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Classic Empire

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Empire (or Classic Empire) is a turn-based wargame with simple rules, conceived by Walter Bright in 1971 (released as a computer game in 1977) based on various war movies and board games, notably Battle of Britain and Risk.[1] In the game, each player starts with one city in an unexplored world, and uses the city to build armies, aircraft, and various types of ships. Cities take a particular number of turns to produce the various units. As players expand from the first city, they use their units to find and capture additional cities and become able to produce a greater number of unit types. Players explore the world, capturing cities as they are found and using them to build more military units. Early versions were text-based, while later versions of the game added graphics.

This game inspired a great deal of the strategic gaming genre, most notably including Civilization,[2] Empire Master, Global Conquest, Nintendo Wars, Strategic Conquest and Xconq.[3]

History and development

Bright's first version was written around 1977 in the FORTRAN programming language for the PDP-10 computer at Caltech. This version was spread virally to other PDP-10s, which were common timesharing systems at the time. Later, Bright recoded this in assembly language on a Heathkit H-11 and made it available commercially. He sold two copies.

The DECUS fork

At some point, someone broke through the security systems at Caltech, and took a copy of the source code for the FORTRAN/PDP-10 version of the game. This code was continually modified, being passed around from person to person. Eventually, it was found on a computer in Massachusetts by Herb Jacobs and Dave Mitton.[4] They ported the code to the VAX/VMS operating system and, under the alias of "Mario DeNobili and Paulson" submitted the program to DECUS, a large user's group. DECUS programs were often installed on new DEC computers at the time of delivery, and so Empire propagated further. Eventually, Bright heard of this, and in 1983 contacted DECUS, who subsequently credited Bright in the catalog description of the program and re-added his name to the source code.

Public domain version

In 1984, Bob Norby, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, ported the DECUS version from the VAX, producing Empire 5.0, and Empire 5.1 (Color Supported), which required the ANSI.SYS driver. Mr Norby wrote:

"This program is a war game simulation for video terminals. It is distributed by DECUS on DEC computers. While working for a company with a VAX, I became addicted to the game. When I left that company, it was necessary to find another way to continue playing. So I implemented the game on the PC."
It was released as shareware, and found its way into many shareware collections, and was propagated into BBSs in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[citation needed]

Empire: Wargame of the Century

After this, Bright recoded the game in C on an IBM PC. With low commercial expectations, he submitted an announcement to BYTE Magazine's "New Programs" section, and received a flood of orders. He then licensed the game to a small software company named Interstel, who hired Mark Baldwin to add a graphic user interface. Starting around 1987, Empire: Wargame of the Century on the Atari ST, Amiga, Commodore 64, Apple II, Macintosh and DOS was produced.

In its review of the game, Computer Gaming World noted the improved UI, saying "the playability of an already successful system has been significantly enhanced."[5] The game would later receive the magazine's "Game of the Year" award for 1988.[6]

The Atari ST version of the game was reviewed in 1988 in Dragon #131 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 4 out of 5 stars.[7] The Lessers reviewed the MS-DOS version of the game in 1989 in Dragon #142, and gave the game 4 out of 5 stars.[8]

Empire Deluxe

In the early 1990s, Mark Baldwin and Bob Rakowsky rewrote the game, calling it Empire Deluxe[9] for DOS, Mac OS, and Windows, released in 1993 with New World Computing as the publisher. Empire Deluxe sustained the old game play of Interstel's version in a standard game, while adding a basic version for beginners, and advanced game with new units such as the Bomber and Armor and maps sizes up to 200x200.

Empire Deluxe enjoyed great success, and was noted as one of Gamespy's Greatest Games of All Time.[10] But New World Computing eventually stopped publishing the game. Baldwin and Rakowsky retained the copyrights, but in the latter half of the 1990s it was found on abandonware sites, though it still enjoyed a strong community following on the Internet.

Empire Deluxe was reviewed in 1993 in Dragon #195 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 4 out of 5 stars.[11]

A Scenario Disk was produced for Empire Deluxe later in 1993, including a map and scenario statistics tool, a map randomiser tool (as random maps were present in the Interstel version, but lacking from Empire Deluxe), upgrade patches for both DOS and Windows versions and a collection of 38 scenarios (with accompanying maps) from a selection of designers, many of them famous in the games industry including: Will Wright, Jerry Pournelle, Jim Dunnigan, Johnny Wilson (Computer Gaming World editor), Noah Falstein, Gordon Walton, Don Gilman (Harpoon series architect), Dave Menconi (co-founder of the Game Developers Conference) and Trevor Sorensen (Star Fleet series designer) as well as the game's authors Mark Baldwin and Bob Rakosky among others.

