Starfighter

written by Matthew Reed

Title:Starfighter
Author:Sparky Starks
Publisher:Adventure International
Released:1980
Compatibility:Model I and III, tape and disk
Starfighter advertisement

Adventure International advertisement from the August 1981 issue of 80 Microcomputing

Starfighter, written by Sparky Starks, falls somewhere between an arcade game and a simulation. Far more than a shoot-em-up game, the incredibly detailed scenario in Starfighter lends itself to a game that can be played for hours. Although a unique game, Starfighter has some similarities to Star Raiders, a 1979 game for the Atari 800 that was written by Doug Neubauer.

Sparky Starks later wrote a version of Starfighter for the Atari 400/800 using the name Destiny: The Cruiser. A new title was required because the rights to the name Starfighter had already been sold for use by the 1984 movie The Last Starfighter.

The goal in Starfighter is to pilot a spacecraft, the SC-78503 Starfighter, and destroy hostile enemy spacecraft. From a description in an Adventure International catalog:

The Starfighter player begins his tour of duty as a new pilot. At this
embryonic stage, he or she must prepare for the mission ahead—a
mission which will consist of the identification and destruction of
enemy craft. Perhaps in time (but only perhaps) the coveted rank of
Star Lord can be attained. But for now, one need only concern oneself
with basic survival.

Starfighter was supplied on one self-booting disk or two tapes, one containing the SC-78503 Training Simulator and other containing the Main Mission. Both the tape and disk versions can save games in progress, with up to ten saved games possible using the disk version.

Starfighter manual

Cover of Starfighter manual

Starfighter came with an official-looking 32 page manual, supposedly written by the S.G.A. Military Central Command. The manual outlines the nature of the conflict and also more advanced topics, such as hypercharge theory, technical details about the spacecraft, and instructions about how to operate it. There are also details about rules and regulations, such as combat and towing procedures. Here is the description of the SC-78503 from the manual:

The SC-78503 is a drive-capable light chase-attack fighter with
advanced Hypercharge weaponry. Some other features of the SC-78503
include extremely long drive range and two independent gravity sensing
systems. The craft boasts 3 nose jet control systems; manual control,
target lock tracking system, and an advanced automatic long range
drive alignment system just introduced. The most advanced feature
implemented in the SC-78503 is the newly introduced target positive
identification system, which is capable of determining not only target
craft type but also port of call.

Startup screen in Starfighter

Startup screen

Title screen in Starfighter

Title screen

Destroying enemy spacecraft is only one part of Starfighter. Another important responsibility is to maintain the SC-78503 spacecraft and keep it in good condition. Damage can be repaired at a Landbase, but repairs cost money. Destroying certain enemy spacecraft is the only way to earn credits.

The player is continually evaluated as the game progresses. Every player starts at the rank of New Pilot, but promotions can increase this to Ensign, Inspector, Captain, and the top rank of Star Lord.

Landbase screen in Starfighter

Landbase screen

Navigation screen in Starfighter

Navigation screen

The ultimate goal in Starfighter is to reach the rank of Star Lord. This is extremely difficult, as was stated in the manual:

Only the most intrepid STARFIGHTER pilot reaches Star Lord rank and
even fewer exceed it! If you are one of the dauntless few, a special
password will appear on your companel. Contact Adventure International
via landgram (U.S. Postal letter will also be fine) of this password
and you will receive a special Gift.

Categories: Arcade Games

Comments

Geepig says:

What is left out is the excitement, and the terminology such as ‘cluster chucks’. What did one feel when one rotated to face the target after freshly arriving in a new system, to see a small cross in the middle of the screen… A quick glance to see distance – was it 3000 units or 30000 units away? If the former then one could heave a sigh of relief, but if the latter you knew it was a death star and for the next few moments you were banging at the keyboard requesting a hyperjump, desperately looking for a new system to jump to because otherwise you would shortly be dead.

Dadosara says:

Oh, the many hours spent fighting Cluster Chucks and Rogue Starfighters, and having it all go for naught as you are blown away in seconds by a Death Star. I long to play this game again, can anyone assist in finding a copy?

Steve says:

Was there a way to kill one of those death casters? Anyway, your post brought back old memories. I remember the crash drive and waiting for the cone shift to count down so that you could escape in time when you accidentally warped into an area with a death caster.

