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Echo Cluster
The Official VGA Planets Newsletter
Volume 3. / Issue Number 2.
April - June 2005

VGA Planets Quarterly Newsletter

Volume No. 3

Issue No. 2

April - June 2005

Ed Robinson

Kero van Gelder
Desert Fox
Tim Wisseman

This Quarters Featured Site


Visit Star-Port Today!!

Welcome to the VGA Planets Newsletter! This is the second installment of the 2005 quarterly newsletter. In this edition you will find a review done by Desert Fox on FHOST. You will also find a profile on Kero van Gelder, the creator of great addons like JVPC, and VGAP Blitz. For those who don't know what VGAP Blitz is, there is a brief write-up review done by the editor on this great tool also. Rounded out with another edition of VGAP Fiction. Hope you enjoy.

Ed Robinson, Editor

When Carriers Collide
By Desert-Fox

In the beginning, there was a void. It was the Echo Cluster. 11 races migrated into the emptiness forming empires. These empires were quick to war with ANYTHING that made incursions into their space, denied their trade routes or played havoc with the delicate balance of their worlds.

Their wars were fought the old way…toe to toe, face to face. The same way the old wars on earth were fought with opposing armies standing 100 ft. apart pouring firepower into the other until till only one was left standing. That was the old way…and as earth progressed in methods of warfare, so too did the Echo Cluster. Now there is FHOST.

Imagine the ‘Battle of Midway' in space! That is the essence of FHOST. FHOST is not repacement to Tim's host, but an add-on to VGAP providing a whole new spin on game play. Believe me when I tell you that if you play a FHOST game with the mindset of a standard VGAP game you may well lose.

In the ‘Battle of Midway', carriers never were within range to see each other. The entire battle was fought by the various fighter/bomber/torpedo wings of the opposing fleets. Using FHOST your ships to do not have to be at the same point in space. Carriers can launch attack wings from 120 light years out. They can attack other ships, planets, starbases or jumpgates. You can deploy a CAP (Combat Air Patrols) over your fleets to guard against reprisals or sneak attacks. Your torpedo ships have the capability of launching long range cruise missiles to harass enemies at a distance. There is also technology in the game so devastating that 1 missile hitting the sun will cause the entire planet to burn up and explode making that planet unusable for the remainder of the game. Its nickname is ‘The Sunbuster'. It is hard to obtain, expensive to build and is without a doubt, an ARMAGEDDON weapon.

As you know by now, some races in VGAP have great carriers and while others have less than desirable ones. We all know that. Fhost is the great equalizer in that respect. A Valiant Wind can now at least stand a chance against the big carriers. Small carriers like the Red Winds can work in teams to defeat larger enemies. This add-on doesn’t take anything away from what you can do presently. It is a true addition of features and strategy to an already brilliant game .

AFM – Advanced Fighter Missions. Nothing brings home FHOST like the fighter missions. There are nine of them. I’ll touch on each briefly.

With these friendly codes and the ones for the torpedo missions the parameter of X can be replaced by a(ll), h(alf), q(uarter) or the numbers 1 to 0 with 1=10%, 2=20%...0=100% indicating the percentage of fighters sent out on a mission.

FAx – Use this code to send a squadron of fighters to attack an enemy ship. They will try and attack the largest enemy ship at that position and then return to your carrier.

FBx – indicates a bombing mission. Your fighters proceed to the targeted planet and start a bombing run, killing some of the population, mines and factories. If there is a starbase present, they will attack that too.

FOx - sends fighter squadrons to an enemy planet looking for a stargate and if found will attempt to destroy it.

FPx - orders your fighters to patrol around an area you marked with a waypoint.. The size of the patrol area depends on the number active fighters but cannot exceed half of the maximum fighter range.

FMx - Minesweeping. This command orders your fighters seek out and sweep enemy minefields. Be careful, inexperienced pilots don’t do too well in the minefields. This translates to-You could lose some fighters during a sweep. This mission is also available to starbases.

FGx, FGy Fighter Gather Resources. This is a two part command. FGx lets the first carrier send out a certain number of fighter squadrons to a planet pointed at with its waypoint. A second carrier sets it friendly code to FGy, where Y now indicates a certain resource: n(eutronium), t(ritanium, d(uranium, m(olybdenum, s(upplies) or $ (megacredits).

A single fighter transports one kiloton of minerals/supplies or 100 MC.

FTx,FTR - Fighter Transfers. Using the FTx command on a carrier with the waypoint set on another carrier. It will send the ordered amount of fighters to the other carrier. If there is more than one carrier please make sure to designate which carrier is to receive the influx of fighters by using the command FTR.

Fighters and their missions have become more versatile. So to, have torpedos. Gone are the days of watching VCRs of your ship firing spreads, waiting for what seemed like an eternity for them to reload and have half of them go anywhere but on target. (Not one of the highlights of my game.)

