Niche Game: Space Station Silicon Valley

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing because they’re something different, something special.

If you look at a list of my favorite games, they tend to be the ones where gameplay is ever-changing, where you either have multiple characters with different abilities, or you can newly acquire vehicles throughout the plot. Space Station Silicon Valley is a prime example, as you spent the game constantly hopping from host to host, each with its own unique abilities. DMA Design (which later became Rockstar North) created this game back in 1998–they seem to have a particular talent for making games with a variety of gameplay, which may be one of the reasons they’ve been so successful. I honestly can’t believe this game has received so little attention, it is simply great but I’ve met very few people who know about it at all.

In the plot of the game, a space station was put into orbit around earth filled with animals. It was intended to be a high-tech amusement park. But the station disappeared shortly thereafter. Everyone thought it had disappeared forever but in the year 3000 it reappears on a collision course for Earth. “Heroes for hire” Danger Dan and his robot partner Evo are sent to investigate and to prevent the collision.

As they’re flying their ship to the station, they’re arguing over the choice of radio station and they manage to crash into the station as a result. Evo is shattered into many pieces, scattered into various areas of the station, and the game starts as you take control of the only remaining functioning piece, his CPU chip. The control chip itself crawls around like an insect, using its pins for legs, and it takes damage quickly with nothing to protect it from environmental factors.

Before the ship crashes, we see a scene showing Flossy the sheep and Roger their dog finally admitting their love for each. The spaceship lands and kills the dog instantly. This is typical of the fun and weird sense of humor this game has. It’s also convenient, because the Evo chip has a convenient host in the dead (dormant) dog-bot.

Strange things have been happening on the ship over the course of a millenium. The animals have evolved and merged with mechanical components on the ship, creating a diverse array of robo-animals. Some of them look like real animals, others are obvious hybrids, such as a polar bear with tank treads instead of legs, or a camel with a turret cannon in place of his hump. Each and every one of them can be taken over and controlled, but there’s a catch. Evo can only take over a host that is already dormant, which means that he has to defeat the animal first.

Each type of animal has its own set of abilities which must be used to solve environmental puzzles in the game. The sheep is one of the first animals you encounter. It has no attack, but it can glide slowly down, floating like the little puffy cloud that it resembles, which lets it cross long gaps easily. Also in the early stages you can become a dog which can jump and bite. Hyenas have contagious laughter which causes area-of-effect damaging hysteria. Pigeons can grip dormant robots and carry them from place to place. You get the point.

The space station is split into four environments, a European zone (foxes, dogs, sheep, and the like), an ice zone (polar bears, penguins, and others), jungle zone (hyenas, lions,…), and the desert zone (vultures, camels,…). As you progress through the game you are always coming across new animals that you must take over and use each animal’s abilities to progress through the game.

Danger Dan does not play an active role in the game, as the crash has trapped him inside the ship, but he is the one that hands down missions to Evo. Before the exit teleporter will activate, you have to complete your objectives, which are different for every stage. A few examples of missions. Some of the missions make sense, such as opening a security door into the next area, and some of them don’t. For instance, some of them say things like “Bring me something fluffy”. But Dan’s the boss-man, so you’ve gotta do what he says. In addition to the main objectives, you can also find souvenirs in some levels, gold objects that commemorate your time there. They help add some replay value if you want to go back and collect them.

The humor of the game is great. The interaction between Danger Dan and Evo in particular. Some of the animals just look and act really funny. The sheep in particular has the most stupid look on its face it just makes me laugh, and Dan’s mission objectives, though sometimes random and nonsensical, add some variety to a mission-based game.

The graphics aren’t spectacular by today’s standards (duh), and many of the animals are blocky. But that’s okay, they’re robots, so maybe the robots really are blocky.

Getting your hands on this game shouldn’t be a problem. A quick eBay search turns up 11 entries, with Buy It Now prices as low as $15 (for a “very good” condition cartridge with no manual) to $70 (factory sealed). In addition, it’s very possible you could find a ROM for this on the net, though I can’t vouch for that–I’ve never dabbled in N64 ROMs.

If you like gameplay with variety, you can’t go wrong with this game and it’s menagerie of mechanical critters. Enjoy!

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

PerdidoCoverVERDICT:Â Recommend, try to read at least 50 pages to get through the slow beginning.

Perdido Street Section is a great book, well worth the read. This is the first story I’ve read by China Mieville, but I will now be on the lookout for more from this author. It doesn’t take long to recognize China Mieville’s obvious skill at worldbuilding. The city of New Crobuzon is multi-faceted and schizophrenic, populated by humans and a multitude of semi-human races. But it does have its flaws. The good parts were great enough that I am still happy to recommend it.

It seemed to me that perhaps Mr. Mieville has been told too many times how great he is at world-building. He depends on it too much. The best stories are a balancing act between many different aspects: setting, character, plot. If the aspects are unbalanced, the result can be boring, confusing, or just plain annoying. In the case of Perdido Street Station, the unbalanced emphasis on setting made many sections tend toward boring. Unfortunately, the first part of the book fell under this category. The first thirty or forty pages go by without a whiff of conflict. The main characters are introduced and different areas of the city are explored, but there’s no reason why I should care. If I had picked it up for a test read at a Barnes & Noble, I would have given up and found a different book. Luckily, I’d come across the book via a friend’s strong recommendation. He has not steered me wrong before, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and kept reading, and I am very glad that I did. I highly recommend the book as well, but you need to stick with it for a while. Don’t worry, it gets better!

Isaac Dan Grimnebulin is the lead character, a freelance scientist and researcher, is approached by Yagharek, a garuda. The garuda are a desert-dwelling species shaped like men with wings and a beak. Yagharek, though, has no wings. They have been removed as punishment for a crime he has committed, and he asks for Isaac’s health in regaining flight.

