Galaxy Online? Phew!

After my Travian experience I wanted to develop similar type of web-browser based game. I chose sci-fi star wars setting but before I started to code it I wanted to know that there is still space for it. So I googled for some time and I found more games with similar idea. However none of them was developed enough or so catchy. I had a few ideas how to make the game be the ultimate galaxy war, how to make it less frustrating for the player (in opposite to farming in Travian) and so on. Some were inspired by my short encounter with Sins of a Solar Empire. I quit the project after some time – simply because I wasn’t able to carry away my friends by the idea and it was too much for one programmer (maybe if I had been still just a student… :-P). That was the fate of my sci-fi rip-off of every (not only) web-based game around.

Recently I was somewhere on some site and I noticed the ad about Galaxy Online. So – why not to try it? Not that I wanted to play a game, but there was still the professional me curious about the “market”. 🙂 And Galaxy Online – despite being small client based game (20 MB or so) instead of pure web-based game – simply put me to sadness. There was everything I wanted to do. There was safe home system (in my game it would be accessible, but still safe enough) that prevented you to be a farm from the start. There were fleets, commanders, travels from system to system – even connected by paths (like in Sins), although I decided to quit the idea of paths in my game during its development. There was a good idea of beginner’s quests that guide you through the first steps in the game. Not to mention that you can design your own ships! However…

Artwork is adequate – in login screen it looks like 3D!

The game simply didn’t grow on me. The client is very – and I mean VERY – unfriendly to the user. Things are not contextual there, you have to click back and forth, in dialogs you can’t go from one input to the other with tab or arrows (maybe there is some combination, but who am I to try everything when the most obvious and expected choice doesn’t work). What I mean by “not contextual”? There are generally only two views – big map and one system. So far so good. You have some gateways (stargate, whatever) to other systems. You click on your fleet, send it to the gate and then you want to go there too. I tried some clicking, but it didn’t work. Again – MAYBE there is a way, I just don’t know. So – back to the galaxy view and click on the system. Shock! There are bazillions of other fleets there and it’s not obvious right away which one is yours. No friendly shortcut, nothing. I mean… c’mon! This is DOWNLOADED executable client! Why it can’t provide the most obvious features to control MY units?!

View of your home system. You can see gates to other systems, training field where you can train on pirates, …

Not to mention until you go out of your system you’re just playing on your own sandbox and the whole galaxy can be of no concern to you. There is really NOTHING that somehow drags you to the fight, you have to do your first steps – and these steps are very, very unintuitive. Add some other details like very stupid battle system… I have absolute dominance over some pirates and yet they manage to fly back and forth around the battlefield and after 20 rounds or so they… what? Yes, they WIN! I couldn’t believe my eyes. But OK, it’s a system, right, I’ve read it in the newbie guide, so I’ll live with that. But after a few combats I simply hate this rule. Of course I can make better ships and deal quickly with them. But still… they can run and 20 rounds of the battle is not so much (like 20 moves of all fleets + some fighting). You have to take a lot of supplies with the fleet (no problem with that) and when you want to modify your fleet and anchor some of those ships you have to UNLOAD them first (escape from current view, click on unload, specify how much you want to unload – probably everything because I don’t know when any particular ship is considered loaded…). The whole unloading is waste of time. Simply anchor those ships and unload their load! Easy-peasy.

Splash screen is really ugly and there is no way of knowing if there is some login screen behind or not. No… simply press Enter. Great and warm welcome for fresh players indeed.

I’m sure there are many fans. The game isn’t that bad and probably the mechanics are cool. I played it for some time without interacting with others first. When I wanted to move around all my objections stacked during those few days became even more pronounced. That leads me to the idea that my game could still stand a chance. Too bad I’m lazy to do it (not to mention my passion for music, many unseen TV series, games, … you name it :-)). I think people should try by themselves. I read some reviews first and then tried it anyway – but I was dissatisfied. Not by the idea behind the game, but by the execution. If you’re demanding player, skip this one. But if you wanna try it, just be informed that initial splash-screen with “News Center” can be dismissed by Enter key. Just in case…

Business model of the game is similar to other free to play games. You can buy additional advantages, some buildings cost you so called “mall points”. I haven’t tried this part of the game because I really didn’t feel to do so. 🙂


Blogging for two years!

Yeah, it’s true! I would probably not celebrate it if I had ended my blogger’s career in a typical way (you guessed it… I meant simply to stop writing). It was actually pretty close to that but I somehow revived my taste to write again. The taste I have since my early years as I always liked to write various short stories. The biggest of them is my Slovak mini-novel called Cesta (The Way or maybe The Journey, doesn’t really matter) and as it is the biggest thing I really pulled off to the end it’s no surprise I decided to revive and revise it as well.

