Scepter

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Brett J. Vickers

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Jan 16, 1992, 4:10:47 PM1/16/92
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Before there was TinyMUD there was Scepter, a game that could be
played on several multi-line BBS's in the early 80's. I believe
Scepter was originally owned by the fine folk at TSR, but it was
eventually released to a computer gaming company that sold it to
BBS-owners who wished to run it on their mini-frames.

It was a great online game, and I was just wondering if any still
existed. I seriously doubt it is on the Internet, but does anyone
know if there are still dial-in versions of Scepter anywhere?

--
bvic...@ics.uci.edu | "Wherever there is an interest and power to do wrong,
br...@ucippro.bitnet | wrong will generally be done, and not less readily
| by a powerful and interested party than by a powerful
| and interested prince." - James Madison

Alan Klietz

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Jan 20, 1992, 4:10:47 AM1/20/92
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In article <2975F4D...@ics.uci.edu> bvic...@ics.uci.edu (Brett J. Vickers) writes:
<
<Before there was TinyMUD there was Scepter, a game that could be
<played on several multi-line BBS's in the early 80's. I believe
<Scepter was originally owned by the fine folk at TSR, but it was
<eventually released to a computer gaming company that sold it to
<BBS-owners who wished to run it on their mini-frames.

As the author of this game, perhaps I can contribute a few historical
facts.

The game was written in 1978 for a CDC Cyber 6600 series mainframe
which was operated by the Minnesota Educational Computer Consortium.
MECC predated CompuServe by at least half a decade with a CB simulator
and multiuser games (many better than CIS today, IMHO). Every high
school student in the state had an account. The "educational" programs
such as career placement guides and arithmetic drills were generally
ignored as we high schoolers wrote multiplayer games and talk programs,
mostly on TTY43s at 110 baud, and we had a great time :-).

Scepter was inspired by Gary Gygax's AD&D game series. Each player
had "hit points" and achieved "levels" by vanquishing monsters and
acquiring treasure. Gameplay was highly interactive and constructed
in such a way that only cooperation between players could defeat the
more powerful monsters. Players could also fight each other.

It was probably the first game that would be recognized today as a MUD:
the basic mechanics of the game featured a multiplayer exploratory adventure
where the database could be changed in real-time by privileged users
called "wizards". The look-and-feel has since been reinvented
independently many times (cf. British Legends and the original VMS MUD).

Anyway, back to the history lesson. As micros became cost effective, the
MECC mainframe became obsolete and was shut down in 1983. Scepter then went
commercial in a collaboration between several ex-MECC (and by then also
post-highschool) game hackers. It was rewritten in C and ran on a PC XT
running QNX. It supported 16 dialup users, and dialup installations were
set up in 5 states and Canada. This exposed Scepter to a lot of budding
MUD developers at a time when the Internet was just getting started.

Scepter's downfall occured when it got involved in the anti-D&D media blitz.
The son of a well known St. Paul newspaper columnist became a Scepter
fanatic, but the game was viewed the game with some suspicion by Dad.
He wrote a column that caused a lot of negative publicity after an
infrequent game player was arrested for a sensationalized murder,
and the column insinuated a cause-and-effect relationship (there was none).
However, the TV media picked up on this and the game was mentioned
in the TV reports. Subscriptions dropped off thereafter and never recovered.

In reaction to this, in 1985 I began a non-violent sequel to Scepter called
Screenplay, written that run on a Charles River 68000 UNIX box. The game
featured various themes - wild west, science fiction, mystery/detective,
and so on but with much much less violence than Scepter. Here the
monsters were intelligent -- you could carry on a rudimentary conversation
similar to an Infocom game. The object of the game was to solve puzzles
and gain knowledge rather than to accrue levels by killing things.

In 1986 I decided I wanted to go to college and cashed out. After
selling a dozen or so non-exclusive licenses, Scepter was sold to Interplay
International of Fairfax Virginia. Interplay went bankrupt in 1988 and
the assets were distributed to the creditors. The source code for Scepter
was sold to a holding company in Phoenix where it languishes today,
effectively dead.

Multi-user D&D games have certainly grown popular since then, but I still
keep in touch with a lot of ex-Scepter players who like to talk whistfully
of the "good old days".

<It was a great online game, and I was just wondering if any still
<existed. I seriously doubt it is on the Internet, but does anyone
<know if there are still dial-in versions of Scepter anywhere?

The last site, in Toronto, shut down a couple years ago. It exists
only in memory now :-(.

--
Alan E. Klietz
Minnesota Supercomputer Center, Inc.
1200 Washington Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55415
Ph: +1 612 626 1737 Internet: al...@msc.edu

Albatross

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Jan 21, 1992, 11:41:04 AM1/21/92
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As one of the co-owners of GamBit and the author of the database (NOT the
program) of Scepter, some additions and corrections to the thread.

>In article <2975F4D...@ics.uci.edu> bvic...@ics.uci.edu (Brett J. Vickers) writes:
><I believe
><Scepter was originally owned by the fine folk at TSR, but it was
><eventually released to a computer gaming company that sold it to
><BBS-owners who wished to run it on their mini-frames.

Scepter was never owned by TSR. The only involvement of TSR occurred when
Hickman and Weiss were contracted to write a database for Scepter.
They were not competent to do so and were not interested in input from
more experienced database authors, and the project never got off the
ground. This was the only tangental contact with TSR that occurred.

In <1992Jan20.0...@uc.msc.edu> al...@uh.msc.umn.edu (Alan Klietz) writes:
>Scepter's downfall occured when it got involved in the anti-D&D media blitz.

