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Games Entertainment

Netrek 153

R Jason Valentine writes "Before Ogg was an encoding standard it was a verb. Before the internet enabled the masses to play against each other in Quake and Ultima Online, there was a cross-platform multiple player interactive online game called Netrek. Netrek can trace its history back to 1972. It's an interesting, though incomplete, read, that includes travels through places like Berkeley's XCF. Netrek generally peaked in play in the early 90's, from about 1992 to 1995 or so, and was popular enough to even get an article in Wired. With this explosion of players, several variations on the original style, called Bronco, emerged. These were Chaos (similar to bronco), Paradise, and Hockey. The Chaos and Paradise variants are all but dead, mostly due to lack of players and an expired Paradise-capable client for Windows. A Bronco pick-up game still occurs daily, and usually once or twice a week, there is a hockey game. League games still exist, and this is the 10th year of league play, with around 200 players registered for the 2002 draft league."

Valentine continues: "Though the graphics are subspectacular, gameplay is enveloping. Like chess, the rules are simple and comprehendable within the first hour of play, yet the game is difficult to master. After a 5 year hiatus, I returned to the game and found play still engaging with a healthy, though small, active community. The clients haven't had a major upgrade in years, and recent rebuild attempts remain unfinished. The development slowdown can be attributed to a decrease in interest and the aging of the original programmers, who now hold steady jobs and don't have an itch to update stable clients. If you've played before, but not in a long time, the game is worth revisiting. If you've never played, and don't have the latest greatest hardware to play the latest installment of the tired FPS genre, check out Netrek. Minimum system requirements are a graphics card that can do 256 colors at 1024x768 and an internet connection."

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  • I now know a lot about Nethack, Netrek, and others. What other kinds of early, innovative games that are still going on are there?
    • I fondly remember Empire []. I haven't played it in about fifteen years. Perhaps that's because it caused me to almost flunk two classes.

      It was similar in look to the classic Unix empire game, but for multiple players, with economics, military, diplomacy, etc. Pretty complex. It has balanced so that being constantly logged in had no advantage.

      Mr. Frog was the diety, and every morning I would go print out the reports, stats, messages, etc. Then I would pore over them during lunch. Moves were made during dinner. And at night I would log in and make my moves.

      One of these days I'll play again. I have a lot of vacation time acrued...
    • Works fine in Mac OS X under Classic, but a native port in much needed. Pretty popular game in some circles, at least a few dozen in my (rather small) city.
    • I remember playing NetTrek on the Suns in the computer lab in school, although I never got into it hard core. I actually spent more time playing MazeWars, which I believe is even older than NetTrek. My "golden years" though were spent playing on the CDC-Plato network on Empire, Moria, Labrinth and Dry Gulch. I would love to know what became of these games...are they still alive anywhere? That would be awesome to bring some of them back!!
      • Empire, Moria, Labrinth and Dry Gulch. I would love to know what became of these games...are they still alive anywhere? That would be awesome to bring some of them back!!

        Moria's still around, being maintained by David J. Grabiner []... some people [] still play it on "modern" platforms (or you can telnet to chungkuo [] and play it there along with many other classic games.)

        I'm not familiar with Empire but it seems to have turned into a PC game (now ancient and available at Underdogs and other fine establishments). THis page [] looks like a good bet, it has download links for PDP-10, PDP-11, VAX/VMS, PC, source etc.

        I see the others mentioned historically here [] but "dry gulch" and "labyrinth" are too commonly used for me to find anything actually useful.
    • Xtank was an excellent early game that the older X11 crowd might recall.
  • and is there a macosx client?

    I haven't played in YEARS... ugh... I wonder if my old tcl bot code is still around somewhere...
    • I've tried to compile many different variations of the code but have failed during the make part of the build (under XDarwin). Remember this is an X11 game. Paradise doesn't have full sourcecode and I couldn't get the Java version running either. Most of the documentation is pretty cryptic so you're on your own in trying to set this up. At least Fink shows xscorch (Scorched Earth). Hopefully this article will drum up some renewed developer interest.
      • I think someone has compiled Ted Turner for XDarwin, check the netrek ftp site here [] for the Ted Turner binaries, there is one for Darwin.

        I also think I've seen someone playing with Paradise 2.99 for Darwin, but I don't see the binary anywhere. As far as I know, no one has ported COW or BRMH to MacOS.

      • I've tried to compile many different variations of the code but have failed during the make part of the build (under XDarwin).

        There is a PowerPC/Darwin binary available now. I've been using it on my iBook for months.

  • Waxing Nostalgic (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mestreBimba ( 449437 )
    I remember countless hours spent playing NetTrek.... I was never much good but there were people in those matches that rocked.

    Played it during the same era that I was heavily involved in MUDs.

    Both prove a point, namely, good gameplay is more important than flashy graphics.

    It would be worthwhile to update the client.....
    any volunteers?

    Bueller? Bueller? anyone?
    • I played Netrek as well.. Great gameplay and the strategies were pretty interesting. I was just thinking about it the other day, and wondering how much better it would be over cable modem (most of my gameplay was done at 14.4k or 28.8k though occassionally I'd play it at a lab on campus). Definitely one of the most fun and addicting multiplayer games..
  • . . . the Caveman troll?

    Don't mind me, just burning off some karma. Nothing to see here.

  • Netrek was the reason I installed Linux back in 1996. It looked like a really fun game, but the players were a bunch of elitists who didn't care too much for newcomers. And so I stopped trying to play. Hmm, I didn't even realize that anyone was still playing it anymore.
    • heh play any Quake 3 Team Deathmatch lately on an east coast Speakeasy server? if not, then you have yet to experience "elitists"

      err, of course Counter-Strike is more elitist .. but the passwords for the servers required to experience it are harder to come by ...
    • by sheldon ( 2322 )
      A lot has changed since '96.

