Empire 1

Timeline and history of the development of the online multi-player game, PLATO Empire. Notes written in 2008 by John Daleske with comments by Gary Fritz.

Empire 1 - A Project For A Class

Summary of Empire 1 Features:

  • A strategic game of
  • Eight (8) teams with one player per team
  • each player 'residing' on a planet
  • directing the growth of economy and trade and
  • having built and then directing ships for trade or battle
  • on one 512x512 screen full of 'space'.

Empire began as a final project for an education class I was taking Spring Quarter, 1973, at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. The first two PLATO terminals installed at ISU were flown in and installed a few weeks before the end of the term. I spent a few days reviewing the various lessons and games. All the games at that time were "Big Board" where players were listed on the Board, challenged, accepted, and then brought in to play one-on-one against others. These were one or two player inter-terminal games, such as chess, dogfight, moonwar, card games, and others.

One evening I had one of those 'insight' experiences where in about five minutes the entire design for the first version of Empire came to me right down to how to program it. You might consider that a bit odd since I had only begun to learn the programming language, TUTOR, used on PLATO. I give part of the credit to the design of PLATO and the TUTOR language. It was very straightforward to pick up.

First, I needed lesson space. Using -pad- I connected with Silas Warner at Indiana University who set up the lesson space for me. I did not know that I could have made the request directly.

Over the next five days I designed the first charset, learned TUTOR, and wrote the program to the point where people could log in and play against each other. This version supported eight players, each controlling their own civilization, including space ships, economy, natural resources, population, and diplomacy. I got a good grade.

Perspective on Innovation

Innovation emerges not typically from the ethers from no source, but rather it slides, trips, or baby steps from a series of individuals, each with their own experiences, each taking the innovation as far as they each can carry, placing it for the next to pick up when it is time to move it forward again.

While the concepts for the design of Empire came to me in just a few minutes, I view that it had been carried to my feet, where I promptly tripped over it. I view the base of Big Board games on PLATO, the game of Risk and Chess and other physical board games, my love of Science Fiction and most important the base of TUTOR and PLATO environment, these are what helped Empire come into existence.

While I could claim Empire as the first multiplayer, real-time interactive simulation, beating the Sims series by at least a decade, I would lay a bet that some Rand scientists, mixed with MIT and Princeton game theorists developed military simulations possibly as early as the 1950s. I know, now, that simulations were run for various cold war scenarios. Were these simulations the same as Empire? Yes and No. They probably were exciting, may not have ben "real-time" or "interactive", but were likely as fun as Risk.

Intent for the Design

Empire was designed to balance the learning with entertainment, with playability. However, Empire did not have the 'unlimited' computing resources of the Department of Defense. It had to technically function on an extremely tight computing and memory budget of a timesharing system capable of supporting over one thousand (1000) terminals of simultaneious users.

Also, Empire was available to the public on an open network.

Face it, Empire was a game and established a new paradigm of more than two players, who played one-on-one, letting people anywhere on the network play in a free for all. It was the first time a group of players could all rock and roll together controlling planets (in Empire I), ships, and with team work using embedded chat capabilities.

If one is looking for the first more-than-one player game, I would point to Rick Blomme's -spacewar- in the 1960s.

Empire (I) - Features

Empire (I) supported eight simultaneous players. Each player was "on" a planet, acting as the leader of that planet's governement, directly developing the economy, the production, and the military force. In this case, the military force and transport was done by spaceship. One could negotiate with other planets, transport goods, attach other planets, etc.

This first version was developed during a time when it was not clear that our remote site could get listings. (It could.) I hand wrote the listings, transcribed from the online version, and never got a true listing of it. It does live on as -conquest-. After I developed the more tactical versions of Empire, Silas Warner asked my permission to resurrect Empire I. He added to it, expanding the features.

The Empire I playing field was all on one screen. All movement was done by erasing an object in one spot and writing it at its next spot. The upper portion of the screen showed the planets and ships; the lower portion gave statistics and information about the planetary economy.

This was a true simulation. While playable and fun for many, especially with no other game of its kind to compare it against, I felt it needed more action. This is why I totally rewrote it in the same lesson space as a tactical simulation, the second version of Empire.

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