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Advanced Agent Skills

Advanced Agent Skills

Agents and operatives within the Phoenix game were added to Phoenix simply because they were in Beyond the Stellar Empire. Even in BSE they were pretty useless and even though the CIA had the ability to hire them anywhere I am not aware of either their proliferation or for that matter use. They never bothered starting rumours or dealing with black markets (nobody did) and may occasionally have checked starport or production. I only remember a hiport being sabotaged once and then the attempt revealed a bug, causing the hiport to be destroyed even though the action failed.

While more actions were coded for Phoenix, there was little in the way of extensive thought on the whole thing. Rather it was coded with the idea of returning to it at some point. When we did however it was very briefly to solve the first major stumbling block, resolving the issue of actually knowing the %chance of success for undertaking an action. Prior to the upgrade was hit and hope.

With other major developments agents and operatives have effectively been ignored with the occasional hat-tip to character upgrades in the distant future where everything is bright and shiny; the actual road between there and this distant vision remaining firmly off any map.


So, what are the issues with Agents and Operatives?
While it is true that they can elicit information about a base and can blow things up, mess around with production and find information about the assets present in the base the effects are not overly impressive. The very good reason why they cannot achieve anything devastatingly effective is down to how the actions are processed. Each action is dealt with on a simple success or failure mechanic with a %chance of success based on the action undertaken cross referenced against the skill of the agent or operative. The fundamental flaw with this mechanic is simple mathematics, in which the use of multiple agents and operatives will overcome the issue of low %chance of success. For example, if the %chance of success is 30% for a typical operative, send in 20 operatives and you can pretty much guaranteed job done even with the retarding factor that improves base security with each action run against it. With the ability to drop hundreds of operatives, it is clear that having truly dramatic results even at low %chance of success is not really feasible. The other primary issue is the meat grinder. This is where failure can result in the agent or operative being captured and eliminated. Putting aside the loss of the agent or operative there is also the aspect of improving skills. As the chance of improving a skill only occurs when an action is successful, it can be seen that all agents and operatives will eventually be eliminated while trying to improve.

  • Fundamental of what is trying to be achieved
  • The goal of rewriting agent and operative actions has to deal with the three primary issues:
  • Use of multiple agents and operatives to swing the odds
  • Not achieving noteworthy outcomes
  • Meat grinder that is failure

The first thing to do was simply consider movies and literature. In all these instances there is the build-up with events occurring along the way. The more dramatic the goal, the longer the build-up and the greater the quantity of events, generally with each event proving tougher than the previous one. Balanced against the increasing toughness of the events however is increasing capability of the protagonist. Another important observation was the option for the protagonist to abort the operation if it became necessary, often while the operation was in its infancy.

How to translate into Phoenix in such a way as to make it both playable while not being abused?
The first idea was to use Missions. These benefit from progress steps and dialogue between each step, with the options for choices. I went so far as to write a few: Sabotage Explosive Ores, Rebel Cell etc.

The problem however was in playability and how missions work. Missions are ideal for one-off events such as discovering about kastorians and moving some colonists for the first time, though quickly lose their appeal when clicking through the same set of operations over and over again. Also they do not really lend themselves to having the same mission being run by multiple positions at different locations.

Further, the inclination when designing missions is to include choices which will modify the outcome. In the case of agent operations you pretty much know the outcome you want and simply want to achieve it or abandon it. It is presumed that the more effective method of achieving the goal will be utilised (in terms of game mechanics, obviously not for literature and movies – where a plethora of moral choices will be winged in just to pad the story out). Ask yourself this, would you chose an option that halved your operative’s chance of success just for an extra line in the resolution printout stating that he bedded a pretty employee while on the job? And then after your curiosity has been satisfied would you take the option again? Thought not.

So, when the mission option is pared down to the bare mechanics what is left is in fact a tiered action where the final resolution point comes after a series of steps each with their own resolution that will either increase or decrease the odds for the next step succeeding. With the action broken down into a series of steps there is also the option for a minimum period of ‘waiting’ before the next step is attempted. This method may give the agent and operative both the chance to improve their skill and or abandon the action before security sweeps in.

Ah, but being metagamers surely some folks will simply run and terminate these multi-part actions at home bases to beef up skills before sending the operative out to other bases?

Of course, this makes perfect sense, but it is presumed that this is part of the operative’s training and that they are already as good as they are going to get in simulated operations. As such bigger bonuses can be given but these are only applied to the specific base and that further actual skill improvements only come when there is an actual risk of elimination. Some actions may simply exist in order to generate bonuses to other actions conducted at the same base.
So, what is envisioned is that an operative will first be created and then moved to the designated target base. Once there they will conduct a number of low-key actions, improving their local skills before moving onto the bigger jobs. If however they drop clues as to their presence, either they will bolt down as an extended action or get picked up.

Breaking down an action into multiple steps is fairly straightforward and each step can be dealt with using a few parameters covering aspects such as:
  • Chance of Success (skill used)
  • Chance of Capture (skill used)
  • Chance of Alerting Base (skill used)
  • Chance of Improving
  • Next Step
  • Cost


Chance of Success
This is %chance of moving onto the next step. Failure keeps the action at the same step but does not end the action. If the agent is on the final step, success completes the action with the final outcome as defined by the action description.

