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Developer Profile - Stefan Reuther

Stefans interview was conducted on 6/25/05. Stefan is the author of PCC, CCBSim, and numerous Host and Player utilities for VGA Planets 3.0 as well as PHOST.

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

I was born in the former GDR in 1977, and probably had an average childhood. Since 1990, I went into a special science/mathematics school, where I had my first contact with computers - and later, VGA Planets. After school and military service, I studied computer science. I graduated at the end of 2003, and work as an embedded software developer since mid-2004.

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

Computer games: I used to play jump-n-run type games like Commander Keen. It's a nice thing for the little breaks. And I played Descent quite a lot. I think I also completed Quake, but none of the more recent games.

Non-computer games: We have a small AD&D role playing group. This is probably the only one of which I can say it affected my programs; in this case, the experience system in PHost. Otherwise, I like simple strategic games, like Carcassonne or Settlers of Catan (not sure whether these games are sold on the other side of the ocean). I'm not a good strategist, though.

What's your favorite Planets memory?

Since I'm not a good strategist, I cannot cite a glorious in-game victory here. So my all-time favorite remains <http://www.planetsserver.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=172>.

What specifically inspired you? What were the biggest influences?

For my first turn in our school game, my host forgot to give me the RST password. Being a schoolboy with infinite time, I pulled out my debugger. Probably that was the single important event that got me involved in developing for VGAP.

Otherwise, PCC started to be "a better planets.exe". At that time, Winplan did not yet exist, we didn't know Informer nor Crystal Ball, and wanted to see our minefields and ion storms. So I started hacking.

Nowadays, I get most inspiration from people all over the world, on the newsgroup, the PHost mailing lists, etc.

Were there things that you wished you had added to PCC, CCBSim …etc…?

I wish they had been structured better internally so it wouldn't be so much work to bring them to newer operating systems. I considered PCC complete when I gave it the version number "1.0" (otherwise, I wouldn't have given it that version number). But it's quite amazing with what sorts of ideas people can come up with over the years :-) I doubt I can ever stop adding things to that complete program.

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

I think, PCC is the most important one because everything else I did followed from that.

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 was created in 1991?

Simplicity, depth, transparence. It's a simple game - the core rules fit on a sheet of paper without needing to oversimplify. It has depth - why else would people be discovering new tactics ten years after its birth? And, it has transparence. It is not too hard to learn the formulas, the file contents, and what use to make of that. In most other strategy games, the concept of battle simulator, a host add-on or a replaceable client is completely unknown.

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

Simplicity, depth, transparence.

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

Most of them would not exist today. I never had a BBS account, so all my contact to "outside" people was via the university internet account. And I got a lot of valuable feedback

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

Many things in PCC, PHost, etc. are results of your ideas. That is the biggest help I can get.

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

I generally don't do much about the story. When talking about host add-ons, my things are usually technical things to solve technical problems (like: limit the number of minefields each player can have to ensure fairness).

When doing a new host feature, I do of course try to have it fit into our game universe. But our universe is very flexible.

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

I did a few simple, never-released puzzle and platform games, mostly to teach me how to do VGA, timers, keyboard interrupts, etc.

Before VGA Planets, my main programming interests were compilers and operating systems (which later became my main subjects at the university). Nowadays, the question no longer needs to be asked. Okay, sometimes I dream of doing a Planets-like game, with the more annoying limits removed (like: the ship limit, the 11 player limit, ...). But I haven't even started designing it.

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 will maintain PCC etc. as long as I have access to a DOS which runs Turbo Pascal. Since DOSBOX does that fine, you'll probably keep me with that for a while. PCC will keep its constant updates and fixes, but surely at a slower rate than when I was a student. I'm also developing PCC II, but I think it will be still a few months, or even years, before it is really usable.

I have no plans of doing V4. The current V4 is much less open than V3. I do not know whether a PCC for V4 will be possible (or necessary). But I will wait with my final words about V4 until it is ready.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Alive on this planet, I hope.

Any last words to the Planets fan base?

Probably the biggest problem of VGAP in the third millennium is to get new players. So keep on playing and get all your friends addicted!


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