With FHOST, these dull torpedos have been equipped with passive warp coils, a simple power source and a small targeting computer, turning these babies into self-guiding cruise missles.

There are only 3 codes to use for torpedo missions. They are:

TAx - Torpedo Attack Ship

TBx - Torpedo Bomb Planet

TMx - Torpedo Remote Minelaying

The mechanics are simple. X = %(total tubes). For example, if you had a Nova Dreadnaught with ten tubes and set the friendly code to TA9. The Nova would fire nine tubes or 90% . If you have a ship with eight tubes and entered TA9 it would fire seven tubes.

The probability of scoring a direct hit with a torpedo/cruise missle launch is determined by several factors or values:

Targeting computers assign a value to each ship. The range is 0-2 with 1 being a standard target. The value is determined by the target ship’s scanner silhouette. This means a big, bulky slow ship is a much better target for a torp that a small fast ship.

The second value is the torpedo tech level. The better the tech, the better the targeting computer which means a better hit probability.

The third value is distance from target. Face it, hit probability decreases as the distance to the target increases.

To use the commands you will need to do the following:

Put in the friendly code ex.(TA7) and set your waypoint on the target. Your cruise missles will then seek out the primary enemy’s ships with the biggest signature (size).

TBx is really the same thing except you are bombing a planet instead of a ship. If the planet has a starbase, that will be attacked first. One note however, you must be at LEAST 1 light year from the planet.

TMx instructs your gunners to fire cruise missles to a target location in space and convert them into a minefield upon arrival. Please note that fully functional mine units will decrease as you set your target location to a more distant point.

Let me give you a few examples of FHOST in action using fighters and torpedoes. You might have a task force heading into enemy space. You’ve sent a cloaked ship in ahead of you to pinpoint prime targets. They could be starbases, fleets or some prime real estate. Let’s say you are able to slip into orbit of an enemy planet undetected and find your adversary has a fleet in orbit lying in wait. Your cloaked ship relays the coordinates and disposition of the fleet to your task force. In the old days you would either roll on in and throw down or you would rethink your plan and leave. With FHOST you could have a section of torpedo ships fire a spread of torps (configured with a friendly code) that convert into cruise missiles and seek out the largest enemy targets, inflicting damage. At the same time you could have another section of ships fire a spread of torps (configured with a friendly code) that reach the target and deploy into minefields. Talk about pissing in someone’s corn flakes…at this point you’ve damaged some ships with cruise missiles, dropped minefields in and around your enemy and now you send in 4 or 5 squadrons of fighters…half to attack the fleet and half to attack the planet. Your opponent is going to feel like he’s been 15 rounds with Tyson and you two have not yet met face to face. I would suggest that while this is going on you have a fighter patrol up and sweeping (did I mention fighters can pull minesweeping duty and gather resources…all done with friendly codes.) It is intense and anything I just described could also happen to you. Although combat is not shown in VCRs as in combat within VGAP, the entire battle is sent to you in messages within the game.

I haven’t mentioned the use of stargates. Stargates can be constructed with the right amount of resources and megacredits. For it to work properly you will need to build two gates. They are not listed on the starmap. They are built over the planet, in the gravity well. If you are allied with other players and they have stargates, you can use them via friendly codes. Stargates are pretty self explanatory.

Before ending let me mention two bad pieces of hardware. They are the ‘Sunbuster’ and the ‘Core’ torpedo. A SUNBUSTER torpedo fired directly into a sun stops ALL thermonuclear reactions almost instantly and therefore makes the sun go nova and turn into a white dwarf afterwards which renders the planetary system lifeless and useless for the remainder of the game.

The CORE torpedo was originally used like a genesis device turning dead planets into lush thriving worlds by rearranging the molecular structure of everything. Needless to say, when this thing is fired at a healthy planet with a thriving population…REALLY bad things happen!

With this short article I’ve tried to get your attention and have you take a look at a fine piece of add-on software for VGAP. If you’ve ever played a FHOST game then you’re shaking your head going….damn right! If you haven’t, you owe it to yourself to try a game, especially if the Sysop uses a modified ship list that balances the races.

People Behind VGA Planets

Interview with Kero van Gelder
By ][avok

This is an interview conducted with Kero van Gelder, author of JVPC, RVV and the VGAP Blitz software, on Jan 15th, 2005..

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

Got a Master's in Computing Science; won a Dutch programming contest (in a team, 1995) and organized the same contest in 1997; got a job at Philips research. Seen some parts of the world.

What are your favorite computer/board games and how have they affected the development of your mods?

Computergames: (Free)Civ, Doom; Boardgames: We played Die Siedler long before it became a hype in .nl, We also enjoyed a game called Circus Maximus :) Iron Dragon. 1830. Occasionally played Diplomacy. I've played chess, but where is the fun when you opponent knows more opening moves than you; Still playing AD&D (RPG, not boardgame). In general, I like strategical games. With that comes the need to have as much data available at a glance and to be able to look into the future.

