I recently had some old friends from my BBS* days come out of the woodwork. Wondering if anyone remembered TradeWars as fondly as I did, I ran a Google search for “Best BBS games.”
Did you mean “Best DS games?”
The times, they have a-changed. Before tweets and Facebook, before Wikileaks, before … the Internet** we had Bulletin Board Systems, or BBSes. We were BBSers, and the warbling screech of the dial-up modem was our siren song. Most BBSes were computers in someone’s home hooked up to a single phone line. (Raise your hand if you remember busy signals.) Some were even multi-phone line affairs. This meant … other people, in real time! Chatrooms!
But the best part, as Ender would say, was the games. Before World of Warcraft, we had Legend of the Red Dragon. LORD was a fun text-based adventure/RPG game. You could outfit your character, fight monsters, go exploring. There was even a “flirt” function, which could … lead places. I’m pretty sure LORD was the first game to feature STDs and pregnancy.
But the best of them all was TradeWars 2002. This turn-based gem was the precursor to modern space titles like Masters of Orion or even EVE Online. The universe was divided into sectors, from one to several thousand. You started out with a dinky little ship that could hold a limited amount of cargo.
Your goal was to find profitable trade routes, buying low at one space station and selling high at another. Profits could be used to upgrade or purchase new ships, and eventually you could create your own planet(s) using a Genesis torpedo.***
You had a limited number of turns per day, which resulted in the hardcore players trying to dial into the server at midnight when the turns reset; if you got your turns in first, you had an edge over other players. Speaking of dialing, back in the days of dial-up and long-distance toll charges, most BBSes had a local user base. If you wanted to send a message to someone outside your calling area, sure you could dial direct into their local BBS and message them direct, but why pay long distance charges?
FidoNet addressing was divided up into zones, regions, and networks, for an addressing scheme that looked like 1: 150/918. If you wanted to send a message to a user, you would type up your message, plug in the user’s address, and send it off. Then you waited.
With no Internet, the only way messages could move through the system was for one BBS to call another and transfer its messages. Part of the FidoNet rules was that your system was available for incoming calls one hour a day. The resulting toll charges were borne by the sysops of the hub BBSes.
Not quite the insta-mail of today, but faster than carrier pigeon. At one point, though, I noticed something. When logging onto The Rock Garden (a local multi-line BBS in Phoenix), you were presented a list of the current users and what they were doing. Chat, LORD, TradeWars. There was something new: TCP/IP gateway. We didn’t know it yet, but the Internet was coming. Before long, I was jumping onto IRC servers and MUDs, and my days of TradeWars and LORD were things of yesterweek, gone the way of pegged jeans.
* BBwha? Keep readin’.
** This is a mildly inaccurate statement. As you all know, Al Gore created the Internet sometime in the swinging ’70s. I’m talking back before the commercial Internet, circa earlyish ’90s.
*** We were all Trekkies back then.
Nicholas Walter wonders if anyone from Lompoc remembers The Granola Board BBS from way back when? Contact him via Managing Editor Ashley Schwellenbach at firstname.lastname@example.org