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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
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

 

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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