Lin, Isaac’s significant other, is a khepri. Khepri are one of the many races in New Crobuzon, and are sort of like a mix between a beetle and a human. From the neck down, she is indistinguishable from a human, but in place of her head is a large beetle, with 6 legs, useless wings, and fully functioning head and rear parts. The khepri are particularly interesting, because the males are so different from the females. The males have no human parts, they are just the head-sized beetles, and they are not sentient.

Anyway, as I was saying, Lin is a khepri artist. She can make sculptures out of “khepri-spit”, which isn’t really spit at all. She eats colorberries and the beetle body processes them and spits out colored mush from its hind end that can formed into sculptures. As the book begins, she is recruited to create a sculpture of Motley, one of the kingpins of crime in the city.

They all live in the city of New Crobuzon, a world that’s very different from ours. The world is full of non-human creatures, steampunk-style machines, magic. The city is depicted in loving detail (sometimes too much detail), giving the nitty gritty details about many different districts from the rich neighborhoods to the poor. Some of my favorite sections followed the administration of the city, giving us a view into the government that keeps this whole place running.

The most interesting subgroup in New Crobuzon are the Remade. “Remade” is a very broad term which just means that the person has been altered in some fundamental way by a bio-thaumaturge. Most Remade have been given twisted forms as punishment for crimes, turning their heads backwards, replacing their legs with a metal tripod, any number of bizarre things. Besides punishment, Remaking can also be used to enhance soldier’s abilities and other advantages of body alterations.

Besides the slow beginning, there are also slow and pointless sections scattered throughout the story. Most of them are just expositionary lumps to show off Mieville’s worldbuilding. The world they reveal is complex and interesting, but to explain them at the cost of the momentum of the story is a mistake. Near the end of the story, there is a long segment when the main characters are all working together on a plan, and the book goes through the steps in painstaking detail, without explaining what the plan is! With everything else going on in my life, I tend to read only for a short period of time every day. At the slow rate I read it took me more than a week to get through this plotless unexplained section.

The climax of the book is exciting and satisfying, but after that the book just kind of keeps on going like a guest who doesn’t know when he’s overstayed his welcome. It spends a long time solving a “mystery” that none of the characters had shown any interest in before. If he wanted to end the book that way, I wish he would’ve made more effort to make its importance clear throughout the story.

There were quite a few loose ends that were never tied up, many hints that seemed to be designed to get you thinking about the significance of certain people or places, and then they were never mentioned again. Perhaps there will be more stories set in New Crobuzon and this is just a stub to leave some things open to tie up in the next one. If there are, I would definitely read them, but if not, I’d really like to know how some of those plotlines tie off.

It’s hard to say much more without major spoiler warnings, so this is the end of the spoiler-free section. And I do mean spoilers, I’ll be telling a lot of important details, including details about the ending. Read the book!


The major focus of the plot shifts as the book goes on. As part of his investigation, Isaac arranges the procurement of a variety of winged creatures, and those who will metamorphise into winged creatures. One of these is a vibrantly colored caterpillar. For weeks it won’t eat anything he feeds to it, until he happens across dreamshit, a hallucionogenic drug new to the market. The caterpillar eats that stuff up, grows like crazy, and builds a cocoon. What breaks out of the cocoon ends up being the main focus of the rest of the story.

Near the end of the book, the survival of the characters ends up being determined by a Deus Ex Machina character who has only been mentioned in passing beforehand. Not only that, he has no apparent reason to be interested in the protagonists, certainly not at the risk of his own life. Maybe he’s really that selfless, but he’s so undeveloped, only appearing for that one scene, that I will never know.

And in the end, Lin’s character ends up serving no purpose to the story. The first few scenes show their Isaac and Lin’s relationship together, so it seems like that will be vital. Then they get so involved with their own projects they barely see each other for the next few hundred pages. Then Lin is kidnapped by Motley the crime lord, and Isaac is convinced that Motley will kill her. He is very broken up about it, true, but it changes none of his actions. She shows up again at the very, very end, and he saves her life, but she ends up with half her mind wiped away so she is little more than a child. None of her actions really affected the plot, and her presence or absence would not have changed a single event in the story. So why was she there?

I’ve pretty much decided to retcon out the last section of the book after the major conflict is resolved, because if I acknowledge its existence, then Isaac becomes a major scumbag in my view. At the beginning of the book, when Yagharek approaches Isaac, Isaac does ask what Yagharek’s crime was that caused the removal of the wings. Yagharek told him it was “choice -theft in the second degree with utter disrespect”, which is a cultural thing of the garuda. Isaac thinks about asking what that is, but ends up kind of shrugging it off for 90% of the rest of the book. To me, his lack of interest during this period of time signals his acceptance of whatever crime has occurred. If he would refuse Yagharek for his crime, it should be now at the very beginning. But he doesn’t. He decides it’s none of his business, and puts his mind fully into the research. By the end of the book Isaac does create a means to fly, which is a huge groundbreaking discovery that will most likely be Isaac’s greatest scientific achievement. Without Yagharek, he would never have pursued the line of research that caused the breakthrough. Besides that, Yagharek pours significant amounts of his own money into Isaac’s pocketbooks. When the main conflict of the book goes into full swing, Isaac depends on Yagharek’s unique skills as a hunter to help resolve it and in the very end, Yagharek saves Lin’s life. Yagharek has done a LOT for Isaac. These actions were not selfless; he is desperate to fly again and he will do anything to help Isaac do it. And, on top of all that, Yagharek never lied to Isaac about his crime. He told him exactly what he did, though Isaac didn’t understand the meaning. If Isaac had asked, Yagharek would have told him.

Then, at the very end of the book, Isaac is finally on the verge of creating a flying device. But before he can give it to Yagharek, a delegation of garuda arrives to ask him not to do it. As if this is supposed to be the driving conflict of the story, instead of having been completely unmentioned for over 500 pages. She explains that what Yagharek did would be called rape by New Crobuzon culture. But then goes on to explain that “rape” does not describe it. In her own words “I was not violated or ravaged, Grimneb’lin. I am not abused or defiled… or ravished or spoiled[…]He stole my choice, and that is why he was… judged.” Throwing someone’s lunch in the trash would be pretty much labeled as the same crime. Isaac is horrified despite his earlier disinterest. In the end, Isaac decides not to give the flying device to Yagharek. Even worse, Isaac just ducks and runs while Yagharek is out of the house. He’s not only willing to take extreme advantage of Yag, he doesn’t even have the guts to tell him in person.

