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Echo Cluster
The Official VGA Planets Newsletter
Volume 4. / Issue Number 2.
October – December 2006


Table of Contents

Editors Note: ][avok
Tidbits: Various Community Announcements
Site of the Quarter: ][avok
2006 SDC Results: ][avok
Developer Profile: ][avok Interviews…
The Ships Log: Battlestar Commander Ed Robinson
Den of the Fox: Desert-Fox
How To Setup an IRC Client: ][avok
Fan Fiction - The Gorn Gambit: Desert-Fox



Editors Note

Tis The Season…

It’s that time of year again. A time for family, friends, food and drink. A time to reflect on what’s passed and what’s yet to come. A time to invade and conquer your neighbors cluster before they do the same to yours!!!

Welcome to the second issue of the VGA Planets Newsletter for the 2006. This year was a busy one for our little community. I must say I was a little disappointed when I wrote my last editorial due to the fact that we've lost some big host sites over the last twelve months. This edition I'm pleased to report that one has decided to stay online, The Starbase.net and two new ones are coming online, VGA Planets Rumble! and Taffers Corner. I think this is awesome, and I anticipate that by this time next year all 3 of them will be running strong with everyones continued support and encouragement. Stop by, say hello, and if their sign-up is working, join them.

We have a full line up for you this quarter. First we have the results from the 2006 Scenario Design Contest, our Site of the Quarter and a new Developer Profile featuring host side add-on creator Harry Bur. Rounding out this issue, the return of Ed Robinson and his quarterly column. Desert-Fox has a new installment of Den of the Fox, and a brutal new chapter in his “Gorn Gambit” fan fiction.

I wish everyone reading this a very Merry Christmas and a safe Happy New Year!!!

Until next time.
][avok



Tidbits

PlayVCR Update Released
Over the weekend of December 2nd Stefan Reuther released an update to his PlayVCR utility.

PlayVCR is a combat player which plays HOST and PHost combat in the same environment, with nice graphics and a little sound. PlayVCR can optionally be installed as a plug-in to Winplan, so Winplan users can watch their PHost combat without needing batch files.

As an added value, PlayVCR now includes a multi-ship battle simulator (code-named "CCBSim 2.0"). According to Stefan "It still looks ugly, especially the file requester sucks a lot, but it can otherwise do almost everything CCBSim can and has the added benefit of being a native Win32 program: it runs in a window if you want, and is about ten times faster."

As usual, there also is a version with installer and Winplan integration. If you use that, it's recommended you uninstall your previous PlayVCR first before installing the new one.

Downloads can be found on http://phost.de/~stefan/pcc2.html


Return of... thelastdomain.com???

As you all know last The Last Domain, a long standing beacon of excellence in the VGA Planets community, went offline in after a massive hardware failure that affect the main system and it's back up systems. Well placed sources say that Merlyn is redesigning the site and going to re launch it in 2007. In what capacity is unknown at this point. Stay tuned...


RANDAX 2.g Released

Thomas Voigt has updated RANDMAX which was originally created by Steffen Pietsch. Since he's no longer playing Thomas has taken over. Several bugs have been fixed and a few new features are included.

Downloads are available at: http://home.snafu.de/spock




Site of the Quarter

Every quarter we give a VGA Planets website special recognition for their contribution to the community. This quarter we’ve set our eyes on The Starbase.

The Starbase is a VGA Planets host site owned by Erik "Paladin" Dickens and based in Florida, USA. His site specializes in custom games that usually have host add-on's. The Starbase.net is well designed and informal, yet easy to navigate and the host is always available to answer questions. So when you're looking for more than the standard vanilla challenge, this is the place to look.



2006 SDC Winners

All I can say is “Wow! What a Contest!” The contestants really stepped up this year and produced some awesome scenarios. 1st Place in this year’s SDC also really came down to an extremely narrow margin.  By that, I mean “By a hair”. I truly wish we could give first place to everyone involved. One thing Circus-Maximus plans to do this year is run all of the top 3 scenarios. Thank you to all of the participants!!!

1st Place belongs to the team of Mike Arrowood aka “BANE” & Matt Clouser aka “Klauser”. Together the two of them came up with ‘Star Fleet Battles: The Arena’. The scenario is a self contained tournament that takes place in the universe of the original “Jim Kirk” era timeline of Star Trek. There are 11 races to choose from the original television show and animated series, but the tournament only involves 8 of them. SFB: Arena supports both WinPlan with custom BMP’s and the DOS version of planets with a custom resource.pln file. That means anyone who has a registered copy of planets can play, no one is left out.
 
The premise of SFB: Arena is that the Metron’s have grown tired of the constant warring between the various species of the Alpha Quadrant and have decided to impose their own solution. The Metron’s then appear before the leaders of the races occupying the Alpha Quadrant and transfer a representative colony of each race to their own “Arena” cluster in a distant part of the galaxy.

Upon arrival, the representative colonies of each race are told that they are here to participate in a tournament consisting of 3 conflicts. The winner of the final conflict will rule the Alpha Quadrant.

