Items tagged with: star
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19807082
Posted by pseudolus (karma: 22229)
Post stats: Points: 101 - Comments: 105 - 2019-05-02T12:24:25Z
#HackerNews #300m #but #citizen #game #may #never #play #raised #ready #star #that #video
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10 – #Magha #Nakshatra
Magha “The #Star of Power” Symbol: Royal Chamber with a Throne or a Palanquin Deity: Pitris (The Deified Family Ancestors, The Forefathers of Humanity and the Guarding Angels that give Protection in the Event of Calamities) Favourable: Ceremonies requiring Pompousness and Grandness, Public Performances, Coronations, Parades, Award Functions, Researching Lineage, Career Strategies, Past Practices
8 – #Pushyami #Nakshatra
#Pushya “The #Star of #Nourishment” Symbol: Cow’s Udder, Lotus (Flower), Arrow and a Circle Deity: Brihaspati (the High Priest of the Gods/ Lord of Sacred Speech and Prayers. He was given the Lordship of Planet Jupiter by Shiva. He is also the Author of Books on Law and Politics. He is the Teacher of Jyotish […]
“The Star of Nourishment”
Symbol: Cow’s Udder, Lotus (Flower), Arrow and a Circle
Deity: Brihaspati (the High Priest of the Gods/ Lord of Sacred Speech and Prayers. He was given the Lordship of Planet Jupiter by Shiva. He is also the Author of Books on Law and Politics. He is the Teacher of Jyotish and Astronomy. He gives Sustenance to Those around Him)
The #Searching #Star
Shakti (Power): Prinana Shakti (The Power to “Give Fulfilment and Joy”)
Symbol: Deer’s / Antelope’s Head/ Arched Bow
Deity: Soma, Chandra (The Moon God), God of Soma (Nectar) or Immortality
The #Star of Ascent
Shakti (Power): Rohana Shakti (The Power to “Make things Grow and Create”)
Symbol: Cart or #Chariot, #Ox-Cart pulled by Two Oxen, Temple, Banyan Tree
Deity: Prajapati or Brahma (The Creator), also called Vidhi or Viranchi (other names of Brahma)
Favourable: Initiation of Activities, Agriculture, Trade, Finance, Marriage, Healing, Self-Improvement, Exploration and Travel, Commencing Construction, Romance and Sexuality, Purchasing Jewellery, Vehicles, Garments
The Seven Sisters, or M45, is a misty cluster of stars....Commonly known as the Pleiades,modern astronomers believe that constellation’s stars were born in the same nebular cloud about 100 million years ago.The cluster contains more than 1000 stars,although only 14 are visible to the naked eye.It was known to the ancients,deriving its name from Greek mythology: the “seven sisters” were the daughters of Atlas, the Titan.
#M45 #constellation #star #nebular #cluster #Greek #mythology #Atlas #Titan #Pleiades #ASTROPHYSICS #PHYSICS #COSMOLOGY #SCIENCE #ThunderboltsProject #ELECTRIC UNIVERSE THEORY #PLASMA
The Xerox 810 Information System (“Star”) In 1981, Xerox released the Xerox 8010 Information System (codenamed “Dandelion” during development) and commonly referred to as the Star. The Star took what…
Article word count: 2941
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18948849
Posted by pjmlp (karma: 41245)
Post stats: Points: 137 - Comments: 11 - 2019-01-19T19:56:08Z
\#HackerNews #darkstar #emulator #star #xerox
The Xerox 810 Information System (“Star”)
In 1981, Xerox released the Xerox 8010 Information System (codenamed “Dandelion” during development) and commonly referred to as the Star. The Star took what Xerox learned from the research and experimentation done with the Alto at Xerox PARC and attempted to build a commercial product from it. It was envisioned as center point of the office of the future, combining high-resolution graphics with the now-familiar mouse, Ethernet networking for sharing and collaborating, and Xerox’s Laser Printer technology for faithful “WYSIWYG” document reproduction. The Star’s operating system (called “Star” at the outset, though later renamed “Viewpoint”) introduced the Desktop Metaphor to the world. In combination with the Star’s unique keyboard it provided a flexible, intuitive environment for creating and collaborating on documents and mail in a networked office environment.
The Star’s Keyboard
Xerox later sold the Star hardware as the “Xerox 1108 Scientific Information Processor” – In this form it competed with Lisp workstations from Symbolics, LMI, and Texas Instruments in the burgeoning AI workstation market and while it wasn’t quite as powerful as any of their offerings it was considerably more affordable – and sometimes much smaller. (The Symbolics 3600 workstation, c. 1983 was the size of a refrigerator and cost over $100,000).
The Star never sold well – it was expensive ($16,500 for a single workstation and most offices would need far more than just one) and despite being flexible and powerful, it was also quite slow. Unlike the IBM PC, which also made its debut in 1981 and would eventually sell millions, Xerox ended up selling somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 systems, making the task of finding a working Star a challenge these days.
Given its history and relationship to the Alto, the Star seemed appropriate for my next emulation project. (You can find the Alto emulator, ContrAlto, here). As with the Alto a substantial amount of detailed hardware documentation had been preserved and archived, making it possible to learn about the machine’s inner workings… except in a few rather important places:
From the March 1982 edition of the Dandelion Hardware Manual. Still waiting for these sections to be written…
Fortunately, Al Kossow at Bitsavers was able to provide extra documentation that filled in most of the holes. Cross-referencing all of this with the available schematics, it looked like there was enough information to make the project possible.
The Dandelion Hardware
The Star’s Central Processor (CP). Note the ALU (4xAM2901, top middle) and 4KW microcode store (bottom)
Much like the Alto, the Dandelion’s Central Processor (referred to as the “CP”) is microcoded, and, again like the Alto, this microcode is responsible for controlling various peripherals, including the display, Ethernet, and hard drive. The CP is also responsible for executing bytecode macroinstructions. These macroinstructions are what the Star’s user programs and operating systems are actually compiled to. The CP is sometimes referred to as the “Mesa” processor because it was designed to efficiently execute Mesa bytecodes, but it was in no way limited to implementing just the Mesa instruction set: The Interlisp-D and Smalltalk systems defined their own microcode for executing their own bytecodes, custom-tailored and optimized to their environments.
Mesa was a strongly-typed “high-level language.” (Xerox hackers loved their puns…) It originated on the Alto but quickly grew too large for it (a smaller, stripped-down Mesa called “Butte” (i.e. “a small Mesa”) existed for the Alto but was still fairly unwieldy.) The Star’s primary operating system was written in Mesa, which allowed a set of very sophisticated tools to be developed in a relatively short period of time.
The Star architecture offloaded the control of lower-speed devices (the keyboard and mouse, serial ports, and the floppy drive) to an 8-bit Intel 8085-based I/O processor board, referred to as the IOP. The IOP is responsible for booting the system: it runs basic diagnostics, loads microcode into the Central Processor and starts it running. Once the CP is running, it takes over and works in tandem with the IOP.
The Star’s I/O Processor (IOP). Intel 8085 is center-right.
Since the IOP brings the whole system up, it seemed that the IOP was the logical place to begin implementing the emulator. I started with an emulation of the 8085 processor and hooked up the IOP ROMs and RAMs. Since the first thing the IOP does at power up or reset is execute a vigorous set of self-tests, the IOP was, in effect, testing my work as I progressed which was extremely helpful. This is one important lesson Xerox learned from the Alto and applied to the Star: on-board diagnostics are a good thing. The Alto had no diagnostic facilities built in so if anything failed that prevented the system from running the only way to determine the fault was to get out the oscilloscope and the schematics and start probing. On the Star, diagnostics and status are reported through a 4-digit LED display, the “Maintenance Panel” (or MP for short). If the IOP finds a fault during testing, it presents a series of codes on this panel. During a normal system boot, various codes are displayed to indicate progress. The MP was the first I/O device I emulated on the IOP, for obvious reasons.
Development on the IOP progressed nicely for several weeks (and the codes reported in the emulated MP kept increasing, reflecting my progress in a quantitative way) and during this time I implemented a source-level debugger for the IOP’s 8085 code to help me along. This was invaluable in working out what the IOP was trying to do and why it was failing to do so. It allowed me to step through the original code, place breakpoints, and investigate the contents of the IOP’s registers and memory while the emulated system was running.
The IOP Debugger
Once the IOP self-tests were passing, the IOP emulation was running to the point where it attempted to actually boot the Central Processor! This meant I had to shift gears and switch over to implementing an emulation of the CP and make it talk to the IOP. This is where the real fun began.
