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Russ talks SuperNova...in Wired Magazine!


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https://www.wired.com/story/multiplayer-gaming-envelopes-stamps-play-by-mail-history/?fbclid=IwAR1TI9FY84jp-s3fwKQ0kp65eWAVuBbC7GDjzyrX7yzmLHTFgb-3wuiQZa4

It's great to see Russ share some insight into the company and SuperNova, the game, in this Wired article. I am also interviewed this article about my advocacy work in the hobby.

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My first SN position had the first turn due on January 9 , 2008 . Still playing the position , but don't have too many active positions moving ships around me , so yeah , PBM games can take years . I played a game called " The Next Empire " from Cyborg Games in the latter 80's that was fairly fast paced. It took about 2-3 years to finish a game . Loved that game . Was fun to see Russ giving his insight in that article . Sure do wish RTG would run TNE though ( hint , hint ) 🙂.

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I enjoyed the article, hopefully it will help bring a few new players into the hobby. Though more Russ and Pete would have been welcome.

Wish i could find another game like Borderlands of Kartaj(sp). Was pretty cool playing a pbm that was partially hand moderated.

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STARWEB, FLYING BUFFALO, 1980 (i think, not a lot of little grey cells left) was the start of a long journey.

Good read.

Sad to see that Rick Loomis passed away. Didn't know that.

Wish I could remember the year it was I started playing the first version of Supernova (not ROTE but the first version). No warp points made it a bit dicey.

 

 

 

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I played the first version of SuperNova also....with RTG and later with PBM Express in Holland . That would have been the latter 1980's , but i did not get into SN then when it started . Drone strikes were the big thing in that game . 

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On 6/10/2021 at 4:38 PM, Grey Raven said:

https://www.wired.com/story/multiplayer-gaming-envelopes-stamps-play-by-mail-history/?fbclid=IwAR1TI9FY84jp-s3fwKQ0kp65eWAVuBbC7GDjzyrX7yzmLHTFgb-3wuiQZa4

It's great to see Russ share some insight into the company and SuperNova, the game, in this Wired article. I am also interviewed this article about my advocacy work in the hobby.

Thanks!  I'm hoping it has a positive overall effect on PBM and maybe we'll see a few new folks added to the hobby :)    My interview responses were quite a bit longer, only a few bits and pieces of mine were included with all the other folks involved in the article, but I thought it came out pretty good.  Some very good comments from other folks.  It's getting close to 40 years now that I've been involved in the PBM industry and lots of good memories.  Hard to believe it has been that long...:blink:

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I imagine that a few (some...anybody?) would like to see my complete interview response so here you go :P    Over time I thought there were some things I could have said better, some things I should have mentioned, etc. but overall I thought it was ok.  

 

>>

-First of all, could you please tell me a bit about yourself and how you got involved in PBM? I see you’ve been Rolling Thunder’s webmaster since 1999, and that you moderate games as well, but I’m struggling to learn much about Rolling Thunder’s pre-internet history. So I’d love to know how you got involved, and what drew you to the PBM business.

 **Rolling Thunder Games actually started up in 1986, formed by myself and my longtime business partner Pete Dorman, so we’ve been doing this for about 35 years or so now.   I got involved in PBM by seeing an ad in a gaming magazine for a game called StarMaster (Pete’s experience was similar but his intro game was StarWeb).   Both of us were gaming enthusiasts from early on (board games, RPGs, etc.) but in those days playing multi-player games wasn’t always easy unless you had a lot of gaming  friends so the concept of PBM drew our interest. The company that ran StarMaster was local for me so I’d go down to talk to the people there and that is where I first met Pete.   Before long I had a job at that company as a game moderator (GM) and Pete and I collaborated on a couple of PBM games (Global Supremacy and Company Commander) while we worked together there.  After a couple of years we both left to form our own company and that is when Rolling Thunder Games began.   Our first game was SuperNova (1986) followed up by Victory! The Battle for Europe (1991).  Over the years we ran some games from other designers under license (Beyond the Stellar Empire, DungeonWorld, World War IV, Warriors and Wizards and a few others).   Our own SuperNova went through a few variations with the latest running version dating back to 2002.  Victory! has continued to run since 1991.

 

-Do you have a sense of how many players Rolling Thunder had at the height of PBM’s popularity? I’d also be curious to know how much of an international reach you had, were you getting players from a lot of different countries? And if so, did any stand out?

 **As far as actual player count I don’t have a good estimate but based on company revenue we were doing nearly three times the volume back in PBM’s heyday.   Of course back then we had an office that we worked out of as well as several employees and pretty much everything went out by mail.   Now days it is just Pete and I left but, to be honest, we do better as a business now than we did back in those days.   Our expenses are lower with email players constituting about 60% of our customer base and our games more efficient to run.   Back then Victory! and SuperNova both ran overseas in Europe and Australia with licensees.  Now days all international players (quite a few actually) game with us directly.