  • Conflict #1 (8 Players) - At the beginning of the scenario each player starts in one of the clusters with one other player - the goal in this stage is to capture and control the homeworld of the other player in the cluster. (Uses VGAP's REFEREE Invasion scenario).  Conflict #1 ends when each of the four clusters have a victor - and the losers are eliminated from the game.
  • Conflict #2 (4 Players) - In this stage of the tournament the winner in each cluster is matched up with the winner of another cluster. Their two clusters are now connected via wormholes.  The goal in this stage is to kill 20,000 tons of enemy ships (Uses VGAP's REFEREE Ton scenario).  Conflict #2 ends there are two winners.  Like before, the losers are eliminated from the game.
  • Conflict #3 (2 Players) - In the final stage, all of the clusters are connected via wormhole.  The remaining two players battle it out in a all-out land grab.  The victor is the player who controls two thirds (67%) of the stars on the map. 

Another feature of this scenario is called “Evolution”. This “Evolution” kicks in and evolves with each conflict. By using a specially tailored Star Fleet Battles ship list, each player starts with a limited number of ships available to build.  At later stages in the game, more ships are added to each players build queue.

  • Conflict #1 will be played with ships from Phase 1 and 2 of evolution.  In general, Phase 1 is light freighters, Frigates (beams only ships) and destroyers (light torp ships).    In Phase 2, the ship lists add in larger freighters / tugs, some of your lighter carriers and cruisers (medium torp ships).
  • Conflict #2 will be played with ships from Phase 3 and 4 of evolution. Phase 3 is when you start getting your alchemy ships, light-to-medium carriers, and heavy cruisers.  Phase 4 adds in the battle cruisers, dreadnoughts and some the earlier heavy carriers.
  • Conflict #3 starts out Phase 5 of Evolution.  These are the largest ships in the game - your heavy guns.  The larger dreadnoughts, battleships and heavy carriers finally make their appearance.

Mike & Matt have raised the bar with SFB: Arena and Circus-Maximus is really looking forward to hosting it.

2nd Place goes to Richard Boggs for ‘Arrow of Apollo’. Upon opening this scenario for the first time, it was more than obvious that Richards scenario is a labor of love for him. AoA is a scenario taking place in the re-imagined version of the Battlestar Galactica universe. The surviving colonists have discovered Kobol and while there found a map indicating the vicinity of Earth, and hopefully their brothers, the 13th tribe of man. Barely ahead of the Cylon fleet, have the Colonials managed to jump to the cluster indicated by the Kobol map. All they know now is that Earth is somewhere in the central area of the cluster, and the Cylons are in hot pursuit.

In this scenario, the designed objective is to be the last team standing. There are 6 Colonial races and 5 Cylon ones. If you’re the Colonials you’ll want to find earth and possibly the 13th tribe. If you’re the Cylons, you want to eradicate all of humanity.

AoA is nothing short of a complete rebuild of VGA Planets. Richard’s scenario provides a completely new race list, ship list, and a re-work of VGA Planets functionality. There is even a foundry ship for building in ships in space. Richard has also created a completely new set of BMP’s pictures for Winplan and custom WAV files too. There is no DOS Planets support for Arrow of Apollo. I hope in a future update, Richard will create a resource.pln file so DOS planets users can participate in this great scenario.

Another feature of this scenario worth mentioning is that Richard created 2 utility programs to accompany it. The first is called FoundryHelper.exe. It’s a player utility that helps you construct ships with the foundry ship easier. The second utility is a Host end program called BSGConfigHelper.exe. This utility is a small GUI that simplifies the host setup of the special options of the AoA scenario and great little time saver.

Richard has brought the Galactica universe to VGA Planets, and it’s arriving like the Pegasus ramming itself into a Base Ship at full speed.

3rd Place goes to Thomas Klebes. Thomas hosts the Delta Force VGA Planets website and has been creating and running PHost games for a long time. Naturally, Thomas has designed and entered a Borg themed PHost scenario into the SDC this year called ‘The Awakening’.

The goals of ‘The Awakening’ are dynamically changed for the players throughout the different stages of this scenario’s runtime. The scenario takes place on a custom large multi-cluster map. 10 players start in the inner clusters while the Borg take control the two outer clusters.

  • Phase 1 In this phase the players are not allowed to ally with each other. Also they are not aware of the Borg, because their map material only shows the inner cluster. The restricted scanning and hyper-jump abilities ensure that inner players do not find the Borg clusters by accident. Meanwhile the Borg has the task of colonizing his outer clusters and building up a strong invasion force. The map material for the Borg shows only his outer clusters and he is not allowed to leave this area. In the case an inner player reaches the mission goal up to turn 50 he has won the game.

    At turn 50 the inner players receive messages from the host that something strange is happening in the universe: ion storms are forming, large meteors are raining down on planets, and strange wormholes have begun to appear and are slowly moving towards the center of the inner cluster. This is the time just before "the Awakening" of the Borg.

  • Phase 2 Four one-sided wormholes open up in the Borg cluster that lead to 4 positions in the inner cluster and the invasion starts. At the time of the Borg invasion the mission goals of the inner cluster players change from competitive to cooperative: they have to use their combined forces to throw back the Borg invasion. The alliance functions are enabled now. At this point, the  Borg can win it all if he conquers 250 planets. If the 4 wormholes that are moving towards the center meet, the game is ended and declared as a draw.

