History of Trade Wars 2002  -  John Pritchett

Trade Wars and its variants make up some of the earliest examples of the Online Space Opera genre, and more specifically, the Online Space Trader sub-genre.  There are certainly earlier works, like DECWars, MegaWars, etc, dating back to the very first online systems.  But the impact of the TW variants on the evolution of online games is clearly worth noting.

1966:  Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek debuts on television.  Many early space operas are inspired by, and often highly derivative of Star Trek.

1974:  People's Computer Company (PCC), a company that is still around today and who brought us Dr. Dobb's Journal among other things, publishes Volume 2, Number 3 of it's newsletter in January.  In this publication is a BASIC source-code for Star Trader by Dave Kaufman.  This game outlined the general details of a sector-based game with ports and a player moving between sectors trading three basic products (Fuel, Organics, Equipment) to earn credits.

This date coincides with the debut of DECWars, an early online space opera (maybe the earliest?).  I can't say that DECWars was influenced by Star Trader, or the other way around.  I've never personally played DECWars, but I've been told by TW players that there were similarities to what became TW2002.

1977:  George Lucas' Star Wars debuts in movie theaters.  For many in my generation (GenX), Star Wars is the start of a passion for space opera.

1977:  A book called "What to Do After You Hit Return or P.C.C.'s First Book of Computer Games" by Hayden Book Company is published.  It contains a short BASIC code listing for a game called Star Trader, which is a reprint of the earlier PCC newsletter printing of Star Trader.  This book can still be found at rare book sites.  Note:  I conflicting source states that this book was published in 1979.

1980: Space Opera, a paper and pencil roleplaying game by Phil McGregor, Ed Simbalist, and Mark Ratner is released. It was the first generic "complete" sci-fi rpg in the industry.  The space-based RPG is the inspiration for many space opera computer games, just as the fantasy-based RPG inspired a host of fantasy computer games.

Pre-1984:  John Sherrick writes Tradewars, a BASIC game for an early BBS.  It's not known whether or not Sherrick was inspired by Star Traders, but I suspect this to be the case since they were both written in BASIC.  Sherrick's Tradewars is developed in BASIC until December, 1989, when it is ported to C.  I believe that Sherrick's earliest work was freeware, without any restrictions.  It is because of this public domain code, and the Star Trader code, that so many TW variations have been and continue to be written.  At some point, Sherrick closed his code, releasing it under the new name of Tradewars II.  His version continues to be developed by John Morris, I am told.

1984:  Omnitrend's Universe, written by Thomas R. Carbone & William G. M. Leslie III, is released for the Atari, PC, and Apple computers.  It is a single-player game, but has many elements that will become fused with the Star Traders trade algorithm to form Trade Wars 2002.  This early game included such elements as multiple ship systems (drive, weapons, docking, scanners, mining, trade), a starport (buy and sell, money exchange, contract house, colonist transport), and the ability to purchase multiple ships.  It is an amazingly complex space opera game for such an early time, and it fit entirely on two 5 1/4th inch floppies.

1984:  Several games called Star Trader and variations for various systems were released at about this time.  Among them, Star Trader by Steve Hartford, published by Computerware for the Tandy (TSR80) Color Computer, and Star Trader by Bug-Byte for the Commodore 64.  These seem to be based on the basic idea of Star Trader from PCC, but have already expanded the design in many ways.

1984:  Gary Martin, original author of Trade Wars 2002, states that his version of TW was inspired by Tradewars by Chris Sherrick, which was active in 1984 but not supported on the BBS he was running.  In 1984, Gary decided to write his own version of the game simply because he wanted to run it under the BBS he was using.  It's clear that Martin's version was inspired by Star Trader.  In fact, the core trading system code still has the same variables as those found in the BASIC listing.  It's also clear that Omnitrend's Universe was an inspiration for Gary's work where it deviated from Sherrick's, as many of the concepts in that game are identifiable in TW2002.  There are also areas of the game that are taken directly from Sherrick's earliest BASIC code, before he and Morris closed it.  In terms of technologies, names and places, Gary's version is borrows popular elements from both Star Trek and Star Wars.

Between the years of 1984 and 1990, Gary Martin and his wife, MaryAnn, took their version of TW, written in Turbo Pascal, through multiple versions, going from TW2001, published in 1986 for the popular WWIV BBS, to TW2002 versions 1 and 2, adding the StarDock with its Tavern, Shipyard, Bank, Underground, Library, and Police Station, adding planetary Citadels, increasing the number of ship types, ramping sector count up to 5000, etc.  By the time of TW2002v2, the Martins' version is much more than just the sum of its various influences.

An interesting footnote:  during this time Gary enlisted the help of Drew Markham to create several of the ANSI images used in the game, including all of the ship ANSIs and the ANSI animations.  Drew Markham later went on to found Xatrix and create some successful titles including Redneck Rampage.  Xatrix went out of business a few years ago, but essentially just changed its name to Gray Matter Studios where Drew and his crew recently released their best title yet, Return to Castle Wolfenstein.  You may recognize Drew's name in Trade Wars as one of the ship manufacturers, Markham Space Tech.

Sherrick's version was passed to John Morris during this time.  He continued to improve that version of the game.  Development diverged on these two games, taking place quite independently, so that both games are recognizable as having the same root, but are very different in gameplay.

