Last year on a dark November evening I stumbled across an old computer game, one that I had never heard of before. Little did I know that I was going to be spending a fair portion of my free time dueling with other players for control of the galaxy! NETREK is a multiplayer online game loosely based on the Star Trek universe. Up to 16 Players battle each other in 2-D ship-to-ship dogfights, and team play starts when there are enough players for 4-8 players per team (depending on the server). NETREK also has a unique distinction, not only is it a progenitor of modern online games (versions have been around since the mid 1970's), but it was the first game to really take advantage of the online multiplayer setting, making teams and team play the best part of the game.
The game itself is amazingly simple; Right-Click to change course, left click to fire phasers, "t" for torpedos, "0-9" to set speed, etc. You can learn the basics of play and rudimentary "dogfighting" skills very quickly, and there are practice servers populated with "bots" to aid you in this. Of course, basic skills won't be enough to save you from others who may have been playing for years, but they will let you begin to understand the greater part of the game - the part that transcends the Eighties-tech simplicity of the game. This is because dogfighting is only how you play against other players, it is not the goal of the game.
The goal of NETREK is to transfer armies about between planets and so take control of all the other team's planets, thus winning the game. In a game full of players who all have the basic skill and more, this becomes amazingly difficult. Teams must struggle to accumulate and defend the armies needed to "take" another planet. They must cooperate to mount a successful attack and "take", and then fiercly defend the prize from counter-attack, all the while defending their other planets for similar attacks. To do so successfully requires a level of understanding and cooperation beyond far beyond the "twitchy" skills of dogfighting. Team play arises out of the simple mechanics of the games, transforming it from a simple shooter into a strategic masterpiece as complex as any sport.
Unfortunately, life started making other demands on my time, and my time for NETREK became very limited. Then there was the lightning strike in the spring that fried various bits of electronics about the house, including the network card on the computer I use for games, which ended my NETREK play entirely. Winter is coming around again though, and with it I'll be spending more time indoors looking for something to do. I now have a brand new computer, and I hear there is a new and improved NETREK client available - I think I'll give it a try.
I also grabbed this image from the NETREK site, which didn't quite fit with the rest of the post. It is a full screen shot from an older version of the Netrek client, and if you click this link, it will take you to an animated GIF of some NETREK action.