More than 20 years after its debut, revered sci-fi adventure The Ur-Quan Masters is finally coming to Steam next week

The Ur-Quan Masters, an open-source remake of the revered sci-fi exploration-adventure Star Control 2, is coming to Steam next week, free for all and with a slightly different title—Free Stars: The Ur-Quan Masters.

The Ur-Quan Masters situation is a bit complicated, but here’s the crash-course version. Star Control 2 was developed by Toys for Bob and published by Accolade in 1992. It was a successful and tremendously influential game, and some years later—after the release of a dismal Star Control 3 that was developed without their involvement—studio founders Paul Reiche and Fred Ford made the source code for the 3DO version of Star Control 2 open source, resulting in the highly-regarded 2002 fan game The Ur-Quan Masters.

Fast-forward a quarter century, and Ford and Reiche finally decided it was time to make their own direct sequel to The Ur-Quan Masters, called Ghosts of the Precursors. Just one problem: Stardock claimed it acquired ownership of the Star Control rights in Atari’s 2013 bankruptcy fire sale, and it filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the project. The lawsuit was eventually settled amicably: Stardock maintained the rights to the Star Control name, while Reiche and Ford were free to make new Ur-Quan Masters games.

Which, very slowly and circuitously, brings us to now. Free Stars: The Ur-Quan Masters, “a classic space game that captures the charm of retro science-fiction, space combat, and high adventure,” is headed to Steam on February 19. Pistol Shrimp Games, the studio founded to work on the Ur-Quan Masters games by Reiche, Ford, Ford’s brother Ken, and Dan Gerstein, said on Twitter that it is “the base UQM build with a couple tweaks,” described in a small FAQ on Steam as including “voiceover, 3DO music, and other minor changes.”

The original Star Control and Star Control 2 remain available for purchase on Steam and GOG, as do Star Control 3 and Star Control: Origins, a newer addition to the series developed by Stardock. The Ur-Quan Masters, however, is not available on Steam: As befits an open source project, you can snag that one, for free, from Sourceforge. That’s apparently part of why Pistol Shrimp is putting Free Stars: The Ur-Quan on Steam: “We also wanted to bring the game to Steam to reach the millions of players who use it as their game library of choice,” the FAQ states.

“While UQM was—and always can be—available elsewhere, having a presence on Steam for UQM is helpful in a few ways,” Gerstein wrote in an October 2023 blog post. “It’s a place where we can showcase the work of our community in maintaining UQM and maybe even help it reach new audiences. 

“It also lets us establish a presence for the whole series. If game number 1 is on Steam, when game number 2 is coming, we can tie them together nicely in a way both new and old players can understand. Book stores, as an analogy, usually put each book in a series sitting next to each other on a shelf, and we want to do the same.”

Reiche and Ken Ford left Pistol Shrimp in September 2023 but work is still continuing on the direct sequel that was announced in 2017. As agreed in the Stardock settlement, it now has a new name that’s more in keeping with the renamed series: Free Stars: Children of Infinity. There’s no sign of a release target at this point but you can find out more about what’s coming at freestarsgame.com.