40 years of Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator.

Fair warning: It’s gonna get nerdy in here.

We’re good? Sweet.

Set the Wayback Machine for 1983, and me the wayward teen wandering into one of the numerous video game arcades taking up space inside pool halls or in strip malls, renovated fast food joints and other odd-sized buildings all over the city of Tampa. My pockets jammed with however many quarters and dollar bills I could scrounge, I move past such favorites as Tron and Tempest, on my way to the hot new game I’ve been dying to play:

Your mission, should you insert your quarter(s) and press the button for 1 or 2 players, was to pilot the U.S.S. Enterprise from “sector” to “sector,” defending varying numbers of starbases from varying numbers of Klingon battle cruisers. Some of the enemy ships concentrated on destroying the starbases while others were intent on destroying the Enterprise (and you).

Successfully defending the starbases meant bonus points after clearing a “sector,” so your first priority was taking out the Klingons attacking them. Docking at a starbase also was one means of repairing “damage” and replenishing your various “consumables” — warp drive power, photon torpedoes, and deflector shields. However, docking at a starbase reduced the bonus points it offered for your successful defense. So, the object? Destroy all the Klingons, defend all the starbases, and do so (if possible) without being forced to dock for emergency repairs.

Every five sectors or so, you entered a special “bonus” round where you faced off against the “Nomad probe,” which was busy deploying mines like a rabbit shot-gunning Red Bull. Taking out Nomad without incurring damage from any of the mines meant more sweet bonus points, after which you charged into the next round of “sector battles” with ever more angrier, faster Klingons.

Continue repeating all of the above until your ship is destroyed.

(Pic courtesy of the Sega Wiki)

A fossil by today’s gaming standards, Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator was pretty slick when it was released by Sega in January 1983. The vector graphics were typical of the era, but the game also benefitted from Leonard Nimoy and James Doohan supplying their voices for various snippets of dialogue throughout the game. Familiar Star Trek music and sound effects rounded out the presentation. The controls were pretty simple, with a “spin knob” to control direction and four buttons–one each for phasers, photon torpedoes, thrusters and “warp drive” to get you out of a tough jam, at least for a couple of seconds.

The game itself came in two basic configurations: the standard stand-up cabinet model prevalent in most arcades, and the deluxe “sit-down” model that partially enclosed the player in a “captain’s chair,” with the controls set into the arms. Of course, back in those days it was common practice to repurpose arcade cabinets by swapping out the innards and the exterior artwork, so finding an actual honest to goodness sit-down model is a pretty rare event anymore. That said, now you know what to get me for Christmas or my birthday if you chance across one. Until then, I have to make do with what I have:

My oldest child, teaching me how not to suck at this game, circa 2008.

In addition to the original arcade game version, the game also was made available for home console systems of the day–Atari 2600/5200, Commodore 64, the TI-99, and so on. Stop laughing. The Commodore 64 graphics actually were better than the arcade model. I said stop laughing!

Forty years after I first played it in that long-gone arcade, I still love this thing. I don’t play it every day, of course, but every so often the itch needs scratchin’, you know? The model which currently sits in my home office was acquired soon after we moved into our house, allowing me to cross one item off my Bucket List (“Own actual Star Trek arcade game.”).

(Sadly, “Own actual Tron arcade game” is still on the list, so remember: Christmas or birthday. I’m not picky.)

Happy 40th, Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator. Who’s got quarters?

Lay it on me.

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