My First MMO: Megawars III

Today I’m going to take you way, way back, to my first MMO experience.

Megawars III was a game that ran on the Compuserve Information Network. At least, that’s where I played it. It was a space conquest/exploration game. This was the mid-1980s so if I get some details wrong, please forgive. I have trouble remembering games I played last month, let alone 25 years ago.

The game ran as a series of wars. It would reset every so often. I want to say maybe quarterly? At the start of a new war everyone had a scout ship. First order of business was to find and claim a planet. Planets varied in value and getting a good planet was key to getting a good start in a war. But there was also a time factor, so it was that balance of “Do I spend the time to keep looking for the ideal planet, or do I take the one I just found.”

Once you had a planet you could start producing more or better ships. I genuinely can’t remember if you’d ever own more than one ship or if you just build a better ship. Either way, from there on it was gather resources, build bigger ships, send them out to find more planets to colonize.

There was PVP of course, and other players could attack and take over your planets. You had to build planetary defenses, or be online at the time of the attack to defend a planet.

There were guilds but I think we just called them teams. You pretty much had to be in a team to do well. Often a team would organize around the best few planets of all the planets owned by that team’s members.

At the time I was rocking a 300bps modem, as were most players, but some few were logging in from their fancy offices using *gasp* 1200bps modems. There was a lot of discussion about whether or not these players were cheating by using technology that normal people couldn’t afford. Wikipedia says there was a graphical UI introduced eventually but I remember it all being text-based, so I’m not sure why we thought a faster modem gave you an advantage.

This is what combat looked like!

I got really into this game as did a lot of other players. At the time I was working nights. I’d get home at 1 am or something and start to play, which gave me some value since I was online and monitoring our team when a lot of players were sleeping. I had a list of other team members’ phone numbers. If one of our choice planets was getting attacked (teams would plan attacks ahead of time and often when they thought a planet would be lightly defended), I would log off (because I was using my only phone line to play) and call a team member. Yes I’d call some person somewhere else in the country at 2 am to tell them we were getting attacked. Crazy, right? Then I’d hang up and log back in. The person I called would then call another person, then they would log in. And so the chain went and I’d see account after account logging in to defend the planet that was under attack.

It is crazy for me to imagine myself doing that. I didn’t have the social anxiety I have now, that’s for sure.

What is even crazier is the cost. Compuserve was not cheap. I think at the time it was around $6/hour after 6 PM. On top of that, the semi-long distance phone call to log on worked out to $4 or $5/hour. I paid for Compuserve via direct access to my checking account (I had no credit card in those days…they weren’t nearly as common as they are now) and Compuserve would cut me off when my bill hit $300 in a given month. I got cut off a lot, and eventually got a 2nd Compuserve account for my non-Megawars III activities.

I had a grand old time but man, I wish I’d invested all that money in the stock market or something. I’d be rich today if I had!

OK so I went looking for some kind of image for this post, and in doing so I found a great description of MegaWars III that is much more accurate than my memory of the game. I’d forgotten so much.

After reading that post I got the itch to play again and found this: Megawars3. I got all excited but the link to the original text-based version of the game is dead. There’s a spin-off called Galaxicus built in Unity that I may check out at some point but I think I’d miss firing torpedoes by typing in a firing solution. 🙂

The images in this post are from the PDF of the original manual that someone at put online. Jeez I love the Internet.