What's your favorite Planets memory?

Ultimate victory in a teamgame called Explosions Are Cool. But the (team)games with a lot of friends at university in general were great (discussions, challenges, printed maps on the wall), the game became even bigger because it crept into real life. I still meet these people (some only once a year, others more often).

What specifically inspired you? What were the biggest influences?

The quality of the game vs the lousy client. And a fellow student who liked the game as well (you'll find his name as JVPC author). One particular influence was the HP-UX system we had at university. We wanted to see our RST immediately. K-Util was the result. It gave a textual overview, plus it showed ionstorms (a rather new feature at the time; not even VPA showed it :) on the starmap in a PostScript file. K-Util evolved into JVPC later.

Were there things that you wished you had added to JVPC , Blitz …etc…?

So many things. In particular the overview/look-into-the-future is lousy in JVPC. Keep an eye on RVV ( http://rvv.rubyforge.org/ ) RVV is written in Ruby, because I'm fed up with Java.

What are your most important accomplishments to VGAP and why?

The original Arena hosted games for a lot of people (I wrote the scripts, Jurjen did the hosting and Kai-Uwe supplied the hardware). I think that's the most important, because it reached the most people, who were happy with it.

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?

Easy :) 10 human opponents with significantly different abilities give so much more variation than, say, warcraft (where units are very much the same, even when called differently); while still maintaining balance.

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

Humans and balanced differentiation.

How has the internet affected the expansion of your addons internationally?

Hardly. perhaps even negatively. There's too many VGAP forums out there, so the community is very scattered. Timezones make it hard to set a good time for a blitz.

How has the fan base hindered or helped your projects as you've worked on them?

Hardly, I've always been small scale. So that's no hindrance and less help than I could have used. My co-authors of JVPC and RVV are an exception to that.

When planning your addons, how do you go through the process of integrating themes and story with the constraints of the software?

I have not written any add-ons, only client software. At the moment I envision a client that can show the future of a game and already accept commands for it (including e.g. ships that still have to be built).

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

A trick-question, I'm sure :) I wish I could fathom something like VGAP. It's not just best-economy player wins. Some changes: nowadays you'd use the internet for client-host, not a PB(E)M. Also, you wouldn't impose things like a shiplimit. But as your fleets grows and grows, you would need better tools to handle it. Then again, perhaps the shiplimit is what takes this game away from the best-economy player.

What's the status of your addon development and do you intend to continue to develop them for Planets v4.0 in the future?

JVPC might have a niche in PDAs above JVC, but after some interest from players, it is silent again. RVV is in the midst of an overhaul to make it much more convenient to simulate a hostrun (including simulated add-ons), and then to make a client of it. But it is on hold until I get the Arena2 out of beta (soon; see http://arena.game-server.cc/ ). It is unlikely I'll play v4.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Somewhere else, but still playing & hosting VGAP with even better software.

Any last words to the Planets fan base?

Thanks! Have fun!


So what is it? Below is an explanation of what BLITZ is, and how it works. For total info on VGAP Blitz games, visit Kero's webstie devoted to VGA Planets at:


Blitz VGAP Game
A fast-paced on-line VGAP game, where time to do a turn is measured in minutes, not days. An IRC-bot is used to control the game and provide extra information.

Permanent TCP connection of the client to the host, for deadline notification, RST and TRN transmission, stand-alone blitz-client in Java, moving to the foreground, warning that it is time to stop editing and to submit your TRN, An IRC bot providing some info for players and controls for the host,
Testing: can be done 24/7, at the moment (game "thost" at chmeee.org:9000)

#vgaplanets on efnet (IRC), can also be reached via the echo cluster web interface (real IRC client recommended).

Kero will host. All players welcome.

Coz it's Fun!

With your JVC client connected to the running server, all the time! Or, if your favourite client does not support this (likely), with a blitz-client program that stays connected all the time and pops to the front to tell you when to stop editing and make your TRN-file reaaaaallly soon, like NOW!


Blitz software,
How to deal with the IRC-bot,
Setup of blitz games,
You want to host a blitz game?,
history/weblog of blitz (played games, experiences),
future of blitz (expected features),


The Software
Players need either
JVC plus blitz-addon, or
the Stand-Alone blitz-client plus a regular VGAP client;
and an IRC client (that's very convenient, at least).

Go to the JVC-page, grab jvc.jar (from the Download section, unzip it) and don't forget the Blitz plugin (from the Addins section, put it in the addins/ dir, see docs on docs on JVC addins page).

Then follow all the steps from question number 5 from the FAQ section

Stand-Alone Client
If JVC is not for you, you can use any other VGAP client in combination with the stand-alone blitz-client. This stand-alone puts itself in front of your other windows, to tell you it is really time to make your turn and submit it.
It works with jdk 1.1 through 1.4, as well as kaffe (and probably more, but I can't test them all). If you need Java, install the appropriate jre package. (If this takes too long, look for the smaller jdk 1.1 or try out kaffe if you can compile it.)

