Battlecruiser 3000AD – Introduction

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2.1 What is the game?

The term “the game” has several different meanings in the context of Battlecruiser 3000AD: (1) The software as variously released, patched, and re-released, played either as a game or a game of trying to understand the game (this is the main focus of this FAQ). (2) The design idea behind the game – what it could be rather than what it actually is. (3) The development history, hype and associated vapourware status of BC3K, and later internet/usenet flamewars centred around developer Derek Smart (see What about the flame war? below). The core game (first meaning) gives the player command of a starship (battlecruiser), fully crewed and equipped, and leaves them in a relatively hostile galaxy to do more or less whatever they want. BC3K is as much about strategic command and management of the ship’s resources, as it is about flying around responding to events. BC3K has spawned several other titles in the series, including Battlecruiser Millennium.

2.2 Who developed Battlecruiser 3000AD?

BC3K was primarily developed by Derek Smart and his company, 3000AD Inc., based in Florida, United States. Various other people and organisations have had an influence on certain parts of the game’s code over its development history – see Why so many versions? Did it really take ten years to develop? Tell me some history… below.

2.3 What are the minimum requirements?

The original (Take 2) release version was touted as: Pentium 60MHz, DOS 5.0 or Windows 95, 8MB RAM, 50MB hard disk space, 2x CD-ROM, SVGA Graphics Card. The slightly later GameTek version simply specifies any Pentium Processor, but my personal experience of trying to play it with a Pentium 100 suggested greater processing power was needed – indeed the game is capable of heating up a Pentium 500, so the more processing power, the better. The v2.0 minimum requirements are: Pentium 166, Windows 95/98, any 2D video graphics card with 2MB memory [some sources advise 4MB] (optional 3DFX Voodoo based card), 165MB hard drive space, 2x MPC-11 compliant CD-ROM, 16MB RAM, mouse and sound card. Pentium 200+, 32MB RAM, and joystick are recommended. Windows ME, 2000 and XP are not supported, with mixed results reported by those attempting to run BC3K using these operating systems – tips are contained in the Technical Issues section below. An OS/2 version of BC3K was considered as early as 1996, but I have no evidence it was produced.

2.4 What different versions are there? How can I tell what version I have?

The main release versions are as follows:

  • Demo v1.0, 1992. This was previewed in Computer Games Strategy Plus #18, May 1992. Possibly not released publicly at the time, but was re-released by Smart around 1998.
  • Demo v1.01/v2.0/v3.0 (varies by source), 1993. Public freeware release. Demo versions include basic space simulation, document but often note as “inactive” certain battlecruiser management features, and seem to omit strategic or ground operation aspects completely.
  • v1.0, October 1996, published by Take 2 in North America, although a few copies found their way to other countries. Silver boxed, with 30 page manual, and widely regarded as unplayable.
  • v1.01C4 (also v1.01R4C?), March 1997, published by GameTek in United Kingdom. Subsequently released to other European countries with translated manuals, but no in-game translation. Silver boxed with a small fighter graphic on the front, with 80 page manual and keyboard reference card.
  • Demo v1.01C5 (?), May 1997 (?), released on the cover disc of Computer Gaming World. Unconfirmed limitations: “Free Flight, Xtreme Carnage and 1 ACM mission all taking place in only two space regions containing up to 4 planets.”
  • v1.01D7C (also v1.97?), February 1998, free version (commonly without opening video), which featured on several video game magazine cover disks. The v1.01D7C patch was originally completed in November 1997 but the release of the free version was delayed due to legal action involving Take 2. The free version can only be patched to v1.04B (for 3DFX cards only). A CD containing v1.01D7C was also sold via the internet.
  • v2.00, December 1998, published by Interplay in North America as a budget title, alongside a Star Trek game. 40 page printed manual, with the rest on the CD. This is sometimes referred to as the Developer’s or Deluxe edition, or version v1.1. Around this time $10 CD upgrades from v1.x to v2.x were available via the internet, but these were discontinued during 1999.
  • Demo v2.0, May 1999 and January 2000. The first is based on v2.00, the second on v2.09. Unknown limitations.
  • v2.07/2.08, 1999, published by Interplay in North America. Packaging identical to v2.00 – from the technical FAQ: “Though the box may say v2.0, it may contain v2.07 because the game has had several manufacturing runs.”
  • v2.08, October 1999, published by GT Interactive in Europe. Dark blue box with watercolour picture of battlecruiser, and 142 page manual with appendices on CD. Included Map Pak.
  • v2.08, March 2000, published by Jack Of All Games in Oceania.
  • v2.09, July 2001, freeware internet release. Contained everything, including modifications and game-builder script.

Various patches were written in-between these releases – precise details of which are no longer particularly relevant. 3DFX support was first added to the game by patch v1.03E, March 1998. The last major v1.x patch was 1.08B, July 1998, although a series of 1.09 patches ending in v1.09D were released late in 1998 to preview v2.0 features. The last v2.x patch was v2.09, January 2000. v1.x are primarily DOS based, v2.x only run from Windows (albeit essentially still looking like DOS based). While in space, CTRL+V will display the current version number.

