Donovan's
VGA Planets Super Site

The VGA Planets FAQ

Disclaimer: I can take absolutely no credit for compiling this FAQ. It was made by a number of people (listed below), who also converted it to HTML. All I did was add this short disclaimer and change the layout of the FAQ to match the rest of my site. I'm putting this FAQ online because it's not available at it's original site anymore.

Donovan

alt.games.vga-planets FAQ

0 Preface

0.1 What is this document anyway?

This is the FAQ for alt.games.vga-planets. It is compiled, edited, and partly written by Roger Burton West <roger@firedrake.demon.co.uk>, with assistance from:

ab@active.ch (Athman Boukhaoua)
buenger@cs.uni-sb.de, Ludger Buenger
cadman@bmi.net (Jeff Bolden)
chorgey@snip.net (Kevin Chorzelewski)
crough45@amc.de (Chris Croughton)
darkdruid@lords.com (Lord DarkDruid)
darksoft@gmx.net (^Hawk^)
davidk@sn.no (David Knudsen)
dgedye@netlink.co.nz (Daz Gedye)
gatekeeper@thedruid.demon.co.uk (The GateKeeper)
hinnerk99@aol.com (Hinnerk)
j.w.niezink@rcondw.rug.nl (Jurjen Niezink)
Jesper_Sterk_Nielsen@online.pol.dk (Jesper Nielsen)
kimball@sci.fi (Sean Kimball)
melins@harare.iafrica.com (Kenneth & Albena Melin)
msakma@ibm.net (BANE)
mwilmot@gol.com (Mark Wilmot)
nicosan@ctv.es (Nicolas Santos)
pti@mediasys.nl (Pim Tijmensen)
rbos@sfu.ca (Rob Bos)
smithw@comnet.ca (Quaz)
strooper@pacbell.net
tony@tagman.demon.co.uk (Tony Evans)
voyager@thezone.net (Stephen Simms)

The FAQ has at various times been in the keeping of Roger Burton West (who started it in 1992), Gary Grothman <grothmag@vax.cs.hscsyr.edu>, Gordy Pine <gordy@compumedia.com> and Mark Wilmot <mwilmot@gol.com>.

0.2 Where should I send comments, corrections and additions?

Please send these to vgapfaq@firedrake.demon.co.uk.

0.3 What's in this document?

0 Preface
0.1 What is this document anyway?
0.2 Where should I send comments, corrections and additions?
0.3 What's in this document?
1 What is VGA Planets?
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Other similar games
2 How can I discuss Planets on the Internet?
2.1 Where?
2.1.1 Newsgroup
2.1.2 IRC
2.1.3 Mailing lists
2.1.4 Other services
2.2 Useful topics
2.3 Problem topics
3 How can I get started?
3.1 Where should I download?
3.2 What should I download?
3.2.1 Client
3.2.2 Host
3.2.3 Computer player
3.3 How can I run my first game?
4 How can I play against other people?
4.1 How should I find a game?
4.2 What sorts of host exist?
4.3 How about technical issues?
4.4 I'm getting hammered! Should I drop out?
5 What's this "Registration" thing?
5.1 Why should I bother?
5.2 OK, how do I do it?
5.3 Can I share a registration code with a friend?
5.3.1 What if I want to play two races in the same game?
5.4 Should I register for DOS or Windows?
6 How about hosting my own game?
6.1 Why shouldn't I do it?
6.2 Why should I do it?
6.3 How do I go about finding players?
6.3.1 How should I specify skill levels?
6.4 How about writing a new autohost?
7 What are extension programs?
7.1 RandMax and RandGen
7.2 EchoView
7.3 VPUtil
7.4 Interceptor
7.5 Battle Simulators
7.5.1 BSIM
7.5.2 KFView
7.5.3 VPA's simulator
8 What are replacement programs?
8.1 VPA
8.2 PHost
9 What are add-on programs?
9.1 Wormholes
9.2 Exploremap
9.3 Wrap/Sphere
9.4 FHost
9.5 The Killing Floor
9.6 The Dan&Dave add-ons
9.7 RAW!
9.8 Atomic Host
9.9 Nemesis
9.10 Gryphon
10 What are computer players?
10.1 CPlayer
10.2 VPC_Play
10.3 Dominate
10.4 ACP/Omega
10.5 Admiral
10.6 Kattivik
10.7 DPlayer
10.8 The Q
11 What are alternate data files?
11.1 How should I use them?
11.1.1 Dos Planets
11.1.2 WinPlan
11.2 Maps (altmaps)
11.3 Ship and weapon lists (altlists)
11.3.1 ALTLIST1-6
11.3.2 C-LIST2
11.3.3 FLEET2
11.3.4 NHULDATA
11.3.5 PLIST
11.3.6 PList2
11.3.7 PSYBORG
11.3.8 TREKLIST
11.3.9 VESAC(C)
12 What are some basic tactics?
12.1 General
12.2 How should I play race X?
12.3 How should I fight against race X?
13 But what does (X) mean?
13.1 Glossary
13.2 Ship abbreviations and nicknames
13.3 What about hosting order?
13.4 What can zero-fuel ships do?
13.5 How does FCode battle order work?
13.6 My fighter (or fuel dump) just exploded! Plague hit my planets!
13.7 How fast can a damaged ship go?
13.8 What about Borg and the starbase native tech bonus?
13.9 What are the overall proportions of minerals in the game?
13.10 How do tow conflicts work?
13.11 How can I find out more about obscure Host features?
14 What about writing my own add-ons?
14.1 Kero van Gelder's page
14.2 The PHost PDK
14.3 Planets Toolkit
14.4 The Planets Programming List and Webring
15 Final notes

1 What is VGA Planets?

1.1 Introduction

VGA Planets is a graphical, multi-player, play by computer, space war game. This game simulates combat in space between galactic scale empires. The game emphasises colonisation of space and the development of the planets that you will find, colonise and/or conquer. How well you develop these resources will determine what kind of starships (freighters and warships) you will be able to produce and how well you will be able to defend your space and attack your neighbours.

This game is designed to be a strategic and tactical game of warfare, but you will also need to be able to build an economy and service your empire. With a well developed strong economic base you will have a greater potential for winning the game. As the leader of your empire you are responsible for all of the decisions that effect your growth and production (excluding, of course, being attacked by your neighbour). You will decide how to best develop your planets with the resources available to you. You will decide what type of starship(s) to be built at your starbase(s). You are the mastermind behind your race and you are in a race to see which empire can first conquer the universe.

VGA Planets is designed to be able to handle from two to eleven players in a play by mail (electronic mail) game format. The game is designed to be played as a Net or Bulletin Board System (BBS) game (as long as file transfers are permitted and available), although it can be played solely on one computer. Many of the Net players are playing using E-mail and UUENCODE; you can also play (more slowly) by sending discs through the post, exchanging them by hand, or even switching seats on a single computer.

VGA Planets was written, and continues to be updated, by Tim Wisseman.

It has a devoted following and is one of the longest lasting games on the Internet's PC Games Charts:

http://www.worldcharts.com/gvote.html

1.2 Other similar games

Since VGA Planets became successful, it has spawned a great many imitators, including Stars!, XPace, Kozaar, Probe 42, and a host of others. The alt.games.vga-planets newsgroup is not the place to talk about them. You might want to try:

comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.misc
comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.strategic
rec.games.computer.stars
rec.games.pbm

alt.games.vga-planets is intended for discussion of VGA Planets.

2 How can I discuss Planets on the Internet?

2.1 Where?

The two main places of discussion of VGA Planets on the Internet are this newsgroup, alt.games.vga-planets, and the #vgaplanets IRC channel on EFNet.

2.1.1 Newsgroup

It's called alt.games.vga-planets. That should be sufficient information for you to subscribe to it. You may also find:

alt.binaries.games.vga-planets (inactive)
alt.games.vga-planet (inactive)
alt.games.vga-planets.binaries (inactive)
fido.ger.vgaplanets (inactive)
fido7.vga-planets (inactive)
kiel.games.vga-planets (inactive)
maus.rec.vga-planets (in German)

Some news servers do not carry alt.* groups; in this case, you may do better to use a Web-based news service, such as Deja News:

http://www.dejanews.com

2.1.2 IRC

The most popular IRC channel for discussing VGA Planets is #vgaplanets on EFNet; it may however be possible to find discussions on other IRC networks.