      First of all, I agree that the game was pretty elitist back then. We were having a lot of problems with the eject command on the server being abused driving away new players.

      Several of us lobbied to change that, and now eject is non-existant from most public servers. This has improved the atmosphere tremendously.

      Another change occured in '97 when I began to actively maintain and improve a client for Windows. There had been a client in the past originally created by Jonathan Shekter and later modified by Shawn Collenberg, but it had numerous bugs. (some which would kick you out of the game if abused by other players which was occuring in '97)

      You no longer need Linux/Unix to play, in fact something like 80-90% of the player base use Windows today. I'd suggest checking it out again as I think things have changed. My client is on my website, and Trent Piepho mentioned his Linux client(Paradise 2000) in another message elsewhere.
    • Hear, hear. Netrek's major problem is its own people. Don't even think about posting in unless you've been playing since 1992, the regulars will shit all over you (*cough* Tom Holub *cough*). The skill gulf that exists between joe schmoe players and good players is far greater than any other online game such as Quake. God forbid you should ever get dooshed while carrying the precious precious armies, you'll be kicked off the server immediately if you're not a "known" player.

      Plus, after you've gone through the newbie stage and really begin to play, you realize that netrek really isn't all that exciting. You can't even fight Klingons vs. Federation, for pete's sake. One of the ship classes is totally pointless. There's only one server nowadays that has a pickup game, and all the netrek variants are dead (the regulars cheer this). Don't get me wrong, I really liked netrek at one point (I have the honor of being picked DEAD LAST in the draft the one year I entered) but netrek and its players are simply calcified.

  • 256 colors? I was very happy playing it on monochrome (yes, simple black or white, no grey in between) monitors of Sun ELCs and IBM RS/6000s. Many a mis-spent hour of youth...
  • Wow. I totally forgot about Netrek...

    So now who's up for a game of Bolo []?

    Multiplayer angband []?

    Ah, the classics...
    • Bolo is still going strong and has grown beyond its Macintosh origins

      It has since been totally re-written for Windows by an Australian fan. With permission of the original author he uses the original graphics (which if you know your history originated on a BBC Micro)

      I used to play Bolo forever on my Mac now I can do the same with Winbolo []

      There also is a dedicated Linux server version and the Linux client is supposed to be any day soon (but that was Feb 02 ;)

      Cheers VikingBrad

  • I remember much time wasted after-hours in the workstation room (we just had dumb ASCII terminals on our desks in those days) at work back in early 1987, when Xtrek was I guess about a year old. A lot more fun when your opponents are in the same room. That was X10 in those days. And I think mostly on DEC GPX's (something like a MicroVAX) because we didn't get Suns until later.

    I briefly tried porting it to X11 when the company upgraded, but there were to many real-work projects going on and no time.
  • After doing a little searching, here's a link to a Windows client on another page on the site that actually works. The ftp server they list doesn't work properly []

  • A Bronco pick-up game still occurs daily

    This is the game where one white ship travels across the board doing the speed limit, while 50 other ships pursue it.
  • by Dixie_Flatline ( 5077 ) <> on Saturday May 11, 2002 @01:46AM (#3501120) Homepage
    I remember coming in on HOLIDAYS so I could play. I missed entire days worth of classes to play. Netrek was so engrossing, even if you were only mediocre.

    I always liked Paradise the best, though. You had high warp engines, better ships (does anyone else remember the Assault Base?) really well maintained statistics (I was the Kamikaze champ for about 6 months running, mostly due to my inability to pass up ogging opportunities) and far more interesting game play dynamics because of the system layout (ie. Suns and solar systems and whatnot.) Splashing a Jumpship or a Warbase was always the high point of a game, and I was one of those crazies that would ogg the base in just about anything. Scout, DD, didn't matter. Warp drives to full, and drop that torp load!

    When Paradise died, I basically stopped playing. I occasionally miss it. If you've ever played a network FPS and liked it, check out Netrek, ESPECIALLY you Tribes fans out there.
  • I never played netrek but I do remember playing Tradewars 2002 game "door" on a couple local bulletin boards. It was a role playing game where one was a space trader. You had to trade fuel Ore, organics and equipment to try and become as successful as possible. Different sectors could be warped in and out of, with any one sector possibly having warps to a number of other sectors. Anyone else remember this?
    • Yeah, that was a cool one. Blacknova Traders [] is a web based version of the same game.

      Anybody remember Empire? Not the game mentioned in the Netrek history, but a conquer-the-world strategy game door that ran on Amigas... Always wanted to have a decent wack at that one, but the only guy I know of who ever ran it took it down and put up a Citadel BBS in its place a coupla weeks after I found it :-(

      (Nothing against the Citadel scene, mind you, I just wanted to play the game...)
  • by Unbeliever ( 35305 ) on Saturday May 11, 2002 @01:47AM (#3501125)
    Wow. Netrek made it to the front page. Took long enough *grin*

    Netrek has had quite a bit of history and influence on many. Not only has had a long history since Empire as listed in the above history link, it has had many of its programmers and players go on to bigger and brighter things.

    For example, Kevin Smith, one of the 2 original writers of the modern netrek client now works at TiVo, and Dave Taylor (of id, and now Transmeta) did a lot of borg writing.

    Netrek has also been used as a model for other games. Most recent was when Quake was opened up and people were trying how to prevent cheaters. A few groups came to the Netrek community to ask about our "blessed client" models. And Netrek was even used as prior art to convice a stupid patent holder that they shouldn't pursue litigation. Dave Ahn and I (as current developers) consulted with the defendants on a case where somebody tried to patent client/server game communication with information hiding.

    I've been playing Netrek since Summer of 1990. I discovered Xtank and Netrek at the same time, but Netrek had the staying power. Its a game with so many levels, from deep strategy, to mindless fun, all in the same session. Although I never got into Paradise or Chaos, I found ample time to waste on Bronco and Hockey.