For the next couple of months I hunkered down and implemented a rough emulation of the CP, starting with system’s 16-bit ALU (implemented with four 4-bit AM2901 ALU chips chained together). The 2901 (see top portion of the following diagram) forms the nexus of the processor; in addition to providing the processor’s 16 registers and basic arithmetic and logical operations, it is the primary data path between the “X bus” and “Y bus.” The X Bus provides inputs to the ALU from various sources: I/O devices, main memory, a handful of special-purpose register files and the Mesa stack and bytecode buffer. The ALU’s output connects to the Y bus, providing inputs back into these same components.
The Star Central Processor Data Paths
One of the major issues I was confronted with nearly immediately when writing the CP emulation was one of fidelity: how faithful to the hardware does this emulation need to be? This issue arose specifically because of two hardware details related to the ALU and its inputs:
1. The AM2901 ALU has a set of flags that get raised based on the result of an ALU operation (for example, the “Carry” flag gets raised if the result of an operation causes a carry out from the most-significant bits). For arithmetic operations these flags make sense but the 2901 also sets these flags as the result of logical operations. The meaning of the flags in these cases is opaque and of no real use to programmers (what does it mean for a “carry” flag to be set as a result of a logical OR?) and exist only as a side-effect of the ALU’s internal logic. But they are documented in the spec sheet (see the picture below).
2. With a 137ns clock cycle time, the CP pushes the underlying hardware to its limits. As a result, some combinations of input sources requested by a microinstruction will not produce valid results because the data simply cannot all make it to its destination on time. Some combinations will produce garbage in all bits, but some will be correct only in the lower nibble or byte of the result, with the upper bits being undefined. (This is due to the ALU in the CP being comprised of four 4-bit ALUs chained together.)
Logic equations for the “NOT R XOR S” ALU operation’s flags. What it means is an exercise left to the reader.
I spent a good deal of time pondering and experimenting. For #1, I decided to implement my ALU emulation with the assumption that Xerox’s microcode would not make use of the condition flags for non-arithmetic operations, as I could see no reason to make use of them for logical ops and implementing the equations for all of them would be computationally expensive, making the emulation slower. This ended up being a valid assumption for all logical ops except for OR — as it turns out, some microcode assumed that the Carry flag would be set appropriately for this class of operation. When this issue was found, I added the appropriate operations to my ALU implementation.
For #2 I assumed that if Xerox’s microcode made use of any “invalid” combinations of input sources, that it wouldn’t depend on the garbage portion of the results. (That is, if code made use of microinstructions that would only produce valid results in the lower 4 or 8 bits, the microcode would also only depend on the lower 4 or 8 bits generated.) Thus the emulated ALU always produces a complete, correct result across all 16-bits regardless of input source. This assumption appears to have held — I have encountered no real-world microcode that makes assumptions about undefined results thus far.
The above compromises were made for reasons of implementation simplicity and efficiency. The downside is that it is possible to write microcode that will behave differently on the emulation than on the real hardware. However, going through the time, trouble, and expense of a 100% accurate emulation did not seem worth it when no real microcode would ever require this level of accuracy. Emulation is full of trade-offs like this. It would be great to provide an emulation that is perfect in every respect, but sometimes compromises must be made.
I implemented a debugger and disassembler for the CP similar to the one I put together when emulating the IOP. Emulation of the various X bus-related registers and devices followed, and slowly but surely the CP started passing boot diagnostics as I fixed bugs and implemented missing hardware. Finally it reached the point where it moved from the diagnostic stage to executing the first Mesa bytecodes of the operating system – the Star was now executing real code! At that time it seemed appropriate to implement the Star’s display controller so I could see what the Star was trying to tell me – and a few days and much debugging of the central processor later I was greeted with this display from the install floppy (and there was much rejoicing):
The emulated Star says “Hello” for the very first time
Following this I spent two weeks of late nights hacking — implementing the hard disk controller and fixing bugs. The Star’s hard drive controller doesn’t use an off-the-shelf controller chip as this wasn’t an option at the time the Star was being developed in the late 1970s. It’s a very clever, minimal design with most of the heavy lifting being done in microcode rather than hardware. Thus the emulation has to work at a very low level, simulating (in a sense) the rotation of the platters and providing data from the disk as it moves under the heads, one word at a time (and at just the right time.)
During this period I also got to learn how Xerox’s hard disk formatting and diagnostic tools worked. This involved some reverse engineering: Xerox didn’t want end-users to be able to do destructive things with their hard disks so these tools were password protected. If you needed your drive reformatted you called a Xerox service engineer and they came out to take care of it (for a minor service charge). These days, these service engineers are in short supply for some reason.
Luckily, the passcodes are stored in plaintext on the floppy disk so they were easy to unearth. For future reference, the password is “wizard” or “elf” (if you’re so inclined):
Having solved The Mystery of the Missing Passwords I was at last able to format a virtual hard disk and install Viewpoint, and after waiting nervously for the installation to finish I was rewarded with:
Viewpoint, at long last!
Everything looked good, until the hard disk immediately corrupted itself and the system crashed! It was very encouraging to see a real operating system running (or nearly so), and over the following weeks I hammered out the remaining issues and started on a design for a real user interface for the emulator.
I gave it a name: Darkstar. It starts with a “D” (thus falling in line with the rest of the “D-Machines” produced by Xerox) contains “Star” in the name, and is also a nerdy reference to a cult-classic sci-fi film. Perfect.
Darkstar is available for download on our Github site and is open source under the BSD 2-Clause license. It runs on Windows and on Unix systems using the Mono runtime. It is still very much a work in progress. Feedback, bug reports, and contributions are always welcome.
Fun with the Star
You’ve downloaded and installed Darkstar and have perused the documentation – now what? Darkstar doesn’t come with any Xerox software, but pre-built hard disk images are available on Bitsavers (and for the more adventurous among you, piles of floppy disk images are available if you want to install something yourself). Grab http://bitsavers.org/bits/Xerox/8010/8010_hd_images.zip — this contains hard disk images for Viewpoint 2.0, XDE 5.0, and The Harmony release of Interlisp-D.
You’ll probably want to start with Viewpoint; it’s the crowning achievement of the Star and it invented the desktop metaphor, with icons representing documents and folders.
To boot Viewpoint successfully you will need to set the emulated Star’s time and date appropriately – Xerox imposed a very strict licensing scheme (referred to as Product Factoring) typically with licenses that expired monthly. Without a valid license code, Viewpoint grants users a 6-day grace period, after which all programs are deactivated.
Since this is an emulation, we can control everything about the system so we can tell the emulated Star that it’s always just a few hours after the installation took place, bypassing the grace period expiration and allowing you to play with Viewpoint for as long as you like. Set the date to Nov. 10, 1990 and start the system running.
Now wait. The system is running diagnostics.
Keep waiting. Viewpoint is loading.
Go get a coffee.
Seriously, it takes a while for Viewpoint to start up. Xerox didn’t intend for users to reboot their Stars very often, apparently. Once everything is loaded a graphic of a keyboard will start bouncing around the screen:
The Bouncing Keyboard
Press any key or click the mouse to get started and you will be presented with the Viewpoint Logon Option Sheet:
The Logon Option Sheet
You can login with user name “user” with password “password”. Hit the “Next” key (mapped to “Home” on your computer’s keyboard) to move between fields, or use the mouse to click in them. Click on the “Start” button to log in and in a few moments, there you are:
Initial Viewpoint Desktop
The world is your oyster. Some things work as you expect – click on things to select them, double-click to open them. Some things work a little differently – you can’t drag icons around with the mouse as you might expect: if you want to move them, use the “Move” key (F6) on your keyboard; if you want to copy them, use the “Copy” key (F4). These two keys apply to most objects in the system: files, folders, graphical objects, you name it. The Star made excellent use of the mouse, but it was also very keyboard-centric and employed a keyboard designed to work efficiently with the operating system and tools. Documentation for the system is available online – check out the PDFs at http://bitsavers.org/pdf/xerox/viewpoint/VP_2.0/, as they’re worth a read to familiarize yourself with the system.
If you want to write a new document, you can open up the “Blank Document” icon, click the “Edit” button and start writing your magnum opus:
One can change text and paragraph properties – font type, size, weight and all other sorts of groovy things by selecting text with the mouse (use the left mouse to select the starting point, and the right to define the end) and pressing the “Prop’s” key (F8):
If you’re an artist or just want to pretend that you are one, open up the “Blank Canvas” icon on the desktop:
MSPaint.exe’s Great Grandpappy
Need to do some quick calculations? Check out the Calculator accessory:
I’m the Operator with my Pocket Calculator
There are of course many more things that can be done with Viewpoint, far too many to cover here. Check out the extensive documentation as linked previously, and also look at the online training and help available from within Viewpoint itself (check the “Help” tab in the upper-right corner.)
