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.
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.
Search scan, range three hundred light years.
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:
(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.
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.
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.
I move to the planet and start the process of wearing it down.
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.
And then there is that other player.
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.
He hasn’t popped in yet. Maybe he’ll wait and just retake the province.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.