Tags: Aces High, Air Warrior, Kesmai, Massively, Stellar Emperor, Stellar Warrior
Syp, in his role as the Game Archeologist over at Massively, has not one but two GREAT posts up about one of the early powers in online gaming, Kesmai.
Granted, my enthusiasm for Kesmai is such that even a favorable passing reference to them gets you to at least one thumbs up. But here we have two posts full of details and memories.
His first article covers the Island of Kesmai, one of the early ancestors to modern MMOs, created in parallel to MUD1, while the second article covers the life of the company with a heavy focus on their game Air Warrior.
And while I could complain about his failure to mention MegaWars III and Stellar Emperor (a game I won at one point) along with some other titles, like Stellar Warrior, I think I will just join his nostalgia parade by adding in my own memories of Air Warrior. All that comes after this could have been his for his article if only he had talked to me… and when you read it… if you read it… you’ll have to decide if that is a warning against ever talking to me!
I have mused a bit on Air Warrior in the past. Now I am going to try and dig deep into the recesses of my brain for really old tales.
I will say up front, to avoid repeating it with every entry, that these are all “as I recall it” memories, many of which I am sure have been distorted by the passage of time. Some of them are, no doubt, flat out wrong.
These are thing that happened from 1988 to 1990 in my personal timeline and involve the original versions of Air Warrior running on GEnie. If your own personal time frame is different, think a minute before you tell me, “Oh no, that is not the way it was!” This isn’t Air Warrior II or Air Warrior III or the AOL or Game Storm version. This is the really old shite!
I was a party to many of these things below, though surely not as many as I remember. Time does that. Feel free to correct or add to my recollections in the comments. But don’t call me a liar, I swear all this is true to some degree!
On with the show.
So Where Exactly is This GDC Online Hall of Fame? October 13, 2011Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming, entertainment, EverQuest.
Tags: Game Developers Choice Online Awards, GDC, GDC Online, Kesmai, Ultima Online
As far as I can tell, it is online. Which I suppose is appropriate. And it certainly makes it easier to visit.
I was wondering about that since a number of headlines have popped up about EverQuest being inducted into the Game Developers Choice Online Awards Hall of Fame.
Which is cool. Yay EverQuest and all that.
And, in each account I have read, it has been mentioned that EverQuest joins Ultima Online in the hall of fame.
And there they are.
The two of them.
Alone together in that virtual hall.
Because this is only the second year, and they only induct one game a year, so there are only the two games.
And for two games representing the world of online games, those two represent a somewhat narrow demographic in online gaming I would say; online, subscription based, fantasy MMORPGs released between 1997 and 1999 and still running today.
Not that I would deny either game belongs on the list, but when you are admitting one game a year into the hall of fame, “Get all the MMORPGs out of the way first” doesn’t seem like the best plan of action.
Ah well. They do also induct people into the hall of fame as well. Last year it was Richard Bartle, so I guess the committee figured they had MUD1 covered as well with that. Still kind of virtual world oriented there, but at least it is old school, text based stuff. Real history or whatever.
And this year there was a two-fer, with the induction of Kelton Flinn and John Taylor, co-founders of Kesmai back in the day, and both responsible for a few games which ought to be inducted into the hall of fame at some point, like MegaWars III, Air Warrior, and Island of Kesmai.
Along with the hall of fame, there are various yearly awards voted on and given out. Last year it was League of Legends that came out as the big winner, grabbing the top spot in most of the categories. In categories for which they were nominated, they only lost out to EVE Online for the “Best Live Game” category. (Categories with definitions are here.)
All in all, another set of awards. While I am sure they are all quite meaningful for the recipients (who does not like to be acknowledged for their work?) I do sometimes wonder what such awards really mean in the big picture. What impact does such an award have?
And, more importantly, which game and person do you think will (or should) be inducted into the hall of fame next year?
Tags: Aces High, air combat game, Air Warrior, Kesmai, World of Warplanes
Wargaming.net has been talking a little bit about their next title, World of Warplanes, but the details are not yet out in the public domain. They do not even have a site up for the game yet. All we really have so far is this:
World of Warplanes is the flight combat MMO action game set in the Golden Age of military aviation. The game continues the armored warfare theme marked in the highly-acclaimed World of Tanks and will throw players into a never-ending tussle for air dominance.
