Back in the saddle, after 7 OS reinstalls (thank you Micro$oft) and a state-of-the-art WYSIWIG HTML editor that’s a thousand times worse than Netscape Composer. What have I been doing for the last couple weeks besides ignoring the fact that my forum is down? Playing Starfleet Command 2, the only game in recent memory to actually be interesting enough to play a lot. Unfortunately, it is riddled with the two biggest problems that can afflict any multiplayer net game: bugs, and players. Of these two, players is worse. You can always patch a bug.

WHY THE WORLD HATES THE FEDERATION

A quick looksie on the Taldren Dynaverse 2 forums reveals, as one might expect, massive amounts of childish flaming and counterflaming (as opposed to really good flaming and counterflaming). Lots of these flames are against the Federation players as a group. Feds cheat, Feds esc-forfeit, Feds are nitwits, Feds this and that. I happen to like playing the Fed. The much-maligned photon torpedo is the staple of my tactical arsenal. The versatility and the difficulty of use for this heavy weapon are what makes it appealing to me. Many players simply don’t know how to use the photon to full effect, having taken moronic "strategy guides" and posts about how wonderful proximity mode is as gospel. But that’s another story.

Anyway, the number one reason why the Federation players are so maligned can be traced back to one overwhelming point, which is not really an invalid one: more players play Fed than any other empire. Why is this? There are four basic reasons:

1) People who don’t know what they’re doing pick Federation by default when they create a new character on a DV2 server.

2) The game lacks tutorial modes for other races, and the combination of the Fed-only tutorial and the easier-to-navigate Fed heads-up display gives the Federation a feeling of intuitiveness.

3) Trekkies want to be Captain Kirk.

4) Once the Federation outmans all the other races on a server because of the above reasons, players looking for an easy win will jump on that side by default.

Okay, now we know why most players want to be at the helm of a Fed ship. Why then are Feds labeled cheaters, etc.? It’s directly related to my long-standing axiom of multiplayer computer gaming: ALL PLAYERS SUCK. Or, taken a little more generously, MOST PLAYERS SUCK.

Let’s look at this axiom in perspective of the reasons why people play Fed, most notably the default race selection. Playing another race, while not necessarily more difficult (and in many cases considerably easier) is generally something considered by non-beginners. A brand new player will typically go right for the Federation as soon as the Create New Character screen appears. Brand new players are also the ones most likely to be annoying and ignorant of the little undocumented features in the Dynaverse 2 like draft dodging, esc-forfeiting, etc., and thus will wind up doing those more often. These are the cheats/exploits most commonly referred to on forum flames. The more advanced methods of cheating are more typically divided evenly among the races, i.e. by the advanced players. On ArticFires these included the frigate/starbase cheese, the Rotting Fur cheat, and variations thereof. These were by no means exclusive to the Feds, and in fact were often first noticed in use by other races.

Another reason why the world hates the Federation comes not necessarily from cheating accusations, but just because they tend to win due to sheer numbers. This is absolutely true on the general public servers, like the various IPlay servers. One might typically log onto IPlay East and see about 14 Feds out of 20 players (8 races total). This is tremendous, and regardless of the fact that many of these Feds are relative newbies at the game, they will win by numbers just because the AI is so pathetically stupid, and they can continue to run AI missions over and over while a small handful have to contend with human drafts. With such a numerical advantage, a Fed victory is inevitable, and loyalists to other races get understandably upset about this, which turns into more forum bitching and moaning.

This stigma carries over onto servers where Feds do not have an advantage. ArticFires in the early/early middle era is an example of this: everyone hated the Feds and a 3 front assault on them happened as soon as possible; the Feds were overwhelmed by numbers and their crappy early ship selection. Ironically, the fact that the Feds looked doomed brought about a big influx of Fed players (I know of at least 3 personally who were going to play as something else until they heard about the Fed pounding), which led to Fed numerical superiority, and another reason for other races to bitch about the blue horde.

