Laura Truchon's "Pressed for Time" will explore the options for those who do not have a whole lot of time to devote to gaming, but need that regular "fix". Games that you can learn as you go, games you can start and finish while your mate is brushing their teeth, games that pass the time when the time is less than a standard television commercial break.
But as we all know, Thanksgiving is an American Holiday and the rest of the world has to keep up with the daily grind as we get a few days to relax. Wait... What's that? The entire family, including second and third cousins, are coming over? So are the in-laws? And you didn't remember to get any stuffing? And you have to do this all over again when Christmas rolls around? Oh, well that changes things a bit, now doesn't it? Sounds like you have your hands full there, buddy! Let's face it, you have become one stressed out short on time Turkey!
So, let's take a small walk down memory lane to a time when somebody else did all the holiday cooking and cleaning and shopping. A time when animated gifs and pop-up ads were merely a twinkle in someone's malicious eye. A time when you were ready to kill a member of your family for picking up the phone while you were just about done with that three hour download of a very blocky pixilated picture of some "naked" woman. (I had brothers - I know what you were up to, don't deny it!) This was a time when 3600 baud was pretty darn impressive. Take yourself back to the hey day of the BBS.
You do remember Bulletin Board Systems, don't you? Heck, I'd bet a good number of you were even Sysops of your own board and had multiple phone lines running to meet the demand of so many members. I, myself, was merely a user logging into my first Atari BBS around the tender age of 11. (Some may recall my now known "Rainbow" handle from that time period. I was such a dork.) Over the years, I continued to join multiple BBSes and watched as they evolved from some of computer based specific boards - Atari, Commodore, etc. - to the well known Synchronet, WildCat, WWIV, and many others. And all of this started way before I ever got into it on the good old Atari 800 system. Ward Christensen and Randy Suess got the ball rolling back in '78-'79 with CBBS. You can get their take on it first hand on the http://www.chinet.com web site run by Randy.
These days php-based message boards are pretty much the norm in regards to current Bulletin Board Systems. But there are some folks who never left the text based command prompts behind and have continuously or intermittently run their BBS since the early 90's, if not since before then. And there has been resurgence, it seems, of new BBSes cropping up around the world. Some of these boards still use the familiar dial-up connection to get you online, but that's not always very practical, especially if you want to avoid long distance charges. More often than not, however, you'll find a slew of telnet based systems. All of the fun from the days of yore without all the busy signals and in only minutes a day!
OK, before we get into the nitty gritty of the shiny happy goodness of Telnet Bulletin Board Systems, let me try to address the most common question I hear any time I bring this subject up. "Why would you want to connect to some boring old plain Jane BBS when you have the World Wide Web and all of the pictures and sounds and so on???" It's hard to give anyone an exact answer on this. There is, of course, the whole nostalgic feel to visiting the boards as they were designed when I was growing up. I like the simplicity of the ANSI or ASCII or RIP graphics. I love playing the door-games like BRE, Usurper, Pimp Wars, and Bordello! And I like the fact that I can load it up at work on my Linux box and most people think I'm being productive. KIDDING!!! But visiting the boards can be a nice way to get away from being bombarded with overdone Splash screens, java, spam, cookies, and so on. Mmmmm... cookies....
Now, you do have to do a little prep work here. The first thing you're going to need is a terminal program so that you can telnet to the boards. And it doesn't really matter what OS you are currently running, you just need to find a program or tool that suits you best. Since I primarily run Linux and Windows, I'll start with what I know. On Windows, my personal preference is HyperTerminal, which is already included with Windows. I am currently using version 5.1, even though there are newer versions available, and it's set up as my default client. You can use it to telnet or dial-in if you prefer. I find it very easy to use and haven't had any issues with it at all. It also seems to work very well when it comes to downloading files from the boards, which still carry them. Other boards will just give you information on where to connect to an ftp server if you wish to exchange files. If you decide to stick with HyperTerminal, I'd say definitely upgrade it if you are running an older Windows OS. Other well known free terminal programs that also work well are mTelnet (OS/2 and Windows), PuTTy, TeraTerm, and dtelnet. There are many other Terminal programs out there for Windows, but a lot of the better known ones are not free.
If your a Linux user, you can certainly just directly to the address on port 23, unless otherwise specified, from any of your terminal windows. But you do have clients available, such as GTelnet which is pretty nifty. I've used both various terminal windows and GTelnet and all work fine. Mac users appear to have plenty of choice, too, with BetterTelnet and NiftyTelnet for starters. Other operating systems have their own telnet clients that can be used and I suggest taking a peek in Google if you want some more detailed options.
Alright, now you have your terminal program of choice up and running - won't be long before someone yells at you to go run out and buy more crescent rolls from the store, so you best to get to it! Let's take a look at two sites that have a spot at the top of my Bookmarks list.
First up, The BBS Corner is a thorough site containing updated lists in multiple formats of both Telnet Only and Dial-Up BBS systems from around the world. I like their set up with the listings because it tells you all that you'll need to know: Name of the BBS, telnet address or phone number (or both), location of the BBS, the software it is running under, and the type of board that it is - Adult or General, Pay or Free, Overall content. The site also offers resources for those interested in becoming a Sysops for the first time or all over again. Lots of information here and the first place I went to a couple of years ago when I started to telnet into these systems.