    The players get to the next phase of the game when they completely conquer the outer cluster of the Borg. Their first task is to find a way to the Borg cluster by searching for the 4 wormholes that appeared in turn 50. These 4 one-sided wormholes lead to 4 positions of one of the Borg outer cluster (star cluster). Then the next aim may be to establish star gates there to ensure that reinforcements of the inner cluster can be brought easily to the Borg´s outer cluster. When the players are able to conquer the star cluster they will find a wormhole in the middle of the cluster that leads to the Borg home cluster. When the players are again able to conquer this cluster then the last phase of the "The Awakening" begins.

  • Phase 3 Now, if you’ve made it this far, the gaming mode again changes from cooperative to competitive for the inner cluster players. After the menace of the Borg has been repelled there must be a new ruler must arise for this part of the universe. The player who is able to conquer the complete outer clusters and hold all of the former Borg planets for 5 turns in a row will become the new ruler and finally wins "The Awakening".

‘The Awakening’ is designed for the latest version of PHost (4.0k) and uses the PList v3.0 shiplist. Host addon’s needed for this scenario are ExploreMap v2.0 and Stargate v0.15.

This is another solid scenario that we’re looking forward to seeing it in action!

And that's it. Thanks again to everyone who participated! We'll see you again next year.



Developer Profiles

This quarter we have an interview with Harry Bur. Harry is the author of quite a few host add-on's, such as Z-Explore, Z-Gate, AutoAlly & Zeus. Also a special thanks to Harry for taking the time to reply to our questions. English is not Harry's native language so the grammar has been edited when needed.

Tell us a little about yourself, and what you have been up to since last software updates.

I live in SW Germany in an area called Saarland. I'm from typus "universal dilletant". I've performed several professions up to now. I’ve been a miner, electronic technician to a programmer... but also such nice things like farming in a commune in Italy.

Currently, I’m coding a new 4x PBEM game, called Cluster23. Possibly a chance to earn a few MC if it’s good. But I know how loyal the v3 community is... so I expect nothing.

I've also coded a new mastering system (like Auto-Troll/PHCC) which is 95% completed. That's for hosting Planets v3 and v4 and Cluster23 games.

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

I do not play much besides VGA Planets for the last few years. I was a bit addicted to Diablo II and played strategy based games like Warcraft, but then I’ve decided to not playing such games any more, because they costs a lot of live time.  But I will still be playing VGAP and if I’ve more muse, I will try to play v4 at some point.

Which race do you prefer to play in VGAP & why?

I prefer the Rebels. That was the first race I’ve played and in my heart, I’m a Rebel too. I'm a specialist in building a really huge fleet till the ship limit hit and I’m also a more aggressive player, so the Rebels fits my style very good.

Do you have a favorite add-on when playing a game? Something that’s caught your attention and made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!

Well, I like it to playing sphere games. After I found how they work, I wanted to write another one. The two versions I found, only set the ship to the other side of the map. No routines for minefields, Loki's, Warp Wells, etc.  For example: a MBR can travel 162 LY without hitting a mine and can also not be de cloaked by a Loki. Zeus/Z-Sphere can handle that. 

What's your favorite Planets game memory?

My first game. I played with shareware till turn 50... until that point, I had already built some transwarp Rushes built at planets with Humanoids with recycled engines, built at planets with Ghipsoldals. After the Crystal's and I had destroyed the other player’s empires, we fought for ~ 100 turns. Many, many fights, but it was like Verdun in World War 1. In the end, I lost the game, because I was too lazy to handle 200+ planets.

What specifically inspired you? What were the biggest influences?

The biggest inspiration in my young live was books like Cosmic Trigger by R.A. Wilson, Neurologics and Exo-Psychologie by Timothy Leary, Beelzebub’s stories onto his great-grandson von Gurdjieff, the Sufis by Idres Shah, Goethe, Hesse and thousands of science fiction books. 

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome due to VGAP's mechanics / limitations while working on your projects?

As I wrote my first add-on, there was always the filefmt.txt. Without them or other information about the data structure, I would not have written a VGA Planets add-on.  With the filefmt.txt, it was easy and I can not remember any problem. The biggest challenge was to over come my laziness.

Were there things that you wished you had added to Z-Gate, Z-Sphere, Z-Explore Zeus…etc…??

Z-Gate and Z-Explore are ok. Nothing more to do...  Zeus and Z-Sphere does still miss a little bit source code for handling Glory Devices and Warp Chunnels for ships which are going over the rim.        

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

A good set of main features and rules. It has to be expandable. A simple to use GUI.

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

I've not published much till now. Zeus is downloaded 100 times. I know only two hosting sites, besides RCworld (the site at which all my add-ons gets beta tested), which runs games with Zeus.

What would your ideal computer game be like if you could have anything you wanted given the limitations of today's technology?

It would be a game with massive multi-player 3d universe with both online and offline gaming elements. I’ve been thinking about such a game for years.

What’s the status of your product development and do you intend to continue to develop them or new utilities for Planets v4.0 in the future?

