From paper to the monitor
So, during the 80-90s of the XX century the dots firmly occupied a niche as a favorite intellectual competition of pupils and students. Dots had no competitors in its class and also had no prospects for the further development. However, at the turn of the millennium the situation changed radically. The PC was no longer a luxury, the programming was no longer a prerogative of few professionals, and the World Wide Web was no longer a foreign novelty. The rapid growth of information technologies created a new reality which contained the great potential as well as the obvious risks. On the one hand, the dots got a chance to get out from its closed world, to widen its audience and to start moving in the direction of the sports and commercial viability. On the other hand, the dots quickly lost its monopoly in the field of the youth entertainment. Almost vertical rise of games industry and the wide spread of compact digital devices significantly increased the competition and changed the preferences of the audience and quickly put the classic dots on paper in the category of anachronisms. Therefore the game had to develop in electronic format quickly in order not to sink into oblivion.
And it all began quite lively. By the early 2000s the first generation of students of technical specialties had grown. Programming was their main occupation or a serious hobby. The dots seemed to be the ideal subject for application of the creative effort: the game was well-known to the innovators, the simple rules and the minimum requirements to the visual design made the implementation of its computer model not a difficult task. The additional incentive was the desire to create the artificial intelligence that could put up decent resistance to man.
Not so much time has passed since then. However, it is difficult to restore the detailed chronology of events, as well as to give the detailed description of all these projects. There are very few valid sources. In other cases we deal only with the copies of individual pages from the web archive. The contacts of most authors are outdated. Those, whom we found, don’t show the desire to communicate. Anyway, this fragmentary information still gives some insight into the early years of computer dots.
The firstborn (at least, we could not find anything marked with the earlier date) was the program “Feudal lords” (year 2000) by Constantin Zinovatiy. It was a very interesting and unusual project. Actually, this game wasn’t dots in the usual sense. Apparently, the author tried to attract the audience by styling of the cult game “Heroes of Might & Magic”. Therefore, he depicted the confrontation using the square stone blocks which, when joined, created the forms resembling the fortress walls. However, the algorithm of “building” of these “walls” and the capture of the opponent’s “castles” was fully consistent with the rules of dots, with the exception of the fact that the blocks occupied the cells, but not the crossings of lines. Surprisingly, but it was in that program that the prototype of the modern initial crossing was first used. The houses in the “Feudal lords” were not painted over, but the encirclement was carried out at the maximum trajectory. The game time was not limited. The game ended when the whole field was occupied. There was the possibility to play with the artificial intelligence, but it was very weak.
The program was launched in a single version. There is no data about the audience. Such “medieval” style had no further development. This program can be still downloaded from the web archive.
It is difficult to determine when the next project appeared. The research of sources shows an interesting tendency: in 2002 several programs appeared almost simultaneously. It seems that the same major event motivated the authors to work. It is doubtful that the “Feudal lords” could be the example to follow: the style of new programs was quite different and a lot of time had passed. In our opinion, the most likely candidate for the role of the mastermind was Pavel Torgashov.
Early in 2002 he published his
The first cached copy of the page with the published article was dated 17 April. However, Torgashov wrote in the preamble that he had begun to work on the project “at the time of the summer vacation“. It is clear that this could happen no later than mid-2001. It seems that around that time he began to develop the client part of his program which was called the “Points”. The program allowed playing through a remote server, as well as with the artificial intelligence that had several levels of “skills”. The functional was quite rich for that time, but the graphical solutions were controversial. The playing field had a gray background with the round white sockets where the dots were placed. The rules of the game were the same as in the games on paper: the encirclement was carried out at the maximum path, the houses were painted over, the time for a move was not limited, the game ended when all sockets were filled.
The program was updated several times. The server for the remote game functioned until the end of 2004. Judging by the reviews of experienced players, the server had certain popularity, but eventually lost the competition with the “PointsXT”. The client is still available on the page of its author.
Several programs were created at the same time or some time later than the “Points” by Torgashov. These programs are known to us only in the form of the copies of pages where they were housed. However, the programs are unavailable, and it is not possible to say anything definite about them.
The first mention of the “DOTS” by Aleksey Alekseyenko in the web archive is dated 15 April, 2002. We know about this program only from Mikhail Petrov (the author of another client) who wrote about it later. He said that the program allowed playing locally or through a remote server, and it had no artificial intelligence.