1992:  Until 1992, Martin's version of Trade Wars was multiplayer, and persistent, but not interactive.  That changed when Martech licensed Trade Wars 2002 to High Velocity Software to create TW2002 for the Major BBS.  While Martech had, according to their estimates, about 60,000 BBSs running Trade Wars at that time, the Major BBS only offered a market of about 1,000 BBSs.  But where the typical smaller BBS had 10 to 20 users, the Major BBS was often commercial and could have thousands.  HVS completed work on their version and released it to the public in 1994.

At about this time, Gary opened Metropolis BBS, a Major BBS in his home.  This was eventually sold to Multi Service where Gary and MaryAnn went to work as administrators of the new Metropolis that would have dialups in the cities of the then Big 8 college conference.  Metropolis was one of, if not THE biggest BBSs at the height of the BBS popularity.  It is still active today, though the parent company, Multi Service, has generalized their focus to include online game development and hosting.  They can be found under the name Gameport.  They are also the current owners of Legends of the Red Dragon, another extremely popular multiplayer BBS door game.  Interestingly, the Martins and I left Multi Service before Multi Service became interested in online game development.  That is unfortunate.

1994:  I rearended Gary's minivan on the way to my workplace, Multi Service in Kansas City, and it changed my life.  I hadn't met Gary, but it turned out that we worked at the same place, I in the fuel credit card division writing a paperless transaction system, and he in the BBS division downstairs, running Metropolis.  I got to know Gary, and became interested in his game, Trade Wars 2002, which I had heard of but had never played.  I was already very interested in game design in general, and online games in particular, so when he offered to let me take over development of TW, I jumped at the offer.  I got started in 1995, and Initially, wrote bug fixes for TW2002v2 wide beta as it was called (TW has never actually been out of beta ;).

1996:  Gary, MaryAnn, and I leave Multi Service to begin work on a new Online Space Opera game.  This game was extensively designed, but never materialized.  In an effort to earn revenue to support the game we were about to write, and to put Trade Wars behind us (ironic), I started work on the "final version" of TW, TW2002v3, which didn't have any changes in gameplay but added multiplayer interaction to the DOS BBS version.  Writing a realtime, multiuser game that's 16 bit and includes full legacy support for early versions of DOS and DesqView is perhaps the craziest thing I have ever attempted.  It's not advisable.

1997:  Multiplayer TWv3 for DOS was released.  This was immediately followed by development of a customization add-on that allowed gameops to begin creating their own custom ships, planets, and even alien races within their Trade Wars games.  Our hope was to rekindle interest in Trade Wars through v3, and to generate revenue through the add-on in order to fund a new game project.  Because of the decline in BBS activity, it failed to generate the kind of income Gary had experienced with TW itself, and so the new project was shelved.

1998:  TWGS is released.  Martech was unable to continue paying me for my work on Trade Wars.  In an effort to fund my personal efforts, and because the BBS market was in decline, I created the Trade Wars Game Server (TWGS), a 32 bit TCP/IP  TW2002 game hosting system for windows.  I created my company, EIS, in order to promote the development of publicly hosted games.  I continued to develop and support Trade Wars because it was an excellent example of a public server game, because of its history and staying power, and because it put me in touch with other game developers.

April 2000:  EIS purchases TW2002.  Gary and MaryAnn had lost interest in TW, and offered me the opportunity to purchase the rights from them.  I was already selling TW2002 for them as part of my TWGS package, so it made sense to just take it over outright.

October 2000:   I was contacted by a game company, Realm Interactive, that was beginning an online game project that they wanted to call Trade Wars.  I worked out a contract with them, and Realm Interactive started their massively multiplayer Trade Wars spin-off, Trade Wars:  Dark Millennium.  I have had the opportunity to contribute as a designer on that game, but because I can't relocate I have played a minor role.  Nonetheless, it's clearly a big step in the history of Trade Wars.  TW:DM is still under development as of October 2001.  It is being billed as an MMORTS though I'm hopeful that it will be more Space Opera than merely RTS.


TWGS is actively supported, with new revisions of it and TW2002 coming out every month.  Currently, the game is 32 bit, played via TCP/IP from either a telnet client or one of the many "helper" applications that have been written for it, it allows up to 20,000 sectors, and up to 100 active players on the server at once.  There are several annual worldwide tournaments, an annual convention, at least one league for sanctioned ratings, and a large number of sites devoted to the game.  Revenue from TWGS and TW continues to be steady and substantial enough to allow me to focus on my online game projects full time.

Trade Wars as a game has its roots very far back in the history of online gaming, yet unlike most games, it continues to be played in a form very close to its origins.  There are many active TW2002 games out there.  A high-profile TW game often has hundreds of players in a game, with over 50 online at any given time.  Unfortunately, it has always been extremely difficult to estimate the number of players that have ever played  or are currently playing TW.  I have records of sales of the game itself to gameops, but how many players these gameops have hosted is unknown.

It's interesting to note that there are a large number of games still coming from the same root as TW.  The number of text or web based games derived from it is very large, and I see active "TW Revival" projects on the net all the time.  And there have been some modern games inspired by TW.  Most notably, I was contacted by one of the developers of Electronic Art's MMPOG, Earth and Beyond, and he stated that the game was inspired by Trade Wars.  While I haven't heard directly from any other developers, there are elements of Trade Wars found in a number of recent Space Trader games, including Mankind and Jumpgate.  I've also been contacted by a number of game companies that run Trade Wars servers in-house.

The Online Space Opera genre is a minor niche in online games, and the Online Space Trader is but a sub-niche within that genre.  But within this niche, Trade Wars variants have played an important part in online game history.  And Trade Wars 2002, though not the originator, is clearly the most successful of the Trade Wars variants.