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Evolution of Phoenix

Evolution of Phoenix

Unlike many online games, Phoenixs 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, lets 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 (KJCs) 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 KJCs 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 Daraks 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 wasnt 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 doesnt, 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 spiders 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 *****

*** 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

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Acropolis Now ***

The IMP and GTT have brought peace and stability to Acropolis.

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Goodbye Falconians ***

The galaxy bid farewell to the Falconian Republic as the Human Empire subsumed them into their expanding territories. This marks the second death of an alien civilisation at the hands of the IMP / GTT in recent years. Like the extinguishing of the nearby Ulians, no voices of opposition could be heard from other quarters. This marks a long-period of appeasement by the Detinus Republic and Dewiek Elder Nation.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * DOMination * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****



 
***** Inter Galactic News THE MUSICAL *****

*** Norozov, No More ***

Kantner: No more do I see the starlight caress your cyclops eye
No more feel the tender kisses we used to share
I close my fists and clearly my heart remembers
A thousand goodbyes could never put out the embers

Chulainn: Oh the power is mine now!

Kantner: Norozov, I love you so, and my heart forever
Will belong to the memory of the love that we knew before
Please, come back to my arms; we belong together
Come to me; let's be sweethearts again and then let us part no more

Chulainn: Oh all the Stellars mine now!

Sylvansight: I will have his eye!

Kantner: No more do I feel the touch of your hand on mine
No more see the love-light making your dark eyes shine
Oh, how I wish I never had caused you sorrow
But don't ever say for us there is no tomorrow

Chulainn: Oh all the ladies mine now!

Sylvansight: I will have his eye!

Chorus: The power is in the eye!

Kantner: Norozov, I love you so, and my heart forever
Will belong to the memory of the love that we knew before
Please, come back to my arms; we belong together
Come to me; let's be sweethearts again and then let us part no more

Sylvansight: I will have his eye!

Chulainn: Oh the power is mine now!

Chorus: The power is in the eye!

Kantner: Norozov, I love you so, and my heart forever
Will belong to the memory of the love that we knew before.

Lanner: So, old cyclops has finally met his comeuppance
Maybe its time for a comeback

Chorus: No, no one wants you back!

Lanner: I always did like that chair of his…

Chorus: The power is in the eye!
The power is in the eye!
The power is in the eye!

Continued in this special edition of the SSS...

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** ALIEN CRIMINALS BROUGHT TO JUSTICE ***

FILTHY AND DISHONOURABLE Dewiek mercenaries have dared to attack HONEST AND HARDWORKING GTT warships in the Coptuv system.

THEY HAVE BEEN BROUGHT TO JUSTICE. LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR!

The Dewiek commander’s lengthy response was appreciated by xenophile and philanthropist HQ Manager Tom Krieger but this does not change the facts.

FURTHER JUSTICE IS EXPECTED AT THE EMPEROR’S PLEASURE. LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR!

Inside this issue of the SSS: * SEDITIOUS FET CHARGED * LIES OF THE FAILED REBELLION * TERRORIST PLOTS FOILED * ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE CRITICISED * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Voice of the Naplian Liberation Front ***

We are the Naplian Liberation Front. We have commandeered this station to bring you important and vital deprogramming. You are a slave of the Galactic Trouser and Tussles Imperium of Unspecified Services! We have witnessed the press ganged upon by Imperial thugs. Rounding up reporters by the thousands and throwing them in weasel dens. Mocking the Great Uncle of the Flagritz. Manufacturing consent out of a lust for imports of wheat cereals! We poor Naplians(*) are given no training and substandard equipment when preparing your nutritious breakfasts. We are sent forward by the Imperial snack commissioners with threats of triple-filing tax returns on unreasonable deadlines! Death would be preferable. We are allegedly paid a wage but have you ever tried to buy anything with just $1? Strangely none of those politicals earning $10,000 or more a week seem to care about our plight. Not to mention that the Imperials throw perfectly good meat into the grinder instead of slow cooking it in black bean sauce. They have no respect for a classic burrito! We are left grieving for young families who have never tasted quality ranch sauce. You don’t need to be a dead Naplian to know the value of a good guacamole.

* No actual Naplians included.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * GTT vs USN * GTT vs NLF * GTT vs IND * GTT vs KAS * GTT vs FET * GTT vs SSS * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Stellar Empire On Warpath ***

The newly re-united Stellar Empire continued to wage war against the Flagritz Empire to bring about galactic peace and freedom for all. The latest system to fall to the inevitable tide of history was Morroglyph in the Coreward Arm. Dewiek intransigence reached fever pitch as the FLZ facilities changed to DEN paws and subsequently became targets of Imperial truth and justice. Despite putting themselves between the past and the future, the DEN seemed to lack much will for an actual fight with Dewiek military commanders adopting “meh” as their watchword.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * GTT smacks NLF * DEN whack MRC * Slaves Liberated * FLZ Retreat * ARC in Orion Spur * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Stellar Empire Re-United ***

Celebrations were held across the vast territories of the Stellar Empire as the two-halves represented by the governments of the Imperials and Caliphate determined to unite. This followed almost inevitably from the assassination of the Caliph, a crime that has gone mysteriously unresolved. The old Caliphate ministers were ‘retired’ and at first it seemed the Imperials had managed what had alluded them for decades.

However, just as orders to claim systems for the IMP went in some places, conflicting orders to claim for the CIA came from Laton. In other systems, it seems overwhelming civilian support lies with the defunct CAL government and there are a number of CIV and CAL bases that seem to have not heeded the CIA nor IMP orders. With all the Caliphate's armaments now in the CIA’s hand and no political leadership in the old government, it seems inevitable that the civilians will be dragged kicking and screaming into the future.

A muted and cautious response from the rest of the galaxy was only to be expected given the formation of a new unrivalled superpower. The chilling effect on public discourse as the Imperial war machine taps into the substantial, if stunted, economies of the former Caliphate will surely be felt for years to come. Does this mark the 'end of history' as we know it?

More on this story inside this issue of the SSS along with: * KAS v IMP/GTT v FLZ * DEN v MRC * FOCed by IMP * BHD v 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