But despite these parts that I really disliked, the world and the main conflict are interesting and unique enough that I recommend this book without any hesitation. Give it a chance!

Niche Game: Laura Bow 2: The Dagger of Amon-Ra

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing because they’re something different, something special.

The era of text-based adventures ended and was replaced by graphical adventures, and of those games, Sierra is king. They are the ones who created the King’s Quest series, the Space Quest series, Leisure Suit Larry, and the topic of today’s article: Laura Bow 2.

The first Laura Bow game was titled The Colonel’s Bequest(1989), which is set in the 1920s and revolves around college student Laura Bow, who wants to be a journalist. She accompanies a friend to attend the reading of the will of her friend’s reclusive relative Colonel Dijon. A murder occurs, and Laura is left to figure who did it.

Laura Bow II(1992) takes place several years later after Laura has graduated from college. She moves to New York City where she lands a job at a major newspaper. This being the male-dominated 1920s era, no one takes her very seriously, and there’s not even a ladies restroom in the office. She’s given a fluff assignment to cover the opening of a new Egyptian exhibit at a local museum. The assignment turns serious when a murder occurs, and everyone is locked inside pending investigation. Other guests begin dying one after another, and it’s up to Laura to once again figure out who did it.

There are plenty of other point and click adventures from this era that are truly excellent. Again, most of them are created by Sierra, so if you ever get the chance to check them out it’s well worth the time. The major feature that sets this one apart is Laura’s notebook. Each time she hears about a new person, place, thing, or idea, she automatically writes it in her notebook. From that point on, you can ask anyone you talk to about that entry. Of course, many people don’t have anything interesting to say. If you ask the drycleaner about the museum curator, he’s probably not going to be able to enlighten you. I thought this was a great way to add a little more variety to game conversations. In most of this sort of game, at every point in a conversation you only have 2 or 3 things you can say. But the addition of the notebook lets you bring up a much wider range of topics that made the conversations feel more varied.

The interface of this game is simple enough, all point and click. Each time you right-click, the cursor changes to a different kind of action, from an eyeball for “look”, a pedestrian for “walk”, a hand for “take/manipulate”, etc… Each time you left-click on an area, that action takes effect at that location (or tries to).

Besides the cool notebook idea, I really loved the sense of humor instilled in the game from the very beginning, in particular the manner of obtaining a press pass near the beginning is very funny (I won’t tell you the details to spoil the fun of figuring it out yourself). Also, the murders in a museum setting are always fun. Lots of cool artifacts from various eras surround and can be murder weapons, and I had fun just wandering from room to room and examining all the different items.

Unfortunately, I never completed this game. At the museum party, you must eavesdrop on other people in the crowd, but I just never managed to do that. I looked up hints online and did my best to do exactly what they said, to no avail, so I’m left standing around a dull party without much happening. I tried long and hard to defeat that and never succeeded. I would say it’s a glitch in the game but I never found anything online to suggest that other people had trouble, so it must just have been me.

You can die in the game, but it can’t happy in many places. As with many mystery games, most of the risk is late in the game when you’re on the verge of uncovering the killer’s identity. It never hurts to “save early save often” here but it’s probably not strictly necessary in most cases either.

I originally played this game as part of another collection of games released by Sierra. I don’t remember if it was the Space Quest collection or the King’s Quest collection. Either way, my frustration with the party scene was partially offset by the fact that in this particular edition you could skip ahead to the next act. This was good for me, so I could really explore the museum’s interior and get to the good stuff. Alas, since my game experience was disjointed already, I never really had the motivation to figure out the rest, but I did poke around and have some fun with it. Also, when skipping ahead, those saved games never had as complete a notebook as I did, so I missed the ability to ask about some of the things I had learned that game assumed I wouldn’t have.Getting your hands on this game isn’t too difficult. It’s old enough to be available on Abandonware sites, such as Abandonia. You should be able to run the game from there. Otherwise a quick eBay search brings up a copy of the game for a Buy It Now price of about $22, not bad. Otherwise, I think I originally played this game as part of a King’s Quest game collection (or was it Space Quest game collection), so if you can track that down it will be modified for modern operating systems already. I hope you have a chance to try this out, and maybe you’ll have better luck with eavesdropping than I did. Enjoy!

The Best of Pseudopod

PseudobanSince I was a kid I’ve always enjoyed reading fiction, but for some reason I’d never really considered audio fiction a very intriguing offering. But when I sold my story “The Disconnected” to Pseudopod (due out some time this mont), it was as good a time as any to try out this whole audio thing. I love it! Now I wonder how I ever did without it. I listen to stories on my commute, which transforms the drive into something I look forward to.

For those of you who don’t know, Pseudopod is a horror fiction podcast. Every week they post a new story to their site, usually somewhere between 20 and 45 minutes long. It’s free to download, and you can share it with whoever you want as long as you don’t alter it or sell it. Audio fiction has a whole new dynamic because the reader can add or take away so much. Some stories are much better in audio, and some are better in print, it just depends on the way the story is laid out. Besides the great stories, each week has an intro and outro, usually done by the excellent Alasdair Stuart. These are worth the download alone, as he talks about the themes of the week’s story and relates it to other things in pop culture or his own life.