Download blitz.jar and run with:

java -classpath blitz.jar jvpc.blitz.Blitz [game directory]

, or, if your JVM supports jdk 1.2, you can type;
java -jar blitz.jar

(and even double click works in that case). It'll popup a window where you can change the directory where RST/TRN should be, the IP and port number, the game name and your race:

A window will force itself to the foreground 30 and 10 seconds before hosting. It is advisable not to wait until the last second to press "Submit TRN", because other players might do the same. Due to bandwidth limitations of the network, your turn might not have arrived when the bot thinks it's time to run the host.

Do not forget to make your turn with your regular client/maketurn.exe, the blitz software does not do this for you!

The hosting party will pass xyplan.dat, your RST and util??.dat as well as pconfig.src and race.nm to you over the established connection. You will have to take care of default files like torpspec.dat and planet.nm.

The stand-alone client is released under the GNU LGPL. Sources can be downloaded (from the CVS repository) from the JVPC pages


The Blitzbot
A modified Ruby bot (I use v0.9.6) with a special blitz plug-in, will allow only the host to control the game and all others to get information about the game.
The bot runs the host, based on deadlines. The bot will warn the clients at predefined times how long till next hostrun.

The stand-alone or JVC will talk to the bot for most of the time, but you can query the bot on he IRC-channel. You do that like this:

mr-blitz: blitz [command]

Typically, when the host launched a game with the name "lightning", you'll want to query the bot where the game is running:
mr-blitz: blitz games

after the bot will respond with the list of games, with the IP number and port number that need to be filled in in the stand-alone or JVC (like lightning (at Later on, you'll want to know things about the game, type:

mr-blitz: blitz status lightning
mr-blitz: blitz score lightning

and the bot will list various information.


When does a ship fight?
A ship fights when you want it to. Or when an enemy forces it to. I'll explain. You can cause your ship to attack an enemy by either setting your mission to KILL!!! or by setting your enemy field to that particular enemy. In either event, you will attack unless you have matched his friendly code or you have set him as your ally, or he is out of fuel. Similarly, you may be attacked by an enemy. You may avoid this combat by dropping your fuel, moving your ship, matching his friendly code, having him set you as an ally, or cloaking.

How can I control the battle order?
Friendly codes can be used to determine which of your ships will fight first. Numeric friendly codes take precedence over non-numeric friendly codes. So "001" will fight before "010", which will fight before "mkt". In the event that both ships have non-numeric friendly codes, the one with the lowest I.D. number will fight first. These rules apply whether you are attacking your enemy or whether he initiates the combat. Therefore, always keep your fleets in appropriate battle order even if you do not plan to attack.

Why would I want to control the battle order?
This is getting to the heart of the matter. If you do not want your freighters to fight, you want them set to a non-numeric friendly code while their defenders have numeric friendly codes. You may also want a certain ship to fight first or second. A big ship might be more likely to survive as the first ship in combat. A small ship might need to go first to shoot down enemy fighters. A torpedo ship might need to precede a carrier in order to bring down a large enemy ship because good torpedoes are usually more effective in reducing shields than fighters. Fighters are usually more effective at destroying a hull than torpedoes. This is especially true against big ships. In addition, carriers want to field the left side in VCR combat against other carriers, but want to be on the right side against small and medium torpedo ships. Lowest numeric friendly code gets the right side. In the case of 2 combatants with non-numeric codes, lowest I.D. gets the right side.

What are the best ways to move ships?
Generally you do not want to be seen; and if seen, you do not want to telegraph your intentions or give away your past. Competent players will take the extra time to move via planet hops wherever possible. Unless the enemy has a ship over the planet you move to (or owns the planet,) he will not know you are there. When it is not possible to move via planet hops, you want to move in short moves of under 81 ly (if you are traveling at warp 9.) Do not set longer way points unless you are cloaked (and cloaked failure rate is set low by host) or you wish to mislead your opponent. Long way points tell your opponent where you have been as well as where you might be going. Try to select a way point between several planets so that it is impossible to tell which one you came from or which one you are going to. Do not move in a straight line. An enemy who moves in straight lines with long way points is easy to beat because you always know exactly how many ships you need to beat him and where to send them.

How should I configure my task forces?
That depends greatly on your race and the ships at hand. Some races have solid battleships and good carriers. These races would like to lead with a battleship against tough opponents. The carrier would follow and cleanup. This means they would lose more battleships, but save expensive fighters. In a long combat, they would alternate battleships with carriers. BB, CV, BB, CV, BB etc. So for these races, a battleship or 2 and a carrier make a good lance.

