History of Starfleet Deluxe - by Dr. Trevor Sorensen | Print |  E-mail


By Dr. Trevor Sorensen



At the core of Starfleet Deluxe (SFD) is a Star Trek-type game that was very popular in the 1970s and early 1980s, and could be found on almost every mainframe and mini computer. I first saw a version of Star Trek on the Honeywell mainframe computer at the University of Kansas while attending graduate school there in the mid-‘70s. This game used scrolling text graphics and was played on remote terminals (even 300 baud teletypes!). It was a fun and addictive game, but I could think of many features that would make it better. Not knowing how to contact the original authors, I decided to make my own version. The result was Starfleet Battle (not related to the board game Star Fleet Battles), which I wrote in 1976 in BASIC for use on an HP9830 desktop computer (4K RAM). The HP9830 used a built-in thermal printer and a single line LED display for its output. The BASIC version was expanded when an 8K RAM HP9830 became available (so much power and memory!).



In the Spring of 1977, I converted the program to FORTRAN and installed it on a DEC PDP 11/40 (followed later on a PDP 11/70 and then a VAX). This new version was renamed Starfleet and was still set in the Star Trek universe. Once established on a PDP 11/70 the program underwent extensive growth and modifications. It was proposed as far back as 1977 to add Service Records to the game, i.e., to keep track of who the users were and to record their progress up through the various Mission Ranks. Although playing the game was enjoyable in itself, there was no sense of purpose or long-term goals – games were played individually with only a momentary sense of satisfaction or achievement.


As a result, in 1980 Starfleet was modified to incorporate the one aspect that set it apart from most of the Star Trek games of that era and gave it its name. A comprehensive service record and associated features were installed. Starfleet was run on a central computer from multiple remote terminals, allowing many players to use the same program and share databases. The players became the members of Star Fleet and started competing with each other to progress up through the ranks, from a rookie cadet in Star Fleet Academy to the rank of Admiral. Minimum standards were set which players were required to pass in order to be promoted. The statistics of each mission were kept as well as the promotion history of each player. These were accessible to view by all members of the fleet. To reach the highest rank of Admiral provided the long-term goal and being able to view the progress of other members of the fleet provided the competitive spirit.


Once the fleet concept was established, it became possible to include other features, such as Star Fleet Post Office, whereby users could send mail to other members of the fleet, as well as Star Fleet Headquarters for fleet administration and management. A newsletter was provided, called Star Fleet News, to keep people abreast of the latest features of the program, as well as to relate amusing incidents that happened to fleet members and provide information regarding promotions, etc.


In order to provide an added incentive for players to excel in individual missions as well as fostering the competitive spirit, awards and decorations were added. These were awarded automatically by the program based on the results of individual missions and were entered in the player’s service record to be accessible for view by all. A Captain’s log was also incorporated, which mixed automatically recorded events with entries that could be made by the player. This provided an interesting record of each mission that was available to the player for viewing or printing.


The Starfleet program was included on a DECUS (DEC Users Group) tape in 1981 and achieved worldwide distribution. I received letters about it from as far away as Australia.


The X Version

Up to now the program had been somewhat hap-hazardly expanded as new features were added, resulting in a mass of “spaghetti” code that was becoming unmanageable.  In 1980 I started developing a new, improved version of the program, which I called the X Version. Much of the program was rewritten using a new COMMONs structure and more efficient FORTRAN coding. I also incorporated many new features that had been on my wish list, like additional ships types (Klingon battlecruisers and supply ships), planets, colonies, landing parties, etc. The objective of the game was changed from just destroying so many Klingons within so many stardates to defending your starbases and colonies and driving the enemy out of your region. Enemy strategy modules were added, which made for a much cleverer and challenging opponent, and a more dynamic and fluid game. The X Version neared completion in 1981 and was undergoing play testing when an external event halted my work on the game and changed the direction I was going – the advent of the IBM PC!


Star Fleet I – The War Begins!

At last there was a home computer powerful enough to host Starfleet - the IBM PC. In 1982 I formed a partnership company called Cygnus to develop and publish games and other software. The first product was to be derived from Starfleet, which was by this time a proven and mature product. After contacting Paramount Pictures and finding out that the license for a Star Trek computer game was not available (another developer had it), we came up with an alternate universe that was somewhat similar in appearance to that of Star Trek. The Klingons and Romulans became the Krellans and Zaldrons respectively, and the United Federation of Planets became the United Galactic Alliance. A friend who was a published board game designer, Richard Launius, developed a history for this universe that was completely uncoupled and dissimilar to that of Star Trek.