    There are 2 active leagues(INL, WNL), 1 draft league, and 2 leagues on hiatus (A hockey league and a Euro leage). Games usually have players from all around the world.

    Its a fun game! You should all try! Just be patient enough to get over the initial learning curve. For more info go to or

    • If memory serves, mostly what we learned was that blessed clients is an exceptionally poor security model.

      Under the original scheme, blessed clients were compiled with an 'official' version of blessed.c. Essentially a shared private key scheme. The evolution is pretty interesting:
      1) Clever people figured out that the makefiles distributed with the client code (wheee... open source in the early 90's!) always linked objects in the same order. A binary comparison of a 'blessed' client and an unblessed client (different blessed.c) compiled under the same architecture produced the shared secret in blessed.c
      2) Equally clever folks added commands in the makefile to randomize the link order
      3) In a final response, everyone moved to RSA authentication. Got a suspicious client? Take it's public key out of the approved list.

      Which also brings back fond memories... the admins for the five busiest servers all agreed to shift over to RSA authentication on the same day (synchronize your watches...). On the day of the switch, the official 'blessed.c' is posted "anonymously" to

      As for the folks who hacked on the code (both client and server), that's a story in and of itself. Before Linux's huge popularity (it was around, just hadn't gotten momentum yet), Netrek was an open source success story. The server architecture is relatively advanced (particularly for its time), and the community was open, cooperative and helpful. I still rely on tricks learned from hacking Netrek clients and servers, and from the folks who helped (still in debt to Nick Trown for the assist on porting the Vanilla Server to AIX. Primary lesson learned: avoid AIX).

      Oh yeah, Netrek had a significant advantage over many other open-source efforts. When you were done, it was fun to play.
  • Continuum [], almost 7 years in development if you include sniper and subpsace as its parents.
  • by tap ( 18562 ) on Saturday May 11, 2002 @02:00AM (#3501152) Homepage
    It's not quite true that there have been no client changes in years. My client has had new versions come out every few months since 1999, with lots of new features in each version. A new version of a windows client just came out too, but it's not nearly as nice as my client.

    <plug mode>
    You can read more and download the software from my web page for Paradise 2000 [], the ultimate Linux netrek client.

    It has a nice sound system and can use IBM's ViaVoice for linux to do speech synthesis of messages and macros. Getting the IBM ViaVoice TTS package for linux is hard now, maybe /. should do a story on that.
    </plug mode>

    One problem Netrek has right now is lack of servers. The one popular server is often full. It also has had bad lag for most people recently, since it is a redhat and openoffice mirror, both which have released major new versions.

  • by Mulletproof ( 513805 ) on Saturday May 11, 2002 @02:08AM (#3501166) Homepage Journal
    Sorry to break it to you, but Ogg is not an encoding standard. Merriam Webster [] defines a standard as (3) something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example. Or (4) : something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality.

    Note; I didn't say it was useless, unloved or without redeeming value, but it's hardly the measuring stick my which every other audio format is judged. And as for mass acceptance, you tell me the ratio of Ogg to MP3 on Bearshare, Kazaa and the others. I would submit that while our humble writer is obviously an Ogg fan, MP3 is the benchmark by which the other formats are judged, including Ogg.
  • Overview of Netrek (Score:4, Informative)

    by mooredav ( 101800 ) on Saturday May 11, 2002 @02:24AM (#3501189)

    After 5 years of playing Netrek, it is now my sole computer recreation. Netrek liberated me from any desire to play other video games such as Civilization, Warcraft II, etc.

    In my opinion, the primary reason why Netrek hasn't grown in the past 5 years is simple: nobody has written a comprehensive tutorial to the game (a useful one that actually answers the correct questions). It could be easy to learn, but the casual newcomer will inevitably hit a learning roadblock. Consequently, everyone who plays now was introduced by a mentor.

    The main activity during play is "visual planning". You look at a strategic map that overviews the positions of all players and planets. Then you surround and trap enemy ships. Or you set a screen for a friendly ship to pass through (much like basketball). Or you escort a fellow ship through enemy space. The best strategy depends on the particular circumstances of the situation. Unlike most computer games, it is never redundant.

    The combat system rewards the first person to the action, so anticipation is crucial. The combat itself is minimalist, but fun. For example, there are tractors and pressors that push and pull ships in an equal and opposite reaction. Push your enemy into your teammate's torpedos, or pull a friend out of harm's way. Or push a friendly ship from behind to speed his progress.

    Player's personalities are remarkably transparent. e.g. there are selfish players, and there are cooperative ones. The friendly players are the ones who win games.

    • This looks like loads of fun... But being the first time I've ever heard of it and not being a networking genius of any sort (targeted average Joe gamers, I suspect), it looks fairly intimidating just to connect to Netrek. I mean; "First, you need to get a client binary for your machine..." and "Once you have the binary, rename it to something logical like 'netrek' and run it with 'netrek -m' " (Netrek FAQ) ...Huh? Client Binary? Did I see command lines in there too? Didn't those go out with DOS??? (chuckle). You could argue that's to keep the riff-raff out through elitism, but I think it also answers your question on Netrek's lack of growth, looking so fun and all. I mean my first thought was ' looks fun, but way too much trouble to setup, let alone play.' Just a thought.
      • by sheldon ( 2322 )
        It's not purposeful, but more of a lack of programming effort.

        Every time this comes up I say... I should do something about that. I spend about an hour, end up playing games and then forget about it for another six months until someone else mentions it. :(

        I'm going to try again to see what I can do tomorrow. :)

        • More like a lack of documentation effort. I remember reading those exact same "download a binary and rename it" docs when I started in 1994! By now they are like 10 years out of date.