Other races have fine heavy carriers, but poor torpedo ships. If the Engine Shield (ES) bonus is turned on and set to about 30 or more, these races can often use destroyers and cruisers instead of battleships in front of their carriers. Otherwise, they use their carriers to shield the smaller support and mine laying ships. Still other races have poor carriers, but decent torp and beam ships. Against enemy carriers, they would want to lead with a ship that can reduce the fighter compliment of the enemy carrier, possibly doing some shield damage as well. This can save battleships.

Either way, a good deep penetration task force will have some capability to lay minefields and pull damaged ships to safety. A good border patrol task force will need the flexibility to deal with any kind of threat. Good engines are important unless your ship will be based at a planet or towed. While torpedoes can be manufactured deep in enemy territory, only 3 races can make fighters away from home. For the other races, fighters are reserved for ship to ship combat or taking starbases. They are not to be squandered in situations where a good torpedo will do the job. Torpedo ships are needed for everything. So your balance is going to include more torpedo ships than carriers. In the late game, after the ship limit is reached, that balance shifts towards the biggest, meanest ships you can build.

How should I use and avoid minefields?
Minefields can be defensive or offensive. Laying a minefield in front of an unsuspecting opponent can cause serious problems for him. Ships that are damaged do not fight as well as undamaged ships and may be slowed down as well. They may lose some special ability too. If an enemy knows about a minefield he will probably either go around it or attempt to sweep it. Either way, he is slowed down. Occasionally he will try to go straight through it, perhaps towing another ship. If he has supplies aboard the ship, he can repair damage from mine hits before combat.

If you see pairs of ships with at least 1 large ship in each pair, watch out for the tow. This enemy will come at you full speed despite minefields. If he is the robot, or has a large supply of torpedoes, he may countermine. That is laying a minefield that is big enough to destroy all your mines and perhaps leave one of his own in place. If he is the Colonies, your minefields will not survive long unless they are very big. Then they might last 2 turns. So don't waste torpedoes on mines in the face of Colonies carriers. Try to lay minefields that are out of sweep range of your opponent's beams.

You can control the size of the minefield using the mdX friendly code where X is a number from 1 to 0 denoting multiples of 10 torpedoes. 1= 10, 0= 100. Rather than give you the formula for the size of a minefield, I suggest you get the latest version of Echoview. It has a minefield utility that takes into account the weapons, missions and friendly codes of all your ships. And you can set up missions for your enemy's ships as well. Have a lower I.D. ship on hand to scoop up minefields before the enemy ship can. Remember that mine laying comes first, then mine sweeping, then mines destroy mines. All occur before movement, which is before combat.

Lay overlapping minefields for a stronger defensive posture. You can even lay minefields in the name of your ally using miX friendly code where X is the number of your ally. This is handy to create very dense minefields. Be aware you cannot scoop these. Keep all decent beam ships on mine sweep mission to minimize the effects of your opponent's minefields and to spot small fields before you run into them. Pick up or scoop your minefields and reposition them. You might as well. The enemy is either going around them or preparing to sweep them. This keeps him off balance and conserves mines.

Cloaked intercept
A ship that is capable of cloaking is capable of the cloaked intercept. Cloaked intercept is really just the intercept mission, but cloakable ships that perform this mission can attack their intercept target in a special combat that precedes normal combat. After this combat is resolved the surviving ship can participate in regular combat as well. Cloaking races use this technique to kill escorted ships.

Possible defenses to the cloaked intercept are

remove fuel from potential victims so they do not fight. Allows escort to kill the interceptor during normal combat.
enter a planet's warp well. Interceptor will be pulled to planet where the escort waits. minefields, remember the interceptor travels uncloaked.
Tow-kill and wolfpacks
Cloaked ships are likely to be used to tow an unsuspecting ship to its doom. They simply decloak, lock tractors and drag it off. They can split enemy fleets up this way into smaller, more digestible portions. This is likely to happen at a planet. In between planets it should be too hard for them to manage to be in the same place as their intended victim. And it will be if your moves are not straight-line. Some cloakers rarely need assistance killing their victims. Dark Wing battleships are wolves. But any ship with heavy disruptors can drag off a super freighter and capture it using friendly code NTP to disable its torpedoes.

Others tow the victim to a waiting group of ships called a wolf pack. The wolf pack may kill the victim at the end of movement, or allow the victim to kill the tow ship (sacrificial lamb) knowing the victim will be captured next turn (pirates rob and tow capture) before it moves. If you suspect cloakers are nearby, lay minefields. If you have a Loki, or a pop ship, use it. You can try setting the escort ships to intercept suspected target in the hope of thwarting the raiders, but this is likely to end in a worse situation.

Loading a freighter with supplies (to make it expensive to tow), but without fuel (so it will not fight), is effective against inexperienced players. They do not realize they should transfer 1 unit of fuel to each ship they tow to make sure it will fight. They may also tow the ship too far not realizing it will weigh much more than planned and use up their fuel - making them a sitting duck. If Privateers are the problem, beam up fuel from the planet to make sure they do not leave you with empty tanks when they rob you. Engage the services of your Crystal neighbor. Web mines are the best anti-cloaking device in the game.

