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Developer Profile - Søren Andersen

This interview was conducted with Søren Andersen, the author of SpaceLord, VGA Planets best computer player program, on 6/22/05.

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

    I'm a 30 years old Dane who grew up in Germany . After studying physics for a while I switched to studying the next subject in the alphabet, which is psychology. Currently I'm doing a PhD on visual attention. I also enjoy working in a tent camp for teenagers for two weeks every summer and have acted in a twelve-minutes no-budget-splatter-movie (I should probably be glad that not more people have seen it !!!).

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

    Most of my favorite games are strategy games e.g. Risk, Civilisation (the board game), Axis & Allies and Junta. I've also played a couple of Role-Playing-Games including RoleMaster / MERP, Midgard and a self-made one called AP&P (“Advanced Prügeln & Plündern”) which I used to play a long time ago with a friend during otherwise boring school lessons. My favorite computer games include the very nice old-school Shareware-RPGs by Spiderweb (e.g. Exile/Avernum, Geneforge), Starcraft, Warcraft, Tetris and, of course, Planets. Most computer-strategy-games tend to get boring after a while because the computer AIs aren't challenging enough – which made me try to develop my own: SpaceLord.

    What's your favorite Planets memory?

    There are quite a few memories. I spent hours with Vigo , the co-author of SpaceLord, not playing ourselves but watching SpaceLord play. At that time, PCs were still slow and hosting a single turn could take up to 30 minutes. The excitement with every new turn was huge ! Another favorite memory includes the recurring arguments about who is the legitimate owner of Ftokteek. This argument has been a central part of virtually every game of Planets I've played with a certain friend for almost ten years now !

    What specifically inspired you? What were the biggest influences?

    As stated above, the incapability of most computer AIs was one of the biggest inspirations. Many years ago I enjoyed playing a computer game called “Call to Arms” which is very similar to Risk. The game was written long before Planets and is really ancient now. It came in the form of a Basic program and was the first platform for my experiments in trying to teach a computer how to be a less wimpy opponent.

    Were there things that you wished you had added to SpaceLord …etc…

    Yes. Thousands. When I started developing SpaceLord I knew much less about programming than I do now. I had no clue about objects, random walk searches, neuronal networks, etc. The source-code is rather messy and it's hard to implement really new things. I started a complete rewrite a couple of years ago which should have been much more elegant and powerful. It never got very far.

    What do you think are your most important accomplishments to VGAP and why?

    SpaceLord, obviously. Besides that, I managed to hook a couple of new people to the game.

    In this time of graphically intense PC games, what do you think it is about VGAP that has people still playing a PBEM game that came out in 1991?

    Chess has been played for thousands of years and the graphics haven't improved much since then. Cool graphics look nice, but they don't make a good game.

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

    Planets. Ships. Maybe also a couple of starbases.

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

    When I first started SpaceLord I didn't have access to the internet. My parents had a 2400bps modem which was insanely slow and most of my friends didn't have any modem at all. My first real game of Planets was done by exchanging turnfiles on diskettes every day in school. Much has changed since then. I guess without the Internet only a handful of people would ever have heard about SpaceLord.

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

    Some people have helped me find and correct bugs and I've also received some feedback on which features people would like to see in new versions. I like getting feedback and of course it's nice too see that people are interested. But the influence on the development of SpaceLord hasn't been too big. Tim has been very nice a couple of times by giving us parts of his source code. Some guys tried to organize a CPlayer-writing-competition a couple of years ago, but unfortunately it never got very far. It would have been interesting to have some more sparring-partners for SpaceLord !

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

    I don't.

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

    One that would earn me lots of money!!!

    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?

    Doing a PhD, which involves spending much time with computers anyway, has kept me from further development of SpaceLord. I'm only a partial nerd and there are so many other interesting things in life. I've had plans of releasing SpaceLord as an open-source program for quite a while now, so that anyone who's interested and capable of programming can try to implement their ideas. I doubt that I will ever start developing anything for v.4.0 – it would be much too time-consuming for me.

    Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

    As the legitimate owner of Ftokteek !

    Any last words to the Plants fan base?

    Rock'n'Roll !!!


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