Sunday, April 13, 2014

Milo's Meadow

During the Christmas break of 1983, I was pretty active in the local Omaha Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) - for those of you too young to know what those were, they were what we used before the web. Everything was dial-up then, so speeds were pretty slow compared to even phone internet today, and ASCII art ruled.

I was involved in a bit of a flame war with some of the SysOps (the people who run a BBS) of some of the local boards operating on IBM PCs of the day. According to them, the Commodore 64 was just a toy, and you couldn't write a decent BBS for a toy. Of course I took that as both an offense and a challenge, and ended the debate on a Thursday, proclaiming that I would prove the haters wrong.

For the next three solid days, I coded every hour I was not sleeping - and since I was on vacation from work, that was a lot of hours of coding. Using a mix of BASIC and 6502 assembler, by late Monday the 2nd of January, 1984, I had a working BBS ready to bring online. My roommates and I were big fans of the comic strip Bloom County, and so named the BBS "Milo's Meadow". Naturally, I took the name Opus, and my roommates adopted other characters - Binkley and Milo.

But this was just the beginning - I wanted to provide services on my "toy" that no other BBS in the area had. I wanted a multi-line system in which two users could interact. So I bought a second C64 and modem, and got another phone line installed. I took a number of my old BASIC games and added the ability for them to have multi-player, with each player coming from the BBS running on each C64. I took two old joysticks, cut the joysticks off from the cords, then wired them together as a very simple network. Now two users who were on at the same time could challenge each other to one of the games, or to even just chat back and forth. And since my games already had computer opponents built in, if no one was dialed in to the other system, they could just play a game by themselves.

As the popularity of Milo's Meadow grew, I started getting requests to show how my BBS was written, mostly from teens. I ended up conducting classes on Saturdays to teach 6502 assembler, and to review the organization and function of the BBS code. It was a great time, and the site got popular enough that when we had our first user party, over 200 users showed up at Elmwood Park for grilling, frisbee, and general mayhem. One of the most popular "games" at these gatherings was "Kill Opus with as many Frisbees as we can" - it was awesome!

BBSs had one advantage over the web today - just about every user was local, otherwise they'd be paying long distance charges. It made user parties possible, and we held quite a number of them. The users were always great, and we always had a great time.

(Here is a blog post about Milo's Meadow and some other BBSs in the 80's I dug up from one of my old users)



2 comments:

  1. My friend and I loved Milo's Meadow! The never ending story is one of our favorite memories! Ace Free comes up from behind and kills everyone but Han Solo! Free and walked off into the sunset! Thanks for the memories!

    Han Solo (mmalva2@gmail.com)

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  2. Milo's Meadow was my first BBS account, and always my favorite! Thank you for the backstory.

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