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Classic Games (Games) Games

Lost Online Games From the Pre-Web Era 186

harrymcc writes "Long before the Web came along, people were playing online games — on BBSes, on services such as Prodigy and CompuServe, and elsewhere. Gaming historian Benj Edwards has rounded up a dozen RPGs, MUDs, and other fascinating curiosities from the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s — and the cool part is: they're all playable on the Web today." What old games were good enough for you to watch them scroll by on your 300 baud modem?
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Lost Online Games From the Pre-Web Era

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  • Galactic Empire (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TopSpin ( 753 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @01:56AM (#33768496) Journal

    My BBS multi-player game of choice was Galactic Empire [], consumer of many lines on Major BBS systems. Open Source today. I have Telix scripts for that game somewhere... what we would today call an aimbot. :)

  • Empire (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Space cowboy ( 13680 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @02:02AM (#33768528) Journal
    The civilization [] of yesteryear. Oh nukes, how do I love thee ;-)

    playing across the Internet between colleges of London University ... I lost so much time to that game...

  • Movie Madness (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rirugrat ( 255768 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @02:17AM (#33768576)
    I actually wrote a BBS game called Movie Madness in the late 80s that was somewhat popular on Atari ST BBS systems. You purchased scripts, cast movie stars, spent money on production and marketing and watched how much money it made each week.

    Then the Academy Awards would be held and if your movie did or was cast well, you could win an Oscar and make more money (and then the whole game started over with you being able to hire better actors, spend more money, etc). A bit different than the usual fare.

    Honestly, I (and 99.999999999% of the population) completely forgot about that game until I read this article.


    P.S. Was also a big Galactic Empire fan too!

  • XvT (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LongearedBat ( 1665481 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @02:30AM (#33768626)
    I still wish to see a remake of X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter. The scripted missions were great, more varied and more involving than any other space/flight sim I've come across. One really got a feel for different ships, such as the clunkyness of a Y-Wing compared to a TIE-Interceptor or A-Wing.

    The problem was that the internet wasn't fast enough. Even with direct dial-up, lag was bad. Basically the game came out a a couple of years too early.

    I think an XvT2 would actually do quite alright now. With broadband there'd be very little lag, and with modern computers battles could be truly huge.
    What I'd like to see is something like XvT, but where some players can control capital ships (several players serving different roles on a ship) and a few players even serving as admirals. Flight groups could be populated by a mix of players and NPCs. Anyone interested in making something like that?

    Anyway, I miss XvT. But I don't think it will run on modern platforms.
  • by Oriumpor ( 446718 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @03:09AM (#33768752) Homepage Journal

    This should have been called "Extremely Popular Games from 1996, and some general archetypes I heard about from people that played them for real."

    Meridian 59 had thousands of subs initially, as did the Realm (once it got outa beta) these subs were mostly short lived because the companies that were running these games did a horrible job initially. So much so you could say their history is like a "DO not do this" playbook.

    In fact, the realm is a huge shame because Sierra had just gotten a chunk of change from their sale of THE SIERRA NETWORK (AKA The Imagination Network) to AT&T.

    AT&T took what could have been a marginally profitable service, with thousands of users connected online playing games, and dismantled the service following strict supply side economics. Some games as diverse as card games like Hearts (very popular) to MMORPGs (before they had a name) like The Shadow of Yserbius [] (very Eye of the Beholder meets multiplayer Wizardry) and laggy as crap action games such as Red Baron all saw great success leading up to AT&T's slow murder of the service. []

    AT&T first took away all availability of "Unlimited" access plans. Since INN relied on a large system of non-toll POPs AT&T presumably was able to leverage their domestic backbones to decrease aggregate costs that Sierra was having to offset at a much larger percentage of their operating expenses. By cutting the unlmited subscription option they lost the majority of their most die hard fans and advocates. Shortly therafter they increased the hourly overage (because you bought time in 25-50 hour blocks) by over a dollar an hour (from 1.99 to 3.49.) And lowered the available hours to the lowest plan from 30 to 20 and scaled back all other plans while leaving their pricing schedule alone.