Sparky Starks says:

I’m the author of Starfighter. The Atari 800 version of it was called Destiny: The Cruiser. If you can find that version, keep it, Scott only released 50 copies on EPROM, because that was the year that the video arcade industry collapsed.

Re: Killing BTG’s and Deathcasters. Yes, that was possible but only at a terrible financial loss and only with 4 or 5 fields around you. The Deathcaster actually had very poor defense: the trick was getting into your own weapon range without dying. Incidentally, the top level was mostly Deathcasters and BTGs and was not intended to be survivable. We had a couple of people send in the ‘secret word’ (which was “greetings”) but all confessed later that they had hacked the code to get it (smile).

About playing Starfighter today. There are TRS‑80 emulators out there and images of the Starfighter program. If you like the Clusterchucks, stick to the Tandy version. I cut them out of the Atari version because the Iran hostage crisis was old news by then, and substituted an armed version of the Scout, the TAC (I think) or Tactical Assault Craft, and one other thing that I forget. The TAC was a larger but slower version of the Starfighter craft.

Nice to see that I’m not entirely forgotten. Incidentally, the LAST game I did (and only on IBM compatible) was Visions of Aftermath: The Boomtown, published by Mindscape and developed as Chivalry Software, Inc. (by this time, publishers wouldn’t believe that a single author could write a good game, so…).

Chris Keane says:

Just found this site. Brought back good memories. I think more than a couple of people sent in the “secret word”, my certificate is numbered 123. I have a scanned jpeg if you would like me to send it to you. And, no, I didn’t ‘hack’ it, it was endless nights and remembering to save, save, save.
Thanks Sparky for a great game.

Rob says:

This was one of the best games for the TRS‑80 in my opinion. Thanks so much Sparky for making it, well done sir! Considering the capabilities of the TRS‑80 at the time, the features and detail that were part of this game were incredible. One of the things that was quite cool was requesting a tow when you were pretty well spent. Overall 100% great!

I did managed to get within weapons range of a Death caster ONCE. I remember blasting away at it and hitting it several times but ultimately the result was the same DEATH!

Angrysquirrel says:

I found this site because I remembered sc 78503 starfighter.

I was one of the people who got the secret word. I got it when the game loaded incorrectly (thanks to tape drive technology) and crashed. It then provided me with the secret word.

I thought the game was great for its’ time.

Other thing. When I got this game I was in grade school. I heard about it in a magazine. The tag line was “the penultimate space game.” So I looked up the word in the dictionary to find out what that meant. Then in school a teacher asked if anyone knew what penultimate meant. Nobody raised their hand except me. When I told her the correct answer she was stunned.

So I just want to say thanks for not only a great game but to get me so interested that I looked a word up I didn’t know. ;)

Djfinny says:

Question for Mr Sparks. I remember a game called “Ball Turret Gunship” for the TRS‑80 that came out after Starfighter. Was that game a take-off from Starfighter as the BTG were in fact Ball Turret Gunships? Frankly destroying a ball turret gunship was a pretty lucky process. I remember them having incredible range and firing very fast but rarely hitting your ship. If you could get into weapon range you could really pound on them and hopefully destory them before they hit you with a few lucky shots. Those Death Casters on the other hand… never destroyed one. By the time I’d get into weapon range, I’d hit them a few times but then because I was flying so fast I’d fly past them and then lose my 3 or 4 shield and ka-boom. Great game Mr Sparks – one of the best for the TRS‑80 way back when.

Will Price says:

A friend and I still say to each other “Starfighter, Good Hunting. D to Drive, D to Drive” :)

Sparky Starks says:

For Djfinny:
Ball Turret Gunner was mine, published by Instant Software. I also did a party game named Minotaur that they published. BTG was a 4k game done mostly in BASIC with just enough ML to do the animation. I revisited the BTG in Starfighter as part of the historical background of the game reality. In game, it was a pre-Landbase craft, and so had no charge field, making it an easy target. If you remember BTG, in it you were a gunner with the goal of getting what became an Exxonerator (Gnat) Starwars-like target centered on screen and shooting it. The Gnats hopped around on the screen, and ‘pot shots’ were the only way to hit them. This is why the BTG in Starfighter fired frequently but not very accurately.

panzerpet says:

thanks for bringing me to my once favoured game …
if i only had known , how far this computer stuff will grow
today x3 has better graphics but not the charme of the old games and days

Brian Dibbins says:

Thank you Sparky Starks for a billiant game.

