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Echo Cluster
The Official VGA Planets Newsletter
Volume 3. / Issue Number 1.
Jan - March 2001


VGA Planets Quarterly Newsletter

Volume No. 3

Issue No. 1

January - March 2005

Editor
Contributors
Ed Robinson

Merlyn
Donovan
Paul Honigmann
][avok
Tim Wisseman

This Quarters Featured Site

Circus-Maximus.com

Visit Circus-Maximus Today!!


Welcome to the VGA Planets Newsletter! This is the first in a new setup for the newsletter. As such you will see that the newsletter is now going to be a "Quarterly" endeavor, rather than a monthly one. This is due to many reasons, most of which are a constraint on my time, as well as a lack of overall interest (this is just my opinion). As such it was becoming increasingly hard to come up with materials on my own for the monthly spot, so I decided to shrink it down to 4 per year. I hope this will make for a better newsletter, with more information than can be found in a monthly rag. As always, I ask anyone who is interested to send me articles or subjects of interest to have them put here for the general reading of the VGAP public. In this edition you can find an article by Merlyn on the fate of the Site of the Month contest, VGA Planets fiction, some information on the Delphi Tournament, and the details of an interview with Tim. There are some other random happenings posted in the Bulletin Board section, and some information on our featured Website, Circus-Maximus!

Ed Robinson, Editor



"Thoughts From the Cave"
by Merlyn

It's time to say goodbye!

The VGA Planets Site of the Month will be going the way of the dinosaur. It started back in 1997 and for many years it was a lot of fun. I plan on keeping the data around for a while and I will probably create an area on the site to view all the previous winners from past years.

If anyone believes this can be replaced by something new please let me know.

See you in the Echo Cluster!

If there is anything you would like discussed or you agree or disagree with anything in our column send us your comments at: Merlyn@thelastdomain.com and we would be happy to talk about it or post it in the upcoming months.

Regards
Merlyn
Merlyn@thelastdomain.com

Here is an article submitted by Paul Honigmann
http://www.furfur.demon.co.uk/

VGAP4 for VGAP3 players
====================
I started playing VGAP3 about 10 years ago, but after 4 years or so I was becoming frustrated with some of the artificial constraints: the 500 ship limit, for example, was being regularly exploited by experienced players to block newbies. So when the first Beta of VGAP4 came out around 1999 I studied it and decided it kept the features of VGAP3 I liked but eliminated the constraints. Here are a few comparisons, which are as honest as I can make them; if you want to know more about the mechanics or how to play, the place to start is Tim's website, at www.vgaplanets.com/v4beta.htm . Here you can download the game (a full install is about 13MB), and there are links to "how to play" guides.

The comparisons
=============
Ship limit (which I gather is 1000 these days in VGAP3) is replaced by an object limit of 20,000. You have many more possible Objects than mere ships: there are minefields, fighter wings, and a variety of "pods" for moving Stuff or assaulting planets / ships. It was found that even with this limit, people could hog the "ship list" with their own stuff, so these days every player gets a proportion of these based on population. (Which is why I always try to whack high growth rate races ASAP!)

Combat: true fleet combat; though it is only now, after 5 years that it has surpassed version 3's TKF addon in realism and excitement. Tim is not very attentive to user feedback [possibly due to recent marriage] unless it exceeds a threshold on the newsgroup with everyone saying "yes, Tim, there IS a bug here". Now that the ships etc have begun behaving sensibly, it's become quite tactical. I like the vastly increased complexity of tactical options.

Third party addons: Tim does not wish to publish a data structure until he is sure it is stable. However there are things you can do with "scripts" and a couple of minor file formats he's published, so there are two or three major addons (a combat simulator, game scripting tool) and a host of map compilers.

Number of players: I think there are several thousand registered players.

Number of players: you can have up to 30 in one game, though this usually just means more dropouts! I think the version 3 limit of 11 was about the most you can have in a sensible game with dedicated players.