Viewpoint is only one of a handful of systems that can be run on Darkstar. Stay tuned for future installments, covering XDE and Interlisp-D!
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Cloud Imperium, the developer of a yet-to-be fully launched space sim Star Citizen, raises $46M at a $460M valuation after crowdfunding $211M over six years (Devin Coldewey/TechCrunch)
#211m #460m #46m #after #citizen #cloud #coldewey #crowdfunding #developer #devin #fully #imperium #launched #over #raises #sim #six #space #star #techcrunch #valuation #years #yet
In this vaguely disturbing picture of Toys for Bob from 1994, Paul Reiche is at center and Fred Ford to the left. Ken Ford, who joined shortly after Star Control II was completed, is to the right.…
Article word count: 6902
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18734808
Posted by doppp (karma: 14098)
Post stats: Points: 126 - Comments: 56 - 2018-12-21T17:29:17Z
\#HackerNews #control #star
[IMG]In this vaguely disturbing picture of Toys for Bob from 1994, Paul Reiche is at center and Fred Ford to the left. Ken Ford, who joined shortly after Star Control II was completed, is to the right.
There must have been something in the games industry’s water circa 1992 when it came to the subject of sequels. Instead of adhering to the traditional guidelines — more of the same, perhaps a little bigger — the sequels of that year had a habit of departing radically from their predecessors in form and spirit. For example, we’ve recently seen how Virgin Games released a Dune II from Westwood Studios that had absolutely nothing to do with the same year’s Dune I, from Cryo Interactive. But just as pronounced is the case of Accolade’s Star Control II, a sequel which came from the same creative team as Star Control I, yet which was so much more involved and ambitious as to relegate most of what its predecessor had to offer to the status of a mere minigame within its larger whole. In doing so, it made gaming history. While Star Control I is remembered today as little more than a footnote to its more illustrious successor, Star Control II remains as passionately loved as any game from its decade, a game which still turns up regularly on lists of the very best games ever made.
Like those of many other people, Paul Reiche III’s life was irrevocably altered by his first encounter with Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s. “I was in high school,” he remembers, “and went into chemistry class, and there was this dude with glasses who had these strange fantasy illustrations in front of him in these booklets. It was sort of a Napoleon Dynamite moment. Am I repulsed or attracted to this? I went with attracted to it.”
In those days, when the entire published corpus of Dungeons & Dragons consisted of three slim, sketchy booklets, being a player all but demanded that one become a creator — a sort of co-designer, if you will — as well. Reiche and his friends around Berkeley, California, went yet one step further, becoming one of a considerable number of such folks who decided to self-publish their creative efforts. Their most popular product, typed out by Reiche’s mother on a Selectric typewriter and copied at Kinko’s, was a book of new spells called The Necromican.
That venture eventually crashed and burned when it ran afoul of that bane of all semi-amateur businesses, the Internal Revenue Service. It did, however, help to secure for Reiche what seemed the ultimate dream job to a young nerd like him: working for TSR itself, the creator of Dungeons & Dragons, in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. He contributed to various products there, but soon grew disillusioned by the way that his own miserable pay contrasted with the rampant waste and mismanagement around him, which even a starry-eyed teenage RPG fanatic like him couldn’t fail to notice. The end came when he spoke up in a meeting to question the purchase of a Porsche as an executive’s company car. That got him “unemployed pretty dang fast,” he says.
So, he wound up back home, attending the University of California, Berkeley, as a geology major. But by now, it was the 1980s, and home computers — and computer games — were making their presence felt among the same sorts of people who tended to play Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, Reiche had been friends for some time already with one of the most prominent designers in the new field: Jon Freeman of Automated Simulations, designer of Temple of Apshai, the most sophisticated of the very early proto-CRPGs. Reiche got his first digital-game credit by designing The Keys of Acheron, an “expansion pack” for Temple of Apshai‘s sequel Hellfire Warrior, for Freeman and Automated. Not long after, Freeman had a falling-out with his partner and left Automated to form Free Fall Associates with his wife, programmer Anne Westfall. He soon asked Reiche to join them. It wasn’t a hard decision to make: compared to the tabletop industry, Reiche remembers, “there was about ten times the money in computer games and one-tenth the number of people.”
Freeman, Westfall, and Reiche made a big splash very quickly, when they were signed as one of the first group of “electronic artists” to join a new publisher known as Electronic Arts. Free Fall could count not one but two titles among EA’s debut portfolio in 1983: Archon, a chess-like game where the pieces fought it out with one another, arcade-style, under the players’ control; and Murder on the Zinderneuf, an innovative if not entirely satisfying procedurally-generated murder-mystery game. While the latter proved to be a slight commercial disappointment, the former more than made up for it by becoming a big hit, prompting the trio to make a somewhat less successful sequel in 1984.
After that, Reiche parted ways with Free Fall to become a sort of cleanup hitter of a designer for EA, working on whatever projects they felt needed some additional design input. With Evan and Nicky Robinson, he put together Mail Order Monsters, an evolution of an old Automated Simulations game of monster-movie mayhem, and World Tour Golf, an allegedly straight golf simulation to which the ever-whimsical Reiche couldn’t resist adding a real live dinosaur as the mother of all hazards on one of the courses. Betwixt and between these big projects, he also lent a helping hand to other games: helping to shape the editor in Adventure Construction Set, making some additional levels for Ultimate Wizard.
Another of these short-term consulting gigs took him to a little outfit called Binary Systems, whose Starflight, an insanely expansive game of interstellar adventure, had been in production for a couple of years already and showed no sign of being finished anytime soon. This meeting would, almost as much as his first encounter with Dungeons & Dragons, shape the future course of Reiche’s career, but its full import wouldn’t become clear until years later. For now, he spent two weeks immersed in the problems and promise of arguably the most ambitious computer game yet proposed, a unique game in EA’s portfolio in that it was being developed exclusively for the usually business-oriented MS-DOS platform rather than a more typical — and in many ways more limited — gaming computer. He bonded particularly with Starflight‘s scenario designer, an endlessly clever writer and artist named Greg Johnson, who was happily filling his galaxy with memorable and often hilarious aliens to meet, greet, and sometimes beat in battle.
Reiche’s assigned task was to help the Starflight team develop a workable conversation model for interacting with all these aliens. Still, he was thoroughly intrigued with all aspects of the project, so much so that he had to be fairly dragged away kicking and screaming by EA’s management when his allotted tenure with Binary Systems had expired. Even then, he kept tabs on the game right up until its release in 1986, and was as pleased as anyone when it became an industry landmark, a proof of what could be accomplished when designers and programmers had a bigger, more powerful computer at their disposal — and a proof that owners of said computers would actually buy games for them if they were compelling enough. In these respects, Starflight served as nothing less than a harbinger of computer gaming’s future. At the same, though, it was so far out in front of said future that it would stand virtually alone for some years to come. Even its sequel, released in 1989, somehow failed to recapture the grandeur of its predecessor, despite running in the same engine and having been created by largely the same team (including Greg Johnson, and with Paul Reiche once again helping out as a special advisor).
Well before Starflight II‘s release, Reiche left EA. He was tired of working on other people’s ideas, ready to take full control of his own creative output for the first time since his independent tabletop work as a teenager a decade before. With a friend named Fred Ford, who was the excellent programmer Reiche most definitely wasn’t, he formed a tiny studio — more of a partnership, really — called Toys for Bob. The unusual name came courtesy of Reiche’s wife, a poet who knew the value of words. She said, correctly, that it couldn’t help but raise the sort of interesting questions that would make people want to look closer — like, for instance, the question of just who Bob was. When it was posed to him, Reiche liked to say that everyone who worked on a Toys for Bob game should have his own Bob in mind, serving as an ideal audience of one to be surprised and delighted.
Reiche and Ford planned to keep their company deliberately tiny, signing only short-term contracts with outsiders to do the work that they couldn’t manage on their own. “We’re just people getting a job done,” Reiche said. “There are no politics between [us]. Once you start having art departments and music departments and this department and that department, the organization gets a life of its own.” They would manage to maintain this approach for a long time to come, in defiance of all the winds of change blowing through the industry; as late as 1994, Toys for Bob would permanently employ only three people.
