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Evolution of Phoenix

Evolution of Phoenix

Unlike many online games, Phoenix’s origins make it surprisingly complicated. For a typical online game there is effectively a server that runs the game. Players log into this either through websites or an installed interface. Data transfers between the two locations updating the game in real time. Changes can be instantly relayed to other players as soon as they occur if this is required. Phoenix however does not work in real-time. Its game engine is off-line and therefore everything to do with the game has to be shunted through the internet in both directions. This has advantages and drawbacks. The primary advantages are that we have the program and data off-line, there is no direct access to it while normally playing the game making the data secure and allowing for moderation on non-live data. The primary drawback however is the convoluted way data has to be shared. It can also be confusing to new players that submit orders for their positions then have to wait until they are downloaded, processed and the results uploaded. In a world dominated by instant gratification gaming the concept of waiting (other than for people to log in so that a raid can start) is almost alien.
So, how did this set-up occur?

Phoenix started out as a Play-by-Email game that has organically grown to be primarily an online game. So with that said, let’s take a look at how it started.


Way back, we were looking to completely reprogram Beyond the Stellar Empire (a play-be-mail game that had been upgraded to play-by-email) from the ground up because nearly a decade of ever expanding qbasic code had meant that many of the modules would no longer compile. Added to this, the whole structure was beginning to bulge at the seams as data allocation within files had long since maxed out in many cases.

I will not go into the philosophy behind the changes, suffice to say that we worked on a completely new game into which the old data could be parsed.

Initially Phoenix comprised of two components, one at our (KJC’s) end called the Game Editor and one at the player end with which to generate orders for their positions, pragmatically called the Order Editor.

Order Editor
This allowed player to add positions to a database and give them a type, i.e. ship, starbase etc. The type defined which orders could be issued. After orders had been created for the various positions, they could be saved as a file. This file could be attached to an email and sent to the phoenix email address.

Game Editor
This consisted of a single program that would check a specified email account, download everything and parse data out of the emails. These would then be processed in a two part run – maintenance for positions that needed weekly adjustments or in the main run for everything else. After this battles (initially space only) would be run. Next was the attach-manifest stage then running the email program to send everything out.

Evolution
This sufficed for around three years while we completed other necessary upgrades including adding ground combat and squadrons. The full list of modifications, tweaks and updates is now lost in the mists of time though may still exist somewhere on the internet.

The website however was pretty much nothing more than a few largely static pages with an off-the shelf forum bolted on for rules discussion. It had a minor amount of game data. This data was simply dumped into a few tables through which players could access commonly known system maps and restricted ones if they had the password and look at a list of common items and markets. It also includes a simple area for viewing subspace static. It came in two sizes for differing monitors (as 15” screen was not that uncommon a decade ago). Back then, virtually all roleplaying was conducted via mailing lists.
In 2004 an online order editor was added. This necessitated the first serious venture into uploading data to a website. The editor can still be found supporting KJC’s other games.
For a few years this sufficed while the main game engine was improved.

Internal Compiler
What initially started out as a challenge quickly escalated into an internal compiler. This allowed for the writing of ‘soft’ code. This is code that remains uncompiled at the time of running the game. The purpose of this was to allow for the writing of simple customised orders that would be useful in a few situations but had no obvious time critical aspect, i.e. because they were used infrequently, they could take longer to process than more heavily used orders without significantly adding to the processing time for a run.

Nexus
Around 2006 I showed Darak an online forum style gaming site and we discussed how the site drew players in, bringing them together but also giving ex-players somewhere where they could catch up on stuff. More importantly, from Darak’s view, integrating order editors, maps, forums and even affiliation libraries would give the game a solidly professional appearance. Over the next couple of years, while still dealing with various other game improvements, Darak worked on this vision. My personal contribution was massive – taking the form of demands, suggestions and generally adding to his workload.
At the beginning of 2008, Nexus, the new website was launched and has been added to ever since. What started off as data, forums, libraries and a basic order editor, evolved to include turns, ship editor, voting, much more besides. I will not go into details about Nexus because simply wandering through the various locations will give you an idea of the sheer scale of this site. There is probably more to Nexus than there is to quite a few web-based online games.

At this point, signing up to the game was still very much a case of registering with Nexus and the next day getting a position on the next day – effectively little different from the initial submitting a new start request from the original downloaded order editor. To seriously improve this would require something we had been toying with for some years, a fully integrated mission editor. Of course this wasn’t purely for signing up, but this was the first task it had to deal with.

Mission Editor
The design required the development of online functions to deal with data that would change as players selected options (like a typical online game), though it had to also know what options were available based on off-line data that it had absolutely no access to. Essentially options and option results had to be included in uploads. Further, the missions required the code to do things it never needed to before, things like continuously checking if criteria had been resolved so as to trigger next steps in sequences (still working on a few of these).

