BBSmates Interview with John Pritchett

John Pritchett has send it his answers, amazingly in the same day!.
Below are the questions that you submitted and his responses.

StarshipTrooper: Are you dissapointed that the "2002" of the Trade Wars universe never came to be?  Or at least hasn't yet?  :)

John: This one would be better directed to Gary Martin, since he is the one who named the game ;) Remember that I didn't get involved with Gary until 1995. Honestly, I'm not sure why 2002 seemed like such a distant, futuristic year to Gary when he named it back in the late 80s. It was just over 10 years down the road. He told me once that the name was chosen with one thing in mind, to get his files at the top of the BBS file lists. 2002v* would usually be right there at the top, and that's good marketing ;)

I've been working on a replacement for the existing fiction for various reasons, including the fact that 2002 has come and gone, and also because so many of the elements in the fiction are borrowed from Star Wars and Star Trek. I fear being approached by lawyers some day and told that I owe these companies damages for copyright infringement. Yikes! Anyway, in my fiction, I have the TW universe existing approximately 10 millennia in the future. Hopefully that fiction will appear in TWv4, the new version of TW I'm working on.

(Anonymous): When do you think you will put out bug fixes to TWGS? It has been ages since you have done anything of that sort.

John: It's been just over a year. Considering I normally released revisions a few times per week, that is definitely too long. Some of you know that I went to work for Realm Interactive last year, and that's the excuse I have for neglecting it. But I haven't shelved it, and I have just gotten down to work on a new revision this week. So I would expect a new revision within a week or two (it's slow getting things back on track). But don't expect many new revisions of TWv3 from this point on. I'm trying to close development of that version so I can develop TWv4. Both v3 and v4 will continue to run under TWGS, and the evolution of TWGS will continue.

(Anonymous): How do you feel about the manipulation of Trade Wars: Dark Millennium into a completely different style of game? Was it for the best or were you disappointed about the outcome?

John: I have mixed feelings. Originally, Realm convinced me that they had a solid vision of what a modern Trade Wars should be. I had turned down other requests by game companies to create a TW game because they were typically more interested in a space simulation (like Privateer) than a strategy game. If any of you saw X-Beyond the Frontier, that's an example of what I wanted to avoid. Realm wanted to keep the essence of Trade Wars in a modern 3D game. What happened, I believe, is that they ran into a wave of such games coming from various sources; Earth and Beyond, Freelancer, Jumpgate, and some others. They were able to get a good amount of attention, but were never able to land a publisher. Because of this, they started to evolve the game into a genre that publishers were interested in seeing. Genres peak in waves, and the space trader genre was pretty active at that time. David (head programmer at Realm) basically decided that a Diablo in Space design would be less likely to compete with these other g mes. I can definitely understand that motivation. Obviously I would have liked to see the game proceed according to my vision, but that was never really an option, and I'd rather the game be called something other than Trade Wars if it's not going to be the kind of game that I believe Trade Wars should be.

Of course, it hurts that I no longer have a financial interest in the success of the game :(

(Anonymous): Can you give us any hints on what you're working on now/next (and a little description)?

John: I've recently posted a few messages on the gameop forum at that really goes into some details about what I'm working on now. In general, after my experience with Realm I've decided that independent game design is really where I want to be. I'm interested in many different genres ranging from puzzles and arcade games to turn-based strategy, and from stand-alone to extended online games (what I call XOGs, like Trade Wars), but NOT perpetual online games like Everquest and Exarch (Realm's game). Most recently, mostly as a learning experience, I wrote a chess variation that included a graphical game interface and the AI engine to allow the computer to play the game. Now that I'm done with that, I'm getting back to TW. The reality is that TW is my best potential for any future success as an indie developer. Any other work I do will probably be recognized initially because I'm the TW guy ;) So I definitely have plans to continue with the Trade Wars franchise. As part of the Realm deal, I obtaied, and have finally established a trademark on the Trade Wars name, both of which are good for marketing. I'll be open to requests from game developers who may be interested in using the name on a project (as long as they have the right vision), but I will also be proceeding with my own TW projects.

I have just started working with a programmer on a complete rewrite of Trade Wars. This will be the foundation for the next version of TW, version 4. It will be written in C and highly portable. The goal is to release the new game for any platform that we can compile it for, including *nix and, of course, Windows. I will continue to package the game with the game manager, TWGS, and I hope to be able to add another game or two to it as well. Obviously there are other versions of TW out there, even non-Martech versions, and I'm interested in releasing the better ones under TWGS if I can. Also, I want the TWGS core server to be isolated from the graphical client, allowing a gameop to connect to the server via telnet or the graphical client for remote administration. The changes and improvements planned are too numerous to mention, but that gives some idea of where that's going. Beyond that, I'm interested in creating a more modern Trade Wars, something that I hope will be more appealing to the modern player.

Space Ghost: First let me say it was a pleasure to Beta Test and PLAY current versions. My Corporation is the only perma corp listed in the Credits for Beta Servers and we will continue to support TWGS. When will your jump gate thats included in your current software be activated? And How will it work?

