Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Game 116: Empire I: World Builders (1981)

As I suspected, DarkSpyre's playing-to-interesting-blog-material ratio is turning out to be quite high. I've finished about nine levels but I don't have a lot to say, so while I try to scrounge more material for something interesting about that game, let's clear out another 1981 offering. That I'm able to play it at all is due to reader Josh Lawrence, who scanned me a copy of the manual and its vital list of command words.

Empire is a uniquely weird game. Its weirdness begins with its manual, full of a propagandist history of the empire that offers an alternate take on human history, and continues with its interface, mechanics, and overall gameplay goals. If it was created today, I would suspect its creator to be a gifted but extremely disturbed person. But 1981 was a time in which video games were new, and common tropes not yet established, and this game comes from a creator (Edu-Ware Services) that specialized in educational software rather than role-playing games. Even with this understanding, playing the game feels a bit like indulging someone's lunacy.

Preparing to lift off into space.

The game takes place in the future, naturally. The manual comes with an "official imperial textbook" called The Birth of a Free Empire. It's an extremely bizarre bit of propaganda that breaks human history down into periods called the "Primative Era," the "Feudal Era," the "Great Anarchy," and the "Imperial Solution," through which man evolves from "very savage man" to just "savage man" to "perfect man." The history is presented in a timeline that diverges from actual human history at some point--it has the nuclear destruction of San Francisco in between the invention of the computer chip and the moon landing--but it clearly suggests there was some kind of apocalypse after our modern era that ultimately led to the formation of an empire led by Gortus Lazur, glorified in the history as the first "perfect man." It's unclear how much of the fictional history is supposed to be an alternate reality and how much is supposed to be an imperfect recreation of actual human history, but either way it's entertaining in a somewhat uncomfortable way.

The "perfect man" is apparently a South American dictator.

The game begins with the player in a spaceport in New York City, just before he blasts off for the stars. The player enters the "new colonists" section and randomly rolls attributes for a new character, then determines whether the character is going to be a miner, missionary, or homesteader, which feels a bit like you're about to play one of the background NPCs in a traditional RPG.

Rolling stats for a new character.

One you choose your class, you're assigned an allotment of money and equipment. You then proceed through a medical check and customs before passing through the "boarding gate" and blasting off in your ship. You're treated to a launch animation, find yourself in space, and must immediately make a constitution check to see if you survived liftoff.

Assuming you survive, you're soon orbiting a "new planet," and this is where the game truly begins. If you choose to land on a planet whose atmosphere you can't breathe or whose gravity is too strong, you die. Otherwise, you can exit and start exploring. On each habitable planet, you can visit towns, fight creatures, interact with NPCs, sink and explore mines, establish homesteads, preach in public parks, buy and sell goods, and blast off for other planets or for home.
An NPC approaches me on a horizon that also contains a town and my ship.

The basic mechanic of Empire is to navigate through a series of simulated environments and situations using a baffling number of commands. Some of the activities are centered around the character's core role (miner, missionary, or homesteader); some, like combat and NPC interaction, are common to all roles. Success is influenced by the types of equipment you carry and constant attribute checks. There are many things that can kill you, including starvation and thirst (you start with 10 food and 10 water).

Selling ore at the company store.

An early goal on every planet is to find a town and purchase decent weapons. Of the dozen or so characters I created, most of them died while trying to find the town on the planet's surface. If you're lucky enough to arrive there, you find that every one has four shops: a casino, a "company store," a general store, and an armory. You can only gamble a maximum of $250, and winning is entirely about "psionics" checks rather than any actual strategy.

Combat--which can be triggered randomly or by attacking an NPC--involves a screen in which you and your enemy trade blows (or shots) and roll attribute checks to determine their success or failure, slowly taking damage to your body parts until one of you dies. If it's the enemy, you can loot whatever goods or food he had.

I don't know how to begin to describe the multitude of things that happen during the game. Weird creatures (including unicorns) appear on the horizons. Random vigilantes, soldiers, traders, and other NPCs show up and either give you items, offer trades, or demand items from you. Constitution checks every time you blast off can result in your death. Every time you move, there's a chance you might wind up in quicksand or drown in the ocean or suffer some environmental hazard. Dinosaurs attack. Sometimes, you just die without any explanation. One of my characters got this message randomly while he was exploring a planet:

I made a successful charisma check, was promised wealth, and suddenly found myself starting over in New York. When I checked the "off-worlders" section of the starting area, I found the character present, with an additional $50,000. I'm not sure what happened or how I got home.

Explaining gameplay, including commands, is perhaps best done with a couple of sample characters. These are a few who I managed to play for a reasonable amount of time. There were plenty of others that died in combats, falling into quicksand, starving, in mine collapses, or for absolutely no reason whatsoever.