Yet Reiche and Ford balanced this small-is-beautiful philosophy with a determination to avoid the insularity that could all too easily result. They made it a policy to show Toys for Bob’s designs-in-progress to many others throughout their evolution, and to allow the contracters they hired to work on them the chance to make their own substantive creative inputs. For the first few years, Toys for Bob actually shared their offices with another little collective who called themselves Johnson-Voorsanger Productions. They included in their ranks Greg Johnson of Starflight fame and one Robert Leyland, whom Reiche had first met when he did the programming for Murder on the Zinderneuf — Anne Westfall had had her hands full with Archon — back in the Free Fall days. Toys for Bob and Johnson-Voorsanger, these two supposedly separate entities, cross-pollinated one another to such an extent that they might almost be better viewed as one. When the latter’s first game, the cult-classic Sega Genesis action-adventure ToeJam & Earl, was released in 1991, Reiche and Ford made the credits for “Invaluable Aid.” And the influence which Leyland and particularly Johnson would have on Toys for Bob’s games would be if anything even more pronounced.
[IMG]Toys for Bob’s first game, which they developed for the publisher Accolade, was called Star Control. With it, Reiche looked all the way back to the very dawn of digital gaming — to the original Spacewar!, the canonical first full-fledged videogame ever, developed on a DEC PDP-1 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology circa 1962. In Star Control as in Spacewar!, two players — ideally, two humans, but potentially one human and one computer player, or even two computer players if the “Cyborg Mode” is turned on — fight it out in an environment that simulates proper Newtonian physics, meaning objects in motion stay in motion until a counter-thrust is applied. Players also have to contend with the gravity wells of the planets around them — these in place of the single star which affects the players’ ships in Spacewar! — as they try to blow one another up. But Star Control adds to this formula a wide variety of ships with markedly differing weaponry, defensive systems, sizes, and maneuvering characteristics. In best rock-paper-scissors fashion, certain units have massive advantages over others and vice versa, meaning that a big part of the challenge is that of maneuvering the right units into battle against the enemy’s. As in real wars, most of the battles are won or lost before the shooting ever begins, being decided by the asymmetries of the forces the players manage to bring to bear against one another. Reiche:
It was important to us that each alien ship was highly differentiated. What it means is, unlike, say, Street Fighter, where your characters are supposedly balanced with one another, our ships weren’t balanced at all, one on one. One could be very weak, and one could be very strong, but the idea was, your fleet of ships, your selection of ships in total, was as strong as someone else’s, and then it came down to which match-up did you find. One game reviewer called it, “Rock, Scissors, Vapor,” which I thought was a great expression.
Of course, even the worst match-ups leave a sliver of hope that a brilliant, valorous performance on the field of battle can yet save the day.
You can play Star Control in “Melee” mode as a straight-up free-for-all. Each player gets seven unique ships from the fourteen in the game, from which she gets to choose one for each battle. First player to destroy all of her opponent’s ships wins. But real strategy — that is to say, strategy beyond the logic of rock-paper-scissors match-ups — comes into play only with the full game, which takes the form of a collection of scenarios where each player must deploy her fleet over a galactic map. In the more complex scenarios, controlling more star systems means more resources at one’s disposal, which can be used to build more and better ships at a player’s home starbase; this part of the game draws heavily from the beloved old Atari 8-bit classic Star Raiders. A scenario editor is also included for players who get bored with the nine scenarios that come with the game.
Star Control strains nobly to accommodate many different play styles and preferences. Just as it’s possible to turn on Cyborg Mode in the strategy game and let the computer do the fighting, it’s also possible to turn on “Psytron Mode” and let the computer do the strategy while you concentrate on blowing stuff up.
[IMG]Star Control in action. The red ship is the infamous Syreen Penetrator.
Yet the aspect of Star Control that most players seem to remember best has nothing to do with any of these efforts to be all things to all players. At some point in the development process, Reiche and Ford realized they needed a context for all this interstellar violence. They came up with an “Alliance of Free Stars” — which included Earthlings among its numbers — fighting a war against the evil “Ur-Quan Hierarchy.” Each group of allies/thralls conveniently consists of seven species, each with their own unique model of spaceship. Not being inclined to take any of this too seriously, Toys for Bob let their whimsy run wild in creating all these aliens, enlisting Greg Johnson — the creator of the similarly winsome and hilarious aliens who inhabit the galaxy of Starflight — to add his input as well. The rogue’s gallery of misfits, reprobates, and genetic oddities that resulted can’t help but make you smile, even if they are more fleshed-out in the manual rather than on the screen.
[IMG]Reiche on the origins of the Illwrath, a race of arachnid fundamentalists who “receive spiritual endorsement in the accomplishment of vicious surprise attacks”:
The name “Illwrath” comes from an envelope I saw at the post office, which was being sent to a Ms. McIlwrath in Glasgow, Scotland. I didn’t see the “Mc” at first, and I swear, my first thought was that they must be sending that envelope to an alien. I am sure that somewhere there is a nice little Scottish lady laughing and saying, “Oh, those crazy Americans! Here’s one now calling me an evil, giant, religiously-intolerant space spider — ha, ha, ha, how cute!” Hmm… on second thought, if I am ever found beaten with bagpipes or poisoned with haggis, please contact the authorities.
Around the office, Fred Ford liked to say that the Illwrath had become so darn evil by first becoming too darn righteous, wrapping right around the righteousness scale and yielding results akin to all those old computer games which suddenly started showing negative statistics if you built up your numbers too far. (Personally, I favor this idea greatly, and, indeed, even believe it might serve as an explanation for certain forces in current American politics.)
[IMG]Reiche on the Mmrnmhrm, an “almost interesting robot race” who “fear vowels almost as much as they do a Dreadnought closing in at full bore”:
When I first named the Mmrnmhrm, they actually had a pronounceable name, with vowels and everything. Then, in a sketch for the captain’s window illustration, I forgot to give them a mouth. Later, someone saw the sketch and asked me how they talked, so I clamped my lips shut and said something like, “Mrrk nsss,” thereby instituting a taboo on vowels in anything related to the race. Though the Mmrnmhrm ended up looking more like Daleks than Humans, the name stuck.
[IMG]Reiche on the Syreen, a group of “humanoid females” who embody — knowingly, one likes to believe — every cliché about troglodyte gamers and the fairer sex, right down to their bulbous breasts that look like they’re filled with sand (their origin story also involves the San Francisco earthquake of 1989):
It was an afternoon late last October in San Francisco when Fred Ford, Greg Johnson, and I sat around a monitor trying to name the latest ship design for our new game. The space vessel on the computer screen looked like a copper-plated cross between Tin Tin’s Destination Moon rocketship and a ribbed condom. Needless to say, we felt compelled to christen this ship carefully, with due consideration for our customers’ sensibilities as well as our artistic integrity. “How about the Syreen Penetrator?” Fred suggested without hesitation. Instantly, the ground did truly rise up and smite us! WHAM-rumble-rumble-WHAM! We were thrown around our office like the bridge crew of the starship Enterprise when under fire by the Klingons. I dimly remember standing in a doorframe, watching the room flex like a cheap cardboard box and shouting, “Maybe that’s not such a great name!” and “Gee, do you think San Francisco’s still standing?” Of course, once the earth stopped moving, we blithely ignored the dire portent, and the Syreen’s ship name, “The Penetrator,” was graven in code. Since then, we haven’t had a single problem. I mean, everyone has a disk crash two nights before a program is final, right? And hey, accidents happen. Brake pads just don’t last forever! My limp is really not that bad, and Greg is almost speaking normally these days.
Star Control was released in 1990 to cautiously positive reviews and reasonable sales. For all its good humor, it proved a rather polarizing experience. The crazily fast-paced action game at its heart was something that about one-third of players seemed to take to and love, while the rest found it totally baffling, being left blinking and wondering what had just happened as the pieces of their exploded ship drifted off the screen about five seconds after a fight had begun. For these people, Star Control was a hard sell: the strategic game just wasn’t deep enough to stand on its own for long, and, while the aliens described in the manual were certainly entertaining, this was a computer game, not a Douglas Adams book.
Still, the game did sufficiently well that Accolade was willing to fund a sequel. And it was at this juncture that, as I noted at the beginning of this article, Reiche and Ford and their associates went kind of nuts. They threw out the less-than-entrancing strategy part of the first game, kept the action part and all those wonderful aliens, and stuck it all into a grand adventure in interstellar space that owed an awful lot to Starflight — more, one might even say, than it owed to Star Control I.
