Few game series have had as many surprising, thrilling, and disappointing bumps in their lifespan as the Star Control series. What makes this more remarkable is the fact that, as of now, there are only three games in the series. The series was introduced to us by Toys for Bob, a development house which has brought us many of the great classics of yesterday, including Archon, Mail Order Monsters, and The Horde.
Star Control had a great zooming top-down view with gameplay stolen from Spacewar, and a huge cast of races. Each race's ship had its own strengths and weaknesses. You could assemble an army of these ships, and go toe to toe against an opponent in a strategical map, trying to take over the galaxy. You could also create small scale skirmishes in the melee mode. Each ship had to be played completely differently, which was a huge part of the success of the game. One ship that might seem unstoppable, might be nearly defenseless against another ship. This game was fun, and reminiscent in many ways of Archon. It was terribly fun, especially for two players competing together, but it has been almost forgotten now. It was surpassed, in almost every way, by its sequel.
Star Control 2 came completely out of the blue. Toys for Bob surprised everyone with this title. Fans of the first were expecting a flashier space combat/tactical game, an update of the original. What they got instead was an adventure/RPG with a huge and wonderful storyline. The players encountered other races, and could befriend them, adding them to their armada as they journeyed through the game. I'm not going to go into detail about this game, as the existing writeups do the game justice. But it really changed the expectations of the fans, as well as expanding the fan base to a much more diverse group.
Then, Accolade took the Star Control series and gave it to Legend Entertainment to make a new sequel. Legend was facing an uphill battle with Star Control 3 from the very beginning. Star Control 2 was placed on a pedestal by the gaming community, and expectations were high. Star Control 3 shifted the sprites from the previous titles into 3-d models, but preserved the top-down gameplay. Once again, go to the game's writeup for a better description, but this game is fairly reviled by most fans of the series. Some revisionism was applied to the end of Star Control 2, and the new storyline seemed very divergent from the previous game. The adventure element was much less gripping, as well, and many of the RPG aspects were completely absent.
Toys for Bob is working on updating and re-releasing Star Control 2 for Linux, Macintosh, and Windows machines now. This is wonderful news for all fans, as SC2 was a DOS only game and it's very difficult to get a modern computer set up to play it, much less find the game in the first place. However, before this was announced, a large portion of the fan community decided to take matters into their own hands. Star Control: Time Warp was the name of a new game, set in the Star Control universe. Open source, free, and fan made.
The goal of the Star Control: Time Warp project is to make a "worthy successor" to Star Control 2, and ignore the "ravages" that were inflicted upon the Star Control universe by the third episode. The project has advanced remarkably quickly, and is now at an alpha state with a fully playable melee mode, just like the original series, in which simple ship battles can be set up and played through. All of the ships from the Star Control series are playable in the current build, along with a number of fan created ships. The majority of these new ships are well balanced, and very original. Much more original, in fact, than most of the Star Control 3 ships.
The game has been taken back to the Star Control 2 style of graphics, with sprites being used instead of 3-D elements. This means that the ships from the first two games look perfect. The ships from the third game are obviously not quite the same, as they are generated from screenshots of the 3-D models. One of the more remarkable aspects of SC:TW is the eight player support. The game can already be played over a LAN or on the internet. The distribution of the game includes the full source code, although you can simply delete that if you are not of the tinkerer persuasion, and play the game with the included binaries.
The game has been built and run on Linux, Windows, and BeOS currently, with plans for more ports in the works. As the game starts showing more and more polish, the question of legality becomes more and more pressing. This is especially brought into focus because of the renewed interest in Star Control 2 from creators Toys for Bob. Like all fan projects, this one may disappear at any moment due to legal action. The open-sourced and free distribution make their position much less threatening to the copyright owners, but it still is using all of the original artwork and sounds from the original games. (In fact, it's very easy to forget you're playing a fan-made project once you're in the game, because everything is so similar to the old games).
See for yourself at http://www.classicgaming.com/starcontrol/timewarp/
The original creators of Star Control are at http://www.toysforbob.com