Interview With A Trader

Interview with Gary Martin by Gypsy

This interview of TradeWars 2000 developer Gary Martin was conducted by Gypsy's War Room and is copyright 1997 Crystal Ball Productions. Because the War Room appears to be offline, I'm archiving a copy here.

(The War Room): First Thank-you Gary for agreeing to do this interview with me. The visitors of The War Room will no doubt be very happy to hear from you.

(Gary Martin): Well I'm glad to do it! Thanks for your patience in waiting for my replies.

I think we would all like to know a little about you, what is your background?

Well the closest label anyone could put on me would be "Dilbert". I'm a Systems Engineer, working mostly on midrange and mainframe computer systems. I went to the University of Kansas and majored in Comp. Sci. I've always been addicted to computers and enjoyed making them perform. Since computers were also my hobby, it made for a very enjoyable career as well.

What is the history of Tradewars? When did you envision this as a BBS door game?

A very long time ago Hewlett Packard released a book titled "The People's Book of Computer Games" that contained an interesting little game called "Star Traders". It was in Basic, and about two pages long. This little PD game, however, contained the original concepts that made up TradeWars. There was another, older Basic program out for RBBS called Trade Wars by Chris Sherrick that wouldn't run on the Genesis BBS I was running in 1984. Since Genesis was written entirely in Turbo Pascal, I needed to make a TWs game that was essentially a Pascal routine to be able to run it on what was then Castle RavenLoft. While some other people had tried to convert Sherrick's Basic program to Pascal, they hadn't been able to create anything that didn't crash constantly.

There wasn't a useable trading game out for my BBS software, so I sat down to "roll my own". After about 6 months I had a rudimentary version working with a whopping 100 sector universe. Within a year, I had enlarged that game to 500 sectors, added I/O routines and made it a stand-alone program. About this time the support for Genesis BBS dried up, so I switched to WWIV. I was really impressed by the number of sysops that called the WWIV home system so I decided to put together Trade Wars 2001 and make it available to the other WWIV Ops. From there, it started to gain popularity at an amazing rate, and a few years later (after meeting MaryAnn and getting her help) we released the first TW2002 beta.

This project was never designed as a money maker, but instead started because I wanted a trading game on my BBS and there just wasn't one that worked. Its taken a tremendous amount of programming time over the years, but it has been a very enjoyable project.

Why did you give/sell High Velocity Software rights to the game? How do you feel they have handled the game since?

Some time around 1990 I was getting interested in the aspects of live, multiuser game play. I setup a four line MajorBBS and got all of the development tools to go with it. (which is a very expensive thing to do). After puzzling over the bizarre methods used inside the MajorBBS for about a year and a half, I came to the conclusion that it would take me too many years just to understand all of the BBS' interworkings, let alone create a version of TW2002 that would work on it.

At that time the regular DOS style BBS and the PCs available were just not capable of doing the real-time strategy game that I was envisioning. Also, my little four line MajorBBS had grown into a forty something line BBS covering Lawrence with remote DDS lines into Kansas City and it was taking up a HUGE amount of time to maintain. I got to know High Velocity through their other games that they had developed for the MajorBBS that I had purchased for my own system. I respected the high quality level of their work and the imagination that I saw in their products. Jeff Moriarity and I started talking about game development through the MajorNet (a networked mail system) and one thing led to another and finally we decided on a partnership. High Velocity had the experience and tools to create the multiplayer, interactive version that I wanted for my own MajorBBS, but didn't have the time to create myself.

Over the course of a year and a half, HVS took my Pascal code and made the extremely difficult conversion over to "C" and the Pharlapp DOS extender that the MajorBBS' wait-state approach required. Had they started from scratch, they could have created a much more stable program, but time considerations required the approach we took. I was quite amazed at how well they were able to take my somewhat hodge-podge code and convert it into a MajorBBS product.

Note: We did not sell the rights to the game to HVS, but merely developed a partnership where they did all the work of porting the code, (which meant a 50% rewrite), and then marketing and supporting the product. HVS has done an excellent job of this as far as I'm concerned. Many people have dogged HVS for the price that they charge for the MajorBBS version and to those folks, I'd like to say "YOU JUST DON'T GET IT!" When we did the MBBS project, there were about 1,000 MajorBBSes out there that were into games and might be potential customers. Compare that to the 60,000 DOS BBSes that were my customers, and you can see how little payback there was for HVS in the MajorBBS market. If you use standard business logic, the MajorBBS version should cost sixty (60) times as much as the DOS version.

