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This week, the first beta of the Star Control reboot is unleashed on an unsuspecting universe.  25 years ago, Accolade released Star Control II.

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Back in 1992, Accolade was a major game publisher.  Some of the best games of all time came from them, including Test Drive, Power at Sea, Hard Ball, Steel Thunder, and many, many other games.  During the late 80's and 90's, they were a match for Electronic Arts and Activision. 

Eventually, Accolade was acquired by Atari. Stardock acquired Star Control from Atari in 2013.  But, 25 years ago this month, Star Control II was released making gaming history.

 

When Giants walked the earth

Many fans are familiar with Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford's contributions to Star Control II.  After Star Control II, they would go on to form Toys for Bob, which was later acquired by Activision.

What most people may not realize is that the team who made Star Control II later went on to create other things that you are probably quite familiar with.  These legends came together in a moment in time and created one of the greatest games ever.

Let's take a look at some of the industry legends who teamed up to create Star Control II.

Greg Johnson, who designed the Starflight series, worked on Star Control II. He also worked on Deluxe Paint!  He later joined Electronic Arts back when it was only a couple dozen employees and worked on the Adventure Construction Set.  He also was the lead on ToeJam & Earl. Today, he leads HumaNature Studios.

Mat Genser and Robert Leyland also worked on the writing for Star Control II and have gone on to have careers in games and movies.

Speaking of movies, Iain McCaig, who worked on Star Control II as an artist and writer, is an industry legend today in movies and film. He designed Darth Maul and countless other Star Wars characters.  Recently, he worked on character designs for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  He also worked on Terminator 2, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Iain McCaig, one of the writers for Star Control II, would later go on to design Darth Maul

You can find more of Iain's Star Wars related work here.

Another writer on Star Control II was John Estes, who went on to work in the film industry and today is an active producer and director of documentaries.

Prominent science fiction artist, George Barr, also contributed his work to the art of Star Control. He was best known for those "pulpy" sci-fi images you'd see on book covers.

George Barr was the artist behind many classic science fiction scenes.

If you want to see more of his work, visit here.

Another legend, Erol Otus, was one of the leading artists on Star Control II and was even the voice of the Chmmr.

Artist Erol Otus may be familiar to you from his work in Dungeons & Dragons, as well as his art in Star Control II. 

Erol Otus also did music for Star Control II as well.  Here's a fantastic interview with him.

Erol Otus designed the Zoq-Fot-Pik for Star Control II and is also known for his D&D fantasy art.

Kyle Balda worked on animation for Star Control II.  You may not recognize his name, but you've seen his work. A lot.  He is the director of Despicable Me, Minions, The Lorax, and led the animation department on Monsters, Inc.

You've seen Kyle Balda's work somewhere besides Star Control II we suspect.

Another legend who was part of the art animation team was Greg Hammond.  Most recently, he produced The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition.  Before working on Star Control II, he was a producer on Loom and Wings of Fury.  After Star Control II he went on to work on games such as Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE-Fighter.

Armand Cabera was the artist who designed and created spaceship art and the spaceship animations on behalf of Accolade and Toys for Bob, and has gone on to have an amazing career.

The music for Star Control II came from a contest in which anyone could submit a proposed track to a given description. Riku Nuottajärvi was one of those who created music for Star Control, most famously the Hyperspace sequence. He is now the lead composer for
Star Control: Origins.

This is by no means a complete list of the men and women who worked on Star Control II.  25 years ago, Star Control II served as a nexus of amazing talent.  

For a full listing of the Star Control II team, visit the credits page.

Winning Inspiration

It is no secret that Star Control was influenced heavily by Starflight.  Starflight's lead designer, Greg Johnson, helped write the dialog for Star Control II.  David Brin's science fiction series about the Uplift Universe and Larry Niven's Known Space universe were influential in creating the setting. 

In the Uplift universe, a patron species will genetically modify a pre-sapient client species until it is sapient and then have it serve the patron for a period of time.  This concept found its way into the Star Control classic games lore and helped create a universe that felt well lived in. 

What made Star Control II so special?

There are many answers to this question.  I can only speak for myself.  The "cute" art style of Star Control II contrasted nicely with the quite dark story.  There is something unnerving talking to a seemingly pleasant alien whose theme song is "DIE! DIE! DIE!".  Star Control II broke all the rules for a 1992 game.  You played Star Control? Great. Guess what? You lost. The human race is stuck behind a slave shield.  You discover that within minutes of the start of the game.  In an age where every game seemed so happy, this was quite a change of direction. 

To put the innovation behind Star Control II's story in perspective, imagine if you went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens only to learn that after Return of the Jedi the Empire had won and had killed the main characters.  That's how startling the beginning of Star Control II was. It was unexpected.

Nowadays, players are a little more jaded.  But in 1992, the Star Control II opening was downright dark.  Moreover, the "bad guys" of Star Control -- the Ur-Quan -- were actually the lesser of two evils.  Their cousins, the Kohr-ah, weren't satisfied with merely enslaving everyone.  They wanted to cleanse the galaxy.