Starbase defense and planetary defense
A fully stocked starbase is able to beat the best ship (singular) in the game. But not much more than that. Try not to give your cloaking opponents the option to ground assault you. Keep plenty of clans there and buy some planetary defense posts. Not only do these make the ground assault more difficult, but they increase the number of beams your base defends with. Lay minefields around the base. Keep a battleship there with a lower numeric friendly code than your other ships and enough torps for a battle. If you know your enemy, set your enemy field to attack him so you can use your mission for something else. Get tech 10 beams on the base.

Be careful about your mission and friendly code. If no allies are around, the best Starbase mission is usually force surrender. Pesky cloakers belonging to inexperienced players can sometimes be captured by matching their friendly codes. Hyperjumping ships that try to jump away from your planet, or that do not get their friendly code changed can be captured by setting your base friendly code to HYP. Beware that you may give your enemy a free ride through your minefields by matching the friendly codes. In the early stages of the game, the NUK friendly code is great for killing hyperjumping probes. But later, it causes problems with minefields.

If your enemy knows you are using NUK or ATT, he has a 50% chance to ignore your minefield. Watch messages for signs that Bird Men are tampering with your friendly codes. When this happens, or when an enemy captures one of your planets, make sure you change all planetary friendly codes.

For planets without starbases, 21 defense posts is usually sufficient. This gives you enough to beat any probe, and makes it impossible to get sensor readings off the planets. Use NUK or ATT to kill hyperjumping probes. But when you have a nearby minefield, know which planet controls it and set the friendly code of that planet to something else. Closest planet controls the code.

Quarterly Help
Brought to you by Donovan!

Building and cloning ships

Starbases can build or clone one starship per turn. When a starbase is set to both build and clone a ship, it will build a ship and no clone will be made. You can construct and store as many starship components such as hulls, engines engines and weapons for use at a later time as you want, provided you have the resources to do so.

VGA Planets, or rather the Host program, has a built-in limit of 500 ships. There can not be more than 500 ships in the game at the same time. The situation before this shiplimit is reached is quite different from that after the shiplimit. There are two moments in the host-cycle that starbases build ships: before and after combat. Before this shiplimit is reached, all ships are built when the Host programs cycles through the starbases in the 1st build-phase before combat, since there are still plenty of free shipslots.

After the shiplimit has been reached the situation changes. When Host during it's cycle reaches the 1st build-phase there are usually no shipslots free to build any ships. Most ships will therefore be built after combat, because only then has the destruction of ships in combat opened up shipslots. With the shiplimit (actually already before the shiplimit, as soon as there are 450 ships in the game), another change occurs: priority build points come into play and with that the so-called "priority queue".


Priority Build Points

Priority build points play an important role in VGA Planets, even though they are not even used until there are 450 out of the maximum 500 ships already built. Priority points are intended to reward players who are active in warfare by giving them a better chance of building ships. To accomplish this, there are two separate shipqueues - the normal queue and the priority queue.

The normal queue
The normal buildqueue simply rotates around the cluster, moving from planet to planet in an ascending order. At each planet, the queue checks if there is a starbase there with orders to build a ship. If that is the case, the ship is built. If not, the queue moves on to the next planet. Once all the shipslots have been filled, the queue stops. When one or more shipslots open up, the queue continues where it was, checking the next planet. Ships built in the normal queue do not cost priority points.

The Priority queue
The priority queue jumps to bases depending entirely on the players' amounts of Priority Build Points. The priority queue only assigns builds to players who have more than 20 points (this amount is re-checked after each build, since each build will cost an amount of points), and awards the first available build to the player with the highest amount of points. Which base of that player is used exactly can be controlled by the player himself, by setting friendly codes of "PBx" on his bases. In these codes, the x is to be replaced with numbers ranging from 1 to 9 where number 1 (PB1) is the base that gets to build the first priority build, the base with BP2 the second and so on. If a player that is awarded a priority build does not have a PBx code on any of his bases, his first base that would have gotten the build in the normal queue will build a ship, costing priority points.

Once there are no more players with more than 20 points, or at least no more players with more than 20 points who have one or more bases set to build a ship, the priority queue stops and the normal queue starts to cycle - continuing where it had left.


Earning Priority points
There are a number of ways to earn priority points: ship-to-ship battles, recycling your own ships (only recommended in some cases, certainly not as the main way to earn priority points) and using Glory Devices:

Recycling a ship, regardless of it's mass, earns one priority point.
Killing an enemy ship in ship-to-ship battle earns one priority point for every 100 kilotons of enemy hullmass destroyed, rounded up.
Exploding your Glory Devices earns one point per exploding GD ship.
If the Glory Device explosion(s) blow up enemy ships, this earns one point for every 100 kilotons of enemy hullmass destroyed, rounded up.
Destroying enemy ships in planet vs ship battles does not earn any priority points.
Colonizing a ship on a planet does not earn any points either.