Based purely on aircraft setting, World of Warplanes will allow players to build full-scale careers of virtual pilots offering machines of several key eras, staring from World War I period with “Biplanes” and up to jet fighter prototypes that led the way to modern air forces.
World of Warplanes will feature a wide range of warbirds, each of them unique in their effectiveness and behavior. Virtual pilots will choose from three main warplane classes – single-engine light fighters capable of engaging enemies in close dogfights, twin-engine fighters with their deadly straight attacks, and strafing aircraft, the fearsome threat for ground targets.
Which, frankly, isn’t much… but that never stopped me from speculating wildly.
While Darren was taking something of a pessimistic view of what may come of this game (airborne World of Tanks, to stuff his viewpoint into the tiniest possible box), I think it will have to be somewhat different to survive and make sense, and thus I speculate.
And the reason I feel I have license to speculate over the game that Wargaming.net is making is that I think I have played it already. And I was playing over 20 years ago to boot.
I’ve written a little about Air Warrior before, but I will recap.
Air Warrior was an online, multiplayer (allowing something over 100 people on at once, if I recall right) air combat game that took place in something we would recognize as a persistent world. The world was divided into three factions (creatively called A, B, and C… no wasted bytes there!) in what was initially an asymmetrical world layout with airfields for each faction and a few mountains thrown in to keep people on their toes.
While you could fly the planes of any nation in the game, you were required to commit to a specific faction for a minimum amount of time. So you might fly for team B, but you could be flying a Spitfire, a Focke-Wulf 190, or a P-38 Lightning.
The world itself persisted while you were off-line. You logged on, went to an airfield your team controlled, checked out an aircraft, and took to the sky. Your airfield was protected by an anti-aircraft gun of annoying accuracy to keep your runway from being camped, but you were allowed to mount bombs which could temporarily disable that gun and even the airfield itself, at which point you would have to divert to one of your auxiliary fields.
And while primitive technologically compared to today’s games, Air Warrior worked… most nights. Okay, the tech of the time was barely up to the challenge, but these were the days before 3D acceleration, when a 32-bit processor was a big deal, and most of the players were using 1.2-2.4 Kbps connections.
All of which is a nice little history lesson. But why, you might ask, do I think Wargaming.net should/could go this route?
Well, certain bits fit naturally, such as the ability to fly planes from different nations on a given side.
While other realities make a direct translation of the World of Tanks model to airplanes problematic.
20 minute long 15 vs. 15 battles seem unlikely to me to be a viable game model for a couple of reasons.
Reason 1 – The Sky is Big
It is easy to corral 30 tanks into a relatively small area. Tanks move slowly on the ground and are often best deployed in stationary positions awaiting the enemy. While the guns on bigger vehicles in the game can reach out a good percentage of the way across the battlefields, cover in its various forms help keep the game from turning into an immediate blood bath.
Airplanes live in a much bigger environment. If we are talking about WWII aircraft, their environment extends easily to 20,000 feet upwards. Even limiting the geographical area to the size of a WoT maps, there is a lot of volume in which to run around in a prism 20,000 feet tall.
Meanwhile planes, fighter planes at least, are small. Yes, they seem big on the ground, but they get lost pretty easily in the sky and can become devilishly hard to see. And when you see one and want to shoot at it, you have to get pretty close if you want a chance of bringing it down. Call it 200 yards if you want any reasonable hope of a kill and under 100 yards if you want to stick the knife in good.
Reason 2 – Planes go Fast
Keeping it simple today, aren’t I?
Again, if we are talking WWII fighters, people will be zipping around at 300 mph easily, while achieving (and surviving) 500+ mph in a dive is possible for some fighters of the era.
So you cannot limit the size of the environment to something as small as a WoT battlefield. The sky, big as it was already, has to get bigger lest we spend most of our time flying out of bounds.
So you have to make the sky even bigger, which in turn makes opposing planes harder to spot, close with, and kill. You can see in the picture above one of the few art assets I still have sitting around from Air Warrior. This was after the great map revision when the world was made bigger and divided into Pacific and European theaters. Each faction had its own island, while the center could be captured.
