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Remembering The Star Wars Arcade Clone, 3D Starstrike

3D Starstrike For The Sinclair Spectrum Was A Blast

If you grew up in the 1980s, lived in the UK and loved video games then you were most likely to have owned a Commodore 64 or a Sinclair Spectrum 48K.  For me it was the Spectrum.  This little black box sporting blue rubber keys was my first computer and I was blown away by the number of games available.  Flight sims, strategy games, platform games and many other games were all available to stop me from doing my homework and instead offering to take me into a world of endless possibilities.
So why am I talking about a retro British computer on a Star Wars website?  Well, back in 1984 I was still on a high from Return of the Jedi.  I was twelve years old and my bedroom walls were covered with Star Wars posters thanks to the official monthly poster magazine I had subscribed to.  I couldn’t get enough Star Wars.  My Kenner figures and vehicles helped with that craving but the Spectrum 48K would take my imagination to another level.  
My favourite arcade game at the time (and still is) was the official Star Wars arcade machine, especially the sit down version.  A trip to the arcades was normally reserved for our family’s week away at a holiday camp.  Now, I had the possibility of dodging Tie Fighters and flying down the Death Star trench with the ultimate goal of destroying the Empire’s latest super weapon from my own bedroom.  There was only one problem, Star Wars hadn’t been released for the Spectrum and wouldn’t for another three years.
Fortunately, thanks to the massive support from software companies for the ‘Speccy’ a clone of the arcade game was a dead cert and sure enough a little software house called Real Time Software brought out a version of Star Wars that was not only a satisfying interpretation of the arcade game but it was a spectacular game.  
Now when I say spectacular, remember this was 1984.  Looking at the screenshots now and the video below, you’re probably thinking what’s so special?  But this was Star Wars, or a version of it in my own bedroom with colourful graphics and satisfying (even if they were used sparingly) sound effects.
The reviews in my favourite computer magazines had been good.  Crash magazine had given 3D Starstrike a “Crash Smash” which was reserved for games that were rated over ninety percent and Starstrike had got an impressive ninety-three percent.  I couldn’t wait to get it.

Loading screen for 3D Starstrike
The loading screen was suitably exciting with bright colours that had a Ralph McQuarrie vibe.  This was just heightening my anticipation.  Back then you had to load games from cassette and would take around five minutes before the game was fully loaded.  Scrutinising the loading screen was a normal practise for any home computer gamer of the era.  
Eventually the game loaded and you were presented with four options of difficulty.  Medium settings felt like an adequate compromise.  The graphics showed you in first person sitting in the cockpit of a spaceship, let’s, for argument sake call it an X-Wing.  Your guns appeared on either side of the screen and the cockpit showed your shield strength, score, lasers and level.  I was ready to take on the Empire.
The first wave was exactly the same as the arcade.  Vector graphics (wire-frame) represented the ships and satisfyingly they were in the shape of TIE fighters.  Lasers would shoot from your turrets as you pressed down on your joystick button (or rubber keyboard.)  Hitting the ships would break them up into little pieces.  The sound effects were basic but effective.  A raspy sound represented your laser fire and explosions.  The TIE fighters would fire back at you with their flower looking plasma weapons.  If one of these hit you then that’s one less on your shield count.  When this went down to zero then you better be one with the Force or you’re heading for disaster.
The second phase, again was like the arcade where you skim along the surface of what I can only assume was the Empire’s super weapon.  Fire at those vector graphic towers, destroying as many as you can but make sure your flying skills are tuned as you need to avoid them.  Save those shields for the next part because the next phase is the one I had been waiting for, the trench run.
Yes, you flew down a trench with guns randomly plastered along the sides and huge boulders blocking your way (just like the arcade.)  Fly up and down to avoid the obstacles while shooting the guns on the side.  Keep your shields safe, use the Force and eventually you get one chance to destroy the space station.  This is what you’ve been working towards.
This is where the game is slightly different to the official arcade game.  Instead of pointing your guns down at the turret you actually fly through a tunnel where you have a few seconds to blow up the squares on either side of the turret.  It had more of a Return of the Jedi vibe which was okay in my book after all, this was 1984.  Destroy these squares and watch as your ship escapes.  You are treated to a space station that looked like the Death Star exploding in front of you.  A sense of achievement was assured. 
That was it.  You start all over again with your remaining shields and a slightly harder difficulty.  Back in 1984 the higher your score and the more levels you complete with any game were topics talked about in school playgrounds.  Just one more go to get to level seven and beat my record was a motivating factor with games like this.  Plus it was Star Wars.
These games were simple but at the time they would capture my imagination.  I remember playing the soundtrack on my record player and in particular the most suitable, ‘TIE-Fighter Attack’ piece over and over again.  In my mind I was there.  I was a top X-wing pilot, strong with the Force and the last chance for the Rebellion.  
My Sinclair Spectrum brought so many happy memories and the thought of creating Star Wars with that rubber keyed black box and a simple joystick will always bring a smile to my face.  Video games have always been an important part of my life, even today.  They stir my imagination and bring me the same level of escapism a good quality movie does.  3D Starstrike did that for me and helped with my Star Wars cravings.  In 1984 I was a top X-wing pilot and the Rebellion’s last chance.  Use the Force Rob.
Did you have a favourite Star Wars game or perhaps you remember another clone of the Star Wars arcade game you want to share.  Feel free to share your memories below.
–Rob Wainfur

The Bearded Trio - The Site For Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Williams and a whole lot more.


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