RE:Play Protostar – War on the Frontier

RE:Play Protostar – War on the Frontier

This one is kind of obscure but was decidedly a favorite of mine back in the day.  

It wasn’t No Man’s Sky but it was fun and is still a decent game. 

In 1992 the Chief Financial Officer of Sierra Entertainment, Edmond Heinbockel, had had enough.  I’m not sure what he had had enough of, but he had clearly had IT.  He led a walk out of Sierra and with the aid of several former Sierra game devs, started a new company in 1992, Tsunami Media.

Tsunami shuttered their operations in 1996 a mere four years after their launch. But for those few years they published some of the best adventure games of the early Nineties.  Jim Walls, the creator of the Police Quest series, wrote a new game called, Blue Force.  And so far as I’m concerned, Silent Steel was the only decent live-actor CD-ROM adventure game. 

I first took an interest in company because I’m a longtime fan of Larry Niven. 

So, I had to get a game that took place on Ringworld. It was decent enough, at least by early 1990s adventure game standards. That game’s box came with a brochure for another game called Protostar: War on the Frontier.  

Protostar was a kinda-sorta RTS game but with some adventure game elements and some (okay for its day) dog fighting Plus, survival and exploration.  So it was pretty ambitious considering the tech that was available when it launched.

The back story takes place in the far future.  Humanity is losing a war with an aggressive enemy race called the Skeetch.  You, the player have been sent by the Newfront Corporation (their version of the UEG, I guess) to make alliances in the Thule sector with the local races and hopefully sabotage Skeetch supply lines. 

Your objective is to contract the local races that conform to various tropes from the days of Galaxy Magazine.* These are the Ghebrant (an insect-collective hive race with no individual members),  Kaynik (aggressive raiders who look like Patton Oswalt), Derestra (big nosed dwarves who are scientists)  and the Vantu (the local ancient race with the most advanced tech).  You gain these alliances by building up good relations in various ways.  Once relations are good enough, a quest will be triggered for the race in question.  Complete the quest and the race joins that alliance.  Also, you will gain a crew member (put a pin in that one). The crew member will boost your stats in one category. Navigator gets you better fuel consumption (very important). The gunner improves your ability to shoot. You get the idea.

Like any RTS you have to gather and manage resources.  Your most annoying resource is fuel, once you run out that you are Sierra-ed out of the game and have to go back to your last save.  No autosave, of course. You gather resources by flying to various planets discover them and then collect minerals and animals.  You then sell them at various Newfront star-bases or the local trading posts of various races.  Along the way you’ll have to buff yourself by buying better engines, weapons and shields.  In addition to the fuel costs, you have to send money back to Earth to fund the war effort or again, you will be Sierra-ed out of the game.  You really get tired of your boss begging you for money fast.

After you buy new equipment for your ship the only way to buff it is to hire crewmembers who are a much more serious drain on your resources than your mooching boss from Earth.  If you fail to meet pay day, they won’t do their job and you will be Sierra-ed out the game the next time the Skeetch jump you.

The Exploration is a bit of a grind, but I admit to enjoying the “explore strange new worlds and seek out new life and new civilizations” bit, when I first started playing it. It was genuinely part of the fun for me.  Nowhere near what we have today, but it was good enough in its day.

Anyway, once you complete all of those quests the final quest is triggered which is that a Skeetch dreadnaught has entered Thule sector.  At first all seems lost but then you learn from Dodel…

That as insanely good luck and bad plotting would have it, there is a shipwreck with super advanced weapons from an ancient alien race that can destroy the Skeetch Dreadnaught, in the Thule sector.  Once you do that, you win the game and then you form what is basically the United Federation of Planets because Tsunami Media was run by California liberals.

You can see Sierra’s DNA all over this game.  The jokes were only slightly more serious than Roger Wilco’s.  Even though it wasn’t really meant to be all that serious.  Protostar tried to be several things all at once like Star Citizen was originally meant to be and in fairness it was as good as the technology of the day could allow it to be.

There was a planned sequel but sadly nothing came of it because the company folded.

Tsunami was always doomed from the start.  They had the same problems as Sierra but didn’t have as big of a wallet to fall back on. And I strongly suspect that the guys that started it in 1991 had memories of 1981 that were a little too fresh.  Back when all that you needed to start a gaming company was a computer and a little know-how.  I mean hadn’t those guys in Texas just knocked it out of the park? And id has way less experience operating on this level than we do. 

But the truth was that production costs were going up exponentially, and one flop would kill a studio.  A Free Enterpri$e apparently met that criteria. It was Tsunami’s last game.

Today all of Tsunamis stuff is available for the low, low price of nothing on various abandonware sites. Protostar is still fun if you like the older games.

Okay, I’m done here.

*Great little pulp in its day, Jim Baen was the editor.

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