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Advanced Agent Skills

Advanced Agent Skills

Agents and operatives within the Phoenix game were added to Phoenix simply because they were in Beyond the Stellar Empire. Even in BSE they were pretty useless and even though the CIA had the ability to hire them anywhere I am not aware of either their proliferation or for that matter use. They never bothered starting rumours or dealing with black markets (nobody did) and may occasionally have checked starport or production. I only remember a hiport being sabotaged once and then the attempt revealed a bug, causing the hiport to be destroyed even though the action failed.

While more actions were coded for Phoenix, there was little in the way of extensive thought on the whole thing. Rather it was coded with the idea of returning to it at some point. When we did however it was very briefly to solve the first major stumbling block, resolving the issue of actually knowing the %chance of success for undertaking an action. Prior to the upgrade was hit and hope.

With other major developments agents and operatives have effectively been ignored with the occasional hat-tip to character upgrades in the distant future where everything is bright and shiny; the actual road between there and this distant vision remaining firmly off any map.


So, what are the issues with Agents and Operatives?
While it is true that they can elicit information about a base and can blow things up, mess around with production and find information about the assets present in the base the effects are not overly impressive. The very good reason why they cannot achieve anything devastatingly effective is down to how the actions are processed. Each action is dealt with on a simple success or failure mechanic with a %chance of success based on the action undertaken cross referenced against the skill of the agent or operative. The fundamental flaw with this mechanic is simple mathematics, in which the use of multiple agents and operatives will overcome the issue of low %chance of success. For example, if the %chance of success is 30% for a typical operative, send in 20 operatives and you can pretty much guaranteed job done even with the retarding factor that improves base security with each action run against it. With the ability to drop hundreds of operatives, it is clear that having truly dramatic results even at low %chance of success is not really feasible. The other primary issue is the meat grinder. This is where failure can result in the agent or operative being captured and eliminated. Putting aside the loss of the agent or operative there is also the aspect of improving skills. As the chance of improving a skill only occurs when an action is successful, it can be seen that all agents and operatives will eventually be eliminated while trying to improve.

  • Fundamental of what is trying to be achieved
  • The goal of rewriting agent and operative actions has to deal with the three primary issues:
  • Use of multiple agents and operatives to swing the odds
  • Not achieving noteworthy outcomes
  • Meat grinder that is failure

The first thing to do was simply consider movies and literature. In all these instances there is the build-up with events occurring along the way. The more dramatic the goal, the longer the build-up and the greater the quantity of events, generally with each event proving tougher than the previous one. Balanced against the increasing toughness of the events however is increasing capability of the protagonist. Another important observation was the option for the protagonist to abort the operation if it became necessary, often while the operation was in its infancy.

How to translate into Phoenix in such a way as to make it both playable while not being abused?
The first idea was to use Missions. These benefit from progress steps and dialogue between each step, with the options for choices. I went so far as to write a few: Sabotage Explosive Ores, Rebel Cell etc.

The problem however was in playability and how missions work. Missions are ideal for one-off events such as discovering about kastorians and moving some colonists for the first time, though quickly lose their appeal when clicking through the same set of operations over and over again. Also they do not really lend themselves to having the same mission being run by multiple positions at different locations.

Further, the inclination when designing missions is to include choices which will modify the outcome. In the case of agent operations you pretty much know the outcome you want and simply want to achieve it or abandon it. It is presumed that the more effective method of achieving the goal will be utilised (in terms of game mechanics, obviously not for literature and movies – where a plethora of moral choices will be winged in just to pad the story out). Ask yourself this, would you chose an option that halved your operative’s chance of success just for an extra line in the resolution printout stating that he bedded a pretty employee while on the job? And then after your curiosity has been satisfied would you take the option again? Thought not.

So, when the mission option is pared down to the bare mechanics what is left is in fact a tiered action where the final resolution point comes after a series of steps each with their own resolution that will either increase or decrease the odds for the next step succeeding. With the action broken down into a series of steps there is also the option for a minimum period of ‘waiting’ before the next step is attempted. This method may give the agent and operative both the chance to improve their skill and or abandon the action before security sweeps in.

