History of VGA Planets

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The following is a brief history of VGA Planets development as detailed by its author, Tim Wisseman in a personal email to TradeWars co-author John Pritchett.

"Back in 1983 at Sierra High School in Fresno county there was a 4 terminal text based computer system with the name "Alto" on it. It had a shared operating system and was programmable in BASIC. On that machine I wrote a real time text based space combat game that I called "Multi-Trek" the basic programs would run on the four terminals and share data back and forth using PEEK and POKE to memory locations that they shared.

In 1985 I ended up at UCSC as a computer engineering major, the first thing that I did was find a good programmer named Chuck L. Peterson to help convert my program to a UNIX BSD program so that "Multi-Trek" could be played on the university computers. We renamed the game mTrek and it really took off, it was a great real time space combat game with 40 or more players playing it at the same time. Brannon Braga (of Star Trek fame) used to play the game, I remember blasting the daylights out of his ships in the main computer lab.

There was another game on the UCSC computer system that I played that was text based, turn based, space conquest called "Planets". It only had 3 types of ships a Colony ship, an Explorer ship and a Battle Ship. It was very simple and all commands were entered in as command lines.

Send 20 BS from P102 to P200

In 1989 I quit college and became a logger, I missed the days of computers and space combat, so while I was cutting down trees I cooked up an idea to write more games. Maybe a mtrek game from TRS-80 Color Computers, I would somehow have to link them all up in one room. Have some sort of business, like an arcade where people would have to come to and pay to play the game. . .

To practice I wrote an adventure game for the TRS 80 Color computer called "Defender of Boston" but I just did not have enough computer power to finish the game, so in 1991 I bought an IBM AT clone, running DR DOS 5.0 with no hard drive, but it had 2 floppy drives! I finished programming "Defender of Boston" in MicroSoft Quick Basic 4.5 and released the program as a shareware program. I called many BBS systems and uploaded the program and mailed floppy disks to ShareWare magazine. I sold a few copies, maybe 30 or so. It only took 3 months to finish that game.

Then I tried to think of a way to write mTrek for BBS systems, but was unable to think of a way to do it because most BBS systems were single line systems. So what I did was take the turn based model of Unix Planets and combined it with ideas from mTrek and made VGA Planets, a turn based space combat game that had the ships and other elements from mTrek.

BBS time was limited, most BBS systems only let you stay on for a few minutes each day, so I decided to use files to send all the moves into a host and have the daily results downloaded as a massive file that the client program could download and read.

In 1992 Planets 1.0 came out and was uploaded to the only local BBS up here in the mountains near Bass Lake, the "Property Line", a BBS designed to sell houses and land, it had no games, but I was able to talk other BBS users into trying the game out.

In 1993 Planets 3.0 came out, and took off by way of FIDO net. People started writing Door programs to host VGA Planets, making game hosting easy and automatic. The game was reviewed in gamer magazine, it started getting big fast. I kept seeing on FIDO net talk of a game called TradeWars, and finally I got a chance to call in to a BBS long distance to try it in 1994.

TradeWars was amazing, it reminded me of VGA Planets and MTrek, it was a ton of fun. I only got to play for a little while because I did not want to run up a huge long distance bill. TradeWars is fantastic!

I know some of the great ideas from TradeWars ended up in VGA Planets 4. My memory is a little foggy, but I remember being so amazed by TradeWars that it did influence my designs for Planets 4."

- Tim Wisseman

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