BBSs and early Internet access in the 1990ies

This talk explains how individuals were able to communicate globally in the 1990ies using self-organized networks of BBSsin networks like FIDO and Z-Netz, before individual access to the Internet was possible. It also covers the efforts of non-profit organizations to provide individual access to Internet Mail+News via UUCP and later via IP during that period.

This talk covers how individuals could participate in local, regional and global message-based data communications in the 1990ies. It covers the technologies used to access such networks, both on the infrastructure (BBS) side, as well as on the user/client side.

At the same time, the talk is a bit of a personal journey from

  • accessing dial-up BBSs using accoustinc coupler and modem
  • becoming CoSysop of a BBS and learning about how to operatie BBSs
  • being a Node/Point in message based communications networks like Z-Netz and FIDO
  • using UUCP to participate in Internet mail/news (Usenet)
  • working in the technical team of Kommunikationsnetz Franken e.V. to set up a community-based ISP with modem and ISDN dial-up banks, satellite based Usenet feeds, analog leased lines ISDN-SPV.
  • helping getting Germany’s alleged first Internet Cafe (we then called it an Online Bistro) connected

I never was able to know anyone close enough to do fun stuff like back to back DSL modems, or even in this day & age run fiber optics, do ATM or anything fun like that.  As they say telecoms always break down at the last mile, or in my case the first mile.

Putting the 2015 Romero DooM level release to use

or how I learned to love Freedoom.


So back in the distant past of 2015, John Romero had released a bunch of assets to DooM, including the source to the maps. And like a fool I never really did anything with them.  But I decided to do something about that.  Obviously just compiling a map isn’t anywhere near good enough, you need graphics, music and sound right?

Enter Freedoom

Now what is great is that the Feeedoom folks have had the whole ‘apple pie’ stance to their project, with everything included.  However they have drifted tools, build processes and other methodologies through the years. But thankfully the full archives are online, so I could go through and piece stuff together to my liking.  Of course this all needs various tools, and oh boy does it ever need tools.  You need:

  • Perl
  • Python
  • a C pre-processor
  • ImageMagick
  • idbsp10
  • deutex-4.4.902
  • midi3mus
  • sox-14.4.2
  • A Unix’y build environment, I used the ancient MSYS

And probably many more I’m forgetting.

The first was to compile the levels.  I used Ron Rossbach’s ancient IDBSP, a C port of iD’s command line Objective C level compiler.  I did run into two slight issues, the first is that Ron’s tool expects their to be a line in the level’s dwd file telling us the name of the wad it’ll compile to, which of course is missing.  The other is that I suck a makefiles, and just cheated forcing the tool to use a .wad extension on whatever .dwg it converts.  And with that out of the way, I had the levels all built.

However that is where I found out the hard way that Freedoom doesn’t target something like my goal of being able to run this wad with the original DooM v1.1 release.  The first problem is that Freedoom uses a different palette set, where it looks like it should be deeper?  I’m not sure, but one thing was for sure everything looked like a rainbow sea of wrong and any vanilla or chocolate engines.  And that is where I got a fun chance to play with ImageMagik.  It really is quite powerful.

The first problem of course is the palette.  Buried in the Python build scripts is a Perl fragment for generating a palette, and the all important playpal.lmp & colormap.lmp. I also got to spend a lot of time trying to extract that palette and do something useful with it to no avail.  But googling led me to VGA_palette_with_black_borders.png, on Wikipedia of all things. So using this as a base I could convert, dither, and re-map the higher color Freedoom artwork into something that would play nice with Vanilla Doom.  The downsite is that I didn’t try to find out exactly what assets a DooM version 1 wad needs, so I converted them all.  On a good Xeon or i7 it takes about 10-20 minutes all the images.  I can’t even think about how slow this would be using a 486, 68040 or MIPS.

ImageMagick-7.0.7-18-Q16/convert ../graphics_freedoom/wia00001.gif -dither Riemersma -remap ..\playpal\VGA_palette_with_black_borders.png wia00001.gif

Imagine running that some 1,558 times.

Vanilla DooM v1.1 only plays audio at 11,000 Hz, 8bit deep.  All the later ones needless to say use better sampling, and once more again Freedoom was at a higher level.  I used sox to re-sample all the audio into the lower frequencies.

sox “../sounds_freedoom/dsslop.wav” -b 8 -r 11025 -c 1 “dsslop.wav”

Later engines also are capable of directly playing MIDI files, and taking advantage of OPL3 chips, instead of v1.1’s OPL2 level. Thankfully Natt’s midi3mus is still online, and I was able to use this to convert Freedoom’s MIDI into the more restricted MUS format.

midi3mus ../musics_freedoom/d_map11.mid d_map11.mus

The last tool is deutex, which is not only capable of building iwads, but also decomposing them.  I ended up having to add the ‘musid’ flag to force it to honor the older sound format.

deutex -v0 -fullsnd -rate accept -rgb 0 255 255 -doom2 bootstrap/ -iwad -musid -textures -lumps -patch -flats -sounds -musics -graphics -sprites -levels -build wadinfo_ult.txt wads/doom.wad

But because I wanted to verify my build against DooM v1.1 I also had to address one other thing, which is the status bar for DooM version 1.1, which I had patched around in my lame source port. I was able to just decompose the shareware 1.0 wad, and extract the following:

  • stabarl.bmp
  • stabarr.bmp
  • starms.bmp
  • stbar.bmp
  • stmbarl.bmp
  • stmbarr.bmp

And injecting them into the final wad gives me something that the Vanilla DooM  v1.1 engine can actually run.

I’ll put up something online later, and a video of me playing, I guess.  It’s a weird Doom, I mean it is the “normal” DooM, just looks different.

As suggested it’s now called zeeDoom. I’ve uploaded the project, some of the 3rd party programs to build the project, and of course the built wad file.

Download zeeDoom

And as mentioned a play through E1M1 video.

The old AT&T "you will" ad campaign

So while I was looking at an iPad for no real reason, something told me I’d seen this thing before…. Something familiar..

iPad from the 1990s

iPad from the 1990s

Then I remembered this old thing.. The old AT&T you will from the early 1990’s.

The killer in retrospect, is that in the early 1990’s most people were lucky to have pagers, cellphones were bulky and cost prohibitive (lol nothings changed there), I went from a regular pager, to a 2 way pager, then to a nextel, then to a Motorola startac..

Ok, it’s not emulation, but it really is funny to see these future forward things, and how much we take for granted now, and just how… different things changed.