I want to write an invasion add-on to complete my pool of v3 add-ons. And of course, I need to complete my Internet site. Zeus, Z-Explore, AutoAlly and Z-Invasion are freeware, but I want a few MC for Z-Sphere and Z-Gate. It's possible that I will write a v4 add-on or tool if I start to play v4. But not in the next 2-3 years.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Oh... I only have a 10 day plan  ;-)

Any last words to the Planets fan base?

Keep playing... It's nothing unusual that the community splits more and more... say one or two times per year "pop" into the newsgroup, so we know that you are still out there.



The Ships Log: By Ed Robinson

Well it’s been some time since anyone has heard or read anything from me, so I figured I would help Joe and submit some sort of article for this quarter's newsletter.  My topic is called, "Strategy vs. Action"

My reason for this topic is the ever increasing popularity of Action/adventure on-line games such as "Guild Wars", "World of Warcraft", "EverQuest", "Dungeons and Dragons Online" and others of similar nature.  Ever since these games have come into existence our little "play by email" game of VGA Planets has come under ever increasing pressure to compete.  But my question would have to be "do we really need to compete?"  Why should we even try?  It is simple logic to assume that these games I have mentioned and others like them are simply too powerful and entertaining for a "simple" game like VGA planets to have a chance in keeping a large player base.  But, let me explain why I think VGA Planets offers something these games can't. VGA Planets offers the "intellectual" experience of gaming. That is, while any simple 10 to 12 yr old can sit down and run through a game like World of Warcraft, let’s see that same player base sit down and take 2 hrs to complete a simple turn of VGA Planets without the "instant" gratification. And thus is the advantage.  Do we really want this wonderful game of strategy and diplomacy belittled to the degree where younger kids ruin the gaming experience for us?  I say no. 

Anyone who has played VGA Planets for a while knows what kind of planning and work it takes to play.  They also know that a single game can sometimes run into months of work. We don't get our satisfaction from seeing a limp fly or blood spurt. We get it from outsmarting our opponents on an even playing field, and relish in the knowledge that we have done something that has taken more effort than just sitting pushing buttons. 

So for this reason I would say VGA Planets should appeal to a more "mature" crowd, and hopefully we won't see it become "tainted" by a fast and furious crowd of instant "joy seekers".

As Forest Gump would say, "That is all I have to say about that."

Till next letter, party on, and blast your enemy’s ships into space dust.

Ed
(Former host of Battlestar Command Bridge)



Den of the Fox: By Desert-Fox

Last night, 12/08/06, ][avok and I got together to drink a few beers have a couple of nice cigars and watch the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica on the big screen TV. As is always the case we got to reminiscing about the ‘old days’ when personal computing was really the Wild West.

I know a lot of you are too young to remember back to an age of 300/1200/2400 baud modems, Commodore 64's, 8088's, 286's, terminal programs, war dialers, cracking programs and some of the early hacking software that abounded for example Di-Sector and Fast Hack’em by Mike J. Henry & The Basement Boys, and game hacking cartridges like Final Cartridge and SuperSnapShot. There were homemade burst nibblers that we wired into our floppy drives (before hard drives) and a plethora of other tools and tricks we used to circumvent protection on those early games.  Enough of that, though, as I could write an entire article on the early days of BBSing, gaming and hacking…hmmm maybe next time.

In those early days, even after we switched from Commodore 64's to an IBM clone, we used terminal programs to call around and play online games on all the local BBS's. Online games were called DOORS. Kind of like a modern day plug-in file but for a BBS program. One of those that caught our eye was a door for a game called VGA Planets. The BBS would host the game. You would call in and download your turn, logoff, execute your turn and call back in and upload it back. At midnight, the BBS would run its ‘midnight routines’ and run HOST for the game and the process repeated. Unlike the fine graphics we have today on Circus-Maximus and the other sites, everything thing of a graphic nature was in ANSI. You ‘old heads’ know what I’m talking about!

After ][avok left, I found myself surfing the net about of all things…BBSing, I came across a post that I thought would be educational for the newer folks used to only the internet and nostalgic to those of use who were ‘cowboys’ on the ORIGINAL internet. Whether you were a SYSOP of a BBS ( what would today be called  ‘The HOST’ of a site’) or just one of the thousands who called BBS’s and posted messages, ‘leeched’ files or played games, I think you will end up nodding your head going ‘yea, I remember that or damn I hadn’t realized just how much things have changed.’ 

With that said please enjoy the article. All credit for the following goes to the original author. 

 

Why Is Today Not Like What It Was Like?

By TCV

Formerly Sir Galahad, The Main Man (unsuccessful),
The Unknown, The Watchman, FEH!Head

The intro to Textfiles.com poses a simple question, right? What was it like to call BBS’s? And there are a lot of great textfiles within the section -- some of them like jail-house confessions -- that admirably explain what it was like at the time of the BBS’s.

It got me to thinking: What's different about today's online experience that makes it different from yesterday's online experience?

There is actually a lot more different about today than you might think. And what's sad for those of us who were there, there's quite a bit more that just can't be recreated. Those experiences only exist in our memories and our lame attempts to capture emotions in textfiles.

It turns out that answering that simple question ain't so simple.

Let's see if we can't figure out Why Is Today Not Like What It Was Like.

