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Three Spirits of Phoenix

Three Spirits of Phoenix


In the theme of the Charles Dickens' Scrooge, I find at this time of the year looking at what was, what is, and possibly what may be. For this Yuletide article I will share my thoughts as I primarily consider Phoenix but also give a little thought to the hobby/industry as a whole.

Phoenix Past
I came to Beyond the Stellar Empire a few years after its launch and when the industry was at the end of its summer with a few signs that autumn was fast approaching. At this time personal computers were expensive and by modern standards slow and the concept of plug and play was unheard of at least in KJC Towers.

The version of Beyond the Stellar Empire required the manual inputting of all orders. When showing Trev how the old system worked a couple of months back (while digging out the name of the old GTT PD from the data – Leonidas Agiadai) I gave him a quick demonstration of how to input a turn. Despite not having run a turn in over a decade, I was still able to manually navigate a ship to Dogleg. Each order was presented on various screens with a number to swap between screens for example swapping jump engines for thrust engines required:
23 return
23 return
4 return
2 return
return
return


Back then processing a hundred turns even without any special actions took all day. Another aspect was that turns were generated as they orders were processed, essentially sending the data to the printer so that it automatically generated a printout once a full page had been generated. There was no option to edit the output and emailing the results was simply impossible.

Beyond the Stellar Empire was considered the 'other KJC Game'. It was considered low priority on account of its high running cost, low turnover and small player-base. I had to argue vociferously for programming time to write turn outputs to files so that they could be emailed. In all honesty had this not occurred Beyond the Stellar Empire would have ceased to exist a very long time ago.

From this point the game endured for another couple of years, tweaking of the qbasic code to produce small improvements until the cracks especially in the ground combat code started to become intolerable.

In the wider world game developments started to become big business with the likes of games that once only existed in arcades now hitting PC's. With this we witnessed a steadily decreasing sign-ups. The launch of console games and the near death of board and role playing games coincided with our player-base in all but Beyond the Stellar Empire dropping quickly. Correspondence with other companies revealed a hobby-wide decline with many small companies closing.

At the time and until quite recently I ascribed the demise of the board games and role playing market to the launch of Magic the Gathering though having now listened to the 'Big Boys' of the gaming industry I have since learnt that the industry was in a death spiral and was only pulled out of it by the emergence the trading card game genre, saving more than one large game producer from bankruptcy.

By this point, just after the turn of the century Beyond the Stellar Empire had been replaced by Phoenix which was geared towards a more dynamic playing style of the modern gamer. While the play-by-mail industry continued in its death throes and the gaming industry at large was still awaiting the light at the end of the tunnel Phoenix endured if not exactly took flight.

I have mixed feelings about the rise of online games and its effect on our player-base. On the one-hand it is a fact that we lost players to them, though quite possibly they would always have preferred online games and would never have come to us in the first place if they had always existed. The flip side of the coin however is that their presence have made communal gaming through the internet mainstream.

We saw the shape of the modern gaming environment half a decade ago and moved to ensure that Phoenix would have a niche within the larger online gaming community – Nexus was born.

As with upgrading the game from postal to email, I am convinced that had we delayed this by even a few years Phoenix would no longer exist. For my money this was the right decision. Along with presenting the game as the professional product it is, it has functionality that people cannot now do without. It reminds me of a retort to the nostalgic ramble about the days before mobile phones, 'I'll tell you what we did before mobile phones – we struggled!'

The other big decision which seemingly wasn't linked to Phoenix was to start a research masters degree in astrophysics. While the stretching of the mind is always good exercise, the reason for undertaking a research as opposed to taught degree was the necessary programming element. Over the years I was very conscious of the ever increasing demands placed on Darak for writing code necessary though peripheral to Phoenix and though he had written an internal compiler for Phoenix my initial experimentations with it were both trivial and prone to needing more error checking than it would have taken Darak to write them in the first place; in other words worse than useless.

So, a couple of years into the course and with skills in the use of Matlab starting to develop, I started to create parallel code for generating data in Phoenix. These started with trivial things such as creating gas giants. Then it was a case of really simple moons and over a few months, planets with temperature gradients and finally seeding population including data for technology accessible by the population.

