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The History of The Underdogs

In honor of HotU's 25th anniversary, let's take a walk down memory lane! The below timeline just scratches the surface of all the shenanigans that HotU was a part of (even instigator of) in the past 25 years, but we hope it will spark some fond memories for those that were there, as well as pique the interest of those that missed it. Be sure to check out the links provided — many of them use the Internet Archive's "Wayback Machine" to recall the original webpages that the timeline refers to.

If you have any questions or comments about the history of HotU, please reach out to Tim.al on Discord.


Sarinee Achavanuntakul (aka Underdogs) builds and launches Home of the Underdogs on October 2, 1998. Approximately 30 games are showcased with reviews, screenshots, and download.
...and in November, the site is erased for the first time (of many) due to copyright issues, after reaching 80 games (incredible for one month of work!).
However, many people from all corners of the world (by email and the old IRC channel #Oldgames) offered encouragement to keep the site going.


HotU is re-opened on a new host and then promptly deleted after three weeks. Re-opened on yet another host within a few days. This nomadic server-hopping existence becomes the norm for HotU for the first several months.
By Q2 1999 the game count has exploded to nearly 400 games. Games are spread across 60+ free accounts to avoid space limits and deletion by their hosts due to (presumed) copyright violations.
The HotU IRC channel (#Underdogs) is started, while the site continues to fight for survival. The site finally moves to Underdogs.GamingDepot.com — a paid server — and gains some stability.
The original medieval shield logos are removed by request of the artist. They're replaced by the Spacedog, which becomes the site mascot. The original GIF is licensed from a retro-image site for $5.
By Q4, HotU exceeds 700 games and 1,000,000 hits. The site is taken down for a week (on purpose this time) in protest of link stealing. The site also has shifted its focus to underrated and rare games, rather than just Underdogs' favorites.
Underdogs' first editorial is posted on the site, and the first dedicated helpers are recruited from the #Underdogs IRC channel – Oldwolf (sysadmin), Sugoll, Duglis, Krovax, Rascal, and Mok, to name a few. Over 70 others are given credit for contributing to the site in 1999.


HotU hits the 1,000 game milestone early in 2000. The site moves to www.theunderdogs.org with a dedicated server. Underdogs starts distributing the workload by giving each genre a dedicated game editor.
Now that HotU has its own server, it is able to host other "affiliate" sites such as CW#3, which contributed many of the early games to the archive.
HotUv2.0 launches on July 2, 2000, introducing the purple/beige look and matching buttons and icons. Other upgrades to the site include:
  • Introduction of the MySQL and PHP backend, replacing the pure HTML site.
  • User Ratings: This feature allows users to vote and contribute to the games' ratings (which are still shown on each game's review page).
  • Real Dog tag added, to show which games Underdogs did not want to include but was forced to due to incessant requests.
Site downloads hit a ridiculous 35Gb daily, so a second server is added to spread the load.
The HotU Community Site (a.k.a. the forum) is launched, providing a focal point for social interaction amongst HotU members – trading games, chatting, and setting up group events.
The first major cease and desist order comes from the ISDA (now the ESA) – many games are removed from the site to avoid copyright violations. An outpouring of support from the HotU community convinces the team to keep the site going.


Site regular Reverendo creates “The Kennel” and releases the HotU webcomic – a monthly comic strip about a “Mr. Underdog” who deals with copyright issues, old games, and encounters some HotU Community regulars.
Vanguard3000 (another HotU regular) creates "Home of the Smileys" – an extensive library of chat smileys (later known as emoji) to use on the HotU forums, before the days when these things were built-in.
The HotU Help Site is launched – a vast collection of posts from the HotU forums regarding bugs, installation issues, and cracks for various games on the site.
"Brunus Faces"" is launched – a site built by HotU regulars and hosted on the server, taking screenshots from various games and making them available as avatars for the HotU forum.
The first HotU Scavenger Hunt takes place, spawning several more HotU Community games over the next few years.
Around this time, HotU begins hosting gamebooks — i.e., 'Choose-Your-Own-Adventure' style books based on games. They were manually scanned and posted on the site by the hundreds. Most of the archive still exists at Abandonia today.
"Macintosh Garden" is launched and hosted on the HotU server. Check out the original site, it's super cool. MG was (and still is) a beautiful, independently run site focused on Mac-specific abandonware. The inclusion of MG in the list of HotU affiliates effectively adds several hundred more games to HotU’s servers.
By the end of 2001, HotU has over 3,000 downloadable games.


"Denizen" is launched – Underdogs’ new blog, designed to bridge the gap between HotU and the community by “distilling, mining, and condensing ideas and posts that [she thought were] of interest to the HotU visitors.”
The official HotU Game Competitions are launched, offering prizes and displaying tournament leaderboards for HotU community members to enjoy.
The HotU Family Album is started by Shizazination – pictures of all the HotU forum regulars, before the days of social media.
The domain www.theunderdogs.org is lost to a cybersquatter (a loser who waits for the exact moment a site domain needs to be renewed, and renews it in their name, stealing it from the owner). Site relocates to www.the-underdogs.org.
By the end of 2002, HotU has over 4,000 downloadable games.