2.5 Where can I get the game, patches and manual?

The final (v2.09) version is available as freeware from several sites including and . The file is about 135MB. You should also apply the patch available here, or , which removes the CD check when running without debug mode and fixes a glitch in the opening animation sequence. This freeware version defaults to debug mode – in order to play the game fully, use the previous patch and then launch the game with debug mode off. See Why does the freeware version ask for the CD? Why is it running in debug mode? below for further explanation.

The final set of manuals, along with patches from v2.00 and v2.07 (North America re-releases) to v2.08, v2.08 (re-release elsewhere) to v2.09 (final), and a compendium of modifications, cheats and editing tools are no longer known to be available for download – download the entire freeware version instead. There are no patches from 1.x to v2.x available. A few games sites have some older patches in their archives, for example .

2.6 Why so many versions? Did it really take ten years to develop? Tell me some history…

BC3K probably has a longer, more colourful history than any other single video game. Tom Liam MacDonald, writing in Boot Magazine: “Battlecruiser 3000 AD went straight from long, troubled development to being the most unplayable title ever released.” Its post-release history was more remarkable: Amidst the law suits and usenet flame wars, three years worth of patching eventually produced something close to a finished game. This section is just a summary of what could probably fill a book if fully researched, although the truth will probably never be known, as MacDonald comments on usenet in October 1997, “facts around this particular game wind up like Alice through the looking glass.”

Developer Derek Smart wrote his version of events here, in 1999. A similar development history is also contained within the v1.01D7C ‘preview’ manual, which can be found here, . A slightly different interpretation is offered by Bill Huffman, – only the first part is particularly relevant to BC3K’s history, the later half tending to focus on the flame wars. Huffman has also collected various usenet source material here, . A third analysis of events surrounding the game is offered by Dean Gordon in “A Battlecruiser Named Desire” (formerly at Games Domain). Many others have been involved along the way, some of whom have never stated their interpretation of events.

BC3K was originally conceived in 1989, when Derek Smart lived in the United Kingdom. The game first emerged in a 1992 demo. From Stephen Poole, writing for GameSpot: “Smart had already talked one magazine [Computer Games Strategy Plus] into running a large feature on BC3K, probably the first and only time anyone’s run a feature story on a game that didn’t ship until four years later. By the time 1993 Winter CES rolled around, Three-Sixty Software had acquired the game and scheduled it for release in April 1993. It wasn’t long before Three-Sixty went bankrupt.” A publisher called Velocity picked up BC3K, before splitting up and the game falling to Mission Studios. Derek Smart writes: “For three years I was chasing technology. Great games came and went and Battlecruiser 3000 AD was still in development. Review followed review, still no game in sight. By late 1994, the delays, slips and technical difficulties finally put a strain on the limited financial resources of Mission Studios.”

After a period with Intracorp, the publishing rights finally landed with Take 2. In the year that followed, BC3K continued to be hyped, whilst showing few signs of actually being completed. Nai-Chi Lee notes that, “Ads for BC3K appeared in magazines as early as 1993. Naturally, BC3K became the longest-running vaporware joke among Internet gamers.” GameSpot later ranked BC3K number one in their Vaporware ‘Hall of Shame’ – – “If you had to use a single product as an example to help you explain the concept of ‘Vaporware’ to a newbie, this would be it.” Dean Gordon writes: “The game became bogged down by its own ambition, as Derek Smart … saw more and more games and wanted them incorporated into his own.” Smart himself admits a certain over-enthusiasm in a usenet post of April 1996: “Due to inexperience, I simply went overboard on my first outing. Once it started, I couldn’t stop myself.”

Release dates for Christmas 1995 and early 1996 came and went, with advertising campaigns and empty promotional silver boxes in stores, but no software. A beta version leaked out which reinforced the notion that development reality did not match the hype. By April 1996 Take 2 had taken development in-house in an attempt to get something produced for the end of that year. Smart’s comments give a flavour of the development environment: “By August 1996 we were already talking separation, at least they were, because I’d had enough and was thinking divorce with full intentions of taking the furniture, the cutlery, the car, the jewelry and the dog. In the end I did just that. Anyway, the Take 2 producer [Tom Rigas] and his gang were getting heat from New York. I wasn’t getting heat from anyone because I wasn’t listening. Period.” Philip R. Spagnolli, former Take 2 employee, albeit with no direct involvement in BC3K, commenting on usenet in December 1996: “Take2’s flight engine [named Chase] was added … but most of the code was sheltered from the programmers due to the nature of Smart’s desire to keep his special code secret. Much of the cool stuff like the supposed neural net would not work with the Take2 flight engine.”

The precise circumstances surrounding the release of the game are the stuff of legend: attacks on office Coke machines, computers being confiscated, completed code being ignored – it is hard to know what to believe. It is widely acknowledged that the game was incomplete, untested, and effectively unplayable out of the box. The US release is reputed to have had a return rate of 70-90%. The worst irony of all was that it had been extensively hyped as “the last thing you’ll ever desire”. As Daniel Evans writes, “the problem was simply: how good could a game be that wouldn’t even install?”