The “Points” by the author, who was known only under the nickname Silimus. The creator of the program dated it 2 January, 2002. But the first copy appeared in the Web archive only on the 3rd of June. Judging by the description, the client allowed playing locally or against the artificial intelligence. In addition, the size of the field could be changed.
The “Spider’s Mind” by the author known only under the nickname Spy Gates. Both the creator and the web archive date the appearance of the program to April 2002. Judging by the description, as well as by Petrov’s statement, the program allowed playing locally and against the artificial intelligence. In the course of searching for the information about the “Spider’s Mind” we made an interesting observation that helped to better understand how such programs had been created in those years. There is a copy of the page of the guest book in the Web archive, where one user asked the author to share the source code required for the thesis.
The “Territory” by Dmitriy Dvortsov. The program was interesting because the user could play not only through the downloaded client, but also via the java player. In addition, the scoring rules described on the page were unusual: if a player encircled the opponent’s encirclement, then the number of encircled dots was added to his score. But the opponent didn’t lose the points for the previously encircled dots, which became captured in the newly-formed encirclement and seemed logically won back. In June 2002 the Web archive saved the copy of a page containing a small illustration of the playing field. In this picture we see the usual game field, but the dots of red and green colors differ from the generally accepted nowadays.
The "Dots" by Andrey Emelyanov. The individual pages of his
The "Dots" by Vasiliy Surovtsev appeared in 2003. A brief
Finally, “The Points”. Its creator is known under the nickname ZaCo (apparently formed from the surname Zakharov). The client allowed playing with yourself or against the artificial intelligence. The last update was released on the 21st of January, 2005. It seems that the program began its work in 2004. The project was mentioned in the blog of its author and on the website of Paul Milov (both sources are available only in the Web archive).
A program by already mentioned Mikhail Petrov was more fortunate. He created the “Dots” that is still available on the author's
The program was updated: the version of 2004 is available now. The audience is unknown, but probably it was not great.
Two programs are quite interesting in respect of the evolution of computer dots. These programs appeared in 2004 and they are also available for download via the web archive. In general, they have much in common with the aforementioned projects. However, some visual and functional solutions are clearly progressive and allow us to consider these programs intermediate between the first programs and the classic programs for playing dots.
Firstly, that was the “Tochki” by Vitaliy Skibin. The web archive saved the page with its description for the first time on August 6, 2004. In general it was a kind of greetings from the past: a simple client which was installed on your computer and allowed your playing locally with another player or against the artificial intelligence. Unlike its predecessors it was richer functionally. The program allowed you to save and to load games, to change your last move, to adjust the field size in a wide range. As for the rules of the game: the encirclement was carried out at the minimum path, the houses were not painted over, the time for a move was not limited, and the landing was not used.
The audience of the project is unknown. The program had no further development.
Secondly, that was the “Dots2” by Crackman. Perhaps that was the most unusual client for playing dots. It was developed in 2004, apparently, in the United States. It was a program with a limited free functionality which was installed on your computer. The main highlight was the three-dimensional game field, on which the dots were displayed in the form of stone towers and the encirclement chain was displayed in the form of walls. You could also play on a normal flat field using the square dots of red and green colors. The client supported the game with yourself, the remote game against another player and the game against the artificial intelligence. The “Dots2” allowed you to save and load games, to change the field size and to scale the cell size, to turn on and to turn off the sound. The game time was not limited. There was no landing. The encirclement was carried out at the maximum path, but the houses were not painted over.
There is no information about the audience, but this program was quite well known in the community of players. In respect of design, interface and marketing, it was the most advanced project in the first period of computer dots. It is not surprising given the country of origin.
So, let’s summarize the results. All clients of that time were the programs that had to be downloaded and installed on your computer. Such approach was consistent with the level of technologies of those years and with the qualification of authors. The amateur status of the majority of projects can be seen with the naked eye: almost all the programs were free and were distributed on primitive, clumsy and uninformative web pages. There were no such things as advertising, feedback and support. The majority of programs existed in one or two versions, but sometimes the enthusiasm of the authors was enough for creating a few upgrades. As for the rules of the game, initially it was a pure tracing from the usual “paper” version, but the first steps towards the modern standards were already visible. The audience of described projects was meager. These programs couldn’t leave a noticeable trace in the history of dots (except, perhaps, the Torgashov’s program and the “Dots2” by Crackman). However, they set the stage for the first real success.
Alexander Parfenov. October 29, 2015