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Home » Retrogaming, Technology

No, the BBS is not extinct

By: 4 June 2013 5 Comments

SyncTERMIf you know what a BBS (bulletin board system) is, then you’ve been geeking it up with computers for a long time. Although the advent of the Internet all but ended the old BBS days, those are still around and allowing users to send messages, download files and play those charmingly retro games.

Before getting into how you can easily access any BBS you can think of through your Internet connection, it’s important to take a brief look at the history of those systems and why they became popular.

For the uninitiated, think of a BBS as the forerunner of the Internet. Those were generally run on a single computer by a hobbyist (the SysOp or system operator) that had at least one modem attached to it. People who wanted to access a BBS would hook a phone line up to a trusty modem, dial the BBS, log in and get busy. Well, one might log in quickly — just about every BBS here in central Arkansas could only host one user at a time. It was a very common thing, then, to dial into a BBS and be greeted by a busy signal. It was annoying, but we’re talking about primitive online communications that became popular in the 1980s and remained so until the mid-1990s when the Internet gained mass acceptance and rendered the good old BBS all but obsolete.

What could one do on a BBS? Users could send messages to each other, download files (there was a lot of piracy going on in those days, folks), upload files and some SysOps loved to send out news updates regarding technology and the like. One of the most popular features of any BBS out there was the availability of door games. Those utilized crude ASCII and ANSI graphics, relied on a lot of text and only a few allowed very limited arcade action — just imagine the lag time involved in an era in which 1200 and 2400 baud modems were common and it’s easy to see why arcade action was a difficult thing in the BBS days. However, those doors did allow for multiplayer gaming,  which was extremely novel at the time. You had adventure games like Legend of the Red Dragon, resource management/combat simulators like TradeWars and Falcon’s Eye and even some more unexpected titles such as fishing games.

Those games, in fact, are still a hoot and the nostalgic and/or curious among us might be glad to know that there are a ton of the old BBS systems left out there. Instead of dialing them up on a phone line, however, you use Telnet to access them over the Internet and it’s an easy thing to do.

Interested? Well, the first thing you have to do is make sure that Telnet is active on your system. If you have Windows XP, there’s a good chance that Telnet is active. To make sure that it is active, simply open your control panel, click the “Performance and Maintenance” icon (“Administrative Tools” if you’re in classic view) and then click the “Services” icon. From there, double click the “Telnet” icon and make sure it is not disabled in the resulting “properties” dialogue.

Telnet is not turned on by default in Windows 7/Vista/8. For Windows 7/Vista, just open the control panel, select “Programs and Features,” select “Turn Windows features on or off,” select “Telnet” and then press OK. The process is similar for Windows 8 — open the control panel, click “Uninstall or Change a Program,” click “Turn Windows Features on or off,” click on “Telnet Client” and you’re all set.

Now, you can access Telnet from your command prompt, but that’s not just a whole lot of fun. The process involves typing in the command “Telnet” and then typing “open” followed by the BBS address and port number. That’s easy enough to figure out, but that method won’t store the addresses to BBS and that can be a pain if you’re poking through a lot of them in hopes of finding your favorite boards.

A much simpler method is to download the SyncTERM client (just click the link) for Windows, Mac, Linux, OpenBSD, NetBSD and FreeBSD. You can store the addresses to your favorite boards there and the program comes built in with several so you can start hunting for boards that you like.

And, yes, door games are a huge part of what’s going on in the BBS world right now. The only problem is finding games that are popular and attract enough players to make things interesting. It might not be a bad idea to get some like minded friends together to jump on the same game on the same BBS and commence to wailing on each other.

Want to find more boards? That’s easy enough — just click here to head to the Telnet BBS Guide. If you want to learn more about the technical aspects of using Telnet, click here.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email =


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