Star Raiders, Part 1: How I Went from Battling an Entire Fleet to Serving Chili


When Atari released its 800-series computer in 1979, it chose a space dogfighting game, called Star Raiders, as its killer app.  Designed by Atari employee Doug Neubauer, Star Raiders pits the player against a fleet of enemy ships (amusingly called "Zylons"), in a galaxy-scale fight-to-the-death.  Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to destroy the entire enemy fleet and protect their space stations, which will be destroyed if they are surrounded by the enemy.  In order to accomplish this mission, the player navigates between sectors of the galaxy using the ship's hyperjump capability and then engages in combat with small groups of fighters.

Being a naturally foolhardy sort, I decide to accept Mr. Neubauer's challenge.  When I first set out on my mission, the chart of the galaxy (shown below) is more than a little bit intimidating. I  briefly wonder why Starfleet felt that a single starfighter was sufficient defense for an entire galaxy, but I quickly put those thoughts aside, as they are not fitting of a mighty space warrior. I must use some strategic thinking, because the enemy fighters are going to try to surround and destroy my starbases, and some of the ships shown below are more essential to the success of those plans than others.


I choose to fight the smaller groups first (indicated by a single ship), both because they'll be easier to dispatch and because they move more quickly through the galaxy than the three- and four-ship groups.

I've barely just entered enemy airspace when a solitary fighter appears out of nowhere and lands a shot across my starboard bow, knocking out my sub-space radio.  Fortunately, I can do without that subsystem for now, and in the ensuing battle I wreak a terrible veangeance upon the offending ship.  There will be no more letters to home for that TIE... er, excuse me, Zylon fighter pilot.

Unfortunately, there is yet another ship in the sector and it lands a shot on me that knocks out my only weapon.  For a moment, I consider a kamikaze strike on the remaining fighter, but eventually think better of it and plot a course for the nearest starbase.  My ship's hyperdrive technology is fairly primitive (again, thanks a lot, Starfleet), so I must keep the ship steady as it proceeds through hyperspace. Otherwise, I'll miss the starbase entirely.


After dropping out of hyperspace, I use my long-range scanners and targeting system to locate the starbase.  Docking is straightforward -- I need only make a close stop with the base in my sights and it will send out a small ship to repair and refuel me.  The process is mercifully quick and I'm soon back on my way to pulverizing Zylon starfighters.

The rest of my mission is the same process repeated on a loop.  Fight the enemy, sustain damage from their fire, and return to base for repairs and refueling.  After about a half hour of dogfighting, I am able to clear the galaxy of Zylon fighters, but not before losing two starbases.  As tragic as this is, I count myself lucky to have survived at all, as I sustained damage in nearly every dogfight.  My superiors see it differently, however, and for my carelessness in losing two bases to the enemy, I am demoted to "Galactic Cook" and assigned to mess hall duty.

There is no end to my bitterness, as I scoop chili for the scores of ungrateful service men and women, each of whom owes their very lives to my actions that day.  Perhaps I can take some solace in the thought that my punishment will serve the cause of peace in the galaxy, as there would undoubtedly be a revolt should the masses learn that their defense fleet consists of just a single starfighter with a flaky hyperdrive.  Or perhaps the fact that the people are kept in the dark about the inner workings of their ineffective military is a good reason for a revolt, and maybe keeping the peace isn't always for the best.

Whatever, I'm a pilot, not a philosopher.  Chili?

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