And for those of you who don’t like horror, you also might want to consider the other fiction podcasts published by Escape Artists, the creators of Pseudopod. Escape Pod is for science fiction and Podcastle is for fantasy. I’m just starting to listen to Podcastle’s backlog, so I expect I’ll do a “Best of Podcastle” article when I finish. <EDIT: I’ve now down a Best of Podcastle and a Best of Escape Pod>

Since July I’ve been plumbing the depths of Pseudopod’s backlog and now I’m sad to say I’ve listened to everything they’ve offered to date. Now I only get one new Pseudopod a week like the rest of the world (released every Friday). But now that I’ve listened to all of Pseudopod’s offerings, I feel qualified to make a list of the Best of Pseudopod, my top ten favorite stories that have been posted to the site (and a few that ALMOST made the list). If you think you might want to give this audio fiction thing a try, these stories are a great place to start. If you like them, I encourage you to help Pseudopod’s continued success by donating, writing a blog post about it, buying an archive disc, or sharing the file with potential fans.

1. Deep Red by Floris M. Kleijne
Read by Ben Phillips
Very few suspense stories actually make me feel the suspense. Not that I don’t enjoy them as entertainment, but they don’t really get me going. This story is the exception. By the end of the story my heart was pounding and I didn’t even take the time to analyze the plot to death as I was listening because I was just so enthralled. This story works really well as an audio tale, as the reading really adds to the experience.

2. Suicide Notes, Written by an Alien Mind by Ferrett Steinmetz
Read by Phil Rossi
This is a dark science fiction tale. In this future, there is an interplanetary war between humans and an alien race with powerful psychic abilities. How can you fight something that can warp your mind and turn you into a weapon against your allies?

3. Stockholm Syndrome by David Tallerman
Read by Cheyenne Wright
Though this story takes place in a post-apocalyptic zombie-filled world, the zombies are not the scary part.

4. Come to My Arms, My Beamish Boy by Douglas F. Warrick
Read by Phil Rossi
No two ways about it, I am scared shitless of Alzheimer’s. The protagonist in this one is an Alzheimer’s sufferer, which is compelling enough as it is, but there’s much more to this tale than that.

5. The Button Bin by Mike Allen
Read by Wilson Fowlie
I would never have thought that buttons could be an element of horror, but this story is simply amazing. The beginning is a bit slow, and the 2nd person is off-putting, but if you stick with it there’s a lot of original ideas in this, and some really vivid imagery.

6. Last Respects by Dave Thompson
Read by Scott Sigler
In a post-Twilight world saturated with fanpires and Stephenie Meyer copycats, it’s really hard to find a vampire story that isn’t just everyone else’s vampire story rehashed. This is a vampire story that breaks past all the stereotypes and succeeds. The protagonists are vampires and the story occurs after the vampires have won the war against the humans. But the vampires themselves have their own humanity. They are sympathetic despite what they are. The horror of this story does not scream for you to pay attention to it. The horrific elements are presented with such a nonchalance and everyday language that they become that much more horrific because of it.

7. Hometown Horrible by Matthew Bey
This one starts off slow, but give it a chance, it’s well worth the time. The story is told as a writer sets out to tell the story of Hellmut Finch, a Wisconsite writer who wrote dark tales. The tales all have a common thread which each other, which begins to become clearer as the story goes on.

8. Stepfathers by Grady Hendrix
Read by Elie Hirschman
Horror comedy is a very tricky subgenre to tackle, but this story manages it perfectly. An Elder God is summoned, but is a little different than he’s expected to be.

9. The Music of Erich Zann by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Read by BJ Harrison
This is an oldy but a goody, which Pseudopod posted for their 100th issue. This is the one and only H.P. Lovecraft story that I’ve heard (or read for that matter). It starts very very slowly, without much of a hook, but I attribute that more to the style of the times than to any actual failing on Lovecraft’s part. I was expecting tentacled Elder Gods, but I was pleasantly surprised at the turns this took. Despite a plot hole or two, and a slow beginning, the imagery and conclusion of this story were just fantastic. A must listen.

10. Garbage Day by Russell L. Burt
Read by Elie Hirschman
This one’s a fun little flash fiction. It’s a short and sometimes humorous trip following the reasoning of an irrational mind.

Honorable Mentions

The following stories were all close competitors for the top ten, but didn’t quite make it. I could expand it to a top 15 instead, but 10 is such a nice number. Every one of these is well worth your listening time.

Oranges, Lemons, and Thou Beside Me by Eugie Foster
Read by Paul S. Jenkins

Bottle Babies by Mary A. Turzillo
Read by Ben Phillips

Clockwork by Trent Jamieson
Read by Ben Phillips

Geist by Chandler Kaiden
Read by Richard Dansky

What Dead People Are Supposed to Do by Paul E. Martens
Read by Ben Phillips

Counting From Ten by Michael Montoure
Read by JC Hutchins

Niche Game: Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing because they’re something different, something special.

Star Control IIThe original Star Control was developed by Toys for Bob and released on computer platforms as well as the Sega Genesis in 1990, and is a great space combat games, pitting a diverse array of ships against each other one on one. This was followed in 1992 by Star Control II, a vast expansion on the original game, providing many more alien races, each with their own unique ship. On top of this is the very best part, the space exploration aspect, which I’ll go into more later on. Star Control 3 was developed by Legend entertainment, which was hired by Accolade to create a sequel when Toys for Bob refused to create a sequel for the same amount of money they produced Star Control II for (Toys for Bob had to work for no money for several months for that game already). It’s obvious that the original creators had nothing to do with this one. Despite its 3-D rendering of the ships, and the addition of new races with their new ships, new regions to explore, and claymation of the alien species, this game was vastly inferior to its predecessor. If you want to try the series out at its very pinnacle, try out Star Control II. Star Control 3 is okay, and may be interesting if you loved Star Control II as much as I do just as a means of holding off the impending cravings for more content. Star Control 4 was scrapped during the development stages.

In 2006, Alex Ness, producer of Toys for Bob, wrote an article on his site stating that Toys for Bob has been working on a new title for the previous year scheduled to come out in early November of that year. He hinted that if he got enough fan support, they could work up a legitimate sequel to Star Control II and bring it to Activision along with a loaded handgun, then they could finally be convinced to take a gamble on the thing. I, for one, hope they do.


