2007-10-09

Operation Overkill: Blast From The Past

When I was but a wee lad of 12 or 13, I was a huge dork (imagine!): glasses, braces, zits, the works. Lacking friends, I spent much of my free time fiddling with computers, which in those days meant crude graphics or just text in applications that ran from the MS-DOS command line. I loved computer adventure games, and I played many of the old Infocom text classics as well as a couple of Sierra's graphical adventure series.

But my favorite of all computer pass-times was BBSing; I had ordered a printed list of BBS numbers all over the country, arranged by area code, from the back of some magazine (probably "Popular Science") and although there were only six or so of the fifteen odd numbers listed for 214 that actually worked, I soon found that all you really needed was one good one to get started. BBSers advertise with other BBSers, and if you find your way onto one big board it's no problem to come back with dozens of active numbers from its forums.

One of the active numbers from my catalog turned out to be for a BBS which existed solely to operate, advertise, and test an online "door game" called Operation: Overkill. For those who don't know the term, "door games" were some of the first online multi-user dimensions (MUDs). In Overkill, the players coexisted in a massive virtual post-apocalyptic world represented on a series of very large maps. A player character who was not online at the moment was "camping," and if you camped in a city you were safe, but if you camped out in the open anybody who happened along could attack you, and if they won they ensuing combat, take all your stuff. Player vs. player combat was an element from the beginning. The environment was full of resources and monsters and the currency was water. The baddest of the bad guys was "Overkill" himself, and if you successfully killed him you got the baddest of all weapons (the "Devastator") and essentially had "won" the game. The entire experience was text-based, with the only hint of graphics in the ASCII- and ANSI-art splash screens that came up when the game started.

I loved that game, and its sequel, Operation: Overkill ][, with all my heart. It's been nearly 20 years since I dialed that number, but I still remember that the prefix was 669. The Overkills had been written and the BBS was operated by a bright young fellow named Dustin Nulf, and at the time I started coming around he was just making the transition from the original Overkill to Overkill ][. I played both games, using the handle Become Death, because I knew from some movie that "the man who invented the atomic bomb" (of course I had no idea of his name, nor that to describe the bomb as the invention of one man was idiotic) had supposedly said, on witnessing its fury, "I am Become Death, Destroyer of Worlds." It would be many years before I would learn that this man was Robert Oppenheimer, and that he'd actually been quoting the Bhagavad Gita, rather than just making up some cold-ass shit to say to a motherfucker before he blew up his country. But it was an appropriate name, given the post-nuclear holocaust setting of Overkill, and although I got several sounds-like-a-brand-of-bug-spray type jokes at the time, I was gratified to learn, years later, that the German progressive metal band Symphorce had thought the name wicked enough to bestow on their 6th album.

As geeked out as I was about Overkill (bordering on obsessed), I ended up getting involved in a number of hare-brained projects that revolved around the game. The first and most successful was the creation of several ANSI and ASCII-art splash screens like those used in the game. At first I made some ASCII ray guns and so forth like those in the original Overkill splash art, but with the advent of OO][, which was ANSI-enabled, I moved on to ANSI-type art. My triumph was a bright red-and-orange nuclear fireball with the words OVERKILL II imposed upon it. I was proud of this creation, and bold enough to e-mail it to Dustin Nulf himself. His response was enthusiastic and encouraging; he put the fireball splash up on the game and told me to send in any more I had like it. Glowing from his praise, I went on to make a couple more screens, including one with a large black-and-yellow radiation trefoil and one featuring a two-handed ray gun in profile that was intended to be the Devastor.

On a lark, I recently went Googling to see if I could find any information about what became of Dustin Nulf and the Operations: Overkill. Somewhat to my surprise, the game still has a signficant web presence, and its own enthusiast's website at www.operationoverkill.com. Apparently there's even a web-based Overkill portal in the offing; I already set up an account there, using my old handle, and as soon as it goes live you can bet I'll be putting down Everquest 2 and EVE for awhile to revisit their humble text-based roots and my own early adolescence. Overkill is maybe the only part of it I'd ever care to remember.

More surprising, still, than finding others like myself who remembered and loved the game, was finding that my original ANSI splash art had actually survived in the collective digital memory these past twenty years, when I myself had long since lost track of it, probably discarding it in a box of ancient 5.25" floppy disks when I first moved out of my parents' house more than a decade ago. All of the bundled OO][ splash art, including three of mine, are on display here, albeit without proper accreditation and not in their original ANSI format (which modern web browsers do not display). I've uploaded the images that are mine, here, in case that site ever goes down.


Sometime soon, when I get a minute, I'm gonna find an ANSI editor that's been ported to Windows and recreate the nuclear blast image in its original format. It takes special software to look at ANSI art these days, but the principle of the thing is important to me. I might even go so far as to make myself a mosaic tabletop based on the same pattern, but probably without the words.

That might look a little weird.

3 comments:

Dustin Nulf said...

Become Death,

I'm privileged to be commenting on your blog site, Sean. Also, I'm honored to know you experienced some fantastical episodes while slicing up Hydrites in the wastelands! Your blog posting has caused me to gleam, a bit of a smirk emerging, proud of having provided hours of gruesome fun and chaotic adventure for you. I appreciate(d) your ANSI/ASCII artwork; it added SO much to the game! Players were knocked out at the logon screens, hooking them in to see what else lies beyond. Thanks for your enthusiasm and solo creativity.

I hope to, someday, delve back into another foray of games, be it a massively multi-player online game (Overkill III, anyone?) or a different style and approach altogether. I had started a game titled "Wormhole", but the project fell by the wayside as I made the transition into professional commercial games.

I believe Operation: Overkill is listed on MobyGames.com, if you perform a search. Please keep active and abreast on the website forums on OperationOverkill.com.

Good luck on that mosaic tabletop!

Cheers,
Dustin Nulf

P.S.: Hydrites rule!

sean michael ragan said...

Wow. The Man himself. Thanks for your comments, Dustin. And thanks for the OOs in the first place. I only hope you won't remember me too harshly for my other major stunt of the time, which was writing a Q-modem script to subvert the OOII combat timer and automatically hit right on the number every time. Heh. The indiscretions of youth. :)

Cheers-
Sean

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