Star Control II's lasting influence

Some people consider Mass Effect a high budget remake of Star Control II.  That should give you an idea of its influence.  Stardock's own Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar took inspiration from Star Control II as well.  In that game, the primary villain, the Drengin Empire, had been victorious in the war against the Terran Alliance and its coalition.  The Dregin's shock troops, the Korath, weren't satisfied with enslaving the enemies -- they wanted to exterminate them.  Thus, when Galactic Civilizations III came along, several of the species from the previous game were gone -- exterminated forever. 

Mass Effect and Galactic Civilizations aren't the only games that Star Control II influenced.  Many games today have a concept of Precursors.  Was Star Control II the first game with the concept of an all powerful Precursor civilization? It's hard to say.  Babylon 5 had "The first ones" but in terms of games, I am not aware of any game that touched on it before Star Control II.

Happy Anniversary

One of the greatest gifts ever to befall the gaming community was the creation of the Ur-Quan Masters.  In 2002, 3DO's version of the game assets were turned over to the fan community allowing any fan to use the ships, source code, aliens, etc. as they saw fit, provided it was for non-commercial use.  The result: The Ur-Quan Masters.

And so, here we are, 25 years after the release of Star Control II.  Happy anniversary!

 

Cheers!


Comments (Page 1)
on Nov 09, 2017

This was an AWESOME Read...

Happy Birthday StarControl! ya influence on Books, Movies, Gamers and Games will last forever!

BRING ON "STARCONTROL ORIGINS" AND "GHOSTS OF THE PRECURSORS"!

on Nov 09, 2017

Nice, fake screenshots on that cover.   

on Nov 09, 2017

An interesting read...

on Nov 09, 2017

Greg Johnson, who designed the Starflight series, worked on Star Control II. He also worked on Deluxe Paint!  He later joined Electronic Arts back when it was only a couple dozen employees and worked on the Adventure Construction Set.  Today, he leads HumaNature Studios.

*cough* ToeJam & Earl *cough*

on Nov 09, 2017

Really appreciate the acknowledgment of the anniversary, and the extensive write up on the career evolution of SC2's pool of talent, to say nothing of the terrific tribute artwork! Noticed the Orz illustration on the site here already and was wondering what you guys were up to considering the position of non-intervention with the classic lore.

Would love to see more of these.

on Nov 16, 2017

It is pretty amazing the team Paul and Fred assembled. It’s worth noting that Fred may have done all the coding personally which is pretty amazing.

Star Control II was truly lightning in a bottle. I am pretty excited to see what they come up with next.

I had sent them interview questions awhile back and had art commissioned for the occasion but with Ghosts now publicly announced we are all trying to take care as to avoid creating the appearance of collusion. 

 

 

on Nov 16, 2017

Speaking of art, will you be releasing more of the aliens from the Ur-Quan universe? Or how about some for the aliens from Kessari?

on Nov 16, 2017

Quite an interesting read.  Thanks for posting.

on Nov 16, 2017

Nice article. I must be one of the few that did play Starflight. One of my first PC games I bought.  StarControl was in fact a new type of game with string story for the time.  I see that they have a lot of good talent at the time. You have a lot of work to do Stardock to top that And I hope you will succeed.

 

Martin

on Jan 03, 2018

This is Greg Johnson, thanks for the nice article!  I did indeed help out on Star Control II (And the original Star Control One Melee), and was the designer of StarFlight.  It's great to see Star Control II getting appreciated.  It was quite an achievement for it's day.  One comment I'd like to make is that this is a fine article but it leaves out a couple important things, first is that the genius of the engineering of this game was all Fred Ford, a one-man engineering marvel.  We used to joke about how Fred was really an android - he is so amazing.  Fred can code and carry on a conversation with you at the same time - no joke - and he never misses a step.  Likewise it doesn't give enough clear credit to the creative genius of this entire Universe and all of it's amazing character, content and game play, which comes straight from the fascinating and sometimes rather bizarre mind of Paul Reiche III.  Paul and I shared a tiny office in those early days, and then, once Fred joined Paul we were across the hall from each other... and we took long walks everyday in the Novato hills as I listened to Paul coming up with the characters and story of Star Control.  It's Paul's delightful humor and crazy story telling that make this game what it is.  His warm and playful personality shines through all of it.  Paul also mentored me and guided me as I built Starflight, and as I entered the game industry 35 years ago, and then I helped out a bit on his game mostly doing art and a little of the dialogue writing with his direction.  Those were really the garage shop days of game making.  Oh and I also roomed with Iain McCaig in those days - an amazing talent too, and a great guy.  This article says Iain did writing for the game but I don't believe he did - just some concept art.  Anyway hats off to both Paul and Fred.  Thanks for giving us an amazing and memorable game!

