Solar Realms Elite memories

In his blog post reacting to Wikipedia’s deletion of its Space Empire Elite article, Benj Edwards asked folks to preserve BBS door game history by writing up articles about particular games.

That’s just what I plan to do on this blog. I’m going to remember my favorite games — and also talk with door game creators.

Today I kick things off with some personal reflections on Solar Realms Elite.

(Be sure to read the follow-up interview with SRE creator Amit Patel)

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SRE title screen.

SRE title screen.

My first exposure to a multi-player, empire-building door game was Space Empire Elite on Flash BBS in 1992 when I was 12 or 13 years old. It was a fun game, but unfortunately I began playing it at precisely the wrong time. Fewer people were calling Atari ST BBSes as that computer platform began to die. Consequently the SEE games I played often had only a few players.

I began to venture beyond Atari BBSes to the WWIV BBSes that were proliferating in St. Louis at that time, and that’s where I encountered SRE, Amit Patel‘s adaptation of SEE for the PC.

It immediately made an impact on me. While it lacked SEE’s inter-BBS features, SRE offered many advantages: a colorful ANSI interface, additional planet types, additional attack types, and loads of thoughtful details like the ability to type “>” to purchase the maximum amount you could afford of something.

SRE empire status screen.

SRE empire status screen.

But even more than these features, what made SRE magical was the number of people who were playing at the time I encountered it. These games were not meant to be played solo; they were meant to be social experiences as you tried to dominate other players and build the mightiest empire. And when I began playing, SRE was a popular game available on the most popular BBS platforms at the time.

The extra types of planets and attacks certainly broadened the strategies you might employ against other empires. If your opponent made money primarily through “tourism” planets or high taxes, you could use covert attacks to cause him to lose population. If one mega-empire had loads of planets and your alliance couldn’t defeat him individually, you could team up to use nuclear attacks against him and destroy his planets.

Here is a set of messages from a game of SRE I played in around 1993-94. In this exchange, I ask about the state of the game. A neutral player explains. Then a third player tries to recruit both of us. (His message is cut off)

In these messages from an SRE game in 1993-94, I ask about the state of affairs. A neutral player explains. A third player tries to recruit both of us. (His message cuts off)

A very popular strategy was for a big empire and a small empire to partner and exploit inflation. The big empire would send credits to the small empire. The small empire would buy tons of carriers at a cheap price and then ship them back to the big empire, who would sell them at a high price for lots of money. Very quickly you could reach SRE’s limit of around 2 billion credits on hand at one time.

But it was the social part of the game that grabbed me. How could you attract other players to join an alliance with you? How could you lie or plant seeds of doubt to divide your enemies? How could you intimidate other players and keep them from attacking you? These psychological strategies were only relevant when a game was full of active players.

In the most memorable games of SRE I played, communication was constant. Messages were sent within the game, or sent by private email on the BBS. Later in the 1990s, I remember using AOL Instant Messenger with allies to coordinate big attacks before and after midnight.

From game to saga

One “epic” game in particular sticks out in my mind.

It was played on Knight’s Armor BBS around 1993. I was relatively new to SRE, but when I joined this game I quickly became the strongest player. After a while I went on a family vacation, but SRE waits for no man (or boy). While I was gone, an empire called MaceLand thrashed me and rose to prominence. I returned home to find my empire in ruins. What followed was a long period of scheming, allying, and struggling by my “Geneva Alliance” against MaceLand and his “Dark Alliance.”

While our side ultimately prevailed, I came to feel disregarded; like my role in this victory had been forgotten. In an effort to redress this wrong, I wrote the first part of what would become the SRE Text Series. I titled the first installment SRE: The Saga Of The Best SRE Game Ever Played! In the introduction, I modestly said:

SRE is really in itself a fun game to play; but when you get geniuses (Good AND evil!) playing, and people who are driven to succeed, it can become more than just a game. And that’s how it is with me.

The first three chapters were an attempt to redirect glory upon myself. But after writing up my “authoritative” account of how that Knight’s Armor game went down, I decided to change course and begin writing fiction about emperors battling it out. I created a cast of noble and evil characters wrestling for dominance throughout the universe, all of it based on notions from the gameplay and features of SRE.

By the time I finished writing SRE: The Finale in 1995, the entire “SRE Text Series” comprised about 48,000 words. I uploaded these stories as text files to many St. Louis area BBSes. A mirror of the file section from the now-defunct Fire Escape’s BBS Directory Headquarters preserves some of the ZIPs I uploaded back then.

I revisited the stories several years later and completely recast the tale, hoping to make it more realistic. I wrote about 35,000 words of this new SRE trilogy, but never finished it, nor did I publish or distribute it.

I was a teen, and it goes without saying that most of this writing wasn’t very good. But SRE had inspired something in me, sparked a burst of creativity, allowed me to get lost dreaming up the exploits of space emperors.

Whether I was playing the game itself, or writing stories inspired by it, Solar Realms Elite was an active part of my imagination for the better part of a decade. And that’s why it remains one of my favorite BBS door games.

Want to play?

Want to try playing Solar Realms Elite right now? Plenty of BBSes still host the game. Here are a few. You will need a telnet client like SyncTerm.

What do you remember?

Were you an SRE player? What were your favorite strategies? What made the game memorable to you?

3 thoughts on “Solar Realms Elite memories

  1. J. David Ramsey

    This is why it’s painful to see WikiPedia editors calling “notability” on many door game and BBS articles. Okay, so it may be true that it’s harder to find mentions of Barren/Solar Realms Elite outside of ASCII “docs” and ANSI screens buried in ancient zip (or maybe even arc) archives. But, how many people wrote enough words to fill a novel (or two) about their Wolfenstein 3D or Doom sessions? So, they may be “notable” enough for WikiPedia articles, but they were hardly inspiring enough for full-blown narratives!

    I never wrote “texts” about my door experiences, outside of brief synopses of games that had just completed. But, like you, I was heavily affected by these games. I was always a Tradewars 2002 nut, way back when it was a fun BBS strategy and social game, as opposed to the script-kiddie, log-in-and-leave game it became in the Internet era. For awhile, I was so addicted to the game that I’d fall asleep imagining what it would be like to really be the space trader evading Ferrengi in my Markham Tech Starmaster.

    Thanks for the reminiscing about a great game, and thanks for helping to preserve its memory, along with other “non-notable” door games.

  2. Matt Heaton

    I was totally addicted to the game when I was in early high school. Couldn’t wait to get home from schools so I could play my turns, when we went on family vacations I was always had anxiety about whether my empire would survive 🙂 Since that time I always wanted try to reincarnate SRE on the Internet.

    I wrote a little about my SRE experiences/addiction in this post, in the context as being the inspiration for a MMO game I developed.


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