For example, collect some alcohol and land on such a planet to present it to local farmers seems straightforward enough. When the ship lands it checks whether the cargo has alcohol and if it does, all the mission to move onto the next step, if it doesn’t, do not move the mission on. The complication comes in when, after landing without alcohol, another ship lands and delivers alcohol to the first ship. The first ship has been passive since landing, so there has been nothing to trigger the mission to move on.

There is a bewildering list of similar events and situations that will require ever more convoluted methods of resolving.
The actual mission editor is to some degree very similar to Nexus in appearance as it is an interface through which we connect to an off-line database. This allows us to create missions and modify them, creating a spider’s web of pathways through the mission, broken down into steps each with its list of requirements, trigger points and effects, along with descriptions appropriate to the step. Supporting this is a function editor. This uses the same compiler built into Phoenix but extends beyond to dealing with online functions required to run the missions on the Nexus side of the game.

Dual Run
Finally, the most recent change to the game has been to split the run into two, removing the special action and Game Master intensive part of the run from the main run. For this to be successful the internal email client had to be removed from the game (actually, the code was copied to a new external client). This allowed the GM to access the game and modify positions while their turns are being uploaded and emailed.



Here and Now
Phoenix now stands with well over a hundred mysql tables, some with more than twenty fields. These are support data and fast find files for the text data which extends to thousands of data requirements most of which require the loading of the specific file. If this was not enough, there are even customisable data fields within the data files that allows for the storing of fluid data fields, allowing for the interpretation of unique data rather than having to add fields throughout the game each time a new concept is added. It was through this that officer data, unique ships and civilian markets became possible.

The Future
Why would we stop here? Our main ambition now is to streamline the game, make it more intuitive to play. Replace some features that have occurred through its organic growth with better defined ones or simplify some concepts. Along with this is to add depth across the game. Concepts such as religion, species and civilian interaction will all be looked at. This is not to add greater complexity, but rather allow players to become ever more involved in the areas of the game that interest them.




 
News
Is open for business...
 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Wimbles Crisis Solved ***

The Wimble Crisis of 217 has come to an end with the human Baron making way to the wimble Grandfather Paden Mastaak. Celebrations were held in Wimbledon upon the news with crack teams of Wimble security staff guarding all the pies.

It’s unclear how long the Wimbles will enjoy this new era of peace and self-determination.

Vocal Wimble Dinasha, one of Paden’s early backers, has chosen this precarious moment to bait Dewiek, Flagritz and humans who were initially disposed to be friendly to the new administration. Whilst the Wimbles' history with the former-slave-loving Flagritz could be understood, their animosity towards the Dewiek and humans was more mysterious. One insider alluded to a rise in the number of cases of foot-and-mouth across the herd as being a likely cause.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Storm in a Teacup *** Yahn Bares All * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door ***

The stargates are closed! Reports from multiple sources indicate at least three of the stargates, all within Dewiek controlled systems, have been closed.

Two different sources have indicated that the TCA have been spotted recently in a number of systems and may be behind this turn of events. A scan sent to the SSS indicated eight TCA ships were recently spotted first in the Faery system and later near the Kasmer stargate.

Another source, suspiciously put the blame on the ARC, suggesting the ARC and DEN were working together because they “need to trap [the TCA] and try and finish them off after the DEN bodged their operation to protect the ARC while they incinerated the MEK homeworld, which ended up with several ARC ships being destroyed and the job only being half done."

However, with no public statement from the Dewiek themselves, its hard to know whether these rumours are reliable.

Lord Igor of the Dominion and Erasmus Andersen of the Garcia Family both offered public apologies at the delay in meeting their trade commitments because of the recent closures. The not-so-subtle subtext being that someone will pay with blood for this interference in their business. Or at least with a stealthy price rise.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Wimble Civil Strife * Who Sniffs the Sniffers? * Largin’ It * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Videtis quantum scelus contra rem publicam vobis nuntiatum sit? ***

The Flagritz Empire is no more! The Flagritz Republic is reborn! Quick on the heel of the collapse of the Empire, the Fessin caste declared a new era of foreign and economic policy with a rapid withdrawal behind the Black Gate.

The new ecologically-friendly Prime Minister Kayxaer, asked for patience as “economic” reforms were undertaken. It remains to be seen whether there will be any price to pay for the dramatic changes being made by the reclusive Flagritzi or whether it will all be sunshine and rainbows going forward.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Large at Large * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Bravo for Freedom ***

Naplian Forces have attacked three human pirate outposts in the Morroglyph system. A spokesperson for Naplia HQ told the press that the plucky duct-tape loving free people would continue their war against slavers and pirates in their home periphery.

One salty Naplian libertarian told the SSS, “The people of the Naplian Home Periphery are sick and tired of human criminals coming here just because their homeworld is an overcrowded hell. It’s time for them to go back home.”