BEECHWOOD-45789

My friend introduced me to BBSs one afternoon during my 14th year. He showed me the ropes: how you place a phone call to connect and login to Paradise, or The Dungeon, or Dante's Inferno. He also explained how these "BBS programs" ran on other people's computers. The board operators kept their computers on all the time (!!) and the board answered the phone. It was all very mystical to me. When I left that afternoon, he gave me a big list of local BBS’s to call.

And that's the FIRST thing that's missing from today's online experience: "single contact".

When you called a bulletin board -- unless you were one of those rich and/or thieving kids -- you made a simple phone call from your computer to another computer. If you had fairly good knowledge of area codes and local telephone number prefixes, you knew where you were calling. This, at least, allowed you to imagine where you computer traveled.

What happens these days? Well, if you dial a number at all, it's certainly to some unmanned, air-conditioned room where a bunch of lonely modems handle incoming calls for a bunch of online services. Believe me, there's no pimply-faced guy there with some mean alias like, "Your Worst Nightmare!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" ready to scare you with his might when next you logon. What's more, when you request a website, where does it come from? At best, a room with a whole bunch of servers that handle thousands of web sites.

Certainly there are PEOPLE behind all this technology. Someone is creating that nifty community you log into every night.

But today's online experience loses that simple contact, the connection of computer to computer, the single exchange between YOU and the bulletin board. And, certainly, the locality of it is lost. When you called a BBS devoted to your area, it operated IN YOUR TOWN, not on some server offering a free month's hosting if you purchase a set of steak knives.

And, by the way, this is true from the other side, too. While you once could watch someone login to your BBS -- and see just how lame of a typist many people were -- you can't do this when you run a web site.

NO CARRIER

Do you remember dial-up? Yeah, I'm trying to forget it, too. But more importantly, do you remember all that freaky noise the modem used to make? That's the modem negotiating a speed so it can make the connection to the Internet service. At least, that's my non-technical explanation.

Way back before 56k, people used to connect to BBS’s at 110 and 300 bps. The slower the connection, the cleaner the tone that came out of the modem. In fact, way back when folks connected at 110 and 300 bps, you could hear the tone beep-and-boop (the technical terms for modulate and demodulate) as characters came across the line. (With the VicModem, one could pick up an extension phone and whisper into the receiver, "liiiiiiiiine noooooooise," utterly destroying someone's connection. Now, THAT's COMEDY!)

As speeds picked up, it became harder to distinguish the modulation. That wasn't a big deal, of course, because you got a super boost in speed. Still, sometimes I miss the old, simple carrier tone. When the carrier perked up, text was sent directly to your computer and when you pressed a key on your keyboard and you heard the carrier beep, what you typed was displayed on the other person's screen. It was an interesting technical experience that's nearly gone these days.

FASTER THAN A SPEEDING CURSOR

Not terribly long after many BBS’s upgraded to 2400bps, one long-time, local stated that 1200 baud was just enough for anybody. What he meant by that was as the ASCII scrolled on your screen, a typical person could keep up with the 1200 baud text without it getting too far ahead. While it's pretty obvious that 1200 baud would not be quite adequate for today's connections, what is missing is the simplicity of the text-only connection.

Web pages and emails are amazingly complex, and not just underneath the hood. Seems like the simplest pages have lots of elements vying for your attention -- JavaScript, FLASHy objects, blinky banner ads, and oh, so much more. Its yards beyond a simple screen full of text like we used to deal with everyday.

What's also quite different is that even for pages that manage to be simple -- like the ones here at textfiles.com -- there is hardly such a thing as a "screen full of text." Text is much smaller these days due to the higher resolutions monitors can display. I'm writing this in TextWrangler on a PowerBook G4. I've set the background to black, the text to green, and I'm soft-wrapping the text at 78 columns. It takes up slightly less than 1/2 of the screen. This is a far cry from yesteryear, where 78 columns was the ENTIRE screen. Poor bastards like me with their weak-ass Commodore 64 had only 40 columns. Vic-20 users? I'm not sure they were even allowed on BBSs, seeing as they had a mere 20 columns to play within. ;-)

It's not easy to view things as they were, by the way. You can increase the size of the text, yes, although at some point it does look ridiculous. You could lower the resolution, but if you're on an LCD monitor, everything's gonna get a little blurry. And today's operating systems just aren't meant to work in anything under 800x600.

If you can force a 25x80 full-screen DOS session then telnet into a telnet table BBS, you can get something close to the way things use to look. But even that's becoming harder to do without buying old equipment! (*sob*)

COMMUNISM

Many web sites these days want community badly. There are thousands of books and web sites that explain how to create, foster, build, and massage communities. And when those things don't work, some web sites FORCE community. (YOU WILL POST TO THE FORUMS!!) And community has done pretty well on the web. There are THOUSANDS of websites with quality, busy communities.

It used to be that each local area had a handful of communities and while some were specifically-inclined, a larger majority of them were general and had strengths and weaknesses in one or more areas. Today's communities are typically micro-focused. They pick one thing and try to do it the best way possible. This ain't bad, but it has some downsides.

First, it's hard to be successful at generality. Some of the most popular BBSs were "general." These boards typically just let the conversation go wherever the users wanted. This freedom was meant to prompt the users to take the wheel, as it were, and create the community. Many folks today will simply pass you by if you're not trying to shine some light onto some topic previously in the dark.

