BBS Door History / Scott Baker Interview

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Bulletin Board Systems ruled the connected computer world. And helping to drive that supremacy were games, or doors, that allowed connected users thousands of miles away from one another to compete, band together, and socialize. To ensure that this moment in history is not forgotten and to celebrate the classic doors that made it so memorable, we've just launched the GameBanshee BBS where many of the most popular titles can be enjoyed and preserved.

But launching a BBS in 2014 isn't enough, so we've also tracked down some of the greatest door creators of all time for several new interviews here at GameBanshee. Dr. Scott Baker is one such individual who made a sizeable impact during the prime years of the BBS scene with the release of the ambitious and highly graphical RPG Land of Devastation, as well as a sci-fi strategy title inspired by Trade Wars called Galactic Warzone.  Read on to find out more about Scott's introduction to computers, his development history, and much more:


GB: When were you first introduced to computers, and how long had you been tinkering with them prior to being introduced to the BBS scene?

Scott: I would guesstimate a year or two. I started with a TRS-80 CoCo and bought a modem for it almost immediately. I tried compuserve, but i was just a kid at the time and didn't have much money. Somehow I found out about the local BBS operating in my area.


GB: Those of us who spent a considerable amount of time with PCs during the 1980s and 1990s always had a PC model of choice, whether it was an Apple, a Tandy, a Commodore, or a straight-up IBM PC. What model would you consider to be your favorite during these two decades, and why?

Scott: My favorite was the Tandy-1000. It was the first thing I got when I outgrew the CoCo. The TRS-80 had some advantages over other IBM-PC clones at the time. If I recall correctly, better sound and graphics.


GB: For those people who didn't have the opportunity to experience the early days of the BBS, how would you describe its history from your hands-on, dial-in perspective? Are there any notable bulletin board systems that you used to connect to in the "early days" or any interesting BBS stories from your own experience that you can share with us? Did you ever actively run a BBS yourself?

Scott: I ran a BBS myself. It was called the "Not-Yet-Named" BBS, because someone had already named theirs the "Nameless" BBS. The Local BBS scene in Tucson had maybe a half dozen to a dozen BBS at that time. I started mine primarily so that I could host my games myself. The early BBS scene was great. We were all hobbyists and enthusiasts who were heavily invested into what we were doing. Everyone got along pretty well. I only went to one 'Beer and Pizza' meet where I was able to meet many of the other Sysops, although I was too young to drink the beer.


GB: What ultimately led to your decision to develop BBS door games rather than a standalone PC game? Were there any specific doors or PC games that you played prior to developing your own that you used as a point of reference or inspiration?

Scott: I was trying to get started in shareware programming at the time. I tried a few non-BBS items, including a CoCo disk directory sorter that unfortunately destroyed disks the second time it was run (one fellow Sysop was kinda upset when he reported that bug to me), and a 'Create Your own Adventure' system that nobody ever used. The first BBS game I probably played was Trade Wars 1000, if I recall by Alan Davenport and originally Chris Sherrick. There were some limitations and I had a vision of expanded universe with starbases and programmable mines and all kinds of new features. So I just sat down and programmed it in Turbo Pascal. Turbo Pascal was a significant advantage, letting me do things that many of the other programmers weren't able to do due to the memory limits in their BASIC interpreters/compilers at the time.


GB: At what point did you start actively developing applications for bulletin board systems, and how did this evolve into creating Galactic Warzone and Land of Devastation? What influenced you to pursue the strategy and role-playing genres versus another type of game entirely?

Scott: I started writing BBS games somewhere around 14 years of age. That would have probably been within a year of the first time I logged into a BBS. The key thing that that influenced me to write these games was that I had played similar games and liked them. Trade Wars was a big motivator for me. 'Wasteland' by EA remains my favorite game of all time and influenced me heavily into realm of role playing games. I was also an Ultima player. I absolutely loved single-player RPG games.


GB: In your opinion, what do you think made Land of Devastation, in particular, stand out from the countless other door games available at the time? What made the game unique and secure its place in BBS door history?

Scott: My vision for LOD from the start included a graphical terminal program. I had visions of an online Wasteland clone. I really wanted to have it go full screen, but I never made it there. I think the best I got to was a 5x5 graphic tile grid, but still that stood out a lot from other games that were using text. I have no idea how many people played it in graphical mode as compared to ASCII or ANSI mode, so I've never been sure. The other things that I think made my games stand out was my rapid development cycle. I was never happy leaving things stand still. I was always trying to incorporate new weapons or new devices. Sometimes I do think this created a barrier to entry for my games due to there being so much complexity hitting you right at the start.

While on the subject of graphics, I would like to thank all of those who contributed graphics to the game. They were a big part of what made the game unique, and there was some real artistry involved with some of the monster pictures in particular.



GB: Considering that your games were released as shareware with the option to buy a registration code, was your plan always to make your BBS development a for-profit venture? Can you give us some idea of how many registrations were sold during the most popular BBS years and what sort of impact the revenue had on your life?

Scott: I was interested in profit from the start. As a kid with no job, I had no other source of income to fund my computer purchases. Parents helped a bit, especially with the first couple of computers, but by the time I was 16 I was running a BBS with a couple of nodes and a couple of phone lines. I needed money to make that work. The income also helped fund my college education significantly. I don't have statistics handy, but somewhere I have a stack of registration forms that is about 3 feet tall. I'd guesstimate somewhere in the neighborhood of $40k for the two games.


GB: Why did you eventually cease development of LOD, and eventually, NETLOD? Is there any possibility that you'll pick up NETLOD again sometime in the future?

Scott: The Internet pretty much wiped out the BBS world. It wasn't competitive to write single-player-at-a-time games when there were multi-player-at-a-time games available. NETLOD was my attempt to move into the Internet world with true multiplayer play. I just never could quite get it to the stage I was happy with it, so I abandoned it. During college I wrote a lot of Internet software (usenet tools, image viewers, etc) and those things were much easier to develop and brought in sufficient income to fund my Masters and PhD.

I have tried to write a new Galactic Warzone recently, then I played 'EVE Online' and realized there's really no point in competing against something like that.

If I was to ever pick up NETLOD again, I might consider doing it for a handheld device (iPhone, Android, etc). I think it's possible there could be some interest in that environment.



GB: To conclude, is there anything you would like people to know about the work you've done outside of BBS door development, or any projects you are actively working on at the moment?

Scott: A few other bbs-related projects that I haven't mentioned: I also wrote a BBS development system called 'DoorDriver' which allowed other people to write BBS games by providing the async libraries and other support. I had a door for reading Fidonet mail called 'Echodoor' that was mildly popular, and a I wrote a transfer protocol called SZMODEM (aka Scottzmodem or superzmodem; I'm bad on deciding on names).

I do have the occasional project these days. I like working with old hardware like Russian Nixie Tubes. My personal website, www.smbaker.com, has a list of some of my more recent projects. There might even be pointers to LOD or GW binaries somewhere there.



GB: Thanks for your time, Scott! Don't forget to check out the GameBanshee BBS!