Like their virtual nature, the genesis of video games often exists in 1’s and 0’s somewhere. But for older games, that also means the original design ideas and documents can be lost to history.
That’s not the case with Star Control 2, one of the early ’90s most revolutionary sci-fi games. Creators Fred Ford and Paul Reiche, who recently got their way out of a lawsuit by trading some homemade mead and bees, showcased their original production documents recently in a video for Ars Technica.
Star Control 2 was the last game Reiche designed on paper, meaning the game’s entire logical design — every flowchart, conversation, branching dialogues and mazes of options available to the player — was written down in mechanical pencil.
“This was actually the first step where we laid out the logic of everything,” Reiche said, pointing to a desk filled with papers and flowcharts. After the logic and hallmarks of each of the alien races was complete, the developers would begin working on dialogue for the entire game. Fred Ford, as the chief programmer, would then begin constructing the building blocks of Star Control 2 in C.
Amusingly, there was a stage where Star Control 2’s publisher, Accolade, nearly published the game in a bizarrely unfinished state. There was a version of the game where Star Control 2 was filled with placeholder text and names for all of the aliens and objects, and the developers submitted that to Accolade for review.
“We would enter those in as labels within the code, but as placeholders early on, that was the text we used. So there was a version of the game running with just these cryptic statements like ‘Die No. 5’. And at one point, Accolade thought that was actually the game. And they didn’t say it was awful — they were ready to actually ship the game at one point with just that sort of weird dialogue in there,” Reiche recalled.
You can see the paper documents by skipping to 1:48:30 below.
It’s rare to see the design of a game laid out in such a tactile, physical form. Design documents obviously exist — they do for every game — but to see all of a game’s design, its plot structure and logic and all the various paths players can or will take, is incredibly rare.
Hopefully, with a bit of luck, these documents will be preserved somehow. They’d be the perfect thing to be placed within the National Archives or the International Centre for the History of Electronic Games, from a historical and an educational perspective.
If you want to check out Star Control 2 again, it’s available for $5.95 over on Steam. Star Control: Origins is back on sale again as well after the legal debacle, although reading about how the game got pulled from sale is just as fun.