on Jan 03, 2018

GregJohnson1

This is Greg Johnson, thanks for the nice article!  I did indeed help out on Star Control II (And the original Star Control One Melee), and was the designer of StarFlight.  It's great to see Star Control II getting appreciated.  It was quite an achievement for it's day.  One comment I'd like to make is that this is a fine article but it leaves out a couple important things, first is that is the genius of the engineering of this game was all Fred Ford, a one-man engineering marvel.  We used to joke about how Fred was really an android - he is so amazing.  Fred can code and carry on a conversation with you at the same time - no joke - and he never misses a step.  Likewise it doesn't give enough clear credit to the creative genius of this entire Universe and all of it's amazing character, content and game play, which comes straight from the fascinating and sometimes rather bizarre mind of Paul Reiche III.  Paul and I shared a tiny office in those early days, and then, once Fred joined Paul we were across the hall from each other... and we took long walks everyday in the Novato hills as I listened to Paul coming up with the characters and story of Star Control.  It's Paul's delightful humor and crazy story telling that make this game what it is.  His warm and playful personality shines through all of it.  Paul also mentored me and guided me as I built Starflight, and as I entered the game industry 35 years ago, and then I helped out a bit on his game mostly doing art and a little of the dialogue writing with his direction.  Those were really the garage shop days of game making.  Oh and I also roomed with Iain McCaig in those days - an amazing talent too, and a great guy.  This article says Iain did writing for the game but I don't believe he did - just some concept art.  Anyway hats off to both Paul and Fred.  Thanks for giving us an amazing and memorable game!

Hi Greg! Wow thank you for adding to this this!

The more I researched this the more impressive Fred Ford's work has become.  From what I gathered, he led the effort for the 3DO version of the game.

That is also good to hear regarding Paul.  I think, generally speaking, Paul and Fred get a lot of credit already.   For many years, I and others, actually thought that Star Control was made by just Paul and Fred with music provided by third parties.  It wasn't until later that I knew about you, Iain and the other amazing people in it.

What I find amazing is how Star Control II was like lightning in a bottle. That so much immense talent came together for a time to develop something that has stood the test of time to this very day.

 

 

 

on Jan 04, 2018

Hi Frogboy!  I'm always happy to chime in, and thanks again for this retrospective.  Yes, indeed, Paul and Fred found some talented people to help out for sure, but don't forget this was 30 years ago when it all started, so pretty much all of us were just starting our careers and hadn't done much yet.  Maybe with the exception of Iain, who I think was simply born doing amazing artwork.  But I remember Kyle Balda, just some art student who borrowed my car because he couldn't afford one, and Matt and Erol and Greg Hammond, young D&D pals just starting out, all of us a bit young and clueless...but very enthusiastic.  Great memories from those days - it's very nostalgic though it makes me feel very old now. Haha   And fun to see where people have gone in life from there.

on Jan 04, 2018

GregJohnson1

Hi Frogboy!  I'm always happy to chime in, and thanks again for this retrospective.  Yes, indeed, Paul and Fred found some talented people to help out for sure, but don't forget this was 30 years ago when it all started, so pretty much all of us were just starting our careers and hadn't done much yet.  Maybe with the exception of Iain, who I think was simply born doing amazing artwork.  But I remember Kyle Balda, just some art student who borrowed my car because he couldn't afford one, and Matt and Erol and Greg Hammond, young D&D pals just starting out, all of us a bit young and clueless...but very enthusiastic.  Great memories from those days - it's very nostalgic though it makes me feel very old now. Haha   And fun to see where people have gone in life from there.

That sounds amazing.  I'm very envious!

Kyle Balda, who is now the director of the Minions movies, was an art student back in those days.

I'm not that familiar with Matt.  I'd love to update this article with anything recollections you might have.

Back then, there was no Internet really to communicate with.  You would have had maybe Fidonet or Compuserve or something so it's amazing you guys were able to connect.  Not to mention Riku who is over in Europe.  

How were you guys even able to connect back in those days?

 

on Jan 04, 2018

Greg Johnson, sorry to get all fanboyish for a sec, but I just wanted to say that Starflight is one of my all-time favourite games and I never thought I would have a chance to thank you for it.

So, you know, thank you for it

It was and still is an awesome game. I still have my original copies of Starflight 1 and 2 on my gaming shelf. I admittedly haven't played them in a while (hell, who has a 5.25" floppy disk drive these days) but I remember them like it was yesterday and absolutely love the games. I am, of course, a massive Starcon fan, but we all know what Starcon was a spiritual sequel to, and that's mostly all down to you.

Sorry to fan all over you, I'll let myself out.

on Jan 05, 2018

 Hi Bleyborne,

Thanks for the enthusiasm and sharing good memories.  Starflight was my very first game and way back then none of us on the team had ever made a  game before.  As I mentioned above Paul Reiche sort of took me under his wing and mentored me through the process of building a game, so a lot of what works works in that game was due to his good advice.  And maybe luck to some extent that it all just worked.  As to being a spiritual successor, I guess that's not a coincidence.  Paul always wanted to make his own Space Saga type game so after guiding me through Starflight he and Fred decided to do their own take on what a game in that genre could be like.  Paul sure came up with some pretty wacky stuff.  We had daily melee battles in the office and Paul and I enjoyed a friendly rivalry with our melee skills.  He was REALLY good with the Drooge and the Urquan, and I favored the Arilou. and the Chenjesu.  (I can still beat him - but don't let him know I said that!)  Really great memories for me.  Sort of the golden age of game development when it was more about the fun and less about the money.  I'm still enjoying making games but I think it will never be quite the same as that.

 

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