There were three main ways that Game-Maker users communicated. Either they knew each other in person, which was nothing unusual but could lead to larger and more nuanced projects than an individual could tackle, they communicated through the post, which was slow but both mysterious and intimate, or there were the BBSes.
Before the Web caught on (or even existed), the big deal was local dial-up boards. Most of them were text-based, and most were fairly slow. You would connect, check your personal messages, see if anyone had posted any new discussion topics or responses, perhaps fiddle with a multiplayer door game or two — and then you would head to the file area.
Most boards had a ratio: you can download so many bytes for so many bytes you upload. A bad ratio was close to 1:1. Somewhere between a 2:1 and 4:1 ratio, the file area would come to life. Users would be just motivated enough to keep sharing material, yet wouldn’t feel pressed to dump just any junk on the community. This is the environment where shareware thrived; when the Web took over, the whole shareware model went into whack.
If you found the right board, BBSes were also the perfect environment to share and discuss Game-Maker games. Mark Janelle ran the Frontline BBS with RSD’s semi-official blessing. Other users ran their own boards or carved out corners of existing communities.
A problem with BBSes was their dial-up nature. Unless the board was very local, you were in immediate danger of old-school long distance phone charges. If the board was in the same state but not in the same county, you were particularly screwed. So despite Janelle’s and RSD’s efforts there was never a unified Game-Maker community. Rather, the community consisted of countless islands of independent development, that would occasionally cross paths and trade ideas.
Although it was located in the middle of nowhere — specifically Kennebunkport, Maine — which must have made a daunting long-distance charge for most users, the Frontline BBS was the most prominent place for these paths to cross. That makes sense; it was the only board referenced in the Game-Maker box. The board therefore carried some valuable artifacts of shared Game-Maker culture. Whether or not those artifacts are in themselves excellent is sort of beyond the point. What’s important is that they are formative and sort of iconic to the Game-Maker experience.
Night Owl / Gamelynk / Frontline BBS
Numbers: (207) 284-9860 [Gamelynk] / (207) 967-0618, (207) 878-3414 [Frontline]
Managed by Mark A Janelle of Barracuda fame, the Frontline BBS served as the semi-official Game-Maker community hub. Every copy of Game-Maker included a leaflet for the BBS. An early version reads as such:
- Gamelynk BBS
- 207-284-9860 Up to 14.4 kbaud, 8N1, ANSI
- The Gamelynk Entertainment BBS is your bulletin board system for GAME-MAKER.
- Obtain free GAME-MAKER games and gameware (characters, monsters, music, etc.)
- Get the latest GAME-MAKER news
- Purchase GAME-MAKER games and offer your own for sale
- Trade games, meet other developers
- Receive GAME-MAKER support
- Read about game design hints and techniques
- Download useful GAME-MAKER utilities
- Upload (or send us) your GAME-MAKER games
Early on, there appear to have been some widespread connection issues. Either the BBS was only up during evening hours or the number on the leaflet was incorrect. Either way, many people had trouble logging in. Furthermore, with the board hosted in Kennebunkport, Maine, the call was a hefty long-distance charge for almost anyone -- even those who lived in-state. Still, it was a good place to make connections and branch off to other sub-communities and smaller BBSes.
The Frontline BBS also appears to have been linked to FidoNet, allowing access to the board's resources from the convenience of other far-flung bulletin boards.
Sections included an area to trade tips; an area for official announcements about Game-Maker; a tools section, filled with templates and utilities; an area for gameware; and a download section. For readers there was a function to rate and review games; for posters there was an option to set a download fee. There may have been a user-to-user message or chat system as well.
Number: (609) 547-9402 - Node 1
Run by James Faux. Eclypse Games Distribution Site.
Ramey Cyber BBS
Number: (787) 890-1679 / (787) 890-3032.
Board in Puerto Rico, run by Angelo Felix. For a while there was a Telnet node at ramnet.dyn.ml.org
Late Nite BBS
Number: (802) 524-1785
Roland Ludlam's hangout, based in St. ALbans VT.
- The LATE NITE BBS runs 2400 to 14.4k and specializes in games. It is your place for great games! Thousands of games and no fees at all Call today and log on as a new user, open 24 hours a day!
- Your sysop is DAVE YERGEAU.
Springfield Public Access
Number: (413) 536-4365
AKA "The SPA"; hangout for Paul Callahan of The Antares Bros. The SysOp's name was Matthew De Jongh; it supported 1200-19.2K BPS modems.
The Hardware Haven BBS
Number: (510) 887-6605
A board in Hayward, California run by Roy Person Sr.