I'll skip the earthbound parts of the descriptions, which always proceed the same way: STRAIGHT AHEAD to an examination room, STRAIGHT AHEAD through customs (the purpose of these screens seems to be to remind players of a character's attributes and inventory when reloading an old character), LEFT through the boarding gate, and a constitution check upon launching.

1.  Mark the Missionary

With lousy strength, this character makes a poor miner, and his extremely low speed doesn't recommend him well as a homesteader. The high psionics and intelligence scores, on the other hand, are perfect for a missionary.

The first planet Mark comes to has low gravity and a thin atmosphere, so he continues to SEARCH for a more likely candidate. The second has the right atmosphere but no government; he figures he needs a governmental system for the type of civilization that would be ready to receive his proselytizing. After a few more planets go by, he finally finds a suitable one: regular gravity, standard atmosphere, high population, modern technology, and an oligarchical government.

This stage of assessment is not unlike Starflight from five years later.

He LANDs on the planet and gives the command to GO OUT of his spacecraft. Finding himself on a barren plain, he decides to engage in a circular pattern to search for a town, going first EAST, then NORTH.

A "noble" approaches. Using the WHO command initiates dialogue. The noble introduces himself as Gaheris and gives Mark some of his food, which is awfully nice. He is followed almost immediately by another noble named Zora, but he simply says "hmmph!" and stalks off.

Mark proceeds WEST and WEST again and finds himself at the ocean. He becomes thirsty and chooses to DRINK some water.

Returning to the EAST and NORTH, Mark is approached by a soldier. When asked WHO, he says he's collecting taxes. Mark says NO to the request and finds himself jailed for two months (where?). When he gets out, he is immediately approached by a merchant WHO offers to sell water for 90 credits. Since Mark only has 500, he says NO and fails a charisma roll. Next along comes Gort the peasant WHO asks for food. As a missionary, Mark feels compelled to GIVE him some.

After some more wandering and unhelpful NPCs, Mark comes across Bonzo the Bandit, who demands his money. Mark says NO. Combat begins. Bonzo throws a broadsword (leaving him weaponless) but Mark dodges it. Mark hits RIGHT several times to approach Bonzo, and Bonzo flees before Mark can even get a screenshot. LOOKing reveals the discarded broadsword, which Mark GRABs.

In some mountains to the south, Mark meets Lazarus the Missionary, who gives him some food.

Mark continues to explore, DRINKing and EATing when necessary. Marco the trader appears and offers to trade his "electronic" for Mark's knife, but since the knife is the only weapon Mark has, he says no.

Mark is suddenly attacked by a "Bandersnach," a tyrannosaurus-like creature who swipes off Mark's right arm with his claws. Just as Mark assumes he's about to die, the "Lord of Light" appears and gives a "prophecy" that for some reason takes Mark to the "end of game."

When I reload, Mark is still available as a character and is back on Earth, so I load him up and launch him into space again. He LANDs on a planet run by a "company" government. He GOES OUT of his spaceship and immediately finds himself attacked by another bandersnach! (Oddly, he has his arm back.)

Things look bad for Mark at first. He loses his left leg and suffers damage to his torso, but he is ultimately able to kill the monster with his knife.

Flush with victory, he grabs the only item the bandersnach left--some food--and prepares to embark on his quest when yet another goddamned bandersnach appears, takes off Mark's right arm with a swipe, then disembowels him. I guess it was Mark's destiny to be killed by a bandersnach. He never got to find a town and PREACH.

2. Cornelius the Miner

Cornelius starts with strong strength and dexterity but poor senses, which should theoretically make him a bad miner, but I figure what the hell. The first planet he finds has a religious government and a mineral density of 6 on a 14-point scale. He LANDs and GOes OUT.

Fortunately, there's a town (and, for some reason, a unicorn) within the opening area, meaning Cornelius doesn't have to risk death wandering the planet looking for civilization.

Instead, he immediately sinks a MINE and begins hunting for ore. Using combinations of LEFT, RIGHT, UP, DOWN, and LOOK, he builds his mine and searches for minerals, using MINE whenever he thinks he's near something. Every movement is accompanied by an associated strength roll.

He nearly chokes on gas a few times and has to extricate himself from a couple of cave-ins, but otherwise he doesn't do too poorly. After mining about 10 units, he returns to the surface and goes IN TOWN to sell his ore.

In the general store, he BUYs a pistol and some bullets along with some leather armor.

At United Ores, he has the proprietor ASSESS his haul and sells it for 560 credits, which he reinvests in an electorch (a more sophisticated bit of equipment than his shovel). At a gambling facility, he GAMBLES 50 credits and wins.

Unfortunately, upon leaving town to sink his second mine, he is immediately attacked by a bandit. Though he LOADs his pistol and EQUIPs his leather armor and SHOOTs to the best of his ability, he is killed in the resulting duel.