Some people have suggested a racial player limit, i.e. no race can have significantly more players than other races. I suppose this would involve yet another process for the horribly outdated flat database to think about when a new player signed on. This CANNOT work on the typical server, for 2 simple reasons:

1) Most maps tend to place the Federation dead center, open to attack from all sides. The fact that the Federation can expand into more neutral space than other races doesn’t mean jack when it requires all of its players to simply try and hold off a 3 or 4 front attack. A radial map, i.e. all empires starting at the edges, might work with a player/race limit, but it doesn’t counter the next reason.

2) It’s too easy to cheat. If I was a player from another race who hated the Feds and heard about this, the first thing I might do is make a bunch of new Flipside accounts and simply use them to make Fed dummy characters over and over again until the population limit was reached, preventing anyone else from creating a Fed. Hell I might do it to every race that was not my own if I really had that much time on my hands. Believe me, someone will. (Refer to preceding axiom.)

So basically, what I am saying is that the Feds as a group are not cheating lying sacks of crap. I’m saying that almost all players are cheating lying sacks of crap. It’s just that they pick the Feds out of ignorance or brand loyalty. One wonders how different things might be if there were a better race selection screen that showed all 8 races, or tutorials for all of them. Sure there would still be a bunch of guys who want to be Kirk, or maybe even a few who like the difficulty of using the photon, but maybe the flaming and complaining would be a little more equitably distributed.

On another interesting note, Rogue Jedi’s D2 server recently saw a mass exodus of Federation players on opening day. Now other players were flaming the feds for LEAVING. Here’s what happened: Fed players log onto new server in their underpowered F-FF’s, and encounter almost nothing but monster missions. I personally encountered about 6 normal monsters and 2 of those retarded planet killers, in all types of missions, not just "Monster." Shipyard Assault against 3 monsters, woohoo! Net result: Feds get bored, as they should, Feds leave.

Now this monster problem was a function of the horribly documented and buggy as hell Dynaverse 2 server kit. It was recognized after the "Why all Feds go bye bye?" inquiries, and it was fixed (I assume… I was still getting monster missions today, but at least none of them were defending the monster shipyard). So what did people say? Well, it was a mixture of, "Come back Feds, well not too many of you, just enough to beat on" and "Whiny crybaby Feds take their ball and leave because of some monsters, Feds suck!" To quote Tantalus: "The Feds actually, get arsey about it. Makes me sick"

When confronted by these examples of fantastic logic, typical of message board debating techniques, I can only say that I don’t really feel like playing on Rogue Jedi’s server either. Not because of the monsters. Not because of less Feds stuck in the middle of the map again. No no, it’s because I really don’t want to play on a server with quite that many jackasses.

X-SHIPS AND THE BOX THEY CAME IN

As anyone who’s suffered through my rants on other evolving game systems will know, I despise the exponential power curve in game development that seems to plague the industry. By this I mean the need for bigger guns, bigger explosions, and less skill on the part of the player. The sad fact is that players in general don’t care about skill, they want to WIN. This mad race to more power is the death of MMORPG systems like Asheron’s Call, and the reason that 7v1CPU BGH is the most common game found on Broodwars Battle.Net. It predates multiplayer computer gaming, and an excellent example is found in Starfleet Battles, the tabletop predecessor to the Starfleet Command series.

Starfleet Battles was an excellent gaming system, playtested for countless hours by a crack group of insane people in Texas. It was one of the most complex, detailed, hard to master, and well-balanced games on the market. There were a couple of slips (fast patrol ships and battle tugs come to mind), but in general the winner would be the guy with better tactics. Then things got weird.

Originally the big power curve breaker was the ISC. Some might think the Starfleet Command version of the ISC is already over the top (a starting frigate with 4 phaser 1′s and 2 F torpedoes, and a heavy cruiser with 40 power), but believe me, they have been massively toned down. The original ISC frigate was about equivalent in killing power to any other race’s high-end heavy cruiser or battle cruiser, and the BPV of the ISC ships did not reflect this. Game matching was a joke when the ISC ships were involved. The one saving grace of this was that one did not need to use these stupid ships, or even buy the supplements that included them.

