Tag Archives: CompuServe

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.

Stellar Warrior – 1986

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.

NAV C

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.

SEA 300

Search scan, range three hundred light years.

Nothing visible.

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.

SEA 300

Still nothing.

NAV 320

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.

SEA 300

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.

NAV B

I move to the planet and start the process of wearing it down.

ATT

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.

ATT

And then there is that other player.

ATT

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.

ATT

He hasn’t popped in yet.  Maybe he’ll wait and just retake the province.

ATT

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.

IMP 100,100

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.

NAV 1008,20

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.

Stellar Warrior.

A company called Kesmai built a game for CompuServe called MegaWars III.  An incredible and addictive game that ran for many, many years, it became a legend with some.

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.

MegaWars III

I found a nice article on MegaWars III the other day.  MWIII was the CompuServe version of the GEnie game Stellar Emperor. (MWIII came first.)  The article is a good (better than my own) overview of the game.

My only nit with the article is that it refers to the games being different on the two services.  I played both games during the 1986-1989 time frame and I would disagree.  They were identical at that point.  The author may have been confusing Stellar Emperor with Stellar Warrior on GEnie, which was a simplified, ship combat version of the game which was not available on CompuServe or he may be referring to developments in the game past the time with which I am familiar.  I recall going back to GEnie in the early 1990s and finding Stellar Emperor had been changed quite a bit, but not for the better.  Perhaps CompuServe kept it in a more pure form until its demise.

The article, by Maury Markowitz, is available here.

[Edit: The original site is gone, but has been backed up at the Internet Archive.]

Between the two services, GEnie and CompuServe, I preferred playing on GEnie.  At first the pricing was better, but later on I had built up a network of friends on GEnie, and that is a big reason I play any online game.