I tried a few homesteader characters but couldn't survive long enough to do the core things that homesteaders are supposed to do: SETTLE to establish a farm, select a spouse, PLOW, SEED, HARVEST, and so on. All together, there are more than 200 commands in the game, and it's a bit difficult to keep them straight. There are a ton that I never found the remotest use for: TEST water; STEAL, ROB, or BRIBE;  get so desperate in combat that I had to use PUNCH, SLAP, or SLUG; PREACH or CONVERT as a missionary; CAPTURE stray animals or MATE livestock.

Empire is merciless in is lethality. Killed characters are immediately deleted from the disk. Since the game constantly references and saves the character file, using save states in the emulator doesn't work: if the game can't find the character file, it crashes shortly after you load the save state. You'd have to back up the character file every time you created a new save state and then painstakingly restore it.

There appears to be no way to "win" Empire--just to continually improve the character and try to survive in a hostile environment. You can theoretically return home in your rocket and attempt another profession with the same character, though I wasn't able to get anyone to survive nearly so long. Characters age--every action in the game takes time--and apparently 200 years old is the maximum playable character you can attain.

Empire was developer Edu-Ware's answer to the lawsuit that forced it to withdraw Space (an obvious ripoff of Game Designer Workshop's Traveler RPG). Empire lacks Space's detailed background development for the main character but obviously improves on the gameplay in other ways, and it's hard to argue that it's not an RPG--just a really, really odd one. In a GIMLET, I'd give it:

  • 3 points for the game world. Extremely original, yet not referenced during gameplay that I could see.
  • 3 points for characters. There's not much customization going on, and no development once created (in fact, the character slowly deteriorates), but the three "classes" do feature very different games.
  • 2 points for NPC interaction. There are some limited NPCs, and choosing whether to aid or fight them does offer some role-playing options.
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. The monsters are well-described in the manual and do behave and fight differently depending on type.
  • 2 points for combat. You have a lot of options, but only a few viable ones, and thus there aren't many tactics to pursue.
  • 2 points for equipment, used for both combat and core missions.
  • 2 points for the economy. I never outspent my starting cash, but perhaps I would have if I'd survived long enough.
  • 1 point for quests. There is no main quest, just gameplay mechanics that vary among classes.
  • 1 point for graphics, sound, and interface. Graphics and sound had not advanced anywhere by 1981 that I'd remotely recommend them. The interface, with its ridiculous selection of commands that work inconsistently, is mostly awful.
  • 3 points for gameplay. Non-linear and replayable, but extremely frustrating in its difficulty and lethality.

The final score of 22 isn't bad for a 1981 game, and if I had a lot more time or the game had a main quest, I'd love to play it longer and see what other gameplay elements it revealed. As it is, I'll have to leave that to you while I return to DarkSpyre.

We'll be encountering this series again if I'm able to play Empire II: Intersellar Sharks or Empire III: Armageddon. The manual for this game announces the sequel titles even though they wouldn't come out until 1982 and 1984, respectively. It sounds like they might have something approaching an actual quest.

The Empire series was designed by David Mullich (b. 1958), who was recruited into Edu-Ware when the company's owner met him working in a Los Angeles computer store. His first game was The Prisoner (1980), based on the cult British TV show. Mullich's long and currently-active history includes stints at Cyberdreams, 3DO/New World, and Abandon Interactive Entertainment, with credits on famous games like I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, the Heroes of Might and Magic series, and Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines. I've written to him to see if he's interested in commenting on this entry.

Back to DarkSpyre for me!


  1. Funny old cove, Bonzo the Bandit.Never could grasp the fundamentals of melee combat, bit of a hindrance in the banditry game.

  2. Didn't know this one. It sure looks very impressive, feature-wise, for its time - too bad the sequels seem to have vanished.

  3. Never heard of this game, though I have heard of Edu-ware. It reminds me of an Atari game called M.U.L.E. in which you purchase machines to either mine or farm on a planet and then sell your produce.


    Captain Kirk never had to roll his Constitution.

  5. Great write-up! The game seems wonderfully, intriguingly nuts. BTW was Mark DRINKing seawater?

    1. Looks a bit like a cross between Rogue (for it's relentlessness), a life simulator and a space exploration game. And throw in some random stuff that the other happened to think about for 5 minutes.

      Wonderfully strange game. Even if it isn't good it is still interesting to see these kind of experiments released back then that we hardly ever hear about now.

    2. That's how I feel. In this era, there was no "mainstream" yet, and individual developers and their ideas made for some truly original features, even if they were evolutionary dead-ends.

    3. Strangely, I see shades of Starflight in this game. Could this be the game that started it all for them?

    4. There are certainly some similarities, like mining for cash and having to evaluate atmosphere and gravity before landing on planets. I wouldn't be surprised if they'd been exposed to it. But most of the gameplay is very, very different.

