Snipes, the Game That Gave Birth to LANs

It took me a long time to find this image of Snipes.

When I was in high school, I took the one programming class that was offered. We had a nice computer lab with IBM PS/2s that ran on a Novell LAN. The class was taught in Pascal which I knew somewhat from running open source software called Forum for my BBS. Back in those days, LANs were a very new thing.

To save money, our teacher, Mr. Smith, installed the Borland Turbo Pascal 3.x compiler on the server. My guess is that he didn’t have to pay for more than one license that way. Or that he was supposed to pay for more licenses but just conveniently didn’t.

Packaged with Novell is the first real-time multiplayer game I’d ever experienced, Snipes. While I had played some text-based multiplayer space trader games on BBSes, they were all asynchronous and not as much fun as real time. Snipes was like multiplayer Doom/Quake but with ASCII text characters. Your guy was a smiley face and your bullets were periods “.”. Despite the complete lack of graphics, it was a fun game because we were experiencing mutliplayer for the first time. I admit that I played my fair share of the game during class time.

Despite its simplicity, Snipes used a tremendous amount of server resources. As we got up to five players, games started to have a noticeable effect on network performance for the whole class. At 8 players it was pretty bad. One day, there was a group of us that needed to get some work done. But because there was a Snipes war taking place in the far back row of the computer lab, it took forever for us to compile since the server was busy killing smileys with periods. We could have complained to the teacher, but that would perhaps hinder our ability to play on the days we wanted to. Plus we were nerds to begin with, who wants to be deepen the nerd factor by complaining to the teacher that the people having fun were preventing you from programming. Seriously.

So we took matters into our own hands. We found programs that we had written and started to copy and paste to make the programs insanely long. Once we finished, four of us all submitted our huge programs at the exact same time to be compiled. This brought the server and the network to its knees. We all set our eyes on the guys playing Snipes in the back row as they started to look at each other. Their bullets started crawling across the screen ever so slowly. . . . . . .

The game became unplayable. Then what were they going to do, complain to the teacher that the people compiling programs were ruining game play? They stopped playing the game. Victory was ours!

Later that semester, the teacher figured out what was going on and moved the executables to a different directory, which took us about a week to find again.

When I looked for a screen shot of Snipes for this post, I stumbled upon this great post that outlines that Snipes was the first application written on Novell Netware to demonstrate what a local area network could do. LANs initially gained favor because printers and data storage were expensive, so companies wanted a means to share these resources. It’s hard to believe that there was a time when someone selling a LAN operating system had to demonstrate the value proposition of networking computers together. Today, you’d have a much harder time convincing someone to disconnect a computer from a network — it probably would require physical force. While Snipes never reached a large audience, it may be one of the most important multiplayer games in history given its contribution to the rise of the LAN.