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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.





 
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******Empire Syndicated News Network (ESNN) ******

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Welcome to the new version of ESNN (formally CSNN), giving the news and views from the former CSNN's reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, making this the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe,

And so with the news,
 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

A Detinus expeditionary force is being assembled to liberate slaves in the Twilight Periphery. Stung by the wit of the Wimble Dinash, Admiral Bridge is leading a personal and sizeable force against the newly constituted Flagritz Republic.

The Wimble Bake Off has new competition with the Dominion instituting a Master Chef competition in the Orion Spur. This is all said to be a cover for further land grabs and in preparation for a move against the Hive and Dewiek, tipping the balance further in the Stellar Empire’s favour.

Meanwhile, the Wimbles struck off a number of hapless Wimbles under their new rules. To cement their plan to align themselves with the Stellar Empire, they have offered the services of their new masters to the Emperor.

Several hundred thousand slaves have been released by the Flagritz Republic but the terms of their manumission are unclear. Millions more await their emancipation. Many have refused to accept freedom without transit home, especially those brought in from outside peripheries. Many reportedly were captured by the Stellar Empire from the Detinus Republic and then sold on to the Flagritz.

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

The ship PRV HarCop Omega has been reported both in Orion and Corewards. This was the flagship of the former League Chairman, sacked from the role when the League went into administration and quietly disappearing beyond the edge of known space. It is thought that his return may have been for a clandestine meeting with his former contacts in Harlong and Coptuv. If so then he clearly has an agenda.

Unconfirmed stories that the Pirate King of The Pirate Holes and Million Islands is near completing research on the various larger ships his pirates have successfully captured over the past few years (big thanks to all the affiliations that participated in 'donating' ships). If the rumours are true it is likely a new armada of pirate ships using more advanced technology will be found in Corewards in the near future.

An supernova has been detected originating from just beyond the Transpiral Periphery. The rare event has created ripples in the subspace of the nearby stars. Nobody has reported any tangible ramifications but this is the first supernova in the current age of the Peripheries so esoteric scientists are excited by the prospect of grants to study the relatively nearby phenomena.
 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Wimbles Crisis Solved ***

The Wimble Crisis of 217 has come to an end with the human Baron making way to the wimble Grandfather Paden Mastaak. Celebrations were held in Wimbledon upon the news with crack teams of Wimble security staff guarding all the pies.

It’s unclear how long the Wimbles will enjoy this new era of peace and self-determination.

Vocal Wimble Dinasha, one of Paden’s early backers, has chosen this precarious moment to bait Dewiek, Flagritz and humans who were initially disposed to be friendly to the new administration. Whilst the Wimbles' history with the former-slave-loving Flagritz could be understood, their animosity towards the Dewiek and humans was more mysterious. One insider alluded to a rise in the number of cases of foot-and-mouth across the herd as being a likely cause.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Storm in a Teacup *** Yahn Bares All * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door ***

The stargates are closed! Reports from multiple sources indicate at least three of the stargates, all within Dewiek controlled systems, have been closed.

Two different sources have indicated that the TCA have been spotted recently in a number of systems and may be behind this turn of events. A scan sent to the SSS indicated eight TCA ships were recently spotted first in the Faery system and later near the Kasmer stargate.

Another source, suspiciously put the blame on the ARC, suggesting the ARC and DEN were working together because they “need to trap [the TCA] and try and finish them off after the DEN bodged their operation to protect the ARC while they incinerated the MEK homeworld, which ended up with several ARC ships being destroyed and the job only being half done."

However, with no public statement from the Dewiek themselves, its hard to know whether these rumours are reliable.

Lord Igor of the Dominion and Erasmus Andersen of the Garcia Family both offered public apologies at the delay in meeting their trade commitments because of the recent closures. The not-so-subtle subtext being that someone will pay with blood for this interference in their business. Or at least with a stealthy price rise.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Wimble Civil Strife * Who Sniffs the Sniffers? * Largin’ It * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Videtis quantum scelus contra rem publicam vobis nuntiatum sit? ***

The Flagritz Empire is no more! The Flagritz Republic is reborn! Quick on the heel of the collapse of the Empire, the Fessin caste declared a new era of foreign and economic policy with a rapid withdrawal behind the Black Gate.

The new ecologically-friendly Prime Minister Kayxaer, asked for patience as “economic” reforms were undertaken. It remains to be seen whether there will be any price to pay for the dramatic changes being made by the reclusive Flagritzi or whether it will all be sunshine and rainbows going forward.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Large at Large * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Bravo for Freedom ***

Naplian Forces have attacked three human pirate outposts in the Morroglyph system. A spokesperson for Naplia HQ told the press that the plucky duct-tape loving free people would continue their war against slavers and pirates in their home periphery.

One salty Naplian libertarian told the SSS, “The people of the Naplian Home Periphery are sick and tired of human criminals coming here just because their homeworld is an overcrowded hell. It’s time for them to go back home.”

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Igor of Fang and Horns * Admiral Loves Dick Turpin * &etc

 

Free Ship when you sign-up
Complete missions for in game rewards
Control everything, up to an entire empire
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Discover new worlds to explore, exploit & colonise
Over 20 years of content development
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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