Then came the Andromedans. Even worse than the ISC, and with even worse BPV reflection. Well gosh, they supposed, maybe the other races need a ship capable of scratching the Andromedans. And thus was born the X class, the magic "I WIN" button of a previously excellent game.

The introduction of the X class marked the departure of many of my friends from the world of Starfleet Battles. The ones that still played just ignored them. After all, you don’t need to use the ships if you don’t like them, and there’s very little to like about X ships (for anyone with half a brain). An X ship is a floating monstrosity of gatling phasers (heavy phasers I suppose in OP) and nigh-impervious shielding with a dreadnought power plant in a CA hull. The only thing that can hurt it realistically is another X ship, or standard ships totaling many times the X ship’s BPV.

You don’t really get that option in Starfleet Command: Orion Pirates.

There has been some debate over which server type to move to since the self-destruction of ArticFires and its incredibly overworked and cheesily implemented (by Taldren, not Artic) flat file database. There’s a faction of players on various boards who love Orion Pirates and the X ships. "The XCA is great, a BB can’t even touch it!" Zzzzzz. A perfect example of this comes from the Fed board, which I will repost part of at the risk of divulging Federation state secrets.

Bean

I don’t own Orion Pirates… First, its hard to justify *Only 30 Dollars* for a game that won’t integrate with my current one, doesn’t fix bugs in the first game I bought, and really the idea of having a 8 Photon ship that can run at high speeds with ECM/ECCM while charging overloads is really unappealing. Maybe I’m alone in thinking the challange of power management is part of the fun of the game but I don’t think so. As for map size, the larger map gives a greater oppertunity to get the game started on an even footing allowing players time to flock to the server without having to much bias as to which side to join. eg. Hey I would have played the Lyran but the Mirak are already beating down my homeworld etc. I still hope that Artic can get his server up and running on Sunday, however I am looking forward to Rooks.

Bean – Homeless CVA Pilot

IXF-Fox

I don’t mind helping you out with the test Rook just send me a email

Bean just FYI the XCB can’t run at full speed while charging O/L photon. (hope to keep any kind of EW) I have only been able to overload the foward 6 photon and keep a speed 31. remember that the last 2 are rear facing. I usally just keep them at normal load!!!

Bean try the game it awesome I have been playing on Gamer edge alot of fun. Last nite Sirgodfed & I ttok a Rom XCA..

IXF-Fox Soon to be Star Fox or Just Fox becuz IXF look like it truely going down!!!

Mu

Gosh what a pain. Only 6 overloads and 2 normal at 31. :P

The X-ships were one of the worst things to ever be introduced into old SFB. It’s the exponential power curve of game progression that ruins ALL games. Players have this thing about wanting bigger guns, more power, etc. etc., regardless of the effect that is has on actual play. It’s like old AD&D players and their 50th level double classed characters with a pack full of artifacts. Once the game becomes too huge in its power curve, the appeal is lost on me. Why bother developing ship tactics when all you need is bigger numbers and an X ship and the fire button? Mindless.

The SFB power curve started with the introduction of the ISC. In SFB, an ISC frigate was roughly equal to, oh, a heavy battlecruiser of any other race type. They were way too imbalanced for the BPV, and this change was loathed by many SFB players, but they simply had the option of not using those ships. Then SFB introduced the Andromedans, who were a billion times worse than the ISC, and then X ships were introduced to counter them, even more unbalanced than anything that had gone before. This was the point where many of my friends stopped paying attention to new supplements at all (or just not playing), but then again, they had that option. I do not have that option in OP. It’s like saying, "Yes you can have a reputedly more stable client and Dynaverse, but you have to agree to use these abominable ships at the same time." No thanks.

In EAW, it’s possible for a new light cruiser to take a dreadnought… not easy, but possible, depending on player skill. When I hear stuff like, "These X ships are great! You can’t even touch an XCA with a battleship!" I start yawning. Maybe I’m alone here, but I don’t want a freaking X ship. I want to tool around in my underpowered hull getting outgunned, relying on technique to save my ass, not camp the shipyard looking for a ship with more overpowering guns and more impervious shielding.