John: While there are not many things I intend to do with TWv3 from this point forward (just critical bug fixes), JumpGate is a feature that I definitely want to complete. Actually, the basic functionality has been ready for a long time. I've been wanting to implement more features, but haven't been able to find the time. So I'm going to go ahead and open it up as a basic, automated game listing system. That should get the ball rolling. After that, it can begin to evolve.

The bare bones system will basically allow you to select what games to publish on the JumpGate site, and it will post details about the game to the site. This will work very much like other TW list sites like Micro's list that some of you might have seen. I originally had the idea from conversations with him, and he worked on the early details with me. One of the major problems with running TWGS is getting people to your games, and for players, finding the games. I've sold about 2000 servers so there are a few out there, yet most game lists only have a few. JumpGate would bring all of those active games together into one gathering place. Players can scan for games based on particular settings, etc. And probably most importantly, this site can be posted to online game sites to attract new players and to make old players aware that the game is still actively played.

Ender: Hey...first off let me start by saying that I really love trade wars... and I have dedicated alot of free time to the game. I grow bored and tired of the invincible feds tho...I wish that we could blow the feds and capture terra if we wanted to try...a new version should be created Trade Wars Platinum...

John: Even in TWv4, I don't expect to allow Feds and FedSpace to be vulnerable. At least not in the stock game. In Gold extensions, perhaps. I've always liked the idea of allowing the Feds to be controlled by AI, like the Gold aliens. There are so many things that could be done with them. There could be a whole fleet of Fed ships available, so when one is destroyed, another could come out to take its place, and maybe a few could go out in search of the slimeball that destroyed the Fed.

One of the goals of TWv4 will be a much more open Gold expansion system than I was able to achieve with the legacy code of TWv3. Under Gold games, this should allow the gameop to have much more control over every element of the game, from Feds to StarDock defenses, Citadels, ship systems, etc. The architecture will allow for that kind of thing, it's just a question of what I decide to allow in this particular version of the game.

Cruncher: Now that 2002 has come and gone, do you have any plans on changing the name of the game to a much future year? Say.. 2442?

John: Now that this version of TW is the only version that's still sold commercially, fully supported, and in development, I may consider dropping the date and just calling it Trade Wars. It's already true that many people confuse the older, non-Martech versions of TW as being the same as this Trade Wars. That's not to say that I want to attempt to take away the credit others deserve for their work on Trade Wars variations. I've done a lot of research on where TW came from (you can see my timeline at ), and I intend to continue to give credit where it is due, primarily to Sherrick/Morris and the Martins. But for future work on Trade Wars, my hope is to be THE Trade Wars, not just one of several variations.

Based on the fiction I've developed to replace the existing fiction, I do have a name I might use that doesn't include a year at all. I won't say what that name is right now, though.

(Anonymous): Do you still support the bbs community, or just the game?

John: I've never really been a part of the BBS community. As soon as I had the opportunity, I created TWGS as a game manager for TW to replace the BBS. Of course, I have worked to keep TWGS functional with BBSs because I recognize the value of the BBS as a user management system. TWGS has never attempted to be a BBS replacement in that respect. It doesn't even remember players from one connection to the next. If you want to have security, you should run TWGS from within a BBS.

The BBS went into a major decline when the web started to offer all of the services that the BBS offered (ftp, irc, email, etc). Nostalgia keeps the BBS alive. The last major piece of the BBS that the web has not quite replaced is the door game, and I expect to see public game hosting increase over the next few years. TWGS is an evolution of the public-hosted door game away from the BBS and onto the net, but most online games are what I call monolithic server games, running from a single site (MUDs, Java games, subscription game services, etc). There haven't been many games released that allow the public to create and host their own games. I divide online games into three models, ephemeral online games (EOGs) like Quake, extended online games (XOGs) like Neverwinter Nights, and perpetual online games (POGs) like Everquest. EOGs have been available for public hosting for quite awhile, but Neverwinter Nights was the first commercial XOG. My point is that the XOG is nothing more than an evolution of the BBS door, just as email, ftp, and irc are the evolution of their BBS counterparts. So while I don't see the BBS as having much of a future, I do believe very strongly that it deserves much more credit than it gets for its role in the evolution of the Internet that replaced it.

(Anonymous): Will there ever be a 'visual' version of TW? Like on playstation or pc 'Master of orion'? It's really great seeing a 2003 version! Thanks for keeping it alive!

