PLATO Empire - In comes Michelin. We Miss Empire


Some people may think that I lived and breathed Empire 24-hours a day; actually, I slept some, went to classes, was chairman of the foreign student group, did Navy reserve drills, dated, read the news on the local radio, worked on other games, like -dungeon-, and performed. I was taking modern dance, had found a friend who taught me how to Mime. We made up skits and performed around campus. One of the mime group was a friend, Greg, who was studying media; he wanted to make movies. Late 1974 or early 1975 Greg asked me to be the sole actor in a movie project. We made a twenty minute movie filmed over a period of weeks from late winter into spring.

During the filming of the movie I had an accident, a run-in with a wall (no, don't ask), and sprained both wrists. I was to wear a brace with lots of elastic wrap on both arms. How it hurt to try to get one then the other on and off.

I distinctly remember Greg giving me direction for one scene where I was to start in the woods deep in a valley, run through brambles and bushes up the hill, and to stop at a fence post and lean my arm over; I was to look winded, afraid, and in pain. After taking both braces off, I did as he asked. I did not have to act at the end of the run. The pain was real.

The Time of Instability

The Friday I was to see the doctor for approval to cease using the wrist braces I discovered a lump under my arm while showering. Since it was convenient I asked the doctor to look at it. He suggested I should have it tested on Monday by having general surgery to remove it.

Many people did not know that in May 1975 I had a lump removed from under my arm and was diagnosed with a Fibro-sarcoma; the doctor delayed telling me for two days because a nurse told me "His mother is on the floor above you dying from the same disease.".

Luckily and with my parent's support, I did not listen to that doctor and instead got a second opinion; ALWAYS get a second opinion on the big things! It turned out to be a mis-diagnosis.

I had pushed through this incident without much emotion, more concerned about my parents than myself. Like many of that early age, one thinks one is destined for the long haul. I did not anticipate nor expect the impact this had on my psyche for nearly a year. This impacted my grades, my work on Empire and Dungeon, and other activities; it impacted my sense of happiness.

One could say I had become somewhat more subdued, somber, or even lugubrious.

Empire design and work had slowed, the game was in mid-rework and not moving forward.

During the time of instability Empire play pretty much ceased. People kept asking me to resurrect old Empire. I kept pushing forward as hard as I could, hoping to get the better version out 'soon'.

-michelin- Resurrection is Seldom Complete

One of those lobbying for old Empire was Chuck Miller. Eventually he must have lost hope or patience and maybe also got curious about what it would take to make a game like Empire.

Chuck worked in a lesson space owned by Mike Rodby, -michelin-. (Why is it we can't just get a lesson space of our own? I had gotten my first space from Silas Warner.) I am thinking Mike Rodby also worked with Chuck on the game?

Briefing for -michelin- game

First entry to -michelin- offered a "Briefing" which gave an overview of the scenario, Federation versus Klingons with incursions over the Neutral Zone. This was followed by an overview of the commands.

One thing I really liked about -michelin- was the establishment of the scenario; another was the ease in controling the ships.

The entry page established the scenario. Users were automatically assigned to one of the two teams in an effort to keep them in balance.

Entry page for -michelin- game
War Message for -michelin- game

Another example of establishing the scenario throughout the game, the War Message was displayed when an enemy ship made an incursion across the Neutral Zone. If both teams stayed on their own side, this message was not seen.

The commands added some new options, such as orbiting a planet, energy reallocation, towing an object, and beaming a landing party.

Commands for -michelin- game

When Chuck showed me -michelin- I realized that the simplifications of user control made it easier for the player to focus on the team interaction and tactics of moving and shooting a ship. I suggested that the code could be moved into the -empire- lesson space and I would help with improving it.

Chuck had not been writing TUTOR very long and I had three years of experience in optimizing code as much as possible. The code for -michelin- ran very slow, even with just a few players. This is NOT at all to say that Chuck wasn't or is not a good programmer, just a matter of experience level at optimizing for PLATO. We decided to redesign -michelin- using the under-carriage of Empire III.

Next on to Empire IV