jimhood.txt

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I noticed an article about your BBS documentary on Slashdot, and looked up two pieces of
BBS software that I was personally involved with; C-Net and the MajorBBS.
 
I'd like to contribute my story.
 
Both of those pieces of software, C-Net and the MajorBBS, evolved significantly over the
course of their individual lifetimes.
 
C-Net BBS started off as a BASIC program on the Commodore 64; only years later, after the
debut of the Amiga and subsequent *complete rewrite* of the software, did it take the leap
to the Amiga platform. On the Commodore 64, C-Net BBS's were basically the *only* choice
for a Commodore owner for running a BBS. Since they evolved into a combination of BASIC and
assembly language, the BASIC portion was fairly easy for the owner to customize. Also,
online games could be developed fairly easily, and unique modifications could be made to
the discussion areas. For example, some friends of mine (handles Caesar and Augustus) ran a
board called Rome in Southeastern Michigan. Caesar, the programmer, modified the board to
display numbers in Roman numerals. Instead of seeing "Post 20" you'd see "Post XX". 
 
The Commodore 64 was a popular computer at that time and subsequently a number of people in
my social circle ran them, and my social circle seemed to evolve around them since our
mutual interest in the Commodore 64 brought us together.
 
However, the multi-line boards really changed the way things were. The first multiple-user
system I used, I think around 1984, was Islands of Kesmai, a character-based graphic
fantasy game that was on Compuserve. I was 13 years old. Around the same time, there was a
game called "British Legends," also on Compuserve.  It was a text-only game, similar to the
Infocom adventures. You typed commands and your "character" would try to enact them. The
idea was to solve puzzles and obtain more and more points. That game cost $6 an hour to
play at 300 baud, and $12 an hour to play at 1200 baud. It was one of the original MUD
games, before there was "MOOs" and "MUDs" there were MUD1 and MUD2. At any given time there
were a dozen or two dozen players running around a fantasy landscape trying to garner
points, and "wizards" with special powers in the background watching it all. My cousin
played a lot, and actually made enough points to become a wizard himself; a very special
achievement.
 
However, Compuserve was much too expensive for us, and thankfully, multi-line BBS's started
to become popular in the mid to late 80's. Scott LaFond owned and ran a BBS called
"Amusers," also in Southeastern Michigan. The MajorBBS was produced by a company out of
Florida called Galacticomm, and ran on Intel hardware.  This was the first time a
multi-user system wasn't some mainframe run anonymously by a large corporation,
but something that you could fit on a single desk. The MajorBBS used special hardware to
hook up the extra modems you normally couldn't use all at once on an 80286 or 80386. There
were special cards that could run four or eight modems at once, but the most bang for your
buck was the Galactibox. It could house 16 separate modems, attached to your computer by
means of a single ISA card. Amusers had at least a dozen lines, as I recall, and charged
much less than Compuserve, or Compu$erve as it was known. Amusers charged around a dollar
an hour, I believe, with discounts in bulk.
 
The MajorBBS had its own games back then, developed by Galacticomm and by third-party
developers. 
 
Galactic Empires was a relative of similar "space trading" games from single-user TAG
BBSs. Players were given a ship and could opt to fight other players, fight enemies, or
conduct trade between planets. GE was pseudo-graphic in that you would be given a textual
representation of the "sector" you were in at the time.
 
Kyrandia was a fantasy adventure related to the MUDs and Infocom text adventures. You gave
basic commands such as "east" or "north" and moved your character around the fantasy
landscape. You collected scrolls with spells in them that you could use on other players. 
A dragon roamed the landscape, randomly eating unwary travelers. My cousin (yes, same
cousin) had the dubious distinction of being the first to be eaten by the dragon after
installation of the game at Amusers. The goal of the game was to reach level 25 and become
the "Arch Mage". Levels were gained not by killing and gaining experience, but merely by
solving the puzzles built into the game. For every puzzle you solved, you gained a level. 
Scott, the owner of the BBS, started a contest; the first to "solve" the game and reach
level 25 would get $500 worth of hours on the system, free. Since I was very young at the
time (perhaps 14 or 15) and our family was not very well off, I very much wanted to win
that prize so that I could stay on the system more and talk to these wonderful people that
had become a sort of family for me. To make a long story short, with a *lot* of help, I did
win the contest.
 