Empire Deluxe Internet Edition

In the Winter of 2001, Mark Kinkead of Killer Bee Software purchased the rights for Empire Deluxe from Mark Baldwin and Bob Rakowsky, and in 2002 produced a new version called Empire Deluxe Internet Edition a.k.a. EDIE for Windows. This was essentially a port of the code Baldwin and Rakowsky produced in 1993, with few changes, such as slightly increased the map size (255x255), but did not add any new rules.

Empire Deluxe Enhanced Edition

In Winter 2004, Empire Deluxe Enhanced Edition, a.k.a. EDEE was produced for Windows by Killer Bee Software. Based on Empire Deluxe's advanced game mode, this game added several new units, such as artillery, satellites, missiles, a helicopter, and mines. User options to increase map size to over 1000x1000, and to design new units and graphics, have made significant creative modification and extension of the game possible.

Gameplay (based on Empire Deluxe)

Units have very different capabilities, as well as different strengths and weaknesses. Destroyers move fast and are great for exploring, while battleships are very resilient and can also attack land units. The central unit of conquest is transports, which can carry two troop types. Only Infantry and Armor can capture a city, and these two units must cross water in transports. The central unit of conquest has weak defences, so Empire strategy involves exploration in the context of providing safe passage for transports.

Eventually, players expand their known worlds until the players find each other and fight until only one is left. This moment of discovery can happen quickly or not, especially when one allows the game to generate a randomly-populated world made of islands with cities, surrounded by a connected body of water. Units in Empire are aware of enemy who occupy grid squares around them only to a particular distance, and cities also are aware of enemy units adjacent to them. Otherwise, enemy units are not visible unless one moves close enough with one unit to see an enemy.

Units battle by trying to take the grid location occupied by the enemy unit. In most cases, this is a fight to the death, and the winner moves in to occupy the grid square after the combat. This combat is based on percentages rating one unit type against the others, so this is calculated, and an animated battle sequence is seen before the losing unit is removed. The combat animation is minimal, and allows one to focus on the strategic consequences of the combat.

Many interesting starts get interrupted when one discovers enemy units next to cities which lack defenses. A city loses a percentage of its production capacity when it is captured, and it also loses any units it contains, as well losing the unit under construction. Cities are sometimes fought over repeatedly, until the city itself has little production capacity, and is used simply as a base for aircraft and as a point to fight over. Cities that are not producing anything help a player's production value, and allow other, more efficient cities to produce units. Cities that are not producing will see their production efficiency increase as turns go by. The ability to remain unseen, even in adjacent grid squares, for example, submarines are not visible to battleships aircraft and transports, allows players to scout enemy areas.

Mottled, computer-generated island-worlds are typical, but Empire also has a world-generator, and comes with pre-designed worlds such as Europe and North America. When one plays on the random worlds, the players are placed randomly in one city. There can be very different outcomes when one discovers an enemy city or unit very early compared with later. One is creating an empire, and the existing units in an army cost the player a percentage of overall production capacity. This means large armies (including ships, planes, and land units) can prevent a player from efficiently creating further troops types. Since the game is turn based, players experience this production capacity as a percentage. Units take a given number of turns depending on this percentage, and a low percentage can make certain units practically impossible to order. This is most important in the first part of the game, when one only has a small number of cities.


Empire from its inception and through much of its history, has included groundbreaking original features, and other elements rarely seen before its time. Often setting the trend for games both in the strategy genre and beyond it, its influence can still be distinctly seen in video games today. This includes:


In 1995, New World Computing published a sequel named Empire II: The Art of War. While the original had been a turn-based strategy, Empire II was shifted towards turn-based tactics: there was no more empire-building and production of units, but the complexity and realism of battles were enhanced with features such as morale rules and various degrees of damage. The playable campaigns consisted of a collection of diverse historical or fictional battles. The game editor feature was enhanced by allowing the user to design not only new maps and campaigns, but also new units with new graphics and sounds.

See also


  1. Bright, Walter (2000). A Brief History of Empire. Walter Bright's Classic Empire website..
  2. Edwards, Benj. The History of Civilization. Gamasutra. Retrieved on 2008-05-21.
  3. Xconq history. Xconq Home Page. Retrieved on 2010-4-16.
  4. Bright, Walter (1987-11-03). Empire on
  5. Kritzen, William (Apr-May 1988). "Empire: The Rise and Fall of Random Empires". Computer Gaming World: pp. 40–42 
  6. "Computer Gaming World's 1988 Game of the Year Awards". Computer Gaming World: pp. 54. October 1988 
  7. Lesser, Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk (March 1988). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (131): 78–86. 
  8. Lesser, Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk (February 1989). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (142): 42–51. 
  9. Empire Deluxe manual. Hollywood, CA: New World Computing. 1993. pp. 158–162. 
  10. GameSpy's Top 50 Games of All Time. GameSpy (July, 2001). Retrieved on 2009-04-04.
  11. Lesser, Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk (July 1993). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (195): 57–64. 

External links

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