 

-Your site says that a game of Victory! can take three years to play. Are there challenges in moderating such a lengthy game? And do you have a sense of what keeps players invested for so long, even if they might not be in a winning position?

 **PBM (and now PBEM) gaming is a different creature than most games and usually appeals to folks that 1) Have limited time for gaming and are looking for a game that has one turn every two weeks and 2) Like games that you can get into and play for a very long time without exhausting the fun factor.   Victory! is almost a pure combat game that takes about three years to play to conclusion (if you survive that long).  Victory! players often play multiple games at the same time and quite a few just keep playing year after year as old games finish and new ones start.  We’ve got a few guys that have been playing Victory! since it first came out in 1991.  SuperNova is different as it is a space opera empire-building game but it is also one for longevity, more so than Victory!   We have players still running empires in the older galaxy of SuperNova that were started back in 2002 and the newer galaxy (Draco which started in 2015) has empires that, after six years, are really just starting to get into the meat of empire vs empire competition.  So, a different style of gaming to be sure but one that really works for some people.

 

-I realise this might be something you wouldn’t want to talk about as an official representative, but do you ever have disgruntled players who are upset about results? Do you get hate mail, or anything else along those lines?

 **Any business has customers that, from time to time, are unhappy with the service or end results and PBM/PBEM is certainly no exception.   Some players try this style of gaming only to tire of it or find it not to their liking.  Pete and I are experienced game moderators and designers but no game is perfect and everybody makes mistakes from time to time.   Minor errors and issues are usually resolved by us with minimal fuss but every now and then the issue will be significant enough that someone will be upset enough to leave the game over it.  Rare but it does happen.  As far as hate mail, no I can’t say things have ever escalated to that sort of thing.   Given the amount of time involved in our games there is a mutual tendency to work things out whenever possible – the player has invested a lot of time and money in the game and the moderator has no interest in losing long term customers.   A relationship develops that is much like a friendship.   You don’t drop friends over a single minor problem and that tends to be true in PBM gaming as well.  It’s a gaming business but once you’ve invested some time you’ll usually find it’s a relationship as well.

 

-How is Rolling Thunder’s fanbase holding up today? Do you see it continuing to operate for the foreseeable future? I understand if you’d want to avoid specific numbers but I’d love to get your general thoughts on the health of PBM games these days. As an outsider it feels like there are still some very loyal fans, but perhaps not a lot of new ones coming in.

 **The PBM industry as a whole suffered a fair bit as the options for muli-player gaming (MMORPGs, etc.) exploded and become more and more popular and our company suffered some downturn as well.  Amazingly enough though our business stablized fairly quickly and we’ve been pretty stable over the last 15-20 years.  I do believe that PBM/PBEM is a bit of a niche gaming market but there is still plenty of folks out there for the remaining game companies like ours that specialize in this style of gaming.   Pete and I are both 61 now and I fully expect that the interest in our games will remain strong enough for us to keep doing this as long as we wish and are physically able.   PBM/PBEM has often been a word of mouth industry with friends getting their friends involved and so on.   Our average player is probably far older than you’d find in a MMORPG for example but a lot of that is the style of the games which generally appeal to older folks.  We have a steady influx of new folks, some playing their first PBM game ever, so the games do continue to have appeal and I’m sure that PBM/PBEM will continue after Pete and I are eventually gone.

 

-On a related subject, I’d say that our readers know video games and board games fairly well, but PBM will be a new subject to most of them. How would you describe the appeal of modern PBM to them?   

 **Our main website has a pretty good breakdown but I’d say that the #1 thing for most PBM/PBEM players is that the games don’t require constant attention.  The concept is usually one of submitting a turn every two weeks or so (depending on the game) so you have time to work on your orders, plan your strategy, talk to allies, etc. and you can work that into the typical adult lifestyle (around work, family, etc.).   The games are usually more strategy based (some have roleplaying elements, some are more combat oriented, some are just empire buildinig) which can appeal to folks that have tried MMORPG games (to be outdone by youngsters with lots of time on their hands) or reaction games (first person shooters, etc.) that also tend to be dominated by youngsters with lots of time and faster reaction ability.  PBM/PBEM players have more leisure to consider their position and their next moves.  I remember when I played that I’d often catch myself thinking about my game position during quiet moments during the day – at a traffic stop, when taking a break from something else, etc.  There are a lot of things you won’t find in PBM/PBEM (fancy graphics, real time excitement and fast decision making, etc.) but there are a lot of things that you will find that you won’t find elsewhere and those things do appeal to quite a few.   Board games would be the closest thing to a match for PBM/PBEM but, as has always been the case, you need friends or gaming club in most cases for good boardgaming to be an option.  PBM/PBEM is something to give a try if you haven’t already – you might find yourself reflecting to yourself one day that “I’ve been playing this game for ten years now…wow!”  LOL

 

-Do you, or did you, play many PBM games yourself? If so, did you enjoy any memorable victories, or suffer any memorable defeats? I would imagine that investing months or years into these games could heighten the emotions involved.