The chat area, however, was the king of the multi-line BBS. Talking anonymously with these
people with whom I shared a common interest was something I'd never had with most kids my
own age. Being a fairly bright child, I was emotionally and intellectually more advanced
than my "peers" and became bored with them quickly. I reached toward these online strangers
to sate my need for intellectual companionship.

Since most of us lived within driving distance of each other, it was inevitable that we
would all have the brainstorm to get together for offline parties, which we called "Gets,"
as in "Get Togethers." We would meet at Bennigans and other various pub-like places,
recreational centers, and people's houses. We had members whose ages varied from in their
early teens such as myself, up to people in their 40's like "Digger," a friend of mine who
shared my interest in Science Fiction.

Many friendships (and more) came as a result of those Gets. I have actually dated several
"online" women. Several of my friends have also dated online women. "Gilgalad," the handle
of a friend of mine from high school, also was a member of Amusers. He and I worked
together on a t-shirt design that was used for the BBS.  I had maybe 100 t-shirts printed
up, and sold most of them. Gilgalad invited everyone up to his parents' lake house one
weekend, and we had at least twenty people show up. He dated an older, married woman from
the board. There were quite a few trysts and maybe one or two lasting relationships that
came out of that BBS, but the friendships and the good times we had will always remain with
me.
 
Eventually Amusers went out of business. Apparently Scott was losing money, or just lost
interest. Fortunately for some of us, a new BBS started up called "Somewhere Online." It
used the MajorBBS software as well, but didn't start off with as many games. Also, not
everyone that called Amusers ended up calling Somewhere Online, which we shortened to
"SOL." I offered my help to the owner of the board, and eventually became involved with the
programming and administration for the BBS. Ownership of the board was held by four people
who had all contributed money toward it. The BBS changed physical hands at one point,
moving to Dearborn, Michigan, and had its own office! Of course, the operator also did
accounting work, so the BBS was kept in the back of the office. I started working
officially for the company and started drawing a paycheck for it. I would program in C,
making modifications to the board to keep people interested in it. If we ever made a
profit, it was a slim one. We charged $10 a month flat fee for unlimited usage. A Sun
workstation was purchased so that we could integrate games from it to the BBS via serial
cables. I even hooked it up to the Internet with my University account so that people could
telnet to MUDs and chat in IRC, but it wasn't popular at the time. We had 32 lines at one
point, and plans to integrate an X.25 network to handle dozens more, but we never had
enough popularity to pay for it all.

The board became less profitable and the owner got a job offer to move down to Tennessee. 
He offered the BBS and all its equipment to me and my girlfriend (we both worked for the
BBS, and lived together at the time) so we took it and installed it in her home. We
installed 16 lines, and did our best to keep the board alive, but it just didn't happen. 
We had no money to purchase add-ons and a new BBS in the area was taking all of our
customers.
 
Things were changing. Our competition, Gateway BBS, had Internet games. The Internet was
the latest thing, and our dialup lines couldn't compete with their T1. We eventually gave
up and shut down the BBS, not without a few tears.
 
After that, the Internet just ate up all the little BBSs. No one wanted to be stuck playing
a few measly games on *one* system, with maybe a couple dozen people. No, they wanted to
get on IRC and choose from hundreds of channels and thousands of people. They wanted to
read USENET, email around the globe, and see sites from anywhere in the world. The Internet
could offer things that no small BBS ever could.
 
The BBS was a niche in the development of computers and networking. The cost of long
distance kept people local for the most part, and gave us a sense of community. On the
internet, we are a faceless horde of millions, all checking our email and sending Instant
Messages to each other. You may make friends online now, but you may never see them in
person because they might live hundreds or thousands of miles away.
 
It sure makes it hard to find a date.
 
-----------------
 
I didn't intend to write this huge essay when I first sat down.  I merely intended to give
you a little background on two pieces of software; but I ended up writing a piece of
history, much of it very personal.
 
Thanks,
James K. Hood

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