Second, there's a price to pay for your time. Just like you might have to buy two computer magazines and visit four web sites to get a full story these days, you have to visit several communities to equal up to what you would have found on ONE popular BBS.

Third, redundancy. There are also a lot of repeat communities, so many so that if one Star Wars community isn't working, you can always go to the next. For this reason, folks have very little reason to make a mediocre community a stellar one. That leaves a lot of web communities overrun with weeds.

MAH THREADZ

Reading new messages is something people have done online since the earliest days. But Usenet brought a shift to the way people read new messages.

Why am I blaming Usenet? Well, there's no BLAME here, per se, but when people started to read through hundreds of messages a day, folks sought a way to easily jog one's memory as to which conversation they were following. Thus, the THREAD view was born.

On the old BBSs, you typically typed "N" for "New Messages" and you were brought to each forum only to read those new messages in the particular forum. How was it determined which messages you saw first? Easy. Your last logoff time was compared to the messages in the message bases and the data/time they were published. (Heck, there wasn't much in the way of real threads with some BBS packages; the whole of a conversation would ebb-and-flow, die and rise again, as you read through the new messages. It was all very stream-of-group-consciousness.)

Today, many web-based forums software, like vBulletin, force the thread view, shunning the "show me all the new messages" view entirely. And some packages really never show you the new messages, rather showing the topic header with some graphic indicating new messages lie within. If your web cookies are up-to-date and properly situated, then you'll be able to read the messages that are actually new since you last visited.

I haven't found any web forums that do New messages quite like so many years ago. I find it quite easy to miss honest-to-goodness, new-to-me messages. A damn shame when community is supposed to be so important!

Let's try to wrap this all into one typical call to a typical BBS. I'll use something closer to my experience -- a Commodore 64 and a VicModem. (Hey, Apple IIe owners. I'm STILL JEALOUS of you, that's why I'm not using an Apple IIe as the subject here. Nyah.)

The situation described is a BBS in which you called last night as a new user. You've introduced yourself to the community and are hopeful for replies. So, eagerly, you dial the seven digit phone number to Paradise/The Morgue BBS. It's busy. So you wait five minutes -- which is interminable to someone your age -- and dial again.

This time it rings! Click. A carrier tone comes over the line. And just before you remove the handset cord and plug it into the VicModem port, you hear the tone start to modulate.

^^$@#!L C O M E T O

P A R A D I S E / T H E M O R G U E

ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER THIS LOWLY PLACE
SYSOP: SOMEONE VERY MEAN. GRRRR.

You enter your alias and password and, after various promises of death and stuff for those who would trespass against the BBS, you are whisked away to the Main Menu prompt. An ‘M’ gets you to the Message Bases. An ‘N’  starts new messages scrolling your way. In fact, here's your first message to the community:

MESSAGE 43 OF 57
BASE: WARROOM
9/5/1985 - 1:17AM
FROM: MR. BAD
TO: ALL (EVERYONE)
SUBJECT: I AM THE MOST BAD

YOU HAVEN'T MESSED WITH THE BEST UNTIL YOUVE MESSED WITH ME. IAM THE MOST
BAD YOU CAN EVER DEAL WITH. JUST TRY ME AND YOU'VE GOT A WARRR!!!!!11

MR. BAD
LEADER OF THE PACK
"COME SAIL AWAY WITH ME, LADS!"

It doesn't take long until you see a reply to your inaugural BBS post!

MESSAGE 45 OF 57
BASE: WARROOM
9/5/1985 - 1:48AM
FROM: HELLS KEEPER
TO: MR. BAD, ALL
SUBJECT: I AM CONFUSED

HEY THERE, MR. BAD. THIS ISN'T SO MUCH A CHALLENGE AS IT IS HOPE FOR A CLARIFICATION. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY "THE MOST BAD?" DO YOU MEAN THE "BADDEST?" CAN YOU PLEASE CLARIFY?

ALSO, I AM ASTOUNDED YOU WOULD QUOTE A SEVEN YEAR OLD STYX SONG AND AM ULTIMATELY NOT SURE WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO. DO YOU HAVE A BOAT?  TO BE SURE, I THINK YOUR QUOTE CHOICE IS A BIT ... AHMM ... GAY.  IF YOUR INTENT IS TO COME OUT OF THE CLOSET, THEN PERHAPS A MORE DIRECT METHOD IS APPROPO. ALL IN ALL, I BELIEVE THAT THE ‘HAPPY FUN BBS’ WOULD BE MORE IN LINE FOR YOUR DECIDEDLY NEWUSER FORAGES.

H E L L S K E E P E R

And so begins your online relationship. All the fame (and fortune) promised by other BBS-calling friends will be yours soon, you think. You respond with various threats, when suddenly, the cursor starts doing some unexpected things:

SYSOP COMING ON...

HEY MR. BAD.  I'M JUST TRYING TO HELP YOU HERE. I THINK THAT IT WOULD BE BETTER FOR YOU TO JUST LAY LOW FOR A BIT AND WATCH HOW OTHERS INTERACT WITH THE BOARD AND THE USERS. I KNOW THAT YOU'RE ANXIOUS TO GET STARTED AND HAVE SOME FUN, BUT YOU REALLY DON'T WANT TO COME OFF AS TOO SILLY AT FIRST.

