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Gaming, Star Trek Style: Starfleet Academy September 8, 2016

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.
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Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the broadcast of the very first episode of the groundbreaking Star Trek television series.  Not too many classic staples of science fiction get to say that they’re still going strong fifty years later, but today Star Trek gets to say that.

On this website we’ve talked about our past with the franchise, particularly when it comes to gaming. This is after all a gaming website.  Earlier this week, we discussed a Star Trek game that never came out, Secret of Vulcan Fury. Today, we want to talk about the game I played that made me aware of Secret of Vulcan Fury in the first place, the PC flight sim Star Trek: Starfleet Academy.

I first became aware of Starfleet Academy after completing Star Trek: Borg for the first time.  In 1997, I was becoming an enormous Star Trek fan. After being one of the first tourists to check out Star Trek: The Experience in Vegas, I found myself enjoying reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation and post-season 3 episodes of Star Trek Voyager.  However, even though I had a decent PC at the time, I didn’t have much money to spend for new games, due to the fact I was still in grade school. One day, after celebrating my birthday, I saw a copy of Starfleet Academy for sale at Circuit City and I happily put down some birthday money for a copy of the game and its official strategy guide.

I installed the game as soon as I got home and was greeted by this trailer once the installation concluded, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to fire myself up.  I watched the game’s live-action introduction cinematic and got through the first simulator mission.  With the first mission complete, I saved my game and selected what I thought would be the next simulation mission only to find myself watching another live-action cinematic. The game was putting a heavy focus on the personalities of the crew I would be directing through these simulations and it turned out I would be making major decisions for these trainees as the school year went on!

Starfleet Academy‘s live-action component was no small undertaking. Heck, these FMVs were so detailed they deserved to be their own game and to this day I’m shocked they haven’t been rereleased on DVD.  They included a great cast of original actors for the training bridge crew, and William Shatner, George Takei and Walter Koenig all returned to their iconic roles of Captain Kirk, Pavel Checkov, and Mr. Sulu.  These three served as the experienced mentors they needed to be, a perfect fit for a game focused on the next generation of Starfleet.

The game’s story was so fleshed out it was later adapted as a novel by Diane Carey.  I actually used the book as the basis for an oral presentation in my sophomore English class. If you want to know how well I did on the presentation, most of my peers put the class to sleep droning on about their books, but the class enjoyed my presentation, as I weaved them a complex story about a group of students dealing with a difficult year while tragedy strikes.  My peers liked it so much they wouldn’t let me step off my podium until I told them how the book ended.  I’m pretty certain I got an A.

However, unlike Star Trek: Borg, which was an interactive FMV game with a fairly linear narrative, decisions you made in Starfleet Academy could have an enormous effect later in the game. Heck, halfway into the game you could make the wrong decision in a cinematic and lose the whole game.  Cinematic decisions could also affect your simulator scores, which I later learned would have an effect on the game’s ending.  My strategy guide had no information about these cinematic sequences, only the simulations, so I had to trust I was making the right decisions as I went on.

I was never much of a flight-sim player growing up and this game’s simulation had a really steep learning curve. In fact it took me months to figure out how to complete the final mission in the Alshoff campaign. After what must have been the hundredth attempt, I was finally able to beat the mission.  Once I had that level beat, I was able to complete the rest of the game in less than two days.

If you want to know my favorite missions I fondly remember a mission based on the plot of The Wrath of Khan, a mission taking place in a nebula (where sensors were limited), the final mission and of course the mission where you actually got to play the Kobiashi Maru no-win scenario. I totally won that.

In fact I remember the night I beat the twentieth mission and saw the game’s credits roll. I was puzzled as hell that the game was over because the strategy guide listed strategies for one more mission. That’s when I realized that the final mission would only be playable depending on if you got the game’s best ending.

What can I say about getting this game’s last mission?  To this day I don’t think anyone has come up with a strategy on how to unlock it, which is a real shame because it puts the player in control of the real USS Enterprise NCC-1701-A.  The only advice I could offer is to make decisions in both the simulator and the cinematics that keep your team’s scores as high as possible, and devote as much time as you can to further studying the McClanty during that story arc in the last few missions.

In my case, I may have lucked into the best ending because of some kind of bug. After the game’s credits finished rolling, the game immediatly started rolling one of the earlier cinematics. Apparently I had been sent back to replay the last three or four missions. I figured further study of the McClanty was important to unlocking the last mission so I decided to choose to investigate the McClanty as much as possible. Of course this is not a guarantee to earn the ending because your crew still needs to have high simulator scores, and tons of different variables can affect them.

Regardless of if you can unlock the last mission or not, this game still has the best presentation of the Kobiashi Maru no-win scenario, hands down. If you want to hear more about my thoughts on it, you can read them here. I actually played this game before I watched most of the Star Trek feature films. Imagine my surprise when I saw Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on VHS for the first time.  I felt like I was experiencing the fandom the game’s developers had for the franchise in reverse.

I know Interplay later released an expansion pack for Starfleet Academy called Checkov’s Lost Missions but by the time I finished the original game I could not find a single software store selling it, and to this day I’ve never played it.

I’m afraid I’ll have to end this article on a down note. After talking all this time writing about this triumph Interplay published I’m afraid to say that earlier today I’ve just read that Interplay is planning to sell off their assets. My question is what happens to Run Like Hell?  I think Bawls should get it.