Number of races: you'll see all the familiar ones from VGAP3, tweaked a bit to suit the new rules, plus ~9 "third party" ones developed by fans, who did the artwork / back story etc. Tim included some special race powers for each in the host code. Personally, I don't like the way Tim has tweaked Crystals: the VGAP3 web mines worked well, were simple to understand etc. But in VGAP4, the Crystals are a nightmare of micromanagement, rather than being enhanced by "increased depth from the new more complex rules". On the other hand, the Robots have interesting new abilities and the Evil Empire can knock out a careless enemy's homeworld via a hyperspace attack on turn 7. Some of the 3rd party races have very good concepts, such as the Peoples' Army (the Natives revolted against their masters and formed their own "race")...

Player interface: complex to use. And no alternatives yet. There are many more factors to control. This can make turns longer for micromanagers. There are some semi intelligent helper functions ("ministers") built into the interface - "change these combat instructions for all ships" - "sell all contraband" - which help a bit. One thing which makes it complex is that you can give a ship a whole bunch of commands for a single turn; the commands are triggered by events. For example you can give it 6 waypoints and as it flies by planet X it could beam up cargo, then discharge it all at the final destination. These commands, by the way, are remembered from turn to turn until cleared by events or manually by you; so you can queue up lots of orders if you are going to miss a turn or two due to a holiday etc.

Computer players: this is Tim's current priority. It's felt that the game can probably go gold if such a CPlayer is available, for others can use its open source code as a starting point for better ones while Tim polishes the Help files etc prior to release. It will probably open the way to many more utilities too, by showing how to manipulate the data structure. This, incidentally, is likely to be via DLL's rather than direct byte twiddling in arrays - thus cheating will be much trickier, for the DLL's will make illegal changes awkward.

One concept which is quite different is that Bases are different to Planets. A planet can have several races' bases on it.

Maps cannot wrap around yet. You can place a ring of wormholes round a galaxy, but it's not really the same. That's one utility I'd love to see.

There are several sites which host games; links to them can be found on Tim's site.

Alliances: you can set various grades of alliance with different players, from simply "not attacking" or "sharing scan data" up to and including giving them control over your ships. Ideal when going on holiday! There is a configurable Ally Limit to help prevent mega-alliances dominating games.

Overall, I greatly prefer it - I have got used to much more complex interactions. I still look at the VGAP3 newsgroup from time to time and the VGAP3 players know at least as much about diplomacy and treachery as any VGAP4 player, but the mechanics are much more complex and, yes, richer.

That's a whirlwind introduction to Version 4, hope it's useful.



People Behind VGA Planets

Interview with Tim Wisseman
By ][avok

This is an interview conducted with the author of VGA Planets, Tim Wisseman on Oct 10th, 2004.

Tell us a little about yourself, what have you accomplished in life?

I grew up in a mountain town in California. In the past I’ve been a logger, and now work part time as a science teacher. I have gotten married, and bought a house.

What are your favorite computer/board games and how have they affected VGAP?

My favorite board games are RISK and DIPLOMACY. I guess there are flavors of those games in VGA Planets.

What's your favorite Planets memory?

That would be the day in 1995 when winplan version 3.5 was released. I ended up driving a pickup truck full of mail bags with over 14,000 letters to the post office. I spent a whole week working all day and most of the night getting that mailing ready.

What specifically inspired Planets for you? What were the biggest influences?

VGA Planets was an outgrowth of the game I designed and Chuck L Peterson programmed back in 1985 for VAX computer systems. A game called M-Trek. The game was a 30 player real time game. When I moved back to the Mountains from UCSC I wanted to program a game that many people could play at the same time, but the only systems available to me where the 1 phone line BBS systems. So I designed a game system that many people could play in by simple file exchange.

Were there things that you wished you had added to Planets v3.0?

I wish it were cheat proof, and that there was a 32 bit version of V3.

What were your most important accomplishments in Planets and why?

Making version 4 cheat proof. Ending up with a user base large enough to support the game. I like the fact that so many people see VGA Planets as important enough that they spend much of their own time supporting the game by hosting games and running web sites.

In this time of graphically intense PC games, what is it about VGAP that has people still playing a game that is over 13 years old?