Star Control II begins with you piloting a ship back to Earth from a distant exploratory mission to see the outcome of the war between the Alliance of Free Stars and the Hierarchy of Battle Thralls (the subject of the first game). You return home to find Earth covered in an impenetrable red shield. You learn from the men in an orbital station that the Ur-Quan won the war and now all Earthlings, and many of other races, have been eradicated, put under a slave sheield, or are working as battle thralls for the domineering Ur-Quan.

Your goal is to build up enough power to confront the Ur-Quan. To do this, you have to collect resources. Each planet you visit has resources scattered around the surface, which can vary from valuable radioactive materials to common metals. The materials can be converted into money which can be used to buy fuel, to purchase upgrades for your ship, and to add more ships to your fleet. As you explore you’ll enter the sphere of influence of other alien races, who may be friendly or hostile. Some will join your cause immediately. Others will take persuading, either through force, bribery, or other means. Others will simply not join you. That’s what makes this game great, this discovery of new species. As you explore, you should listen carefully for rumors about interesting things to visit, as that will narrow down the amount of star systems you have to visit to a great degree.


Interacting with the alien races is a blast. Each has their own quirks which are closely matched to the ships they pilot. The domineering Ur-Quan pilot ships that can easily power a headstrong opponent, requiring careful strategy to overcome, while the Spathi, always preferring retreat, rely heavily on the BUTT missile. That stands for Backwards Utilizing Tracking Torpedo. It fires out of the back end of the Spathi ship and homes in the on the enemy, so it’s perfect to use against a pursuing foe. The Pkunk, the spiritualists of the group, sometimes reincarnate after a battle, even multiple times, making them a real pest.

The best part of the original game, also done well in Star Control II, is the combat. Each round of fighting pits 2 ships against each other in a battle to the death. Each alien race has their own ship design, each varying wildly from the others. As you play, you see an image of that alien race manipulating its controls as you press each button, which I always found amusing. Each ship has two resources they must draw on: crew, and energy. Crew is the number of crew members left on board. These are basically used as hit points for the ship. The energy is what is drawn on for most of the weapons systems (with a few exceptions). Except for one or two exceptions, crew do not regenerate, so once you lose a crew member you can never regain that. Energy is depleted by a specified amount each time a weapon is fired. Different weapons require different amounts of energy, and each ship type regenerates energy at a different rate. In addition, each ship has a different mass, acceleration, and top speed (though that speed can be exceeded by using gravity slings, more on that later).

The controls are simple. The left and right arrows rotate the ship. The up arrow fires thrusters. Because the fights occur in space, once you get going in one direction you keep going in that direction at that speed until something else affects your speed, like your thrusters, enemy fire, or the gravity of a planet. Each ship has a primary fire and a secondary fire, the effect of which varies depending on the ship. In most stages there is a small planet whose gravity can be used to accelerate your ship (try not to hit the planet, it hurts a lot). Asteroids fly at random trajectories and can be used to block enemy fire. Opposite sides of the playscreen link to each other, so the battlefield is not infinite size.


For example, one of the most powerful brute force ships in the game is the Ur-Quan Dreadnought. The Ur-Quan are a spider-like race who dominate other species by brute force, and this tactic is evident in their ship design. The primary weapon is the fusion cannon, which can kill 6 crew in one shot. The blast fires in a straight line at a relatively fast speed. Most anything foolish enough to wander close to a Dreadnought dies. The secondary weapon are a pair of fighter pilots. At the cost of some energy, 2 of the crew can be loaded into fighter pilots and loaded into individual fighters to chase after the enemy. The fighters will then hover around the enemy craft constantly shooting their puny weapons into the alien hull and trying to stay behind the enemy. They return to the Dreadnought when they run out of fuel. In Star Control 1 these fighters had a major flaw in that they were too stupid to avoid planets. So an intelligent enemy fighter just had to wait behind a planet while the Dreadnought’s crew members committed suicide. This was resolved before Star Control 2.


At the other end of the spectrum is the Ariloulaleelay Skiff. They are known as the Arilou for short and are the stereotypical green-skinned bublous headed aliens with big eyes of UFO sightings. They also fly the standard flying saucer, pretty much the smallest ship in the game. The Skiff has very little in the way of crew, so must rely on hit and run tactics. The primary fire is an auto-aiming short range laser. It’s one of the weakest weapons in the game but has the advantage of auto-aiming so you just have to get within range. The secondary fire is a hyperspace jump that takes you to another random place in the battle area. This can be good or bad depending where you end up. A quirk of the ship is that it is unaffected by gravity, so one tactic is to hang around in the gravity well of a planet and wait for opponents to come attack to bash themselves to death against the planet.

There are more than a dozen other ships, more than I want to take the space for here.


Among them are the Syreen Penetrator, which can send out a siren call to lure enemy crew off their ship where the Syreen can pick them up, a very useful skill indeed.


Another interesting ship is the Druuge Mauler, which is basically a giant cannon with a cockpit attached. The Mauler’s primary manner of drive is firing the cannon, and to offset its low energy regeneration rate, crew members can be thrown into the furnace for additional energy.

Another cause of my undying love for this game is the effective use of PC speakers. This is the ONLY game I’ve ever played which makes music with the PC speaker that I have ever enjoyed. For those who don’t remember PC speaker music, it is sound made directly in the CPU of the computer, it vibrates at a certain frequency and generally makes a really annoying beep. Almost no modern software makes use of it, except sometimes to signal an error, such as the computer being non-responsive to keyboard presses. Back in the day, games used this speaker for music, and it sounded terrible, lots of annoying toned beeps. Star Control II’s music is both subtle, moody, and often sounds very nice. I don’t know why they were the only ones to figure out how to use the PC speaker properly, but they did an amazing job with it.


