Space Empire Elite

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Title screen from Space Empire Elite (using an Atari ST VT-52 terminal)

Space Empire Elite or SEE is a multi-player strategy door game for Atari ST bulletin board systems. In Space Empire Elite, players rule an empire which they expand by purchasing planets or conquering other empires. Players are responsible for maintenance of their military and planets as well as feeding the population and the army. The goal is to become the largest, most powerful empire and remain so for as long as possible.

Like many other BBS door games, SEE is asynchronous[1]; players do not need to play all together at the same time. Gameplay is turn-based, with a set number of turns available to play each day.

One of the key features of later versions of SEE is that the game can be set up for "intergalactic", or inter-BBS, play. In this mode, players on one BBS are part of the same "galaxy" and work more as a team, trying to destroy other BBS "galaxies." According to author Mark Wolf, BBS door games of this type "could be maintained indefinitely, tracking and remembering each player's actions from day to day, across weeks or even months—much like today's popular massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs)."[2]

Screen capture of a Space Empire Elite gameplay session (using an ASCII terminal)

Origins and influences

Jon Radoff created SEE in 1987[3] [4] when he was around 13 years old.

Radoff says SEE was based on a single-player text game called "Kingdom" for the Commodore 64. Kingdom is a turn-based empire-management game, where you must balance paying for your empire and feeding your people. He wanted SEE to revolve around a similar "tight loop around the resource-based decision[s]." To simple game design he added a multiplayer component so that various players on a BBS could attack one another. These features allowed SEE to offer a "social game experience."[5]

Radoff says he felt that Atari ST BBSes generally lacked good BBS door games, and when SEE was released, many sysops immediately wanted to put it on their systems. Sysops were allowed to try the software for free, but the game wouldn't allow more than 8 players unless the sysops paid a registration fee. Much of the money Radoff earned from Space Empire Elite and Final Frontier later became seed capital which he used to start the company NovaLink.[5]

Jurgen van den Handel later wrote a clone of the game in GFA BASIC, adding new features like inter-BBS play, which made it very popular with sysops. For a time, this "intergalactic" mode became far more popular than the local mode. This revised version of the game was updated and maintained by a succession of authors including Steven P. Reed, Carlis Darby, David Pence, Doc Wynne, David Jones, Dick Pederson, and Rob Magdich. The last known version of the game is v11.37, released in 1996.[6]


SEE was probably the most popular game available on Atari ST BBSes, with one magazine describing it as a "craze."[7] At its peak, it was running on hundreds of networked boards.

This popularity led a number of later programmers to imitate or adapt it. Some of the BBS door games influenced by SEE include Solar Realms Elite[8] (and its cousins Barren Realms Elite, The Arcadian Legends, and Falcon's Eye), Space Dynasty[9], and Space Empire II; as well as the unix-based game Professional Galactic Empires.

Break Into Chat blog articles


  1. Jon Radoff (24 May 2010). "History of Social Games". Retrieved 9 Jan 2013. 
  2. Wolf, Mark J P (2007). The Video Game Explosion: A History from PONG to PlayStation and Beyond. ABC-CLIO. p. 155. Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  3. Jason McMaster (20 March 2007). "Making Games Viral for Fun and Profit". GigaGamez. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  4. "Jon Radoff bio". Gamasutra. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Josh Renaud (2 February 2016). "Jon Radoff, creator of Space Empire Elite and Final Frontier". Retrieved 2 February 2016. 
  6. Rob Magdich. Space Empire Elite v11.37 documentation. 
  7. Colin, Bruce (July 1992). "A Worldwide Network of Comms". ST Review. EMAP. p. 135. Retrieved 14 Sep 2023. One aspect of ST comms that has become a craze is the online game, Space Empire Elite. Hundreds of networked ST boards have been running the game for years. 
  8. Amit Patel. "SRE: Design Notes". Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  9. "Creator O'Toole". "WWIVNEWS Volume 1, Issue 3". Retrieved 1 December 2012.