Maybe there are a few people out there that are like me and get motion sickness when they play the graphically intense first person shooter games out there. Or maybe there are many of us that do not have the lightening reflexes required to do well at most games.

I do play games like Age of Mythology and Evil Genius, but there are only so much of those games I can take before I go back to a slow game of VGA Planets with all the interesting personalities that are attracted to the game.

In your opinion, what are the key ingredients that a game of this type should have?

An element of humor, and lots of fun.

How has the Internet affected the expansion of the game internationally?

It just has. It turned VGA Planets from a USA game played on BBS systems and FIDO Net to being a world wide game. VGA Planets just happened to be at the right time and place when the Internet took off it took the game with it.

How has the fan base hindered or helped the project as you've worked on it?

Both, some fans have pressured me to release things before they were ready. But then they have been a be help in finding the flaws in the game system that needed to be changed as well as thinking up new things to add to the game.

When planning a scenario how do you go through the process of integrating themes and story with the constraints of the software?

Very carefully.

If you could make any computer game that you wanted, which would it be and why?

A game like Evil Genius. . . but it has already been done.

What’s the status of Planets v4.0 and where do you see the Planets game going after v4.0?

Work on 4 will continue, new races and updates will continue for years to come.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I have no idea, 3 years ago I had no idea that I was about to get married and buy my own house, join a renaissance group, become a singer, science teacher and put on magic shows. So who knows what will happen over the next 10 years.

Any last words to the Planets fan base?

Without loyal fans there would be no VGA Planets and I plan on working on VGA Planets for as long as there is a fan base out there.

I'd like to thank Tim for taking some time to answer these questions!

STRATEGY SECTION
From the Dreadlord Battle Manual


Team play

Before deciding to fight any enemy always see if you can align any support behind you. Twist any arms you have to. Two against one is always better than one on one. Working in a team is even better. With your resources pooled you will be more effective. Having a trustworthy ally has a lot of advantages. It enables you to minimize your race's disadvantages and utilize the strengths of another race to become a far more powerful force. By sharing in the work of defense, you can afford the risk of holding back far fewer ships when attacking. By carefully selecting ships from each race's portfolio you can create a strong fleet for a lower cost in minerals and credits. By attacking the same enemies, you can overwhelm most single opponents.

Here are some examples of races that will work well together.

Feds & Lizards
-2X mining rate
-several ships on HISSS mission above a Fed planet can make a lot of money
-access to cloakers
-as Lizard ships the Thor Frigate and Diplomacy Cruiser are cheap and pack quite a punch

Lizards & Rebels
-hyperdrive
-Free fighters for Madonzilla
-Lizard Guardian, Destroyer, Patriot Carrier and Rush carrier are more formidable with 150% damage

Lizards & Cyborg
-hyperdrive
-hyperdrive to drop colonists for ground attack almost anywhere
-endless supply of colonists for invasions
-cubes that can take 150% damage

Lizards & Empire
-hyperdrive
-dark sense
-150% Lizard Gorbie

Lizards & Birds
-Lizard Darkwing Battleship at 150%

Lizards & Fascists
-Plunder over enemy starbases and then take over by ground attack using Lizard colonists from overhead cloaked ships

Birds & Rebels
-hyperdrive
-free fighters

Birds & Privateers
-accelerated ships

Fascists & Empire
-dark sense and hyperdrive for pillaging
-Gorbie for pillaging heavily defended enemy starbases

Fascists & Rebels
-hyperdrive for pillaging

Fascists & Cyborg
-hyperdrive for pillaging
-Cubes for pillaging heavily defended enemy starbases

Fascists & Privateer
-three ships with accelerators for pillaging

Fascists & Birds
-access to a greater variety of cloakers for pillaging

Privateers & Robots
-MBRs to cloak an lay distant minefields where they are unexpected

Privateers & Fascist
-to plunder planet with natives

Privateers & Empire
-Dark Sense -hyperdrive

Privateers & Rebels
-hyperdrive to be able to strike anywhere in the universe (beams 3X)
-free fighters

