It always raise somebody’s ire when I call them twins. They were, in fact, as close as twins when I was playing Stellar Emperor back in 1986, back when I was actually winning in online games. (It has been all down hill for me since then.)
However, Stellar Emperor began to diverge from MegaWars III not too long after that, and by around 1990 they were as different as chalk and some sort of dairy product.
MegaWars III basically sat still in time and remained pretty much the same through to the end of its run… and the end of CompuServe’s run… in 1999, thus spanning about 15 years online. So when, a couple of years back, Crimson Leaf Games decided to recreate MegaWars III, it was pretty recognizable to those who played the original.
Meanwhile Stellar Emperor changed. GEnie seemed much more interested in getting graphic front ends into their online game offerings. Things like Air Warrior were the direction they wanted to go, and Kesmai seemed keen to oblige them, bringing Stellar Emperor along for the ride. By about 1990 Stellar Emperor would have been practically unrecognizable to a MegaWars III player. Game mechanics were changed, ships were slimmed down to a series of pre-set sizes, not unlike what Kesmai did in Stellar Warrior (which is the game some MegaWars III players think I am referring to at times when I write about Stellar Emperor), commands were changed or simplified.
And then there was the front end software.
If I recall right, you could still play the game from the terminal interface like the original… at least you could the last time I tried, which would have been in the 1990/1991 time frame. But the front end client could be used and was there to make the game both more visually interesting and accessible. And given the state of gaming as viewed from the command line interface these days… what do we have, MUDs, some Roguelikes, and maybe a few other retro experiences hiding in various corners… it was the way to go. Friendlier graphical user interfaces were the way to go.
And that is about where my personal timeline with GEnie and CompuServe ends. Oddly, that is about the time where I started dealing with them professionally, but that is another tale altogether and does not involve any online games.
So my memories are of a time when these games were as about as sophisticated as minimal vt52 terminal emulation would allow. I think of the blinking cursor and arcane commands like “imp 200,100” and text scrolling off the top of the screen, never to be seen again. And it seemed quite natural, from a nostalgia perspective, to recreate such games from that era with a command line interface, though with the web you can always put in buttons for those of us who cannot remember all of those old commands.
And who wants to create a new GUI client for this sort of thing which must have a pretty small audience?
Well, somebody does. I managed to wrest a message from the horrible new Yahoo web mail interface sent to me to announce that there is a remake of Stellar Emperor under way. And it is not an attempt to redo the original, 1986 vintage command line version either. This will be a shot at the GUI client version of the game that ran through the 1990s until the game was shut down by Electronic Arts in 2000. (Electronic Arts motto: We buy game studios and kill them.)
Cosmic Ray Games, LLC is the name of the group working on this project. They have a site up, the game is in beta, there is a client you can download, and a reasonable amount of detail is available. Their FAQ describes Stellar Emperor as:
Stellar Emperor is an online 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) MMORTS strategy game. It maintains a periodically (usually 4 weeks) persistent universe in which a player colonizes planets and forms teams to compete against others real players. You Explore the galaxy to find planets to manage and build your resources, form teams or alliances to help further your survival, gather intelligence on your enemies, and use your resources to defend yourself or to weaken or eliminate your enemies.
There are several elements that make Stellar Emperor a fun and unique gaming experience, which include:
- You only play against other real people, no NPCs to waste time on grinding.
- A periodically persistent universe.
- All events occur in real-time, whether you are online or not, no waiting for turns.
- The world has a strict time limit in which you have to earn your way to winning any of the various titles.
- All players start each war on an even basis. The game can only become uneven for the duration of an individual war, not eternally.
- You command several planets to do your bidding.
- You can build for growth and score, or you can build for war to take from others.
- Build ships or supplies to defend yourself, attack others, or gain an advantage in combat.
You can win a specific title in a war:
- Emperor – Leader of the winning team.
- President – Player with the highest planetary score.
- Warlord – The player with the best overall adjusted combat score.
- Ravager – The player most successful and attacking other player’s planets.
Combined, these elements create an environment where players must work together to achieve their goals and overcome adversities presented by the other players vying for the same goals, winning the game! You will see expansive battles, strategy execution, conflict, and teamwork as all players battle their way for the top spots.
Given the speed of the game, I might not describe Stellar Emperor using the “RTS” acronym. It may literally be true, but when you think of an RTS game, you are more likely to imagine StarCraft, which takes minutes to hours to play as opposed to a game that runs out over a four week time frame. But then it isn’t like an ongoing, persistent universe MMO like EVE Online either, since it does reset every four weeks.
The update I received reported that the game was at about 95% functionality. There are some screen shots, which I stole, and guides to playing the game on the media page of their site.
While I am interested in general about this sort of nostalgic revival of older games, I am probably not going to jump on this one quite yet. As noted above, this is really a poke at something that was after my time with the game. And EVE Online seems to be filling my need for internet spaceships at the moment. But I will keep an eye on this and will be interested to hear if anybody else gives it a try.
If you want to take a look yourself you can find the game here.