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Classic Games (Games) Games

(Hack) and Slash: Doing the LORD's Work 63

Emmett Plant (former Slashdot editor as well as video interviewee) writes: Legend of the Red Dragon was written by Seth Robinson in 1989, and it remains one of the most popular games of the DOS BBS era. Chris England has been doing his part to keep the game alive for the past twelve years, adapting an installation that runs on Linux. I was only able to play for two days before I was overcome with curiosity -- I wrote to Chris, politely inquiring as to how it all came together. Read on below for a look into Chris's motivations, the state of the project, and just how deeply nested it can all get, when bringing games from early BBS days into the modern era.
Emmett Plant: What was your first encounter with LORD?

Despite it's PG-13 nature, I discovered the game at age 12 when I was running a local dial-up BBS [The Slaughter House, Langley BC] and echo-mail network. I had never heard of the game, but users kept asking for it. I ignored the first few requests, but eventually caved to my loyal regulars and installed it. My first time "playing" it was actually just to test to see if it worked. Had I have been more inquisitive and known it was an interactive text based RPG about slaying dragons, I would have installed--and played it--much earlier.

EP: You've had this game running for well over a decade now. Has it gotten easier to manage as time has gone by, or has it become more difficult?

With many years of fine tuning and automation, it has become very easy to manage. Between work and my addiction to the remote British Columbia wilderness, either my time was saturated or I was simply not around to keep up with issues like investigating players suspected of using multiple accounts or dealing with players taking advantage of known bugs. This led to a level of frustration among users in early years. For example, in our environment there is no carrier detection. If a player disconnected in an IGM [In-Game Module], they were essentially protected from being battled by other users. Fast forward to today where if a player attempted this, within a short period of time the system would detect it and leave them vulnerable, "sleeping in the fields.”

EP: You've created a custom BBS to manage these games -- How does it work?

The BBS part is a fairly basic sign-up, authentication and menu system made in perl. Much like a regular BBS, when a user selects the menu option to enter a game, a dropfile is generated and passed to the game. After that, things get a little different. It dynamically creates an autoexec.bat to invoke the games start.bat file with the appropriate node parameter and then fires up dosemu. The BBS itself listens locally on a non-standard port through xinetd/in.telnetd, as I needed to create a proxy script to reside in front listening for the incoming telnet connections. This was necessary in order to sanitize some undesirable input with a script that could make decisions and manipulate the packet contents in some cases. Aside from that, there are a number of automation scripts running in the background which range from compensating for lack of carrier detection and analyzing logs to converting LORD color ASCII to HTML and of course sending me a text message when it's time to announce a winner and reset a game.

EP: LORD was written in the dial-up era. What challenges have you faced in making it available for the modern age?

There are so many pieces that need to work together. I tried a number of combinations of operating systems, dosemu/dos versions, netfossil drivers, ANSI drivers, BBS software, LORD versions, IGM's, etc. It was difficult to find a combination where all components would play nice for the long haul. Having a stable environment was a top priority, so I decided to make my own BBS, forget about the fossil routines and just run the game as if it's running locally. This resulted in stability, but presented a number of other challenges from a security standpoint. IGM's with special sysop functions like "drop to DOS" were out of the question and I needed to prevent every possible method that could be used to break out of a batch file.

EP: There's a Facebook group and a Twitter account for the games -- How are these social media tools used?

Prior to Facebook and Twitter, we used a forum on the website so players could communicate outside the game and I could announce upcoming rounds. Though I had moderators, it was still something I needed to babysit and keep secure. I was very happy to outsource the forum to Facebook as it was less work for me while at the same time, it gave the game a little more mainstream/modern exposure. Twitter seemed like a good platform to announce the start of new rounds, but I think most rely on the Facebook notification.

EP: How do you deal with problematic players?

If someone gets completely out of hand and or won't adhere to warnings, disabling the account and iptables seems to solve the issue efficiently. It takes a lot more effort for someone to change their IP address, and sign up again from a new email address than it does for me deal with it. And for what motive? To write something rude or annoying in the daily news or flowers? Most people just don't get that bored, so it has only come to that a couple of times.

EP: What do you do for a dayjob?

You probably guessed, but I will go ahead and confirm that I’m a System Administrator.

EP: Why do you do this?

Though I shut down the dialup BBS after a few years of service--in pursuit of figuring out how Internet web servers, mail servers and database servers worked--those sysop/sysadmin instincts didn't go away. I felt rather guilty about letting BBS users down, but the reality is that I needed to selfishly tie up the phone line and replace DOS with Slackware. Making this system was my way of making up for it and then some.

--

Editorial Note: The author of this piece made a $10 donation to the site before inquiring to write this article. He’s a level 8 warrior in Game 1, and he’s been killed at least three times already. He does not regret the donation.
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(Hack) and Slash: Doing the LORD's Work

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  • I used to play Usurper a lot, I thought it was more interesting as it had more options (particularly in the "pro" mode or whatever they called it that gave you about 20 different types of armor). Development on that seems to have somewhat stalled out, but the author released the source code a while back [dangarden.com] so there may be promise of seeing it return.