And both you and your enemy are both going fast, which means that unless you have the opposition at a serious disadvantage, they can pull away and evade. And to gain the advantage you want, you can spend quite a bit of time just climbing to altitude in order to be able to pounce on an enemy.
That sends the whole match concept from WoT out the window from my point of view. In a sky big enough to reasonably hold 30 aircraft attempting to kill each other, 20 minutes won’t be anything like enough time to get a resolution like that in a WoT match.
So my hope is that they will end up with something more like the persistent world in Air Warrior. Less lobby, more flight time.
Wargaming.net will likely be hosting more than the 100 or so players that could fill up Air Warrior, so I am sure there will have to be some division of players. Maybe different theaters of war?
Plus, if Wargaming.net chooses to use the same equipment leveling system, where you graduate (or buy your way into) better airplanes, then they will likely have to segregate players by that as well.
Furthermore, I suppose they could force the issue of keeping players focused in a small area by making one side or both focus on defending a geographic area. Their seeming attempt at a rock/paper/scissors with single engine, twin engine, and ground attack fighters (more like scissors/pinking shears/hedge trimmers) might mean a things won’t be wide open fights in the sky but geographically limited objectives, with people attacking/defending specific ground targets.
And, of course, there already is a game out there that is the spiritual successor to Air Warrior, Aces High, which has been around since 2000. That is as close to a second coming of Air Warrior as I have seen.
So as much as I would like to see Wargaming.net recreate Air Warrior for the second decade of the 21st century with three factions (if Warhammer Online taught us anything, it is that open PvP needs three factions) and wide open spaces to fly in a free to play game, that might not fit with their plans at all.
What do you think World or Warplanes will end up being?
MegaWars III – The Rebirth April 12, 2010Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming, entertainment.
Tags: Kesmai, MegaWars III, Stellar Emperor, Stellar Warrior
Back in the day, MegaWars III ran on CompuServe under this name and as Stellar Emperor on GEnie. Stellar Emperor (not to be confused with Stellar Warrior) began to diverge around 1987 and ended up being a very different game. But initially they were as identical.
For me, this represents fond, if somewhat old, memories.
But why re-create this game today? Crimson Leaf Games says:
Mega Wars 3 had many aspects to the game not found in any current online games. First there is an end to each war. This allows players to gain an understanding of the game over several wars to learn how to play as an individual, a team member and a team captian to lead your team to victory. Second the game is always running any other player (even a team member) can attack and take your planets from you 24/7. If you worry about losing what you worked so hard to acheive, this may not be the game for you.
If you want to make life long friends, work together with others to achieve real goals or just spy on another team to help your team over throw an upset to win then MegaWars III the rebirth is the game for you.
Yes, you will need to learn to type simple three letter commands since there are no buttons to click your way to victory.
That describes what the game was like way back then. You could get 100 players on concurrently and the competition would become fierce. But what about today?
I had to go take a look of course, to relive a bit of ancient gaming history.
The game is not free. They were running a one week demo war last week, so I was able to poke around a bit during that. But participation in a real, four week war will run you $12. And the demo war was only last week, so if you want to see how online games were played over 20 years ago, you’ll have to pony up some cash.
I hope they’ll bring back the 1 week demo wars regularly, as $12 buys you a lot of cash in FarmVille or diamonds in Runes of Magic, and you can play either for free before deciding to commit any cash at all.
My first disappointment was that I had to play the game through a web page. Granted, things look about right in their web interface.
I was, however, hoping I could log in via a terminal program.
First, that would recreate the experience moreso for me. Hours staring at a 24 line, 80 column terminal emulator on my Apple //e was the way I played.
Second, I have a copy of ZMud sitting around, which would let me marco my heart out. ZMud would have been the dream program back in the day.
No such luck it would seem.
Still, I was able to get into the game and, with a little help from the commands list page, start running around in search of the perfect planet. The web rendition works well enough, and I don’t even have to obsessively hit return to get status updates. Well, not as obsessively as I used to.
There is even a version of the interface with buttons for some basic tasks.
And so the search for planets began.
Finding planets, growing them, and holding them, is the name of the game. In an active universe, it can be quite a challenge. In a quiet universe though….
Anyway, I will likely pay the fee at some point to give this re-creation a try. I think I remember enough planetary management to be a contender. We’ll see if there is anybody with whom to contend.