Chance of Capture
This is simply the %chance of being captured when undertaking the next step. Capture may terminate the action.

Chance of Alerting Base
Even though the agent may have 0% chance of being captured, especially if the base has no crackdown, they often run the risk of tipping off security.
Attempting the step gives this %chance of the owner of the base being notified as to the action based on the current security and crackdown of the base. Being notified does not necessarily inform the owner of the nature of the activity or even if it has been successful or not.

Chance of Improving
This gives the %chance that the agent will get bonuses to any or all of the aspects. These bonuses are set for both specific actions and to a specific amount.

Next Step
It is up to the agent when they take the next step, providing it is after the date given for the next step. They can wait days or weeks should they wish between completing steps. The main advantage is that if they have alerted the base, they can wait out any crackdown that is implemented.

Cost
Each step has a cost based on the nature of the step and the action. In the above example it would be based on the quantity of factories targeted.

Example
Action: Destroy Factories on Mass Production Line {item being produced} {quantity of factories}
Description: This action sends the agent to study a single mass production line operating in a starbase and determine how to destroy (preferable) or set them untooling. Degree of success in each step will determine the final outcome. Partial success results in untooling. This is a 5 step action.

Considerations for development

Determining Time to Complete Step
An initial idea called ‘Security Half-life’ was presented in which there was not fixed time to complete a step, rather the chance of success increased with time before looking to complete the step. The main drawback with this was presenting the information in a way that a player could determine what the chances of success would be in X weeks time. Attempts at working through the process felt very cumbersome and needlessly complicated. Instead a second option has been presented, calculating the time to complete the step based on the scale of the task undertaken. In the above example it would be down to the quantity factories targeted for destruction.

Multiple Agents/Operatives
All agents and operatives owned by a player are considered to be working for the specific player. As such we will treat each of these actions being carried out at a base as a joint project. This achieves two things. First it prevents dozens of operatives being sent to a base to carry out the same operation. It does however mean that the player can decide which agent or operative to carry out the next step should they have multiple agents and operatives in the base. Further, it allows the action to continue should the agent be captured when attempting to complete a step.



We will probably weight the chance of the action being terminated with the capture of the agent against %chance of success, i.e. a high chance of failure equating to a high chance of the action being terminated. That said, if the last agent and operative have been removed from the base, all uncompleted actions associated with the political will be deleted.

Extra Stuff for Bonuses
We like the idea that certain actions and steps in the action may benefit from items being ‘dropped in’ through the use of stealth pods. Explosives, diseases, made to order technical equipment and maybe even a clone or two. The premise is that completion of a step may report a ‘substep’ that entails getting the item to the operative. If completed, the next step is made easier or more effective.

Characters
The principle behind these actions is that they are simply complex orders that in theory can be applied to characters once they are coded. Examples include sending in a character to make tooling up or untooling factories of mass production line faster or reducing the quantity of mine weeks remaining on a deep core operation. There are options for counter operatives which would be useful if your base keeps being targeted. Essentially lots of things that should take an extended amount of time.




 
News
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Hoedown in Graydown ***

Wimbles in the Graydown system have come under repeated attacks by mercenaries. The Wimbles having already lost two outposts have had their ships come under attack by boarders. The Wimbles are pointing a hairy finger at the GTT whilst the DEN are itching to get their paws in.

Pleasantly rotund Wolf Lord Lyceum reported the destruction of one mercenary ship, a Corsair class explorer called "Eye of the Chosen" which had earlier dropped off ground forces flying the banner of "God Hates Wimbles.” Which God and why he or she hates Wimbles has yet to be revealed. We suspect its corporation-loving Mammon.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Sargasso Update * Wakerians * Naplian Liberation Front * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Breaking News: Caliph Samuel Assassinated ***

The nominal head of the Caliphate, Samuel has been murdered in broad daylight at the starbase CAL Sidon in the Fortress system. The allegedly mad zealot was on his way to meet representatives of various civilian factions when a shadowy figure *cough*CIA agent*cough* shot him dead.

The CIA issued the following statement to the SSS with a customary nudge and a wink: "In these difficult times, as we come to terms with the loss of Samuel, we are taking things one day at a time.

"Samuel was not only our Caliph, but our leader during the Second Civil War which laid the foundations for the Confederacy after he left the Human Empire and settled in the Darkfold. It is truly a sad day and one that will be marked in history as one of many great leaders who were cut down in their prime.

"We will strive now to look to the future, whilst remembering our past”

Speculation is rife that this is the first step towards a unification of the two-halves of the Stellar Empire. Others are more hopeful this is a return to the Confederacy or the mark of greater separation with the Imperial bloc. Time will tell what nebulous motives the shadowy puppet-master Laton turned out to have had and which alien faction will be blamed for the Caliph’s murder.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * HEX / FET Invade Sargasso * Magnus v Nevets Fight! * Dewiek Black Hole Disaster * FLZ Correction * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** STOP PRESS: Felini Victory ***

In an unexpected development, the FEL have scored a decisive victory against the FLZ. Destroying or maiming some 20 Flagritz Baseships in the Onwards system.