If you don't know how to get onto EFNet, take a look at:

http://www.rcci.demon.co.uk/irc/ or
http://www.ixc.net:80/~den/irc/

There are also IRC conferences with Tim Wisseman, the author of VGA Planets. These take place every first Sunday of the month on the #VGAPlanets IRC channel at chat.talkcity.com [port: 6667]. This IRC server is stand alone and is not connected to any IRC networks. Those without IRC clients can also use the chat room link at the Den of the Draconian:

http://www.rcci.demon.co.uk or
http://www.ixc.net/~den

2.1.3 Mailing lists

Cadman's VGA Planets mailing list: to subscribe, mail listserver@andersonperry.com with body text "subscribe vgaplanets <name>". Mail for the list goes to vgaplanets@andersonperry.com. The list has been inactive for some time.

There is also a Spanish-language Planets mailing list. Subscription is by web-form, at:

http://www.onelist.com/subscribe.cgi/vgaplanets

The German-language VPLMAILING-L apparently also has a dedicated file-server; to subscribe, mail listserv@igs.noris.de with body text "CONNECT VPLMAILING-L".

2.1.4 Other services

On AOL there is a private room, VGA Planets, which can have a pretty good sized crowd - at times 12-14 active participants. Typically, there are 2-4 people there in the evenings, more if you advertise the fact you're having a chat beforehand.

On CIS it's GO PBMGAMES, section 8. You need an HMI access program (recent versions of any of the CIS access programs have that); the section is not very active, but a file library is available.

2.2 Useful topics

Advertisements for games. Don't bother to post to the newsgroup saying "I want to play" - most hosts don't have time to check every post to see if it matches what they want. Read the "players wanted" and apply for a game that interests you. (On the other hand, #vgaplanets almost always has some host on, or someone who'll recommend a host to a newbie, and help him through whatever sign-up procedure (if any) the host might have.)

Discussions of tactics, unusual host features, and so on.

Announcements of new add-ons. Note you should *never* post binary files to this newsgroup - no matter how important you think they are! Remember that some people have to pay for their news feeds. Binary files (if it's not readable in plain text, it's a binary) should go to alt.games.vga-planets.binaries - or, these days, to your own web site.

(Since the overwhelming majority of people on the newsgroups use plain text they would appreciate you posting in plain text, not HTML - particularly since HTML takes up more space, and therefore takes longer and costs more to download. If you use Internet Explorer or another package that allows posting in HTML by default, please go to options and set messages as plain text.)

2.3 Problem topics

Some topics come up with great regularity on the newsgroup. You would be well-advised to stay out of such discussion - most of the people involved aren't going to change their views anyway. :) Some of these are:

PHost is terrible / PHost is wonderful

Where can I find a cheat program?

Tim is a bad programmer / No he isn't

VPA is great / VPA is terrible and shouldn't be allowed

WinPlan is the future of Planets / VPA is better but should be allowed WinPlan features

I want the registration code for Planets without paying Tim

VGAP 4 shouldn't be just for Windows 32-bit / Tough luck, it's going to be

3 How can I get started?

You'll need a PC with a VGA card and a hard drive, running DOS or Windows, and (ideally) a Net connection.

If you have a Mac or a Unix machine, tough luck. There are no clients for such machines, unless you manage to run them under DOS/Windows emulation.

3.1 Where should I download?

Via the web: the Planets home page is at

http://www.vgaplanets.com

There's also:

http://www.jacobean.demon.co.uk/gtrav.html

which is the fastest link for UK users.

Via FTP: the Planets home archive is at

ftp://ftp.wilmington.net/vgaplanets/

There's also

ftp://ftp.demon.co.uk/pub/games/pbem/vgaplanets/

The original main Planets archive is at

ftp://ftp.fu-berlin.de/pub/pc/msdos/games/vgaplanets/

but, alas, this appears not to have been actively maintained since mid-1997. In general, though, where a link is not given, this is a good archive in which to look.

3.2 What should I download?

You will need a client program (Planets 3.0 or WinPlan 3.5) and a host program; I also recommend that you obtain a computer player, for practice games.

3.2.1 Client

For DOS: pick a site near you, and get

ftp://ftp.wilmington.net/vgaplanets/version3/vp320.zip or
ftp://ftp.demon.co.uk/pub/games/pbem/vgaplanets/vp/vp320.zip

or the following files:

ftp://ftp.fu-berlin.de/pub/pc/msdos/games/vgaplanets/Shareware/DOS/vpa300d1.exe
ftp://ftp.fu-berlin.de/pub/pc/msdos/games/vgaplanets/Shareware/DOS/vpa300d2.exe
ftp://ftp.fu-berlin.de/pub/pc/msdos/games/vgaplanets/Shareware/DOS/vpa300d3.exe
ftp://ftp.fu-berlin.de/pub/pc/msdos/games/vgaplanets/Shareware/DOS/vpa300d4.exe
ftp://ftp.fu-berlin.de/pub/pc/msdos/games/vgaplanets/Shareware/DOS/install.exe

For Windows: pick a site near you, and get

ftp://ftp.wilmington.net/vgaplanets/share/winp35.zip or
ftp://ftp.demon.co.uk/pub/games/pbem/vgaplanets/winplan/winp35.zip or
ftp://ftp.fu-berlin.de/pub/pc/msdos/games/vgaplanets/Shareware/Windows/winp35.zip

If you find the interface on the standard client unpleasant to use, don't despair; there is an alternative client called VPA. See the section on Replacement Programs.

3.2.2 Host

You will get a version of Host with these downloads - but it's not the latest, which most people prefer to use. At the time of writing, the latest host was v3.22.022, which can be found at

ftp://ftp.wilmington.net/vgaplanets/host32/hst32222.zip or ftp://ftp.demon.co.uk/pub/games/pbem/vgaplanets/host/hst32222.zip

You'll also need the updated host utilities, which are at

ftp://ftp.wilmington.net/vgaplanets/host32/hstsup32.zip or ftp://ftp.demon.co.uk/pub/games/pbem/vgaplanets/host/hstsup32.zip

Just copy these over the programs you installed from the original download.

3.2.3 Computer player

There are a great many computer players around; the recommended one to start with is Dominate, available at

http://www.diac.com/~skye/dom202.zip

(See the CPlayers section for more information.)

3.3 How can I run my first game?

So, you've got all these downloads unpacked. What next? Read the documentation, and then try playing a test game against the computer. For a full set of batch files to do this in either DOS or Windows, take a look at:

http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Arena/2626/new-play.htm

4 How can I play against other people?

The best way to learn about Planets is to play. Try a couple of solo games against computer opponents first - then dive in to the real thing!

4.1 How should I find a game?

At some point in your VGA Planets experience, you'll want to join a game with other human players. You can play with a few people who live in your neighbourhood (or workplace) for a while, but you'll find that nothing can beat the thrill of testing your skill against others, who have their own tactics and strategies.

In order to do this, you can either join a game that a hosting site is offering, or you can start your own game on the Internet. Joining a game is *far* easier than starting your own, and is the recommended choice.

There are several ways to find games looking for players. The most obvious is on the alt.games.vga-planets newsgroup: just look for "players wanted". It might be as well to avoid "replacement" positions - taking over for another player who's dropped out - as beginners usually find these positions to be difficult to play; they do make excellent practice after you've played a few games, however.

Another way to find a game is via the web. There are several lists of players looking for games, and games looking for players; however, these are very often out of date. Better is to look for hosting sites, including the autohosts noted below.

An excellent source of games is an autohost system. The two best-known ones are NAVGAP and Robo; there are also many others, including my own GHost. All of these have new and replacement positions open at all times; and, of course, their position lists are always kept updated.