    5. I don't get this fetiziation of the lack of genres back then. I mean, today everything is borrowing elements from other genres willy-nilly and yet there is 'no innovation due to genre pinged-holing'

      I mean, freaking CALL OF DUTY, the most mainstream, mass-marketed game around has RPG elements now. People are so sick of seeing multi-genre stuff on kickstarter that I saw people grumbling on twitter yesterday about how anything listing more then a few genres is basically crying for money.

      Mass Effect: Who would have thought to mix a third person cover based shooter with an RPG? I mean, those seem like two genres that don't go together, you know?

      Warcraft III was an RTS + RPG.

      Puzzle Quest Galactrix mixes a puzzle game and RPG.

      Fallout 3 mixes FPS and RPG.

      Everyone and there brother are borrowing elements of Roguelikes to the point the term has been diluted so much to be meaningless. (FTL IS NOT A ROGUELIKE DAMMIT!)

      I mean, I'm just naming random games I've played recently, but there is just as much genre mixing and matching as there ever was, people just like to whine about there being no innovation.

    6. For me it's not so much just "mix of genres" -- I totally agree there's a lot of genre combo'ing in both AAA titles and indie titles these days. But in most of these modern cases, it's a comboing of genres that now have 20+ year histories behind them as video games, genres which have a large amount of standardized UI features, conventions, gameplay mechanices and player expectations attached to them.

      By contrast the programmers in the 'wild frontier days' had no mainstream, and no widely-accepted way of trying to implement X or Y genre, so you get some very idoynscratic works, like Empre I: World Builders, often displaying gameplay approaches (here, an RPG-protoroguelike-simulation with a text-adventure interface) that did *not* get repeated elsewhere - which makes them interesting to look at, especially given that they were commercial products.

      I still find experimentation (failed or no) in modern gaming interesting too, it's just particularly interesting to see things that were done at the time there were no standards for doing such-and-such a kind of game.

    7. What Josh says is perfect. In the modern era, it's a deliberate blending of genres. In the early 1980s, it was an ignorance of the very idea of "genres" (though I don't want to oversell this point, since board games were around to supply a basic template). No matter how much mongrelization we see in the 2000s, we're never going to see the variety of elements that we're seeing in the early 1980s, if for no other reason that some of these blends were bad ideas that ultimately didn't work.

    8. At the same time we are seeing new genres emerge that we couldn't have done in the 80s; Portal has given rise to a number of physics puzzlers in both 2 and 3d that we simply didn't have the processing power for before (though, one could argue that The Incredible Machine was one). MMOs are a new genre, starting with Ultima Online, though they had roots in MUDs. I mean, that I know of the third person shooter genre, one of the most popular, only really got big with Gears of War on the Xbox 360.

      Sure, there isn't as much new stuff coming out, but that was because everything was new back then.

      There is still stuff that I have no idea how to put into a genre: Minecraft. FTL. Dwarf Fortress. 0x10^c. Flower. Audiosurf.

    9. MMOs are clear descendents of MUDs, and there were even graphical muds in the 80s:

      First person shooter: like some of the first CRPGS, an early experiment on a mainframe in the 1970's is actually the earliest example (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maze_War). For commercial computer gaming at large the real birth date should likely be placed with Wolfenstein 3-D (1992) and then Doom (1993) - both huge successes in the computer game market quite a ways before Gears of Wars Xbox 360.

      But let me be clear, my viewpoint is "the early days of computer gaming are fascinating because there were no set genre conventions and developers were making it up as they went along", NOT "nothing new has happened in computer gaming since the 80's".

      I am indeed very happy there are things like Poral, Minecraft, Flower, Journey and Dwarf Fortress around now. I am just *also* very intriuged by the wild and bizarre frontier days of computing gaming.

    10. Canageek was specifically referring to THIRD person shooter btw. There are several noticeable control and gameplay differences between those and FPs'es. Of course he is mistaken on the genre foundation still as Gears of War was directly indebted to RE4, which was to Max Payne, which was to Duke Nukem: Time to Kill, etc, and etc.

      Also I'd like to second the notion that there were in the 80's and are in the now several unique gameplay experiences to be had and that that is a good thing ;)

    11. OOPS, sorry, I did totally miss the THIRD in that 'person shooter' (and I've never played Gears of War, obviously)! So please disregard that part of my reply.

      Yeah, I think the advent of mobile gaming brought back some interesting elements that were similar to those early days:

      A) It being actually realastically possible to put out commerically successful games with small or even one-person teams, as opposed to the hollywood-blockbuster-movie size of AAA dev teams

      B) Having to deal with hardware constraints that consoles/PCs games have not had to deal with for a long time. Eg, there's some parallels between 'frontier day' developers trying to fit their programs and graphics in 64K (or less) RAM and mobile developers trying to keep their games from crashing people's phones if they use too many nice-looking graphics, etc. (Though this element is lessening with the continual release of more powerful phones and tablets...)

