying homeworld in a seemingly barren galaxy. Starflight, the "result of 20 man years" of work, used an in-game planetary generation system that enabled the galaxy to contain hundreds of explorable planets. A space opera of epic proportions containing shocking plot twists and deep mysteries. The somewhat RPG-like consisted largely of mining, alien diplomacy, and ship combat and managed to enable gamers to, in a sense, re-enact scenes remarkably similar to Star Trek.
I had the opportunity to play Starflight on my Commodore 64 back in the day. Unfortunately, the hardware limited the experience, I never had the opportunity to play the game the way it was meant to be played, rather all I had was the truncated version. Fortunately for me Mass Effect is delivering on the promise of yesterday today. In a funny twist, Starflight was originally published by Electronic Arts, now with EA's acquisition of BioWare, they look to follow up on what it started. As an old-school sci-fi buff it is good to know we can live out our old Star Trek fantasies in the video game space with Mass Effect, it is also good to remember your gaming roots such as Starflight.