I simply don’t understand why there isn’t a current version available for PC’s and consoles today. The concept of shaping your hyperdrive for various weapons, having limited access to the various landbases, the difficulty of distinguishing friend from foe at times, the adrenalin rush of seeing a deathcaster in the distance…

To use the curent vernacular; the game is epic win and made of awesome.

Brian

patcallow says:

Mr. Starks, Thank you for creating such a great game. It’s among my favorite memories as a kid playing it.

Maxwell Edison says:

I have spent days and nights thinking about re-coding Starfighter for the PC.
I once spent 17 consecutive hours playing Starfighter.
to Drive
(Holds down W T S and then hits the D key, only releasing the keys after warp-in and target is present)
Rotate to foe (?) and close.
Oh GAWD! It’s an enormous plus sign!
to drive.
(Preceded by )

Mike Russo says:

Best game ever! I was ten years old when it came out, and played it all the time. On the weekends, dad would let me stay up all night playing, then in the morning would stick his head in the door and ask… “Did you kill a Death Caster?”…and never did. I got within range a few times, but those things inflicted massave damage… I never had a chance. I’d actually get scared when I’d encounter one! …eh, I was only ten!

I don’t think I ever got my rank any higher than Inspector, but sure had tons of fun playing the game. We accidentally discovered the “greetings” password through a cassette load malfunction, and received a “congratulations” certificate as well. I continued playing up until pops repaced our TRASH-80 with a Commodore 64. I never found a game I had more fun playing.

Gary Friedman says:

I agree with Brian, I also don’t understand why there isn’t a current version for PCs — we need one now. I would spend big $ for a copy. Thanks Sparky!

Geepig says:

Yes, thanks Sparky, I still miss that game!

Mark Cookman says:

Sparky Starks lost his battle with lung cancer this afternoon. A bright light has been extinguished and the world grows darker for its loss. R.I.P. Larry Allen Starks 1951 – 2011.

Mark McDougall says:

Very sad news indeed! :(

Brian Dibbins says:

I was reading a thread on one of the fanfiction Yahoo groups I’ve joined, and started reading an OT thread about ‘the good old days’, which focussed a lot on old computers.

As a result, I started thinking about my old TRS‑80 again, which led me to think about the old games, and of course, to my favourite game; Starfighter. This of course led me to this page and I couldn’t help but smile as I read a comment I posted the last time I ran the same search. I didn’t even recall posting it until I read it! :)

Anyway, having read the newer comments, including the one regarding the passing of Sparky, I couldn’t help but add my own RIP wish for Sparky. Thank you for the enjoyment your game gave me, and may all the Starfighters you encounter be friendlies, and not Marauders.

Brian

George Geczy says:

I absolutely loved playing this game. And after 30 years there are very few games I say that about.

Very sorry to hear of Sparky’s passing…

Eric says:

Wow. I’m happy and sad. Happy to have finally found this site after thinking about this game for a lot of years. Sad to hear Sparky is gone and I don’t have a chance to thank him. I always found this game to be fun. However, frustrating at times. The best part of this game was the manual which was so detailed and let your mind imagine that which the TRS graphics weren’t capable of. After all these years I still have the manual handy. I always wondered what the secret word was and what the prize was. :-)

Roger M. Wilcox says:

It’s 22-June-2012 as I’m posting this. I JUST learned of Sparky Starks’ death today. It may be old news for the rest of you, but it hit me pretty hard.

I, too, have fond memories of SC-78503 Starfighter. Of saving games to cassette. Of the voowoowoowoowoo noises the Drive made. Of misloading a saved game and it giving me “WORD FOR CREDIT IS GREETINGS NOTICE WORD FOR CREDIT IS GREETINGS” as a consequence of that glitch. Of sending in this word to Adventure International, and receiving a certificate in the mail granting me a chair on the S.G.A. council.

And of Sparky himself sending me e-mail, decades later, amazed that there was anyone who still remembered Starfighter. (In the e-mail, which I’ve since lost, he claimed he’d planned two sequels: “Star Merchant”, from the standpoint of the traders, and “Marauder”, from the standpoint of the PRC.)

Starfighter, good hunting.
D to drive.
D to drive.

