Novell and the computer game that changed networking

Ex-Novell exec shares the story of Snipes

For a larger story, "Nine things you don’t know about Novell," I recently asked the Father of NetWare Drew Major about Snipes, a game written by the original NetWare developers. Snipes is a maze game written in 1982 in which you control a creature that destroys things called snipes and their hives.

For a larger story, "Nine things you don’t know about Novell," I recently asked the Father of NetWare Drew Major about Snipes, a game written by the original NetWare developers. Snipes is a maze game written in 1982 in which you control a creature that destroys things called snipes, and their hives.

Here's the story of Snipes, as told by Major:

“When SuperSet (Kyle Powell, Dale Neibaur, Mark Hurst and I) bought our first IBM PC in February 1982, there were no good games and hardly any software available for it. The only games were some lame BASIC-language games such as Donkey, written by Bill Gates, where you were driving down the road and had to jump from lane to lane to avoid hitting donkeys.

We wrote Snipes so we could have a 'real’ non-BASIC game to play on the PC. It was based on a game called Rats, which was available on Convergent Technologies’ computers. Snipes was constrained by the limitations of the character-only monochrome IBM screens. It was written in PLM [Programming Language for Microcomputers], which was the only compiler available to us, as the C programming language hadn’t been ported to the PC yet.

We wrote Snipes in the spring of 1982 and sold the single-user version through ComputerLand for about a year. It was one of the first PC games, and got several good reviews. We sold several thousand copies.

At the same time we were networking the IBM PC. We first demo-ed the networked PCs (around the Sharenet file server) at the National Computer Conference, which was held in Houston in June of 1982. A couple of weeks before going, we realized that we had no way of showing customers that the computers were actually networked. The only commercial software we had at the time was WordStar, and it was a single-user version and would only minimally show off the network. So we got the idea to make a network version of our single-user Snipes game, because that would for sure show that we had a real network (as the other users would navigate into your screen).

So network Snipes was the first network program written for the PC (because we’d just built the first network) and it was written as a demo to prove that there was in fact a network running and that the network was fast (it had real-time action at 18 frames a second).

For a long time, like at least a year, it was the only network-aware application available for the PC. For a long time people used the Novell network primarily to run single-user applications around shared files and printers. Novell salespersons would typically end their sales presentations by having the users run the network version of Snipes.

SuperSet always retained ownership and copyright for Snipes and network Snipes, but allowed Novell to ship it with every copy of NetWare. We decided to include it in the first NetWare shipment (because there were no other network applications available) and Novell’s early customers just came to expect it. It was very popular with the Novell users, and I had numerous people tell me that come 5:00 pm the Snipes games would begin (characterized by the rapid pounding of the various shooting keys). I think Novell shipped it for about eight years (and dropped it when they shipped NetWare v3.0 in 1989).

Snipes was also used to test network adapters. Given the nature of how it synchronized the various computers, it would stress the system in unique ways that would expose problems with network adapter cards or driver software. For many years the last test that had to be passed for Novell to certify a network adapter/driver was the 'Does Snipes work' test.

About three years ago, someone showed me where there was a Linux version of Snipes available. There also is a version of Snipes for Windows.

So Snipes still lives! (I also still have the original source on my laptop; haven’t had the heart to clean things out.)”

Learn more about this topic

Nine things you don't know about Novell04/05/07Ray Noorda: A friend to network managers10/12/06Remembering Novell’s Ray Noorda10/10/0620 People who changed the industry03/27/06
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