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VGA Planets 4
By: Allan Douglas - 10/06/2005

For years people have been playing Tim Wissman's VGA Planets, a space warfare game with combatants based on some of the most popular characters from television and cinema science fiction.   This game offers the best of both forms of computer games; the chance to play against live human opponents like an on-line game, and the ability to think out your strategy, and run tests and simulations like a standard piece of strategy game software.   VGA Planets is billed as the most popular e-mail game in the world.

A new incarnation of this game; Planets 4, is about to hit the cyber-streets.   Like version 3, this game borrows from well known sci-fi characters for the various alien races that live and fight in either the echo cluster, from version 3, or the much larger and more challenging Zeta Galaxy.   Like Version 3, the game requires a central Host who moderates the game and runs the compiler program and two or more players who receive Result files (RST's) from the Host, play their turns on the client software on their own machine, then submit a Turn file (TRN's) back to the Host for compiling into the next round.   But that's about where the similarity ends.

P4's user interface is brand new, very high tech, and somewhat overwhelming at first glance.   Many of those who have tried the beta release software have made the comment that, "It looks too much like work to be any fun.", and have elected to stay with the previous version of the game, which is still being promoted and supported.   If one looks more closely, it isn't as confusing as it first appears.   There is a great deal of information presented on each of the control screens.   And most have a number of sub screens for detailed looks at the information presented in summary on the Overview or control screen.

To complicate things, the Official Help files which are available on-line, are of little help because the beta software changes so quickly that Mr. Wisseman and his team can't keep it current and hope to accomplish the software changes as well.   But, the Internet has come to the rescue!   A number of web sites have been developed by avid players and hosts that offer help on installing, using and understanding the software as well as hints on playing the various races that have been developed.   There is also a Discussion Board/Mailing List that was set up for Beta testers to compare notes, and share their finding with the game's creators.   This list is available to new players for asking questions and offering suggestions as well.

Some of the major changes in the new version are:

  • Vastly improved graphics.   The game's graphics are clearer more engaging than those of version 3.   However in version 3 it was possible for players to substitute different graphics by replacing the BMP libraries used by the game with new ones.   A selection of these libraries were developed by devotees of the game and offered to all via the Internet.   Version 4 uses a different approach to game graphics which precludes swapping out the graphics if you don't like them or get tired of them.
  • A multi-ship battle mode.   In version 3, even if two fleets came together in battle, the ships paired off for one-on-one fights.   P4 allows you to watch the fleets engage in far more realistic, multi-ship engagements that can include ground bases as well as space ships.
  • An increased emphasis on economic infrastructure.   This has met with a mixed review.   For some, the sole purpose of playing this game is to throw a whole bunch of ships together and watch them fight.   Others, appreciate the chance to enhance the strategic nature of the game by enlarging the role of economics and planetary management in financing the building of those ships.
  • The inclusion of 3rd party races.   In addition to the "standard" set of races that are under development by Mr. Wisseman, other 'race developers' are offered the chance to develop completely new races that can be included and used by the game software.   This does not mean that anyone can toss together a race file willy-nilly and include it in a game.   To be used, the game software must support the race pack, and that means getting approval from Tim Wisseman so that the necessary code is added to the game and host software.   At this writing 3 such races have been developed and are available for use.   Many more are under development.
  • Enhanced player roster.   In version 3 there could be up to 12 players and only one player per race.   Version 4 allows up to 30 players and each can play any race... all players can play the same race if they want to play a "civil war" scenario.

One thing that hasn't changed is the games adaptability.   The game's Host decides which races will be used in the game, and how many of each race will be available.   Player locations can be hand selected, or auto generated, and scripts can be used to set various start-up values or situations.   You can play a hundred games of VGA Planets and have no two alike.   So, if you're looking for a challenging strategy game, like science fiction, and battle simulations, VGA Planets is the game for you.

  • Tim Wisseman's Official VGAP4 Site. Download the free Beta software.   View latest news & updates
  • The official online Help files:
  • The VGA Planets 4 Discussion Board offers players the opportunity to ask questions, report bugs and offer feedback while the software is in Beta form.
  • Our Own Nu'QonoS.   A player's guide offering detailed information on software instalation and use as well as play advise.   It includes a serch engine for locating any term you're curious about, a Glossary of Terms, and a Resource Links list.
  • Paul Honigmann's Players Guide.   Offer tips on playing and many excellent insights into how the game works.
  • Sidewinder's VGAP4 Site offers the current Bug List, a Table Of Ship Devices And What They Do, as well as other interesting facts.
  • Sandy Schoen's VGAP4 Tables: an enormously useful collection of statistical info, very helpful when designing new ships and trying to match weapons to engines and generators.
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