Cyborg & Robots
-free fighters
-minefields to make up for lack of medium-size ships
-Instrumentality and Cat's Paw to make up for lack of medium-sized ships

Cyborg & Colonies
-free fighters

Crystals & Privateers
-accelerated ships for faster towing
-accelerated ships for web minefields in unexpected places

Crystals & Rebels
-hyperdrive
-free fighters for Crystal Thunder and captured enemy fighter ships

Empire & Fascists
-pillage mission
-cloakers for Dark Sensing

Empire & Robots
-free fighters for Gorbie

Empire & Colonies
-free fighters for Gorbie

Robots & Birds
-cloakers for laying mines in unexpected areas

Robots & Lizards
-cloakers for laying mines in unexpected areas

Robots & Empire
-hyperdrive

Robots & Cyborg
-hyperdrive

Rebels & Crystals
-web mines

Rebels & Empire
-Dark Sense
-Gorbie for Rebel Ground Attack mission (RGA) against heavily defended enemy starbases with few colonists

Colonies & Empire
-hyperdrive
-Gorbie

Colonies & Cyborg
-hyperdrive
-Biocide Cube



Quarterly Help
brought to you by Donovan!


Colonise

A ship with a mission of "colonize" will be disassembled by it's crew when the starship reaches an own or unowned planet. The ship’s parts are used to make supplies for the colonists after unloading any colonists, cargo and fuel on the ship to the planet's surface.

Colonizing ships is not the way to go in order to inhabit new planets, since ships can only be colonized once. To take ownership of an unowned planet just move a ship with some clans in the cargohold to that planet, and when you're there use the cargo screen to drop clans onto the planet. The ship can then move on to the next planet, and repeat the process.

The following is an excerpt from an article called "Reverse alchemy" which was written by Jan "Sirius" Klingele. It explains the consequences of the colonisation mission in great detail. The full article can be found at the Planeteer Resurrection website

"The Host person can set the recycle rate to any thing from 0% to 100%. Default setting is 75%. This is the percentage of the minerals that are recovered from a starship that colonises a planet. The minerals that were used to build the hull and weapon systems are transformed back into minerals and laid out on the planet's surface. Money spent to build a ship cannot be recovered. Fighters are recycled.

The only fact totally clear is that you loose all the megacredits spent on the colonising ship. However it is not correct, that you can recover the recycling rate of all the minerals used for the ships components. The truth is (at least for host versions 3.21 and 3.22), that you get the recycling rate only of the minerals used for the hull, the engines and the beam weapons back. You do not get any minerals for torpedo launchers or torpedoes on board, but you receive, surprisingly enough, the full minerals for the fighters the colonising ship is carrying.

* Tri = Recycle rate * (hull tri + engines tri + beams tri) + fighter tri
* Dur = Recycle rate * (hull dur + engines dur + beams dur.) + fighter dur
* Moly = Recycle rate * (hull moly + engines moly + beams moly) + fighter moly

In any case it is evident that you lose during the "Colonisation" Mission a certain portion of the minerals and all the money used for the construction of the ship. These losses of the "Colonisation" mission deter most players from using the mission on a regular basis.

....

Experimentation with host version 3.21 and 3.22 has shown, that you get the following amount of supplies: one supply for every Kt of hull mass plus one supply for every engine plus one supply for every fighter plus one supply for every torpedo on board. You get no supplies for beam weapons or torpedo launchers.

* Supplies = Mass of hull (/ Kt) + no of engines + no of fighters + no of torps"

Crew to Colonists
The number of clans that will be added to a planet's population from a ship's crew is calculated by

Clans = Roundup (Crew / 100 ).

So a Small Deep Space Freighter with it's crew of 2 will, when colonized, put 1 clan on the planet: 2/100 rounded up is 1. A Virgo with it's crew of 1858 gives a planet a population of 19, because 1858/100 rounded up is 19.

Any colonists onboard the ship's cargohold will simply become colonists on the planet.

