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From Concept to Code

From Concept to Code


When features appear in Phoenix, or any game system for that matter, it can seem that they have been coded in an overly complex manner or with a surprising number of restrictions. Believe it or not, it is not because designers are a bunch of bastards (that's just happy coincidence), it is generally because the initial concept has to be modified to withstand exploitation and fit in with the rest of the game mechanics.

For this I will use as an example the soon to be released code for auto-boarding to demonstrate our thinking process and prove that we do seriously consider a great many angles. Auto-boarding is a desirable addition to the game because the requirement to run turns on two consecutive days looking for position to board and then going back with a boarding ship makes the role of piracy incredibly difficult. The inability to also catch unescorted freighters as they dash between safe orbits is also frustrating. Merchants have it far too easy.


Auto-boarding
The concept is simple enough, when you spot something you want to board, you attempt to board it.

This means four things:

  • Board List
  • Initiate Auto-boarding
  • Post Boarding Actions
  • Potential Impact on Game

Board List
Defining 'wanting to board' is actually quite straightforward. It is simply having a number of parameters, such as enemy lists, do-not-target lists, target ship hulls, e.g. light hulls or less than 200 hulls.

Initiate Auto-boarding
At first glance auto-boarding should be initiated when a valid target is encountered. Auto-boarding could therefore be active and passive, much like starting a naval conflict.

With this in mind, let's look at active boarding. A ship is given a set of standing definitions that describe the ships it will automatically attempt to board during its turn. It will run its turn, scanning as per movement and orders. It a valid target is detected, boarding will commence.

Passive boarding is defined as any valid target that is scanned between turns is automatically subjected to a boarding attempt.

Post Boarding Actions
As your position will be moving on in the case of active-boarding or you are not expecting results as in the case of passive-boarding, you need to have a set of orders that are triggered as a result of a successful boarding. These should include items to deliver to captured vessel and a set of orders such as move to XXX.
Limits are again relatively straightforward. There is a TU cost to boarding, so a position can continue making auto-boarding attempts providing that it has the appropriate spare TU's.

So, on the face it, it all seems pretty simple and coding it in should be a breeze once the parameters are sorted out.

Potential Impact on Game
Not so fast, there is another step; walk-through of application to various scenarios. These need to be analysed possibly resulting in a revisit to the above three steps. This then repeats until we are happy with the application of the mechanic or have a first pass release with a view to later refinement.

First of all, the parameters for determining ships to board seem pretty basic. A small ship could be packed with troops, making mincemeat of your boarders. Maybe you wouldn’t want to board personnel carriers or for that matter warships though you might want to have a bash at heavy hulled sensor ships. Defining a boarding list on ship type may be useful. Doing this would need a thorough work out of the current defining parameters of ship types. After consideration this parameter is assigned to future refinement.

Again, you might not want to attempt to board a ship if it is in the same location as other ships as before attempting the boarding action you are not aware if any of them will be defending it. This is also assigned to future refinement as people may well keep their auto-boarding ships off the beaten track.

Active Auto-boarding
Active auto-boarding by a single ship seems reasonably bombproof based on it being almost the same as current boarding but what happens in the case of squadron orders? As all the ships in the squadron each move before the next action, all will presumably carry out their attempted boarding action. This could prove an utter disaster. Imagine a fleet of 20 pirate ships crossing the path of a single freighter with an escort of 5 reasonably powered warships. They will all arrive then each of the 20 pirate ships will systematically hurl itself against the freighter, suffering a withering attack from the five escorts. In this manner the 20 pirates could easily become 20 piles of debris. Auto-boarding could therefore be turned off for active-squadrons or at the very least the dangers should be highlighted as players can easily submit the same set of orders for 20 individual ships.

Passive Auto-boarding
First of all, let's look at the TU cost. Passive-boarding attempts can cause a position to lose TU's between turns. Currently there isn't anything in the game that costs a position TU's outside of its own turn. This does not seem consistent with the game - strike one.

What happens in the case of mutual boarding attempts, i.e. where both active and passive positions have mutually positive definitions of valid boarding targets. Should the active position act only?
Does setting a boarding list prevent a ship from itself being boarded? As boarding is defined as an attacker and a defender, if you are attacking, you cannot lose your ship. By having a small boarding party, you could theoretically risk nothing. Strike two.

If the passive position acts second, what happens in the case of squadron orders? Should the passive-boarder attempt to board every single possible target until either it runs out of TU's or is destroyed? What happens if a passive position scans a target but is not scanned in return. Does it still board or does its attempt to board reveal it, causing it in turn to be boarded by the active position? And what about a squadron of active auto-boarders encountering a squadron of passive auto-boarders. Whoever goes first has the potential to lose everything due to defenders of the ships being boarded. Strike three.



After careful consideration passive auto-boarding opens up too many situations where the results are likely to be questionable to be included in the mechanic. Does this severely undermine auto-boarding based on the general acceptance that most players tend to run ships between safe locations? Can active auto-boarding do the job alone?

A possible scenario is forthcoming. By running sequenced turns it is possible to set up an ambush and auto-board tactic. This is where two (or more) ships work together. The ambush ships are fast and sequence to move first into position along space lanes. They carry enemy lists and attempt to stop passing ships for full combat. The auto-boarder however moves after the ambush ship and through the location of the ambush point. If there is a potential position to board it will do so. If nothing is detected, then the ambush ships can be left there for another day while the auto-boarding ships regularly check the locations.

So, after a lot of consideration we have a mechanic that has useful immediate application and the potential to be developed and refined further.





 
News
Is open for business...
 
***** 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

 
***** 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

 

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