Simple math says that my $15 DOS version should be a MajorBBS product costing at least $900 for such a small market. I was just a hobbiest working in my spare time while HVS is a full time company employing many people. Instead of going for a huge price, Jeff decided to price the MBBS TW2002 at the same cost that the other adventure games for the MajorBBS were selling for. (and most of those games were rather mediocre and typically users got bored with them in a few months and would not play them any more) My personal opinion is that HVS was following the Martech tradition of offering a very fun, very additicting game for a VERY reasonable price that would keep users interested for far longer than any other game out there.

How do you feel Tradewars has progressed over the years? How do you feel about some of the new options available to sysops (twpro ect.)?

Well since I originally created the concept of an in-game interface to the player's data to enable other addons, it naturally follows that addons like TwPro from HVS fit the same gaming concept that has always existed. We wanted the game to evolve and the third party addons for the DOS version have helped that for the most part. If I had the spare time to create something similar to TwPro for the DOS version, I would have done the same.

With regards to how the game has progressed over the years, I'm very happy with what I've had the time to do, but wish I could have implemented more than about 10% of my ideas. There are so many other things I want to see in a Space Opera that its just going to have to wait for a different project.

How do you feel about all the add-on programs that have been made for the door version?

To elaborate on that, there are some add-ons that I admire, and some that I think, frankly stink. I think the folks that do the "gaming aids" or "helpers" are doing a fantastic job and I'm glad the Computer Interrogation Mode was that helpful in getting them started. I've always considered TW2002 a STRATEGY game first and foremost though, so anything that adds a random factor that can significantly help or hurt a player is a BAD thing in my opinion. For years people have begged for a "logon lottery" or some other method that gives them a free advantage. I think this is an insult to the players that play the game as it stands and work hard to build up their position. I dislike seeing roving hazards like the "Borg" or other such calamities that upset the balance that we've tried so hard to instill into the game. Most of those types of addons are just not even close to what I consider a positive addition to the game.

Where do you see Tradewars in 5 years? Further?

As you know, we've just released version 3.xx of Trade Wars 2002. This will be the last version in the 2002 series as we're just carrying around too much legacy code in the TW2002 project to make the advances we want to see in a multiplayer game. Version 3.x adds full multiplayer combat, chat and interactivity that I've always wanted to have in the DOS version. Its taken this long for the hardware and software of BBSes to catch up to what I needed for the split-second timing control of multiple users. Mustang Software's Winserver does this very nicely under Windows NT. We regularly have 8 to 10 players inside TW2002 on Castle Ravenloft without any lag.

Do you or did you ever consider making Tradewars more of an interactive graphical game? Do you feel in todays market that Tradewars can survive against networked games such as DOOM, Duke and the host of other interactive shoot'em ups?

I've definitely considered it, but Tradewars isn't a first person "shoot em up" like Doom. It's a strategy game in my view, and will stay such a product. Now this could benefit by a glossy GUI and cool sounds, but that would be a complete rewrite and we'd much rather just do a new project, using all of the new techniques and technologies that are available instead of trying to "dress up" the old game. I greatly enjoy first person shooters in a networked environment (as is evident by the Location Based Entertainment store I started) but they will never be the same as a good strategy game.

Why the new door release? Isn't it in direct conflict and competition with HVS's MBBS version?

Jeff Moriarty of HVS and I spoke about this at great length. We both agreed that the new multiplayer DOS version was filling a different niche than the MajorBBS product. Version 3.x of TW2002 is designed for DOS systems (actually Win95/WinNT systems) and can handle from 1 to about 20 concurrent, interactive players. The MajorBBS product was designed to handle a couple HUNDRED players interactively. If someone wants to run a Trade Wars game with say, six lines or so, then the DOS version makes much more sense financially. If they want to have more than two dozen lines, then the DOS version couldn't possibly keep up and they need to look into the MajorBBS. (now called WorldGroup by the way).

Will there be regular updates to the new interactive door version?