          To install paradise 2000, which is on linux, you just unpack the tarball, copy a config file into your home dir, and run the program. Pick your server from the window that pops up. It has an INSTALL file that describes everything. It's a lot less trouble than installing quake and qspy and mesa libraries etc. I was going to create a RPM package, but this article caught me (and all other netrek developers) by surprise.

          It's like the software and FTP list, which lists servers that dissapeared years ago, but not the new ones. If you look on the site, clients like trekhopd and BRM are listed right along with COW, netrekxp and paradise-2000. There is no mention that some clients are from the late 80s and some from this century.
      • it looks fairly intimidating just to connect to Netrek. I mean; "First, you need to get a client binary for your machine..." and "Once you have the binary, rename it to something logical like 'netrek' and run it with 'netrek -m' " (Netrek FAQ) ...Huh? Client Binary? Did I see command lines in there too? Didn't those go out with DOS??? (chuckle).

        It's obvious you've never used unix/linux. That's pretty much the way you install things today. What's so confusing about the term Client Binary? Does it really have to say "download the .EXE for your platform" before you understand it?

        And no, command lines didn't start with DOS and they didn't go out with DOS. (chuckle).

        • Does it really have to say "download the .EXE for your platform" before you understand it?

          Platform? What's a platform?

          Download? How do I do that?

          You can only coddle those who know nothing so far. Better to use proper terminology, and then teach that terminology to the confused.

          And no, command lines didn't start with DOS and they didn't go out with DOS. (chuckle).

    • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Saturday May 11, 2002 @04:47AM (#3501449) Homepage
      • It could be easy to learn, but the casual newcomer will inevitably hit a learning roadblock. Consequently, everyone who plays now was introduced by a mentor.

      There's a whole pile of things wrong with Netrek now:

      • Non-intuitive default keymap.
      • Horribly complex .rc file (which turns Windoze users right off)
      • No basic tutorial: there are plenty of FAQ's and strategy guides, but they're aimed at veterans and developes. There's no ten-point howtos for your first session.
      • Abusive players.

      This last one is what will kill Netrek. Cooperation and communication is core to the game, and one idiotic abusive player (no matter how good) is a liability. For example, I jumped into a pickup game a few months back. As Ensign Rogerborg, I made a point of reading the message board, watching the galactic, and detting like a bastard. One guy on my team picked armies, then flew around for close to ten minutes, screaming for help for most of it. He received escort after escort, but never made a drop. Eventually he went too far, screamed again, and cloaked. I came in (alone) at warp 9, saw an enemy ship firing torps near his cloaked position, and smacked it with a torp volley. The explosion took him out.

      Can you guess the response? "fucking twink, he was out of fuel fuck off and get a clue"

      It gets worse. When I questioned what I'd done wrong, he got more abusive and the rest of the team backed him up and told me to shut up and get a clue. None of them told me what "get a clue" meant, or what I'd done wrong.

      Thing is, I hadn't done anything wrong. The ship was torping when I came on screen, so it wasn't out of fuel. The carrier was cloaked and moving at warp 1 or 2, so the situation was critical. I took out the enemy with a single torp load, which wasn't (granted) my intention, which had simply been to get his attention.

      The reason that I knew all this was because I played Netrek for 5+ years, captained an ENL team for two, and wrote a fully featured RSA-busting borg. I know Netrek, and I know that when an Ensign receives abuse for reading the message board and being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing (with an unlucky result) then we can basically give it up and go and wait for Doom3. The good coop players are all playing FPS team games now; all Netrek has left are a (very few) old men and a bunch of arrogant children.

      It's sad to acknowledge that a much loved game has died through neglect, but Netrek should really get its tombstone carved.

      Incidentally, for those putting their faith in the RSA check, it's easy (not trivial, but easy) to get around. Compile a client, add the server socket.c code to it so that it opens a listening socket, forward all packets from the client and "server" sockets, and connect a blessed client to the "server" socket to perform the cluecheck for you. The trick is that the RSA response has the result of a "getpeername" encoded into it. There are plenty of ways to trick this. Hack your kernel, write a wsock32.dll that passes through everything except getpeername to the real dll, -assert your own .so under Solaris, or (d'oh) just change the FQDN name of your machine to match the server.

      The RSA scheme was a good attempt. but the real strength of the netrek network architecture is information hiding. Even a near-robot client gives you very few benefits. Vector torps are practically a liability against clue players, and you need low lag to be able to use perfectly aimed phasers. The biggest benefits of a borg are info features (like watching army pickups and tracking carriers) and that's just replacing the clue that comes with experience. The netrek model of information hiding should be required reading for anyone writing a network game.

      • Excellent message. I played Netrek for several years off and on in the late '90s, but never got very good at it, and grew tired with the hunt for a full server.

        One idea that just came to mind to prevent such abuses - don't allow players to send freeform messages. Give them a set of canned messages they can execute - escort me, carrying "x" armies, help me, everybody go here now, ogg "x" player, ogg the base - and no more.

        Since the new players don't read anyhow, they won't be missing anything. Experienced players don't need to be told what's going on. So, kill the chat features and get rid of a lot of the abusive behavior.

        To compensate though one might need to reintroduce eject. I'd propose a "silent" eject. Since chat functions would be gone, players already wouldn't be able to solicit requests for ejects. In addition, they probably shouldn't be allowed to know when votes were cast to eject another player, although the player receiving the eject votes would see a warning with each vote against, and after "x" number of votes would be given the boot. That seems like a much fairer system that would still allow obvious Hitlers to be removed from a game.
        • One idea that just came to mind to prevent such abuses - don't allow players to send freeform messages. Give them a set of canned messages they can execute - escort me, carrying "x" armies, help me, everybody go here now, ogg "x" player, ogg the base - and no more.
          Those kinds of messages are already built in. But if those are the only messages that are allowed, then you remove an important way for new players to learn the game.