Robo: http://www.robomaster.com/

NAVGAP: http://www.geocities.com/Area51/1170/

GHost: http://www.firedrake.demon.co.uk/vgap/ghost.html

4.2 What sorts of host exist?

There are a great many VGA Planets hosting sites (commonly called hosts) on the Internet, but you'll notice that they can all be grouped into two different categories: Manual Hosts and Automated Hosts.

Manual Host operators are people who have taken the straightforward route to hosting - they use their E-Mail program to send and receive turns, and they copy any turns that they receive into their appropriate directories by hand. Hosting is done either through a batch file or by running the HOST.EXE itself. These hosts dedicate their free time to the work involved in running their hosting site.

Automated Host operators, on the other hand, have dedicated their time to creating a certain amount of programming to make hosting less work. The degree of automation varies on every such host, from the host who has batch files written up to automatically copy turns from the mail directory to his game directory, to the host who's written an entire computer program to do his work for him.

(Ironically, both types of hosts usually end up spending as much time with their hosting sites - only their focus is different).

If you are new to VGA Planets (or are new to E-Mail), you should either:

1. Join a game being run by a manual host, or
2. Sign up with an automated host that requires you to play a sample
turn.

This will make sure that you know how the host wants TRN files sent to it before you join a "real" game (with deadlines).

Generally, you'll find that automated hosts are more reliable and punctual, while manual hosts are more forgiving of mistakes. All players are advised to try different hosts, and find out for themselves which mothod of hosting they like best.

The easiest way to find a host site is to visit just about any VGA Planets web page. Nearly all of them have a list of links, and there will almost always be a number of hosts on them.

4.3 How about technical issues?

To play a game over the Net, you will find it useful to be able to encode and decode binary files for mailing; while some hosts do support file attachments, this is not yet universal. MIME base-64 encoding does get used, but uuencoding is more widely accepted and generally more robust.

The compression standard seems to be Zip (or PKZip, or WinZip - they're all compatible). Most hosts send RST files compressed; TRN files are smaller, but can benefit from compression too.

PKWare: shareware command-line & Windows (de)compressor http://www.pkware.com

Info-Zip: freeware command-line (de)compressor http://www.cdrom.com/pub/infozip/

Winzip: shareware Windows (de)compressor, also handles uudecode http://www.winzip.com

4.4 I'm getting hammered! Should I drop out?

At some point during your games, you'll find yourself in an apparently hopeless position and be tempted to drop out. Think carefully before you do:

It forces the host to try to find a replacement player.

It makes you look like a bad loser.

And playing on to the bitter end can be fun. Instead of building mega-ships and crushing all before you, try to slow down the enemy advance; make an alliance with someone else and pick at him in a coordinated way. Try weird strategies: you've got nothing to lose. You'll learn more about Planets this way than by playing winning games in the same way every time.

5 What's this "Registration" thing?

VGA Planets is a shareware game. If you like it, you are encouraged to register.

5.1 Why should I bother?

There are as many reasons to register as there are people who play VGA Planets, but one of the primary reasons is that of replayability, and plain old value for your buck (preemptive apology to those who don't use the 'dollar' as their unit of currency). Many 'flash in the pan' cinematic production games, like those that are released in droves around Christmas every year, on CDs with fantastic graphics, great sound, and requiring computers that 50 years ago could have been used to run NASA with enough CPU capacity left over to run a small third world country, simply cannot compare to VGA Planets in one field: replayability.

How long is it, realistically, before many people simply get tired of playing the same scenario again and again, against the computer over and over? With VGA Planets, you play against real people, in scenarios that are constantly changing, people who are constantly getting better at their game, tactics and strategies that will be totally different in every game you play. That US$15 (or US$20 for Winplan) will pay itself back many times over as you get better and involved in more games. You will receive in exchange for that 15 measly dollars hundreds of hours of satisfying (and sometimes infuriating) gameplay, as well as the support of a large gaming community who have gone through the very same learning process.

When you've got a real victory under your belt, you will wonder how you ever got by without it. Dancing on the grave of a human opponent cannot be compared with watching a computer incompetently manage itself into the ground. If you don't register, that feeling will probably never come as you get washed repeatedly by other, registered races.

After all, it's only 15 bucks!

In more pragmatic, perhaps even cynical, terms: in the shareware version, you can't build parts above tech level 6 (unless your starbase has a higher tech - usually because you have a useful native race on the planet). To get up to tech 10, you need to register. You also can't use several special features (building torpedoes away from a starbase, for example).

Note that the Host program is freeware; it's only the client that needs to be registered.

5.2 OK, how do I do it?

Complete ordering instructions are at

http://www.vgaplanets.com/vgpordr.htm

In brief, write to the author, at:

Tim Wisseman
P.O. Box 204
North Fork
CA 93643-0204
USA

Planets 3.0 for Dos:
US$15 (USA/North America) - US$17 Foreign Air (US$15 Surface)

WinPlan 3.5 for Windows:
US$20 (USA/North America) - US$23 Foreign Air (US$20 Surface)

Remember to make all cheques payable to TIM WISSEMAN. There is a good currency converter at

http://www.xe.net/currency/

You can pay in local currency.

For further details and other merchandise check out the order forms at the official WWW page: http://www.vgaplanets.com

European residents can also contact European distributors:

Gary Pendlebury - garyp@enterprise.net
http://www.wwwebspace.co.uk/vga_planets/
(February 1998 rates):
DOS Planets: UKL 7
WinPlan: UKL 15

STC Computerservice Tobias & Co. KG - sales@stc-kg.com
(February 1998 rates):
DOS Planets: DM 30
WinPlan: DM 40

5.3 Can I share a registration code with a friend?

In short, no. The VGA Planets client program (for both DOS and Windows) is shareware, and as such must be registered with Tim... the sharing of registered copies of the program is not only immoral, but illegal, and not fair to the people who have sent the money to play. (see above) Still, if that does not quite convince you, there is also the Tim Continuum, which is activated automatically when cheating is detected from the player end, and matching registration codes are considered cheating.

5.3.1 What if I want to play two races in the same game?

Not a problem. Play them both, but run Maketurn for both at the same time.

5.4 Should I register for DOS or Windows?

There are some notable differences between the DOS and Windows registered versions. DOS registration does not give the following features:

Exact hyperjumps (in host versions prior to 3.22.019)

Display of ion storms, minefields, or UFOs

Extended missions

Waypoint actions

Notepads

6 How about hosting my own game?

6.1 Why shouldn't I do it?

New players to the game take note: Bottom line is, VGA Planets is a very complex game... As a strategy game, chess can hardly compare in the raw number of possible outcomes... and, to keep the game as simple as possible in the beginning stages, hosting is one of the worst things you can do. It will force you to think about parts of the game that really should be left unthought-about. As far as new players should be concerned, RST and TRN files are black boxes. As far as you are concerned, your game host chews up the RST files and spits out the TRN files without any effort at all.

New players should concentrate on their game play, not on the technical aspects of the game.

6.2 Why should I do it?

New players at VGA Planets have no better resource in VGA Planets than to create small locally-hosted games of their own... and for several reasons. It allows you to test out strategies and tactics and get experience in their use without having to use them in a critical situation - this helps avoid much difficulty in the future. If you are secure in how robbing a ship works, for instance, you will do much better in a real-game situation.

If you know how to host a game, you have knowledge that other people may not. Knowledge is power. Knowing how the game works and is set up, knowing that the host program works a certain way can not help but work to your advantage.

Being able to run and test concepts with a test game is very, very useful... and can save you having to ask questions in a newsgroup. It also allows one to be absolutely sure about some obscure point without having to be surprised with it in battle... for instance, one of the FAQ authors found, quite accidentally through a sim game that you can in fact lay minefields on top of each other... providing that the minefield belongs to an ally. Toss in the fact that you can lay minefields in another races' ID, and voila, instant double, triple density minefields.

And finally, because it's fun. Almost everyone learned how to play by getting friends to play in a small local game. Some of us even drew our unsuspecting siblings into a game... and had a blast (argh... must... not... pun...) blasting their ships out of the sky. If you have an afternoon to kill, start up a game... you can set up a batch file to handle the host sequence, set up a computer player, and play 60 turns in 5 hours! Better than an afternoon in front of Quake any day. ;).

