Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Games To Play Before You Die: #2 - TradeWars 2002

TradeWars 2002 (1984)
Publisher: EIS
Designers: Gary Martin & John Pritchett

(“This has to be the single, largest man-made object you’ve ever seen. It continues
on for miles and contains the factories for all of the major brands of Space-going craft.
Since the material wars of 1998 on Earth, all ship builders relocated here.”)

They don’t get much credit these days, but for about two decades before the rise of the Internet, dial-up bulletin board systems, or BBSes, offered the only means to getting online. The conceit that one might connect to, and communicate with, other people via their computers was heady fare in 1984 - the stuff of “Neuromancer” and “Terminator" rather than the cultural zeitgeist that we take for granted today.

Inevitably, new kinds of shared social spaces lead to new kinds of play, and by the mid-’80s BBSes began to implement door games into their interfaces, allowing users to load external, multiplayer game modules. These door games, or doors, were typically text-based with ANSI or ASCII graphics thrown in for flavour, and while they did not offer simultaneous multiplayer, they are notable for the fact that they were our first taste of interactive online gaming.

Nowhere was this more engaging than in TradeWars 2002. It was far from intuitive and had a steep learning curve, compounded by the fact that, like most doors of the time, a set number of daily turns were distributed to each player in order to discourage them from staying connected to the BBS and tying up the incoming phone line for other users. Planets, ships, starports and corporations were all defined by so many stats, rankings and variables that the casual or new player might find themselves intimidated right off the bat. And yet, once you got the hang of it, TradeWars 2002 was a genuinely addictive game.

Nominally a trading sim, TradeWars 2002 possesses so many traditional and open-world roleplaying game elements that it may be considered a proto-MMORPG. There are no missions, no narrative and no canonical characters... Just a vast, open galaxy of sectors to explore, planets to mine, colonies to establish, and space pirates to fight. Interestingly, it was also one of the first games to include morality alignment, with benefits from and detriments to being either good or evil, and guilds, here called corporations, within which players may trade or share resources, ships and colonies.

TradeWars 2002 boasts a faithful collective of fans to this day, and Telnet-based tournaments are still held. In 2007, EIS in partnership with Sylien Games announced that they were remaking the game under the title TradeWars Rising, updating the graphical user interface and introducing true massively multiplayer elements but retaining the essential mechanics of gameplay. As of this writing, TradeWars Rising is in Beta and is free to play at

(Supported systems: DOS and Windows-based systems, required dial-up connectivity.)

1 comment:

  1. The game is alive and well and actively under development. Check out - the Official EIS forum for Tradewars 2002.

    Check out
    for a list of current game servers.

    Linda aka Cruncher
    telnet: port 23