You respond in a most unfortunate way:

WHO DO YOU TINK YOU ARE? I AM MR. BAD. THAT MEANS I AM BAD. WHAT PART OF THAT IS HARD FOR YOU TO UNDERSTAND. IF YOU DONT LEAVE ME ALONE I WILL CRASH YOUR BOARD.  IAM ALSO AN HACKER OF SOME^@&**

That's when you hear a click from deep within your VicModem. And it sure ain't long before you realize you can't access Paradise/The Morgue any longer.

Of course, silly new users are around as much today as they were back then. Perhaps, though, they're more difficult to delete.

It would be interesting if someone were to take an old BBS package, port it to Flash, make it fill a screen, and try to start a BBS-style community around it. Perhaps, with the right visual and audio cues, it would even FEEL like an old BBS. They could even give you the old modem sounds and mimic good-old 300 baud.

That's an exercise best left to the more technically inclined and not someone attempting to simply relay Why Is Today Not Like What It Was Like. Indeed, I know I haven't captured all of the ways today is different, and I don't mean to imply that Today Sucks. My hope is that you now have a slightly better understanding of yesteryear as you read through the textfiles.



How To Setup & IRC Client: By ][avok

In our last issue of the Newsletter I mentioned that we as players of this fine game should take the time to get to know each other a little better and make more use of the VGA Planets IRC channel at Efnet.org. Apparently a lot of you agreed with me because since then I’ve had many requests asking me what is IRC? Where is this place, and how do you make it work? This issue I’m going to show you.

First off, IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat. Think of it as the first chat program before instant messengers ruled the desktop. For some excellent articles on the creation and history of IRC look no further than the history page at IRC.org

VGA Planets has a long history on IRC and has had a presence there since at least 1998, and probably earlier. The longest running VGAP IRC channel is the original, still live and kicking #vgaplanets at Efnet. Others have come and gone such as #vgap at DALnet and Talkcity. Tim Wisseman even used to pop into the Talkcity room on the first Sunday of the month years ago.

Just like everything else on the Internet, there are several ways you can use the news group. The most popular way is with a client program. The most popular program is mIRC. If you don’t have software that will let you access the group, you can go to many pages and use built in Java clients. Throughout the remainder of this article, you’re going to see three different ways to get the job done.

Efnet java client login prompt.The easiest way to enter IRC is if someone else, like a website, does 95% of the work for you. In this example, all you need to do is to the address http://chat.efnet.org. Once you get there, choose the “Advanced” link next to the logon button. That opens up a 5 choice menu. Most people enter their alias for both their Nickname and Realname. When you get to the choice “Channel” enter #vgaplanets. On the fourth choice you can choose any of the themes or leave it on default. Leave the final choice “Character Set” as it is. The press the Login button and you’re there.

Trillian account config screen.For our second example there’s Trillian 3.1 and Trillian 3.1 Pro. For those of you that don’t know, Trillian is a fully featured, stand-alone, chat client that supports AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo Messenger, and IRC. Trillian is made by Cerulean Studios. Each chat service offered by the software acts as it’s own independent plug-in and represented by a colored dot at the top of the Trillian menu. You don’t have to set them all up, but then again, you can if you use them all. To setup an IRC identity just choose “Manage My Connections” then press the “Add a new connection” button and press the IRC choice. From there fill out the requested information.

At this point setup is a little different from the previous example as you have to complete a one time configuration for the software. First you enter your server alias. Next comes the selection of the IRC server you’re going to use. On the right of this choice is a button with 3 dots in it. Press it. This loads a listing of all the IRC servers available. Once the list is loaded, select Efnet by double clicking on it, and then for the second part, choose either the server associated with your country, or the server closest to you are in the USA. This brings you back to the previous screen. From there enter your Nickname and Trillian join a channel prompt.Username. Now press the connect button. You’re almost finished. You should now see a White dot at the top of your Trillian menu. Click on that dot and select “Join a Channel” from the bottom of the menu. You’ll get a small pop-up window. In there just enter “vgaplanets” all together in lower case. This is the only chat client that doesn’t make you put the “#” sign at the beginning of the channel name.

mIRC config screen.For our final example we have the most popular chat client available, mIRC. mIRC is a shareware client that is designed for beginners as well as advanced IRC users. You can do all sorts of scripting with it, and even add custom interfaces to enhance your IRC experience. To get your own copy and view the extremely simple instructions for setting it up (and to save me some typing) click here. Once you have the program installed and configured, all you need to do is point it to Efnet and enter your new favorite channel #vgaplanets. It’s that simple.

Make sure you look over the mIRC website. You’ll find lots of very helpful general information for using IRC no matter which method you end up using regularly. There’s also plenty of documentation for mIRC commands as well. I’ll see you online!