[IMG]As in Starflight, you roam the galaxy in Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters to avert an apocalyptic threat, collecting precious resources and even more precious clues from the planets you land on, negotiating with the many aliens you meet and sometimes, when negotiations break down, blowing them away. The only substantial aspect of the older game that’s missing from its spiritual successor is the need to manage a bridge crew who come complete with CRPG-style statistics. Otherwise, Star Control II does everything Starflight does and more. The minigame of resource collection on planets’ surfaces, dodging earthquakes and lightning strikes and hostile lifeforms, is back, but now it’s faster paced, with a whole range of upgrades you can add to your landing craft in order to visit more dangerous planets. Ditto space combat, which is now of the arcade style from Star Control I — if, that is, you don’t have Cyborg Mode turned on, which is truly a godsend, the only thing that makes the game playable for many of us. You still need to upgrade your ship as you go along to fight bigger and badder enemies and range faster and farther across space, but now you also can collect a whole fleet of support ships to accompany you on your travels (thus preserving the rock-paper-scissors aspect of Star Control I). I’m not sure that any of these elements could quite carry a game alone, but together they’re dynamite. Much as I hate to employ a tired reviewer’s cliché like “more than the sum of its parts,” this game makes it all but unavoidable.
[IMG]And yet the single most memorable part of the experience for many or most of us remains all those wonderful aliens, who have been imported from Star Control I and, even better, moved from the pages of the manual into the game proper. Arguably the most indelible of them all, the one group of aliens that absolutely no one ever seems to forget, are the Spathi, a race of “panicked mollusks” who have elevated self-preservation into a religious creed. Like most of their peers, they were present in the first Star Control but really come into their own here, being oddly lovable despite starting the game on the side of the evil Ur-Quan. The Spathi owe more than a little something to the Spemin, Starflight‘s requisite species of cowardly aliens, but are based at least as much, Reiche admits a little sheepishly, on his own aversion to physical danger. Their idea of the perfect life was taken almost verbatim from a conversation about same that Reiche and Ford once had over Chinese food at the office. Here, then, is Reiche and the Spathi’s version of the American Dream:
I knew that someday I would be vastly rich, wealthy enough to afford a large, well-fortified mansion. Surrounding my mansion would be vast tracts of land, through which I could slide at any time I wished! Of course, one can never be too sure that there aren’t monsters hiding just behind the next bush, so I would plant trees to climb at regular, easy-to-reach intervals. And being a Spathi of the world, I would know that some monsters climb trees, though often not well, so I would have my servants place in each tree a basket of perfect stones. Not too heavy, not too light — just the right size for throwing at monsters.
“Running and away and throwing rocks,” explains Reiche, “extrapolated in all ways, has been one of my life strategies.”
[IMG]The Shofixti, who breed like rabbits. Put the one remaining female in the galaxy together with the one remaining male, wait a couple of years… and poof, you have an army of fuzzy little warmongers on your side. They fight with the same enthusiasm they have for… no, we won’t go there.
My personal favorite aliens, however, are the bird-like Pkunk, a peaceful, benevolent, deeply philosophical race whose ships are nevertheless fueled by the insults they spew at their enemies during battle. They are, of course, merely endeavoring to make sure that their morality doesn’t wrap back around to zero and turn them evil like the Illwrath. “Never be too good,” says Reiche. “Insults, pinching people when they aren’t looking… that’ll keep you safe.”
In light of the aliens Greg Johnson had already created for Starflight, not to mention the similarities between Starflight‘s Spemin and Star Control‘s Spathi, there’s been an occasional tendency to perhaps over-credit his contribution — valuable though it certainly was — to Toy’s for Bob’s own space epic. Yet one listen to Reiche and Ford in interviews should immediately disabuse anyone of the notion that the brilliantly original and funny aliens in Star Control II are there entirely thanks to Johnson. After listening to Reiche in particular for a few minutes, it really is blindingly obvious that this is the sense of humor behind the Spathi and so many others. Indeed, anyone who has played the game can get a sense of this just from reading some of his quotes in this very article.
[IMG]There’s a rich vein of story and humor running through even the most practical aspects of Star Control II, as in this report from a planet’s surface. The two complement one another rather than clashing, perhaps because Toys for Bob is clever enough to understand that less is sometimes more. Who are the Liebermann triplets? Who knows? But the line makes you laugh, and that’s the important thing. When a different development team took the reins to make a Star Control III, Reiche’s first piece of advice to them was, “For God’s sake, don’t try to explain everything.” Many a lore-obsessed modern game could afford to take the same advice to heart.
Long after every other aspect of the game has faded from memory, its great good humor, embodied in all those crazy aliens, will remain. It may be about averting a deadly serious intergalactic apocalypse, but, for all that, Star Control II is as warm and fuzzy a space opera as you’ll ever see.
Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t go in for plot. In fact, the sequel’s plot is as elaborate as its predecessor’s was thin; the backstory alone takes up some twenty pages in the manual. The war which was depicted in Star Control I, it turns out, didn’t go so well for the good guys; the sequel begins with you entering our solar system in command of the last combat-worthy craft among a shattered and defeated Alliance of Free Stars. The Ur-Quan soon get wind of your ship’s existence and the last spark of defiance against their rule that it represents, and send a battlefleet toward Earth to snuff it out. And so the race is on to rebuild the Alliance and assemble a fleet of your own before the Ur-Quan arrive. How you do so is entirely up to you. Suffice to say that Earth’s old allies are out there. It’s up to you to find the aliens and convince them to join you in whatever sequence seems best, while finding the resources you need to fuel and upgrade your spaceship and juggling a whole lot of other problems at the same time. This game is as nonlinear as they come.
[IMG]Star Control II takes itself seriously in the places where it’s important to do so, but never too seriously. Anyone bored with the self-consciously “dark” fictions that so often dominate in our current era of media will find much to appreciate here.
When asked to define what makes a good game, Paul Reiche once said that it “has to have a fun core, which is a one-sentence description of why it’s fun.” Ironically, Star Control II is an abject failure by this standard, pulling in so many directions as to defy any such holistic description. It’s a strategy game of ship and resource management; it’s an action game of ship-versus-ship combat; it’s an adventure game of puzzle-solving and clue-tracking. Few cross-genre games have ever been quite so cross-genre as this one. It really shouldn’t work, but, for the most part anyway, it does. If you’re a person whose ideal game lets you do many completely different things at every session, this might just be your dream game. It really is an experience of enormous richness and variety, truly a game like no other. Small wonder that it’s attracted a cult of players who will happily declare it to be nothing less than the best game ever made.
For my part, I have a few too many reservations to go quite that far. Before I get to them, though, I’d like to let Reiche speak one more time. Close to the time of Star Control II‘s release, he outlined his four guiding principles of game design. Star Control II conforms much better to these metrics than it does to that of the “one-sentence description.”
First, [games should be] fun, with no excuses about how the game simulates the agony and dreariness of the real world (as though this was somehow good for you). Second, they [should] be challenging over a long period of time, preferably with a few ability “plateaus” that let me feel in control for a period of time, then blow me out of the water. Third, they [should] be attractive. I am a sucker for a nice illustration or a funky riff. Finally, I want my games to be conceptually interesting and thought-provoking, so one can discuss the game with an adult and not feel silly.
It’s in the intersection between Reiche’s first and second principles that I have my quibbles with Star Control II. It’s a rather complicated, difficult game by design, which is fair enough as long as it’s complex and difficult in a fun way. Some of its difficulty, however, really doesn’t strike me as being all that much fun at all. Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while know that I place enormous weight on fairness and solubility when it comes to the games I review, and don’t tend to cut much slack to those that can only be enjoyed and/or solved with a walkthrough or FAQ to hand. On this front, Star Control II is a bit problematic, due largely to one questionable design choice.
Star Control II, you see, has a deadline. You have about five years before Earth is wiped out by the Ur-Quan (more precisely, by the eviller of the two factions of the Ur-Quan, but we won’t get into that here). Fans will tell you, by no means entirely without justification, that this is an essential part of the game. One of the great attractions of Star Control II is its dynamic universe which just keeps evolving, with or without your intervention: alien spaceships travel around the galaxy just like yours is doing, alien races conquer others and are themselves conquered, etc.
All of this is undoubtedly impressive from a game of any vintage, let alone one as old and technologically limited as this one. And the feeling of inhabiting such a dynamic universe is undoubtedly bracing for anyone used to the more static norm, where things only happen when you push them to happen. Yet it also has its drawbacks, the most unfortunate of which is the crushing sense of futility that comes after putting dozens of hours into the game only to lose it irrevocably. The try-and-try-again approach can work in small, focused games that don’t take long to play and replay, such as the early mysteries of Infocom. In a sprawling epic like this, however… well, does anyone really want to put those dozens of hours in all over again, clicking through page after page of the same text?
[IMG]Star Control II‘s interface felt like something of a throwback even in its own time. By 1992, computer games had almost universally moved to the mouse-driven point-and-click model. Yet this game relies entirely on multiple-choice menus, activated by the cursor keys and/or a joystick. Toys for Bob was clearly designing with possible console ports in mind. (Star Control was ported to the Sega Genesis, but, as it happened, Star Control II would never get the same honor, perhaps because its sales didn’t quite justify the expense and/or because its complexity was judged unsuited to the console market.) Still, for all that it’s a little odd, the interface is well thought-through, and you get used to it quickly.
