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I've been trying to find a PC game that I played a demo for back in the early 90s (give or take).

It was a space exploration/RPG with sprite graphics and I think a top-down perspective. You fly around in your starship talking to different people and doing missions for them to upgrade your ship and unravel the main plot. I think it was very similar to Star Control 2, unless I'm mashing-up elements of the two in my memory.

The two things I really strongly remember are the storyline and one specific game mechanic.

As you go through the storyline of the demo, it turns out you and the rest of humanity are trapped in some kind of force bubble in space that destroys anything that goes too far from the star. Eventually you find out that it's an intentional prison, and the only way out is a secret wormhole somewhere that lets you escape, where you meet an alien. Immediately after that the demo ends with a message like "Get the full version to play chapter 2!" or some such thing.

The mechanic I recall is having multiple settings for your weapons and shields, each symbolized by a different wave-form symbol (sine wave, square wave, sawtooth, etc). If you used the right beam setting for the enemy's shield setting, it would punch through their shields, or something like that.

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If it's not SC2, then might it have been Solar Winds? I have vague recollections of playing this and it sounds like it might be what you describe.

I'm not sure on the exact combat mechanics but I do recall flying around, completing missions, and eventually unlocking an FTL capability after a conversation with an alien like you describe (and I remember the demo ending at this point as well).

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  • Bingo! You can see two of the cannon types at youtu.be/dEtHJA6dPl0?t=175 – FuzzyBoots Jan 31 at 2:40
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    YES! That's the one! I looked it up on Wikipedia (difficult because of the many uses of that name) and the screenshot they have is exactly what I'm thinking of! I remember the enemy spaceships that look like the cab from Fifth Element, even! Published in '92 by Epic Megagames -- that fits, they were sending out demo disks in tons of magazines, so that's probably where I found it. – Darth Pseudonym Jan 31 at 15:40
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I think it was very similar to Star Control 2, unless I'm mashing-up elements of the two in my memory.

I believe it was Star Control 2 itself.

In the beginning of the game, an expedition force goes back to Earth after some time without contact, just to find Earth trapped inside a red bubble.

If the game seemed a lot like Star Control 2 but was not Star Control 2, it was probable The Ur-Quan Masters - a port of the game to systems other than MS-DOS, which kept most of the vibe and plot. It is free for non-commercial use.

I remember having played this port, you need to find a way to break that bubble (not only for Earth but also for other planets). I don't know if the original game has the exact same plot on that part. I remember there were wormholes to a parallel universe, which was part of the plot. You met the Arilou there. If they don't ring a bell, perhaps the Ilwrath or the Ur-Quan themselves will.

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    No, it absolutely is not SC2. I've played SC2 multiple times, both in the original form and as the Ur-Quan Masters re-release, and I know it well. It's one of my top-ten games of all time, and it doesn't have shield harmonics or whatever. This is something else entirely with a similar vibe. – Darth Pseudonym Jan 30 at 20:01

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