    Shortly therafter the number of online users plumetted, and it can only be assumed so did subscription rates. AOL closed up shop in 1998 and sold the venture to AOL who immediately closed the service, users who tried logging in before the last day of service recieved an in game mail from the support team and AOL thanking them for their patronage and requesting they join AOL to continue such great gaming. AOL never transitioned any of the games to their platform, and until 2007 INN was a black hole.

    Some hobbyists picked up the old client, reverse engineered the server protocol and packaged [] up INN in a Dosbox emulator, breathing life back to a service that many thought gone forever.

    Meridian 59 on the other hand, who's history is fought back and forth in Wikipedia entries has come back to the beginning.

    Initially it was a game developed by the Kirmses brothers and backed by limited funding by an independent shop. The story goes: 3do loved it, bought their studio and brought them to their team. The game had a great launch, and had thousands of subs. The game was not turning an incredible profit, trying to sell media for a game that *required* the update to play was a fruitless venture. Eventually because of lackluster sales, and an inefficient support model for the quantity of subscriptions Trip Hawkins aimed 3do's success straight at the ground and followed in AT&T's footsteps, cancelling all unlimited subs and creating time based pay model. Effectively the cost to play was trippled in one month, and the number of players plummetted in half. But, because of supply side economics... well it was more profitable to support fewer users paying more. It cost less in support staff, so they cut in game paid support almost completely, and they had fewer load issues so they scrimped on server refreshes. They let most of the developers go, leaving a small staff to continue developing content releases and game patches.

    What happened after that is the sad story many games see, the critical mass required to make Meridian 59 "fun" for most peo

  • by Daltorak ( 122403 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @03:09AM (#33768754)

    Here's a wonderful little piece of trivia about Solar Realms Elite:

    The author of SRE, Amit Patel, went on to work at Google, and is one of two people credited with devising their "Don't Be Evil" motto.

  • by irixjohnson ( 1893864 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @04:14AM (#33768926)
    "You are now ready to start accepting calls." Damn, I miss the feeling of sneaking out of my room at 12:05am to log on to every local board I could--just to get my turns in for Virtual Sysop. What a great door game. Sadly, most sysops, (at least in the Atlanta area), would selectively edit the game files in order to (re)balance things more to their liking. Good times nonetheless.
  • Re:Movie Madness (Score:3, Interesting)

    by The Optimizer ( 14168 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @04:26AM (#33768970)

    Neat concept for a BBS game.

    I'll bet no one here remembers "CompuTrek" hosted on Computalk TCS in the Dallas/Ft.Worth Area circa 1986-1988. Up to 8 players squaring off in a real-time version of the old 'Star Trek' games (on a 64x64 sector grid if I recall correctly). The BBS itself was run on a cluster of 8 Atari 800's, sharing a Corvus 20 MB hard disk via a multiplexer, (and with a homemade synchronization device attached to joystick port 2 of each machine no less). The guys with 2400 baud modems had a definite advantage.

    Whenever I hear "Galactic Empire" I always think of the TRS-80 game from br0derbund (conquer the 19 other planets in 1000 years) without FTL.


  • Re:Kids these days (Score:2, Interesting)

    by WidgetGuy ( 1233314 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @07:02AM (#33769384)

    Don't be silly, we ALL played Commander Keen and Myst and Descent. Can't stand when you old fart's try to be hip by dropping the names of all these new games like "Quake" and "Doom"

    Come back and read that message when you turn fifty (when you're the "old fart"). I can't stand it when you young farts ... well ... act your age.

    Haven't read all the replies yet, but, so far, I haven't seen Core Wars mentioned. We had a real active CW club on CompuServe Programmers' SIG/Forum in the early 1980's. Loads of fun for programmers. The play was mostly off-line (with downloaded warriors other people had written in Red Code -- the CW "machine language"), but the bragging wasn't!

  • Met my wife that way (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @08:50AM (#33769618) Homepage Journal

    I met my wife on a MOO (MUD, Object Oriented) long before meeting anyone online was fashionable. The funny thing was it wasn't anything romantic until we met in the real world. We just clicked mentally and she was coming up my way to Pittsburgh so we decided to get together. Two months later she moved in with me, two months after that we were married. Been happily married for well over a decade now.

    Thank you, text-space.