But originally this blog was created because of Utopia. I’d had my utopia in my head for some time before but I simply did not write that time. I generally still write much less than I used to. I used to write songs as well, now it’s more than four years since my last one. Satisfied comfy life might be the creativity killer. But I did other things! I made some maps for UT2004, I started the promising page about UT3 level editing (still has many visits every day mostly thanks to static mesh catalogue) and if there had not been some troubles with UT3 and/or my online connectivity problems I would have continued in these areas. And I still may in the future as the desire to do some map returns to me here and there.

But back to the blog itself. I expected Gavin to meet his Susan in just a few installments of the Utopia, but discussions were longer than I expected and I didn’t want to have posts too long. We’re obviously far from any end with Utopia – I don’t have any in my head actually because it’s the Utopia exploration in the first place. 🙂 Cesta is my sure shot – I can release any part anytime if I find just a little time to reread and correct it. But aside from these things I knew from the start that I want to write about current things around me as well. It wasn’t any accident that I started to write about Google, now I use Google Docs to write and “backup” my posts, I originally started on Blogspot until I found out that there were serious problem with printing from that page and that these problems were unsolved for a few years (I don’t care about current situation).

As said in “About me and this Blog” this site is not really topical, but while I agree that it’s nice to have a topical blogs, I think it’s not the problem to do otherwise as well. There are many post aggregators that feed various topical lists with appropriately tagged posts. So Java people have their posts from my site and people interested in music or movies have their too. There are search engines after all. While my post about Seam haven’t attracted any attention, other two Java posts related to some very specific problems with specific products and setups have been read and I’m sure they will be. Doesn’t matter that they are maybe the most off-topic if there is any topic on this blog. 😉

After some initial enthusiasm (13 posts in last 80 days of 2006) I had obvious crisis during the whole year of 2007 (only 7 posts!). Notice the big gap between May and November – ended with Travian Intermezzo – yup, Travian is killing the rest of your life. 🙂 Year 2008 started much better. I have moved here to WordPress, I helped my wife to establish her blog about cooking (in Slovak, but with a lot of pictures :-P), I started to write about games and other stuff (music, movies, although I have to extend this part ;-)) and I started to be active blogger again!

After those two years I’m happy to be here although my blog is more loose than I expected. I don’t care. I have some visitors (although my wife’s cooking blog is beating me even without using world language!), I have something to look back to – and I believe I have also a lot of to look forward to. And I want to thank you for bearing with me. 🙂

Travian intermezzo

Well… it’s been a long time, hasn’t it? It’s not healthy for a blog to be abandoned for such a long time – I realize this. And instead of publishing new Utopia instalment I dare to write about the reason (well, aside from laziness and other stuff) why I stopped doing many things – and blogging was among them.

Few days before Eastern Holidays my working mate showed me… “at last the game that suits me with its pace!” “What? Where?” I was curious because he’d never played game at work before. That was that ominous day in my life when I encountered Travian. To sum it up, yesterday we won the final “world wonder race” on – meaning I was the member of the winning alliance – and that (hopefully) definitely ended my Travian period. Let’s start with why I started to play this game in the first place. 🙂

Travian is very catchy game and you definitely should try it – with caution though. 😉 If you have a lot of free time and you can check Internet regularly you might be successful in the game. I don’t say that it’s mandatory to play it 24/7, but there are players who do so – with the help of so called “account sitter” – that’s mechanism that is introduced in the game itself. Now what’s that game about? It’s sort of real-time medieval MMO strategic game. You start with one small village and you can end up with tens of them (or even one hundred on speed server – which I cover later). First you have to choose your nation – either Romans, Gauls or Teutons. They all have their advantages and despite their descriptions (like “Gauls are defensive”) good players can play aggressively with any of them.

Rule your Empire!

Whole game is controlled via few main views. You can see your village overview – and upgrade resource fields (lumber, clay, iron and crop). You can see your village center – and build/upgrade buildings or walls. You can click on various buildings and perform related actions there – build some troops in barracks or stables, train your hero, making deals on market. You can view map to check bigger players around which would likely to make raids on your village. 🙂 Or you can send troops on weaker players in order to steal their resources. Resource stealing – so called “farming” – is integral part of the game. It’s hard to survive without resources, it’s impossible to be on top without farming.

