BBS Door History / Seth Robinson Interview

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

Seth: I think at least partially it is because it wasn't created to make money.  I was created by a single kid with an unrepentant clear vision of what it should be.  These days we say "don't read the comments", in those days, there really weren't many comments to read as getting them to me would require a long-distance call or a stamp, so I just put in whatever and was pleasantly surprised by the following the game earned.

The technical side surely didn't win any awards so I assume it was the stories and interesting choices inside the game that people liked.

GB: All of your BBS titles featured relatively heavy use of ANSI and/or RIP graphics, which is of particular interest to me since I spent so much time attempting to make discernable imagery with TheDraw during my personal BBS years.  What can you tell us about the work that was put into creating the graphics for your games, and how much of the graphical work did you do yourself?

Seth: I'm a poor artist, all of the artwork for my BBS games was commissioned or donated.  I feel really bad for accepting a lot of donated art for "New World" and never finishing the game, wasting the artist's time.

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?

Seth: LORD was a "Darkside" (my bbs name) original for quite a while.  I was proud to have a game nobody else had.  At some point, some people asked if they could purchase the game for their own BBS and I packaged it up.  I sold seven copies or so the first year before deciding to write it again for the PC, as that's where all the action was.  (Until that happened, it only ran on only one rather unpopular Amiga BBS software)

The money did roll in and I sold maybe around 30k registrations of my various DOS doors, and then moved on to special versions created for Major BBS with extra real-time multi-player features that kept the income flowing.  During the DOS door days at the peak I made $500 a day, all from receiving letters in the mail.  Later with MajorBBS, I remember a few $1200 days.   (LORD for that version sold for $300 a pop, so it didn't take many sales to add up)

It was a fun time.  Bought a house with a giant barn to work in.  Furnished it with arcade and pinball machines and 8 phone lines: partly for the BBS I ran, and partly for my friends and I to have all night Ultima Online sessions!

GB: Why did you eventually cease development of Legend of the Red Dragon and Legend of the Red Dragon II?  Was it due to the rising popularity of the Internet, the pursuit of some other interest, or another catalyst entirely?

Seth: BBS sales, and indeed, usage, had slowed to a crawl - there wasn't any point to continue working on the BBS games.  I considered them done.

To help pay a rather large tax bill, I sold them to Metropolis/Gameport (who called and made an offer out of the blue) on the condition that they would continue to support those who had purchased the game.   By then, Dink Smallwood was nearing completion and I decided to put all my energy into that. I knew the BBS days were over for good.

However, that said, I recently tried to buy-back my BBS games but was unable to get a reply.  LORD 3 for mobile, anyone?

GB: In addition to your work on LORD, LORD2, and Planets: The Exploration of Space, you also developed and released a humorous action RPG entitled Dink Smallwood in 1997.  Can you share some history on the development of the game, and the eventual release of Dink Smallwood HD for a number of platforms?  Why did you decide to go with a single player title after working on multiplayer BBS titles for so many years?

Seth: My dream had always been to creative an RPG, and I'd finally found the right artist (Justin Martin) to make it with me.  The BBS games funded the development of Dink, but Dink didn't really make enough to fund much else.  I ended up doing contract work to the pay the bills and eventually was forced to work on the iPhone, and later, Android, as part of of the hired fun work I was doing.

This turned out to be a great thing as it gave me the knowledge and cross-platform skills I would need to port several of my older games to mobile - including Dungeon Scroll and Dink, which still sells today, despite the desktop version being made freeware.

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?

Seth: The heart of LORD was always the social interaction (flirting, messages, etc), not just the fighting.  My latest project (created with collaborator Mike Hommel) is Growtopia.

It has taken those concepts a step farther - instead of many smaller games running like with LORD, we run a single giant server with two million players and up to 16,000 online at once.  Sort of Mario Bros meets Ultima Online, with the sandbox building of Minecraft.

It's a bizarre mixture but from the first minute of gameplay it will surprise, excite, and horrify you, because it lets people be people, for better or worse.

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