There’s an undeniable tension between this rich galaxy, full of unusual sights and entertaining aliens to discover, and the need to stay relentlessly on-mission if you hope to win in the end. I submit that the failure to address this tension is, at bottom, a failure of game design. There’s much that could have been done. One solution might have been to tie the evolving galaxy to the player’s progress through the plot rather than the wall clock, a technique pioneered in Infocom’s Ballyhoo back in 1986 and used in countless narrative-oriented games since. It can convey the impression of rising danger and a skin-of-the-teeth victory every time without ever having to send the player back to square one. In the end, the player doesn’t care whether the exhilarating experience she’s just had is the result of a meticulous simulation coincidentally falling into place just so, or of a carefully manipulated sleight of hand. She just remembers the subjective experience.
But if such a step is judged too radical — too counter to the design ethos of the game — other remedies could have been employed. To name the most obvious, the time limit could have been made more generous; Starflight as well has a theoretical time limit, but few ever come close to reaching it. Or the question of time could have been left to the player — seldom a bad strategy in game design — by letting her choose from a generous, moderate, and challenging time limit before starting the game. (This approach was used to good effect by the CRPG The Magic Candle among plenty of other titles over the years.)
Instead of remedying the situation, however, Reiche and his associates seemed actively determined to make it worse with some of their other choices. To have any hope of finishing the game in time, you need to gain access to a new method of getting around the galaxy, known as “quasi-space,” as quickly as possible. Yet the method of learning about quasi-space is one of the more obscure puzzles in the game, mentioned only in passing by a couple of the aliens you meet, all too easy to overlook entirely. Without access to quasi-space, Star Control II soon starts to feel like a fundamentally broken, unbalanced game. You trundle around the galaxy in your truck of a spaceship, taking months to reach your destinations and months more to return to Earth, burning up all of the minerals you can mine just to feed your engines. And then your time runs out and you lose, never having figured out what you did wrong. This is not, needless to say, a very friendly way to design a game. Had a few clues early on shouted, “You need to get into quasi-space and you may be able to do so here!” just a little more loudly, I may not have felt the need to write any of the last several paragraphs.
I won’t belabor the point any more, lest the mob of Star Control II zealots I can sense lurking in the background, sharpening their pitchforks, should pounce. I’ll say only that this game is, for all its multifaceted brilliance, also a product of its time — a time when games were often hard in time-extending but not terribly satisfying ways, when serious discussions about what constituted fair and unfair treatment of the player were only just beginning to be had in some quarters of the industry.
[IMG]Searching a planet’s surface for minerals, lifeforms, and clues. Anyone who has played Starflight will feel right at home with this part of the game in particular.
Certainly, whatever our opinion of the time limit and the game’s overall fairness, we have to recognize what a labor of love Star Control II was for Paul Reiche, Fred Ford, and everyone who helped bring it to fruition, from Greg Johnson and Robert Leyland to all of the other writers and artists and testers who lent it their talents. Unsurprisingly given its ambition, the project went way beyond the year or so Accolade had budgeted for it. When their publisher put their foot down and said no more money would be forthcoming, Reiche and Ford reached deep into their own pockets to carry it through the final six months.
As the project was being wrapped up, Reiche realized he still had no music, and only about $1500 left for acquiring some. His solution was classic Toys for Bob: he ran an online contest for catchy tunes, with prizes of $25, $50, and $100 — in addition to the opportunity to hear one’s music in (hopefully) a hit game, of course. The so-called “tracker” scene in Europe stepped up with music created on Commodore Amigas, a platform for which the game itself would never be released. “These guys in Europe [had]just built all these ricky-tink programs to play samples out,” says Reiche. “They just kept feeding samples, really amazing soundtracks, out into the net just for kicks. I can’t imagine any of these people were any older than twenty. It makes me feel like I’m part of a bigger place.”
Upon its release on November 30, 1992 — coincidentally, the very same day as Dune II, its companion in mislabeled sequels — Star Control II was greeted with excellent reviews, whose enthusiasm was blunted only by the game’s sheer unclassifiability. Questbusters called it “as funny a parody of science-fiction role-playing as it is a well-designed and fun-to-play RPG,” and named it “Best RPG of the Year” despite it not really being a CRPG at all by most people’s definitions. Computer Gaming World placed it on “this reviewer’s top-ten list of all time” as “one of the most enjoyable games to review all year,” and awarded it “Adventure Game of the Year” alongside Legend Entertainment’s far more traditional adventure Eric the Unready.
Sales too were solid, if not so enormous as Star Control II‘s staying power in gamers’ collective memory might suggest. Like Dune II, it was probably hurt by being billed as a sequel to a game likely to appeal most to an entirely different type of player, as it was by the seeming indifference of Accolade. In the eyes of Toys for Bob, the developer/publisher relationship was summed up by the sticker the latter started putting on the box after Star Control II had collected its awards: “Best Sports Game of 1992.” Accolade was putting almost all of their energy into sports games during this period, didn’t have stickers handy for anything else, and just couldn’t be bothered to print up some new ones.
Still, the game did well enough that Toys for Bob, after having been acquired by a new CD-ROM specialist of a publisher called Crystal Dynamics, ported it to the 3DO console in 1994. This version added some eight hours of spoken dialog, but cut a considerable amount of content that the voice-acting budget wouldn’t cover. Later, a third Star Control would get made — albeit not by Toys for Bob but by Legend Entertainment, through a series of intellectual-property convolutions we won’t go into in this article.
Toys for Bob themselves have continued to exist right up to the present day, a long run indeed in games-industry terms, albeit without ever managing to return to the Star Control universe. They’re no longer a two-man operation, but do still have Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford in control.
To this day, Star Control II remains as unique an experience as it was in 1992. You’ve never played a game quite like this one, no matter how many other games you’ve played in your time. Don’t even try to categorize it. Just play it, and see what’s possible when a talented design team throws out all the rules. But before you do, let me share just one piece of advice: when an alien mentions something about a strange stellar formation near the Chandrasekhar constellation, pay attention! Trust me, it will save you from a world of pain…
(Sources: Compute!’s Gazette of November 1984; Compute! of January 1992 and January 1993; Computer Gaming World of November 1990, December 1990, March 1993, and August 1993; InterActivity of November/December 1994; Questbusters of January 1993; Electronic Gaming Monthly of May 1991; Sega Visions of June 1992; Retro Gamer 14 and 15. Online sources include Ars Technica‘s video interview with Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford; Matt Barton’s interviews with the same pair in Matt Chat 95, 96, and 97; Grognardia‘s interview with Reiche; The Escapist‘s interview with Reiche; GameSpot‘s interview with Reiche.
There’s a rather depressing pitched legal dispute swirling around the Star Control intellectual property at the moment, which has apparently led to Star Control I and II being pulled from digital-download stores. Your best option to experience Star Control II is thus probably The Ur-Quan Masters, a loving open-source re-creation based on Toys for Bob’s 3DO source code. Or go hunt down the original on some shadowy corner of the interwebs. I won’t say anything if you don’t.)
51. http://www.gamespot.com/gamespot/features/all/greatestgames/starcon22.html" target="_blank">https://web.archive.org/web/20040120034553/http://www.gamespot.com/gamespot/features/all/greatestgames/starcon22.html
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Now that we’ve wrapped up the Anniversary Event, I wanted to give you all a couple updates.
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\#HackerNews #and #citizen #financials #new #partners #release #road #star #the
2018 brought some pretty big things in the universe of Star Citizen; our first planet, Hurston, our first major landing zone, Lorville, four new moons, 32 new flyable ships, Face Over IP, much improved performance thanks to Object Container Streaming, Network Bind Culling and a complete overhaul of the game code to run on multiple CPU cores simultaneously. We had our largest CitizenCon to date in Austin, Texas and just recently wrapped up a really fun Anniversary Event. How cool was it to make the journey to Lorville, visit the Intergalactic Aerospace Expo West and get an up close and personal sneak preview of some ships that are coming to the ‘verse, or fly dozens of already flyable ships? It has been exciting reading the posts from people discovering the project for the first time and seeing so many people having a blast playing Star Citizen.
As we look forward to the holidays, I wanted to give you all a couple of updates. The first item of news is the Squadron 42 public roadmap is going live today. As with our Persistent Universe roadmap, this is linked to our company’s internal JIRA tracking system, so you can see at a glance the work remaining to complete the game. It was a lot of work to make sure every remaining task was broken down in detail and estimated to the best of our ability, and the same caveats will apply to the Squadron 42 roadmap as they do to the PU one, but our plan is to be feature and content complete by the end of 2019, with the first 6 months of 2020 for Alpha (balance, optimization and polish) and then Beta.
