Stellar Emperor – 1986

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)
– PvP

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.

Further notes about Stellar Emperor can be found by clicking on the tag or going here.  I also wrote a bit about Stellar Warrior and Air Warrior, which were also games on GEnie back in the day.

20 thoughts on “Stellar Emperor – 1986

  1. Arachnid (2273 in MW3)


    It was great to read this post, but to correct the record, MW3 and Stellar Emperor were completely different when played, even if SE might have borrowed from the code heavily. I was mad as heck about MW3 several times (due to Dorsai! Mules, and etc) and once I made the jump to GE I gave Stellar Emperor a try but I hated it, and ended up joining Gemstone, instead. I also don’t know when SE ever had 100 people show up on a reset night, but I seriously doubt it. You didn’t see that many in MW3 either, except in the very early days there were a bunch. They always had the same ships on the current scoreboard with 1000 points, but I think that was hardcoded to make the game look populated. I never saw more than around five or six players in SE, usually around two or three. Like MW3, back in those days, it was just too expensive to spend alot of time in it.


  2. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    I have to disagree with how different SE and MW3 were. In the 1986-87 time frame they were identical. But to make any comparison between the games, you have to give a time frame.

    You say that you came over from CIS, tried SE, then went to Gemstone. Since I was in the Gemstone beta, and I know I played that after I got a Mac in 1988 and had played Air Warrior to death, I am going to guess that you tried SE in 1989 or so, at which point I will agree, the two games had diverged quite a bit. And they diverged even further after that. (I wish I had known that MW3 stayed with the base code that long, I would have gone back to that!)

    And wasn’t the base score like 1650 points if you had the standard issue 3 hull scout? 500 points per hull plus 150 for you or some such?


  3. Red Phoenix - 5163

    Holy cow, MW3. What a memory that was. I played it on Compuserve from about 1988 or 89 to about 93. The most I ever saw online at once was maybe about 70 people. It was a very addictive game although it was so expensive in both $$$ and time that I really only flew about 7 or 8 wars seriously. I did when a couple of times.
    I will say that if 7020 was ridiculously hard to kill, then he was not using the Berserker program. Berserker (the program) piloted ships were ridiculously easy to kill. It seemed to be mostly useful for doing all the routine(and time consuming) fighter transportation and tax collection duties.

    I remember ship 2273 somewhat…I’m pretty sure we flew together…


  4. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    Well, in 1986 on GEnie, he was deadly, but Berserker was optimized for GEnie’s half-duplex connetion. Combat on SE vs. MW3 was very different. It would have been a much less useful on CIS.


  5. GUN/1061

    Wow. SE talk.

    SE and MWIII were very similar before Kesmai took huller building out of SE and changed all kinds of other stuff. They weren’t identical, though. The basics were the same, but some nuances of PM were very different.


  6. Lady's Wrath

    Nice to see others still fond of SE. I played on Genie for a couple of years and even wrote a combat front end for it.


  7. Derage

    Hello Wilhelm from QYV aka Lord Loki aka NiteHawk.

    I was surfing by, hey I know it a bit late but I found you!
    Old days were great. Loss touch with most the old crew after
    Mankind tanked. I’m still in FFXI.


  8. Granny

    Would love to get in touch with some old SE friends. Flew under names (simultaneously) Granny, Droid, and (SecondToNone?) in 88-89. Have silver cups for simultaenously taking 1st and 2nd (would have taken 3rd, but ran out of time in that final blitz to change your planets to a high score config. Whew… I’m embarrased to mention how much that war cost, and couldn’t have done it without great teammates and online friendships.

    Greatest personal achievement was going over 100-0 kill ratio a few times. Front end wasn’t the secret… it was understanding and leveraging the side effects of the command queuing system.

    I’ve an Apple ][gs that I’m sure still has logs, scripts and war results saved on it. Also did GemStone beta as “Shargo” and “Someone”.