The preceeding section is but a small portion of Donovan's Help Section. To visit Donovan's Site, go to http://www.xs4all.nl/~donovan

BULLETIN BOARD

The VGA Planets Version 3 Tournament has entered the second round! The Delphi Tournament being hosted by Battlestar Command (http://www.battlestarcommand.com) is a multi-level tournmanet that enables the best players to progress through different levels of the tournament until an ultimate winner is found and maintains his position until knocked out! You can find out more about the Tournament, and even join in on an Alpha Level game by visiting Battlestar Command.

=================================================

Arena ][ -- new, webbased hosting site

Want to have all your TRN submissions and settings changes be processed instantly? Join the Arena ][, its webbased interface provides precisely that!

http://arena.game-server.cc/

To celebrate this public announcement, there's two games waiting for you:
Oldtimer, a game modeled after the original-arena games (for those that remember it; phost, rich universe, otherwise vanilla) http://arena.game-server.cc/game.srb?game=5

Gingerbreadman, with a rather special starmap, otherwise vanilla (tim host) http://arena.game-server.cc/game.srb?game=6 both games start with 3 turns a week and switch to 2 after the shiplimit.

Furthermore, Birds and Rebels are available in the game called efnet2, featuring players from the #vgaplanets IRC-channel on efnet. Entirely vanilla, host runs once a week. Introduce yourself in the channel if you wish to join, please.

Happy playing!
Kero.

NB: the ssl connection uses a certificate from cacert.org which is unlikely to be in your browser, as of yet. The certificate is free of charge however, which saves quite some money. Either accept (and trust) my certificate, or better, download (and trust) the cacert.org root certificate.

-------------

The scripts are newly developed by me, in Ruby. A lot of effort has gone into security of the scripts and a (separate) backup facility is also setup. Your data (password) and games should be rather safe.

The scripts are not finished at all, and the occasional bug will plague us. New features will show up over time. The scripts are available for others, though quite rough to fit in elsewhere right now.

+--- Kero ----------------------- kero@chello@nl ---+

==========================================================

New Site Opens!

Pass the word. Circus-Maximus.com has launched.
We're running 3 games to start with.
Custom games are available.

Havok - Circus-Maximus.com

**Circus-Maximus.com is our featured site this quarter! You can find the link at the beginning of the newsletter, and this site is great! Check it out, these guys have gone to a lot of trouble setting up this great looking site.. I am impressed.**

Planet's Fiction


The Echo Saga: Chapter 3 The Best Laid Plans

The Senate was packed for the Prefects speech. Commander T'Ral sat in the upper balcony with the rest of the star ship commanders requested to attend the Prefects momentous speech. The elder statesmen took the stairs up to the speaking podium with the easy of a man T'Ral's age, which is why he has ruled us for so long the Tweetian thought to him self. For too long the Tweetian race had been held down by others, ridiculed for their less that stellar physical forms. But what was to be expected from a race that evolved on a world that had a third of what a humans preferred. The rest of the galaxy laughed at the so called Birdmen, but they knew that while other races revered physical strength Tweetian's revered subterfuge and skull duggery.

The Master at arms called all loyal citizens to stand and so the hall was filled with the sounds of five hundred sentient beings standing at once.

"All hail Prefect Selar!"

"ALL HAIL PREFECT SELAR!" The crowed responded in a deafening shout.

"Be seated loyal Citizens." The aged man said as he began his speech. "Today we mark a moment in our history that will not soon be forgotten. Today we launch the first wing on their grand mission of expansion!"

As the cheers subsided the Prefect continued. "For to long we have faced the threat of the Evil Empire, for to long the Fascist have pillage our worlds while we have stood by helpless. We shall correct those injustices now. Our Wings will spread, our power shall rise and our enemies will fall like Chanka to the blade. Let it be known we going to make our voice heard in the galaxy and no longer be subject to the rules of the thick bones!"

T'Ral felt the blood rushing threw his system. He knew the dangers, he knew he would face death but listen to the grand old patriarch of their people he felt as though all of that was a small price to pay to bring glory to his people.

