MegaWars, the online Star Trek simulation from the 70s

Looking at the early days of online computer gaming, it should come as no surprise that the geeks who worked on these titles were also into geek shows like Star Trek. In fact, in the mid-1970s, an unknown author wrote the code for a Star Trek simulation called WAR which was to be played at the University of Texas at Austin’s supercomputer, the CDC-6600.

WAR Put two players in command of a starship that would sail the galaxy trying to destroy Klingon warships and conquer planets to make them friends. If a player acquired all the planets or destroyed their opponent’s ship, that player would win. Both players had to take turns using the same computer terminal to enter commands, which made it rather awkward, but doable.

This simplistic space simulation was quickly ported to the DEC PDP-10 by Robert Schneider in August 1978. Now called DECWAR, the Star Trek simulation featured rewritten code, a Romulan ship, and new features. Perhaps the most notable change was the addition of true online multiplayer. Up to 18 players could join a game and compete among the stars, as long as everyone had access to the necessary hardware and software.

“By using shared memory to store information about the galaxy, each player was able to run a different copy of the program (or job) and still share a single map,” Games of Fame wrote. “It allowed them to join or leave the game at any time without interrupting the rest of the players. »

DECWAR was a modest hit among college students and other technology users, and the title quickly spread around the world. New and improved versions of the title appeared over the following years until the early 80s.

What DECWAR didn’t have, however, there was a copyright that prohibited users from taking the game and repackaging it for different platforms. Bill Louden of CompuServe, an online platform, saw the potential for DECWAR, bought a copy for $50 and got down to business. His team rewrote the game to remove Star Trek references (because: legal), add leaderboards, include more ship types, and rename it. The new name? Mega Wars.

Already proven in its old form, Mega Wars was a solid hit for CompuServe when it went live in 1983. Any player with a computer and modem could participate in interstellar warfare as long as they paid CompuServe for the privilege.

It wasn’t the most user-friendly or budget-friendly title. As The Digital Antiquarian explains, “Playing was a daunting proposition: It usually took about two to three hours—meaning up to $20 in joining fees—to complete a full match, and the player had to learn 32 commands. separate text that had to be written in real time as the galaxy exploded into battle around her.

Still the original Mega Wars proved so enduring that it ran on the platform for most of its existence, ending only in 1998. Players formed proto-guilds that would log into the game with names that revolved around some theme.

A suite, Mega Wars II, was quickly commissioned with the goal of making it much more PC-friendly and introducing support for color monitors. But this project was eclipsed by a third version, Mega Wars IIIwhich incorporated ideas from another title (1979s p, designed by Kelton Flinn and John Taylor of Kesmai). This game actually hit the market first and effectively scrapped Mega Wars II.

“We dusted off an old, coffee-stained print p” recalls Flinn. “We recoded the game in CompuServe’s BASIC, improved the game, incorporated some of Bill’s ideas, and implemented Mega Wars III in December 1983. It was an instant hit and stole many Mega Wars I thunder. »

Now in its fourth major generation, this space sim has evolved into a true 4X massively multiplayer title. It was no longer limited to a few ships trying to transform planets and pick off the Klingon Birds of Prey. Now players would sign up for month-long campaigns where they would wage war against up to 100 simultaneous players competing across 1,000 systems. Mega Wars III proved to be even more popular and enduring than its predecessor, which lasted from 1984 to 1999.

“About Kesmai Island predicted the fantasy side of the MMORPG genre Mega Wars III was really a hint of what the future may hold when it comes to Internet spaceships EVE online”, wrote The Ancient Gaming Noob.

At the start of a campaign, players hop into light scout ships and attempt to find a star system to colonize. As they claimed planets, players could then accumulate resources to create new ships and weapons, which then fueled the galactic war effort between teams. When the campaign ended after 30 days, the leaderboard awarded the winner with the most points the title of Emperor. Periodically resetting the game “prevented newcomers from feeling like they had no way to catch up and were just meat for the slaughter,” Loudin said.

Meanwhile, Kesmai ditched CompuServe in favor of GEnie, a competing online service. During this transition, the studio brought many versions of games it had created or worked on, including Mega Wars III. However, GENie versions were known as Star Emperor and Star Wars.

” For most of the rest of the 1980s Mega Wars III and Star Emperor ran like identical twins,” Ancient Gaming Noob noted. “As the 1990s approached, GEnie and Kesmai began to work on improving themselves Star Emperoroptionally gives it a GUI, while Mega Wars III remained as it is. If you played them both after about 1989 you’d probably say they were different, but before then they were essentially the same.

While the official run of these original games ended around the turn of the century, they continued to endure through “revival projects” and other emulators. It’s crazy to think that gamers are still having fun today playing the descendants of a game that was created during Richard Nixon’s presidency.

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