          Rogerborg got a response: "fucking twink, he was out of fuel fuck off and get a clue". While that is certainly a rude thing to say, there is also some truth to it. The opposing player probably was out of fuel, since he had just dropped a load of torps. Shooting your own torps over the planet doesn't help your carrier -- even if the bad guy lived through the volley, the torps exploding on his hull would hurt the carrier.

          The opposing player was probably thinking, "Oh fuck, I just blew my wad and missed him, I'm out of fule/at the torp limit and totally helpless... Wait here comes R3 at warp 9, and thank god he's firing torps! det-det-det, eck++". There is nothing worse than sitting there with an empty fuel tank while the carrier takes the planet. Except when he uncloaks after taking and finishes you off.

          You have to let people talk, because otherwise you never learn. If the guys talking want to be assholes, then that's their problem. But you have to let them talk.


          • If letting people talk is turning people off from Netrek - and apparently it is, according to several posts just here on /. - pretty soon you're going to find yourselves without a userbase. Who cares if removing the chat functionality makes it take longer for people to learn the game? If nobody's playing, it follows nobody will *ever* learn the game.
            • The problem is not that people are talking, the problem is that the players are mostly assholes. This is a problem exposed via that chat window occasionally, but it is also exposed in other ways.

              Go look at and see how any suggested changes are treated. The core players don't really care if more people start playing, and they act like it.

              Its certainly their right to act that way, but its too bad. I didn't quit playing because of their actions, but in an indirect way I did -- its just to hard to find a pick up game these days, because there are not enough players.

      • Problems with abuse are typically over-reported.

        Often the people who write about these grievances aren't telling the whole story. The players who attract the flames usually are NOT the cordial types who play in silent enjoyment and understand what they have to contribute to the team. They don't tell you what they did to contribute to the unpleasant situation.

        Then they get together and trade horror stories about getting spontaneously ambushed by insults for no good reason. So there's a small network of "victims" with a really messed up image of "you Netrek assholes".

        There are problem players who do stir up situations occasionally. However, this problem evaporates when you move from pick-up to scheduled league games.

        Grow a thick skin -- you need it in real life anyway Ignore a few idiots and then you can enjoy fun and humorous games.

        • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Saturday May 11, 2002 @06:28PM (#3503637) Homepage
          • Problems with abuse are typically over-reported.

          Way to miss the point. Your suggestion is to ignore the abuse and stick with it. Bzzzt, wrong. That attitude will kill Netrek stone dead. The learning curve is steep enough as it is; when nobody is willing to teach you, only to heap abuse on you, what exactly is your incentive to stay? In case you'd missed it, there are a lot of network games out there these days.

          One big problem with Netrek is that new players can see that they're clueless. It's not like many FPSers or pickup map-based RTS's, where you can find twinks to play against, or you can convince yourself that you got unlucky or your opponent is cheating. With netrek, you feel overwhelmed. At that point, if someone heaps abuse on you, why on earth would you stay and discover what a great game it really is? Especially with the rest of your team just telling you to shut up and either play better or get lost.

          If you don't believe me, try starting an Ensign (and playing like one) and asking questions in pickup. When I played back in the early-mid 90's, people would happily mentor ensigns in pickup. Now as soon as it hits T, everyone seems to go red mist, and either shouts at or just plain ignores newbies in favour of desparately scumming every last previous planet. Rest in peace, Netrek.

          • Way to miss the point. Your suggestion is to ignore the abuse and stick with it. Bzzzt, wrong. That attitude will kill Netrek stone dead.

            Here is the point that got "missed": a few encounters with poor sports does not handicap Netrek nearly as much as missing basic directions for downloading a client and learning how to play.

            One big problem with Netrek is that new players can see that they're clueless.

            That's not true. In Netrek, perhaps more than any other game, there are few solid clues to benchmark performance, especially in a full 8 x 8 game. In fact, the root cause of many problems is that naive players sometimes get false clues that they are good. I really wish that players could judge themselves appropriately.

            However, I think that a well-written tutorial could do more than just teach the mechanics of playing; it would go a long way toward resolving sportsmanship issues too. The tutorial would give players a much better idea of what they have accomplished. That would eliminate a lot of arrogant team board messages that tend to seed conflicts.

  • NetTrek was one of three games I fondly recall from my undergrad days.

    The other two were "dogfight" and "bztank". I'm told that "bztank" is still popular, but as far as I can tell the only incarnation of "dogfight" that exists is a binary-only package that runs on SGI machines.

    Are either of these games still being maintained? Are either of these games distributed as source? If so, where? :)

    [Google didn't help, before you ask.]
  • by Joe Rumsey ( 2194 ) on Saturday May 11, 2002 @02:40AM (#3501215)
    Netrek taught me all of the basics, and some not-so-basics, of network game programming:

    Client-server network models
    Dealing with packet loss

    and more.

    I can honestly say, and have said before, that I owe my career to Netrek more than anything else. I work professionally as a game programmer, primarily writing network code. Without Netrek, I don't know what I would have wound up doing, but probably not that.

    I wrote a large chunk of code for the Amiga client eons ago. I wasn't the original author of that port (that would be Randall Jesup, who worked for Commodore) but I did spend far too much time in which I probably should have been studying (though in retrospect, it was probably the right thing to have been doing with my time after all!), poking and prodding at that thing until I knew basically all there was to know about it. I eventually wound up porting the Paradise version of the client to the Amiga, and contributing code back to the main Paradise branch (Please note however: Paradise was for twinks. I just ported it because I wanted to see it for myself. :-) as well as a little bit back to the Vanilla server (if you look for CLOAKER_MAXWARP, that's my invention. It's why you don't ever see incorrectly cloaked or uncloaked ships on modern netrek clients/servers. The FEATURE_PACKETS system that let us do that without breaking older clients was also my idea, but to give proper credit, Tedd Hadley helped write it too.)