This final step allowed for the generation of star systems, in which a planets could be created, examined and if found wanting re-generated or if suitable, accepted. Prior to this the creation of a system would take days or even weeks, as work on it was fitted around the day-to-day running of the game and even then systems rarely had more than half a dozen worlds to explore. Suddenly the prospect of creating a vast new region of space was viable. Whereas Halo took months to build, Corewards, containing four times as many systems and probably more than ten times as many worlds took weeks.

The creation of Corewards was however a gamble, one which has more than paid off. It was a gamble because there was the risk that it could be seen as diluting space. Thankfully this has not been the case for two good reasons. First and foremost it was combined with the launch of the Intergalactic News (IGN's). These have worked splendidly in pulling in ex-players and new ones which can be seen by comparing the average quantity of sign-ups converting into long-term players pre and post IGN. The second reason is that prior to Corewards many sign-ups quickly became disenchanted by the lack of opportunities on account of the vast majority of space within the Phoenix universe falling into either claimed or secret space. As a lot of new players want to explore and have some control of their own destiny, the universe as presented appeared sewn up. Further hampering this was the stability created by the 'Peace Treaty.' This seemingly all encompassing document effectively meant that those that had spent so many years establishing the status-quo were loath to see it crumble even if meant that there was little for them to actually do in the game for fear of undermining it.

That so many 'big red buttons' had gone ignored or more often buried leads me to believe that even the collapse of the Peace Treaty by itself would not have been enough to open the game to new players. Simply put, there was insufficient unclaimed public space for new and small players to cut their teeth on.

The Peace Treaty was also a metaphorical leash around the necks of the alien factions. The perception that any attempt to cause 'interesting times' would be met by a united opposition by all human factions is a huge disincentive.

Thankfully those times are now largely behind us as can be seen by the regular newsworthy articles appearing in Subspace Static.


The Present
So, I feel that having navigated reasonably well compared to other play-by-mail games through the shoals of a changing world of gaming. Phoenix is a solid product that offers both short-term excitement in many forms from an unexpected mineral deposit or unique resource to skirmishes with pirates or an affiliation wide call to respond to snooty aliens. The game has a lot of history to draw on or laugh about (much like Next Generation Trek had when dealing with the original episodes) and the current players are for the better part pushing their affiliations with enthusiasm. Kang, star of Subspace Static and the plethora of blogs more than testify to this.

With my newly acquired knowledge of coding I have again returned to working on custom-code with Phoenix with quite a few projects being undertaken and even though they still need a bit of pixie dust from Darak to work, the code to checking ratio is now vastly improved.

The green shoots of recovery in terms of the world-wide recession is a good thing as even we lost a few players and others that would have played couldn't justify the weekly expense (as one bloke put it, 'I would love to play but my wife keeps blowing all our money on bills'). We have seen some coming back or at least finding jobs that do not involve working and commuting for long hours. While far from being smug or even for that matter laid-back with the current situation I am not worried at this point about the future of the game.


The Future
This is the the one that counts. So, why am I not worried, what with the ever increasing variety of games available?

Fundamentally it is the rising tide that is the board-games and roleplaying games industry that gives me confidence. Their lack of pretty graphics, where the action is subscribed by the imagination draws strong parallels with play-by-mail genre games. Despite Phoenix having moved into the online format for playing the game, it is not an MMORG and never will be. I do however see that we have become largely estranged from the industry that spawned play-by-mail and see that this is something that needs addressing.


There also appears to be the first hints of the re-emerging play-by-mail as specific genre covering all methods of playing (post/email/online) in the form of a magazine. Why now after so many years? I suspect that it is linked with the rising interest in non-graphics based gaming. Maybe, just maybe it will be able to reinvigorate the hobby or at least remind people that Phoenix not only lives but flourishes? I will be doing what I can to aid its success as it is another avenue by which people can find Phoenix.

All in all, despite or more likely because of the tragedies of the past couple of years the game has largely reshaped itself and gone for the most part are the bloated power-bases that were being run partly out of nostalgia. While this has undoubtedly hit us in terms of income, I would rather be in this more dynamic position with the prospect of growth than watching the game atrophy through disinterest and inertia.

If this last year has witnessed the stabilisation and modest growth of the player-base through the launch of IGN and Nexus coming into its own, this coming year is about growing Phoenix and the hobby/industry through increasing awareness. I do not see this as being either simple or quick though by working with other companies such as Mad House, Flying Buffalo and Harlequin to mention a few, I think we have a fair chance. This is no time to rest on our laurels. It will certainly be interesting to re-read this article in a year's time and see what had changed.




 
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