      I don't know what the most innovative results of these conditions have been, but I can say I've tried some very strange mobile games (along with, of course, non-innovative cookie-cutter clones of blockbuster apps...)

      And then Kickstarter fueling of indie games has had its own effect, and platforms like Steam for indie publishing -- so it seems a healthier time for indie experiments now than it has been for a while - or at least *feels* that way (I don't know the actual financial health of the indie gaming scene...)

    12. I'm still skeptical of kickstarter for games: I've only gotten one of the ones I've backed so far, and want to see what happens to the scene after the first big game comes out and is terrible.

      I do think that some hardware limitations are good. However, we are at the point that GTAV is loading from the optical disk and hard drive at the same time to increase the bandwidth, which, while a cool trick, means it is time to upgrade.

    13. Isn't Shadowrun Returns the first big game to come out of Kickstarter? It isn't terrible by a long shot. Better than 90% of the commercial stuff that came out in past years.

    14. VK: I mean the first big game to come out, and just plain suck. I mean, devs make bad games some times. It isn't just publishers that screw things up; Sometimes you run out of money, make bad decisions, don't listen to the QA people, etc. I'm sure the devs don't MEAN to make a bad game, but well, it happens. Heck, even goods devs make bad games: Gearbox has done some really solid work; Borderlands for example. Then they released Aliens: Colonial Marines.

      So, eventually there is going to be a promising game that either comes out and sucks, or fails to come out. Clang was a sword fighting game that just announced it has used up its half-million of funding, so it will be interesting to see if that puts a chill on KS funding. Also, the Double Fine adventure game is is financial trouble, so that could fail.

      I think a failure would have a chilling effect, but not nearly as bad as if Project Eternity or Wasteland 2 come out and are as unplayable as unpatched Temple of Elemental Evil (OR was it Ruins of Myth Drannor? Why do I get those mixed up?) Or what if Double Fine comes out and it is Gabrial Knight 3 bad? I mean, I'm really hoping these games will be good, I backed some of them, but frankly, bad games happen. It is only a matter of time before a big name game comes out and flops.

    15. VK: Sorry, to clarify: I don't mean KS games will suck, or that the first one that came out sucked. I mean, there will be one in future that raises a bunch and sucks.

    16. Ah, got it. Given Obsidian's track record a bugfest at release wouldn't be exactly unexpected, unfortunately.

      You probably meant Ruins of Myth Drannor, yeah. Though it worked fine for me, but I've heard it could completely erase your harddrive in some unfortunate scenario.
      Recently we had a new epitome of bugfest - Realms of Arkania HD, which is still barely playable and misses some crucial features after almost two months of daily patches. So you can stop worrying about mixing up RoMD and ToEE and use that as an example instead ;)

    17. RoMD only screwed up your hard drive if you decided to be some techie dork who was too good for the default file location. "Oh, I'd never store things in C:\Program Files. That's for the common people. I must store it in an obscure folder on one of my many partitions instead."

    18. There can be numerous reasons to have many, esp back in the day. For example in my late teens I shared a PC with my mom's boyfriend, so we had our HDD split into personal patitions so that none of us would use too much space at the expence of the other. Later I bought my own PC. It came with preinstalled OS, and some techie dork has already split the disk in such a way, that there just wasn't enough space to install anything on C other than Win. And since I also installed my old disk, which I had no motivation to reformat, as a secondary HDD onto it, I ended up with five partitions in total ;)

    19. So I don't really know why I had no bad experience with RoMD. Maybe the pirated version (licensed games weren't quite available in Russia until a bit later) was the one already patched. Or maybe removing whatever DRM it had also removed the bug.

    20. Or you bought your computer when hard drives were expensive, and then put in a larger one later, that you kept your games on.

      Or you set up the computer when there weren't many drive repair tools that supported NTFS, so you kept your main drive FAT32, then put all your files and games on an NTSF drive.

      Or you bought a really fast drive for C, so the OS loads quickly, then a larger, slower one for your programs and files.

      Actually, windows whole thing about using one drive for everything is really DUMB and makes backing things up harder. On linux you can just back up /home and /usr and be done with it, rather then trying to find which things saved to where.

      On my Dad's comptuer it would work fine some of the time, but most of the time people would have parts of them turn transparent and blurry or wouldn't show up at all.

    21. You should be skeptical of individual kickstarter projects (especially the field for 'date of delivery'), although not the medium itself.

      For instance, Neal Stephenson's 'Clang' was a silly thing to back. It was a vague pie in the sky project that required multiple things falling into place to even get off the ground.

      On the other hand, Wasteland 2 was putting money into a group of people who have a track record of producing quality versions of exactly what they were setting out to produce.

