MuffinTerm is the Best Way to Access Retro Telnet BBS Systems on a Mac, iPad or iPhone

Computer Bulletin Board Systems, aka BBS’s, were how many of us “went online” back in the days before the commercial Internet. Thousands of systems were set up all over the world and many were even connected to one another in massive hobbyist networks like FidoNet. I covered the basics of the BBS world in this video from seven years ago.

The other day I stumbled across a great post on the Byte Cellar about a new app called MuffinTerm. This is the subject of my latest video.

Muffinterm is a free telnet client that runs across the Mac, iPad and iPhone designed specifically to connect to retro BBS systems complete with full ANSI and IBM PC graphics support. It also supports Commodore PETSCII systems (something I never experienced back in the day). Some other formats will be added to it in the near future.

The BBS system I profiled in the piece is called “Captain’s Quarters II” which is run on the more modern Mystic BBS platform. It’s a great example of what a good BBS looked like back in the day: an active community with a great file section and a fun assortment of games.

BBS systems largely died out in popularity in the mid 90’s when the Internet made the entire world accessible without long distance telephone charges. It was pretty crazy how fast everyone pulled up stakes and went on the ‘Net. If you missed this era of computing I do suggest to check out Jason Scott’s excellent documentary on YouTube. It not only covers the history of computer bulletin boards but also has interviews with some of the people that made it all work.

MuffinTerm is available in the Mac and iPhone/iPad app stores. For PC and Linux users Syncterm is great client. A browser based alternative called fTelnet is another good solution. And if you’re looking for a BBS to connect to the Telnet BBS Guide maintains a list of active bulletin board systems that can be filtered down by BBS software. You’ll even find bulletin boards running on original retro hardware!

Downloading Shareware Games in the Early 90’s

I stumbled across a game I used to play in 1992 as a teenager called “Night Raid” the other day. You can find it on the Internet Archive and play it right in your browser!

Night Raid was a take on an old Apple II game called “Sabotage.” The premise of both games is that you’re a lone anti-aircraft gunner fighting off wave up after wave of paratroopers trying to take you out. You earn points with each aircraft and paratrooper hit and lose a point every time the gun is fired.

I hadn’t given the game much thought over the years (I even forgot its name) but the other day something about it popped in my head that sent me down a Google rabbit hole. A few minutes of searching brought me to the Internet Archive and I immediately was back in the 90’s playing a cool shareware game in my browser! I’ve since added it to the DosBox-X instance I run on my Macbook Air.

One of the fun parts about Night Raid was the heavy promotion of the Software Creations Bulletin Board System (BBS) that hosted its download files. During the Intermission scenes a little airplane flies overhead with the phone number for the BBS and the end screen of the game also encourages people to dial in and experience the board’s 50 lines and 6 gigabytes of storage space!

Software Creations was located in Massachusetts and was one of the larger BBS systems at the time. When a hot new shareware game came out you’d hear about it on FidoNet message boards on your local BBS but you’d have to dial out long distance to pick up the files at Software Creations. This was also where I picked up Doom in 1993 right when it was released to the public.

As you can imagine I racked up some major phone bills dialing into that BBS. Night Raid’s zip file came in at around half a megabyte which took roughly 33 minutes to download on the 2400 baud modem I used at the time.

When Doom came out the following year it was a whopping 2 megabytes and took over two hours to download. Unfortunately for me there wasn’t an active shareware gaming user base in my local calling area beyond my buddies and me so long distance was the only way to get at the latest goods.

When I finally had the cash to buy a 14,400 baud modem that same Doom download could be done in 20 minutes. With long distance rates running about 10-15 cents per minute that faster modem offered a huge return on investment!

BBS systems are still out there but are mostly available on the Internet these days via telnet. I did a video on the topic a few years ago if you’d like to get a feel for what it was like on one of those systems.

The whole scene died out pretty quickly once dialup Internet service became available in the mid 90’s. But it’s great to see so many people working to keep not only BBS’ing alive but also some of the networks that connected them together like FidoNet.

The Software Creations BBS was acquired by the “Total Entertainment Network” in 1995 right as BBS’ing gave way to web surfing. Apparently TEN cut their losses as the BBS’ing collapsed and shut the system down only a year or so after the acquisition according to Apogee Software’s Joe Siegler in a 2002 message board post:

It was even more of a surprise to us – as we had our files there. They essentially closed down overnight – we had no warning that it was going to happen.

It would be super cool if one of the Sysops (short for System Operator) had a backup of the BBS somewhere. How awesome would it be to have a time capsule like this accessible via Telnet to experience what the PC gaming scene was like back then.