  • by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning@netzero. n e t> on Saturday October 02, 2010 @08:53AM (#33769626) Homepage Journal

    By far and away one of the most influential computer games that I ever played was called simply COMBAT, a real-time mutliplayer computer game played on teletype terminals (yes... I played it originally on a printer originally designed for use in a news bureau and had yellow paper printing only capital letters and control codes like backspace had to be manually entered with the "control" key directly.... none of this sissy backspace key BS).

    Unfortunately, the best reference I can find that talks about this game is Slashdot itself on this thread: []

    Porting this game to a modern system would be sort of pointless as there are now many other very excellent shoot-'em up multi-player computer games, but for what this did and the kind of user interface that it had was simply amazing for the era. It required a whole bunch of imagination as it was more like sitting in a mission control room for a 1960's era NASA mission that lacked a TV camera in terms of piloting your spacecraft. All of the controls had to be entered as text keyboard entries at a command prompt. Some people simply couldn't really figure out more than how to get onto the game and get wiped out, but there certainly were some very skilled players over the years and even some teams that formed which became very potent.

    I don't know if this game was ported to other computer systems of the era (early 1970's before microcomputers) and it really didn't make the jump to the microcomputers in part because of its multi-player real time gameplay. Computer games of that nature didn't start to happen again until internet connections were pretty common.

  • by technik ( 86834 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @09:42AM (#33769802) Homepage

    I can't be the only one here who scraped together the registration for VGAP3,
    a turn-based multiplayer space conquest/economy game. I used to play by email
    and upload turns via BBS door. Probably cost me a few points on my GPA
    (both VGAP and DartMUD...).

    Nice to see it still exists

  • by Megane ( 129182 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @10:09AM (#33769906) Homepage

    Gemstone is still around at, but at some point they expanded the world to support 2000 people online (rather than going with shards), and then once it shrunk below 400 online, most of the world became pretty much a ghost town. Actually they did do a "shard" thing, but it was for a premium service where the GMs would do more stuff for you. I played GS again for a bit early this year and population was dropping below 200 at peak.

    A brief history of the game:

    Gemstone I - the test version that ran on an Amiga

    Gemstone II - ran on GEIS mainframes over the GEnie network, and ran very badly because the CPU time was a bit bursty (but no matter how lagged the players were, the monsters got their move every ten seconds like clockwork)

    Gemstone III - ran on a Unix server, but was accessed via GEnie and later via other online services, then eventually the internet in general. Originally used the Iron Crown Enterprises Rolemaster game system and world (that era is thus called "ice age") but later had a great renaming to get rid of ICE words while leaving the combat system much the same.

    Gemstone IV - I'm not sure exactly what the change was for them to rename it this time, since I'm pretty sure that ice age ended during III, and general internet access began during III. I think the problem was that the player levels had outgrown the game, so they re-balanced it with a max level of 100. From what I recall hearing, in GS3, once you reached the point where you couldn't get XP off of monsters, the only source of XP was popping chests (mostly thiefs, but not exclusively limited), healing (empaths only) and raises (clerics only).

  • by cmdr_tofu ( 826352 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @10:13AM (#33769920) Homepage

    I loved tradewars. When I wasn't playing it, I had turbo pascal code sending 1 fighter to random sectors, looking for planets and whatnot. Then when I did get time to play I had a "map" based on the my log files. Fun times :)

  • Re:Galactic Empire (Score:3, Interesting)

    by khchung ( 462899 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @10:21AM (#33769952) Journal

    Wow, that brings back memories.

    I had a Telemate script that automated most of the chores, with a hot key for each function. Not only did it scan the enemy twice and calculate the projected position for the laser shot, it has a hot key to shoot torpedoes, hot key to going up and down warp space to evade enemy torpedoes, etc.

    It also has hot key to automatically land the ship on planets (which was very tedious if you want to do it safely, keep scanning and reducing speed, and wait until you were close enough to land without crashing), hot key to auto-pilot to designated planet at some sector and land there (in the program I kept a list of all my planets) so I just press a key and wait when doing tours through my planets. :P

    That script was the most complicated program I had ever written at that time (just before going to college).

    Too bad it only works at 2400 baud. For some reason, at 9600 baud, Telemate start missing text when scanning (possible due to limit on its multitasking capability). Fortunately I only have the $$ for a 2400 baud modem at that time, but my friend has to lower his modem speed in order to use the script :)

This login session: $13.76, but for you $11.88.