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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...
 
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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).


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

    Who is behind the AFA?

    Following the large scale holiday attack by the AFA against the FET the question of who is behind the attacks has been raised once again. What is clear is that the AFA is using ships that were transferred from the GTT to the IMP. The organisation and expertise of the operation also reduces the pool of potential candidates. Few can go from commanding a handful of broadswords to half a thousand warships and significant army logistics without a long stint in one of the more combative affiliations. With the DEN’s allies the HEX in close relations with the FET and no recent history of animosity between the aliens and FET, at least since the departure of former one-eye big-bun Norozov, it would be a bizarre turn of events if they were behind these attacks. Frankly, there’s no point dancing around it. The IMP are clearly behind the AFA. The question is what can anybody do about this move of significant Imperial resources to a black-flag agency?


     

    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