Tag: Trade Wars

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Does anybody else remember ZORK?

It was something I played briefly in my youth. It was one of my very first adventure games. This was long before anything like graphical user interfaces had made a big splash in computing, let alone PC gaming, so the action and suspense played itself out in the form of lines of text.

My first ‘MMO’ experience was similar. It’s not strictly a massively multiplayer experience, as I have no idea how many simultaneous players the server supports, but MUME – Multi-Users of Middle-Earth was perhaps my first real foray into online gaming, happening about the same time I really hit my stride with Trade Wars.

Speaking of which, I’m still interested in getting some kind of iteration of that thing going on my local server with friends and stuff. I just haven’t had the time.

Anyway, text-based adventuring. These are actually more intricate and deep than you might expect. Instead of relying on glitsy graphics or gameplay powered by a few quick button-presses, the designer has to include common command ideas such as “LOOK”, “GET” and “INVENTORY” while being ready to respond to unknown commands like “RESPAWN”, “SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST” or “TEABAG”.

There’s also the fact that it’s the player who populates the game world, at least in a sense. By reading the text of the adventure, it’s your imagination that are giving the characters, settings and threats of the world flesh, weight and meaning. This requires the setting to be well-written, with clear descriptions and consequences that matter. It also means that the designers need to lay out a path to victory for the player, with obstacles and misdirects placed carefully so that once the player gets the hang of which commands work, there’s still plenty of challenge to be had.

How might a text-based adventure if it were programmed today, say using a popular IP?

I give you “You Awaken in Razor Hill.”

I can’t assume that every reader who passes by here knows enough about World of Warcraft to get all of the in-jokes, but pay attention to some of the longer descriptions. This is well-written, cleanly described and carefully directed work. More than just an exercise in “trolling the forums for the lulz,” it’s a great example of good writing, good design and a fantastic result.

It also had me laughing so hard I was crying. So, there’s that as well.

On Alien Assault Traders

Trade Wars 2002, image courtesy PC World

Last month I discussed the possibility of helping people return to the nostalgic days of ferrying commodities from one planet to another in the darkness of space while shooting lasers at one another. The major problem with running pure Trade Wars is lack of a static IP, the necessity of having a box in my apartment running constantly to satisfy everybody’s need, and other potential setup issues. I searched the Intertubes for a friendlier solution, something that could run in this webspace and take advantage of the fine PhP/MySQL setup used by this very blog, and I came across a little something called Alien Assault Traders.

For the last month, I’ve been playing the ‘Main Game’ on their site, and so far it’s delivered everything one could ask for. Let me cover some of the things familiar to old hands at Trade Wars, some of the new stuff that’s fascinating to me, and things I haven’t even been able to touch yet that others might have an interest in.

Buy Low, Sell High, Avoid The Mines

The trading component of Alien Assault Traders has a couple of advantages over its BBS-based counterpart. For one, it’s a GUI. Every port in which you arrive as you warp from one system to the next has a friendly interface that tells you what they have to sell and what they’re willing to buy. When you find a lucrative trade route, you can program it into your main menu control panel thing and repeat it as many times as you have turns and make yourself a pile of credits. You’ll need them if you plan on establishing and expanding your territory. How do you do this? Genesis devices.

Genesis? What’s That?

Genesis devices in AATraders come in two flavors: regular, and Sector. Standard-issue Genesis devices create planets. Stable ones, too, without any worry of resurrected Vulcans or pesky Klingons. Once you have a planet, you can establish a base on it, give it some defenses both in the system and on the ground, and generate resources that you can trade. I haven’t really spent much time on that last bit, as I found a really nice pipeline trading entertainment software and communication satellites between two stations, but I know it’s possible and I understand its appeal.

Sector Genesis devices create entire new sectors. This opens up a whole new aspect of the game. You can, with enough time and resources, branch off from the established galaxy with a cluster of systems entirely under your control, with a single point of access that you can carefully hide from the other players. Every planet in a sector created using a Sector Genesis device, sectors called “SGs”, works just as well as planets created or conquered in the main galaxy. You’d best defend that point of entry, though, because someone is probably going to find it, and if they’re an aggressive player, things are likely to start blowing up but good.

Burnin’ Lootin’, Bombin’ Shootin’!

I’m using Warcraft 3’s Mortar Team derivation of Bad News’ “Warriors of Ghengis Khan” because that kinda describes the process of blasting other people’s planets, though in a slightly different order. Shoot down any fighters in the system, burn through the minefields, bomb the base into submission and loot the place. Now this happens in a series of text screens with the occasional image, so the feeling of Trade Wars is preserved there. Unless you want to do a ton of math, though, it can be difficult to gauge just how effective your assault is going to be. Just don’t forget that you can pick up probes to scout ahead for you. I forgot about that, and it’s cost me trillions of credits. Ugh.

I haven’t really done any ship-to-ship combat yet, so I can’t comment on it. But I suspect it’s similar to the planetary combat.

If this sounds like it might sate your desire for old-fashioned Trade Wars action, I recommend clicking the link below and reading more about Alien Assault Traders. If you try out the main game to be sure, I’m operating under the name Joseph Frimantle. Try not to be too cruel.

Alien Assault Traders

Electronic Memory Space-Lane

Trade Wars 2002, image courtesy PC World

Here’s a little tidbit for you young’uns who might be tuning into this little blog o’ mine.

Did you know that there were online games before the Internet existed?

When I was a lad (old man joke, oh crumbs there goes the hip, we’re walking, we’re walking) there were these little dial-up places called Bulletin Board Systems, or BBSs. This was long before anything resembling DSL existed, to say nothing of cable or fiber optics running into people’s homes. So one would dial into the BBS’ on-site modem (and if you only had one phone line, someone would need the phone ten seconds after you try dialing) and look at postings of news, jobs and whatnot. BBS setups also had something called ‘doors’.

A ‘door’ was less a physical portal and more the launching point for an on-line game. Of the many that got started back in the late 80s, one in particular not only stands out in my mind but is also played to this day: Trade Wars.

Last year PC World called it one of the greatest PC games ever. I’m hard-pressed to disagree. With simple text displays and ASCII art, Trade Wars would unashamedly eat up hours of my time, with commodities trading, space combat and interaction with other players. You know, the sort of thing that happens in EVE Online but without having to mine asteroids (at least not that I remember). The fact that this sort of game structure has survived into the graphical MMOG era not just as EVE but also as online and hosted versions of the old Trade Wars engine itself is a testament to the longevity and appeal of its simplicity. It doesn’t get much simpler than “Buy stuff for cheap, shoot anybody trying to shoot you, sell stuff for profit, 40 goto 10”.

I might look into finding a way for Blue Ink Alchemy to play host for a Trade Wars game of its own.

If people would be interested in playing, that is.

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