This is one cause. Another was the fact that we hired an additional
coder to help support the business, then we caught him attempting to sell
our software to a third party. He resigned but copied our software and put
up a competing site locally for absurdly low rates. We hadn't the resources
to sue this person (and winning would have gained us nothing, anyway, since
he'd file bankruptcy rather than paying any damages), so our market was split
in half. He eventually went down (no bugfixes, since he was a con-artist and
couldn't code to save his soul), but not before dealing GamBit a lethal blow.

>After selling a dozen or so non-exclusive licenses, Scepter was sold to
>Interplay International of Fairfax Virginia. Interplay went bankrupt in 1988

This was the primary cause of GamBit/Scepter's downfall. The fellow who
owned Interplay, Inc (not International that I know of) was a con-artist,
who talked a great story and was so full of sh*t that spread over the Sahara
his ashes would cause it to bloom. But only with weeds. The company went
bankrupt at the same time as this fellow was arrested and jailed for 18 counts
of tax fraud for running a flase church out of his home.

It should be mentioned however that one or two of the employees at Interplay
actually were quite talented, and that Scepter appeared as a nationally-
networked system (ala Compu$erve) for a short time in 1988.

>In reaction to this, in 1985 I began a non-violent sequel to Scepter called
>Screenplay, written that run on a Charles River 68000 UNIX box. The game
>featured various themes - wild west, science fiction, mystery/detective,
>and so on but with much much less violence than Scepter. Here the
>monsters were intelligent -- you could carry on a rudimentary conversation
>similar to an Infocom game. The object of the game was to solve puzzles
>and gain knowledge rather than to accrue levels by killing things.

This game was far superior to any MUD I have yet encoutered.

>The source code for Scepter
>was sold to a holding company in Phoenix where it languishes today,
>effectively dead.

>Multi-user D&D games have certainly grown popular since then, but I still
>keep in touch with a lot of ex-Scepter players who like to talk whistfully
>of the "good old days".

Any of whom wish to write to me, I'm trying to build an Ex-Meccie mailing list.

><It was a great online game, and I was just wondering if any still
><existed. I seriously doubt it is on the Internet, but does anyone
><know if there are still dial-in versions of Scepter anywhere?

I've seen Scepter up as a MUD, the address in my notes is 137.112.40.13 port
2222. However this is currently unresponsive. The operator was a former
Interplay client who moved the database over to a Unix MUD. There is also
a scepter-like game at a local BBS called "Muinet" (?), but I haven't checked
it out for over a year.
--
Bob Alberti: Computer & Information Services U of MN |aka: Albatross| Unitar-
Internet : alb...@boombox.micro.umn.edu |Metropolis BBS| ian/
Disclaimer : My employer does not mean what I say. |(612) 721-1870| Univer-
Ingredients: 30% header, 30% quote, 10% comment, 30% cutesy signature.| salist!

Alan Klietz

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Jan 21, 1992, 4:07:06 PM1/21/92
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Some of Scepter's best attributes IMHO was its game balance and
playability. The game had a great "ecology". A lot of these features
have not yet been seen on modern MUDs as far as I know.

For example, the problem of players fighting and killing each other
was delt with a unique way. The general problem is that in an
unrestricted game, high level players tend to form cliques that dominate or
terrorize the other players, killing off their characters and thus
discouraging play. Most MUDs deal with the problem by eliminating
player-player combat altogether.

In Scepter, player-player combat was allowed but it affected the way
other characters reacted to you. Whenever you attacked another player
(unless it is in self-defense) your player's "piety" factor was reduced.
This meant that other non-player characters (townspeople and the like)
behaved less friendly towards you. Robbers tended to attack you more.
In a multiplayer group, monsters tended to single you out for an extra
thrashing. This tendency increased the more times you acted in an
anti-social manner, until your character was practically hounded out
of town by the NPCs.

Another example was theft. Players could steal from each other and from
NPCs. Some of the best storylines were started by recovery parties
attempting to retrieve a particularly precious artifact stolen by
another player. (The theft of the beautiful Helen from Agamemnon was
the basis for Homer's Illiad.) Excessive shakedowns were prevented
by character-level limitations and the piety mechanism.

My favorite example was puppetting. With heavy involvement of multiple GMs,
players were unable to tell the difference between the actions of the
computer and a Game Master trying to promote more interesting scenarios.
This resulted in a kind of "Turing test" guessing game by the players:
is that NPC whipping my butt because of bad dice rolls or is there a GM
hiding back there messing with the odds? Many times players insisted
a GM was involved in particularly engaging scenario when in actuality
no GM was logged in anywhere.

There were many other good bits: real estate ownership, the market economy,
the newspaper, the political offices, too much to mention here.

The bottom line is that a little attention to playability is the most
important aspect of a successful MUD. Don't get hung up on graphics,
GUIs, network protocols, or object-oriented data structures. Instead,
think about how to make the game more fun to play. After all, that
is what a MUD is all about!

Brett Hurt

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Jan 22, 1992, 10:50:27 PM1/22/92
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I agree... Mud runners do not put near as much emphasis on game play... but
you have to remember too that they aren't getting paid to run a mud... (well,
maybe some of them, i don't know i just got into mudding a while ago)...
By sceptre of goth was easily the best multiuser interactive game i have
EVER played and probably ever will play.... me and my friend were true addicts

The closest mud i have found that compares to sceptre (and compares very well)
is a diku mud running at UC Davis the telnet is: telnet 128.120.61.203 3000

give it a try and tell me what you think..... I am Hurricane & Sorcerer on
it...

Brett
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