6.3 How do I go about finding players?

When posting a game announcement to the newsgroup, you should include at least the following:

Host version
Registered Planets required?
Hosting schedule
Will Host run early if all turns are in?
Is Host playing?
What skill level? (see below)
How should players choose races?
Game end conditions
What add-ons are in use?
What changes from default host config?

6.3.1 How should I specify skill levels?

The best bet is probably to use the Planets Skill Rating Code by Rob Bos: take a look at

http://www.sfu.ca/~rbos/vgap/info/VGAPCode.htm

6.4 How about writing a new autohost?

Go for it! It's a good way to learn a lot about how Planets works, and it can be a lot of fun.

7 What are extension programs?

While the two clients written by Tim allow you to interact fully with your race during the game, you often find your desk littered with a thousand notes about what ships were doing, which planets you were attempting to colonise and what the enemy was up to. Also, when you're new to the game, or you're many turns in to a game, some of the tasks can be a bit repetitive and time-consuming.

To solve both of these problems, you can get software which interacts with your turn, displaying information gathered together, remembering information from turn to turn, carrying out repetitive tasks, estimating things, updating things, and generally keeping your desk clear. Here are a few of the more common ones....

7.1 RandMax and RandGen

RandMax performs three main tasks:

Building factories, mines and defence posts according to your instructions

Setting tax rates on planets to maximise income and population growth

Randomizing friendly codes, to prevent enemy passage through minefields.

However, this requires the writing of a script file to control these actions, which can be nearly as tedious as doing them by hand. RandGen is a partner to RandMax (although written by a different author), which looks through your current planets, analyses the mineral content, the natives, the temperature, etc., and then generates a control file for use by RandMax.

Many people would never use RandMax without RandGen; it's almost as tedious as doing it manually anyway. RandGen is a very useful counterpart to RandMax, and makes RandMax a far more useable tool.

Of course, RandMax (even in conjunction with RandGen), will probably never be able to manage your economy as well as you could with concentration and patience, but in early games it gives you the chance to think about other things, and learn other strategies. In a large game, it's also extremely helpful not to have to check every planet each turn.

7.2 EchoView

EchoView is a Windows program that assists you in playing your turn by storing a turn history, including messages, ships, and planets. It stores all the information that you come into, and allows you to input information that you have gleaned from other sources. It will support alternate data files, will combine allied RST files on to the map, has a minefield simulator, built in message interface, and will automatically show ranges on the map at warps 1 thru 9, write HYP circles to the map, scan messages for planet information, and provide full RANDMAX support.

7.3 VPUtil

VPUtil is a non-graphical utility, written by Jan-Peter Dijkstra, which enables many new functions:

1. fast unpacking/compiling, vputil un/cp -w<dir>;

1a. handling of more than 50 scanned ship targets, for use with VPA;

2. managing your resources, vputil mm -w<dir>;

3. uncompiling your turn; if you have already done your turn but you would like to change some things later, if you only have your result and your player?.trn, you can get back your given commands by doing the following:

unpack your result (vputil un -w<dir>)
copy your player?.trn to the same dir
uncompile your result (vputil uc -w<dir>);

Don't forget that you'll need your registered planets.exe version.

4. You can generate reports with it, which will give you an overview of your empire. Various possibilities, ranging from a list of your planets to a list of all the engines and what fuel they consume;

5. You can watch the battles with it, if you have VPVCR as well.

Vputil and VPVCR can be downloaded from the fu-berlin site.

7.4 Interceptor

Interceptor scans the enemy ships you've spotted, and calculates their likely origin and destination points. You'll get a listing, something like:

003/008 | Who: Fed                   | XY: 2008, 1156 | Warp 1 | Heading: 260
ID#  54 | Name: Georgia | Hull: LARGE DEEP SPACE FREIGHTER
Devices: None                                      | NetWeight:    8/1800 kt
-- POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS -----------------------------------------------------
Target Name                 Prob Distance Turns X   ,Y    Heading Projected
 P450  Cevius                40%   123.97   123 1886,1134  259.78 2007,1155w
 P429  Muracha               20%   342.44   341 1673,1085  258.03 2007,1155w
 P441  Morning Star          20%   301.23   300 1710,1112  261.60 2007,1155w
       Projected destination....     1.41     1 ----,----  260.00 2007,1155w
-- POSSIBLE DEPARTURES -------------------------------------------------------
Depart Name                 Prob Distance Turns X   ,Y    Heading
*P170  Atlantia 2            70%   141.06   140 2147,1180   80.20
Closest armed ship: ID53 at   72.14 LY
      

For a race like the Privateers this is invaluable: if you can match position without using the Intercept mission, you can use Cloak instead, and switch straight to Rob next turn without warning. This can also be generally useful, particularly if you're using DOS Planets.exe, in which it is not always easy to spot enemy ships...

7.5 Battle Simulators

Battle simulators are a means to simulate battles to get an idea of the possible outcomes of a battle before you have to actually stake your game on it. They are very useful in a variety of situations... for instance, if you expect to be fighting a starbase, and only a starbase, and you have only a few ships available, you might run a few battle simulations to find out the optimum battle order for minimum losses/maximum win. They are also very good to get a feel for what kind of ships are the most useful in a game.

7.5.1 BSIM

BSim is one of the best simulators available... it has the ability to sim the same battles multiple times, and output results like "Biocide: 73% win, Nova: 27%", as well as having support for battle order... input a series of ships, and then configure the battle order for optimum results.

7.5.2 KFView

The Killing Floor Viewer can simulate a battle involving up to 500 ships from all 12 races at the same time, fighting all at once in a out-and-out bloodbath. KFView is a great program to while away a few hours (Hm, what would happen if I pitted 10 Biocides versus 100 Little Pests?), and very versatile.

7.5.3 VPA's simulator

Accessed from within VPA by pressing F5, it is a basic simulator that can take actual ships from your game and pit them against other ships. It is useful mostly because it is fast and on-the-fly, but does not have the advanced features of Bsim or some other dedicated simulators.

8 What are replacement programs?

Here we start to get vaguely controversial. These are programs that replace part or all of the Planets package. Some people dislike them, because they are replacements (and, in some peoples' opinion, better than the originals). Other people prefer them.

Please note that, although these programs are free, they do respect Planets (both DOS and Windows) registration codes; there's no short-cut round the need to register.

8.1 VPA

VPA is a replacement for planets.exe. It can also be used with WinPlan, though in this case unpacks and maketurns must be run within WinPlan. (The best bet is to unpack with WinPlan, then shut it down, play the turn with VPA, then restart WinPlan to compile the turn.)

It uses a unified view of space rather than planets.exe's set of screens, maintains a database of past turns' activity, and generally provides a clear picture of what's going on. Some people have found it somewhat difficult to learn at first, but players rarely go back to their old clients once they've figured it out. (Many former WinPlan players have stated that they prefer it, even though it's a DOS application.)

http://www.sharenet.com/vgap/vpa/index.htm

Note that if you're converting from WinPlan, you'll need a copy of resource.pln; you can either download the DOS Planets package, or get one of the alternative graphics files off the net (one such is at the VPA home page).

Sonic Hedgehog has set up a page with an introduction to the use of VPA:

http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Arena/2626/use-vpa.htm

8.2 PHost

PHost (Portable Host) is an alternative to Tim's host program. It is written in C rather than BASIC and keeps more data in memory, and therefore runs significantly faster than Host; it has also been ported to a wide range of machines.

PHost is very configurable. It can be made to work very much like Tim's Host (though not identically - Tim hasn't released all the details of how Host works). It can also be made entirely different. PHost also has several features which haven't yet made it into Host.