    Maybe twice a year I'll still get on a netrek kick for a couple of days. It's still just about the best internet team game out there, however graphically primitive it might look compared to modern games. It is not primitive at all under the surface, and was way ahead of its time in many ways.

    • I indeed did write the Amiga client, which was a pretty cool trick for the day, since the Amiga didn't run X11, and all the clients were Unix/X at the time. Win32 came much later (after Win95, of course). This was around 1990 or 1991. I just wrote wrapper routines for every X11 call made in the program (and all the input focus stuff).

      I added one feature still missing (I think) from all others: it would read all the messages to you so that you didn't have to look down at the message window. Important when dodging torps! The Amiga speech device made it easy.

      One of the great thing about the game was that it rewarded a number of different strategies and playing styles. Also, league play was and is VERY different than pickup.

      At first at Commodore we had no net connection, so we played internally Mondays at 5:30pm. After we got a 64K link, I and 1 or 2 others would play on the net (3 was about the limit). I joined a league team (the Buddies) and played for a couple of years.

      As mentioned, we were one of the first to make use of signed clients and things like that (the wonders of RSA).

      I can't imagine the number of hours I spent playing, often coming in for 8-16 or more hours on weekends to play.

      Every once in a while I'll fire up a client. One additional problem last time I looked was that the metaserver (again, greatly predates gamespy/etc) moved or was down.

      -- Randell Jesup, ex-Amiga OS group
      • I added one feature still missing (I think) from all others: it would read all the messages to you so that you didn't have to look down at the message window. Important when dodging torps! The Amiga speech device made it easy.

        I've added speech to Paradise 2000, my pardise client for Linux. It's somewhat better than the amiga version. I have special case code for things like bombing messages, dooshes, kills, etc. The RCD macros can be configured too, for example you say "voice.generic: %?%S=SB%{help base&}" and you'll just get the message "help base" spoken too you instead of a line of numbers with the base's status.

      • Netrek had a wrapper around all the X11 calls already, all the OS specific calls (other than networking) were in x11window.c, you added amigawindow.c with the same functions. I made a lot of changes to it in the paradise port, but it was still largely yours. The best thing I did was put scaled windows in. The game was designed for 1024x768, but the best resolution I could squeeze out of my Amiga was some odd number like 752x536@50Hz. I set it up so I could make the galactic window small enough to fit half the galaxy and still have a full main sized window, then rotated the galaxy to show the two races in play. Plus I made all the window borders 1 pixel instead of the Amiga default. All that was much better than scrolling the virtual screen around all the time. I also put some 16 color bitmaps in, including little rotating planets. It was fun working on that stuff!

        I remember I sent my code to you once, and you were aghast that I'd reformatted it all to match Paradise's indentation style. I think that was about the extent of our communications. :-) I actually got the code by way of Eric Mehlhaff, who'd done the DNet networking version, which is what I first used.

        I loved the speech synth. When I finally stopped using Amigas regularly, I tried hacking an rsynth version of it into a Linux client, but I never got it to work very well. I didn't put a lot of effort into either.

        The metaserver has moved a couple of times since the last version of the Amiga client, that's for sure. But there's still one running, it's now, oddly enough.

        Sorry I misspelled your name, and thanks for the reply!
    • I learned about encryption from netrek as someone had to export/redo the RSA code for netrek outside the US.


    • Wow... this is turning into a class reunion. :-)

      There's a little more [] to the history pages, most notably a timeline of events, that gives you a little more detail.

      It's times like this that I'm sad I never finished the original Netrek history document. I still have a few megabytes of material archived, and actually pulled it out to help defend a patent-infringement lawsuit. (Mpath Interactive was suing another company over a multi-player gaming patent. Kevin Smith and I contributed statements and code samples that demonstrated that Netrek was doing what their patent claimed *years* before Mpath even existed.) Someday I may pull out the history stuff and finish the job.

      I also learned a lot from Netrek. The UDP code in Netrek was, to the best of knowledge, the first time UDP was used for an Internet game. I didn't think it would make a difference. :-) Everything that followed used UDP instead of TCP -- you didn't have to look very hard to see the advantages.

      Netrek is probably the only game that uses both UDP and TCP for game state updates. It remains the most salient example of why that approach is a bad idea. :-)

      I remember using Netrek as a system diagnostic tool. If there were hiccups in the OS or network, you'd notice them almost immediately. There as a router outside KSU that was reloading its routing tables periodically, causing a small network storm, that was spotted by Netrek players who were stalling briefly at fairly precise intervals.

      I learned a trememdous amount about RSA encryption and the difficulty in making a game tamper-proof. We kept trying to find ways to keep people from cheating, but there's always another approach when you don't control the target system. It's fun to watch game companies struggle with that even now.

      It also taught me a lot about game balance, and how a simple change to the way score (DI) is computed can change *everything*. People want solitary goals, and will pursue them even to the detriment of others (substitute Quake "campers" for Netrek "DI scum"). Netrek had so many opportunities for tweaks that we needed a separate FAQ for Frequently Offered Clever Suggestions (FOCS) just to keep the newsgroup sane.

      I miss playing Netrek almost as much as I miss writing code for it. How many games can programmers say that about?

      -- Andy McFadden (ShadowSpawn)

  • I'll just throw in a quick plug for my Windows client... NetrekXP(sort of a play on words, which I'll probably get sued for) available at

    I've been doing some work with it recently trying to address known bugs, and finish some of my todo items. This will probably be the last time I work on it, and if someone is interested in maintaining it... I'm trying to finish build instructions and wrap up the source to put up for download.