And that’s the first issue I have about this game. You simply can’t be good and nice. There are many naive players who enter the game (often lately after the server start which is even worse for most of them) and whine in messages “please don’t attack me”. Heck! I don’t ATTACK you, I just RAID you. Whatever… it is attack indeed, but how to explain that I want his resources. “Sim City” is maybe the most often mentioned game within messages exchanged between players. Like: “This is not simcity, this is the war game!” Or: “Stop whine and go play SimCity!” It’s written on the front page of Travian: “Build up villages, wage wars or trade with your neighbors.” This is true, but it doesn’t emphasize the most important – it’s all about being aggressive.

You can also grow just fine only with upgrading and spending your resources (so other players can’t steal too much from you). Talking about upgrading… there is very good balance here. Because as you have better levels of resource fields the production is higher – but the cost of another upgrade is higher as well – but the production gain from another level is higher too. Hence here is sort of positive spiral which makes the game interesting equally when you’re working with numbers like 10 (whatever it is) and numbers like 10,000. This is very nice about it.

Be hard!

Back to the struggle! Yes, you can be merciful from time to time. I let live one player … the result was that his villages were taken not by me but by the players around. So I didn’t save him actually – and I was the one who suffered loss because I was stupid and mild. Not that I was so good to everyone 🙂 but in this case I wanted to appreciate his quite smart defense. I mentioned taking over villages. You build village and except your capital (that can’t be taken) it is possible to take it with special units – that might be expensive but you can afford it later quite easily. Taking over village is quite tricky but with enough power and some help from your alliance members you can do it with no problem really.

So if you’re unlucky you can end up with most of your villages lost in favor of bigger players. Especially if you’re lone-wolf refusing to join (preferably strong) alliance. If they want you in the first place. 😉 Not that your capital is safe. You start the game with population of 2 in your first village, but any village can be taken to 0. The village then disappears. Even the capital is lost completely – only the last village you have can’t disappear – but do you really care after 5 months of game when you have 1 village with 0 pop? I’m not whining now about myself, it was never my case. I just don’t like this game because of this – because there is no way how you can “just trade with other players”, no way how to play it and be nice. You mostly have to forget about human aspect and adopt aggressive mindset. This game is played by nice people as well, yet it’s hard to find out – because they have to play without mercy for their own good.

What about units?

I should talk a little about units and their movement. Every unit has various numeric characteristics – attack, defense vs. infantry, defense vs. cavalry, speed, how much it can carry and upkeep – which is how much crop the unit consumes per hour. Every nation has 5 general units – three or two of them are infantry (they eat 1crop/h) and the rest cavalry (2, 3 or 4 crop/h). For your idea – you can host around 1100 “eaters” in a fully developed normal village. That means ~1100 infantry or ~400 horses – depending on their actual type. Units are quite nicely balanced. Then there are other types of units – scouts (name varies depending on the nation) that can “scan” other city (units, wall level, resources in warehouses) and if there are no scouts they are unnoticed. If there are some there will sort of fight between these scouts and you might end up with all your scouts being killed and you knowing nothing. Then there are two demolishing units – rams for walls and catapults for other buildings or resource fields. Walls are special because the higher level of the wall the higher % bonus to defense for the units in the city. Hence rams are important. Catapults are that bad thing that makes this game so cruel. 😉 Finally there are special unit for taking over foreign cities (persuading inhabitants to join your empire ;-)), then settlers that are here to build new city of yours and finally – your hero.

Hero is actually any chosen unit (in most cases either strongest cavalry or the fastest one) and it brings sort of RPG to the game – although it’s far less personal than RPG. When hero levels you have some points to spread into attack, attack bonus (% to all units that attack with him), defense (his own), defense bonus (% to all units of this player in the city where the hero is) and finally you can boost his regeneration rate. You can imagine that +20% to attack (which is the maximum) can really make the difference in some cases hence the hero is important feature of the game. When he dies you can regenerate him but it costs you multiples of the original training cost (depends on level and it can be really crazy for high levels) and also some time (which might be even more serious than the resource cost ;-)).

…and their movement

Finally about “hyperspace jumps” in this game. Yeah, medieval game and hyperspace… you grin. It’s like that. The map is 800×800 squares big and with typical infantry speed like… 6 squares per hour… do you get it? You can really fight only with your closesurrounding (at least at the beginning). If you send your first 10 precious soldiers to the other end of the map it will take SO MUCH time that the opponent can grow… well maybe even ten-fold. 🙂 You always see that there is attack coming to your town. Except scouts which are seen only after attack and only if you had your (or friendly) scouts in the town. But – when you send your army to other town this army literally disappears from your town and at the given (calculated) time it willappear in the target town (or at the gates, whatever ;-)) and there will be some fight and then they (maybe ;-)) go back. Again in hyperspace.

