Which brings me to my final (and personal favorite) example: Toys For Bob's Star Control 2, initially released in 1992 and influenced by Starflight. The game itself was utterly compelling throughout, comprising arcade-style action, exploration, strategy and diplomacy, while the scripting was second to none. Don't be fooled by the fantastical setting - the story maturely dealt with wide ranging issues, from genocide to religious extremism, and still remained terrifying, touching and damn funny in places.

The always jovial head of TFB, Paul Reiche III, kindly took time out from his Christmas holidays to talk. "We intended for the alien races to exemplify human personal and cultural foibles in a focused and exaggerated manner," humbly understating that he did what we think all good science fiction should do. He also revealed a human side to the ominous Ur-Quan: "My own take on [them] came from my relationships with people who had experienced significant childhood abuse and how those traumas produced distinctly odd behaviors in adults. [Their] doctrines were the overtly crazy but internally reasonable responses to their treatment by the Dynarri, and the pain they had to endure to win their freedom from slavery." Further running themes examined cultural intolerances (racial, religious, gay etc.), as seen in the Androsynth's oppression by "normal" humans. Thankfully, the burden of proof lies with the game, now freely available.

Videogames don't need cell processors, billions of polygons or realism to be immersive, profound and capable of dealing with complex issues. Equally as important, they don't need to lose their sense of play or interactivity to have rich and worthy narratives dealing with the above. Great game designers have always found ways to perfectly marry the two. While this young medium has been trying to elevate itself for well over a decade, the publishers and mainstream masses are only now waking up to the possibilities.

John Szczepaniak is a South African freelance videogame writer with a preference for retro games. He is also a staff member on the Retro Survival project, which contains articles on retro gaming and is well worth investigating.

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