    22. Yeah, Linux does make backing up important things easier, but it still makes sense to have multiple partitions (depending on who you ask, of course).

      Nowadays I have two partitions on my laptop and three on my desktop PC. At one point I'm going to have to add a fourth, so I can install MacOS on my wintel :D (it's legal where I live, in case anyone's wondering).

    23. I backed Shadowrun too. Not THAT disappointed, though. Less than what I expected, but it is still a lot better than most RPGs available now.

      From what I see so far, Wasteland 2 seems pretty sweet (backed that mofo too). And I'm having a good vibe for Project Eternity and Tides of Numenera; which I also backed.

      I think I'm turning into a backing-addict.

  6. That sounds fabulously demented. About the only unsurprising part of all this was that the author also wrote "The Prisoner". As well as being based on McGoohan's bizarre TV show, that game has a very distinct (and very odd) aesthetic of its own. The Digital Antiquarian has an excellent discussion of it here: http://www.filfre.net/2011/11/the-prisoner-part-2/

    1. It sounds like every game that company produced was really, really bizarre. I can't even imagine watching The Prisoner and thinking, "this would make a great video game," copyright issues aside.

    2. Wow, that article in the Digital Antiquarian has a comment from "Andrew Schultz". Isn't he the person famous for all his early walkthroughs?? Did he ever make an appearance here?

    3. I never new there was a game based on the prisoner, now I have to play it. I absolutely loved the series for its rampant oddness and eerie fun, but your right that it is hard to imagine as a game. Though I guess you could do an adventure game reasonable well based on the series.

    4. Every time I read "The Digital Antiquarian" I am struck by the two very well done but very different styles between him and our dear addict.

      If the two were conversations, The Antiquarian would be in college campus coffee house, and our Addict would be in a relaxed yet classy bar.

      The result of these styles is that I can consume our addicts posts while in the office killing time, and it is a relaxing thing to do. Where I get the feeling that I should be engaging in the kind of discussion that requires real work from the participants when I read the Antiquarian, and as a result is not relaxing or good for me to pass the time with.

      I'd like to implicitly state I am not making a value distinction between them, as I say they are both done very well. Instead I am speaking out loud my musings on why I have consumed all the Addicts posts and eagerly await for more but have trouble getting into the Antiquarians.

    5. If someone asked me, I wouldn't be able to choose between the two blogs - the CRPG Addict and the Digital Antiquarian. They're both great to read, but in very different ways.

      Articles on this blog are great if you're interested in the way a game plays and feels, going far beyond the traditional review style. It's almost a shared experience.

      Articles on the Digital Antiquarian are equally great, but if you're more interested in the back-story of the game - the people, the times, the technology.

      And they're not only different in their emphasis, but they're also different in their 'flavour'. One feels like an affable, yet very clever narrative, the other like a scholarly exploration of a subject.

    6. Jus, it's funny that you mention Andrew. I recently got in touch with him after a long time searching, and he just this week responded to a number of lengthy questions I sent him. I have to compile our discussion into a post later this month.

      Every time I read "The Digital Antiquarian," I get pissed that he writes better than I do and has a cooler name. I think my blog has better navigation, though. I've got that.

    7. Chet, I think you could, you know... have that interview written into a book? That book you want publish and we want to read?

    8. Nah, it doesn't fit well into the concept I have for the book.

      I still don't understand why everyone wants a book. It's like you all think I have all kinds of material I'm holding back on. Really, anything interesting I can think to say, I'm already saying in my postings.

  7. select a spouse, PLOW, SEED, HARVEST
    nudge nudge wink wink

    1. MATE is a command that you're supposed to use to breed livestock. 11-year-old me was eager to find out what happened when you enter MATE SPOUSE. Alas, I never got a homesteader that far.

    2. Plough 'em all!

    3. Being Australian, I would have assumed 'MATE' was the command you used with NPCs


    4. In fact, "MATE" is the verb that homesteaders should use to procreate and have a family to help them on the farm. And the game admits the synonym "F*CK"... It's funny because the missionary must use the command "MATE LORD" when preaching to raise in rank with the religion of the Lord of Light, and the synonym is also allowed there...

  8. I guess Cornelius died because of the dense atmosphere. There's a red square next to the atmosphere indicator, I'm inclined to think that is a bad thing. I guess it's not easy to see if it's red or green because of your color blindness.

    Interesting to see Edu-Ware did these kinds of games too. I've read the digital antiquarians coverage of some of their other games, an interesting read as well. :)

    1. Huh. I had no idea what that side of the screen was even telling me.

    2. I just looked at that screen shot again. The problem is, I was still in SPACE when that happened, searching for a likely planet. So the atmosphere shouldn't have had anything to do with it.

    3. That red box next to "Atmosphere" indicates a breach in the ship's hull, and if you don't "USE VACSUIT" when you see it, the character ends up dying.

