Megawars was the genesis of the online Persistent-World, Massively-Multiplayer (PWMMP) game. It was originally available on Compu$erve; however, later, it migrated to Genie and other less expensive online services. At least one did a brisk business with Megawars and nothing else.

This is back in, oh, 1985-1988 any case, as you might expect, it was purely text-based to allow it to be played on the overwhelmingly text-based terminal protocols and 300-baud connections of the time. It was a bit like the ubiquitous "Star Trek" text game, except that you played against other people.

You had a starship, and flew about a fictional galaxy exploring, colonizing and of course blowing the ever-loving bejeezus out of anyone who you thought had it coming. The game was actually quite complex. Players could join teams, which allowed them to resupply and refuel at planets other than their own colonies. Planets needed to be managed economically and militarily; ground attack using expensive fighters and troops was an art. 'Figging' a friendly planet (the command to drop fighters was FIG) with fighters was one way weaker players could contribute to the security of a team resupply station.

Like some multiplayer games today, the economic algorithm was winnable in that if you knew enough about how it worked, you could swiftly reach levels early in a game round that would make you essentially invulnerable. Teams were designed to limit this, as they allowed lots of mediocre players to gang up on single or few very good players; however, the 'bandwagoning' tendency brought on by the lure of readily-available resupply and protection made the compensation mechanism iffy at best.

Metal was the coin of the realm, and could be had by mining planets or by recovering wreckage (although the latter wasn't very efficient). You had two weapons, phasers and torpedoes (sound familiar?). Weapons were fired by issuing a text command with aiming or targeting parameters. Phasers could be fired by indicating a target ship; the damage done depended on the range to the target, and players could allocate fuel points towards the blast. Torpedoes were fired by heading, and if you were fast with the keyboard, you could really whale on people before they knew you were there. Better sensors, engines, etc. could all be bought, which made it even more lopsided for those folks willing to spend the meatspace $$$ to be online enough.

Despite its limitations, which today make it sound hilarious, at the time it was incredibly fun because nowhere else could you interact with humans in such a game; I recall many dark nights on my Apple //+ with its Hayes Micromodem II, hunched over the whitish glow of a text client, frantically typing in tiny course corrections to sneak up on some unsuspecting ship that hadn't seen me yet. Very few games these days elicit such a response.

I have to go check out the new crop of PWMMP games like Lancer, Armageddon and Allegiance, which claim to offer the same kind of interactivity with the technology of the best latest space sims. And because we have the internet, it is possible to spend time enough to get good without breaking the bank. I recall my first Amex bill in college was $425, which was an enormous amount to me, because I'd gotten lonely freshman year and played a lot of megawars on my new 2400 baud modem. Woohoo.

TOR 5 270: fire 5 torpedoes on a 270 heading
PHA 500 17116: fire a 500-unit phaser blast at ship 17116
SCA 250: scan 250 unit radius