 

-Is there anything else you’d like to add? If I forgot to ask you something important, or if you just have a thought about PBM that’s on your mind, please sound off!

 

I used to play other PBM/PBEM games (over the years I’ve played just about every style of gaming there is) but these days I don’t really have the time and my inclination tends to be towards designing games and thinking of how I’d do it differently, etc.   In the past there have been some glorious defeats and victories as with any game.   PBM/PBEM is something you tend to invest a lot of time and effort into but you’ll find that the games where victory/defeat is more of a focus tend to be fixed-ending games and the open-ended games (where you can play for many, many, many years) tend to be focused on position building, exploration, etc.  There is combat of course but complete defeat (loss of position) is far more rare in such games.

 PBM/PBEM has always been a bit of a niche gaming market and it isn’t for everyone but it’s something that every gaming enthusiast should try at least once.   Sometimes you don’t know what you are missing until you give it a try.  For some players, PBM/PBEM has provided them with good entertainment for most of their adult lives and, for that, I’m always happy to have been a part of it.

 If there are any other questions or followups you might have just let me know.  Glad to help when I can.  If my comments can introduce just one new player to PBM/PBEM that enjoys it and finds something he/she never knew existed then the time is well spent J

 

Take care & best wishes!

 

Russ

>>

 

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This is a great discussion.  It brings back so many memories of the decades <gulp> that have passed since Russ and I first met.

We have tended to design and moderate more complex games that are heavy on mechanics (and light on graphics), but there are plenty of other game types that can be enjoyable: RPG's, survival, single ship, political, fantasy, dungeon, exploration, tactical space combat and many more.

Are there any particular types of games you guys are interested in, but that we don't currently offer?  For example, Victory! is a combat focused war game with a fixed ending and defined winners, while Supernova is an open ended empire building game that has no set ending.  Both are quite detailed and had daunting design requirements with long development cycles, but they have survived the test of time.

If you (or friends of yours who don't currently play one of our games) could wave a magic wand and conjure up another game run by RTG, what would it be?  🧙‍♂️

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Im just glad Russ and Pete have been able to create such entertainment for us. Thanks you 2.

As for what to play, kinda looking for something like Dungeon World, but with a little more complexity to it. Thats just ne. Currently playing SNROTE and Duel2(formerly known as duelmasters).

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I sure would love to play The Next Empire again . It was a game created by Frank Coker and friends . Cyborg Games was his company , and Cyborg eventually sold the game to Reality Simulations . They ran it for a couple of years , and then I guess interest ran out on the game , and Frank took the game back . There was chatter that he was making it a game to play on the internet , and he even had a website up for it , but that also died out . 

There were 21 player star bases on the map , and I believe about 7-8 computer run bases . Each base had factories on it ( weapon factories and assorted factories for systems to construct your ships ) . You had to go out from the base , find asteroids to mine and bring back the resources to base to turn into more ships . You explored out and found your friends or enemies , and let the fun begin . TNE had an awesome map for each turn , of course , back then on paper . Games were either fast ( 2 week turns ) or slow ( 3 weeks ) . Flagship had several write ups over the game . Guy named " Captain Bob " ran it for Cyborg Games back then . Mail costs for the game when they went past about turn 25-30 must have been pretty high....you got a ton of paper for each turn back then . 

I still have a couple of turns and game maps from back 30+ years ago , as well as the rule book . That was the first PBM game I played .

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On 6/14/2021 at 1:45 PM, RTGPete said:

This is a great discussion.  It brings back so many memories of the decades <gulp> that have passed since Russ and I first met.

We have tended to design and moderate more complex games that are heavy on mechanics (and light on graphics), but there are plenty of other game types that can be enjoyable: RPG's, survival, single ship, political, fantasy, dungeon, exploration, tactical space combat and many more.

Are there any particular types of games you guys are interested in, but that we don't currently offer?  For example, Victory! is a combat focused war game with a fixed ending and defined winners, while Supernova is an open ended empire building game that has no set ending.  Both are quite detailed and had daunting design requirements with long development cycles, but they have survived the test of time.

If you (or friends of yours who don't currently play one of our games) could wave a magic wand and conjure up another game run by RTG, what would it be?  🧙‍♂️

That’s easy!!  Combine Victory with SuperNova and have a close ended space combat battlegeddon 😁

 

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I would love to see a fantasy-based game. I put some ideas in another post on the board. If there is interest in that we can dust off that conversation. I'd be happy to help develop it and help playtest it.

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