  9. Interesting writeup. Thanks!

  10. Yish... I saw "United Orcs Inc." instead of "Ores". Stupid fantasy word relation syndrome...

  11. So much Illuminati packed into a single game.

    Pyramid, "world builders", "I am the lord of Light". Wow.

    1. That all went completely over my head until your comment. Thanks.

  12. I love this sort of game. There were no preconceptions of what a game should be, so people just went out and did whatever they felt like. Try this sort of thing today and you'll be roasted because you don't fit into a category. "I don't get it...is this supposed to be for strategy gamers or RPG gamers? It sucks!"

    I'd like to see download links for these obscure abandonware titles. This looks like one I'd like to try out.

    Also, nice to see that save states are being used.

    1. I wouldn't use save states for the games in my main series, but I find it more acceptable in these early Apple II games where I'm just trying to blow through and summarize them as quickly as possible. In this case, I thought that documenting what happens to a homesteader was more important than my concerns about "integrity," so I gave them a try, only to find out they didn't work anyway.

  13. The mining aspect looks like a distant ancestor of Minecraft. This does looks like a very forward-thinking game, too bad it was not developed much further.

  14. The Bandersnatch reminds me the the Bandersnatchi from Larry Niven's "Known Space" universe:


    1. When I hear Bandersnatch, I think Lewis Carroll's poem Jabberwocky: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bandersnatch

    2. I was wondering where the term came from. I should have looked it up.

    3. Lewis Carroll was popular with early gamers; one of the most powerful magic items in D&D for years was the Vorpral Blade.

    4. Yeah, and it took me a while to find out that "Vorpal" is the magical tendency to lop off the life-sustaining appendage (usually the head) of your enemy.

      Also, I wonder if the Snickers Snack bar have anything to do with the Jabberwocky.

  15. It would be great if the manual could be made available at some place online - maybe uploaded at one of the Apple specific sites (like the Apple Asimov FTP, Virtualapple.org or a similar place), so it's being preserved and other players could benefit from it.

    1. Here you go, watch out for the Bandersnatchi: ftp://ftp.apple.asimov.net/pub/apple_II/documentation/games/misc/Empire-I-World-Builders-DOCS.pdf

  16. I agree with the various comments about how the game is fascinating for being such a unique, odd, hybrid/experiment, the kind of thing that makes this 'untamed frontier' period of game development so interesting.

    I didn't get as far as you, Addict, when I tried it before, though - my first characters all died early unlucky deaths, and then one hit a bug which crasehd me to an Applesoft BASIC error prompt, and I moved on. But this write-up has encouraged me to try again and explore a little bit more. See if I can convert some colonists to the Empire/Illumninati's ways... :)

    1. Let me know how it goes. I didn't want to spend too much time on this back-tracking post, but if the game offers features that I didn't see, I'd love to know about it.

  17. This game was also released as "Space Conquerors" by SoftSmith, and that's how I've been searching for it forever. Thanks for the writeup and for the link to the instructions in the comments.

    Once you get deeper into the various professions, the profound weirdness becomes a lot clearer. The Missionary bits are deranged - I remember drinking blood and possibly sacrificing something? If you do poorly, you end up getting stoned by unhappy parishioners. And the MATE command in the Homesteader portion is, ahem, best experienced on an actual Apple II, since the disk drive makes, ahem, certain sounds.

    1. Interesting. I'm surprised that the game was popular enough to go by more than one name, and yet it can barely be found today.

    2. You could also type f*ck instead of mate, with the actual word and it would work! I stole a lot of mules and did a bunch of "mating" in this crazy game

  18. Fascinating. At first I thought the game designer was the child of scientology parents, or a fascist (the perfect man, and maybe that leader is like Hitler, or something). It also reminds me of the South Park episode on planet Marklar where Pat Robertson's (?) organization tries to convert extraterrestrials on their planet.
    I think in those days, it wasn't necessary to really have a stringent game concept. It was enough to dazzle the player with ideas. It seems there's not much actual "playing" in this game, it's more a series of inevitable, but interesting events.

  19. When I played this again on an emulator, I set the emulation speed to really slow so I could roll a character with all 18s for my stats. That dramatically increased my survivability, but I still couldn't find any kind of endgame state. As a miner, I was able to mine up tons of ore to sell, but I don't know what else to do once you buy all the best equipment. As a priest, I was able to "conquer" one of the sects by figuring out the right commands for their trials until they told me to go and conquer other sects. Haven't been able to figure the other two though.

    This blog is great for discussing old gems like this. I haven't found any other forum dedicated to discussing this game. Maybe we can all figure out a way to see the ending, assuming there is one.