When we started the campaign for Star Citizen and Squadron 42, I said that the crowdfunding would go towards development of the game, and that the amount would define the scope and ambition of what we were working on. That is a commitment I am proud to say we have been upholding; its why we have over 500 staff around the world working on the games and have spent very little on marketing.
You can see this investment into development in the UK financials that we publish every year on Companies House. In a further effort at transparency we have decided to publish our historical financials from 2012 through 2017 on our new corporate website to allow all of you to see not just how much money we raise via the public counter, but also how the money has been spent globally.
All of our marketing is community focused and viral; events we host for all of you, in-fiction lore, commercials that help flesh out the world, and PR outreach. The fact that we have raised over $211M via word of mouth and viral marketing is staggering and a testament to how amazing a community all of you are. Everyone at Cloud Imperium is humbled to have your trust and support on this journey together.
As a result, we are building two of the most ambitious games ever embarked on in gaming, with budgets that are unmatched by all but the very biggest projects.
Having a great game is only half the battle. As we look towards the release of Squadron 42, we have been acutely aware that having a AAA game that matches the biggest single player games out there only goes so far if no one knows about it. The games we will be competing with for attention have tens and, in some cases, hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising behind them.
Other companies in a similar situation have normally tackled this problem by partnering with a Publisher for the marketing and sales of their game. As you all know I am not in favor of putting my destiny in the hands of a third party. On the other hand, I don’t feel it would be right to go back to all of you to raise funds to market the game to other people; most of you already have a copy earmarked for you and I still strongly feel that the money brought in from our crowdfunding should continue to go to the development of Star Citizen and Squadron 42.
Because of this, we started to investigate ways to raise money to fund the upcoming marketing and release needs of Squadron 42. We turned away some approaches from Private Equity and Venture Capital because we were concerned about them fully understanding what makes our company tick and pushing us towards short term decisions.
During this process we were introduced to Clive Calder and his son Keith, who have both been interested in the confluence of entertainment with the ability to directly connect with an audience online. Clive founded the most successful independent music company, Zomba, which was home to some of the biggest music acts in the world. Keith is an independent film producer whose company Snoot Entertainment’s most recent films are the critically acclaimed Blindspotting and the Academy Award-nominated Anomalisa. During our first meeting, we got on like a house on fire, with Clive telling me about how he wished that when he built Zomba you could have connected to the fans of an artist bypassing the myriad of media gatekeepers in the way Star Citizen does, and which wasn’t possible 15 years ago. Keith and I swapped war stories about the film industry and talked about how refreshing it is to be able to utilize crowdfunding to create a project that normally would fly against what is currently considered mainstream.
During the course of these discussions it became clear to me that if Clive and Keith joined us as investors in our company, we’d have true partners that respected what we had built, but also fully understood the ins and outs and the patience required with a business based on creating entertainment. Taking in like-minded partners helps us solve the need of funding the marketing and release of Squadron 42, but also stay attuned to what makes us special.
So, it’s with this that I would like to announce that we have closed a minority investment into Cloud Imperium US & UK, from Clive’s family office and Keith’s Snoot Entertainment for $46M for approximately 10% of the shares in the Cloud Imperium US and UK companies, which is a testament to the value, future potential and longevity of the company.
As part of this process we’ve taken on two outside board members. The first is Dan Offner, an experienced lawyer and entrepreneur with over twenty years of experience in Interactive Entertainment, who is Clive and Keith’s board nominee and second is Eli Klein, a long term friend who has been acting as an advisor to the company over the past couple of years.
The control of the company and the board still firmly stays with myself as Chairman, CEO and majority shareholder.
We wouldn’t have taken anyone on board if we didn’t feel that they were fully aligned with our vision, philosophy and could add valuable insight in navigating the business challenges ahead.
This investment helps secure our independence. We may not have the resources that an Activision or EA have to launch one of their tentpole games, but we now control our own destiny in marketing Squadron 42, especially as we have a secret weapon: all of you! Between the power of the best community in gaming to help get the message out and these additional funds we will be well positioned to enable Squadron 42 to enjoy the success that it deserves.
Beyond this, this investment gives Cloud Imperium the ability to take the long view when needed and allows us to grow as a company. I couldn’t be happier.
So I would like to welcome Clive, Keith, Dan and Eli to the Cloud Imperium family, and I look forward to great success with them and all of you.
See you in the ‘Verse!
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Astronomers have discovered a planet in orbit around one of the closest stars to the Sun, Barnard's star.
Article word count: 34
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18452345
Posted by dnetesn (karma: 43451)
Post stats: Points: 185 - Comments: 88 - 2018-11-14T18:27:47Z
\#HackerNews #around #astronomers #barnards #discover #star #super-earth
Astronomers discover super-Earth around Barnardʼs star
Artistʼs impression of the surface of Barnardʼs star b. Credit ESO-M. Kornmesser. Credit: Credit ESO-M. Kornmesser
Astronomers have discovered a planet in orbit around one of the closest stars to the Sun, Barnardʼs star.
The study was co-led by researchers from Queen Mary University of London, and from the Institut dʼEstudis Espacials de Catalunya and the Institute of Space Sciences/CSIC in Spain.
The potentially rocky planet, known as Barnardʼs star b, is a ʼsuper-Earthʼ with a mass of at least 3.2 times that of the Earth, and it orbits around its host star once every 233 days.
The results, published in the journal Nature, show the planet lies at a distant region from the star known as the ʼsnow lineʼ. This is well beyond the habitable zone in which liquid water, and possibly life, could exist.
The planetʼs surface temperature is estimated to be around -170 degrees Celsius meaning it is likely to be a frozen world which is uninviting to Earth-like life.
However, if the planet has a substantial atmosphere the temperature could be higher and conditions potentially more hospitable.
Dr. Guillem Anglada Escudé, from Queen Maryʼs School of Physics and Astronomy, said: "Barnardʼs star is an infamous object among astronomers and exoplanet scientists, as it was one of the first stars where planets were initially claimed but later proven to be incorrect. Hopefully we got it right this time."
Astronomers discover super-Earth around Barnardʼs star
Artist’s impression of Barnard’s Star planet under the orange tinted light from the star. Credit: IEEC/Science-Wave - Guillem Ramisa
At nearly six light-years away Barnardʼs star is the next closest star to the Sun after the Alpha Centauri triple system.
It is a type of faint, low-mass star called a red dwarf. Red dwarfs are considered to be the best places to look for exoplanet candidates, which are planets outside our solar system.
Barnardʼs star b is the second closest known exoplanet to our Sun. The closest lies just over four light-years from Earth and was also discovered by a team led by Queen Maryʼs Dr. Anglada Escudé in 2016. That exoplanet, called Proxima b, orbits around the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri.
The researchers used the radial velocity method during the observations that led to the discovery of Barnardʼs star b. This technique detects wobbles in a star which are likely to be caused by the gravitational pull of an orbiting planet.
These wobbles affect the light coming from the star. As the star moves towards the Earth its spectrum appears slightly shifted towards the blue and, as it moves away, it is shifted towards the red.
This is the first time that this technique has been used to detect a planet this small so far away from its host star.
The researchers re-examined archive data obtained over a 20-year period, and added new observations with the latest generation of instruments, namely the CARMENES spectrometer in Spain, the ESO/HARPS instrument in Chile and the HARPS-N instrument in the Canary Islands.
Astronomers discover super-Earth around Barnardʼs star
Graphic representation of the relative distances to the nearest stars from the Sun. Barnard’s star is the second closest star system, and the nearest single star to us. Credit: IEEC/Science-Wave - Guillem Ramisa
This wealth of data provided the extraordinary accuracy needed to identify the influence of the planet with near certainty. The wobble observed in the starʼs motion corresponds to speeds of only just over 1 metre per second—about walking speed.
Dr. Ignasi Ribas, from Institut dʼEstudis Espacials de Catalunya and the Institute of Space Sciences in Spain, said: "After a very careful analysis, we are over 99 per cent confident that the planet is there, since this is the model that best fits our observations. However, we must remain cautious and collect more data to nail the case in the future."
Further observations to increase the confidence of this result are already under way at various observatories, and the system is an excellent candidate for observation by the next generation of instruments specifically designed to image exoplanets directly, such as NASAʼs planned Wide Field Infra Red Survey Telescope (WFIRST).
If the planet can be observed directly it will provide vital information about its properties and extend our understanding of the kinds of planets that form around red dwarf stars.