I’ll be on as Wilhelm Arcturus, ship # 2451.
Stellar Warrior – 1986 November 21, 2008Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming, entertainment.
Tags: CompuServe, GEnie, Kesmai, MegaWars III, Stellar Emperor, Stellar Warrior
The below is written mostly from memory. You corrections, comments, and conflicting memories are welcome! If you played Stellar Warrior, say hi!
I’ve been meaning to finish this for a while. I’ll use Zubon’s Challenge as an excuse.
But this really isn’t a review. It is just a fading memory.
Now, into space!
It is late. Very late.
Late as in “I got off of work at midnight and I have to be in class at 9:30am, but I’ll just log on for a little while.”
But isn’t that always when good gaming happens?
I am staring at an Apple /// monitor sitting atop my Apple //e computer. Little green lights glow from the computer and the Apple 1200 bps modem (formerly Potshot‘s) sitting next to it. The monitor itself can show 24 rows of text, each 80 columns in length. Currently, most of the screen is empty. A cursor blinks in the lower left hand corner next to the prompt.
I type in short commands.
As I type in commands at the bottom and hit return, earlier commands and responses disappear off the top of the screen, never to be seen again. There is no scroll back.
I am flying a battleship in enemy territory. I am playing Stellar Warrior. My ship number is 8891.
I have been rolling up that rarest of rare treats, a single battleship province. All by myself, of course.
Then I notice that the player count has gone up from 1 to 2. I do a “who” list. It isn’t anybody on my alliance. I’m on the B alliance, in the far corner of D territory, and this guy is a D.
I pop out of the star system I have just turned to my alliance and hit the number 1 macro key.
It types out a rapid command followed by a return.
Search scan, range three hundred light years.
There are 12 key star systems in this province. If I turn 8 of them to my side, the province will change over from the D to the B alliance.
I have already turned 6 of those systems and now the province is in dispute. That means it shows up as a big question mark in the middle of D territory.
The map of the play galaxy looks like this:
CAAAAA BBBBBB AAAAAA BBBBBB AAAAAA BBBBBB AAAAAB BBBBBB AAAAAA BBBBBB CCCCCC DBDDDD CCCCCC DDDDDD CCCCCC DDDDDD CCCCCC DDDDDD CCCCCC DDDDDD CCCCCC DDDD?D
(I cannot remember the dimensions of the territories now, but 6×6 looks right.)
Both the C and the B alliances have been working to take some provinces, the main way you, your squadron, and you alliance earn points to win the four week long game. You can see where I am. It is the question mark, the system in dispute.
The galaxy itself persists, like current day MMOs. If you log off, other people can undo your work. This game is only a few days into the full four weeks, but some early scouting found that coveted single battleship province. Now I can sneak in late on a weeknight and take it.
Of course, somebody else may take it back, but then I’ll happily retake it.
My battleship moves off toward the next system on the list, star system 320. Maybe the guy who just logged on will wait until I take the province, then just take it back when I log off. And I’ll need to log off because it is late.
I keep hitting that macro over and over again. He may not be close enough to see yet. Or he may be in a destroyer, the stealthiest of the five craft you can fly in this game (scout, destroyer, cruiser, battlecruiser, and battleship), and only visible on scanners within 60 light years.
I arrive at my next target system. The planet I am going to take will start broadcasting my presence on channel 400 any second now. Time to get in there and take it.
I move to the planet and start the process of wearing it down.
Short for Attack, that is it. I will keep typing that command until the planet falls. Or until my ship gets blown up. The planet shoots back as I attack.
And then there is that other player.
If he drops into the system in a cruiser, a ship meant for in system laser battles, he can probably stop me from taking this planet.
He hasn’t popped in yet. Maybe he’ll wait and just retake the province.
Finally the planet succumbs. My ship is damaged. I can refresh the shields at my newly captured base, but I won’t be able to do repairs or get a fresh ship for a while. I start out towards the edge of the star system.
I need to get far enough from the star to warp into hyperspace. As I get far enough out, I quickly edit then hit my “peek” macro.
WARP 0,0 SEA 300 NAV 320
My ship pops into hyperspace, but remains stationary. I scan, then dive back into the system. GEnie is wonderfully responsive to commands, and this takes a fraction of a second.