John: If I manage to keep at this, it's one of my goals. TWv4 is a step in that direction. While v4 will still be text-based, it will have a modern architecture that is fully capable of supporting a graphical version, and it will attempt to solve some of the design issues that make v3 impractical as a graphical game. There are two ways a graphical version of TW could come about. One, if a major company wishes to create the game, I just might let them. Two, I will do it myself. The quality of the game will certainly be much greater in the first case, but I wouldn't let that stop me. Any graphics will be better than none ;)

(Anonymous): When will the Linux version be available? (heh)

John: Hopefully within a year (gulp). Because the multiplatform v4 is being written entirely from scratch, as opposed to the v3 multiplayer conversion that was built over the legacy v2 code, it could take some time. I spent about four months writing the v3 engine, and about two weeks integrating it into the v2 code to create v3. I don't know how long it will take my programmer to finish the engine for v4, but I do expect the process of rewriting the game (including the proposed changes) with that new engine to take awhile. I have the benefit of being able to work full time on it (if I choose), so it can definitely be done. In what timeframe, though, I just don't know ;)

Basically, just be aware that TW has neglected Linux for logistical reasons, and not out of a lack of respect for the OS. While I'm primarily a Window's programmer by necessity, I despise Windows and have a great deal of contempt for Microsoft (that's a whole other area I shouldn't get into ;). Any OS that can overcome the Microsoft strangle-hold has my full support. With the possible exception of Apple (again, I just shouldn't go there ;).

(Anonymous): Will there ever be a 3-D version where we could actually see our planets/ships/etc.? (like a Master of Orion2)

John: Most likely it will be 2D isometric rather than true 3D, but that depends. If when the time comes to create that game 3D isometric games are as appealing as the best 2D games (I don't currently feel that they are), then it could be true 3D. But it won't be a simulation where you're flying the ships around. It'll be more of an overview of the game environment, and simulated computer interfaces, that sort of thing.

(Anonymous): What inspired you to create/make/continue Trade Wars?

John: My role has been pretty minor. Chris Sherrick created it, Gary Martin made it what it is today, and I rear-ended Gary's minivan on the way to work one day. That's how I got started working with TW.

The primary reason I have stuck with TW for so long has to do with the fact that I want to develop games but I'm stuck in a small town in Nebraska. I've been working on TW since before indie game development was even practical because it was the easiest way for me to get a response from my work as a lone programmer out in the wastelands of the midwest. It has allowed me to be in contact with a pretty incredible list of developers in the industry, including Drew Markham of Gray Matter Studios (Return to Castle Wolfenstein), Sid Meier of Firaxis (you know who that is!), Richard Garriott of Origin and now NCSoft (Ultima!), Raph Koster of Sony Interactive (Ultima Online, lead designer of Star Wars Galaxies), and various contacts from just about every major game company. I've exchanged email with a US congressman, the author of QModem (who is now the owner of a local telephone company), one of the original developers of DikuMUD, and the CEOs of a number of companies, all of whom are fans of the game. In terms of networking, it has been invaluable. But I've always felt that the interaction I've had with the players and gameops in relation to this game has been a valuable experience as well. The game has taught me a great deal. I keep thinking that I should move on and apply what I've learned to other games, but then I keep thinking that there's still so much potential in Trade Wars. For now, I'd just be happy to get beyond TWv3 ;)

(Anonymous): Do you have any tips at playing the game?

John: Ahem... I've never actually played the game.

(Anonymous): Is there an intergalactic version of TW? One galaxy fighting another?

John: This is something I've discussed with people quite a bit. Actually, Gary and I originally conceived of an intergalactic TW sequel back in 1996 and I left my day job to start working on it. I got caught up on TWv3 instead and it never came about. I still love the ideas in that design, though, and the idea of having clustered TW games with the server passing players around multiple gameworlds is great. That's something that I would like to implement one day.

(Anonymous): What is your background?

John: Born and raised in Independence, MO (home of Harry Truman ;), graduated William Chrisman High School in 1987, worked for awhile, then went to KU and spent five years on a four year degree. My degree is in Engineering Physics. I didn't take any computer courses because at the time they didn't really have much to teach me that I didn't already know from using computers in my spare time. Now days there's so much to learn, I'd definitely take a serious load of CS courses if I could. Anyway, from there I went to work at Multi Service (the company that ran Metropolis BBS and now runs GamePort) as a programmer in their fuel credit card billing department (turned down a job in Redondo Beach, California working on satellite systems for TRW because I wanted to stay close to my fiancé who was in medical school in KC). That's where I met Gary, and after two years, I quit and started working full time for Martech. In '98, I left Martech and started EIS. Got married in '99 (finally!). In 2000, I got involved with Realm, and I went to work for them in 2002. That fell through, and now I'm considering my options for the future.

Lazarus: What programming language is used for TW?

John: Originally, TW was written in BASIC. It was almost immediately ported (hacked) into Pascal. Gary Martin worked on his version of the game in Turbo Pascal. When I got it, I converted it to Delphi, first as a 16 bit Windows app and then as a 32 bit app. If v4 proceeds, it'll be the first time Martin's version has been implemented in C. Sherrick's version went to C in '89. It was 32 bit long before Martech's version as well ('92 vs '99 for TW2002).

Lazarus: When/what was the first version of TW?

John: I could say it was '74 when the original Star Trader code was first published. That was the core trading system of the game. Sherrick's version, the first game called Trade Wars, came out in '84. Martin's version which evolved into what's played today was originally done in late '86.
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