What is more remarkable than the victory was there was no subsequent comment by Crazy Uncle Flagritz. We might need to have a lie down now.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * DEN and FEL * Valhalla Fighting Pits * RIP smacked * &etc


 
***** Christmas Special Edition *****

*** Ho Ho Ho ***

Welcome to the SSS Christmas Special Edition! We the Editors have put together a nostalgic pudding treat intended to delight and tickle even the scroogiest megacorp executive. So gather your cubs, squidlets and larvae for some silliness and song. Time to catch up with some classics from years gone by, raise your glasses and drink your gluttony and shame away!

Wishing you all a merry Christmas free from Krampus Jones's invading armies!

The Editors


 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Claws Out in Valhalla ***

In a bold rebuke of Crazy Uncle Flagritz’s attacks in the Avalon system, the cunning Felini Nevets ordered a hit on a FLZ outpost in the Valhalla system. Claiming miscommunication with his warships, the mischevious Avatar cocked a snook at the washed-out Dewiek warrior in charge of the system whilst claiming an important victory in the often one-sided conflict against the FLZ.

This isn’t the first time the foxy Feline has masked daring-do in the shroud of incompetence. It remains to be seen whether this turns out as disastrously as the time when the FEL had to pay the costs of a war started by Prince-turned-meklan LiQuan.

Meower-in-chief Chamiah apologised for the incident in a public address laced with snickering subtext and unconcealed laughter when she got to the bit about the unfortunate loss of “5 FLZ Warships in Onwards.”

A second incident in Valhalla was reported the next day with mardy Magnus complaining he wasn’t getting his claws in on the action. Could this be the pithy ploy that puts the cat on the mat?

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Merc-y Wimbles * Valhalla Fighting Pits Get Weird * Profile of Lyceum Amaguk * &etc


 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Nun on the Run ***

Alleged cosplayer Carmilla D’Morenta got the vicars in the Brotherhood all hot and bothered when she made a run for it. Possibly tired of being tied up by the reverends and denied the love that dare not howl its name. With a sizeable, almost unbelievable, bounty on her head, the barking sister took refuge with the Dewiek Elder Nation.

In possibly the shortest chase in history, the BHD managed to strike a blow for oppressed collars everywhere when they squared off with the naughty doggy-wannabe at the Valhalla stargate. The cheeky chaplains blew their hyperdrive at close range and both the BHD and DEN flagged ships were reported to be lost in space.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * DEN Ban BHD * Ulian * FLZ in Avalon * Valhalla Fighting Pits * Interview with Carmilla * And more


 
***** Inter Galactic News *****


*** Message From The New Editors ***

Dear Reader,

It has been a long time since we had the exquisite joy of Sub Space Static beaming mind-altering information into our retinas. Like you, we craved word from the offices of the IGN when the next edition would hit our Nexus terminals. We waited and waited. Then we got curious.

We fundraised a simple surveyor and sent it to the last sighting of the IGN. It was not where we expected it to be, in the Yank system. We asked the Junta but they were their usual helpful selves. Weeks, turned into months and still no sign.

Then we found it. The singularity. With a sign. The scrawl of a demented child that read "Kang woz 'ere." What could we do but enter. Our ship went in. Where, we cannot say. The air around us popped. Our faces folded and our bodies fused together. Our minds interconnected. Vast knowledge at our disposal. Yet, we became as stupid as the least of us. As greedy as the worst of us. As forgetful as the dumbest of us. As horribly biased as a partisan hack in a post-truth universe.

We became, in short, your Editors.

Welcome to the new SSS. It won't be as funny as before. It won't be clever by half. It won't be any better in any way. But it will be regular. As a mohache on refined laxatives. It will be informative. Oh it will be full of facts! Even if we have to make them up.

Send us your delicious exploration reports. Tell us about your pointless battles. Spread your vile anonymous rumours. Tell us how your mother didn't love you and that's why <insert Affiliation here> must be destroyed! Feed us, your Editors. Nurture us. Our Singularity opens to receive your offering.

Now here is the news.

 
****** Caliphate Syndicated News Network (CSNN) ******

user image

Welcome to another edition of news and views from the CSNN's favourite reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe, after an extended tour of the Inner Empire and all the delights within,

And so with the news, and there has been a lot of it!


Old News - FLZ/ GTT Break Ceasefire Agreement
 
****** Caliphate Syndicated News Network (CSNN) ******

user image

Welcome to another edition of news and views from the CSNN's favourite reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe,

And so with the news,

Alien Wars - Ulian Peace Agreements
 
****** Caliphate Syndicated News Network (CSNN) ******

user image

Welcome to another edition of news and views from the CSNN's favourite reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe, after a period of "secured safety training" for the CSNN team who was taken in by Caliphate security forces,

And so with the news,

Alien Wars - Empire Takes Ulian System, Empire Fleet Deployed
 

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