If you want to play this extraordinary game, you’re in luck! Toys for Bob has a great relationship with their fanatic fan-base, and has released the source code of the 3DO version of this game onto the internet. Because of this, there is a free version of the game which runs on pretty much any modern operating system, available for FREE to download here at SourceForge. Because Atari owns the name “Star Control”, this version is renamed “The Ur-Quan Masters”, but otherwise it is the same game I knew and loved. You owe it to yourself to give it a try. This version even included voice acting, unlike the one I had played. Allt he original music is there, although it’s produced through the regular sound system instead of the PC speakers. My one complaint is that a couple important pieces of information were not present in this version of the game. Specifically having to do with the timeframe the game takes place in. There is a finite ending to the game, though the exact ending date can be shifted by certain events. The version I’d originally played had this time limit told to you pretty early in the game, and this was important to know, because you don’t have time to explore every solar system in the galaxy in that time limit.

For those who have played all the Star Control goodness available and still want more, there is hope.
1. Although Star Control 4 (retitled StarCon) was never released to the public, rumor has it that it has leaked out onto the internet. I haven’t tracked down a copy of this game, but I drool simply at the thought of it.
2. Toys for Bob, the ones who made this great game, still exist and are still designing games. They’ve maintained the stance that they would love to make another Star Control game, an “official” sequel to Star Control II, but that Interplay games, their parent company, isn’t interested in it. If you’d like to see more, you can do your part by signing the petition to show your interest in another game. Also, if you submit a picture here of you playing SCII or with SCII items, then they will paste it onto a map by your actual location so that the Interplay staff who come to visit can’t help but see it. If Interplay sees how big of a cult fan-base this game has, I hope they’ll open their eyes and commission another.

Just to warn you, Star Control 2 is a time sink! To complete my research for this article I downloaded The Ur-Quan Masters and played it, and I could NOT stop. If you can’t afford a drain on your time right now, maybe you should wait til later to download this. Try the game for free, become a fan forever. Enjoy!

Dark Muse Within: Jeremy C. Shipp

jeremyphotoJeremy C. Shipp is a writer of all kinds of disturbing stories that have been seen, or will be seen at Cemetery Dance, ChiZine, Harlan County Horrors, Apex Magazine, and Pseudopod. His books include Vacation, Sheep and Wolves, and Cursed.

I first came across his writing in audio form on Pseudopod, a weekly horror podcast. The story is titled “Camp” and it tells the the story of a boy trying to fit in at a not-so-ordinary kind of summer camp. It’s creepy as hell, and very original. If you’re looking for something that keeps you up at night, and leaves you wanting more, you’ve got to check it out.

Check out his website for a complete bibliography, a list of his stories that you can read for free, and opportunities to purchase signed books.

David: Why did you decide to become a writer?

Jeremy: Even before I knew how to write, I enjoyed storytelling and using my imagination. My brothers and I would play pretend and create strange worlds and characters. Super-powered robots, friendly mummies, Neanderthal side-kicks, the grim reaper. Then, in 4th grade, I wrote my first short story, and I loved the experience. So on the one hand, I’m a writer because I love writing. On the other hand, I want to do what I can to affect people positively. And I might as well have a good time doing that.

David: Why horror?

Jeremy: I never set out to write a story that will be classified as horror or Bizarro or dark fantasy or magic realism. I give my muse freedom to speak her mind, and these are the stories she needs to tell. I suppose my stories are often horrific, because the world is often horrific. When reality affects me deeply, the compassion and horror I feel affects my writing. I hope that by shining a light on darker subjects, my stories can help change the world, even in the smallest of ways.

David: What would you say is the defining moment in your writing career to date?

Jeremy: Getting Vacation published was a big thing for me. But in truth, every day of my life is filled with monumental moments. For instance, I received an email today from a reader who told me that Cursed touched her deeply.

David: Do you keep specific goals for your writing success? If so, can you share some of them?

Jeremy: There are times when I hold specific goals close to my heart. For instance, I always wanted to get a story accepted by Cemetery Dance. But in general, my goals are to write the best stories I can and to share these stories with people who will connect with them.

David: Have you ever noticed a perceptible shift in how people react to you after they read your stories? For instance, if someone met you in person and thought you were a nice guy, but after they read one of your stories they suddenly start acting extra nice to you, just in case you go the way of Norman Bates.

Jeremy: Here’s a conversation I’ve experienced on more than 5 occassions:

“What do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Wow! What do you write?”

“Most people classify my stories as Bizarro, horror, dark fantasy.”


And I’ve heard this quite often:

“Why do you write stories like that? You seem like such a nice guyâ€.”

I’ve also heard:

“Why don’t you write Christian romance novels instead?”

David: I’m always interested in hearing where the idea for different stories came about. What was the idea that sparked the creation of “Camp” in your mind? (If you tell me you went to that camp as a kid, I’m going to be really freaked out)

Jeremy: I did go to that camp as a kid, and I write in order to atone for the horrors I caused. Nah, I’m kidding. Or am I? Yeah, I am. Anyway, with Camp, I wanted to write a story about social pressure and about the exploitation of new generations. Children are often willing to sacrifice their souls in order to please their parents. As for the camp system itself, the idea just sort of hit me, like a baseball bat in the skull.

David: As a horror writer, you’re well acquainted with your ability to draw out fear in others through your words. What is your own greatest fear?

Jeremy: The loss of loved ones is definitely my greatest fear. As a kid and as a young adult, I was an extremely fearful person. I worried about everything. And I reacted to these feelings in unhealthy ways. These days, however, I’m much more laid back and fun to be around. I try to reserve my states of fearfulness for when I really need them, such as when I’m being chased by giant man-eating babies. They can crawl faster than you’d imagine.

David: What fictional story, other than your own, has done the best job of scaring the hell out of you?

Jeremy: Movies scare me. Audition, Eraserhead, The Ring. But somehow, I feel much less vulnerable when reading a story. Still, there are many books that have disturbed me deeply. American Psycho, Let the Right One In, Pressure.

David: If you could meet one fictional character (not from your writing) who would it be?

Jeremy: I’m a total Harry Potter nerd, and I’d love to meet Hagrid. He seems like a nice guy.

David: If you could give only one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Jeremy: Write from your heart, and share your stories with the world as best you can, and don’t give up.