Note that there is a continuing (and rather pointless) controversy over whether PHost should be used at all, whether it's better or worse than TimHost, and so on. Please don't get involved; it only clutters up the newsgroup.

http://www-personal.engin.umich.edu/~asterian/phost.html

9 What are add-on programs?

Addon programs are designed to extend and enhance the VGA Planets gaming experience. They are primarily designed to answer the age-old question "What if..."; "What if there were several wormholes spread out over the cluster?", "What if the Borg had a tractor beam that could span 100 light years and snatch a ship from the grasp of an enemy?", "What if battle were resolved with fleets, instead of one on one dogfights?", "What would happen if the Birdmen could cloak their planets?"

Some people prefer the 'pure' gaming experience, because there are fewer variables involved; while others prefer to have as many addons as possible in the game.

9.1 Wormholes

Wormholes are 'tunnels' in space that provide convenient shortcuts across long distances. Some wormholes are smaller than others, and cannot accommodate ships of a large size, while some are unstable, and may end up sucking your ship into the unknown. Still others may have tollgates at their entrances placed there by their discoverers. Wormhole programs make the use of these possible, and they vary in some respects, for instance, they may simply suck in everything at their location and move them to the other end, or they may require a friendly code to enter them. They might require you to scan for wormholes, or give you the information automatically.

9.2 Exploremap

Thomas Voigt, 1996. This program limits the player's view of the starmap to allow some mystery in the game; you will only be able to scan/see/sense the planets that are within a specified distance from your ships and planets. The host can configure whether or not to let you see all planets within range, or have a chance of detecting them depending on the ship/planet doing the scanning. Your host, if s/he uses Exploremap, will send you a new XYPLAN file every turn with the most recent map.

9.3 Wrap/Sphere

Sphere simulates, in a rather poor sort of way, a true closed cluster... that is, a map in which a ship going off the edge of the map appears on the other edge of the map (VPA can display this automatically... plug plug). (Topological nitpicker's note: this is actually a toroidal universe, not a spherical one.) You cannot scan beyond the edge of the map unless you have a ship there, and ion storms cannot travel across the edge, so it isn't as seamless as you might like. However, the primary purpose to installing Sphere or Wrap is so that no race has a safe little corner to hide in, no one can have their back to a wall at all times. You've got to watch in all four directions, no matter where you are in the universe. More room to expand is just a bonus.

9.4 FHost

Don't get confused - this has nothing to do with the regular Host programs (Thost and Phost); it's not another new host, but rather a normal addon like lots of others.

Well - maybe not as normal as all that, for FHost introduces a real new kind of warfare into Planets. No more do you have to rely on standard combat; instead there is the option to fly advanced fighter missions from your battlecarriers or fire cruise missiles from your torpedo boats. Both can be done over a host-set range, often more than 50ly, so you actually don't have to engage the enemy anymore; large bulky death stars can be shot down by large task forces of smaller ships, without even getting a shot off at the "David"s. Additionally Fhost comes with an integrated jumpgate option and some other minor abilities.

There is a lot to be carefully read and even more old tactics to be abolished once you enter a game using this addon, but it can give the game some extra spice once you are tired the standard version.

9.5 The Killing Floor

The Killing Floor (1997, Dale Pope) is an addon to VGA Planets (Host version 3.22.016 and above) that uses a newly built-in feature to replace the VCR combat system with a more realistic fleet battle system. It is an extremely radical departure from single ship combat, far more intuitive than the original. This is the system that will be used in VGA Planets version 4.0, so many people would be well advised to get a handle on fleet combat now, to have an advantage when the next version comes out.

The Killing Floor home page is at

http://www.ualberta.ca/~mthompso/tkf/

There you can get the battle viewer required on the player end, the host addon required (a very simple installation process), view the documentation online, as well as linking to the KF info page, where there is a more detailed examination of strategy and tactics in fleet battle.

Fleet combat allows the use of multiple ships during combat.

Unfortunately, the Killing Floor viewer must be registered (US$6) to be used to its full capacity, although since the host program is freeware, battles will still happen without your being able to view them.

The Killing Floor is in beta 5 as of January 1st 1998. Registration includes all future versions at no extra cost.

9.6 The Dan&Dave add-ons

These add-ons are well-known and popular; they are also severely crippled in the shareware versions, bulky, and (according to some) prone to bugs. (Though maybe it's just that D&D admit their bugs more quickly than other people.)

Some of them seem to work very poorly with DOS Planets, and in some cases are nearly unusable (particularly Jump Gate and Asteroid). On the other hand, many WinPlan players consider them essential for an interesting game.

US$7 for RacePlus and Starbase+; US$5 for the others. Package deals are available, including US$24 for all five.

http://members.aol.com/capstern/index.html

RacePlus: offers many new racial and ship abilities; these include a Lizard chameleon device, native government modification for the Feds, and a gravity well generator for the Gorbie.

Starbase+: allows starbases to lay and sweep mines and transfer money between each other, and allows the Medium Deep Space Freighter to transport ship components.

Tachyon: allows a decloaking system to be built into ships.

Jump Gate: allows construction of jumpgates, which allow cheap and fast travel.

Asteroid: introduces wandering asteroids, which can be mined for a high-power fuel.

9.7 RAW!

(From Tim Wisseman's page:)

"Rapid Action Warfare (RAW!) is Dan and Dave's VGA Planets interlocking game extension. RAW plugs into VGA Planets WINPLAN 3.52.003 or better and host 3.22.006 or better. Raw provides a whole new way to play VGA Planets. The economic system has been totally removed from the game and replaced with a great easter egg hunt for very powerful super weapons hidden on planets, like super bombs (HFTD) that can destroy all small ships within 160LY to 320LY. There are missile systems that track targets over 100's of light years and anti-missile systems. See Dan and Daves pages for a complete list of items that can be found.

"Points are scored when you destroy enemy ships by any means possible. When it is destroyed it comes back as long as the ship has lives left. (Limited lives was my idea.)

"RAW is killer for IRC blitz games, as it takes only few minutes to play a turn. It can also be played as a normal turn a day game."

9.8 Atomic Host

Ahost is an addon to the VGA Planets host that, through the use of friendly codes, puts in several more planet and ship abilities.

For instance, all Small Transports get a "Probability Jump" device, allowing them to transport to a random point in the Cluster. All races can lay moving minefields (with momentum and heading, like an Ion storm), and exchange planets; there are also spies, Bird cloaking shield (on all Bird ships), new planetary buildings, (stadium, theme park, mining research center) subspace anomalies, new alchemy ships...

Addon is by Michael Jordon, Atomic@mjpme.demon.co.uk.

9.9 Nemesis

This add-on gives many new racial and universal abilities. These include a Genesis device for the Feds and a planetary cloaking device for the Birdmen, as well as a possibility for all races to anchor ships at a planet during an Ion storm or to build orbital defense satellites to increase planetary battle strength.

Nemesis is distributed as Shareware; registration costs US$5.

9.10 Gryphon

Yet another add-on that provides new racial and universal abilities. These include antifighter mines for the Lizards, an enhanced Lady Royale for the Privateers and additional Hyperdrive ships for both Rebels and Empire, as well as the possibility for all races to build Tanks to reinforce ground combat troops or an antimatter missile that destroys every sign of life on a planet.

Gryphon is distributed as Shareware; registration costs US$10.

10 What are computer players?

Computer players are utilities intended to be run by the game host, which fill in for absent players - ideally just for a couple of turns, but sometimes for longer. They are also very good for learning the game.

Unfortunately, to make up for their lack of good strategy, all of them cheat to some degree. Dominate is the most "honest" of the currently available cplayers; its only cheat is a minor problem with overlapping minefields.

Some cplayers may not work with PHost - ACP/Omega and Dominate should certainly be all right, however, and others may well function normally.

All of these cplayers are freeware unless otherwise noted.

For more information, and to download most of the cplayers, check out Cliff McKeithan's Silicon Warriors page, at:

http://www.diac.com/~skye/silicon.html

10.1 CPlayer

By Tim Wisseman. The first one; massive cheats and poor logic, but if it hadn't been for Tim's releasing the source code there probably wouldn't have been any others. No longer under development.

10.2 VPC_Play

An improved version of CPlayer, converted to C by Miika Kasangas. Not a whole lot better than CPlayer. No longer under development.