Mrs. Sparky Starks says:

It is 10-17-12 and I am reading this for the first time. I remember how happy and honored Spark was when he found out there were Starfighter fans out there. I didn’t realize that this site, with his comments was still up and accessible. As I read, I couldn’t help but smile even through the tears.

I actually stumbled across this because the younger of our two sons was searching on Chivalry Software in his computer class at school, and found this site (and one for Boomtown!) and he and his friends were intrigued. He says that they planned to download the games when they got home – so I guess there will be a new crop of fans. Spark would just love that!

Thank you, everyone, for your lovely comments, and for making a programmer smile so many years after his ‘fame.’

If I come across the docs for Starfighter or Boomtown, I will scan them in and find a place to post them.

Geepig says:

I am very sad to hear about Sparky, but glad to have had the opportunity to finally ‘meet’ him, even if only on a forum – it’s not every day one can meet one’s heroes, and even rarer to discover that they are greater than one expected.

Vixpen says:

Vale sparky starks … Starfighter was simply an awesome experience … One of the reasons I bought my first computer … Thank you!

Gregory starks says:

this is Gregory stark my sparkys youngest son this is his first game and if you get it you should find out more about him he was a awe inspiring man he had had heart problems all his life but he fought on he broke his spine but fought on there never was a better father……

Gregory starks says:

srry for all the gramer errors my fingers were shaking while i was typing its hard to talk or type about him……

Gregory starks says:

a better man never walked
a better father never taught
a richer life never lived

a man can die but a legend is immortal
you will live on in our hearts and minds

writer by scott starks my older brother

Geepig says:

Thanks, Gregory, your father left a good mark in the world, and inspired people around the globe. discovering Starfighter is still one of the landmark events of my life for reasons I find difficult to explain now to people who have known computers all their life – suddenly the ‘TV’ wasn’t just something you watched, now it was something you could interact with in a complex way – and Starfigther took it all to a whole new level.

Roger M. Wilcox says:

I found the e-mail Sparky Starks wrote to me. It’s from ‘way back in 2003. I thought I’d share it with y’all:

“Starfighter was originally intended to introduce a world of ‘all bad guys’, depending on your perspective. PRC represented power as acquired by indiscriminate use of resources. SGA represented power as acquired by indiscriminate use of untested technology, and IMRC represented power as acquired by pragmatic prioritization of profit above all else. StarMerchant was planned as a sequel to StarFighter, to be followed by Marauder, with each perspective so being represented. But.. (smile) the computer industry moved forward faster than anyone anticipated, and before I could get out two more TRS‑80 products, I was busy rewriting StarFighter for Atari 400/800 as Destiny: The Cruiser (I had sold rights to the name StarFighter to Lorimar to make a movie: The Last Starfighter, and StarCruiser proved to be already owned).

Nope, I’ve never written anything (yet) except softwar[e] documentation but I have been considering writing one of two things: either a near-future novel about an Internet special interest group overwhelming traditional ideas about things like unions, elections, etc with widely published straw polls, or a novella sized essay arguing that we are within 10 years of being (literally) servants of computers. Its not certain, but reason suggests that computers will soon be self-aware, un-unpluggable, and likely to wish to protect us ‘for our own good’ (scariest thought I’ve every had…). Who knows.”

gregory starks says:

just putting it out there my dad also wrote a game called: visions of aftermath the boomtown
the people that bought it from him mesed it up so its a little glitchy but easy to find for download

Tom D says:

I’m actually a big fan of Visions of Aftermath: The Boomtown and dedicated MANY hours to that game as a young man. I’m also a (very) amateur programmer and was inspired to attempt numerous variations of that game over the last 20+ years. I often wondered what would be next in the planned series that never materialized. I’m sad to hear of Sparky’s passing and would have wished to see another version of Vision during this “Indie revolution”. I think it would have done very well given the popularity of the dynamic world / crafting game genre of late. Sparky was well ahead of his time. God bless!

Mark Kemperman says:

I just come across this thread after looking up something about my first computer, the TRS‑80 Model I.

Of course my favourite game as a child was Starfighter. Saw some comments by Mike Russo earlier in the thread and it was exactly the same for me. Lots of late night sessions trying to nail a blasted Death Caster! The computer was in my Dad’s ham radio shack so it was quality time with him :)

Sorry to hear about Sparky’s passing, but he’s left a nice and personal legacy for a lot of people and that’s brilliant.