Nothing on scan. Just the nearby star systems. I head for the last system I need.
My battleship will only safely fly at warp 8. I can push beyond that, but then heat starts to build up and if the drive gets to 3500 degrees Celsius, it will go boom. I can help cool it down by dumping fuel, but I won’t need to do that. The system I am going to is only a few light years away and I will barely get to warp 10 in that space. No heat worries.
Then as I start closing on the system, frantic lines of text begin to scroll across my screen. Torpedo hits from the other player, bearing 0, which means he is straight ahead of me. He has popped out of the system I am heading towards. His position means it is easy for me to fire back. I hit another preset macro over and over. Each time it types:
LOA 1 TOR 1
Load torpedo tube one, fire torpedo tube one. Again, GEnie processes this as fast as the macro can go. But GEnie’s responsiveness is working against me this time. His hits are coming in fast.
If he is in a destroyer, I might be able to kill him first, or at least drive him back into the system. If he is in something bigger, he already has too many hits on me.
I score hits, but his fire comes in too rapidly for me to survive. My ship explodes and I am dumped out to the game menu.
He was in a battlecruiser.
I load back up in a scout ship because I am way back in B territory. I fly back towards the base system I captured earlier. I can hear on channel 200 that he is taking back the system I just took. I fly flat out, dumping fuel. I get to the system and switch to a destroyer.
I move to a system close to where he is and begin pop scans, aligned to the system he is in, waiting for him to show up.
We end up stalking each other for another hour. Eventually I grow too tired to continue. 4am? Again?
I fly to the weakest base in the province that I own and change to a battleship. I know that when I log back in, the base will no longer belong to me, but I will be able to retake it quickly. I say farewell on channel 1 and log off.
When GEnie came onto the scene in 1985, they wanted a game like that as well. Not the same game, but one like it. So Kesmai made Stellar Warrior, which was similar to MegaWars III in many ways, but very different in certain key aspects.
Rather than colonizing, growing, and defending six planets of your own, you belonged to an alliance of many planets. Ships cost nothing and could be swapped out for different classes, which were all preset. Your objective was to take war to the opposing alliances by taking their bases and their provinces.
It could be a very intense and very light game to play. It did not have the compulsion factor of MegaWars III or GEnie’s clone Stellar Emperor, but it could be a lot more fun. With the resources of an alliance at your disposal, you could concentrate on combat and tactics. The game was about battling the people who were there rather than defending your planets against the people who would be there when you logged off.
I am sorry I missed the game at its peak. When I started playing Stellar Emperor in 1986, during the 4th campaign, most people had moved to that game and Stellar Warrior was pretty quiet most nights. While Stellar Emperor might have 100 people on for the start of a campaign, and rarely ever less than 20 on any given evening, getting a dozen people into Stellar Warrior was something of a rare event.
Still, it did happen now and again. If your team got shut down in Stellar Emperor and all its planets taken, we would spend some time in Stellar Warrior, where the action was intense and the losses were always made good. At least until the next Stellar Emperor campaign started.
PvP… heck, RvR… in 1986, online and in just 24 rows and 80 columns of text. Those were the days.
A special thanks goes out to Spectrum and the team at MegaWarsIII.com. I had to use their .pdf of the original MegaWars III manual from CompuServe to remember some of those commands from so long ago.
Air Warpier November 9, 2007Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming.
Tags: Air Warrior, Flight Simulator, GEnie, Kesmai
It was an online game featuring real-time, multi-player, air combat.
Dozens of people would be online every night, on the GEnie network, flying, fighting, and dying online in a 3D environment that existed before 3D acceleration was even a consideration.
I even saw Jerry Pournelle in game one night. Though, as I recall, all he did was fly off in the wrong direction and complain that if the game were realistic, we would all by flying Mustangs, not the Spitfires and Focke-Wulfs the knowing players favored. (It was the 20mm cannons we all wanted, they made possible a one-pass kill and screw all that dog-fighting… or stall fighting… nonsense.)
Of course, in the age of Intel 386 machines and 1200 bps modems (I was special, I had a 2400 bps Zoom modem) things were not always as smooth as everybody wished.