Spending Priority points
As in real life, spending is much easier than earning; priority points are spent on building ships in the priority queue.
The costs in Priority Points to build a ship are based on the ship's hull mass: PBPs = RNDup [ (Hullmass * 2) / 100 ]
Or put in words: double the hullmass of the ship, divide by 100 and round up.


Cloning ships

To clone a ship, there are a couple of conditions which have to be met:

Both the ship which is to be cloned and the starbase which is to do the cloning must be owned by the same player.
The ship may not be in the owner's original shiplist (e.g. Feds can't clone a Nebula, Lizards can't clone a T-Rex, Birdmen can't clone a Resolute and so on)
The ship's friendly code must be set to "cln"
The techlevels of the starbase must be equal or greater than those used in the ship (for hull, engines and weapons)
The base needs to have sufficient minerals and cash to meet the cost of cloning: cloning costs the exact amount of minerals that is needed to build the ship and it's components (engines/weapons), and exactly twice the cash.
Things that prevent cloning:

The Privateers and Crystalline can not clone.
If a base is set to both build and clone a ship, a ship will get built and no clone will be made.
Other points of interest:

The warp speed of any ship that is successfully cloned is set to 0; it will not move. It may however be towed away.
If you try to clone a ship out of your own shiplist (e.g. the Lizards with a Reptile set to "cln" at one of their own bases) the base will try to clone it, but the rule that own ships can not be cloned will prevent this. The ship's speed will still be reset to 0.

Due to the host-order cloning becomes nearly impossible once the shiplimit has been reached: the shipslots that are freed during combat are usually filled in the second build phase. For any possible cloning to occur, there should be more ships destroyed than there are starbases set to build ships. And even then, building in the next turn in the first build-phase would come before any cloning.

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



PCC 1.1.11 is now out.
Bugfixes and improvements. New features include auto waypoint display and recalling ships cargo room from history screen. The mission selector now honors the AllowExtendedMissions setting.

Find it at:



VPA 3.62c Released
This new version includes a bunch of bug fixes and new features. Don't know what VPA is? Find out here:



Planet's Fiction

The Echo Saga: Chapter 4 A New Beginning

"What's you Name, Rank, Specialty and anything else you care to give me SoFty?" The large man's breath stank and he insisted in getting as close as possible to Ted's kneeling face.

"Ranger, Ted Liutenant Junior Grade. Solar Federation Navy. Qualified Navigator 1st class. Qualified Pilot 1st Class A, B and C capital Star Ships. Qualified Starfighter Pilot 2nd Class. Serial Number 110-22-A345. Next of Kin located on Wolly World, Solar Federation."

Thankfully turning his head to shout Ted got a brief respite from the pirates breath. "OY! Boss! Looks like we found the next ranking officer."

A medium height man who looked he had just stepped out of a romantic holo featuring space pirate swaggered his way over to where the big man and the young officer were. "Pick him will you Drang."

With a wicked smile the man named Drang grabbed Ted by his uniform top and heaved him into the air. His feet no longer touched the floor and he was looking down at his captors. "We have control of your ship. The captain is dead, First officer Serok has already accepted our offer as have most of your crew. Now it is up to you and the rest of these diehard's and since you are the ranking officer you get to make the choice and sell it to the rest of 'em" He had gestured to the small group of 12 crewman sitting, laying, standing and leaning that was directly behind Ted.

They were the last of the crew to surrender or be captured. Two weeks after they had been boarded Ted had been forced to surrender after being trapped in a cargo bay trying to secure more weapon cartridges for their phasers. The original plan as laid down by the Captain in those final moments before the bridge fell was for Ted, Serok and herself to escape threw the ships maintenance tubes and try and retake the ship. After pushing Serok first and then Ted into the tubes Captain Groves had sealed them in. She had fought bravely taking three pirates with her to the grave. Serok had been captured two hours later as he tried to make contact with some prisoners. Posing as the first officer and chief science officer he had surrendered the ship after being threatened with spacing. Ted had carried on the fight but with diminishing resources he had been forced to make a brave but stupid raid which had lead to his current predicament.

"So which will it be the airlock or a life of villainy?" The Boss asked with an evil grin that was shared by Drang.

With a heavy sigh. "I surrender."

"No drak, anything else to add before we toss you out the lock?"

"I will freely join the Pirates." Ted said hanging his head in shame.

"Don't worry mate, the shame will end eventualy, usualy right after you take your first ship and get your cut. Isn't that right Chief Drang?"

"Aye, it is laddy." He said to Ted as he let his feet touch the deck.

"Take him over to Ulysses' 2nd wife, They put the word out for any one captured with piloting skills to be sent over to them."

