Tag Archives: GEnie

Summer Reruns – Online Gaming in the 80s

It officially turned Summer in the northern hemisphere yesterday, so I can legit post a Summer Reruns post.

This time for a look way back in time at the online video games I played in the 80s, a time when a 2400bps modem made you special and the command line was pretty much your only online interface option.  Back then you paid a per hour online charge that makes the whole $15 monthly subscription thing look like a serious bargain.

GEnie Price “cut” back in 1989 actually raised prices for non-prime time

While the internet was a thing at the time (I had a shell account through a company called Portal back then, which at the time was run out of a suburban house that backed up to the middle school I attended years before, and an email address with the domain cup.portal.com), only online services like GEnie and CompuServe had the infrastructure to let people all over the country connect together to play games.

I started online games with an Apple //e and an Apple 1200bps modem that I bought second hand from Skronk.  Later I upgraded to a Mac SE and a Zoom 2400bps modem that came in an odd smoked acrylic case.

Apple and Zoom modem pictures gleaned from the internet

That set off a series of events which led me to start my own BBS… back when BBS meant a modem hooked up to somebody’s computer that you could dial into… and eventually launched my so-called professional career of the last 28 years or so.  Time flies.

But before that I played… and spent too much money on… online games.  Fortunately I spent some time writing about them during the early days of the blog, when those memories were at least 10 years more recent than today.

Those were not the only games I played, but the ones that had the biggest impact and, thus, left the strongest memories.  All Kesmai titles, but Kesmai was the online powerhouse of the time. (Staff from Kesmai ended up developing the original PlanetSide as part of Lodestone Games.)

I also vaguely remember playing Island of Kesmai on CompuServe as well as a version of Maze War and the beta of Gemstone on GEnie back then, but not with enough detail to tease anything beyond “I was there” from my brain.

These games were very revolutionary at the time, unique experiences that left indelible impressions on players who were there.  However, they were also very much games of their time in terms of technology.  Impressive as they were in their era they would appear as rough and primitive by today’s standards, where the phone in my pocket certainly has more power and resources than the VAX minicomputer that hosted Stellar Emperor back in the day.

However, that has not stopped people from attempting to recreate these old games, or at least MegaWars III and/or Stellar Emperor.  I have covered those in posts now and again.

And so it goes.

As far as video games go, the 80s started with me owning an Atari 2600 and going to arcades to play video games.  I then moved to the Apple II platform and played a number of the classic games of the era.

Apple ][+ back in the day

Then there was the modem that got me online in 1986, then the move to Macintosh, and the decade ended with me running my own BBS.  MUDs and then MMORPGs still lay in the future for me.

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.

Memories, Timelines, and the Bigger Picture

There is a horribly worn out old book on the book shelf in my office.  It is a soft-bound copy of The Twentieth Century – An Almanac.

The Twentieth Century: An Almanac

The cover in good condition

I used to pick up that book and read through sections all of the time, to the point that the book looks very worn out.  There wasn’t anything particularly startling or new or exciting about the content of the book, except that it was history, which I enjoy.

What drew me to the book was the format.

At its heart, the book is a simple listing of details, year by year, decade by decade, in chronological order, without breaking them out into the usual topics.  So rather than reading just about WWII or the Great Depression or any other events that we tend to look at in a vacuum, everything is woven together, giving a better sense, to my mind, of the complexity and parallel nature of history.

There are always a lot of things going on at once.  Just because the Korean War was going on did not stop politics, the arts, diplomacy, and a whole host of other conflicts, brewing, in progress, or otherwise, from continuing apace.  The world never stops.

Of course, the book’s title is a bit misleading.  As it was published in 1985, it was only an almanac of roughly 84% of the 20th century.  And since no update or revision was ever done, the 20th century ends with Reagan’s re-election, while the Cold War continues on.

Still, I enjoyed the book immensely.  I have never found another work that combined the detail and parallel flows of history so well.

And to a certain degree, that book influences what I have ended up trying to do with this blog.  Part of the blog is a chronicle of my own gaming adventures.  But I also try to include bigger events, things that are landmarks in the time stream of gaming, not because I aspire to be a news site, but because they indicate what else was going on in the field.

It is an attempt to make my own almanac of gaming I suppose.

After the cut, there are lots of words about the distortion of memory, old games, and what I was playing when in a general sense, along with some charts.  The charts are an attempt to provide a framework for memory, and are a work in progress themselves.

You have been warned.

Continue reading

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.

Air Warpier

Ages ago, after I stopped playing Stellar Emperor, but before I started in on Gemstone and eventually Sojourn/Toril MUD, there was a game I played called Air Warrior.

It was an online game featuring real-time, multi-player, air combat.

In 1988.

I played the game, first on a Mac SE, then on a Mac SE/30, which featured a 9″ black and white 512 x 342 display and a blazing fast 16MHz Motorola 68030 processor.  It was hot stuff back in the day.

Air Warrior could also be played on the Amiga, Atari ST, and eventually, on MS-DOS compatible machines.

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:

Air Warpier

Air Warpier

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.

Proposed Pacific Theater 1988

Proposed Pacific Theater 1988

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

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:

Wilhelm d'Arcturus - President on the Imperial Senate

President on the Imperial Senate

Emperor of the Galaxy

Emperor of the Galaxy

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:

The Victory Cups

The Victory Cups

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.

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.

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.