WELCOME TO DYNAVERSE 2 ALPHA TEST

The idea of a more stable Dynaverse 2 is appealing, but isn’t that what fixes are for? Where is the 2007 patch? Oh right, they were waiting until after OP shipped to work on that. I can understand the financial need to get more cash into the coffers in the impoverished game industry, especially without a subscription base, but historically this idea has never worked. Games that are shipped with a half-baked feature are likely to stay that way.

Take Activision and Heavy Gear. Heavy Gear 1.0: great game, some serious ass bugs. Patch 1.1 comes out, fixes NONE of the bugs (many of which they seemed unaware of from the pre-release dev chat), and screws up play. Activision asks for volunteers to test patch 1.2, lots of people volunteer (including me). Nothing happens, then they test again for some reason. We all volunteer again. The patch is never finished, because patching doesn’t produce income, working on a new product produces income. Just because I understand the financial burden of patching vs. publishing doesn’t mean I’ll ever buy another Activision product again. I really like Starfleet Command 2, just like I really liked Heavy Gear. I didn’t buy Heavy Gear 2.

The Dynaverse 2 beta test pool numbered about 600 when it was announced. Shortly after the pool was ready to go, their networking partner (according to Taldren, Flipside) backed out of talks, and Taldren had to go and design their server software. This part really gets me confused: was Taldren looking to Flipside to actually write their server software? The testing pool was ignored for at least a month, during which the numbers dropped from 600 to about 40-70 out of frustration with the non-communication. When they were finally contacted by Taldren, Taldren explained what had happened, adding that they had to learn how to do servers from scratch (???), and they sent out CD’s which allowed the beta testers to do little more than… chat. Chat doesn’t even work! By the time the game was about to go public, there were about a thousand bugs documented without fixes (most to this day), and the beta pool begged them not to release it in that state. They did.

This brings up some interesting questions. The foremost for server hosts and would-be hosts is why in the hell it uses a flat file database and not a relational database. Basically, a flat file database stores all of the information in one large file. It’s a very old system of data storage, and actually works okay for very small amounts of data. The problem is that every time you need a single piece of data, the ENTIRE file needs to be read. Artic’s database grew to a bloated 80 megabytes by the time it self-destructed. 80 megabytes doesn’t seem like a whole lot, until you realize that every single time anything happens on the server requiring a data check or change (someone moving, someone entering or exiting a mission, someone making a repair, someone logging in, etc.) the server is reading the 80MB file, and doing nothing else. This is why it can take ages to move one hex on a populated server; you are probably 20th in line to get your turn at that flat file.

This still leaves the question of exactly why a flat file system would be in place and not a relational one. If Taldren was, as they said, actually leaning to do servers "from scratch" (this makes no sense, really), then a flat file would be the easiest to learn and toss out there, but this is hardly a reason to use this architecture. In the beta test pool, there was more than one person familiar with SQL programming who volunteered to help, and a few networking guys. Taldren never actually told them what system the DB was using. Besides this volunteer help, it’s fairly easy for a company to say, "We need a SQL guy," and get flooded with applications. Worst comes to worst, there’s always Microsoft Jet and its almost-relational structure, free to get and distributable with one purchase of Enterprise for about a thousand bucks. There would have been many suggestions along these lines had they used better than abysmal communication with their open beta pool. You would think after such public examples as UO beta that people would learn the importance of a good, open beta pool and valuing their input. This lesson has not really hit home with a surprising number of publishers.

Dynaverse 2 is a fantastic idea, and probably the biggest reason I wound up buying SFC2. It was on the box, after all. It wasn’t ready at release time. It’s still at about a late alpha state. It doesn’t even use a relational database, for chrissake. The Orion Pirates server model is supposedly slightly more stable, but I have to pay about 30 bucks for it. 30 bucks for sucky pirates, mindless X-ships, and an early beta version of Dynaverse 2. I suppose I could get it and start a server with the X-ships turned completely off and the pirate layer removed, but then why bother? Paying for an almost-ready version of something I thought was going to be in the original game sounds like a poor investment.

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