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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.

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.

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.

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.

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


    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
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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).