10.3 Dominate

The least-cheating cplayer, by Cliff McKeithan. Apparently no longer under development. Excellent for learning the game, and a preferred replacement with many hosts.

10.4 ACP/Omega

By Mike Stonig. No longer under development. Cheats are documented, and are not used to excess. Probably the most powerful freeware cplayer.

10.5 Admiral

By Kenneth A. Strom. Cheats not documented, but apparently not major. Costs US$10 to register; plays all races in shareware version.

10.6 Kattivik

By Jean-Marie Clement. Fairly new; cheats are documented. Looks interesting.

10.7 DPlayer

By Daniel Tracy. Fairly new; minimal cheats. Defensive, and quite good.

10.8 The Q

By The Sharenet Trolls. Extensive, documented cheats (free fuel, information). Costs US$15 to register, otherwise only plays races 1, 2, 10 and 11. Very powerful in "aggressive" mode; may or may not be better than ACP/Omega (opinions differ).

11 What are alternate data files?

Because VGA Planets stores much of its information in external files, it's possible to replace these with new data.

11.1 How should I use them?

11.1.1 Dos Planets

First, take a backup of the original files. I find it easiest to make a directory off the main Planets directory, called "default". In this I put:

beamspec.dat       planet.nm
engspec.dat        race.nm
hullspec.dat       storm.nm
torpspec.dat
truehull.dat       xyplan.dat
      

Some utilities will realise that alternate data files are in use, but others (including Host and Planets.exe) won't. So the best bet is to keep the new files in the directory for the game, and copy them into the main directory when you need them; then copy the files from default\ afterwards.

Example: if you're playing with a new map (xyplan.dat) in directory "game1", you'd do:

copy game1\xyplan.dat .\
unpack game1
(utilities)
planets game1
(other utilities)
maketurn game1
copy default\*.* .\

11.1.2 WinPlan

Just put the alternate files into the relevant VPWORKx directory. The only catch is if you want to use the "ships" program, which relies on the dat files found in your main winplan directory. See the DOS section, above, for how to write a batch file to handle this.

11.2 Maps (altmaps)

The standard starmap does not have a really "fair" distribution of the planets. In some places, planets are grouped close together, while in other locations ships have to travel vast distances to reach the next planet. (Just imagine the homeworld of one player is planet #60 and the homeworld of another player is planet #102.) Most alternate maps provide a more equal distribution of planets. Other maps may use several clusters of stars, a circular universe, or other design modifications to make the game a little more interesting. And for an ExploreMap game, of course, it's a bit pointless to use the standard map.

11.3 Ship and weapon lists (altlists)

In the opinion of many people, the current ship list is quite unbalanced; it favours some races over others. The Bird Men, for example, don't have a decent heavy carrier, and the Fascists' heavy battleship can't stand up to most of the others; and some ships don't seem to be worth building at all. Altlists can help to redress this.

It's also fun to play around with possibilities. What would happen if the Feds had the ability to produce a cloaking light cruiser? How about a heavier version of the Gamma Bomb, to capture enemy ships?

11.3.1 ALTLIST1-6

1, 2 and 4 by Jan-Peter Dijkstra 3 by Carsten Pinnow, Thomas Voigt, Steffen Pietsch and Matthias Mueller 5, 6 by L. Schoonhoven

These were among the earliest altlists, and still look good today. I recommend 3, 4 and 6; Schoonhoven's lists were designed for team play as well as individual games, and have recommended configurations so as not to unbalance the game.

11.3.2 C-LIST2

Author unknown. Not much used, but looks promising.

11.3.3 FLEET2

by Bob Duchesneau and Ed Hawkes. Mostly minor changes, balancing torpedo ships against carriers.

11.3.4 NHULDATA

by Matt Clouser. Both balancing, and aiming to get closer to the TV/movie inspirations for the various races.

11.3.5 PLIST

A development of the Pinnow/Voigt/Pietsch/Mueller ALTLIST3, this list was designed especially for the "alternative combat" model in PHost. Excellent in that role; don't even try to use it with TimHost.

11.3.6 PList2

By Matt Degenhardt. A modified PList, with a few bugs removed and improved balance; some new ships.

http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Realm/5407/PList2/plist2.html

11.3.7 PSYBORG

by The Psyborg. Untested.

11.3.8 TREKLIST

by Biomenaced. Suitable for a "Star Trek"-like game.

11.3.9 VESAC(C)

by Matt Degenhardt and Peter Scholz. Comes with a custom combat configuration, like PLIST; very well-tested and simulated. Looks good.

http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Realm/5407/VESACC/vesacc.html

12 What are some basic tactics?

This section could easily double the length of the FAQ; the collected knowledge and explanation of 'basic tactics' from several different points of view can be devestatingly large to say the least.

Tactical information can be found on many (if not most) VGA Planets web sites. Some of the more useful pages are listed below.

12.1 General

There are four very basic tactical concepts that you should be aware of, that go far beyond VGA Planets...

First, knowledge is power. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know your enemy's strengths and weaknesses. Try to use your strengths against your enemy's weaknesses.

Second, the principle of economy. You have to be able to build a strong base from which to produce the machinery of war... without which, you will not be able to defend yourself, you will have no diplomatic negotiating room, and you will certainly not be able to attack.

Third, the principle of concentration of force is the one that will make, or break, your Plan to Take Over the Cluster (henceforth the PTOC)... you have to get as much of your military where you need it when you need it... and to do that you have to make use of the fourth basic principle:

Fourth, anticipating your enemy: You have to have a good intuition about what the enemy might do next, what trick they'll pull out of their bag... that sort of thing. It comes with experience, and some have it better than others.

OK? Knowledge, Production, Concentration of force, and Anticipation are the keys to your game.

http://huizen.dds.nl/~jniezink/
http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Corridor/7558/
http://srv01.anaserve.com/~spacenet/
http://home.hwsys.com/users/max/planets.htm
http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Battlefield/2288/p1fleet1.htm

12.2 How should I play race X?

Fed

You are the good guys... act like it. You have what other races want... Loki, terraformers, medium ships.

http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/7116/Federa.htm
http://www.anaserve.com/~spacenet/acad/feds.htm
http://www.xs4all.nl/~donovan/fedguide.htm

Lizard

A unique combination of brute force and sneaky effectiveness. Ground attack and cheap heavy-medium ships, as well as a robust, brutally effective economy... You can conceivably wipe out an enemy with a fleet of LCCs in their territory. Act like it.

http://www.sci.fi/~kimball/lizards.htm

Bird Man

Surprise attacks and lots of sneaking around. Not much brute force, lots of sneakiness. The Resolute and Darkwing are the two greatest bang/buck ships in the game. Hide, hide, hide, strike where least expected, use down and dirty tactics to keep the enemy out of your area.

http://www.chem.vu.nl/Studenten/kreike/BMguide1.html

Fascist

You are the Klingon Empire, the scourge of the galaxy. Merciless, honorable, and brutal. Go on the offensive from turn one, don't get caught on the defensive. You have the most versatile fleet in the game, but it does not lend itself well to defence.

http://www.epix.net/~gmorrow/klingon.htm

Privateer

Rob/Steal/Gang up/Sneak/Hide. Don't stand and fight, you'll lose. Steal as many enemy ships as you can and use them against the enemy - save your own ships for stealing more. Concentrate on short-sharp attacks to gain equipment and resources. Use diplomacy to gather support - the pirates have a lot to offer allies and a lot to worry enemies.

http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/3535/
ftp://ftp.chem.vu.nl/pub/Kreike/vgap/strategy/prihint.zip

Cyborg

Assimilate everything in sight. Send out probes to stake out as much territory as possible in as little time as possible. Build a Firecloud net, take advantage of chunnel to build up a huge economy and move around the Borg Fleets of Doom. Concentrate forces. You will be hunted down from first contact.

http://www.dsp.com/barabbas/borderworlds/pickle.html

Crystalline

Mine/Mine/Mine. Trap the enemy in your webs and then make off with their craft...

http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/1265/crystal.htm

Empire

Full-blown Imperial power. You are the brutal dictators, capable of taking planets intact with your elite combat troops, getting intelligence information without leaving your chair; build starbases to make fighters cheaply (they'll pay for themselves quickly cash-wise) and diplome a lot to survive 'till the endgame. You have the potential to be one of the most powerful races... properly used.

http://www.ionet.net/~mag/p0000157.htm

Robotic

Produce a lot of cheap fighters, heavy ships, and many minefields.

