Starfighter 3000 The Next Generation
A RISCWorld exclusive...
There are very few RISC OS games that are what one might call "world beaters". In this very small list you can certainly find the RISC OS version of Elite, which was voted the best version of the best game of all time by none other than the official Playstation magazine. Elite was ported to a wide range of machines over the years and gave birth to a number of sequels, but it first appeared on the BBC B in the mid 80's.
Another game that started life on Acorn machines was Zarch. The preview version of this was called Lander and was supplied with all new 32bit Acorn machines in the late 1980's. Like Elite this too was ported to a number of machines under the uninspiring name of "Virus". Like Elite, though, the best version was to be had on RISC OS. One other RISC OS game also had similar treatment, starting off on RISC OS machines before being ported to a number of other computers and even appearing on most of the popular games consoles of the day. The game was Starfighter 3000.
A brief history of Starfighter
The original RISC OS version of Starfighter 3000 was launched at the Acorn World show in 1994. It was written by two well known RISC OS games writers, Tim Parry and Andrew Hutchings, who had been responsible for a number of previous RISC OS games, including Chocks Away and Stuntracer. These earlier games had been published by the Fourth Dimension, but for the release of StarFighter the two decided to set up their own company, called FedNet, to handle the duplication and distribution.
The game was an instant hit and wowed punters at the show. How could a humble RISC OS machine manage to produce such amazing 3D graphics combined with such exciting gameplay? The reviews and positive comments for StarFighter were soon noticed in the outside world. The two were approached by the 3DO company and asked if they would be able to port StarFighter to the 3DO games console. For those who are not familiar with the 3DO it was a games console marketed in the early 90's. At the time it was more powerful than anything else available, but it was also more expensive. It was the first machine to use CDs as a storage medium and was also the first games machine to be powerful enough to produce proper 3D graphics. The 3DO gave birth to a number of successful games series, including Need For Speed. Despite coming out before the PlayStation it was better made and had some wonderfully inventive software titles. It was also powered by an ARM processor, just like RISC OS machines.
Tim and Hutch set about converting StarFighter to run on the 3DO. The extra power of the ARM 6 used in the machine, plus the huge storage capacity on a CD and the increased RAM available meant that they were able to improve on the RISC OS version and to add in a lot of features that had simply proved impossible on a RISC OS machine. The new version would include a lot of speech, full motion video computer rendered cut scenes, texture mapped graphics and a lot more. With the assistance of the 3DO company the new version was streets ahead of the RISC OS version.
The 3DO version of StarFighter went on sale in 1995. However, by this time the 3DO company was facing a lot of competition from both Sony and Sega and their days were numbered. StarFighter was one of the best games on the 3DO and as such was ported to a number of other consoles, including the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn. Unfortunately these ports were not produced by Tim and Hutch and the quality simply wasn't up to scratch. So the definitive version of StarFighter remained the 3DO version.
As the 1990's progressed the 3DO company faced stiffer and stiffer competition from the newer, cheaper machines. The 3DO was expensive to make as it had special custom chipsets which gave it the power and was looking a little long in the tooth. The planned Mk 2 3DO console (called the M2) was in development, but it was too late. The 3DO name continued for a number of years publishing games for other machines, including the PC. Many of these games were second rate (with a few exceptions such as the Army Men series) and the great days of 3DO were effectively over.
In the meantime the rights to the RISC OS version of StarFighter were transferred numerous times. FedNet stopped marketing the product directly and it was then produced firstly by Smart DTP, run by Tim's brother Jim, then by iSV Products (run by me - ED) and then by APDL (run by me - DH). Meanwhile various other parties had acquired an interest in it, including Chris Bazley who set about improving the RISC OS version and fixing some of the numerous bugs that had shown up over the years. His StarFighter website at "http://starfighter.acornarcade.com contains a huge number of StarFighter resources and updates, although you should be aware that you will require a copy of the commercial version since the downloads do not include many components. He also produced the newer 32bit version of StarFighter designed for the Iyonix as well as publishing a huge number of tools designed to make modifying the StarFighter gameplay as easy as possible.
Rookies Start Here...
So StarFighter had ended up on a number of platforms, but there were only two "proper" versions. The original RISC OS Vesion One and the greatly improved 3DO version. Tim and Hutch split as a development team not long after the 3DO version was released. As experienced games designers they had learnt their lesson about handing over the rights to products and kept some of the rights to their versions of StarFighter on the two platforms. This meant that some years later Chris Bazley was able to take over development and bug fixing on the RISC OS version of StarFighter. But what of the 3DO version?