David: What was the last book you read?

Jeremy: Recently, I’ve been reaidng a bunch of graphic novels and manga. American Born Chinese, Kare Kano, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. The last novel I read was Gossamer by Lois Lowry.

David: Your favorite book?

Jeremy: The God of Small Things. Or 1984.

David: Who is your favorite author?

Jeremy: Arundhati Roy, perhaps. I also love Piers Anthony, Kurt Vonnegut, Brett Easton Ellis, Barbara Kingsolver, Neil Gaiman, Franny Billingsley, Amy Hempel, Aimee Bender, George Orwell, Haruki Murakami, Chuck Palahniuk, Anthony Burgess, CS Lewis, Douglas Adams, Francesca Lia Block, Roald Dahl.

David: What was the last movie you saw?

Jeremy: Totoro. I love Totoro.

David: What is your favorite movie?

Jeremy: The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. Or Princess Mononoke. Or Oldboy.

David: Your novel, Cursed, is now available. Can you tell us a little bit about it? Why should we buy this book over all the other ones on the shelf?

Jeremy: Cursed is the story of Nick, Cicely, and their friends. They’re all cursed, so they create an informal support group, of sorts. Together, they try to figure out who cursed them, why, and what the heck they can do about it. But more important than all that, Cursed is about weird, complex people with weird, complex lives. You shouldn’t buy this book over all the others on the shelf, unless you connect with my writing. So here are some free stories of mine, in case you’d like to check out my work.

David: I see on your website that readers can sign up for subscriptions. Can you tell us about that? Are these previously unpublished stories?

Jeremy: For $12, my Bizarro Bytes subscribers receive 12 new, previously unpublished stories. You get one story a month, delivered to your email account in e-book format (PDF, Mobi, or ePub). Higher level subscriptions are available to those readers who’d like their name in one of my stories and other such bonuses. You can learn more here.

David: Can you tell us about your works in progress?

Jeremy: The novel I’m working on now is called Bridge. Bridge is a very strong, very fragile young woman with a lot of passion locked in her heart. She’s lost, and there are forces in the world that want to use her. Claim her. Hopefully, she’ll be able to discover her own path. I’m also working on a story collection, a comic series, and a short film. And I have stories forthcoming in Cemetery Dance, 10 Nails on a Screaming Chalkboard, and other publications. In addition to all this, I’m hoping to boost my abilities in gnomic magick so that I can transform the moon into a giant vegan cookie.

David: Thanks, Jeremy, for taking the time for this interview. I’m looking forward to checking out your new book.

Jeremy: Thank you kindly, David!

Cursed is the story of Nick, Cicely, and their friends. They’re all cursed, so they create an informal support group, of sorts. Together, they try to figure out who cursed them, why, and what the heck they can do about it. But more important than all that, Cursed is about weird, complex people with weird, complex lives. You shouldn’t buy this book over all the others on the shelf, unless you connect with my writing. So here are some free stories of mine, in case you’d like to check out my work:

Niche Game: The Lost Treasures of Infocom

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing because they’re something different, something special.

LostTreasuresYou are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.
There is a small mailbox here.If that sounds familiar, then you probably already know about the games in this article. For those of you who don’t know, that first paragraph was the opening to Zork, a text-based adventure game released in 1980. After this opening line you are given a prompt to choose what to do next. You type each command on the prompt and then the description of what happens is shown on the screen. After this opening line you could type “open mailbox”, at which point you will see there is a leaflet inside the mailbox. Or you could say “look at mailbox”, “look at house”, or “go west”. And so on.I remember my brother playing Zork in our basement back when I was in grade school. That was before I had access to too many games, and I remember one time he asked me for ideas as we were walking along the sidewalk in front of the townhouse we lived in. I told him everything idea I could think of. I don’t think any of them worked, but I still thought it was really cool he asked.

I came across this package by accident. My aunt and uncle, who lived near my home at the time were given a computer with the game and they passed the game on to me. I played the games for many long hours, but I’m sorry to say I didn’t complete a single one of them. Games in those days were HARD! And unforgiving. If you miss one detail, then you can’t finish the game, as simple as that. But if you have the patience and the determination it’s well worth it.

The Lost Treasures of Infocom is a package of 20 Infocom games that was released in 1991. The collection was released by Activision, who had closed Infocom, then their child company, back in 1989. The games included are Zork 1, Zork 2, Zork 3, Beyond Zork, Zork Zero, Enchanter, Sorcerer, Spellbreaker, Deadline, The Witness, Suspect, The Lurking Horror, Ballyhoo, Infidel, Moonmist, Starcross, Suspended, Planetfall, Stationfall, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Now, these games are challenging like nothing today. Many gamers who grew up on 3-D games will scoff at this idea, but you have no idea. Games now are quite forgiving. If you’re alive at some point in the game, then you certainly can defeat the rest of the game, given enough skill. This is not always the case with these older games. If you didn’t pick up the screwdriver under the couch in the lounge in the opening room of the game, you may not be able to complete it, and by the time you need to use it you can’t go back to the couch room, that sort of thing. Also, some of these puzzles are HARD, unbelievably hard. Most modern games I can complete given a solid block of time to crank away at them, but these ones are so hard I never finished any of them all the way through, though I did make it a little ways. Do not expect to pick them up and beat them right away just because they’re old.

Zork is light on story, but is fun anyway. You’re a treasure hunter, who ventures into the ruins of the underground kingdom of Zork. You collect treasures and put them in the trophy case back in the house. There’s no explanation to who you are or where you came from, whose house that is, or really anything else. But as long as you’re okay with that, you can enjoy the treasure hunt. Remember to always keep a light source, or you’ll be eaten by a grue–game over!

The other Zork games continue in the same treasure hunting line with new settings. Zork Zero is a new tack because it takes place while the underground kingdom of Zork is still thriving. It’s my favorite among the ones in this package because you finally get to see what the place looked like when it was still occupied.

