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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...
 
******Empire Syndicated News Network (ESNN) ******

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Welcome to the latest version of ESNN, giving the news and views from the ESNN's reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, making this the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe from our new home in the Heartland,

And so with the news from the last few weeks,
 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***
  • DEN assault FEL base and get wiped out
  • CIA Trade fleet caught and destroyed by the DEN
  • Krell denounce worship of the True One

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

    Huge fleet skirmish at the London/Crossley wormhole

    A large fleet of over 700 DEN warships responded to the EMP action in Crossley, where a 4000 hull DEN platform was destroyed. Reports show the DEN ships caught a group of CIA ships napping and inflicted significant losses on the humans. IMP and GTT fleets moved to assist the CIA, matching DEN fleet numbers, but the arrival of over 1200 Hexamon ships seems to have tipped the battle in favour of the DEN-HEX alliance.

    The combined DEN-HEX force pushed through the wormhole into the Heartland area of human space and retaliated, attacking several CIA platforms in response. The outnumbered Empire fleets abandoned the area and fled, they are currently waiting for the larger alien force to make their next move from their hiding places.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Admiral Lord Simms killed after a long and distinguished service to the Empire.

    The Imperial Services have intercepted and serious damaged several DEN ships on the way to the Empire’s home systems. Unfortunately during the action Admiral Lord Simms was injured and reports from the Viceroy indicate he has passed away, fighting the enemies of the Empire like any true Imperial Officer.

    The Viceroy has stated that the officers and crew of the DEN ships have been captured and are now awaiting trial at a secret IMP base.

    DEN continue to strike at the Empire

    Reports are coming in of multiple engagements between the Empire and the Dewiek Elder Nation over the last week. With several battles taking out Empire ships in the Heartland of the CIA.

    AFT turn to piracy

    The Association of Free Traders have, after a long history of neutrality, turned to piracy this week. AFT Drake boarded an IND ship in the Halo periphery, killing several of the crew in the process.
    Independent trader Jarlebanke Langhofdi immediately took to the public communication channel demanding an answer to why supposedly peaceful traders had killed his crew and taken his ship.

    The AFT remain silent over the attack.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Combat Special Edition

    Since the DEN started shooting at those lovable FEL fluffballs things have certainly been heating up. So we through it would be prudent to bring you, gentle beings of the peripheries, a special edition in order to keep you updated with all the latest action in regards to who the DEN are shooting and who is shooting them.

    Felini strike back at Dewiek

    Reports have come in of the FEL striking back at the DEN in the Kallisan system. A huge FEL force supported by the IMP and CIA assaulted DEN positions taking both the platform and base called Lucien. There was much rejoicing in the FEL camp as the Felini proved they were not such lovable fluffballs after all!

    GTT get sucked into the war

    A passing fleet of GTT warships got caught in the fighting and this saw the GTT enter the war. When asked about this CEO Fox pointed out they are not warships at all, they are trade defence ships. So how they came to be in the DEN system of Kallisan is a mystery to us. But the GTT CEO was clear that they only engaged using support and defend orders to protect allies. Needless to say, the CEO commented “We found ourselves on the Dewiek Nation’s enemy lists pretty soon after.”

    Dewiek Nation attacks GTT positions in Orion Spur, breaking DOM system rules

    A fleet of DEN warships has engaged and destroyed a significant number of GTT cargo ships and escorts in the DOM system Monument. The GTT immediately took to the public channels to ask why the DOM were not doing something. In reply the DOM issued a statement to stop, which the DEN ignored.

    The DEN newssheet "The HOWL" published a completely unbiased review of the attack shortly after.

    DOM make a choice

    After the above incident and then further raiding by the DEN, taking out a few GTT cargo ships in the DOM system of Coptuv, the DOM seemed to have been faced with a choice of stopping drinking their tea and doing something or just hoping it would go away. Instead they seem to have decided to abandon the whole idea of being an active affiliation and we have since folded. The lengths some people will go to not to have their elevenses disturbed is truly staggering. We asked the DOM for a statement on their new system rules to share with our readers but have received no replies.

    DOM positions share out

    Just as we were going to press news has come in of various DOM assets being given to other affiliations or sold. Hopefully we will have more on this story in the next issue of your favorite factual newsheet. Yes, that's us at the SSS.

