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A Brief History Of My VGA Planets Experience

Author: ][avok

I have been playing VGA Planets 3.0 since it’s release in 1990 or 91.

My Co-Op Desert-Fox (DF) and I started at the same time. We both ran BBS's (for you young ones that means Bulletin Board Systems, the direct precursor to today’s internet) for years. We had started off in the Commodore 64 era with 1200 baud modems and had eventually converted over to IBM pc clones.

It was during this time that I came across the version 2.0 of VGA Planets (VGAP) software. Though the game was very cool idea, I decided it wasn't ready yet after giving it a look. I forgot about it.

Around the time VGAP 3.0 had come out, I had just taken my BBS, also called Circus Maximus, offline due to being in the military and not having the time to devote to it properly. But I still had the bug in my system so I regularly helped out with DF’s BBS, The Oasis, when I had a spare moment or two, usually doing graphics and keeping an eye on the message bases.

A short while later DF came to me about a game he had found called VGA Planets. I told him something along the lines of "yeah yeah, already seen it. It needs some work". What I didn't know was that he had a copy of v3.0. What a significant difference from the previous version! It only took one shareware game for us to realize the potential of this game.

So we ordered registered copies of the game and set about learning how to host the program on DF’s BBS. After a little bit of searching we discovered a door program, that I unfortunately can’t remember the name of, that would let us host games. It wasn't very good, but it got the job done. Soon we had a bunch of regulars on the BBS playing, and I think we had like 3 or 4 games going at 1 time. Turns ran daily, and it was a lot of fun.

So it went from there. People all over the place were getting involved. The Sharenet Trolls came out with their excellent door program, the precursor to the modern AutoTroll that's used today. That alone really improved the ability for the players to join a game, and the ease of use. I think it displayed some stats to if I remember correctly. Tim came out with Winplan, and Alex Ivlev’s VPA started off at full speed. The development community was strong and there were players and games all over the place.

I remember we had the Dan & Dave add-ons, and Nemesis and Gryphon from Oleg. As the 90's went by DF took his BBS down and we both migrated to the web, still through dial up or course. But from time to time, we'd contact our local players and setup the BBS just to play the game and we'd do that for a few months at a shot.

During the later half of the 90's VGAP dropped off my map. But that didn't mean that DF and I didn’t have the odd conversation about it here and there. He was still playing the game as well. I remember him showing me Lord Firefalls Lair and trying more than once to get me into a game there. During one of those conversations DF and I talked about running a VGAP web site, and how cool it would be to get all the old guys on there…etc.. So, I started a project that was going to be a joint venture between the two of us. We were going to call the site "The Den of the Fox". I fleshed out a fairly basic design and template for it, but it never really got any further than a couple of dozen or so pages, and the FTP site getting some content put into it. My heart wasn't in it and it fell dormant.

I think I went about 3 years w/o playing a game, maybe a little bit longer. About a year and a half ago DF called and said he had found a VGAP web site, was in a game there and wanted me to get in and help him out. So I broke out the old software and got into the game. I could hardly remember the commands. The game started off ok, but with in a short amount of time we discovered there was some blatant cheating going on. A so called "father & son" team was actually just one person handing all the ships from one race to the other. This was reported to the webmaster, there was plenty of proof, hell the guy admitted it... everyone in the game reported it to the webmaster. The webmaster turned a blind eye to it all because the person that was cheating was also a "donating member" of his site. He wouldn’t answer our emails, and we knew they had been read because all of us received read receipts from him, so everyone got fed up. The majority of the players decided to drop the game. Reluctantly I did as well and I hate to quit a game that I've invested so much time in!

Meanwhile I was in a 2nd game on that same site and I continued to play it. DF was disgusted and didn’t join me in the 2nd game but I hunkered on. I also made a really good friend in this game who used the alias Gunnado. This game took literally a year to play. The reason for this is because the webmaster was either to busy to run his own site, or just didn’t care… Maybe it was a combination of all those factors and more. The bottom line though was that it took us 5 and 6 days to play a turn near the end of the games cycle. You wouldn’t get a GOOD TRN message sometimes for 48 or more hours after sending your turn in. It was that bad!!! But I finished the game, as painful as it was to continue, I followed it through to its conclusion. Even at the end of the game it took the webmaster a MONTH to end the game in AutoTroll, we got about 5 additional turns over that extra 30+ days.

