The launch of SpaceX into orbit is a huge moment in the space age. While the most significant efforts of maned space flight occurred over 40 years ago, the launch of a civilian, commercial space vehicle is a step towards the future. It is appropriate that the this step is taken accompanied by one of the most well known engineers – Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott. The inclusion of James Doohan’s ashes on the first launch of SpaceX has drawn me to reminisce about Star Trek and it’s place in my gaming life.
My enjoyment of Star Trek was a key ingredient in hooking me on war gaming and eventually computer games. In high school as I played D&D and expressed my creativity by DMing pen and paper RPGs, my friend bought little game called Star Fleet Battles. In SFB, I got to fly around in Enterprise class ships shooting at Klingon D-7s and Romulan Warbirds. Dice were my weapons, and grease pencils and paper marked my shields and damage. Small counters or sometimes even miniatures would demonstrate the ballet of space battle. Where today we can see pixels and sprites arcing across our monitors, then we only had our imagination. I loved SFB. I still have a set of binders with hundreds of pages of ship diagrams, rulebooks, and probably damage indicators of the last battle I fought with my friends.
Years passed and over a decade of SFB fights, expansions, gaming conventions, Federation and Empire (the strategic level game), and gaming nirvanah was upon me – SFB was going to be a video game. Star Trek: Starfleet Command was released in 1999 and while I had already enjoyed multiplayer games online with Civilization II, SFC was destined to turn me into an online video game nut. Not only was SFC a wonderful implementation of my favorite board game, it also set the stage for video games as a social experience – I became an officer in the Hydran Navy. For years we flew through 3 different expansions and a campaign dynaverse, but eventually the game faded and I sadly moved on to other games when my old windows 98 computer died.
It is interesting to look back at those days and realize that not much has changed in the realm of social gaming. We are still using forums for guild communication, but now I can read those forums on the phone at my hip and get text messages when a new post is made. We still chat ingame, but now we use ventrilo or mumble for voice chat. And beyond that, we still have the internal drama and external conflicts with other guilds that make up a lot of the meta game.
When Star Trek Online came out, I purchased a lifetime subscription, eager to experience the wonders of the universe I love in MMO form. I enjoyed the game for a couple of months, joined a guild, and sadly lost interest – not because of content, but because of some of the awkward mechanics that seemed a step backward from my memories of SFC and SFB. With the inspiration of the first commercial space launch though, I think I’ll reactivate my account and see what’s happened in that world. It’s been a while, they’ve kept producing content and I’ve heard some positive things – including that it is now free to play. So I’ll give it another try – reinstall and see if they’ve resolved some of the issues I had – only this time, I’ll create an engineer in memory of Scotty.