    But yes, maintenance of the game code has been sidetracked by real jobs, Starcraft and recently Return to Castle Wolfenstein. :)
  • ... Star Fleet Command, LOVED that game and still have a lot of books, SSD's, maps, scenarios, custom ships, etc around. It was neat when they made Star Fleet Battles, very similar to SFC too... one thing that catches my eye is that these two (at least computer versions) seem a LOT alike. Mind you I have not taken up nethack and tried it, something I will now have to look at. But these games rock, I just wish they had more of a following... AND does anyone know what happened to the MMORPG version of Wing Commander Privateer? I WANTED that game to come out SOOOOOO badly, Wing Commander rocked, and I loved having matches with people in Armada, tons of fun!
  • heheh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Xzzy ( 111297 ) <> on Saturday May 11, 2002 @02:58AM (#3501251) Homepage
    > Minimum system requirements are a graphics card
    > that can do 256 colors at 1024x768 and an internet
    > connection.

    These are the EXACT same requirements to play you needed ten years ago.

    Problem being I only had a 486 at the time (bit less than 10 years ago I guess) and it simply wasn't capable of pushing 1024x768. The sheer amount of jockeying I had to do with the interface to squeeze all the important stuff into 800x600 was near epic. ;)

    I couldn't understand why anyone made the game like that, because at the time, that kind of resolution was unimagineable to me.

    Then a few months later I got my foot into the IT industry, sat at my first Sparc station, and learned why. ;)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The greatest of all computer games has to be Netrek. I was first introduced to it at my first co-op job. Lunch breaks consisted of about 30 mins of Netrek, than 45 mins, then 90 mins, then 2 hrs of Netrek, followed by another half hour of "debriefing" where both teams discussed strategies and conquests. I still remember the "cloak" tactic that I developed when I realized you could sit quietly off on the side of the screen in an cloaked assault boat and wait for the other team to forget about you...only to sneak in and bomb the hell out of their home planet.

    Alias, our old Netrek days came to an abrupt end when we "invited" a local university crew to the office to have an all out "Netrek" fest. Late that night we snuck a bunch into the office, and preceeded to beat the pants off of them. Lucky for us the next day when management found out about it we all weren't fired.
  • the nights of the summer of 1995. It was *FUN*. Simple and immensely playable.

    The next summer, I had a gf I was living with...had better things to do. lol.

    Then came Warcraft 2...Red Alert (summer 1997, ah, yes...that was crazy in the computer labs til too damn early in the morning...) Then Total Annihilation taht fall...and then Starcraft.

    A prinkling of Diablo in there too.

    Wow. Time flies...All started with netrek: Go Team NMSU. Desroyer captian Ranma here! Woo!
  • Memories to back in the tiny, almost experimental UNIX lab with Sun IPCs and IPXs...

    Of course we all sucked..
  • by RNG ( 35225 ) on Saturday May 11, 2002 @04:56AM (#3501461)
    I first encountered Nettrek in 1988, during my Sophomore year at CMU []. It was one of those things where you would walk into the computing center at 4AM only to find the hardcore Nettrekkies (for lack of a better word) battling it out with each other, sometimes yelling obscenities across the room.

    Part of the addictiveness of the game stems from the fact that it is easy to learn; yet it takes a while to become proficient it it. The second really cool feature was that it allowed you to play against other humans (or robots) in real time. These days that's nothing special, but back then most multi-player games were turn based (one other notable exception to this (from memory) is/was xtank).

    A few years later, when Linux showed up, I was delighted to find that Nettrek compiled out the box (actually, some minor Makefile changes were needed, if I remember correctly) and worked very well on my then brand-new 486-33. Unfortunately I wasn't connected to a university network (or any other network for that fact), so the human competition/element was missing for me.

    While looking very dated (no 3D graphics, no colors, simple graphics), I think nettrek underscores the point that if your gameplay is good, the graphics are secondary. If you've never tried nettrek, check it out sometime; it's quite cool, especially when seen in historic context.

    • Re: xtank (Score:1, Redundant)

      by Bob Uhl ( 30977 )
      Ah, xtank. The reason I got a D my fourth semester of German. Sigh. That was one good game. The source is still out there, but it doesn't compile. I once tried to sit down and get it all fixed up, but I never managed to do it.

      Bolo was another great networked game from the Dark Ages, and unlike netrek and xtank, originated on the BBC Micro and migrated to the Macintosh. Still IMHO the single best multiplayer arcade-style game for a personal computer. I have PC using cousins who played it half a decade ago and still talk about it--it was that good!

  • Nothing affected my course work (read poor results) more thean the Paradise version of netrek.

    Happy days - now to find a windows (ahem) binary to try it out again.

    To me FPS games (Quake, HL, etc.)only caught up with the multiplayer intensity a few years back.
  • by n4zgl ( 578195 )
    /. test
  • I am wanting to develop a client / server type game system (possibly in VB) over the summer. I would like for it to look simular to Final Fantasy 2 (US) / Final Fantasy 6 (Japan) . Reading about the whole nethack, netrak has only further inspired me to write some code and try to develop some form of basic networked gameserver. I know this might be off topic, but if anyone is interested in helping or being involved in such a project, give me mail >
  • I organised an Australian team to play CMU back in 1993 (CMU was the biggest netrek centre back then). They played on our server, with 750ms lag over the then satellite connection. But despite the fact that they were cactus in any 1-on-1 dogfight because of the lag, they genocided us in 40 minutes - their teamwork was that much better than ours. (Teamwork is crucially important to netrek, which is one reason it's such a cool game.)

    I ran the 1994 International Netrek Leaguge (as a 7 round Swiss), which was a success and I think one of the best INL years. (I still think Swiss scheduling is better than a divisional system, as it produces more games between balanced sides.)

    And I've played a few INL games this year with the Golden Bears, having fun passive scout-bombing over a 28k modem in the wrong hemisphere...

    Danny (netrek handle "ICMP Redirect", used to be "the best base in the southern hemisphere).

  • by kris ( 824 )

    The European Paradise server! Those were the times. Greetings, Emperor Achim!