    Wilhelm – My memory escapes me, but I think we shared quite a few personal stories offline over the phone. I still feel bad about your losing your first dread in a certain war coming to my defense. Drop me a line!
    Lady – If you were based in/near Dallas, I envied your front end, but I didn’t have an IBM PC!

    Other missing friends – Pondscum, Moon, Mithril, Khadafy


  9. Admiral Zen

    I played heavy in the early days of SE on GEnie, aka Admiral Zen .. VE, multiple time Emperor, and lesser titles many many pewter cups still sitting somewhere.. I do remember the names Telk and such, I have to go dig up the old GEnie magazines…. such memories . .. I remember writing an old front end for combat, got my first $10.00 shareware check (never cashed) for it … soo many hours on just a text based game… began at what 300 baud? for massive $$ heh.. ah the memories . . .


  10. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    I remember your combat program. I tinkered around with it after I bought a Mac. Can’t remember the if that check was from me after all this time, but I still have the same checking account! But once I had a Mac I ended up playing more Air Warrior than SE or SW.

    Hard to believe that was all going on over 20 years ago.


  11. The Visad

    Haha I remember this game… I flew under the handle of The Visad and had a combat guide out for this game. I loved this game and would love to play it again!


  12. Solomon Gajda

    I flew under the name of Pond Scum for the Arcturian Empire and still have my pewter Stellar Emperor award cup today. Reset night as I remember it was countless (50-100) ships all scrambling for supremacy. Great game, great memories. But oh how expensive it was compared to today’s Internet games! My GEnie bill would be $300-$500 per month, but worth every penny!! It was EvE Online with 1980s technology.


  13. Thomas Boisvert

    Btw if anyone still check this thread find me on Facebook… We like to get some of the old timers back not the game and shake it up a bit looks like might make president this war:)


  14. Richard.

    WOW. This brings back memories. I am KillerElite ship 2507 leader of the Stellar Knights winner (on I forget which season) of Stellar Emperor. It is incredible how far we have come and it is exciting as to how far we will go. I remember sitting in front of my screen just watching text scroll by and enjoying every minute of it. I was one of Berserker’s victims many a time back in the day. Still had a blast. He even went on to join my team for a bit. God, if my kids saw that now they would probably wonder if I was crazy no being able to play w/o touching the screen….not to mention no 1080 HD graphics.

    Any old-timers out there that want to reminisce about the old days can drop me a line at


  15. FT

    I am the Berserker ship 7020. I modeled my play, ship personality and ship tactics on Berserker machines from Fred Saberhager books. I wrote the front end fighting program on an Apple IIe in machine language with automatic scan, targeting and shooting capabilities eventually adding “hyper space jumps from nearby planets” routines that allowed unscannable attacks. I also rewrote the Apple monitor program to improve its speed for the game by changing the program from monitor routines to interrupt routines. Whenever I killed a ship I sent a statement over the common radio programs “the berserker kills without reason or mercy”. I normally used a scout ship and with program could destroy even the largest battleships although it took awhile. I took particular delight in harassing team Dorsai when they were planet building but newbies were also attacked. At one point, Kesmai banned me from the game for “cheating” when I discovered that multiple account signons allowed a technique that allowed unlimited wealth. (I acquired battleships in first hour of play) Kesmai later fixed glitch and removed ban. Many players complained to Kesmai that my fighting program was cheating but to their credit Kesmai did not consider that a bannable offense. Other players complained that I worked for Kesmai. (Not true) Eventually other players and Kesmai wrote fighting type front end programs for the game although some of the better features of my program were never duplicated. I uploaded my program to Kesmai and all players before I retired from game but put a glitch in program that had to be discovered and removed for full fighting advanced features as a reward for those so inclined. I have both player and team cups from game although I was only team member (used multiple dummy accounts and automated planet scanning and building routines in another program that I wrote.). I joined a team early on but stopped team play since work schedule made team play difficult. I don’t remember team name but Stellar Knights might be it. I thought the game was the best. I played in no graphics mode but in my mind I saw a rich and detailed universe of systems, planets and ships.


    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.