In the meantime I had conceived a series of Star Fleet games, of which the new Starfleet derivative would be the first. The first game to be published by Cygnus became Star Fleet I – The War Begins! (SFI). My partners and I converted the Starfleet program developed for DEC computers to Star Fleet I for the IBM PC. Since the FORTRAN compiler available at that time was pitiful (very limited capabilities and it produced memory hogs) and a BASIC compiler was not yet available, the first version of SFI (Version 1.0) was written in Interpretive BASIC. Because of the limited memory available, several of the features of Starfleet had to be dropped or simplified. We completed, published and marketed Version 1.0 in late 1983. It immediately received very favorable reviews in such magazines as Computer Entertainment and PCjr. We distributed it ourselves directly to customers, retailers and to regional and national distributors. In 1984 SFI was converted to compiled BASIC, which allowed several improvements to be made in addition to the greatly improved performance, and we started porting the program to other computers (Atari, Commodore 64, Apple II, Macintosh, Atari ST, Amiga, TI Pro, Sanyo 550). My colleague in Extra Strength Software, Brett Keeton, produced the C64 and Apple II versions. The IBM (and closely related TI Pro and Sanyo 550) version used only text-mode graphics to make it compatible with the many PCs at that time that just used Monochrome monitors, while the other versions had the advantage of using graphics with custom-designed symbols, visual effects and decent sound. About this time the game became a favorite of the science fiction author and computer columnist, Jerry Pournelle, in his monthly column in Byte magazine. In 1986 after we had achieved further accolades for SFI from several gaming magazines and also introduced other games (Balakon Raider, Stinger, Quizam), we were picked up as an Affiliated Label by Electronic Arts. By then we had outgrown being a partnership, so in 1986 we incorporated and changed the name of the company to Interstel Corporation. Star Fleet I went on to sell over 75,000 copies. It was only surpassed in sales by Empire (released by Interstel in 1987), which was Computer Gaming World’s Game of the Year for 1988.


Star Fleet II – Krellan Commander

In 1985 I started developing the second in the envisioned Star Fleet series, Star Fleet II -Krellan Commander (SFII). This program was based more on the X Version than on Star Fleet I, but incorporated much, much more (including a whole populated galactic region doing its own thing, and planetary invasions, etc.). It was written in C and Assembly Language and was released by Interstel through Electronic Arts in August, 1989. Version 1.0/1.1 sold about 25,000 copies in 3 months, but production stopped then in order to fix some bugs and wait for the completion of a greatly improved Version 1.5. Unfortunately, at this same time there was a hostile takeover bid for Interstel, which resulted in my leaving the company in 1990 and its self-destruction into non-existence by 1992. Version 1.5 was completed in 1991 but never sold through retail outlets - it was only available as an update.


Star Legions

In 1992, the main contract programmer for Interstel, Brett Keeton, and Interstel’s main contract artist, Richard Launius, joined me in a new partnership called Supernova Creations, the objective of which was to develop new board and computer games. We took SFII‘s planetary invasion module (which I had designed and was coded by another contractor, Mark Baldwin) and converted it into a standalone game with improved graphics, sound and game play. This game was named Star Legions and was published and sold in late 1992 by Mindcraft, another Electronic Arts Affiliated Label. Star Legions also received high praise from the computer gaming press. Unfortunately Mindcraft went out of business in 1993 and Supernova Creations is now defunct.


Starfleet Deluxe

In 1998 Brett Keeton suggested to me that it was about time that the world was offered an updated Star Fleet game, this time to be run in MS Windows and sold as shareware over the Internet. Brett and a fellow programmer, Mike Hartman, initially rewrote SFI in 1998 to improve the graphics and sound. However, it was realized that the game itself was too shallow for today’s more sophisticated market, so we decided to go back into my archives, dust off the documentation, and revive the X Version. Starfleet Deluxe and Extra Strength Software are the results of this effort. SFD has similarities to SFI, but that is because they both have the common source, Starfleet (see above). SFD is actually a derivative of the X Version, with some improvements and simplifications to enhance game play. If the response to this game is good enough, we might convert SFII to graphics, add sound, and release a Star Fleet II Deluxe. If you would like this to happen, then be sure to tell all your friends about SFD and this web site, but please, please do not give away copies of the full version of this game. We have to make some money to make it worthwhile to put the many hundreds of hours of effort into the development of a SFII Deluxe. However, please feel free distribute the demo version of SFD as much as you like.


Final Word

Although there are several very complex starship battle games out, many with spectacular 3-D graphics, which are much more comprehensive and “realistic” than Star Fleet Deluxe, there are times that you do not want to invest all the concentration and brainpower that these more complex games require. For some games it’s like a college course just to learn how to play them, and then it actually seems like hard work to do so. SFD is not trying to compete with these career games. Instead, SFD provides an alternative for when you want to have some fun with a scifi game, but don’t want to work too hard at it. It’s also very easy to learn, which means you can start playing competently almost immediately instead of after several hours of tutorials and frustration. So sit back, relax, and have a darn good time playing Star Fleet Deluxe - wiping out a few dozen Krellan and Zaldron ships in the process!