  • Death of Trek.... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    It isn't just a 'lack of players' that has lead to
    netrek's demise. The gameplay has become
    monotonous and static -- all the remaining
    servers have exactly the same gameplay.

    (BTW -- just a year or two ago, somebody
    launched a netrek server with different play
    rules and robot players. It was fun. It soon
    became the most popular netrek server and
    the number of players was increasing for the
    first time in ages. The 'old-guard' netrek
    players saw this as a threat. They got so
    upset by it, that one of them launched some
    kind of computer attacks against it, and it was
    closed. Facists. Netrek pretty much deserves
    to die at this point. Long live Half-life....)
  • My most memorable session was the following. We were playing Xtrek in a newly equipped Sun lab (with Sun 3/60s and fancy grayscale displays) in fall of 1989. There were some guys from UC Berkeley also playing. Suddenly, we saw lines like "Did you feel that?" and "I think its an earthquake!" scroll by. Turned out it was the earthquake that hit the Bay area in Oct 1989! It almost felt like we were there, witnessing the earthquake firsthand.
  • by jefp ( 90879 )
    Thanks for posting this. I never got into playing nettrek much, but did play original xtrek quite a bit. By the way, Conquest did eventually get ported to Unix in 1999, by Jon Trulson. I've played it, and it's a very close rendition of the VMS version. You can fetch it here [].
  • Too bad its dead. I'd be willing to revive it with some slashdotters if anyone's interested...(is there still a good Linux Paradise client out there?).

    • there is a good paradise client for linux. It's easy to install - just unzip it and copy the .netrekrc file to your home directory and off you go.

  • Let's talk about cheeseplant's house...
  • I played HUNT a lot in my college days ('88-90 something) and constantly find myself describing playing a real-time multiplayer game on an 80x24 screen with a 300 baud connection, and loving it. Eventually had to compile the source myself to keep it on our GOULD.

    Hunt Rocked. Couse it sucks now, but then, it was great.

    And then my wife to be found Wolfstien...
  • Oh the memories...I first played netrek in 1994, and have probably logged a few thousand CA hours since then, and a few hundred in other ships (yeah, I'm still a newbie).

    Anyway, although I grew tired of netrek a year or so ago and moved on to more other things, I still haven't found a game that I like better, nor have fellow netrekkers been able to point me to any game they like better. The intense teamwork, strategy, tactics, and action that netrek offers is something I have yet to see anywhere else.

    Someone said the dogfighting system is simple, but I think it is quite a delicate and complex masterpiece, especially when compared to alternative 2D space combat. It takes years to become a decent dogfighter - it is almost a virtual martial art. In no other game I've played do you have to aim and fire torps, phaser, dodge, pressor/tractor, change speed, det, keep track of enemy damage (to cripple) all at the same time. And even if you can do those 7 tricky things at once, you will help your team to get genocided if you do not also pay attention to the big picture and read messages, pay attention to the galactic map, and the strategic importance and status of 15 ships besides your own.
    I challenge anyone who thinks dogfighting is simple to see if they still think the same after 10 dogfights with me ;)

    As for netrek as a whole, it is more of a sport than a game.

    When its players aren't being "old farts" or "arrogant children", netrek also has quite a strong social aspect to it. In many games, there are so many people that it is difficult to play with people and get to know them, or there is no real point in talking. But in a sport like netrek, you build trust among your teammates - you learn their escort style, their capabilities, their personality/loyalty to you and your team, and factor all of this into the many strategic decisions you have to make. (And then you must also know your enemy.)

    There is also psychological warfare (which is easier to manipulate in pickup), and almost always a need for leaders who know how to direct and encourage the team.

    Anyway... the question I want to pose is: why haven't the superior aspects of netrek's gameplay been recognized and incorporated into modern computer games? I have played games like Subspace, Infantry, Cosmic Rift, etc., and although they have thriving communities, I found them very lacking compared to netrek's gameplay. And in 3D space combat and FPS games, gameplay on the same level as netrek doesn't seem feasible. Has the advancement of 3D technology been so seductive that the majority gamemakers have lost sight of the fact that gameplay is the biggest factor in what makes games fun? Perhaps the problem is that the commercial interests who govern what games are made are posing the question 'what makes games sell?' Perhaps there has to be another serious grassroots game production that is by gamers, for gamers (who enjoy gameplay), as opposed to the masses of casual/unintelligent gamers who are just looking for a cool even if mindless way to waste time.

    For about 7 years now, about as long as I have known about netrek, I have thought about creating a modern and extensible successor to netrek. Although the developer base for netrek has largely seemed to have grown up and moved on, I believe that there is a younger untapped volunteer coding/development talent out there that would be willing to revamp netrek for the 21st century. I have seen and been a part of other large scale projects that accomplished some really substantial things. I think the biggest root cause of netrek's dwindling health is a lack of enthusiasm among netrek server/client developers and especially would-be developers.

    I have recently begun some initial technical design and coding on a new endeavour, and I am curious whether there are any serious gameplay loving gamers out there who have seen the light in netrek and also have something to offer to a for-real development project. I'm not talking about a interactive tutorial, hacking the client to make it look pretty, or providing a better netrekrc file. Nor am I talking about making a 3D version of netrek in visual basic or a 'learning how to program in C++' experiment. I'm talking about a new and committed professional but grassroots movement with new momentum to create a modern bronco netrek based upon a highly extensible and maintainable client/server framework.

    In 4-12 months or so I intend to formally launch a new project to take on this endeavour. If anyone thinks they may be interested in being a part of such a project (especially visionary gameplay designers and architectural design experts at this point) or wants to be kept informed of the project's development, should it get off the ground, feel free to drop me a note at [mailto].

    Peace out,
    Mahalalel - (aka jared, Hyperphase, -Classified-, Mifiq)

Never worry about theory as long as the machinery does what it's supposed to do. -- R. A. Heinlein