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Igor of Fang and Horns * Admiral Loves Dick Turpin * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

.What is It?
..a wOrmhOle?.
…No.. worse..
….the KANG singularity!…
…..It pulls us IN…..
……lOOks sO familiar……
…….yet so strange…….
……..what is……..
………that?……..

*** Flagritz Liberalise Economy ***

In good news for all the galaxy the Flagritzi have vowed to liberate all slaves across their Empire. Furthermore, the hectapods have given up eating other sentient species; taking up a strict diet of veganism and soy chai lattes. Sales of turtle neck sweaters and Forbidden Fruit laptops have skyrocketed.

The news was cautiously welcomed by the benevolent Felini Tyranny who looked forward to reducing the War phase of their daily Nap-Lick-Nap-War-Nap-Eat-Sleep cycle to a perfunctory forty winks.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Baron Womble * A Short History of the DPP * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Empire Strikes: Solo ***

A massive fleet of some 1600 warships, including large numbers of super-heavy capital 300 and 400 hullers, attacked the DEN in the Solo system, catching them with their metaphorical pants down. The DEN gate platform and some two hundred DEN freighters were subject to antimatter missiles amongst other high tech ordinance.

Jack the lad, Viceroy of the Empire, claimed a victory for freedom and the Imperial (right of) way leaving the sullen Dewiek unusually unresponsive.

With DOM platforms firing on CIA ships, will the IMP now demand the DOM add them to the Do Not Fire lists as well? And what exactly is the nature of the DOM and DEN alliance in light of the sustained attack from the Empire? And will the DEN’s alien friends stand idly by as the Empire fleet camps in the vital gate system of Solo? How will the DEN retaliate for this action or are they ready to roll over and have their bellies rubbed?

All this remains unknown. All that is certain is the “feel good” factor across the DTR has increased, with citizens reassured that for some time yet, they may continue in their slumber with the easy assurance that their number is not coming up anytime soon.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * New BHD Guy * DOM Statement * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** To Ur Is Dewiek ***

Dewiek forces had a hefty smackdown against the mysterious living ships known as the T’Cath (TCA). Seven adult TCA 400 hull capital ships, each firing eight of their notorious plasma cannons, were killed by a DEN and DOM fleet of some 700 ships.

Of the minimal losses suffered by the DEN / DOM, one-eyed Magnus and Nevets Motnhap of the FEL were amongst the dead.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Caribbean Congo Continues * Ur Witness Report * * Hive Briefing * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** The Long Quiet Season ***

Listen…
There’s no sound of anger or of annoyance,
There’re neither cruisers racing on the jump lanes
Nor there jump lanes for them to race on,
There’re neither monks chanting on the battlegrounds
Nor bells calling us to the True One.
There’s neither the lightning cracking of the sky
Nor the persistent Naplians pattering on my roof.
There’s no Dewiek arm in arm to admire the magnificent view
There’re no war drums to feed Human ears
Nor Hive sirens to steal the boredom away
There’s no unfamiliar wing creeping underneath the Falconian sun
Nor floods to enshroud the Aquaphid grounds
The land lies lonely out here
On this lazy summer’s day
There’s no pollution to poison the airs of Inversion
Nor forests to give them life
All I hear is the hushing sound of the wind
Assisting the sand to fall into beautiful undulations.

Whilst we’ve been away: * Operation Giantslayer * Naplian Liberation * Back in the DTTR * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Falconians Saved ***

The Imperials have cunningly saved the Falconian Republic from being consumed by the Dewiek Elder Nation and at no small cost to the DEN either. Whilst the new pro tem Consul crowed about the “victory”, all former FCN systems besides Acropolis have been taken over by the two warring Empires - Human and Flagritz.

Was it all worth it? For the IMP / GTT it clearly was, for the movement of a few hundred thousand troops is surely nothing to the cost they endured trying to and failing to knock the DEN out of Solo after the fact. The FCN now plucked off most of their navy and wider assets are a tiny nothing of their former self. The DEN may have resorted to some dirty namecalling but can the costs endured to save an enfeebled FCN have really been worth it? Time will tell.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * INDignation * FELicitous Caribbean * Nah Plan for Naplia * Mercs Trouble DEN * &etc

 

Free Ship when you sign-up
Complete missions for in game rewards
Control everything, up to an entire empire
Dedicated human moderators
Player and Moderator driven plotlines
Discover new worlds to explore, exploit & colonise
Over 20 years of content development
Persistent Browser-Based Game (PBBG)

I’ve played on and off for approximately 10 years, over a 20 year spell. After some interesting debate on the in-game forum, I did wonder what, exactly, has kept drawing me back to the game, when for so many others I’ve generally lost interest after a few months.

Ultimately, I think it is a combination of automation (that allows the game to handle thousands of positions to interact on a daily basis) coupled with Special Actions (that allow the story arc to develop in a way that could not be catered for by a set of predefined list of available orders).
-Zigic