Next, BBSmates is a site that goes beyond just listing what Bulletin Board Systems are up and running. Old Sysops and Users can reunite online through their database of over 75,000 BBSes from the 80's to the present. If you are anything like me and have a faulty memory, this is a great place to try to find some of those old friends and boards you played around on years ago. Search by BBS area code, User area code, BBS name, and User's Alias. To sweeten the deal, they go beyond just the BBS listings and offer a discussion forum, BBSmates email addresses, and personal web Blogs. There is also an interview section of Q&A with Seth A. Robinson (LORD) and John Pritchett (Trade Wars). Not to mention Aron, the man holding it all together, is a pretty nice guy. They host a door-games server, as well, at telnet://bbsmates.com, which does stay pretty active.
You can also go the route of checking out the BBS listings on Usenet. There are many newsgroups available that are related to BBSes. alt.bbs and alt.bbs.ads are two groups that stay fairly current. The drawback is all the spam that clutters these and most all newsgroups (so don't blame the BBS folk, spammers lurk everywhere.) And as you know, each BBS usually has their own set of links to other Bulletin Board Systems. There's no lack of places to go, I promise!
Well, as quick and easy as it is to get back into checking out the plethora of BBSes available, I have run across a few slight drawbacks. A lot of people have gotten excited about the whole BBS comeback and decided to set up a system themselves. This is great! But what you will find are a lot of boards that just don't have a lot of traffic. It's not unusual to scout around some of the message areas and see a case where the most recent post was from 2002. And as a new user, you still have to go through the setup process on most of the boards, which can get tiring after a while. But you have to cut the sysops a break. They're the ones hosting the board and most of them are still free. Although there's nothing wrong with them having a pay service either because it's a heck of a lot cheaper than shopping for a whole bunch of presents for some family member who's just going to return them all the day after Christmas anyway. Right? It's just nice to see that another part of our past has been kept alive and continues to grow.
So, I suppose in truth, you may wind up spending more than a "little bit" of time on this if you are just getting started after being MIA in the BBS scene for a while. But once you hook into some places you know that you'll like and come back to, you'll be good to go and it'll take no time at all. You'll have access to the games, the messages in email or places like Dove-net, Fidonet, and ZombieNet or newsgroups, private chat, and files. And I say this knowing that I have yet to really do this myself, the most assured way to keep a board alive is to contribute. This could be a contribution in the form of files, or posts to the message areas, or jumping into an ongoing game, or even financially if it applies. But with the WWW being the mammoth that it is, it's understandably a little more difficult to keep some of these boards alive and hoppin'.
If you want to get really deep into the history of all of this, go ahead and lock the door of your computer room now so that you can keep all of those pesky visiting relatives out. I couldn't go without mentioning this project somewhere in this article. A fellow by the name of Jason Scott has been working on BBS The Documentary. It is described as a seven episode video series with plans of a 2 DVD set to possibly be released in 2004. I think this is a fascinating project and I can only hope that he'll keep going with it as he's already put so much work into it. You can learn more about this project at http://www.bbsdocumentary.com/. The last news bit was posted on August 23, 2003, but I can relate if he's just been too busy to update the site. The site offers clips of what to expect from the finished product and ample amounts of information from all of his research. Definitely worth checking out and perhaps seeing how you can help to carry it along to completion.
Maybe I shouldn't end this without offering at least one or two interesting boards that I have recently joined. There are just so many, however, that it is difficult to try and pick any "best of the best" BBSes. So, I'll just throw a couple out that I've signed on to and liked or that have perked my interest.
Right off the bat, I have direct your attention to BBS Mousenet telnet://atari-bbs.kicks-ass.net. It's an Atari based BBS in Germany run off of an Atari to PC connection via SIO2PC. It utilizes BBS Express! and appears to be fairly new. The message boards are, well, pretty bare as of this writing (or unreadable since I took French in high school), but there are some files available for download. Some of the documentation is written in German, but it's easy to navigate through. I really hope to see this trend grow and more Atari based BBSes come out again.
Another cool BBS I very recently ran across is telnet://blackthursday.net . The board is based out of San Diego, CA and carries a large userbase. One of the reasons I really like this board (even as a newbie to it) is the fantastic ANSI art. Super eye candy. Plenty of door-games to go around and current message bases through local messages and Echomail networks. If you don’t go anywhere else, then at least check this one board out.
Well, there you go. You now have something enjoyable to slip away and do while the rest of the household fall asleep on the couch watching the football game. Go ahead; pretend you’re a kid again! And you don’t need some fancy high CPU and memory computer system to enjoy it! Not that I would mind something like that under my tree this year… hint, hint! Just try to keep from dropping leftover turkey sandwich meat or eggnog onto your keyboard while you visit the boards. That can get messy.
If I don’t talk to you all again before Christmas comes around, I wish all of you a very Happy and Healthy Holiday Season! Game on!
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