    1. Nice to hear from a fan. Do you remember if the "Lord of Light" stuff gets any clearer?

    2. Well it seems the Lord of Light is an all-powerful deity that the Empire does not recognize the existence of. As I recall, every time you die there is a small chance of meeting the Lord of Light. Then you make a psionics or charisma roll, and if it's successful he gives you a reward and brings you back to life. If not, he tells you a quote and you die. One of the rewards is lots of money. Another is the ability to magically teleport from the space station to your ship, skipping customs. And I think another one is he bumps your charisma up to 18.

      One of the death quotes is that preview for Empire II, and another is something like, "An empire is not built in a day, nor by a man." That makes me think there is a way to win, by building an empire with lots of followers. My theory is that can be achieved by each class. The missionary has to successfully preach to all the different sects until they all follow him. The homesteader has to succeed at the homesteading mini-game until you have lots and lots of children. And the miner has to make enough money so he can buy all the gear and supplies to wander a planet and find something. I never really wandered around the planets much because I could never find my way back to my ship.

    3. The Lord of Light can give two rewards if he appears when a missionary dies: money, or raising his Charisma, Psionics and Will to 18 and some crystals.
      The crystals allow you to skip the part where the character's age, limbs and luggage are checked before takeoff by passing a Psionics roll. Those same crystals allow you to eliminate any enemy using them in combat by passing a Psionics roll.
      Lastly, those crystals allow you to reach the only endgame semblance there is, just with the missionary, preaching up to the highest rank with the religion of the Lord of Light, which will only exist if the character makes it alive to the years after creation of the Empire (you are born a random year between 200 and 1 before its creation, although since you start at 18, you can start playing during the Empire).

  20. It seems if you die and meet the Lord of Light, you are automatically resurrected. The charisma roll is to see if he gives you a reward or not.

    Let me know if you are going to give this game another go. It seems the Missionary path would be most direct way to an ending. Guessing the correct command during the trials is a pain though.

  21. Hello, I recently downloaded this game, and does anyone know where I can find a manual for it? I don't think I could even really make an attempt to play it without one. Thanks!

    1. The link to the manual is just a few comments above you.

  22. I spent quite a bit of time playing this back when it came out. In fact, I found this blog on a search while remembering certain aspects of the game but not the title. I do not recall there ever being any sort of endgame but I did progress fairly far in all of the three professions.

    I recall retrying over and over on the stat rolling screen until I could get something halfway decent. Nothing like rolling a good character then dying during the launch. Special...

    Homesteading you could plant the different crops and rotating them was a thing. Yes, mating did involve the disk drive. Not quite as much as 'Dirty Disk Drive' did but it was something.

    Missionary profession I don't have any recollection of anything super unusual but I do remember being stoned to death more than once. I probably died the most as a miner if I recall.

    Nice trip down memory lane here. At first I was going to comment about the second game coming out but the more I thought about it I figured out I was remembering Cosmic Balance II vs. this game. Whoops. CB I remember being a great game and II was entirely different and I never quite figured it out.

    1. Thanks for adding a bit to our understanding of this odd series.

    2. Lol and then I loaded it up on the emulator after writing this and couldn't go more than 10 minutes before boredom set in. It's things like this that make me realize how spoiled I've gotten with new games.

      Oh, and I loaded up Cosmic Balance I and II afterward. I know for a fact I owned one or both but neither of them look even remotely familiar. Tried Sundog for a bit...10 mins later, bored. Spoiled!

  23. Thanks for this write up. My dad brought home an apple with Empire I World Builders in 1984. I've been trying to describe it to my husband for years and he was sure it was a fever dream.

    1. This is definitely a game that would be easy to remember but hard to summarize to someone else.

  24. "You can theoretically return home in your rocket and attempt another profession with the same character..."

    You can use the "HOME" command from anywhere on a planet's surface (or from your rocket) to return to the start of the game, but it does not allow you to start another profession, it is simply the way to save the game and exit. The only way to change careers is to become a missionary by helping a peasant or worker (by giving them food, water or money), and then talking to a missionary on the surface of a planet with no religious government (on those planets missionaries are like soldiers) and accepting his offer to join, or being a missionary caught stealing on a planet with medieval technology and being defrocked to miner.

    "Characters age--every action in the game takes time--and apparently 200 years old is the maximum playable character you can attain."

    The character can be discarded even with 150 if he does not pass a Charisma roll, but the missionaries can avoid this check if they have some crystals and pass a Psionics roll, being able to live indefinitely (although the count of years for the deterioration of attributes by age tops at 250). Crystals can be granted by the Lord of Light upon death, they can be stolen from a missionary on religiously governed planets, or they can be obtained by a miner by mining white rocks and then becoming a missionary.

    "There appears to be no way to "win" Empire--just to continually improve the character and try to survive in a hostile environment."

    Well, there is a unique screen with the title of the game that can be reached with a missionary character if he reaches the maximum rank preaching with the religion of the Lord of Light, although immediately afterwards the character dies (unless the Lord of Light revives him randomly).


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