Why I emphasize the hyperspace when there is no hyperspace mentioned in the game principles – you ask? Well because if you send your troops and he send his troops (or her,really many good female players there… unless they are fakes, it’s Internet 😉 (many are real for sure!))… ok, so armies are heading against each other and… they simply fight in the target towns and go back. No way how they can meet in the middle. No way how you can have safe city in the middle of your other cities. It’s all event-based (programmers know what I mean ;-)) and you can reach any town you want. Space plays only one important role – that distance affects time and with more time to prepare defense you have better chance to crush the attacker. That’s all. Or not?

Tricky strategies

Player can see that the attack is coming but he doesn’t know how big it is. And there are two types of attacks – the normal one and the raid. When attacker hits the town both armies are compared and after one battle “iteration” there are some units left on both sides (unless the imbalance is that big that one side lose everything right away!). Raid ends here. Remaining attacker troops then take as much resources as they can carry (and can find in the town) and they take their way home. Normal attack continues until one side loses everything. You can catapult and ram the town only with normal attack and also persuade inhabitants to join you in normal attack only as well. Which makes it slightly harder but not that much and it makes sense that you have the town cleaned of defenders in order to take it.

You can only attack with troops that were build in that particular town – but you can defend with troops from other towns. You can send units as attack, raid or … reinforcements. Here it is – you can join forces to defend but you can’t do the same in attack. This brings at least some balance. Although it looks like it favors the defender it’s not exactly like this. The game still runs – in real time. Many players are either on the other side of the planet and they attack while you sleep. Very often you don’t have the chance to join defense if attack is in a few hours scope. If it takes day(s)… well, someone crazy can risk it. Or someone (over)confident. Or…

I said – you don’t know how big the incoming attack is. Hence there is very popular tactics how to bring uncertainty into defender’s lines. You attack ALL his towns from your main offensive town. Yeah, unless you have tens of them you have only one or few towns where you build your main offensive army. But all attacks are so called “fakes” (1 troop) – except one. Now how can defender know where to gather defense and what he might leave abandoned. And if the attacks are without catapults (you can judge by the time of the travel because “cata-attacks” are roughly twice as slow as infantry one) it’s not so crucial. You risk nothing except resources, you can spend them, send them to defended city… whatever. Now if the attack is slow (catapults – or so called “catas” or “cats”) you’re in trouble. In this case those fakes are 1 catapult each – these are more expensive but you have to do it because otherwise it’s easy to say what attack is the real one because of its slowness. Now – that’s the lottery.

A lot of fun…

…but for not that many players. That’s the thing why I stopped playing this game. It’s good game, it’s not realistic but it’s consistent, it has balance, but it’s just way to shallow and aggressive. For me. Many players enjoy this and I don’t argue with them – of course. This game is spoiled by players who stop to play it when they are farmed and they forget to delete their account (dead farm). It’s spoiled by weak players who expect something completely different (because Travian seems to provide more choices than mere war). At the end when few best players are building world wonder (which is ultimate goal in this game) they are supported by hundreds of other players who just send resources – and defend. This isn’t exactly most exciting period of the game – at least not for most of the players. When the round is over it’s rather a relief than a fantastic feeling (even when you’re in the winning alliance).

There is also speed version of the Travian game which supposed to be thrice as fast. This relates to resource production. Unit movement is twice as fast (thrice might be really too fast for this kind of game ;-)). But with crop production three-folded you can also have armies three times bigger. And really big armies are held in so called “cropper” where most of the resource fields are producing only crop. These towns are very sought after because crop production is the ultimate limit affecting your army size. While in the beginning you’re happy that you have 10 soldiers – at the end you can see attacks of more than 100,000 infantry + 30,000 horses + many catas – very often the army size exceeds 250,000 eaters. Crazy!

Your life will change

If you take Travian seriously you’ll find out that sometimes you have to wake up in the night to … send defense or dodge serious attack. (Dodge is another “trick” where you send your troops away when you know you’d lose – but you can cancel their movement first 90 s. So they will return right after the attacker merely visits your empty town. ;-)) You find yourself checking the Travian more and more. While at the beginning few clicks a day are just fine (because soon you’re out of resources) later there is a lot of stuff going on. And if you lead your own alliance you’ll write tons of in-game messages. This game starts affect your personal life. It’s not the matter of will. Question is if you want to play it better than the rest or rather not play it at all.

Now I often sit at my computer thinking what would I do with all that free time. 🙂 But maybe I’ll not sit at my computer that much. Maybe. And maybe I’ll write some new Utopia posts, hm? 🙂