"We, not they, are the strongest of all races. We shall strike first at those most vile beings, the Fascist War mongers to our southern border! Let First Wing take Flight!"

T'Ral stood and clapped till his hands burned, as did every one else the massive assembly building. He could hardly wait to join the crew of his Resolute-Class warship Helix which waited for him in orbit.

Rogra was very displeased. He understood the nature of the assignment before him, the necessity but it went against his warrior spirit. His ship, the GFIS Chunpo sat cloaked around the Birdman Home world. He had put the blithering old fool of a man who lead the weak Birds on the ships intercom so all could hear the fools message. Those imbeciles actually believed they could win a war against his people. For as long as he could remember his people had been proud warriors who erased Birdman colonies with such ease it was no longer even considered sporting for more than one ship to be committed to a raid.

But now all around his ship were vessels. Obviously the First Wing the fool spoke of. The collection of 17 ships would barely offer a battle against a full Fleet of the Grand Fascist Imperial Navy. But none the less it was Rogra's job to warn his superiors. Oh how he wished to drop his cloak and lead the raid on this planet him self. But alas such glory was not to be his on this day.

"Set course for Sector command Warrior Grosh." He instructed his helmsmen.

"Do you think it worked?" Sub-Commander Rik asked. He was a Talon liaison who had organized the farce above. Who would think that they would only have 17 ships in First wing.

"Yesssss, our intelligencers believe it hassss worked Sub-Commander." The Lizard said.

"For what we are paying you I sure hope it did."

"Our Vesssssel remained hidden, they did not detect it. You fleet is cloaked and they do not know your true numbers."

Fifty years of scrimping and saving every last credit and mineral had lead to a fleet of not 17 but 109 war ships in orbit above the planet. And now thanks to the paid aide of the Lorn Combine cloak detection ship they were able to know exactly where the Fascist spy ship was located. Clearing a path for it they had let it depart with the message of war and fleet status.

Unknown to the brawny Fascist a hollowed out LDSF held a stripped down Loki-class vessel. The Prefect would be very happy. Very happy indeed. Rik could imagine the office he would get after his promotion.

Ssssirann watched the glory hounding birdman with his cold eyes. Soon his race would be at war with the Fascist and irregardless of who won that contest of wills the Lorn Combine would sweep in and pick up the pieces. If all went according to the Ssssirann's plan when the hatching came there would be no great genocide. It would be good to expand for once instead of simply staying stagnant.

T'Ral walked up to the section chief. He had just finished on of his daily inspections of a random section. "Here is a list of infractions I want fixed by tomorrow. All are minor but still unaccepted if you can not lead those under you I will find someone who can. Are we clear Chief Holka?"

"Yes Commander. I apologize."

"Don't, just fix it." Addressing the assembled men behind the section chief T'Ral continued. "Major infractions get you demoted, minor ones get you killed. All of you must be ever vigilant in order to keep this ship battle ready. Dismissed."

T'Ral made his way down the corridor toward the lift tubes. Behind him a step was his Sub-Commander Prime. "Are these daily inspections really necessary? Soon the crew will become demoralized at you constant distrust of them."

T'Ral came from a prosperous family that had worked hard for all they. His much younger Sub-Commander came from a family of much more wealth and power, but had had to work much less to get it. Pausing mid stride he turned and faced his subordinate. "Sub-Commander Unar, I will indulge your question this one time. The Inspections will end when I feel they should not before. While we are here waiting the men become restless and bored. That is when they become lax in their duties as you have become lax in your level of discipline. I will add this conversation to my log."

Leaving his first officer sputtering apologized T'Ral entered the lift alone. Once in his office off the bridge he made the log entries of the days activities. He knew that he was stuck with Unar because of his families political connections. He hoped thought that some of his leadership style would rub off on the spoiled brat and in time turn him into a good leader that would bring his people home alive instead of earning them posthumous medals.

The fleet would leave in Two weeks. The timing had to be perfect for the lighting quick raids and battles the High Command had decided on as a plan. If all went well T'Ral could hope for a posting as Governor of some occupied world. If things didn't go well he would be dead.

 

 
 
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