A small Pirate settlement had sprung up where Rawls' team had set down. Using their supplies the Pirates had already begun mining small amounts of minerals out of the ground. And now Peter Rawls was on the run. He had managed to escape the massacre that had claimed the rest of his 8 man team by running into the woods. He still felt horrible about leaving his team behind but knew that someone had to survive to tell the Federation about what had happened. At least that is what he told him self when he awoke in a cold sweat every night.

For the past week he had been trekking as far as he could get from the Pirate settlement. Then suddenly two days ago his inactive com had beeped three times. Sending the coded response he had located and communicated with a the second survey team to have beamed down. Now having the five fellow crewmates within reach Peter doubled his pace making good time.

Ulysses inspected the new arrival. He had resisted the pirates for two weeks but had finally been captured. He had decided to join the pirate bands, not a surprising thing being the alternative was life outside an airlock.

The loss of Grecha to that damned Engineering petty officer had been bad news. No one could pilot a ship like her. Others could do it sure but not like her. Now though they had a new Navigator.

"So you trained by the SoFty navy to fly their fancy dandy ships and now you think you can pilot a freewheeling pirate ship threw mine fields and enemy fleets?"

"No." Ted said flatly looking at the surprised Captains face. "I know I can."

A wide smile creeped across his new captains face. "See, you already fit in."

After being given a tour of the ship and a stern warning that any treachery would result in the immediate termination of Ted's contract and his life. He was shown to the bridge and shown his station.

"Cloaking is operated by my wife, comm officer and chief science officer. Over there is weapons control and the Engineering station. We have a small crew and everyone wears several hats. Which is how you came to be in our service; Our last navigator was killed boarding you ship."

Ted said nothing. He felt for the loss of life but didn't feel to bad about a dead pirate. Then he realized he was one of those pirates now. "The Spence was the same way. Every one had to be crossed trained."

"Really? What was your cross training in then?" A weary Tweatian asked from the Engineering station.

"Don't mind him, he doesn't like SoFty's too much. He says if you can believe it that they keep his people down." After Ulysses and the Tweatian passed dirty looks at each other the Pirate continued. "But than again he claims EVERY one keeps his people down."

The bridge erupted in laughter. Ted joined in with the five other people out of a need to be included. The one of the two Bridge guards laughed so hard he almost choked on his lunch. After running the small ship up over and under the other ships in the area Ted was allowed to leave the bridge for a rest period. Another stern warning followed him threw the hatch. He quickly found the ships quarter master and chief of security. He was assigned quarters and racked out for a nights rest.

He shared the room with four other crewman. Two were asleep when he entered. Ted quickly flopped down on rack B, the upper rack that wasn't occupied. The quarters were closer than he had had aboard the Spencer where he had shared his room with a medical officer but he found the bed to be the most comfortable he had ever slept on aboard a ship. He sleep was long and restful.

When the shift bell chimed Ted rolled out of his rack still in his same dirty uniform. He decided there wasn't much he could do about it right then and his grumbling stomach led him to the galley. He saw the Captain, his wife and three other people sitting at a table by them selves. Taking his place in line he soon found him self with a tray full of some stew, a piece of hot bread and a cup of something the cook had called Cider.

"Oy! Over here Fresh!" Drang yelled across the galley. He sat at a table with three other beings. The Tweatian from the day before sat to his left. On his right sat a balding man in what looked like an Imperial Techs black coveralls and a striking red head who was wearing a faded tan work shirt.

Taking his seat he was introduced to those around the Table. "I am Drang, formally Chief Drang of the USS Carsen. To my left is On'Ter former Rek of the Engineering department on the Ontz. To my right in the Imperial Coveralls is Sgt. Renk Olar of the Imperial ship Dread. And last but no least this is Major Henna Murr, formerly of the CWS Liber." All of the people nodded their heads.

"We are the so called outcasts. One of the things they don't advertise, and with good cause, is how clannish they are."

"If you ain't one of them by blood, you ain't one of them." Henna chimed in forking threw her food and then selecting a bite.

"You really got to work your ass off for a chance to get anywhere in this here organization. Almost the exact opposite of the ImpNav. There you got to buy rank and it costs. Here you got save someone's life just to see rank in your life."

"I don't follow." Ted said with a puzzled look as he ate.

"You see here in the pirate bands none of us will ever move up. If one were to say marry an already established member of the bands then your children would have more shares and opportunities. The only problem is that the more powerful the marriage the harder it is to have arranged. It is their way of preventing new recruits with ambition from gaining to much power. Notice how your crew got split up?"

"Yes. I guess there is a lot of things I didn't think about when I turned traitor." Ted said glumly.

"Well hell I wouldn't worry to much you can still make more than enough credits to retire to some out of the way place and live a nice quiet life on some pirate world. I plan on opening a bar after we return to the Home world." Drang said cheerily.

As the conversation continued Ted Ranger, formerly of the Solar Federation contemplated his situation.


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