Star Saga: One – Beyond the Boundary Episode.033

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I was fortunate enough as a child to have a computer before any video game consoles.  We owned an Apple IIgs, which had some significant improvements that really were advanced for its time.  There was one video game we had for it that, looking back, really had a great concept that never really took off.  Back in 1988, Star Saga: One – Beyond the Boundary was released.  It was for MS-DOS as well.

The game combined those classic Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books we used to reads as kids with a tabletop roleplaying game using a user interface.  The game was a pure sandbox game, which for a video game in the 1980s was almost unheard of.  Games like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy were about the only ones out there that allowed you to travel anywhere without a specific direction (though both of those games gave you quests and storylines that would navigate you somewhat).

The game begins by selecting one of six characters that had their own background and motivations.  You could actually play the game solo because your character could die at any turn if you made poor decisions, but it was naturally more fun with other players involved.  The motivations would be kept secret so it would make it difficult for players to thwart the others’ plan.

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In the massive box (that weighed 3 pounds), there was a giant double sided fold-out map depicting a small sector of a galaxy on one side and the entire galaxy on the other.  It was divided into a series of triangles that represented a planet or some special feature like a large asteroid.  It came with tokens for each player, and there also was the series of booklets.  These booklets were what fueled the game and where the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure came in.  When you began your turn, you would place your token on an adjacent triangle, and then type in the number that was printed on that triangle into the game.  The game would then give you a book number and page number to which you would need to refer to, to learn what resulted in your move.  Usually the paragraph resolved the situation by the end, either losing cargo, having a part of your ship damaged, rescuing someone for a reward if you take them home, or something random.  The system would typically update automatically after the result was concluded such as an updated inventory list.  Although reading could slow things down a bit, the game allowed for multiple players to make their move and be reading at the same time.

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Each section was unlabeled on the map, and it was encouraged to either use post-it notes on the board as the players discovered each world, but personally we always kept that information a secret.  We would always watch where the other players are located, and sometimes we would strike a trading deal with another to know what that planet’s main resource was to save travel time.  It could go beyond the scope of the initial game by keeping a running total of who owes what until the two players could reach a common spot on the map.

Although a bit slower process, the game is capable of being played online via a Cloud server such as Dropbox.  There is one small file the game operates on, much less than 1 MB if I am not mistaken, that can be uploaded and overwritten after each turn.  The game file increases in size as it has to remember each turn, discovered planets, and the like, but the size never even comes close to being an issue.  Phones with the right OS that can access the (I believe) .bat file can even play it.

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So what’s the point of the game?  Well as said before the players have their own ultimate agenda, which may be as complicated as discovering a specific planet on the map and building something on the surface, or it may be as simple as trading every kind of cargo available.  Once that occurs, the game is essentially over.  However, with the vast amount of space to discover (and the map is extremely huge), the number of turns could go into the 100s if the whole map is to be unveiled.  The booklets totaled 13 with 888 entries to read, so you can see the game could take a long time if so desired.  It would sometimes randomly have your turn intercepted by random things like pirates that would have their own entry.

The ship you begin your game is simple but fully upgradeable.  From increased cargo holds to shields and weapons, you were in complete control over how you wanted to develop your ship.  The shields seemed to always be the first to be upgraded because we noticed a lot of ship-to-ship combat in the game.  The amount of cargo holds was the next because you end up being a packrat as there are a lot of kinds of cargo to pick up from radioactive material to food stuff to munitions.  Many times the game will hint that another planet is currently buying a specific cargo for X amount to which you can stop your current trek and divert to that planet (assuming it’s even discovered).

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One other feature they include is suspended animation for players who aren’t available to play that day.  Their characters merely are skipped while they do not face any dangers as the other players continue their game.  With well taken notes, if your character happens to die, catching up is not too difficult as you already will know any secrets along the way.

And with the advance in technology, the game is available for free as abandonware.  An interactive map has been created so that notes and tokens can be placed and moved on the board for everyone to see.  This can be uploaded and viewed from multiple computers so that multiplayer is capable around the world.

There was a sequel that was made with a third installment intended to make the trilogy, but the company who developed the software, Masterplay, went out of business.  It is interesting to note that the creator of the game was Andrew Greenberg who some of you may recognize the name from the classic Wizardry series.

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It will feel like a pseudo-pen and paper sci fi RPG when you play it.  It might take you back to nostalgic years of reading those books that told you to turn to page 88 or 92.  Or it may just bore you to death.  Either way, the game was another one of those inventions of the 80s where it was simply too far ahead of its time in innovation to be as popular as it deserved to be.

For those of you interested, head to this link {Star Saga: One} where you can find the download game file along with the PDF booklets and interactive map.

If you want to play it straight online, Virtual Apple IIGS has both the first and second games available to play in-browser here {Star Saga: One Online}.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

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