Fan Fiction: By Desert Fox

The Gorn Gambit
By: Desert-Fox
Chapter 2
Interrogation

Depending on whom you spoke to afterwards, the interrogation either went well or it sucked. I’m sure you can imagine my thoughts on the subject. Yeah it sucked. I left the little party with a dislocated shoulder, busted lip, cracked ribs, a concussion and numerous burns over most my body. I don’t think the Admiral believed that I was just a privateer working this little backwater of the cluster collecting prizes from small and medium freighters. He seemed to think that I and my team were on some secret spy mission to find out what the Lizards were up to. Every time I’d tell him what we were doing, he would ramp up the pain level another notch.

If you have never been beaten by a Gorn trooper you have no idea how badly you can be hurt. I had at least 3 ribs on each side of my body cracked. Being punched in the head with those metal studded gloves had left me with a concussion and some bleeding from the ears. ‘Boris’ as I liked to call him was aptly suited to the job he performed. He took great pride and enjoyment in causing others pain. I made up my mind that if I escaped from these scaly bastards I would make a point of killing ‘Boris’….yea, ‘IF’.

Admiral NakarAdmiral Nakar didn’t believe my story so he had ‘Boris’ bring in another prisoner, a crew member from my command and I knew no good could come from this.

 “You will tell me what I want to know…now or I will have the guard kill your crew man in a most hideous way.”  “Do not try my patience. I have plans and a schedule that I must keep to.” So be quick about it and tell me why you were here or he dies and I assure you it will be unpleasant.”

“Damn Admiral, if I knew what you wanted to hear I’d tell ya, but what I’ve told you before is the way it is…no more., no less.”

With that said Nakar turned to ‘Boris’ and gave a nod. ‘Boris’ grunted, grabbed the man’s arm and literally tore it for its socket. Blood spurted from the opening and you could see the man going into shock. Before he could however, ‘Boris’ opened his cavernous mouth filled with serrated teeth, and holding it by the hand inserted the arm. He closed his mouth over it and pulled the arm back out. All that was left was the fleshy part of the hand he still held and bones of the arm and forearm with a little flesh hanging here and there that somehow had been missed by the serrated teeth.

Whether from blood loss, sheer terror or shock (who the hell could be sure) the crew man collapsed to the floor. ‘Boris’ continued his grisly work by grabbing the other arm and twisting until the arm popped from its socket. He placed a foot on the body for leverage and pulled the arm until it tore free from the body.

Nakar, who had been watching the execution impassively, slowly turned his head towards me. He had saliva dripping from his jaw line and his breathing seemed to be faster. Up to now I had been worried but now I was afraid and trying not to show it. This was not an execution. This was a feeding!

In a low hissing voice he said, “Captain. We are eaters of flesh. When we are in space we do not carry fresh meat and must use rations. You have afforded us the opportunity and a ready supply to indulge our baser cravings. I tried to spare you and your men this but since you will not tell me the truth I will ‘indulge’ my crew with fresh meat…yours maybe, your crew most certainly. If you will excuse me, I have another pressing matter to attend to. We will speak again after my men have been fed.”

Nakar rose from the table and strode into the area where ‘Boris’ was working on a leg. He backhanded ‘Boris’ who flew against the wall and fell shaking his head. Nakar reached down to the broken crewman and grabbed his head with both hands and literally wrung it off. With little effort he bit the top of the skull off and scooped out the poor devil’s brain which he promptly ate. ‘Boris’ made an attempt to retrieve his meal but backed away slowly when Nakar bared his teeth and let out a low and menacing hiss. ‘Boris’ knew he could just as easily end up on the menu if he provoked his master.

After appeasing his bloodlust, Nakar opened a COM link channel and ordered that twenty of my crew be bound and dragged to the galley. On a another channel (ship wide) to his Crew he said they would feast tonight on warm flesh and to heighten their hunger he had the remains of the unfortunate crewman dragged throughout the ship smearing blood everywhere it went. The effect was immediate. It almost sounded as though the ship had had a hull breach with the entire crew performing the low guttural hissing. I was taken back to my cell and worried that I might not make it as every damn lizard on this ship was being drawn into a blood frenzy. I made it to the cell in much pain but with all my limbs intact. I guess they feared the Admiral enough to wait to be fed rather than kill me now and suffer his wrath.

I was now alone, in my cell. Although I winced in pain every time I tried to take a breath from the cracked ribs and my head felt as if it was exploding from the inside, it was nothing compared to the screams of the dying and those waiting to die. Nakar made sure I heard them by opening a channel between my cell and the galley. It was horrific and I was helpless to do anything. I could hear men begging, some crying and others cursing the Gorn but after a while it grew less and less until there was silence.

I sat there. Had my silence been worth the lives of my crew? Could I have saved them had I revealed why we were REALLY here? Probably not. The Gorn are not known for mercy. I had been briefed before this mission on what I was to do. I was told that my ship and my crew were expendable to the last man…excluding myself. I had to survive to complete the task. How long did I have to play this charade? When I finally ‘crack’ would the Gorn have mercy and keep me alive or kill me out of fear and anger. The ‘gift’ of mercy from the Gorn perspective had a price.

Tal ShiarYou needed to possess something they wanted. Hopefully this hand I had been dealt would play out to our advantage or an awful lot of people had died for nothing other than to be someone’s meal. Of course to the Tal Shiar…the price would be considered adequate.

Next Time:  The Ruse

 

 
 
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