I Giochi Inesistenti


A typical Star Trek game

Last night I dragged one of my Apple IIs up from the basement and set it up, and searched through every disk I own, searching for a game that only I remember. It was a version of the old text-based Star Trek games that randomly printed out page-long quotes from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.

I didn’t find it.

Unfortunately, I only have about half of the disks I had from that era – I don’t know what happened to my “main” box of disks. Probably, I brought it to college with me and lost it during some move. I love playing “Ask the Game Geek” for other people, so it’s somewhat driving me crazy that I can’t find this one. I found lots of other interesting things that I had forgotten about – frankly, I’m surprised that so many of those 5 14” floppies still worked.

You’d think that we’d have everything about the Apple II written down on the web somewhere, but we don’t. The Asimov software archive (among others) is very good, and very comprehensive, but also disorganized and incomplete. And short of downloading every disk image you find and trying it out, you just can’t data mine for information about the games. In frustration, I’ve offered to pay Google Answers $10 if they can find me the game itself or adequate identifying information. The same offer is open to any of my readers: if you can ID this game, I’ll Paypal you 10 bucks. Here’s the information I gave to Google: “There’s a standard type of noncommercial, amateur-produced “Star Trek” game that has existed for nearly every computer, from mainframes on down. Typically it is played in a grid of sectors, where each grid itself is composed of a subgrid. The Enterprise might be represented by an “E”, klingons by “K”, etc. You play by entering commands to the Enterprise – for example, “T” and then a number 1-8 to indicate a direction to fire photon torpedos, “M” to move with warp drive, “I” with impulse, etc. The implementation details of these games all vary, but they’re instantly recognizable when you see them.

In the early 1980’s, I played a particular version of this game on the Apple II computer. The odd thing about it was that at random times, for no apparent reason, it would spew out long quotations from Marcus Aurelius “Meditations”. I mean, long quotes – we’re talking a full screen of confusing philosophical text – “And it is this which makes us ask what the difference is between the representation of a thing and the thing itself, which is to say a thing in itself, yadda yadda yadda” (I just made that quote up completely to give you an idea – it’s not a literal quote from the game/meditations).

My question can be answered in one of two ways: (1) Identify this game, naming the precise game name or executable name, and author, and if possible publisher or distribution channel). The identification must be sufficient to distinguish it from the hundreds of other versions of this game – “The game is called ‘Star Trek’” is not an adequate answer. (2) Alternatively, point me to a disk image containing the game.

Again, I want to emphasize that I already know there are many versions of this game that don’t emit obscure Marcus Aurelius quotes. I have most of them. I’m only interested in the one described here.”

It probably doesn’t help matters that most of these games have completely generic names – “Apple Trek” “Star Trek.” The most distinctive name of the bunch is “Stellar Trek” by Rainbow Computing and Tom Burlew. I played it for a while, but was not Marcus Aurelianized.

Someone else has apparently approached this problem from the other end, and is trying to collect a massive database of all Star Trek games ever made. Unfortunately, I can tell just by glancing at their list of Apple II games that it’s incomplete. It’s amazing, though, seeing how many versions of what I think of as the “mainframe Star Trek” game. There’s even an Atari 2600 version! Now that’s one I need in my collection.

The history of these games is pretty well documented – you can look at their source code in the original Fortran, and then look at derivative versions, see them be translated to other languages, and watch them change, grow, and gain new features. It’s a fascinating activity in and of itself. But looking for the specific version I’m describing feels like looking for a single piece of eight in a treasure chest (or, let’s be frank about this, looking for a piece of obscure junk that you for some reason have a strange emotional attachment to in a box full of other pieces of obscure junk.)

Which leaves us with the last remaining question: why? Why do I care about this at all? Surely, each time I think about something like this I am losing another skirmish in the ongoing war against nostalgia. My only explanation is that the Aurelius-quoting aspect of the game was so strange, so completely a non-sequitur, that it has at times left me wondering if it really happened. More than anything, I want to know the story behind this game. Who created it? Why Aurelius? Why those quotes? Where is the author today? I want to know.

If there are any games that you think only you remember, ask me in the comments, below. It would be nice to be able to solve someone else’s mystery, since I’ve reached the frustration limit on solving my own.

Additional Resources

Here are some links to some of the resources mentioned in this article.