by Benjamin Fitzgerald
You are the captain of the Heavy Battle Cruiser U.S.S. Lexington. Your success – or your failure – may forever determine the fate of the Union. Godspeed.
Okay, so EGA Trek is not *really* a Star Trek game. But it basically is. It is a reworking of Super Star Trek, one of the earliest Star Trek games, dating back to 1979! The computer hardware at that time was very primitive – only two colors. The game is so old that not even a DOS emulator can recreate the appropriate processing speed: at minimum cycles, Super Star Trek runs so fast that the Enterprise will be destroyed before a single order can be given.
In the very beginning, EGA Trek was a Star Trek game. I remember vaguely a primitive version that actually referred to the principle baddies as Klingons. Their names were changed to Mongols and the version of the game with a Star Trek skin has been lost to time. Still, you can’t help but notice that the Mongol warships look curiously like Klingon D7 Battle Cruisers…
The Basics of the Game
The game is a tactical naval space combat game. The game interface is managed entirely through the keyboard, and the manual is required reading for anyone who has never played the game. It provides the premise of the game – ‘plot’ is too strong a word – as well as the basic controls. It explains the function of each individual system, describes the different types of StarBases, Mongol vessels, etc.
The object of the game is to travel from one system to another, spread out across an 8×8 grid, seeking out Mongol warships and obliterating them. The faster you accomplish this, the better the score you receive. Along the way, your ship will occasionally be hit by Vandal Death Pods, and you will be called upon to respond to distress calls from StarBases, colonies and fellow Union vessels. There may also be planets containing valuable resources, so orbiting and investigating can be a valuable asset. Rescuing colonies and starships is optional, but you will be docked points if a StarBase, Research Station or Resupply Depot is destroyed. Moreover, StarBases become crucial for resupply on the higher levels, and losing them can be seriously detrimental.
The game screen consists of nine screens, two of which are purely cosmetic. They include a short-range view of the current quadrant; a panel displaying energy and shield status, the current number of torpedoes, and several other pertinent bits of information; a long range view of the entire sector; the current temperature and efficiency of the lasers; the command input; a view screen, which is really just a cosmetic enhancement; a list of recent messages (this is very important); a read-out of the major ship systems, including damage received. The ninth screen offers the name and emblem of the Lexington and never changes.
There are five difficulty levels ranging from Lt. Commander to Admiral, and it is highly recommended you work your way up accordingly. The first level is very easy, but it familiarizes you with the controls. Your ship is equipped with ten primary systems and three secondary ones: The EnergyConverter, shields, life support, lasers, energy torpedoes, warp and impulse Engines, short- and long-range Scanners, and the main computer, with transporters, shuttlecraft and the experimental Death Ray as your secondary systems.
Any one of these systems can become damaged as the game progresses except for the Death Ray, and systems sometimes fail at random. At higher levels, the EnergyConverter is especially prone to random collapse – you’d think the most important system on the ship would be a little more dependable! As far as damage is concerned, repairing the life support is probably the most critical. If life support is destroyed, there is only two days’ breathable air on board. Should you fail to repair or resupply in time, your mission will meet an untimely end. Still, it is best not to neglect the repair of any system beyond a certain level. Critical systems failing during combat can spell death for you and your crew.
The Meat of the Game
Let’s talk about combat. The first two levels are pretty rudimentary. Lt. Commander offers 20-something Mongol Battleships. At this point in the game, they offer little threat and are easily defeated. Consequently, this is an excellent level to familiarize yourself with the game. The second rank is Commander, and it is marginally more difficult. Mongol Battleships take somewhat more firepower to defeat, and you are introduced for the first time to Mongol Commanders. They both take and deal more damage than Battleships. There is only one Commander at this level, however, so the threat they present is not too serious.
The third rank, Captain, is where the game really hits its stride. Mongol Scouts, Supply Ships and Bases are introduced. Mongol Commanders use long-range tractor beams to draw your ship into hostile fire – an unfortunate technology that often proves deadly. Commanders and some Battleships are also outfitted with plasma bolts, a deadly weapon that punches through the shields, often knocking out several systems on impact. Reinforcing the shields can sometimes negate the damage, but this can be a dangerous strategy.
At this point, casual or careless play can prove deadly. I was playing last night and received a distress call from a StarBase. I was low on power at the other end of the sector, just having rescued another Union vessel from three Mongol ships. I answered the distress call and was met with three Battleships and a Commander. They got the jump on me, knocking out my life support and both my scanners. Had I stayed to fight, I would have been destroyed. I fled to the next system, and received a fateful message informing me that the StarBase had been destroyed.
Commodore is more of the same – increasingly difficult battles with fewer and fewer StarBases available for resupply. Admiral is brutal. The edge of the sector bordering Mongol space is constantly flooded with reinforcements. Systems fail, crew members are killed. Commanders pull your damaged vessel away from its course towards the nearest StarBase into another impossible battle. Plasma bolts rip through your shields, crippling your systems. Your torpedoes are spent, and your lasers have overheated to nothing. Warp drive has been destroyed, blocking off your means of escape. Defeat seems inevitable. Desperation grips you, and you turn to your weapons officer.
“Prepare the Death Ray!”
“Captain, this weapon is still highly experimental! There’s no telling—”
“I’m aware of the risks, Lieutenant. If we do nothing, we’re dead. Fire the weapon!”
The awful, agonizing sound begins. Every muscle in your body tenses, but nothing happens. You try again and it misfires; singularities start to open up in the space around you. Again you give the command. Radiation leaks from the weapon and immediately begins to take a terrible toll on your crew. Seconds from certain death, you roar for the weapon to be fired. A strange expression comes over the face of your weapons officer. “Oh yeah?” he demands with a glare. “Who put you in charge?” Furiously, you shove him aside and slam down the big red button. The weapon powers up and you know deep down inside this is the last time you will have a chance to fire. To your relief, a massive expanse of energy ripples from your crippled ship like a shockwave, destroying the battalion of Mongol ships in the quadrant. You breathe a sigh of relief and look up to find that in the madness caused by the radiation, someone is playing tic-tac-toe on your viewscreen. You shake your head and begin to oversee the necessary repairs. It will be several days before the Lexington flies again.
The final version of EGA Trek was made in 1992 with 16-color graphics and only computerized sounds. It may like the visual flare my dramatization provides, but it lacks none of the fun or the challenge. I have been playing this game for close on 20 years – most of my life – and I still find Admiral difficulty to be a harrowing experience. Don’t let the graphics fool you. This game is golden.
*Nota Bene: Prior to 1995, virtually all Microsoft computer software was written for disk-based operating systems. Graphical user interfaces worked in tangent with the operating system, and it was not until the release of Windows 95 that native 32-bit software was created independently of MS-DOS. As a result, EGA Trek cannot be run on any system newer than Windows 2000, after which time support was no longer provided for Microsoft DOS.