Ah, but being metagamers surely some folks will simply run and terminate these multi-part actions at home bases to beef up skills before sending the operative out to other bases?

Of course, this makes perfect sense, but it is presumed that this is part of the operative’s training and that they are already as good as they are going to get in simulated operations. As such bigger bonuses can be given but these are only applied to the specific base and that further actual skill improvements only come when there is an actual risk of elimination. Some actions may simply exist in order to generate bonuses to other actions conducted at the same base.
So, what is envisioned is that an operative will first be created and then moved to the designated target base. Once there they will conduct a number of low-key actions, improving their local skills before moving onto the bigger jobs. If however they drop clues as to their presence, either they will bolt down as an extended action or get picked up.

Breaking down an action into multiple steps is fairly straightforward and each step can be dealt with using a few parameters covering aspects such as:
  • Chance of Success (skill used)
  • Chance of Capture (skill used)
  • Chance of Alerting Base (skill used)
  • Chance of Improving
  • Next Step
  • Cost


Chance of Success
This is %chance of moving onto the next step. Failure keeps the action at the same step but does not end the action. If the agent is on the final step, success completes the action with the final outcome as defined by the action description.

Chance of Capture
This is simply the %chance of being captured when undertaking the next step. Capture may terminate the action.

Chance of Alerting Base
Even though the agent may have 0% chance of being captured, especially if the base has no crackdown, they often run the risk of tipping off security.
Attempting the step gives this %chance of the owner of the base being notified as to the action based on the current security and crackdown of the base. Being notified does not necessarily inform the owner of the nature of the activity or even if it has been successful or not.

Chance of Improving
This gives the %chance that the agent will get bonuses to any or all of the aspects. These bonuses are set for both specific actions and to a specific amount.

Next Step
It is up to the agent when they take the next step, providing it is after the date given for the next step. They can wait days or weeks should they wish between completing steps. The main advantage is that if they have alerted the base, they can wait out any crackdown that is implemented.

Cost
Each step has a cost based on the nature of the step and the action. In the above example it would be based on the quantity of factories targeted.

Example
Action: Destroy Factories on Mass Production Line {item being produced} {quantity of factories}
Description: This action sends the agent to study a single mass production line operating in a starbase and determine how to destroy (preferable) or set them untooling. Degree of success in each step will determine the final outcome. Partial success results in untooling. This is a 5 step action.

Considerations for development

Determining Time to Complete Step
An initial idea called ‘Security Half-life’ was presented in which there was not fixed time to complete a step, rather the chance of success increased with time before looking to complete the step. The main drawback with this was presenting the information in a way that a player could determine what the chances of success would be in X weeks time. Attempts at working through the process felt very cumbersome and needlessly complicated. Instead a second option has been presented, calculating the time to complete the step based on the scale of the task undertaken. In the above example it would be down to the quantity factories targeted for destruction.

Multiple Agents/Operatives
All agents and operatives owned by a player are considered to be working for the specific player. As such we will treat each of these actions being carried out at a base as a joint project. This achieves two things. First it prevents dozens of operatives being sent to a base to carry out the same operation. It does however mean that the player can decide which agent or operative to carry out the next step should they have multiple agents and operatives in the base. Further, it allows the action to continue should the agent be captured when attempting to complete a step.



We will probably weight the chance of the action being terminated with the capture of the agent against %chance of success, i.e. a high chance of failure equating to a high chance of the action being terminated. That said, if the last agent and operative have been removed from the base, all uncompleted actions associated with the political will be deleted.

Extra Stuff for Bonuses
We like the idea that certain actions and steps in the action may benefit from items being ‘dropped in’ through the use of stealth pods. Explosives, diseases, made to order technical equipment and maybe even a clone or two. The premise is that completion of a step may report a ‘substep’ that entails getting the item to the operative. If completed, the next step is made easier or more effective.

Characters
The principle behind these actions is that they are simply complex orders that in theory can be applied to characters once they are coded. Examples include sending in a character to make tooling up or untooling factories of mass production line faster or reducing the quantity of mine weeks remaining on a deep core operation. There are options for counter operatives which would be useful if your base keeps being targeted. Essentially lots of things that should take an extended amount of time.




 
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