The Saga of Battlecruiser 3000
Suggested by Mountain Man

Derek Smart is a pretty brainy guy -- just ask him and he'll let you know, at length. He's also an industry legend, but probably not in the way he intended when he started writing and programming Battlecruiser 3000 AD all by himself, in his spare time, in 1989. For the last fourteen years, Smart, a self-taught coder, has managed to live out a public soap opera almost as epic as Battlecruiser was supposed to be.

Battlecruiser 3000 was an insanely ambitious game -- "The last thing you'll ever desire" according to pre-release ads in computer gaming magazines. The idea was to simulate literally every aspect of commanding an enormous star cruiser that would patrol the galaxy doing ... well, whatever the player had in mind. If you wanted to just command your fighters in a space battle from a strategic perspective, you could. If you wanted to climb in the cockpit and fly a fighter, you could. If you wanted to shuttle down to a planet and shoot the natives FPS style, the game supported that too. It was every gamer's dream.


I wonder what kind of flamewars they have on other planets.
Then it all started to go wrong. For the first seven years of development, Smart was essentially a one man band on the game, coding and doing his own PR for the title, drumming up considerable interest among gamers and the press. The game even managed to land on the cover of Computer Games Strategy Plus in 1992, the subject of a breathless preview that trumpeted every last one of Smart's claims for the game. Yet, during that time, Smart continued to clash with his publishers, moving through several until at last landing at Take 2, then just a small also-ran in the industry.

Take 2 was where Smart's gift for blarney finally ran out. After seven years of development and countless clashes with Smart, the company decided to release the game as-is in 1996. It was, naturally, a train wreck. The game was a bug-infested mess, and the package itself came with a tiny manual that didn't even begin to explain how to play a game that complex. Smart went ballistic, publicly savaging Take 2 for "sabotaging" his game, and continuing to clash with Take 2 on a regular basis. Reports even circulated that during one particularly heated exchange, Smart began tearing up the Take 2 office, attacking a Coke machine in the lobby (a story Smart denies).

The whole incident might have died away had Smart's mouth not continued running two miles ahead of his brain. Smart had been posting progress reports and answering questions on the game on AOL and Compuserve, then later on Usenet. The release of the game, though, began what some consider the longest running flame war on the Internet, with Smart and some of his fans on one side, and a whole bunch of detractors on the other. The intricacies of the flame war are very complicated, but there's a good summary of them here.

Unfortunately, this story doesn't have an ending. Throughout the subsequent patches to Battlecruiser 3000, the release of a sequel (Battlecruiser Millennium), and the current development of Battlecruiser: Generations and Battlecruiser Online, Smart has continued to post on Usenet newgroups, outspokenly defending his game and franchise against all detractors while gathering a cast of bizarre characters on both sides of a debate that has gone on longer than many marriages. Where it will end, only the Supreme Commander knows.

Delsyn: There was considerable discussion among the editors on whether or not to include the Battlecruiser saga on the original "25 Dumbest" list. I think we made the right decision to leave it off because, in the end, the scale of the dumbness was just too small. The dumb decisions on the original list affected thousands of people, some destroyed whole companies and set the industry back years. In the end, Smart's craziness only affected Smart, and the small group of people who continue to snipe with him on the Internet. It certainly didn't affect Take 2, which has since become a monster company. It didn't even affect Smart that much. He's doing fine professionally, with a nice contract from Dreamcatcher in his pocket, and the imminent release of two games that might finally make good on the promises he made all those years ago. Everyone has a different road to success. Smart's is just a lot more entertaining than most.

Sluggo: Regardless of who was at fault, I've always watched with curious interest as Smart has continued to make his presence felt on countless message boards, either in his own defense, or speaking out on some other topic. Gaming history is filled with stories of unfortunate games pushed out the door before they were finished -- SiN, for example. But intentional or not, Smart seems to have a knack for stirring up controversy and making himself a target, which only helped sensationalize the BC3K flap that much more. Smart has a pretty loyal group of fans; hopefully, he can get back to finishing the game he's dreamed of, and we can make with the playing instead of the flaming.

Fragmaster: Derek Smart threatened to sue me once, but that's not exactly an exclusive club. The guy takes a tremendous amount of ... well, some would call it "pride" in his work, but I would call it "insane wacko crazy-man obsession." At one point I thought that there was no possible way someone could be such a nutball, and that this was just some scheme of his to draw attention to his game. And, maybe it was! If it wasn't for his antics, there's no way I would have ever heard of some obscure space simulator that looks about as much fun to play as an Excel spreadsheet.

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