BBS Door History / John Dailey 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. John Dailey was one such developer that we wanted to speak to, as his company John Dailey Software released one of the most ambitious RPGs ever created for the BBS world: Dungeon Master. This ANSI graphics-heavy title featured real-time multiplayer and a construction set so that players around the globe could create their own modules for players to explore. John also went on to acquire several classic games from Mehul Patel (including Barren Realms Elite) and still manages them to this day, so we had quite a bit to talk to him about:

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?

John: In my Junior High School year an optional "Introduction To Computers" course was available. It was around 1985 and the classroom was stocked with Radio Shack TRS-80 Model IIIs. I knew nothing about computers at the time and ended up disliking the class because of the way it was taught. Two years later in High School I took a similar course again and ended up loving it.

This image is my first computer art school project drawn on a TRS-80 graphics paper sheet and the handwritten BASIC program to display it. After much prodding, I was finally able to convince my parents to purchase our first computer at home -- a used IBM PCjr -- and over the summer I taught myself GWBASIC from the IBM manual it came with. I eventually took higher level programming courses in school and a few years and computers later, acquired my own Tandy 1000 EX complete with a 1200 baud modem.

This image is the 1983 IBM PCjr's manual documenting Microsoft's BASIC that changed my life forever. In high school, my best friend's brother operated a well-known BBS and maintained a famous BBS list (The Orlando Complete BBS Listing). It wasn't long before I was dialing down that list.

GB: Those of us who spent a considerable amount of time with PCs during the 1980's and 1990's 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?

John: I was exposed to a variety of machines (Commodore 64, Apple II, TRS-80, Tandy 1000, IBM XT) and can't say that I really had a model of choice. Rather, it was more a question of what I had the most access to -- which wound up being the Tandy 1000 series. My High School was stocked with them and they were very similar to the IBM PCjr I had at home. In particular, I enjoyed GWBASIC and fondly remember the 16 colors of the Tandy and PCjr. This image is my still-working Tandy 1000 EX, 1200 baud modem and external floppy drive now relegated to life in my display cabinet. 

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?

John: The dial-up portion of BBS history, in my opinion, was a short-lived, amazing spectacle. It felt utterly geek and underground and by the time Information Society released their "Peace And Love INC." album with a track entitled "300 BPS N,8,1 (Terminal Mode Or Ascii Download)" we knew well what to do with it. There are many of us that will forever have modem initialization strings like "ATQ0V1X4" stuck in our heads.

Some had email routed to our BBS via the Internet before the World Wide Web became a household name. It wasn't instant and in my case arrived in a packet delivered by my network hub after having been received by satellite up-link from the local university. It was amazing to watch this stuff actually work -- particularly because it was so hands-on -- and with your modem speaker on, you could often tell if it was your network hub or a visitor calling just by the sound characteristics of the connecting modem.

When I first was exposed to bulletin boards, a 2400 baud modem was fairly new. I remember eagerly anticipating each modem speed boost and watching it (essentially) top out with 56k. It wasn't long after that the World Wide Web was well in the spotlight and the decline of the dial-up BBS began, only to be followed a few years later by a small revival thanks to the Telnet protocol.

I spent most of my time on local bulletin boards systems and my interesting BBS stories revolve around hanging out in person with those I had met through the BBS community (and probably best left out of publication :) I did run my own BBS and also at one time had a network of volunteer bulletin board systems around the United States that mirrored my software and message board and helped with testing and support.

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?

John: I actually did develop standalone games and programs before writing BBS door games, but most were learning tools, experiments or unfinished explorations. I spent many hours developing an adventure game in the style of the original King's Quest I game as one of my early projects.

These images are pencil sketches of individual screens for my adventure game project. Hanging out with the local BBS community, particularly sysops who were good friends, fueled my desire to develop BBS utilities and doors. With some exceptions, most of my projects in the early days were attempts to make better versions of others' software already in use. However, you can definitely see major influences and inspiration of the original "Wizardry" PC games and Interplay's "The Bard's Tale" (and later, the Construction Set) in Dungeon Master and it's own Construction Set. You'll probably find influence of the original Sierra adventure games like Kings Quest, Space Quest and others as well.