Would KILL to have Star Fighter on my iPad :)

Scott Adams says:

I remember Sparky very well and his passing is a loss to the gaming world. He was an incredibly talented fellow. He is certainly missed. I wish someone would remake StarFigher for modern machines.

His only flaw was he didn’t like to go out to eat! I remember having almost to drag him to a AI dinner we had. LOL

Tim Gentry says:

I found this site by remembering Starfighter out of the blue today and googling for it. I spent days playing this on my dad’s TRS‑80. Today I still play games (“You don’t stop playing games because you get old, you get old because you stop playing games…”), but I’d definitely pay for a Starfighter clone.

I’m saddened by the now-old news of Sparky’s passing. It’s been four years, but I’m sure the family still has a hole where he used to be. My very best to you all.

Mark Freedman says:

I have many fond memories of Starfighter. I cannot believe it was released 35 years ago. Time flies way too quickly. My friend and I often played late at night until around 6 AM, each of us controlling a different part of the keyboard (for quick escapes, etc.). It was great teamwork, and great fun!

Back then, because of the very limited graphic capabilities of the machines, a lot more focus was given to gameplay. I miss that. It’s one of the things I’m forcing myself to do when creating my own games today.

RIP, Sparky.

Mike Albert says:

As a lifetime fan of this game, it would be wonderful if the source code for Starfighter was published. That way the community could carry on Sparky’s legacy.

Patrick Giesler says:

Starfighter was definitely the best game ever written for the TRS‑80 platform. I remember spending days at my computer (sometimes with my boyhood friend Joachim Schmitt) and I still remember almost every detail of the game. The name “Sparky Starks” is seared into my memory ever since. He must have been a genius.

I still have the SC-78503 Manual of course. The software itself somehow did get lost at my parents’ house when my old TRS‑80 gave up its ghost.

I would definitely buy a remake or clone for modern computers.

RIP, Sparky

Stephanie Joy Starks says:

9/5/15
I’m Sparky’s daughter. Thanks to a wonderful family members post I’m reading this all for the first time today. I spent the first half of the comments I was reading smiling joyously, remembering my Father and how much I know he must have loved being able to converse with so many of his fans ‘personally’. The second half of these comments that I read I spent sobbing, yet still smiling. I’m so grateful that despite not knowing him on a completely personal level so many of you were able to recognize the Greatness of my Father, going beyond just his programming genius. My Father was and always will be my hero, and not just because he was my Dad. I’ve yet to meet a man more dedicated to expanding peoples minds with knowledge, a man more worth sitting down to have a philosophical conversation with, to debate two sides of something to either figure out a dilemma or just for the plain old damn fun of it, or a man so incredibly talented in so very many unique trades.
Sparky Starks was one of a kind, though I can’t speak for everyone else, I’m positive that I am not the only one who loved him who is truly grateful to see so many people realizing what the world lost with my Father no longer in it.
Thank you to all of you wonderful people who took the time to visit there favorite memories and record them on this page.
Stephanie Joy Starks

Don says:

04/02/2017

I just want to add to the voices here in my appreciation for Starfighter. I was very sad to hear of the author’s passing and my heartfelt condolences go out to his loved ones.

The great news is that you can download an emulator and play the game in all its glory (I have just finished having a go for the last hour or so) and it is as brilliant as when I first played it in the 80’s. I managed to close distance with a death caster and got three hits on it with my beam weapon – still didn’t take it down – this was back in the 80’s mind you, I don’t have the courage to do it now :)

Stephanie, you father was indeed a great man to have written a game on such a limited system that had so much going for it. In my session just gone, I clobbered what was OBVIOUSLY a star pirate – not an innocent merchant pffft – but my identification system could not decipher the pirates bits and pieces to put my mind at complete ease. I guess it is easier to identify them when they are still wriggling. Great fun, I will think of your dad next time I play it – which will be often.

All the best!

Jim Baker says:

I have thought off and on for years about Starfighter and how it was the hands-down best computer game I had played so long ago. I spent I-don’t-know-how-many hours playing it.

I finally thought about it while sitting at my desk and having some time to look it up. I’m so sorry to learn that Sparky passed away.

Stephanie & Mrs. Sparky, Thank you for sharing Sparky with us. His genius is missed.

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