Random Access Memory: Starquake

Welcome to a new series, Random Access Memory, where we delve into our collective unconscious and extract recollections of video games from our dim and distant past. And welcome also to Graeme Currie, who pilots us on our inaugural journey, as he remembers the 1988 Atari ST game Starquake. If you’d like to submit your own memories of a cherished game, get in touch via the Contact form at the top of the page.

We will focus on the Atari ST version of Starquake, as this is the one I remember well, although there are many other ports of this game, and all are somewhat similar to each other. When I first came across Starquake I was very young, and I found its highly colourful graphics fascinating, with each room splashed in a different hue. I loved exploring all the various places, but would eventually end up losing all my lives: I didn’t understand the main objective, I just enjoyed exploring and trying to get to places or rooms that looked cool.

Recently I played the game again, and I finally understood what the mission was. You have to deliver nine items to the core, but first you have to visit the core to determine what to look for. At the start of each game the items are randomised and scattered across different rooms; but there’s also another way to get items, by swapping unwanted ones at the Cheops pyramid, which can be activated using the Access credit card (remember Access?). You can only carry four items at a time, and whenever you pick up a fifth item, the first item is dropped onto the ground.

There are a lot of enemies to watch out for that will try to kill you on sight, and certain places are impossible to reach without using hover platforms, which allow you to fly. However, when you are on the platform you cannot pick up any items; so to grab something, first you need to dismount from the platform at a docking station. Another thing is that there are teleport booths located throughout the map, and each area has its own code, so it’s best to keep a paper and pen handy for jotting down numbers.

There are many other things to consider as well, like your health meter and your weapon and energy meters: make sure those don’t get too small, or you will be in big trouble. Also, there are extra lives dotted around the maps, and if you see one life, there are usually more to be found nearby. These little caches are a big help, as you can start losing lives very fast. But even though it’s difficult, I find Starquake fascinating, and I remember liking the way that the items are randomised, so each time you play it feels like a new game.

The different versions of the game for the Amstrad, C64, and so on are very much the same, just with different codes for the teleport booths and slightly different colours to the rooms. If I remember correctly, there are around 512 rooms, so it can take a lot of exploring to find the items you need, although of course you can use the Cheops Pyramid to get items that you’re having no luck finding. That said, it’s tough, and I doubt that many people have completed this game – not that I’m trying to put people off playing it. But if you are one of the lucky few who have got to the end, give yourself a round of applause.

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