Some nights it was a nightmare of warping around the sky, shooting at targets that were not there, and being shot down by people nowhere near you.
It was no doubt one of those nights that spawned this parody of the Air Warrior Macintosh help screen:
I wish I had the real screen for a comparison shot.
I found this file deep in an old folder that has been dragged from computer to computer for the past 18 years at least.
I do not remember who put this beauty together, but I am sure that the 4-Q Squadron had a hand in it somehow.
Aside from that screen and a map of the “new” pacific theater that came along when they redid the terrain, I have no pictures or screen shots left from the game.
So Air Warrior and those early days of multi-player gaming is only a memory for me now.
Kesmai and Air Warrior lived on for a while after the passing of GEnie, but were eventually purchased by Electronic Arts and disappeared. Where have I heard that story before?
The spirit of Air Warrior lives on today in the game Aces High.
Stellar Emperor – Winning The Game December 20, 2006Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming, entertainment.
Tags: GEnie, Kesmai, Stellar Emperor
This was my moment of obsessive power gaming eliteness, way back in 1987.
I wrote generally about the game Stellar Emperor previously.
In Stellar Emperor there were two “Top Spots” in the scores for each four week campaign.
The first was President of the Imperial Senate. This went to the player with the highest individual score. This score reflected primarily your skill at planetary management and your ability to hold onto your six planets. (No score for planets that other players took from you!) The planetary score was derived from an equation that multiplied the population of your planet by several factors, the most heavily weighted being the happiness of your population.
The other 19 players of the top 20 were given titles as well. Second place was “Second Lord of the Empire,” third place was “Third Lord of the Empire,” and so on.
The second top spot was Emperor of the Galaxy. This went to the leader of the winning team. I do not know if the leader of the second or third place teams got any sort of title because I never lead a second place team.
In campaign #12, I lead our regular team, The Arcturan Empire (AE!), to victory and managed to also claim the top spot for individual score. So I was both Emperor of the Galaxy and President of the Imperial Senate.
Now I could simply make that claim, but it would be just that much better if I had some proof of this achievement to back me up.
And, of course, I do.
When anybody got into the top 20 individual scores in a campaign, they got (eventually) a certificate in the mail for Kesmai and GEnie. You also got one for Emperor of the Galaxy. I still have all of the certificates from my Stellar Emperor days, but here are my two favorites:
They are signed by Bill Louden, who was pretty much the founder of GEnie and whom I got to meet the next year at the Air Warrior convention in Dayton, Ohio, and a name I cannot make out representing Kesmai.
In addition to the certificates, the Emperor of the Galaxy and the President of the Imperial Senate each got a pewter cup engraved with their name and title. Here is my matched set:
I haven’t quite figured out how to get a good shot of the cups with our digital camera. I will update this picture if I get a better shot. (I passed on the “reflecto-porn” opportunity that seems so popular on eBay.)
Now, I could have had a third piece of proof. The monthly GEnie magazine, GEnie LiveWire, used to print the scores for the games. Sometimes. They would do it for a few months, then forget for a few months. My win did not make it into LiveWire. Neither did my Stellar Warrior campaign win, for that matter. Such is life.
So how much did these two pewter cups and two certificates cost me? A little over $1000, spent at a rate of $5.00 an hour. This meant that in the 27 Day Campaign (each 4 week campaign had a reset day as part of the cycle) I spent over 200 of the possible 648 hours logged into the game.
(Did I mention that I was working close to full time and going to school? The stamina of youth!)
Well, in hindsight spending that much money on a game seems more than a bit stupid, but I had a good job at the time and no responsibilities other than myself. I never played another campaign anywhere as seriously as that one and I laid of playing for a while to pay off that credit card bill, and I did pay it off. I recall that one player of Kesmai’s Air Warrior game got in so far with GEnie that he pretty much had to go to work for them.
But those two pewter cups have followed me around for the last 19 years. They are not that special looking, but when people ask about them, I tell them that they cost $500 each. That, and the time and glory they represent, is why I still have them sitting on a shelf in my office.
Of course this victory came with a ton of help from the Arcturan Empire team. To the names I remember, Moonlancer (the team founder), Ganelon, Wegnar, and to all the names I have forgotten, I owe a great deal of thanks for a great campaign and a lot of fun! I see those cups every day and think of those days gone by.
