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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
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  Star Date: 221.22.5

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RAGNAROK BECKONS

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Assault on End Game

The ancient Architects have declared war on the Dewiek Elder Nation. The first sign of the conflict was subspace transmissions in a remote system in the Pocket Periphery. This followed reports that the ancient Ragnarok shipyards on Beacon were malfunctioning. In response, the Wolf Mother sent urgent orders to several Dewiek scout ships to patrol the End Game system.

The Konungr Smidamadr was the first to encounter the gigantic, “Planet Killer” class ARC ships. Measuring in at thirty-two hundred heavy hulls and armed with a hundred ARC plasma weapons, the ship was more like a mobile armed platform. It is certainly the largest vessel ever recorded. The scout ship was vaporised instantly.

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ARC Planet Killer dwarves largest DEN warships

 
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  Star Date: 221.11.4

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Caste Apart

The Flagritz Republic is (very nearly) no more. In its place, a single Hexamon and Flagritz power has arisen. The new Collective has absorbed much of the Flagritz holdings with only a handful of Clique-caste Flagritz systems choosing instead to align with the other Elder species, the Dewiek.

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Flagritz and Hexamon Hybrids - A hope for the Future?

 
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  Star Date: 221.3.3

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Meklanmania

Meklan scout ships continue to be seen around the Orion Spur periphery. These cyborg creatures in service of hidden ancient masters appear to be terrorising the Wimble Nation in particular. Despite public lamentations against the hardship of defending themselves, the Wimble leadership have not yet responded to our request for comment.

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Artist's impression of a Meklanised Wimble

However, Xavier Fox, CEO of Galactic Transport and Trade, did give us the following statement:

“We have engaged several Meklan ships, although currently the source has not been identified. GTT Directors have been running patrols and have engaged and destroyed numerous ships that have attacked outlying outposts belonging to different affiliations. The pattern of ships encountered leads us to believe there is a central source, but until that is found we would suggest any affiliation with assets in the area provide adequate defences.”

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Doomsday On Pause

At the site of the Thete anomaly, the Dewiek Nation has sent media sensation Sharon Aleman to the scene. Aleman, whose cybernetic enhancements allow her to directly interface with her ship’s sensor array, led her hardened crew into a dive of the outermost “edge” of the anomaly. After spending several days collecting and analysing data (mere minutes to the rest of us outside the anomaly), Aleman reported her shocking discoveries.

 
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  Star Date: 220.50.5

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Veil Lifted on Flagritz Home Space

As the Hellcadium ISR field continues to fluctuate, one of the newly exposed systems is Junista inside the previously hidden and inaccessible home periphery of the Flagritz Republic.

Over the past few weeks Flagritz Republic patrols and platforms have dealt with a number of scout ships from the Human Empire as the IMP wasted no time in exploiting this opportunity to poke around in their old enemy’s backyard. It is understood that at least one of these unarmed scouts was destroyed with no one willing to estimate how many more might be buzzing around.

Coincidentally, suspected IMP lackey, SSL TOAD, has also been overheard showing an obsessive interest in the Flagritz periphery. However, we have received no reports of this being anything other than his usual drug-fueled, barely decipherable mutterings at this stage.

Either way, this sudden, uninvited interest in the Flagritz Periphery has left the FLZ leadership muttering darkly about appropriate measures being taken. Defensive fleets and supporting structures are being deployed in the Junista system and beyond in expectation of further uninvited guests.

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When You stare into the Flagritz Periphery...

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Thete's Timey-Wimey Tease

Investigation into the Thete anomaly continued in the Dewiek Pocket Periphery. The anomaly was scanned from all angles by a number of the Dewiek Nation’s best sensor ships and officers. The data, collected over several weeks, was sent to one of the DEN’s most advanced scientific laboratories for analysis.

What they found will shock you!

 
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  Star Date: 220.45.1

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Perfidion Reached

Long speculated by theoretical Stellar Cartographers, Perfidion Reach finally opened in the last few weeks. Immediately, the Detinus Republic boldly staked a claim on the first accessible system, Hellcadium. Only time will tell the true value of this strategic move but their much-taunted bureaucracy may have finally proved its worth.

Early reports from scans of the system reveal a wildly fluctuating ISR field. Rumours suggest that at least one ship was destroyed as it was forced into an asteroid belt chasing a stable jump field attempting to exit the system. Casual travellers are warned away from the system at this time for their own safety. Leave it to skilled explorers and navigation officers.

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Mathematical model of Hellcadium ISR Field.

We spoke to Captain Zakiyah Ummahi via subspace link. Zakiyah led the first DEN expedition into the Perfidion Reach. "Spirits remain high but this is largely down to the extended R&R we were all forced to take immediately prior to jumping into this hole. Initial scouting reports show at least one planet with plenty of forests and grasslands which might help if we're going to be stuck here for Folkvar knows how long waiting for this damned ISR field to stabilise."

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Valhalla Stargate Reopens

Dewiek engineers and scientists have finally managed to re-enable Stargate Valgrind this week and the protective Exclusion Zone is to be lifted. If DEN investigators discovered who caused the gate to malfunction, or why, they were not willing to share it with us. Military sources, however, have announced a project to provide a significant boost to the already formidable defence platform in the stargate’s orbit.

 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***

Empire - DEN action grinds to a halt

After months of tension relations between the Empire and the Dewiek Nation, which rose to several large scale fleet actions ending in the DEN losing over 60 Direwolf warships in Solo, things appear to have moved from antagonistic to unfriendly. With the Solo system being a particular issue an agreement has been reached between the Wolf Mother of the DEN and Xavier Fox of the GTT. Since this things have become very quiet, not just because the shooting has stopped, but also because my reporters have been on their summer holidays.
 
News For Discerning Naplians!
---- Special Galactic Edition ----



(The Host sits at his desk as the studio lights dim, and a single spotlight bathes him in light. He looks straight into the camera and begins to speak: )

Host: Naambta!
Good Greetings, and welcome to the show.

This is News for Discerning Naplians, and i’m sure you are all showing much impatience to see this week’s Panel Discussion. We will be discussing religion with the Lady Ghadir of the Temple of Ya Zoon, renowned neo-naplian spiritualist Chairman TonTon, and a very special guest from our imperial neighbours, Bishop Samantha Porteus of the Brotherhood. But before we get to that...

(Looks demonstratively at his digital wrist watch. )

... it is time for a word from our sponsor.
 
******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.
     

    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