    *** Affiliations ***


    AFT Association of Free Traders (54) - Marion Tweedy
    CIA Combined Intelligence Agency (64) - Laton CIA
    DNA Displaced Natives Asylum (66) - DNA people
    DTR Detinus Republic (58) - Morley Decker
    DEN Dewiek Elder Nation (67) - Urd
    DOM Dominion (57) – we believe the DOM are now inactive
    FCN Falconian Republic (70) - Bacran
    FEL Felini Tyranny (49) - Juris
    FLZ Flagritz Republic (47) - Kayxaer
    FET Frontier Exploration & Trade (56) - Cu Chulainn
    GRC Gracians (13) - HG1
    GTT Galactic Trade & Transport (52) - Xavier Fox
    GCE Garcia Enterprises (4) - Neil
    HEX Hexamon (23) - Ando
    IMP Imperial Services (51) - Jack Jones
    KRL Krell (30) - Namica
    KRT Krell of the Reverence Temple (37) - Kal Torak
    KST Kastor Kastorians (12) - Kastor
    MZC Mizuchi Combine (86) - Mizuchi
    MOH Mohache (73) - Listens
    MIC Mohache Independent Commune (76) - Sleeps with Dragons
    NLF Naplian Liberation Front (38) - NLFHQ
    RIP Regularly Involved in Piracy - Githyanki
    RRH Roy Robert Holdings (39) - Roy Roberts
    SMS Stellar Mining and Smelting (53) - MikhailM
    USN Ulian Stellar Nation (34) - Oeipus Prime
    WMB Wimble Nations (25) - zz

    * Leader MAY be inactive, affiliation may be active
    ** Affiliation has no leader but this is the only known contact

    NPC / FoC: ARC, CIV, CGT, FRE, HBO, HEF, IND, ISP, JCN, MEK, MRC, PIR, PRV, TCA, TRN, KAS

    Inactive: ANT, BHD, COD, HVE, IDC, RIP, RCF, SKW, TAG

    Deceased: CAL

    *** Submission ***

    By private message to The Editor or via Mica if you prefer to remain anonymous.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    New pirate threat rocks Corward Arm.

    Several large pirate ships have been spotted in outer rings of Corward systems. Reports forwarded to us at the SSS allow us to exclusively tell readers that traders should keep their wits about them when moving through these areas.

    No existing pirate menace has yet claimed ownership.

    In a possibly unrelated event one of the FET cartel members claimed nothing was happening in the outer ring of Coptov shortly afterwards. But it could be that they are still trying to catch Empire backed pirates and have nothing to do with the new sightings.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****


    DEN continue to shoot innocents

    The Dewiek have made themselves busy shooting at the peaceful and innocent traders of the SSL. Leader of Solar Spices and Liquors Mr TOAD has been vocal pointing out that the Beast-DEN are being totally unfair. News of a go-fund-me appeal are yet to surface though.

    This office is sure that it must have provided the DEN light relief after picking on the equally defenceless Felini. Word is that the DEN faced such an uphill struggle in these recent actions they had to take up Felini inter-breeding to provide some entertainment as the battle reports were rather boring.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Return of the LiQuans

    A close associate of the Baron LiQuan has been haunting the Corewards periphery and like the old Baron it is said he has a meklan connection. It's unclear whether he obtained his meklan nanites via the CIA but there are rumours that the DEN may be helping the Liquan relative in a bid to sow discontent in the Stellar Empire. Exactly why they would start in Corewards is unclear although with DEN allies, the DOM, having strong positions both in the Sol system and the old Harcorp systems of Harlong and Coptuv they may be the linking factor.


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

    Meklan Unleashed on Mobile Bay

    Mad Dewiek scientist Dr Kala released a number of Meklan on the busy world of Mobile Bay in the Yank system. Thousands of civilians have been killed in what is treated by DEN warlords as an amusing practical joke. Rather than take any responsibility for their affiliation’s reckless behaviour, a DEN lord rumoured to be half-meklan himself quipped he would nuke the planet whilst another merely saw it as an opportunity to test some of his greener troops in combat. Surprisingly, the KAS planetary defence force was up to the job of repelling the insidious incursion. Questions remain whether further meklan are stored elsewhere on the planet and whether anybody will challenge the Dewiek’s lack of care for the lives of innocents. Probably not, given how even the mighty IMP are now cowering from a fight with the DEN (see inside this edition).


     

    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