In order to talk about MegaWars – Dawn of the Third Age I feel I need to delve into the well of ancient games from which I drew the title of this blog. It is been a while since I’ve gone here, so a refresher might be due.
Back in the early-to-mid 1980s personal computers were becoming common, modems were increasingly becoming an option for the, and online services like CompuServe and GEnie began to flourish. This was the pre-web era, when even having a GUI beyond a command prompt was considered. (There is a whole “pre-web online services” category on Wikipedia.)
And while special interest forums, online encyclopedias, and services were often bullet points used to get people to sign up, it wasn’t long before online games came into being. Kesmai was an early leader in online games and its Island of Kesmai on CompuServe was very much a precursor to today’s fantasy MMORPGs.
Also on CompuServe was a game called MegaWars III. If Island of Kesmai foretold the fantasy side of the MMORPG genre, then MegaWars III was very much a hint as to what the future might bring when it came to internet spaceships in EVE Online. Launched on CompuServe in January 1984, it gained a following even at the expensive hourly connect rates that online services charged back in the day. $15 a month seems like a bargain compared to $6 an hour.
MegaWars III did not feature a long term persistent universe. Instead games were four week long affairs that saw everybody logging on to scout on the first night to find and colonize planets. There was a fixed amount of numbered star systems, but the planets around them, and the quality thereof, changed with each game.
Players would colonize and manage their planets, build up defenses, try to take planets from each other, and attempt to blow up each other’s ships. At the end of the four weeks scores were tallied up and winners declared. The leader of the highest scoring team was declared Emperor while the highest individual score was named President of the Imperial Senate. The top 20 scoring players were made senators.
When GEnie arrived on the scene, they wanted online games too and got Kesmai to make a simplified version of MegaWars III which was called Stellar Warrior. A fun game in its own right, and following the four week campaign model, it did not have the depth of MegaWars III with its planetary management module. GEnie eventually got a straight up copy of MegaWars III a bit later in the form of Stellar Emperor.
And that is where I came in. During the fourth four week Stellar Emperor campaign during the summer of 1986 I logged into GEnie via the modem I bought from Potshot for my Apple //e and started fumbling around with online games.
It was then that I first used the handle Wilhelm Arcturus. I had been recruited by a team called the Arcturan Empire (-AE-) and learned the ways of the game sufficiently to become both Emperor of the Galaxy and President of the Imperial Senate. You actually got physical trophies for that back then.
The names are probably easier to read on the paper certificates that were also mailed out to winners, including those senators in the top 20.
Later I dropped the “d” from the last name to become simply Wilhelm Arcturus. My tales from those days can be found here:
And so it went. For most of the balance of the 1980s MegaWars III and Stellar Emperor ran along as identical twins. As the 90s approached GEnie and Kesmai began to work on improving Stellar Emperor, giving it a GUI eventually, while MegaWars III remained as it was. If you played them both after 1989 or so you’ll probably say they were different, but before then they were essentially identical.
Into the 90s the internet and the web became a thing and online services started to fade away. CompuServe was bought by AOL in 1997 and faded away into the background while GEnie shut down in 1999. Kesmai ran its own online service, GameStorm, through the 90s until the company was sold to EA. EA did what it always does with studios it buys; shut it down, never to be seen again. And so all of the Kesmai titles, including MegaWars III, disappeared.
Like all closed online games, somebody out there decided to go ahead and recreate the originals. I have written previously about Crimson Leaf Games and their resurrection of the original MegaWars III as well as Cosmic Ray Games and their recreation of a 90s version of Stellar Emperor.
But some time has passed since then; seven years in the case of the former and four years for the latter.
Crimson Leaf Games has been hard at work and has produced a new version of MegaWars III, MegaWars: Dawn of the Third Age. The site for the game is here, and includes a history of MegaWars III worth reading.
The new version has a client and graphics and all sorts of things we associate with more modern online games.
The MegaWars III universe has also expanded from a couple hundred stars to over five million systems to explore. Space has also changed in a way that might sound a bit familiar to EVE Online players. Rather than the game being open season for PvP, there are three regions of space. They are:
- Empire – no combat and planets cannot be taken
- Frontier – full combat and planet industries can be bombed but not taken
- Open – full combat and planets can be taken
The penalty for Empire and Frontier is that you pay taxes that sap your planetary economy, and a hit in score, relative to the wild west of open space. But in exchange for that you get complete safety in Empire space and some amount of safety in Frontier space.
The game is currently in open Alpha… which seems to be what we would call Early Access if it were on Steam… so you can try it out if you are interested.
So we now have a new take on a game that has its origins in the nearly 40 year old DECWAR, which was, in turn, an attempt to make a multiplayer version of the Star Trek terminal game from the early 70s.
And the beat goes on.