An award-winning public engagement campaign, known as Pale Red Dot, allowed the public to follow in real time the observations and analysis that led to the discovery of Proxima b.
The public have also been able to follow the observations leading to this new discovery, a result of extending the search to other very nearby red dwarfs, via a similar web-based campaign known as the Red Dots project, @reddotsspace on Twitter).
The study includes contributions from Professor Richard Nelson and research student John Strachan, both members of Queen Maryʼs School of Physics and Astronomy.
This research was supported in part by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council and a Queen Mary University of London Principalʼs Postgraduate Studentship.
Explore further: Assist astronomersʼ new hunt for Earth-like planets
More information: I. Ribas et al. A candidate super-Earth planet orbiting near the snow line of Barnardʼs star, Nature (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0677-y
Journal reference: Nature
Provided by: Queen Mary, University of London
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This star killed its companion and is now escaping the Milky Way
Our universe is capable of some truly frightening scenarios, and in this case we have an apparent tragedy: two stars, lifelong companions, decide to move away from the Milky Way galaxy together. But after millions of years of adventure into intergalactic space, one star murders and consumes the other. It now continues its journey through the universe alone, much brighter than before, surrounded by a shell of leftover remnants.
Taken together, the abrupt, spectacular falls of both Fan Bingbing and Meng Hongwei suggest a drastic widening of a dragnet that is primarily about President Xi Jinping’s consolidation of authority.
Article word count: 1411
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18206752
Posted by dsr12 (karma: 24569)
Post stats: Points: 107 - Comments: 46 - 2018-10-13T06:31:52Z
\#HackerNews #and #biggest #chief #chinas #did #interpol #movie #star #the #vanish #why
When, suddenly and without explanation, Fan Bingbing, China’s most famous actress and its highest-paid celebrity, vanished, in July, conspiracy theories abounded. Had she been abducted? Was she in exile? Or had “the No. 1 beauty under the heavens,” as she is known, been having an affair with the Vice-President, and been forced into hiding? In China, where the movie industry favors fantasies and mysteries, the story of Fan’s disappearance suggested the kind of thriller in which she herself might star. But, last week, after an absence of more than three months, she resurfaced to issue a statement that could have earned her a part in a well-known TV drama series: the coerced public apology.
Fan did not speak on camera, but it was hard to imagine what could have prompted a more lip-quivering performance than the open letter that she published on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, where she has sixty-two million followers. After expressing “deep shame and sorrow,” she admitted to years of underreporting her earnings, through the practice of “yin and yang” contracts, in which a smaller contract is disclosed but a larger one is paid to the star. She was ordered to pay a hundred and thirty million dollars in back taxes and penalties. Her actions amounted not only to a personal misstep, she wrote, but to a betrayal of China. “I owe my success to the support from my country and the people. Without the great policies of the [Chinese Communist] Party and the country, without the love of the people, there would be no Fan Bingbing,” she wrote. “I have failed my country. ”
In a nation of runaway economic growth, where tax evasion is rampant among the wealthy, what struck many people was not Fan’s alleged misdeed—that was predictable enough to be banal—but the startling way in which her case was handled. The state has a record of disappearing human-rights activists and political dissidents, whose absences tend to attract little notice in the country. But the apparent detention of China’s top star—the South China Morning Post reported that she had been held in a “holiday resort”—marks a new era that also seems like a return to an older one. For the Chinese who lived through the Cultural Revolution, which lasted from 1966 to 1976, the tone of Fan’s contrition was reminiscent of the degrading self-criticisms that accused counter-revolutionaries were forced to write under penalty of torture or death. During that decade of heedless violence and persecution, show trials and public struggle sessions were tools that the state used to both intimidate the population and, perversely, to discredit accusations of abuses of power. When Fan professed shame for not “safeguarding the interests of my country and our society against my personal interests,” the language could have been copied from the speeches of Mao Zedong—or, for that matter, Xi Jinping—on the importance of social responsibility and patriotic duty.
Born to a humble family in the eastern city of Qingdao, in 1981, Fan grew up in the transformative years of Deng Xiaoping’s “reform and opening” free-market boom, when liberal policies presented cultural and economic opportunities that just a few years earlier the state would have deemed subversive. Vertiginous change quickly followed. The entrepreneurial ethos that Deng championed meant that, in Fan’s case, at least, if you were lucky enough to be born beautiful, worked hard, and cultivated the right patrons, you could ascend to stratospheric heights of fame and fortune. “I don’t need to marry into a wealthy family,” Fan once boasted. “I am my own wealthy family.”
By the time Fan was thirty-three, she was the fourth-highest-paid actress in the world, out-earning Angelina Jolie and Julia Roberts, and she topped Forbes’s China Celebrity List for four years. International brands and Hollywood studios looking to break into the Chinese market flocked to her. She has had roles in the “X-Men” series and in “Iron Man 3,” and will appear in the upcoming war drama “Air Strike,” starring Bruce Willis and Adrien Brody. In China, her ubiquity—she has been a brand ambassador for Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Mercedes-Benz, among others—was rivalled only by Xi’s. For every gleaming billboard hawking a nationalist slogan below Xi’s airbrushed face there was one of a bejewelled Fan, languidly posing above a luxury-brand logo.
In China, reality has a way of resembling thriller-movie plots, with disparate events playing out like sequels of a common franchise. The day after Fan resurfaced, it was reported that Meng Hongwei, the sixty-four-year-old president of Interpol, and China’s vice-minister of public security, had vanished shortly after arriving in China on a flight from Lyon, France, where Interpol is headquartered. On Sunday, Beijing issued a brief statement that Meng was under investigation. A few hours later, Interpol reported that Meng had resigned as president. Then, on Monday, Chinese authorities announced that he was being detained on charges of bribery and corruption. His wife, Grace, who had made a public appeal for his safety—a rare move in such cases—and maintains his innocence, has not heard from him since last month. She also reported a threat on her life and is now under the protection of the French police, as are the couple’s two seven-year-old sons.
If the trials of past senior officials are any indication, Meng’s fate is already sealed. Under the Chinese legal system, the accused, once in custody, is unlikely to be granted an opportunity to present exculpatory evidence. The conviction rate across the country is more than ninety-nine per cent. Despite hints that Meng’s error may have involved political “willfulness,” we may never know the exact nature of his alleged transgression. The irony is that no one is more familiar with the internal workings of the legal system than Meng, who played a major role in the country’s policing operations, including the repatriation of high-ranking officials suspected of corruption. During the past five years, more than a million and a half officials have been punished as part of Xi’s anti-corruption crackdown. Meng’s failure to retrieve Guo Wengui, the exiled billionaire real-estate tycoon whose criticism of the Chinese government has made him a high-profile enemy of the regime, may have contributed to his downfall.
Taken together, the abrupt, spectacular falls of both Fan and Meng suggest a drastic widening of a dragnet that is primarily about Xi’s consolidation of authority. Since assuming the Presidency, in 2013, he has assiduously preached the supremacy of the Communist Party. Central to “Xi Jinping Thought,” which was enshrined in the Party’s constitution last year, at its annual conference, is the idea that fealty to the Party is no longer a choice but, once again, a duty. As Fan’s confession makes clear, the personal is necessarily political.
Deng Xiaoping’s policies—which were a deliberate correction to the devastation and the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, and which were popularly summarized as “To get rich is glorious”—remade Chinese society in such a way that people aspired to personal gain rather than revolutionary glory. People sought to build their lives around the pursuit of wealth, fame, and worldly sophistication. More troubling for the state, élites, both within the Party and outside it, came to view vast fortunes and international prominence as protections against the Party’s will.
If economic liberalization was the animating principle of Deng’s tenure, what defines Xi’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is a political adherence to his vision. His strategy may seem brutal, but it’s hardly illogical. Authoritarianism short-circuits when any single person, no matter how exceptional, is able to extricate himself from political obligation. (The announcement of Meng’s detention referred to the importance of an “absolute loyal political character.”) Other forms of power—outsized wealth, fame, and prestige—present the possibility of success independent of Party patronage, and, most alarming to Xi, a vision of China without the Communist state. The existence of a troublemaker like Guo Wengui is an unforgivable offense, but the possibility that China is rearing a generation of connected, monied individuals who live unbeholden to the Party is an existential terror.
Western analysts have described the arrest of Meng as a “self-inflicted blow” to the Party’s legitimacy; in conducting a secretive investigation, the theory goes, China has hurt its international profile and damaged global good will. But it’s likely that, in Xi’s calculation, a political threat at home is far costlier than a few unflattering op-eds in the international press. His refusal to submit to international norms may even mark a brash attempt to build a new framework, one underwritten by might rather than by the perception of what is right.
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