vms-empire 1.10 released

There’s a genre of computer games called 4X (explore/expand/exploit/exterminate). well-known examples of which include the Civilization series and Master of Orion.

Ever wonder what the ur-progenitor of this genre was, the game at the root of 4X in the way Colossal Cave Adventure created the genre of dungeon-crawl games? It was Walter Bright’s game “Empire” from the early 1970s. You can read about it at his page on Classic Empire.

Since 1994 I’ve maintained an early Empire workalike written by Chuck Simmons in 1987 to run under the now-extinct VMS operating system; it was ported to Unix immediately, and remains to my best of knowledge the only open-source version or variant of Empire available.

Walter Bright does not acknowledge this version’s existence on his Empire page, which is fair because he didn’t write it and probably doesn’t consider it to be “Empire” at all. But it is close in gameplay and style to the earliest of Bright’s versions, except for being able to display its crude character-cell maps in color (I added that back when color terminals were cutting-edge technology).

If you love Civ or MOO, try this out for a look at what the computer 4X game was like before pixel graphics. The display and command interface are primitive by today’s standards, but the AI and general gameplay have held up surprisingly well. It’s instructive to see how many of the core tropes of later 4X games are already present in this one.

You can get version 1.10 of VMS-Empire here.


  1. I haven’t seen VMS since the early 90s

    Good times, good times….

    Of course, I was much more interested in the early linux kernels back then ;)

  2. I had almost forgotten about VMS too, until circa 2003 when my employer discovered. while peddling their Linux and Windows products, that a significant portion of their license revenue came from loyal VMS clients who were anxiously awaiting upgrades (the VMS version was at least one major release behind the others). And then I had to atone for past sins by working on the upgrade and even the Itanium port (until a couple of years ago).

    1. >When will the Android port come out? :)

      Not anytime soon. Since you can play it by sshing to a Unix box using a terminal emulator, I aint feeling a lot of pressure to do one.

  3. Looks an awful lot like xconq, which I assume it inspired.

    And, as he even mentions on his page, don’t confuse it with the whole other entire lineage of games also called ’empire’ that descend (in one way or another) from the work of Peter Langston.

  4. So an android version would entail reimplimenting most of it in Java? I am not very familliar with android. However I have been thinking seriously about rebuilding this with a new GUI skin. Or even seperate the server from the client so multiple skins can be used for multiple environments. between that and making the game multiplayer across TCP instead of just head to head with the computer seems like an interesting task.

  5. VMS is far from dead, I’ve been running it on my laptop inside Charon and Simh virtual machines for almost 15 years now. I have a 3 node cluster running VMS 7.3 on my now almost obsolete HP Pavilion laptop. I can hardly wait till Christmas when I upgrade to an I7 based laptop. My emulated cluster will run faster than the original real hardware.

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