Well apart from those that fondly remembered it (me - ED) it was forgotten. The 3DO was a dead platform (although in recent years the interest in Retro Gaming had meant that it was being re-discovered by a new generation) and the 3DO company struggled into the 21st century before finally going bankrupt in May 2003. That should have been the end of the story, but it wasn't.
Whilst RISC OS had given birth to StarFighter it didn't hold claim to having the "best" version, only the second best. Could this situation be allowed to exist? In the invtervening years RISC OS machines had become much more powerful, surely more than powerful enough to run an improved StarFighter?
A team of people were now assembled with the express aim of porting the 3DO version of StarFighter back to RISC OS. This would include all the later versions bells and whistles. The vast majority of the coding work was undertaken by Lee Noar, who had previously ported the game Abuse to RISC OS as well as porting the Deth Doom editor. Whilst coding work was underway project manager Nathan Atkinson was sorting out the publishing. Other people were bought in to work on the game, these included Andrew Weston who produced some of the artwork. He had also produced artwork for the updated iSV Products vesion of the original RISC OS Starfighter 3000.
Work progressed well, but a problem was starting to show up. The new StarFighter needed a powerful machine. The aim was to produce a vesion for RISC OS that had the same features as the version on the 3DO, in order to do this the absolute minimum machine needed was going to be a StrongARM Risc PC. As the project progressed it became more and more apparent that even a StrongARM machine might not be up to the job. Fully playable versions were available in mid 2002 and by this point the only machines capable of playing the game were either Kinetic or APDL Turbo StrongArm equipped Risc PCs. This would seriously limit the potential market.
However a potential solution was coming. MicroDigital were in the process of producing the Omega. This was a lot more powerful than the RiscPC and would be an ideal machine for playing the new StarFighter. The idea would be to bundle the new StarFighter with every Omega sold. I expect you can imagine what followed. MicroDigital's David Atkins repeatedly promised that a machine would be made available for the developers, but none was forthcoming. Meanwhile other parties were showing an interest in the new version of StarFighter. Care had been taken to make sure the new version would run on any future 32bit versions of RISC OS and so, as you can imagine, Castle Technology also expressed an interest in bundling StarFighter with the forthcoming Iyonix. At this point the tale takes on more than a little air of mystery.
The new version of StarFighter was finished, but the MicroDigital deal fell through. Castle's interest in StarFighter seemed to be short lived as they had a lot of other things going on at the time (such as the impending purchase of RISC OS - ED). Some attempts were made to get the finished game published but everything just seemed to grind to a halt. The group involved seemed to disband and there the project rested. A few lucky RISC OS people had a copy, but were sworn to secrecy and couldn't even announce that it even existed. It seemed as though the definitive version of StarFighter was going to gather dust. This was a tragic shame as this new version had a real "big budget" feel and its presentation surpassed any other game on RISC OS.
Note that curved planet - the RISC OS original has a flat world
Texture mapped graphics and clouds you can fly through
Coming in for the attack
So here we are
That's where our story was going to end, but five years after everything ground to a halt the game is finally getting a public release care of your favourite RISC OS magazine. Both Aaron and Dave Holden were involved in attempts to get the game published back in 2003 and both of them have kept copies (I still play it regularly - ED) so could the game finally see the light of day? The intervening years haven't been too kind to the new StarFighter. Back in 2002 it still looked comparable to some games on other platforms, but the low resolution graphics and the fuzzy texture mapping now look quite dated. The standard of graphics in the last five years have moved on hugely, with many modern games approaching photo realism, have you seen Grand Tourismo on the PlayStation 3? However the gameplay still shines through and the love, care and attention lavished on this project by those involved is plain for all to see. The game deserves to be seen by the wider public.
So that's what we have done. It's taken some time to sort out but included with this issue of RISCWorld is the complete finished game. You will need a high powered RISC OS machine to run it, a normal 200 MHz StrongArm RiscPC really won't cut the mustard and will suffer from slowdown. If you have an Iyonix, A9 or a fast PC with VirtualRPC installed then you can run the game in its full glory. It's fully 32bit compatible and should run straight away with no fiddling required.
It's a crying shame that it was never released in 2003, one has to wonder if this one title could have made a huge difference to the fortunes of RISC OS a whole. Who knows? For now, enjoy what's quite probably the best game ever released for RISC OS and think what could have happened. If every RISC OS project was as well done as the new StarFighter the world would be a different place. I need to go now, I have a mothership to dock with...
Ideally StarFighter needs to be tun from a hard disc. Make a new directory on your hard disc to put it in. Then drag out both the !SF3000 and the !SFConfig applications into your new folder. You should run !SFConfig before launching the game as it shows you the keys used and allows you to set up some of the other options. Now enjoy.