Enchanter, Sorcerer, and Spellbreaker are 3 games in a series. Enchanter was the first game written by Infocom after the Zork trilogy. Krill, a powerful warlock, is spreading wreaking havoc on the world. The Circle of Enchanters is afraid to defy him, but they send a novice Enchanter with only a few spells to confront him, hoping that Krill will ignore such an obvious weakling long enough. It’s a fun challenge. You can learn new spells on the way, and even the ones you know aren’t always at your disposal. You must “memorize” each spell before you can use it again, and when you cast it the memory scrambles in your brain. It’s a good way to impose a “cost” to the spellcasting so it’s not just a magic bullet.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is based on the Douglas Adams book of the same name. It starts in the same place, with Arthur waking up in his house which is scheduled to be demolished in mere minutes. From there to his escape with Ford Prefect and onto the Heart of Gold ship. Readers of the books will appreciate the humor and the situations, but the puzzles are the game’s alone. Having read the book will not give you the solution to many of the puzzles. For instance, in the book, Ford Prefect sticks a Babelfish in Arthur’s ear to translate for him. In the game, getting the Babelfish is a long and multistep and very non-intuitive process which could easily discourage a player who wasn’t very determined from playing the rest of the game. You can keep going in the game without it, but you’ll have no chance of completing the game if you can’t understand alien speech.

Deadline, The Witness, and Suspect are detective games. In deadline you’re a detective investigating the supposed suicide of a wealthy industrialist. You have 12 hours to find evidence of foul play and make an arrest. The suspects are wandering around the estate, the widow, the son, the gardener, eand others, all following their own agendas. On top of the usual text adventure commands, there are detective specific commands like “accuse” and “arrest” and “fingerprint.” The Witness and Suspect have similar setups with a possible crime to be investigated, a list of suspects, and the opportunity to search and question.

Deadline was also the first game to include “feelies.” When making the game, the 80k limit was just too small to include all the material they wanted to include. So they included extra physical documents, official memos, lab reports, and more with the game’s packaging. They were a huge hit with fans, making the game feel more real. In addition they acted as a form of copy protection because they contained important information and were harder to copy than mere computer files. Many subsequent games include “feelies”.

Ballyhoo and Moonmist are also detective games. Ballyhoo revolves around a kidnapping investigation at a circus, and Moonmist is based on investigating mysteries at an English castle.

This collection contains a game which has one of the most unique game premises I’ve ever seen, one that could never translate well into a visual format. It’s called Suspended. The player character has been wired into the mainframe of a facility that controls public systems such as transportation and weather control for an Earth-settled planet. Normally the player would be kept in cryo-stasis for their entire stay. As the game opens, hoewever, he is awakened by error messages. An earthquake has damaged systems, and parts of the system are shutting down. For the duration of the game your physical body never leaves its stasis pod, and your only interaction with the outside world is with a handful of robot avatars. You can switch to each one on will and each has its own specialty. Iris is the only one who can see, but has suffered a burnt out chip and can’t see at the beginning of the game. Whiz interfaces the central library. Waldo perceives the world with sonar and is the most adept at manipulating objects. Auda senses sounds and vibrations. Poet can sense the flow of electricity and is very difficult to understand because of his cryptic manner of speaking. Sensa is specialized for the detection of magnetic and photon emissions. In addition to this disjointed sensory system that is geographically separated, there is a very harsh time limit. I didn’t get very far in this game, because every time I’d really gotten to the point of exploring, these strange men would storm into the control center, disconnect me from the system and replacing me with a clone at which point that is a game over. It’s been a long time since I gave this one a try. I’m curious to see if I could make it further now. I’m guessing to complete this one you will have to do many many saves and restores. It might be aggravating, but the satisfaction for completing this one will be very high, and the unique premise is just such a cool idea I can’t recommend it highly enough just to try the weird gameplay experience.

The Lurking Horror is a Lovecraftian horror story, Infocom’s only horror game. The point of view character is a student trying to finish a term paper, who has gone back to campus despite a blizzard to work on the report in the computer lab. But to his dismay he finds his file is overwritten by a hacker. He has to make his way around the snowbound campus to try to recover the paper, and finds out that something much more sinister is going on.

Infidel begins as an archaeologist searching for Egyptian treasure is drugged by the men he brought with him, who have stolen most of his equipment, taken the food and water, and left him to di. He has no idea how to find his way back to civilzation. Soon the navigation box arrives that he has been awaiting, sort of like a primitive GPS, and perhaps he can at least find his way to the treasurer.

Starcross involves the exploration of an empty spacecraft of unknown origin and composition, always a good premise. Planetfall is another space exploration game: the character escapes an explosion in an escape pod and crash lands on a planet which he then explores.
If you want to find this whole package, boxed up and everything, it will be a challenge. It came out back in 1991. My guess is that most people who have them now are lovers of text games and would be loathe to give them up. A quick search on eBay comes up with only one hit, $128 “Buy It Now” price, and that one’s for Mac. However, if you want to play these games, you can find them for free download with a quick Google search. I found a few of them on, my favorite site for abandonware computer games. I’ve had good luck with them. Keep the source in mind, of course, and give it a quick virus scan.

While searching for more information about this games, I came across The Lost Treasures of Infocom II, released a year after this one. I haven’t played it, but I’m confident that it’s full of text-based gaming goodness just like this one is. Either way, if you’re up for a challenge, and don’t mind lack of graphics if the game is good enough to justify it, you should track down some of these Infocom games. Enjoy!

Giveaway! Win a free copy of Shadows of the Emerald City

Book-COVERwebDiabolical Plots is giving away one free copy of Shadows of the Emerald City. Do you want to enter? It’s very simple. All you have to do is reply to this topic and name your character from any Oz-related media. (That’s the land of Oz, not the Oz TV show that takes place in a prison). We’ll pick a winner at random from those who respond.

You have until Monday 10/26/2009 at midnight CST to enter. If you’ve already paid for the special discount offer, then you can still enter–we’ll just refund your money if you win.