The webmasters “piss on you guys” attitude about the whole thing really ticked me off. IMOP, he just didn't care. Looking back on it, his lack of action is the one thing that got me motivated to build the site that you see before you. I knew I could do a better job than that. I already owned this domain and it was just sitting there being used primarily for my personal email. I think subconsciously I had already resigned myself to building the site. But what I told myself was that I wanted a really cool Robotic Imperium strategy page. So while our game was slowly chugging along on life support. I took a look around to see what kind of VGA Planets sites were still not just online but active as many in my bookmarks were gone. I found Ed’s Battlestar Command and Merlyn’s Last Domain and that was a start. I also started hanging out in the VGAP IRC chat room on Efnet and met some great people on there.

The first thing I noticed about the current crop of sites was that the majority of them really weren’t graphically driven. They had a real home grown design to them and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, after all VGAP is a fan driven game in the first place, the look wasn’t for me. I decided that I wanted my Robots page to have a real professional polish to it, so I broke out Photoshop and started experimenting with backgrounds, layouts and arranging some Cylon pictures I dug up to get the design rust out. What I came up with was a pretty cool little graphic of a Cylon Centurion with some fighters and a fleet of Instrumentalities in the background.

Then I thought, “Well, I like the birdmen, those new Warbird’s from Star Trek: Nemesis are pretty darn cool looking.” So I built a Birdmen strategy page well. At this point I was in complete denial and before I knew it, I was pounding out designs in Photoshop and then coding them into Dreamweaver all the while telling myself that I would upgrade the Robot’s strategy page to a maintenance free VGAP strategy site. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking about that cruddy game I was playing. More denial.

Finally the pages for the various races were complete. I realized at that point I needed to round it out and fill in some holes with general VGAP strategy and come up with a new homepage design because the Robots graphic needed to be used on the Robots strategy page. Once those were done, it had been about 6 or 7 months since I’d started my little Robots strategy page. My crappy game had mercifully drawn to a close and I took a well deserved break for the holidays.

A few weeks later I took a fresh look at the site and figured “Well, the site is done, it looks great, but why would anyone come here? Ok, the layout is good, but the content is years old, most of it made and collected in the early 90’s when VGAP 3.0 was at its peak. This info can be found in many other VGAP web sites as well.” After a bit more brainstorming, I decided that Circus-Maximus should become not only a strategy site, but a VGAP news site too. I had been keeping development reports on the homepage the whole time the site was under construction. It would be easy enough to convert the page so that one part of the page could be site news. The other part of the page would be VGAP community news. Another piece of the puzzle inserted, no one else was doing that on their own sites. Why not do it here.

Then I felt I needed to add downloads. Why not make the place a one stop shop for VGAP files far and wide... Host Files, Player Files. Utilities. Tools..etc.. So the download pages were created. They would highlight the most common and popular files to the most obscure, and whatever didn't get listed on the pages could, and does, reside in the FTP area.

There was nothing left to do… or was there… The site only needed one more thing to make it complete… GAMES! So once again, I put my nose to the grinding stone and got to work. I had setup AutoTroll months before while gathering files for the FTP area. I was just checking it out, you know? Just seeing what it was like. This denial thing never ends does it?

The program was fairly simple to setup, no problems there. Even the lack of good documentation wasn’t to much of an issue. I did hit a stumbling block, and had some problems with the templates. I obviously wanted them to look like the rest of the site, and had some issues integrating them with my design, but that was solved after Ed from Battlestar Command gave me some help that I’m very very grateful for. He got a new front page graphic and some others for his help. :)

After a sleepless week of beta testing with DF, Gunnado and my brother Snake Vargas the site was ready to go. Here you have it. My simple, low maintenance Robotic Imperium strategy page.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy running it.

25 August 2005


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