Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Retrochallenge 2021: Star Lanes

Star Trader was a BASIC game written by Dave Kaufman and published by the "People's Computer Company" in 1974 or possibly earlier.  I have written elsewhere about the challenges I had converting this game to run on the MC-10.  Kaufman's game is the forerunner of the vast array of open world space exploration and trading games, such as the Trade Wars series.

According to some sources on the Net, Star Trader was "copied" and "modified" into a different game called Star Lanes some time by the late 70s or early 80s.  Some Star Lanes games use the filename TRADE.BAS while others use LANES.BAS or some variation of either these.

However, I have ported the source code for both games to Micro Color Basic and played them, and I find the contention that Star Lanes is a "variation" of Kaufmann's Star Traders to be ludicrous.  The two games are completely different in both code and conception.

In Star Lanes, players take turns building outposts, creating companies, and purchasing stock.  It is a grid based game in which you select locations on the grid to slowly form "lanes" between star systems and outposts.  These lanes are owned by different companies, that you can buy stock in, and by selecting the companies that are most likely to merge, when their lanes intersect, you can make huge returns on your investments.  The fundamental dynamic is to construct interconnected trading routes.

Star Trader, on the other hand is played on a star map where players can travel directly between different star systems.  Players travel about buying and selling six types of merchandise: uranium, metals, gems, software, heavy equipment, and medicine.  They have to plan their routes and stops while considering efficiency of routing and the likelihood of the needs and likely sale goods of the different planet types located in each star system.  You can occasionally be hit by random events, such as space pirates.  The fundamental dynamic is to be an effective travelling salesperson, which includes haggling effectively when both purchasing and selling goods.

I think that the use of the term "trade" in the filenames of these two games and the fact that they are set in space is all that really connects these games.  People with vague recollections of playing various "interstellar space trading" BASIC games has allowed them to become interconnected in people's minds. I am not sure who wrote Star Lanes, but I have come across a number of variations, including one for the TRS-80 Color Computer that have AI built into it so that you can play against the computer.  I didn't convert that one because I wanted to get a very early version of the program running, and the Altair was one of the first 8-bit hobby computers, so I figured that it must be a pretty early variation.  However, no original author's name is mentioned in the documentation.  Just these remarks

REM ***** STAR LANES *****

I also have some source that states:


As I mentioned, I also have uncovered a TRS-80 Coco version with these remarks and title page code:

1 ' Coco Version enhancements over          original PC version.
2 ' 1. Marked display of players poss-         ible move locations.                 2. Computer added as a player.             (Using the advanced heuristic            programming technique called            RND numbers).
3 ' 
4 ' I intend to improve the computers       playing ability in the near future,     but it may be a while before I have     time.
5 '
6 ' I hope you enjoy playing the game.

2510 V=10: CT$="-:*  Original PC version by  *:-": GOSUB 2290
2520 V=12: CT$="John Bernauer": GOSUB 2290: V=14: CT$="Malcom  Higgins": GOSUB 2290: V=16: CT$="Brian Irvine": GOSUB 2290:V=18:CT$="-:*  Coco III Version by  *:-":GOSUB 2290
2530 V=20:CT$="Martyn Phillips":GOSUB 2290

Not sure if John Bernauer, Malcolm  Higgins (I've added an l), Brian Irvine are the original authors, or simply folks who converted the game to PC.  A search of the Net doesn't turn up anything definitive.  This is the only functioning link that I could find, but it doesn't actually seem to reference the names.

So I am not completely sure who to attribute authorship to for this game.  For the time being, I will use the names mentioned in the Coco source code: J Bernauer, M Higgins, B Irvine.  But if anyone could shed more light, I would really appreciate it.

Anyway, this is the last project I mentioned in my description of my Retrochallenge for Fall 2021.  It's a little late, I know.  I've already made my excuses in prior posts. Thanks again to the other Retrochallengers, and to the folks organizing again this year.


Here is the link to my Github with the various source code files for the different versions of the program Star Lanes that I reference in this post:

Here is a link to the source for Star Traders by Kaufman. Feel free to compare them. They seem to be completely different programs

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