Of course. We're currently on version 3.05 and John Pritchett (my programming partner now) and I will continue to support the version 3.x Trade Wars as long as people are running it. We didn't create version 3.x to make money, but rather to explore just how far we could push the old code engine in a DOS multiplayer environment. It was a fun project, even though it was about a 50% rewrite. (and is considerably more lines of code than version 2.x was) We've found that the old engine just couldn't work for the new game ideas we have so we'll have to start a brand new project for our future releases. Regardless of this, we will support and update version 3.x as long as there is interest in the game.

Speaking of the new door version, lets find out a bit about it.

Version 3.x is almost identical in appearance to version 2.x So whats the big deal you may ask? Well it took a great deal of work to make this program do the multiplayer dance. Version 3 also supports a wonderful communication system where players can have multiline chats, private conversations and great interaction in a "global command" style approach. This is a concept we learned from the MajorBBS, that you can make certain commands available from any input prompt in the game. Users can enter chat commands from ANY input prompt in the game. This may seem simple and logical, but it involves a considerable amount of code redesign.

All of the player to player interaction that users see in the MajorBBS version has also been added to version 3. Players will receive realtime messaging about other events happening while they're in the game. To simulate real-time, ships also move in real time now. The smaller ships can outrun the big, lumbering hulks. Many users in the DOS world were unaware of how the MajorBBS handled this and thought that version 3 was too slow. Their Sysop merely has to tune the amount of time that is added on a per turn basis while moving. I recommend a 1/3rd of a second amount. Turns are recovered in realtime as well, so there is no need to wait till Extern runs at night to get more turns.

Best of all, John has had the time to hunt down as many of the loopholes and ways people found to cheat the system in the past. We've tried to find all of the bugs that could give someone an unfair advantage. While this may have pissed off some of our players, we're much more interested in supporting those that want a strategic challenge instead of a quick way to get "rich" in the game and take over.

Is the price comparable to the old door version?

The multiplayer version will be free to previously registered TW2002 sysops who bought the game before April 1st, 1997 and the price for a new registration will increase to $25.

Will the scorpion be in this version?

The Scorpion, while a cute idea, doesn't really add anything to the game so we plan to leave it out at this time. It will remain a MajorBBS only feature.

Will the extender series work still?

The multiplayer version uses a new database engine, so the majority of the addons *will* need to be rewritten to work with the new locking system. We will be publishing a "developer's kit" that details how this can be done.

Is it a 5000 sector universe?

The base version will still be limited to 5000 sectors so that it can run under older DOS BBS setups. We could easily put out a DMPI version (Win95 or NT required to run it) that could support a ridiculous number of sectors, but the vast majority of our Sysops are asking for something that fits in a standard 500k of memory.

Will there be new ship classes? planets? stardock?

While we could add a ton of features to 2002, we aren't planning on it. This new release was just to change the game into a useable, relatively bug-free version that could run anything from a single line system up to a multinode DOS system with a few dozen lines. It has entirely new guts in the file handlers and resource alteration routines (anything that changes a value of a resource) to make it secure from multiplayer cheating. We've added a very slick chat system, a way-point navigation system and the majority of the features from the MajorBBS version that we felt were important to game play. We are currently testing it on the Loft at "" and anyone is free to call and check it out (Dialup is still 913-842-0300).

The main reason we aren't adding a ton of new features, is that we are in the process of writing two *new* games that are far superior to TW2002 in scope and features. These new products have two "phases" to them. The first phase is a BBS door game that is extremely expandable while the second phase ties all of the BBSes together that have permanent Internet connections into one huge, massively muliplayer game that will easily allow hundreds of concurrent players in a single game. We've been working on these projects for almost two years now, but they're still not ready for a public unveiling. (and won't be for some time) I will let you know that the first project will be a Fantasy Role Playing game of a scope that no one has ever seen either online, or as a stand alone product. The second will be another Space Opera of such a scale to make TW2002 seem like a "training simulation".

I appreciate you taking the time for this interview, I am sure that the visitors to The War Room will feel very happy to hear that you are once again involved directly in Tradewars and I really can't wait for this "New" game to be released. Thank You again Gary.

I'm glad I could answer your questions and I hope everyone will keep an eye out for our new products and also enjoy Trade Wars 2002, version 3 in the meantime!