Rebel

Produce a lot of cheap fighters, heavy and cheap ships, have best hyperdrive ship in game so mark out your turf quick using them.

Colonial

Cheap fighters, nice carriers, best on the attack because of anti-minefield abilities.

12.3 How should I fight against race X?

Read the enemy race tactics guides, noting in particular what they have to guard against.

Fed

Very well balanced race that doesn't have any real weaknesses (or strengths). Intercept his Lokis if you own any cloakers (but be aware that most experienced players will use them as a bait). Otherwise, just refer to the basic tactics.

Lizard

Lay MANY little overlapping minefields or attack him directly. He can't stand up to a ship to ship fight with most of the other races. Put LOTS of colonists on planets with starbases.

Bird Man

He relies heavily on his cloakers. So, lay MANY little overlapping minefields and increase the number of defense posts on your important planets (make sure you've got enough fighters on your starbases). His cloaking ships (which belong to the strongest ships in the game) can't be decloaked by Lokis in Host v3.22.021 and later, so don't waste resources building them. Watch your planets' FCs and change them every turn as a defence against his Super Spy Mission.

Fascist

Building many defence posts etc. on your border planets is useless. Instead, place a medium sized ship (or a big one, if you can spare it) at every planet to protect them from pillage and ground attacks. His capital ships are rather weak and should be no problem for most of the other races.

Privateer

Lay MANY little overlapping minefields. Their most important ship will blow up after one hit. Ground attacks from cloaked ships (preferably Lizard, Klingon) are also very effective. NEVER leave your freighters unescorted. Lay MANY little overlapping minefields. Lay MANY little overlapping minefields.

Cyborg

Attack them at the very beginning of the game (Before they have their cube fleets). Hunt down and kill their FCCs. Don't try to defend a planet, you don't have a chance against their fleet. Instead, remove all fuel and money, tax the natives to hell and move away. Attacking from two points simultaneously is almost pointless.

Crystalline

Block his expansion by putting strong ships at every planet on your border (His ships are no match for most of the other races). Then advance slowly while sweeping any web mines you encounter. Don't try to use a hit & run tactic on his homeworld, you will run dry after some hundreds of light years.

Empire

Take out the Imperial Assault ships; worry about Gorbies. Keep moving; his heavy ships are fuel hogs. Keep him guessing about where you are; you can't hide your planets, but your ships should be cloaked and/or planet-hopping.

Robotic

Equip your ships with powerful beam weapons for mine sweeping. Ground attacks from cloaked ships (preferably Gorn, Klingon) are also very effective (if your ships get through his minefields).

Rebel

Building many defence posts etc. on your border planets is useless. Instead, place a medium sized ship (or a big one, if you can spare it) at every planet to protect them from a rebel ground attack. Otherwise, just refer to the basic tactics.

Colonial

They don't have any special ability other than brutal strength in battle. Use your own abilities to fight them (which might be effective ground combat, cloaking ships, a mine laying bonus, etc.).

13 But what does (X) mean?

13.1 Glossary

altmaps
altlists
altspec

Non-standard maps, ship lists, and weapon specifications respectively. Some hosts reconfigure the default settings for these things, and are referred to as altsomethings. Standard shorthand.

Capital ship

Any ship with beams, torpedo tubes and/or fighter bays. As opposed to a freighter.

Client program

The software that you use to play your turn; these programs allow you to set waypoints, view planets/ships/starbases, and send messages, among many other things.

DosPlan

The original DOS-based client program, Planets 3.0 (planets.exe).

EV / EchoView

Echoview is a Windows utility designed for use with Winplan games to store and display detailed information about them.

FC

Friendly Code (originally just a means of making temporary alliances, now used to activate many special functions); can be set individually on planets and ships.

Host

The person in charge of running the game. This person sets up a game, decides on game settings, listens to user complaints and problems, brings in the TRN files and sends out the RST files, stores the game on his/her computer, and in general does the dirty work for a VGAP game. They deserve your undying thanks. To 'host' a game refers to the commitment of being a host for the duration of a game. This definition of the term is not to be confused with the host program.

Host Program

Host programs process the game, moving ships, setting missions; in essence executing all the commands that you have made in the process of your turn.

maketurn

Refers to the process of putting all your commands to the Host program into a TRN file.

Newbie

BANE put it best: "newby /new:bee/ n. an early podling form of VGAP gamer. The Newby is extremely vulnerable to predation by the more evolved form of VGAP gamer. I am truly sorry that any new players to VGA Planets are saddled with this little label until they have a few games under their belt; however, it is really just part of the culture. I had to deal with being a 'newby', everyone has to do it sometime. The only cure is to play, play well, and ask lots, and lots, of questions."

PHost

Portable Host, by Andrew Sterian and others. See the PHost section of the FAQ.

RST file

The "Result" file you receive from the Host. This stores all the information for one turn of play.

Stale turn

A TRN file that can't be processed by HOST because it is outdated.

THost / TimHost x

The original Host program by Tim Wisseman. Host is the core of the game; processing game information and sending new information back to the players. x denotes a version, such as 3.22.022, which is current at the time of this writing. The term "Thost" or "TimHost" is used primarily to denote "Tim's" host program, as opposed to the PHost project.

Tim

Tim Wisseman, author of VGA Planets. This person deserves our eternal adulation, for programming this game. (OK, maybe not that much... he's a pretty nice guy though.)

TRN file

The compiled file of all your commands for a turn.

Turn

One complete cycle of play in VGAP, in which you receive your RST, play your turn, and return your TRN.

unpack

Refers to the process of 'unpack'ing an RST file to get at the turn information for use by the client program. VPA and DOSPlan require the "UNPACK.EXE" program to do this.

VGAP

VGA Planets!

VPA

An alternative client program. See the VPA section of the FAQ.

WinPlan

The Windows-native client program for VGA Planets, version 3.5.

XYPLAN.DAT / XYPLAN

This refers to the map file; it stores the locations of all the planets on your map. You can change this file to make a custom universe.

13.2 Ship abbreviations and nicknames

When reading the newsgroup, you will constantly be confronted by obscure references to strange things... people gloating over something called an MCBR, persons going into speeches about why something called a "Nova" is better than a "Bio". It's an inevitable occurence in a game positively riddled with names like "Nova Class Super Dreadnought" or "Meteor Class Blockade Runner" for its ship classes.

Fortunately, there's a fairly simple explanation. First, you need something called a shiplist... which lists all the standard hull names. You can find a copy at

http://tunafish.sandwich.net/vgap/info/VGAPCode.htm

People will generally refer to ships by the first word of their name... for instance, "Nova Class Super Dreadnought" becomes "Nova", "Meteor Class Blockade Runner" becomes "Meteor.

Failing that, many people will refer to ships according to their initials; for instance, the Meteor becomes the MCBR, the "Blockade Runner 4" becomes the BR4, and the Lizard Class Cruiser becomes the LCC.

In even rarer circumstances, the name of the ship will be chopped up into even shorter blocks... for instance, the Instrumentality (or ICBS, or Instrumentality Class Baseship) is generally referred to as an "Instru", the Kittyhawk (KHCC, Kittyhawk class carrier) is shortened to "Kitty".

It's all fairly self-evident once you know the ships that they are talking about... it's just confusing at first.

Some common ones:

LDSF/SDSF/MDSF: Large, Small, and Medium deep space freighters.

Merlin: Merlin Alchemy Ship.

