Stellar Emperor Remake

I have written a bit in the past about the Kesmai game MegaWars III, which ran on CompuServe, and its twin on GEnie, Stellar Emperor.

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.)

Once they called ME emperor!

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.

I'm in space! Can you even tell?

I’m in space! Can you even tell?

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.

Buttons! I need something to help with scouting though

Crimson Leaf Games added buttons

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.

10 thoughts on “Stellar Emperor Remake

  1. HarbingerZero

    Sounds a lot like a Sci-Fi version of Utopia, which started long, long ago as the BBS game Falcon’s Eye ( It also plays in real time, though not a la Warcraft. If you send out your army, it takes them some hours to arrive and then some hours to return, etc. Command a structure to be built and it will be done some hours later, etc. Players work together within kingdom groupings, and the game is reset and player teams shuffled periodically. Great format for “slower” online play.


  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @HZ – Stellar Emperor is/was more like EVE in that you are the one pilot running your operations. So if you want to go colonize a planet, scout a sector, deliver defense supplies, or attack an enemy planet, you had to get in your ship to fly out and do it yourself. Your planets would grow and produce things while you were away, but getting things done required you to be online and doing it.

    The start of a new four week campaign used to be the big night. We would be flying all over space scouting for the best planets.


  3. Carolus

    @HZ. Man, Utopia… I used to play that with a few friends from primary school in the same kingdom for a few ages in ~2000-2001. Back then we could barely understand much English which made it quite challenging to learn the game mechanics, but that game and Earth 2025 were very fun games and I’m very nostalgic when thinking about those days.


  4. Caleb

    @Wilhelm – Thanks for the quick write up, I do appreciate it, and hope you give it a try some day!

    As for your criticism of the “RTS” acronym, I do somewhat agree, but RTS as a genre isn’t really about actual speed, as opposed to stating “not turn based” — those are the two typical types of strategy driven games that exist. I have the same reservations calling it an MMO, but to use the MUD acronym leaves people either looking up the definition or thinking of a wall of text.

    MMORTS as a genre really isn’t well defined, as there are few games that venture away from the RPG elements to make it a true strategy game (not to say RPG games don’t have strategy elements).

    For anybody put off by the current appearance or lack of documentation, the game is currently trying to rebuild where the last iteration left off, so the primary audience is those who know the game. In the coming months, documentation will be greatly improved and the interface will be updated further, though it will remain a 2D game. My hope is that the documentation will be able to appease new players by the time the game leaves the beta phase (in a few months).


  5. Joe

    Hello Wilhelm! Its been a while!

    I have looked at Calebs work on SE and it is in fact…. fantastic!
    I’m testing the Beta currently as USS Frontier (one of my first ships in MW3, the one I’m best known for is: Arachnid 2273) They have done excellent work there!

    In all fairness to Spectrums work on MW3 it was exactly what we (the veterans) wanted. It very closely duplicated the original game experience and we were wanting, after all, the original to be back again.

    My only complaint was the screen was too bright for my old eyes.

    Since then Spectrum and Crew have worked up a new version: MegaWars 4, and there are several game rule sets to choose from that are played such as Iron (no mules, etc), and Bronze (where IMP Bases do not sell weapons) and there are other versions where everything goes, and etc.

    Also improved are the GUI’s which are perfectly done (and much easier on the eyes. The GUI for MW4 I would say is now superior to the one being used at Caleb’s project, but his SE front end is right on target and it is very well done. I like what they are doing there also.

    I really liked SE as well as MW3 and I can see I’ll end up being a big fan of both projects.

    Joe (Arachnid, USS Frontier, and etc.)


  6. Jonathan Baron

    I’m an old – meaning before the NewsCorp buy-out – Kesmai employee and served as designer and producer of Air Warrior for six years during its transition from GEnie game to fully graphical and texture mapped D3D game on AOL and the Internet.

    The genius behind these early games can be attributed to a singular polymath, Kelton Flinn. Stellar Emperor employed procedurally created content from a program Kelton wrote that would generate playable, believable universes at the end of each war.

    And for the language skill in Island of Kesmai? Originally you couldn’t talk with everyone. For some players you’d see their words in a strange language which you could overcome if you developed language skill. That language was Sanskrit and, yes, the game would translate what you were saying into Sanskrit if the player you were trying to communicate with lacked the skill.

    For Kelton this simply made sense. He knew Sanskrit. Why make up a language if you had an obscure one handy?

    Back to Stellar Emperor, sadly, the game designer who maintained it and developed its GUI, Mike Bispeck, recently passed away. He was an extremely witty and likable fellow who felt keenly involved with the players, commenting on the dedication of some of the uber alliances – the Dorsai as I recall – as well as some of the real world heavy hitters, such as Ted Nugent, who were devoted to the game.

    It’s interesting that even way back then, we were laughing at the notion of meaningless quests in online games and dumb, pointless grinding. Yet…..they persist *sigh*

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Jonathan – Thanks for stopping by! If you poke around here, I have a few posts about Kesmai games I played back in the day, from 1986 to about 1991 or so. I went to the Air Warrior convention at the Dayton Air Show back in 1989 and met a bunch of the team.

    Sorry to hear about Mike Bispeck. I have his autograph on a few of my Stellar Emperor certificates


  8. Jonathan Baron

    Hey Wilhelm….I hope I’m not breaking with some etiquette by not sticking in the at sign.

    Yes, I read your stories with keen interest as well as your remarks on Contains Moderate Peril which I began to follow back when I was playing Lord of the Rings Online.

    It’s easy to praise those early online games for their absence of silly quests and grinding but we can’t easily forget that we were paying a substantial hourly fee to play them. Flat rate monthly pricing changed everything and, recently, free to play…buy to play…it’s pretty much the same changed it all again. Customers could LIVE in your game and there was an expectation on their part of having something to do during those countless hours.

    I later went to work for Origin and was on the Ultima Online team briefly before joining a splendid team there that was making Wing Commander Online (a,k.a. Privateer Online) which EA later killed in alpha to protect Westwood’s Earth and Beyond launch. The UO folks had implemented a “Power Hour” to reduce these new, much longer play sessions. You’d gain skill during your first hour online but not after that. Customer howling did away with that scheme.

    The only game that has handled this well, in my view, is CCP’s wonderful Eve Online as I’m sure you know quite well.

    As for Mike, he suffered an intense case of late onset rheumatoid arthritis. It was severe beyond reckoning and it was the drug regimen to hold it back that got him in the end. But he never lost his love of online games.

    During the final year of his life his hands couldn’t do much but he became captivated by the inventive, dedicated roleplaying community that developed in The Elder Scrolls Online. The game itself is deeply flawed as an online game but the RP folks went old school with it: they created their own narrative and lived it.

    He documented this in video, developed some camera tools to work around his disability, and created a YouTube channel to share them.

    [url] [/url]

    Some of these were quite dramatic…..

    [url] [/url]

    His last video was a wonderful summary of the game’s first year RP highlights….alas, YouTube later yanked its soundtrack :(

    Well, enough from me for now :) Not sure if this forum allows bbcode but, if not, you can easily copy and paste the links.


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