Stellar Emperor – 1986 September 21, 2006Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming, entertainment.
Tags: GEnie, Kesmai, Stellar Emperor
Back in early 1986 I was in college, I had a job that paid the bills with a lot left over for fun (at least it seemed like a lot back then), an Apple //e, a 1200bps modem I bought from my friend Dennis, and a desire for a new gaming experience.At the time CompuServe, The Source, Delphi, and GEnie were all offering some sort of online gaming, but only GEnie and CompuServe had games that sounded good to me. I chose GEnie because they had the bargain basement connection price of $5 per hour (non-peak hours only!) while CompuServe was charging $6 per hour for 1200 bps (less for 300 bps, more for faster), a monthly minimum charge, plus a surcharge for dialing in from my location through another service.$5 per hour! So think about that next time you bitch about $15 a month for an MMO.
The game that appealed to me was Stellar Emperor (SE) by Kesmai. (Had I chosen CompuServe, it would have been MegaWars III, which was the same game.)
I set up my GEnie account one Friday night, found my way to the SE menu and entered the game.
I was assigned the number 2451. Each player had a number assigned. You also put a name in with your number. The name could be changed, but the number was associated with your account. To change it you had to leave your account inactive for a set period of time (90 or 120 days as I recall) and then you could start again and be assigned a new number.
I chose the name Wilhelm because I happened to have Hogan’s Heroes on in the background while I was logging in and I had just heard Werner Klemperer announce to somebody that he was “Colonel Wilhelm Klink, Commandant of Stalag 13!”
This is why my handle on the blog is Wilhelm2451. It represents my first online gaming name. (In game it would have shown up as “2451 Wilhelm” but whatever.)
Stellar Emperor, which began commercial development in 1981, had some things any MMO player will recognize.
- A persistent universe. The game kept going when you logged off.
- Guilds. Well, teams, but effectively the same thing.
- Public and private chat channels. You could have three channels active. The channels were numbered from 1-999. Channel 1 was the universal channel, everybody kept that live. Then your team could grab a channel and use that for private communication.
- Direct tells to players for private messages.
- A trade skill of sorts (planetary management)
A game of Stellar Emperor lasted four weeks.
The first night of the game was the busiest. You might find 100+ players on at once. The galaxy was laid out into sectors with each sector containing a number of stars. The stars, each identified by a number, remained in their positions from game to game. The planets around those stars changed from game to game. On the first night people would scout the star systems looking for planets to colonize.
Each player was allowed six planets. Planets had two attributes, habitability and metal content, both on a 1-100 scale. You wanted both to be as close to 100 as possible. You and your team would divide up the galaxy and begin scouting the 1200+ star systems.
There were text files available of each of the sectors and the stars they contained. These were a requirement as the stars were not numbered in any order, so if you tried to scout them in order, you would spend most of your time traveling across the galaxy.
Travel, while not slow compared to EVE Online, still took time, so even in scouting a sector you would try to choose an efficient path from star to star. We would all note where the decent planets were in our sectors, especially those already occupied by members of other teams, and we would try to find six good planets for ourselves.
You had to grab your planets on the first night if you wanted to have a chance of winning the game. On a 99 habitability rated planet even a few hours lost could change your final score enough to drop you a couple of pegs in the ranking.
There was a scoreboard that was updated once a day. For the first week or so, it reflected kills made by individual pilots. You could attack any other ship and get points for kills, but in the end, the scores for planets are what decided the game. Still, there were people game for combat, especially on the first night when everybody was out in scouts. One player who went by the name Berserker (ship ID 7020 as I recall) who wrote a fighting program for the game that was viciously efficient. You would have to gang up on him with three or four other ships to kill him. So here it is 1986 and we already have botting.
Later in the game, as people built shipyards, score began to reflect ship size. Only in the last half of the game would planet scores begin to take over. You had to be careful not to let your score spike too soon. Other teams probably scouted the locations of your planet so they could take them away from you if they looked good enough.
Planetary management, planetary defense, and planetary take overs were all arts unto themselves.
And did I mention that all of this was played in text on a screen that was 80 columns wide at 24 rows tall? No ANSI color even, just plain, scrolling text.