HotU v3.0 launches on February 6, 2003. Includes a number of new features, including:
  • The HotU Store - an online store that sells games on behalf of small developers.
  • Gamehosting — allowing HotU members to review games anda maintain the corresponding game pages.
  • Commenting — HotU users could now comment on games
  • Totally new layout — keeping the same color scheme, but with custom banners, borders, images, and buttons. This is the same design that you see on the site today.
The Members Worldwide feature allows HotU members to see where everyone else lives on a world map.
By the end of 2003, 5,000 games are available for download on the site.


Wired interviews HotU members about legality and abandonware.
Heavy download traffic is becoming a problem, and is exacerbated by hacking attempts, which regularly take down the site. One hacking attempt takes down the HotU forum for three months. BitTorrent becomes a download option and helps to mitigate the bandwidth issues.


Underdogs reports that they are looking for ways to transform the site into a wiki and puts out a request for help maintaining the site. Most of the site activity is limited to the forums at this point, as the pace of adding games to the collection has slowed significantly.
By December of 2005, the HotU forum surpasses 175,000 registered users and 160,000 posts.


Underdogs’ last news update adds 38 new games bringing the total to 5,325 games reviewed and 1,353 manuals.
The the-underdogs.org domain is lost to a cybersquatter (again), and the site relocates to www.the-underdogs.info.


The site remains static. The forums are still in use, but continued hacks and nonstop spam overwhelm the few remaining volunteer moderators, and forum activity declines significantly.
No new games are added to the collection during 2007 or 2008.


The company hosting HotU’s webserver goes down permanently due to bankruptcy. This time, Underdogs (now going by the handle Fringer) elects to release all non-downloadable site content under a Creative Commons 2.0 license. The games, gamebooks, and manuals are not recovered, but largely thanks to HotU, most are now out there on the internet for your enjoyment.
The Home of The Underdogs Revival Project is started by Fringer. She provides some loose guidance, but largely leaves it to the community to decide the future of HotU.
Months of intense debate and petty squabbling ensue. Disagreement about the future of the site leads to several flavors of HotU revival/preservation occurring in parallel. Among them, in order of establishment from March through April 2009:
Andrew Armstrong of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) uploads all of the recoverable site content to the Internet Archive.
Attic of the Underdogs, by Mr. Creosote, preserves the site’s basic HTML and screenshots with the intention of making it available for reference. It is still available today.
HOTUD.org is established by Lord_Pall, with the mission of evolving the site “into an archive, encyclopedia, centerpiece for digital game preservation”
Homeoftheunderdogs.net is established by Archibald, with the mission to “continue the spirit, look, feel and functionality of the HotU”. This is the site you're looking at today!
Hotu.pratyeka.org is established by Walter with the mission to make a site that is focused on multi-lingual support and searchability.
Underdogged.com is established by Anveo with the mission to make a site that is easily extendable, searchable, and multi-lingual.
The Macintosh Garden revival project is successful and is the only original HotU affiliate still active today.
Several interviews (such as this, this, and this) run in the summer of 2009, attempting to make sense of the messy HotU decline and revival.
HOTUD.org starts re-hosting some games for download and begins adding new games to their branch of the original archive. The site has its own forum and several dozen active members.


HOTUD.org continues to add games to the database and maintain the community forums. As of 2012, HOTUD.org has added 109 games to the collection. Meanwhile, both the Underdogged and Pratyeka.org versions of the HotU revival are defunct.
In May 2013, the HOTUD.org forum ceases to be hosted, leaving the HotU community without an official communication channel for the first time in 15 years.


In early 2014, HOTUD.org is taken down, citing the success of other growing sites like GOG and Abandonia.
Archibald's homeoftheunderdogs.net is still active, and he notices that nobody else seems to be putting any effort into a permanent revival. He starts the Revival-of-the-Revival Google Group to gauge interest.
In the fall of 2014, HotU finally establishes a Facebook and Twitter presence.
As part of the site refresh and cleanup, the old “Top Dog” tag is removed from 1,607 games, leaving 2,069 (39% of all games) as Top Dogs. The sentiment was that there were WAY too many "Top Dog" games in the collection.
Late in 2014, the first two new games are added to the present-day database. The 109 games added during the HOTUD.org days were not carried over to Homeoftheunderdogs.net.


The first HotU Council was established, with the intent to make the site a group effort. The council does not last very long, but one council member — LotBlind — remains and becomes the primary editor of the site's content.


Efforts begin (and continue until 2019) to clean up all the broken links and tidy up various issues with the English in all the Top Dog entries for increased readability.
HotU adopts a quarterly update cadence, which it has maintained to this day.


A new interview with Fringer is printed in Kotaku, full of remembrances and insights about the old site.


Discord is established as the new community forum, replacing the old Google Groups forum.


HotU continues to be maintained by Archibald and LotBlind, providing quarterly updates and new games on a regular basis.


A new HotU Advisory Council and Executive Council are established to help keep the site going and reduce the load on Archibald and LotBlind. New council members are FloatingDogs, Fuzzy, gibbousmoon_99, RayReaper, and Tim.al.


HotU turns 25 years-old!

If you have anything to add to this (far from complete) history of HotU, please contact tim.al on our Discord channel. For an even more nostalgic take on HotU, you can view the original site history page here. The original site history ends with the following quote from our founder — and why change it now?

"...every undertaking, however large or small, begins with a dream. It then takes a lot of patience, tenacity, and (sometimes superhuman) determination to see it through. Here’s hoping that our little history may inspire someone to start a site dedicated to oldies, and never give up."

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