As an aside, the associated advertising campaign by GameTek rates 3rd in M. Evan Brooks’ list of the worst video games advertising at . Jonathan Normington writes: “I remember noticing a couple of months back [from February 1997] that GameTek seemed to have flooded UK gaming magazines with tacky adverts – the Joanne Guest BC3000AD one, a picture of a bloke sitting on a pile of bones, one with some sort of comedy penguin… they told me absolutely nothing about the game they were supposed to be advertising.” From the Joanne Guest FAQ ( ): “That was not the only version of the advert. For the more ‘laddish’ magazines (for example, PC Zone) one or two alterations were made. For a start, the caption ‘She *really* wants it’ was added, and in this version of the photo it looked like she wasn’t wearing any panties (the game box obviously obscured the interesting area). This had the effect of getting the game talked about, but not necessarily in the way that the advertiser had hoped: complaints were made to the ASA [Advertising Standards Agency] who handed down a judgement that the advertiser should desist from that style of advertising.” Later a third version appeared with the words “censored by publisher” written across the main image.

Dean Gordon comments: “[Smart and Take 2] both knew that they were releasing an incomplete and unplayable product and yet no empirical evidence exists that either warned gamers until after the fact.” Relations between Smart and Take 2 boiled over into public disagreement immediately after release. Mark Seremet (Take 2 president), writing in October 1996: “And there you have it, perhaps the most incendiary feud ever to take place in a public forum between a game developer and publisher. Stay tuned, somehow we don’t think we’ve read the last salvo.” Indeed. Things degenerated into legal action, details of which cannot readily be described here. Take 2 and Smart finally ‘buried the hatchet’ 26 months later in a joint press release. Take 2 bought both Mission Studios and GameTek, and have said relatively little in public about the BC3K saga.

Derek Smart writes: “I decided to set up a support network of supporters and gamers to help fix the game. Take Two, the publisher, has never participated in this endeavour, leaving the game for dead.” Almost any other game would have died there and then. But BC3K refused to die. The game was slowly patched up by its developer, assisted by his fans.

GameTek originally delayed their European release in anticipation of the complete v1.1 (what later emerged as v2.0). Chris Vallely, GameTek tester wrote in December 1996: “The US release of this game was deemed by us to be not of the required quality. We have experienced difficulties with games of this nature before [presumably Frontier First Encounters], so are particularly eager to ensure that this product is as good as we can possibly make it.” Derek Smart writes: “Take Two continued to ship the dud US units in the US and even to international countries; causing problems for GameTek who were then forced to release v1.01C4 of the game in March in the face of dropped orders.” While v1.01C4 was just about playable out of the box and came with a manual that attempted to explain the basics of the game, it was far from complete or stable.

Gradually the game was patched until by the end of 1997 it had started to resemble a finished product. Version v1.01D7C was given away free at the start of 1998. Budget (boxed) releases followed, which eventually incorporated 3DFX support, full fleet command and control, and planetary surface maps. Development of BC3K finally ceased at the start of 2000, more than 10 years after it started. In 2001 BC3K was released as freeware.

Development shifted to a variety of sequels, which eventually delivered Battlecruiser Millennium in November 2001 (provisionally titled 3020AD), and a theoretically multiplayer “Gold” version in March 2003; although not before a massive multiplayer (“Battlecruiser Online”) and first person shooter add-ons had been considered. Occasionally the Battlecruiser franchise shows signs of being ended. A project codenamed ‘ABC’ was announced around 2000, widely thought to be an acronym for ‘After BattleCruiser’ (although there were plenty of other less complementary explanations 😉 ). The Battlecruiser games were eventually followed by Universal Combat – a game which draws on much of BC3K’s “design”, albeit with greater emphasis on ground combat. Derek Smart’s comments help explain why Battlecruiser is still being developed: “BC3K was not designed to be a one off title. All the engines it has were written from the ground up and that’s where my investment lies. To this day, the core of BC3K does not even use 50% of what the engines are capable of.” Dean Gordon posed an interesting question back in 1998: “Would the gaming world forget Smart’s annibulus horribulus if he just delivered a finished game that worked?”

2.7 What about the flame war?

Erm. I was afraid you were going to ask about that. Flame wars are public disagreements between people of opposing views that become personal attacks. Flame wars are not uncommon on the internet; but flame wars that last more than 7 years and generate tens of thousands of threads are. The duration and scale of these exchanges makes them hard to ignore. They have had a lasting influence on what for want of a better word we might call the “Battlecruiser community”. A compendium of background to the flame wars by Bill Huffman can be found here, . Nai-Chi Lee wrote an entertaining FAQ in 1997, an archive copy of which can be found at – although the text takes the same title as this document, it contains no information about the software at all. These flame wars started on AOL and Compuserve forums and usenet in the years prior to BC3K’s (anticipated/hyped) release; moved entirely to usenet around the time of the release, where they are best known; before drifting onto other internet based forums. They are not primarily about the game. Rather, they are inspired by the developer’s “unique style in public relations” (as Bill Huffman describes it).

Index: Battlecruiser 3000AD FAQ ·