13.3 What about hosting order?

Actions happen in a clearly-defined order. Knowing this can be vital to your success. This order is:

All cargo transfers between ships and planets you already own - done in the client - then:

Build Mines/Factories/Defense Posts
Build Bases

AUXHOST1 parsed (for Addons)

Meteor Shower
Sensor Sweep (for enemy planets)
Loki tachyon pulse (before movement)
Cloaking Devices Engage
Cloaking Devices may Fail
Ships send Bioscan reports
Birdmen super spy deluxe (change FC)
Set Minefield FCs (from nearest planet)
Ship special missions are executed in order of ship ID:
* Privateer rob ships
* Lizard Hisss
* Build fighters in space
* Ships repair themselves (with Supplies)
* Imperial Dark Sense
Cargo Transfer (Ship <-> foreign Ship)
Imperial Assault (with SSD)
Lady Royale produces Money
Give Ship FCs (gsN)
Beam Transfer FCs (bum, bdm, btf etc.)
Cargo Transfer (Ship -> unowned/enemy Planet)
Gather Missions (Ship <- unowned/enemy Planet)
Alchemy/Refinery Ships
Ships lay Mines
Crystal Ships lay Webmines
Ion Storms move
Ion Storms join
Ion Storms damage ships
Ion Storms drag ships
New Ion Storms formed
Ion Storms affect minefields
Ships sweep/scoop mines (in order of ID)
Minefield Decay
Web-Mines drain fuel
Tim Continuum looks for cheats
Starbases repair Ships
Starbases recycle Ships
Starbases build Ships
Starbases clone Ships
Fed Super Refit
Starbases Force Surrender
Ships repair themselves
Ships build torpedoes in Space
Ships build (free) fighters in Space
Towing Ships move
Most Ships move (except towing/intercepting)
Intercepting Ships move
Gravity Wells affect ships
Glory Devices pop
Fireclouds chunnel
Loki tachyon pulse (after movement)
Cobol generates fuel

AUXBC parsed (for Addons)

Intercepting Ships with cloaking device attack their intercept target
Ships with Kill Mission fight
Remaining Ships fight
Fascist Pillage mission
Planets produce supplies/minerals
Isotope TUDR
Rebel Ground Attack mission
Borg assimilate Natives
Happiness calculated
Taxes collected
Colonist/Native Population growth
Starbases build Ships using PBPs
Ships repair themselves
Ships terraforming
Ships send exploration reports
Birdmen super spy

AUXHOST2 parsed (for Addons)

13.4 What can zero-fuel ships do?

Ships without fuel can not be attacked by other ships. By default, such ships can move a small distance each turn. The better your engines and the smaller your ship, the further you can move without fuel.

Ships without fuel can be captured by Privateers or Crystals if towed.

Ships without fuel are unable to perform most missions. They can however do the following: Beam Up Fuel, Alchemy functions, and fight vs planets set to NUK.

13.5 How does FCode battle order work?

The ship with the lowest ordering value fights first. Any all-number friendly code generates an ordering value. A non-numeric FC (e.g. "34X" or "fjl") has an ordering value of 1000, as do planets.

In PHost, that's all you need to know (except that planets with an ATT or NUK friendly code have a default ordering value of 0, so you'll need to set their friendly codes to numeric values, or set your ships to negative values, to fight before them. Only PHost recognises these negative values.)

In TimHost, planets have an ordering value of 1000, but a bit more thought is needed when two ships meet. The ship with the higher ordering value gets the left side. (Possibly only in older hosts: if the ordering values are both 1000, and one ship has a higher mission hostility (Mission=Kill > Primary Enemy > no special setting) then that ship gets the right side.) If the ordering values and missions are equal then the ship with the higher ID gets the left side. This provides various bonuses, due to a problem in the pseudo-random number generation system.

To make up for this left-side advantage, ships have a 60% chance of getting an additional 360kT hull mass (and hence less damage per hit) if they are:

1) fighting carriers
2) 140kt or more in mass
3) on the right side

Though note that if they are already 320kt or more in mass, this will not further reduce damage from fighters, only from beams.

This sometimes compensates for the left-side advantage, sometimes not. There is no simple system for determining the advantage in any specific battle; therefore, it is recommended that you simulate any upcoming battle extensively to determine which side offers an advantage.

13.6 My fighter (or fuel dump) just exploded! Plague hit my planets!

That may well be a Tim Continuum message. Host found evidence that you've been trying to cheat - this could be because you used the same registered copy of the game as another player, or because your turn file got corrupted in transit - or, of course, because you cheated. VGA Planets is a game of skill, not cheat codes... a game of knowledge, smarts, cunning and diplomacy, not a game of "who can build up unlimited weapons the fastest".

There's nothing you can do about it, except maybe try to persuade the host to run that turn again.

TC messages include:

Credits have been discovered to be counterfeit
Fighters have caught fire and exploded
Starbase fighters have disappeared
Supplies have been tainted
Fuel/Tritanium/Duranium/Molybdenum dump has exploded
Fuel/Tritanium/Duranium/Molybdenum has vanished
Colonists have died of plague
Colonists have vanished

(The "plague" message may also be generated by The Tantalus Machine, one of the modes of the Ref package.)

13.7 How fast can a damaged ship go?

This is determined solely by owner's race and the % damage taken by the ship.

Damage  Lizard damage  Speed
 0-19       0- 59         9
20-29      60- 69         8
30-39      70- 79         7
40-49      80- 89         6
50-59      90- 99         5
60-69     100-109         4
70-79     110-119         3
80-89     120-129         2
90-99     130-139         1
          140-149         0
      

13.8 What about Borg and the starbase native tech bonus?

A Borg building starbases over Humanoid, Amphibian, Siliconoid or Ghipsoldal worlds will receive the tech bonus only if there are unassimilated natives remaining on the world at the time the base is built. However, even if the Borg is unregistered, the tech levels will NOT drop once all natives are assimilated; they remain at 10.

13.9 What are the overall proportions of minerals in the game?

For the Master program that comes with TimHost, it averages out to: 6 Trit : 7 Dur : 3 Moly. For PMaster (part of the PUtils suite), it can be set in the configuration stage.

13.10 How do tow conflicts work?

If there are 2 or more ships at the same spot with TOW mission, Host finds the towing ship with the lowest ID. Then it checks if the waypoint of towee is more than 81 ly away. If it is - Host compares 'towing strength' (warp factor, roughly) of the tower and towee (according to docs). If the tower is stronger, it performs the mission, warp of towee gets reset to 0. If the towee is stronger or equal, mission fails, tower's mission gets reseted from 'TOW x' to 'TOW'.

If waypoint of towee is less than or equal to one month's travel, tower always wins.

This process continues until the towee is successfully towed or there are no more towing ships.

13.11 How can I find out more about obscure Host features?

Check Siberian Snake's Undocumented Host Features list:

http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Arena/2626/vgapbug.txt

14 What about writing my own add-ons?

This is an excellent idea! While there are a lot of add-ons available already, there's no reason not to produce more - no-one's obliged to use them, after all.

However, you may have some difficulties, in that the file formats used in VGA Planets have never been officially documented. However, several intrepid programmers have made inroads into the jungle...

14.1 Kero van Gelder's page

Kero van Gelder has a fine selection of Planets programming information, including extensive source code in C and links to most of the other resources.

http://huizen.dds.nl/~kero/vga/vga.html

14.2 The PHost PDK

This is only available in compiled form, as a library. You'll need a compiler of exactly the right sort, and PDK 2 programs won't work with PHost 3. Many good accessories have been written with this, however.

14.3 Planets Toolkit

Roger Burton West is currently working on a VGAP Programming Toolkit for DJGPP. This comes in source form, and contains all the functions needed to write player or host utilities. Note that this is not complete - but it does appear to work.

http://www.firedrake.demon.co.uk/archive/toolkit.zip

14.4 The Planets Programming List and Webring

This is a mailing list and web ring devoted to Planets programming techniques. To join the list, send mail to listserv@firedrake.demon.co.uk with body text "join vgapprog".

The webring home is at

http://www.webring.org/cgi-bin/webring?home&ring=vgapcoding

15 Final notes

To find VGA Planets sites on the web, try the Planets Web Ring, at:

http://www.webring.org/cgi-bin/webring?home&ring=vgap

Last updated: Monday 07 September, 1998


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