    Likely even fewer people remember Exitilius, which was even more involved. According to one group, details on where it came from and how are sketchy [exitilus.com]. It had
    • Personally, I was fond of Ambroshia: Test of Time. http://ambroshiabbs.proboards.... [proboards.com]
    • I've played both Usurper and Exitilus. My friends and I still talk about Exitilius and how we would like to play it again. I remember coming home from school and putting in some serious work on that game. It wasn't until one of them found a glitch and starting destroying everyone that the game became less fun.
    • My poison was Trade Wars 2002! I played that a lot, every day, on BBS's when I was young. Probably 1st online addiction, I would get anxious/angry if I couldn't get on in time to get my turns in. This game basically forced my parents to get another phone line dedicated to my computer. Also kids never got this memory:

      NO CARRIER!
      "ARGH MOM GET OFF THE PHONE!"
      "SORRY!"

      I vaguely remember the name Usurper, so I probably played it, but TW2002 was so good!

  • Title (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 13, 2015 @11:13AM (#49681971)

    "(Hack) and Slash: Doing the LORD's Work"

    Why not a title that people will actually understand, like:

    "Interview: Chris England About Legend of the Red Dragon"

  • Maybe it would have been good to give at least a brief description of the game itself?
  • Chris' LORD games are available right here [stabs.org], by the way.

  • You didn't like to the game so we could come stalk you ingame :P ...
  • by TheDarkener ( 198348 ) on Wednesday May 13, 2015 @11:29AM (#49682097) Homepage

    Oh, my first love interest.. Her and Jenny Garth. Thanks, Seth!

    • I remember getting laid by Violet, and contracting a bad case of VD. Being a young child at the time, this was a very educational game.

  • by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Wednesday May 13, 2015 @11:34AM (#49682139) Homepage Journal

    I hated LORD, it would tie up my 1 line BBS with useless people playing games when they should be uploading stuff and maintaining their ratio.
    I had a few other BBS doors that tended to tie up the line less, but man was LORD popular back in the day.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Sounds like your BBS was no fun at all.
    • I found the upload-download ratio, was a bad way to keep people engaged. What it did was caused people to upload a lot of crap just to keep their ratio up.
      They were other ways of encouraging good behavior. Such as elevated to different message boards, special download directories etc...
       

    • I hated LORD, it would tie up my 1 line BBS with useless people playing games when they should be uploading stuff and maintaining their ratio.
      I had a few other BBS doors that tended to tie up the line less, but man was LORD popular back in the day.

      That's funny in away, I had a 6 line Cnet (chat board) I'd get ticked if someone uploaded or downloaded but let it go.

      Not many doors for the Amiga, the IBM BBS's had the best games a fav of mine was Food Fight.

      I had a user who made two game using MCI code only, tick tack toe and Stones (7 stones don't take the last one to win). People still swear it can't be done (MCI game).

  • And you can't prove it!
  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Wednesday May 13, 2015 @12:58PM (#49682961)

    I had a WildCat BBS in 1994 and 1995 running on an ancient IBM AT computer in an 80-pound industrial case that bolted to the floor (I still kick myself for not keeping the case), 20MB 5.25" hard drive and a 2400bps modem. LORD and TradeWars were my favorite games. I would log locally and chit-chat with whomever logged into my board. This was the beginning and the end of my online empire before something called THE INTERNET made the BBS scene obsolete. I was a Dot Com bust before the Dot Com bust hit five years later.

  • I was a big fan of Arrowbridge duing the BBS days. Reminds me of the old top down rogue like games. Richard Garriott recently had a contest to port his first BASIC game to a web platform.

    http://www.kirith.com/DND1/pure-js/

    You have to use the name SHAVS to play the game (that is what was in the original source code).
    And hit No for instructions.

  • I so wish someone would port/clone that one....

    *SIGH*

  • Is he also running LORD 2? I was pretty amazing, and it's the kind of game that could scale pretty well to today's systems.

  • It seems that LORD is in a weird copyright state.

    http://lord.lordlegacy.com/new... [lordlegacy.com]

    Original developer sold the rights, but the company that holds those rights seems to have gone MIA. It seems he's tried reaching out to them, but they're not responding to him or anyone else, or even new sales. He still has the sources, but legally cannot release them.

    All it would take is these guys:

    http://www.gameport.com/contac... [gameport.com]

    to grant permission, and LORD *COULD* be ported to more modern systems, rather than trying to f

    • by mystik ( 38627 )

      If anyone has a way of contacting them, perhaps a gentle prod could get this classic made more widely available ...

    • I wonder who the right person to talk to is and what their price tag is? Can it be crowd-funded? It would personally put up $500 for the rights to be given to Seth Robinson so he can decide whether he wants to maintain it or release it as open source. Is it possible... could we save LORD and maybe bring it into the modern era?
  • I didn't play it, but it was very popular with the users.

  • I telnet'ed into your/the site, gave em my email address and have been waiting for a password since.

    Rant alert!

    I POP3 my email from Gmail, many other accounts specifically hotmail are forwarded to Gmail. It's just safe hex, Agent wouldn't show html code just text only. I've been forced to update from 1.93 to version 6 which is so different I've avoided it. SSL is required so I run/ran stunnel as 1.93 doesn't have it, version 6 does. Stunnel has quit working it's not that hard to configure, but it did stop s

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