VGA Planets Super Site

A Review of VGA Planets 2.1
Matt Bakaitis - PBEM v92 n06 (15Dec92)

First, a quick note before I launch into an actual review of the game: VGA Planets is a game written exclusively for MS-Dos machines. Because of the method used to transfer data, you need the programs to decode the binary data files. From what I've heard however, there are no plans by the author to port the game to any other platforms or tell anyone how he has set up his data files. So, for the moment, MS-Dos is required to play the game.

VGA Planets is a pretty sister of Russell Wallace's Galaxy game. However, as you get to know the game, it turns out that Galaxy may be the better choice in the long run. The game is based around a classic theme: each player starts off on a home planet, invests in technology, builds ships, colonizes other planets, and meets with (and kills) the other players. It's a simple premise, and one that can't really be screwed up, thankfully. In these areas, the game shows great promise. The rules for each are very simple and easily grasped.

The best part of the game is the player's VGA graphic turn processor. Instead of using text file reports, the moderator mails out binary data files. The player's program then chews up this file and reports the turn results through a set of screens - one each for ships, planets, and starbases. The combination of menus, mouse directed data, and graphs allow the player to slide through a turn with relative ease. Essentially, imagine this program to be a collection of the Galaxy utilities bound together by a VGA interface. A great idea, and one that works rather well.

But not perfectly. The things I don't like about the game (and will soon drive me away from it) can be divided up into two sections: bugs and rules quirks.

First, there are enough bugs in the game to make it frustrating. The worst part is that they are documented in the rules included in the compressed master file. They even claim to have fixed them, though we keep running into them. The funniest, one that actually seems to have been fixed, is reported as a new _feature_. The author fixed a program crashing bug and claimed it was a FEATURE! OK, so I'm a little excited about this. I guess that the fact that the program works _is_ some sort of a feature if you look at it the right way.

Second, there are rules quirks. Tens. Hundreds, even. Just to be fair, I'll report a few that were universal to every player in the game I've been running the last six weeks.

The most costly deals with constructing a new starbase. The game allows a player to construct a starbase at a planet where one already exists. However, when construction is complete, it never shows up. The player is charged for money and materials, but no base. This is probably more a bug than a quirk.

The rest of the major ones deal with the initial setup of the game. The map is fixed, it never changes from game to game. That's one. To make things worse, this fixed map has huge gaps between planets in some places and huge clusters in others. The distribution is crazy. That's two.

When the players are placed, each player's planet is different. Fine, but there doesn't seem to be a minimum requirement of materials. Thus, in this game we are playing, I landed on a planet, in a huge void of space, with _no_ fuel and almost no other minerals. My planet was barren. Another player, after about twenty processed turns, still has a planet rich with fuel. I've been out since turn two. This situation is repeated in different ways - players placed in an empty area of the map, or placed on a poor planet. The game was essentially decided at setup. That's three.

Finally, the fourth gripe, the one that "wins" the contest: Players may only build specified types of ships. There is no individual design possible. The problem lies with the fact that each race has a different set of ships that they may build. There is no attempt made to give some of the races a fighting chance. One race, the Lizards, might as well not be played in an aggressive game. If hostilities erupt, they have a hard time simply defending. Don't even think about an offensive. Another, the Evil Empire, is stocked with a full range of cargo ships and warships. If placed near the Evil Empire, either become good friends or start building guns the first turn.

VGA Planets has a ton of potential. It even makes a good game to play for a short time. However, I doubt that it will survive in its current incarnation. Promises of a new version don't seem too promising, considering that the author states that he is "very pleased" with the current copy.

My recommendation would be to get a copy (ftp to "" and look in the "/PC/vgaplanets-2.1" directory) and play with it. You may like it, and will probably play it. We do. But, I doubt we will be any more games once this one is finished.

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