by Fi Craig
Last updated July 1 2012



Federation was launched in January 1988 on a UK network called Compunet. The network was a proprietary network for the Commodore 64 computer - it used the Commodore graphics set and it took a lot of the pain out of comms by having software built in to a special Compunet modem. In those days modems were a black art only understood by a few!

Before Fed, Compunet ran a game called MUD - which went on to run on Compuserve under the name British Legends and now has its own website: http://www.british-legends.com/CMS/. MUD was the first ever multiplayer game, its name standing for Multi-User Dungeon. It's a sword-n-sorcery, hack-n-slash type game. (The word MUD is now used as a generic term for this kind of game.) Alan played it and for several years was its administrator on Compunet. Eventually, tiring of hack and slash he decided he wanted to write a game of his own, the game he would really like to play.

He approached the owners of Compunet, and they were interested. They were in need of an Admin Manager, so Alan took over the job, which both gave him an income while he wrote Fed in the evenings, and a platform on which to run it when it was ready.

Originally the plan was that Alan would design the game, and a chap called John K would program it. John dropped out when he realised the scale and complexity of the project so Alan taught himself to program C in order to write Fed - his previous programming experience being in Basic and Forth. John is commemorated in Fed by the cliffs on Castillo.

Alan coded the game on an Atari Mega-2 ST computer, using an operating system called OS9/68K. From the start to the launch of the game, it took two years. Most of that time was spent on the design of the game - only about three months on the programming.

In fact for the first few weeks Fed actually ran on the ST, linked to the Compunet host computer by a serial cable. In spite of this limitation the ST easily handled 20 simultaneous players.

When Fed was launched it was pretty basic. Players could walk around it, and that's about it. There were some errors in the movement table which meant players got trapped and couldn't get out, or "fell through" holes onto other planets, with no way to get back! These days you certainly couldn't get away with charging people money for a product at this stage of development. At the time players were paying £3.00 sterling an hour for it - that's about $6.00 an hour at current prices!

The Fed universe at the time consisted of the Solar System - no Snark, no Horsell, no Arena. Player planets didn't appear in the game for another two years. At the start players could buy spaceships and use them to visit the other solar system planets - but that was all.

Over the next days and weeks, more features were added to the game, so players could actually do something - doing jobs, picking up objects and giving them to mobiles. Players spent weeks discovering all the objects and figuring out the correct mobile to give them to; although most of the matches were logical, sometimes the logic was so twisted that it could only be figured out by trying every single mobile.

Jobs paid a couple of hundred groats at the time. Players calculated that at the rate of play it would take 6 months to earn enough money to make Captain! Occasionally a high-paying job would show up on the board, and the first player who accepted a 1000 groat job was so astonished at his good fortune that he flew into the sun! He was a player called Kirk. :)

Moving up the ranks was a slow business, Alan keeping one step ahead of the players by coding in the next rank when people got ready to promote.

Sometimes new features were added at the request of players, although often after a great deal of lobbying. An example is the BUY ROUND command. Before this was put in, players in a bar would give each other 5 groats to buy a drink when it was their round.

Another was the ACT command. Originally Fed had a list of action commands, such as smile, frown, fart (yes really!) onto which players could add modifiers. But players kept requesting new verbs and the list got longer and longer, and finally Alan junked them all to replace them with the ACT command. (I have no idea why it took him so long! - Hazed) (Because the people asking for it were drunk and kept asking for a 'ATC' command! - Alan)

On Compunet, Fed generally had up to half a dozen players on at a time, max. The highest we ever had was 20 players for a very special event, a trial between Pugwash (who you now know as Hazed) and another player called Magius. (Pugwash lost, by the way.) (It was a fix!! - Hazed)

There were at most a couple of hundred players in total during the time Fed was on Compunet. The highest rank was Explorer.

At first, there was no game manual. Well, players never read manuals anyway... but despite this Alan decided it would be a good idea to have some kind of manual, so players wouldn't constantly ask him what they should be doing. He enlisted one of the top players, Pegasus (who later became a mobile... but that's another story! And who even later became Cryptosporidium, Fed's programmer) who in turn strong-armed Pugwash into helping. The two of them collaborated and the Idiot's Guide was born, first an online version and then a printed manual which they sold by mail order.

Fed's time on Compunet came to an end when the network changed hands and the new owner proved too incompetent to keep it running. (He didn't pay the network bill and the network cut him off, so users couldn't access the service!)

Compunet went bust soon after.

Meanwhile, Alan's one-man-band added a new figure - Clem Chambers.

Clem and Alan went into partnership to market Fed on other systems, forming the Federation Partnership. Clem's first job was to find a new home for Fed.

Part 2 >>