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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
GTT step forward to control protection and peace in the Stellar Empire.

With the retirement of Jack Johns and various lower-level IMP officers from public life, the Imperial Services were left on the verge of being unable to fill their role as protectors of the Stellar Empire. Due to the serious nature the Imperial Services found itself in, the Emperor recently travelled to GTT HQ to attend a board meeting with the directors of the GTT.

With Galactic Trade and Transport being one of the few remaining loyal Imperial Chartered affiliations, who also supply well over half of the war material to the Imperial Services, the Emperor sought the position of the GTT with regard to the Imperial Services becoming overburdened with bureaucracy and lacking effective leadership. Effectively the Imperial Services were at the point of collapse. A position highlighted when an opportunistic supposed ally subverted four Imperial Outposts in the Inner Empire, thinking their asset grabbing would go unnoticed.
 
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  Star Date: 221.30.5

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RAGNAROK COMES

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A Forlorn Hope

The seat of Dewiek Government has fallen. What began as a small group of Architect ships picking up retreating DEN forces, amalgamated into a much larger force. The bombardment fleet comprised dozens of Adult ARC ships plus several Planet Killers. The force made short work of the impressive fortifications of the planetary orbit of Newstart. Multiple heavily armoured and maximised deflector shield platforms crumbled. They did so only after releasing their volleys of antimatter and nova weapon batteries. Any DEN warships that remained from earlier encounters also stood the line. But within the week, the last defence was gone.

Bombardment of Wolf Lair starbase proceeded without further resistance from the Dewiek. ARC Plasmas ripped through starbase shields. They demolished tens of thousands of factories and research facilities. The ARC demolished the huge military recruitment and training facilities on the planet. Over half a million trained troops evacuated from deep bunkers, leaving a token ground defence.

The ARC were not satisfied to burn the facilities and murder the workers. They deployed repeated salvos of their Virus Bombs on the wider population. Reports began to arrive of civilians of the world regressing. Leaving settlements and returning to nature. Much as the Dewiek found themselves some decades ago when they started to recover from the First Great ARC-DEN War. This time there was no High Lord Magnus willing to obliterate the world to save a remnant of the people. Newstart was already lost.

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Newstart is lost

 
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  Star Date: 221.27.2

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RAGNAROK APPROACHES

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End Game Lost

A short-lived period of peace followed the Dewiek Elder Nation’s historic and Saga-worthy defence against the Architect Planet Killers. A handful of the more typically encountered ARC ships were spotted picking off DEN support ships in Forlorn Hope before more than forty of them appeared back in End Game.

While the ARC “Adult” class ships, as the DEN had previously classified them, were eight times smaller than the “Planet Killers”, they were still as big as the largest ships any other species has managed to produce. Including the otherwise technologically advanced Dewiek.

Forty-four of these Plasma armed organic vessels smashed through the DEN forces left circling the orbit of Beacon, End Game. The mass of ARC weapons bombarded the DEN Shipyards at Ragnorak with their superheated ionized gas, razing the entire outpost to the ground.

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ARC Plasma weapons devastate End Game

 
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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.
 

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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