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.