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  [TEAM GAME PROPOSAL] Victory! The Battle for Europe
Posted by: GrimFinger - 01-15-2011, 04:30 AM - Forum: News & Announcements - No Replies

Over on the Rolling Thunder Games' forums, Russ Norris is trying to put together a team game. Click here to be taken to that particular discussion thread on their forums.

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  Status Update on Flagship Magazine's Editor - Carol Mulholland
Posted by: GrimFinger - 01-13-2011, 09:27 PM - Forum: News & Announcements - Replies (7)

A friend of Carol Mulholland, who is the editor of Flagship magazine, wrote to me, today, to inform me about how Carol is doing.

Unfortunately, Carol has had a severe stroke, and is currently still hospitalized. It is my understanding that she has made some progress, but again, the stroke was a severe stroke.

I have asked Carol's friend, Gill, to try and obtain a physical postal mailing address for Carol, to send her a get well card. I have also asked him to find out if it is OK to post that address, once he gets it. If so, I will post it for the sake of others, who may want to write to Carol, as well.

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  Jason Oates Games Update for January 12th, 2011
Posted by: GrimFinger - 01-13-2011, 02:01 AM - Forum: News & Announcements - No Replies

I heard from Jason Oates, today, and he said that Company Commander, his newest release, has some positions available. Also, Jason has opened up more areas of the map, in order to take on more players. Company Commander is now available by e-mail and via the postal service.

Jason also says that Ancient Empires is nearing the end of its current incarnation. Look for a rewrite for a new game later in the year.

Game materials for both Company Commander and Ancient Empires are available to download free.

http://www.jason-oates-games.com/page8.html

http://www.jason-oates-games.com/page9.html

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  Gad Games Update: Ilkor development has started....
Posted by: Gads - 01-11-2011, 09:26 AM - Forum: News & Announcements - Replies (1)

Just wanted to let everyone know that we've started developing our new game (Ilkor: Dark Rising). The design has been finalised and it is now full steam ahead!!! Big Grin

We've also trying to improve our communication and hope to be updating our progress on a regular basis. If you are interested, you can follow us on twitter or facebook. Alternatively you can go straight to our blog.

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  Broken links being repaired
Posted by: GrimFinger - 01-10-2011, 10:18 AM - Forum: Website Related - Replies (1)

I inadvertently deleted the template for the site's portal page (Home page), this morning. I am in the process of repairing the damage, now, which includes a broken link or two. The problem may be corrected, by the time that you read this.

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  Fate of a Nation
Posted by: GrimFinger - 01-10-2011, 09:19 AM - Forum: Game Reviews - Replies (1)

I was playing position in Norberg Games' "Fate of a Nation" game product (and technically, I still am), but I have not kept up with the turns in quite some time. My extended absence from the game was never planned, and I may eventually resume checking it out and commenting on it, but my apologies to Peter and crew at Norberg Games for my disappointing track record to date in reviewing their game.

So, my advice is, give the game a try, yourself, if you want to know its merits and demerits. There are things that I like about the game, and things that I dislike about the game, to be certain. But, one thing that I do like very much is the fact that Norberg Games takes an active interest in this game product of theirs that they are developing and bringing to the gaming public. I wish old school PBM companies shared even a fraction of the enthusiasm that the folks at Norberg Games have for Fate of a Nation.

http://www.fateofanation.net./

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  Game design from the beginning
Posted by: ixnay - 01-08-2011, 05:33 PM - Forum: PBM Design - Replies (22)

I have decided to put my money where my mouth is and create a new PBM game, along the lines of what I described in the opinion thread. This will actually be more of a Play By Web game, although I could provide a paper mail variant if there is demand, assuming the game actually works.

So I thought I would crowd-source the design and development process -- make it an open experience that others can witness and participate in if they wish.

Here are my high level specs for the development platform:

- web-based interface, with no client-side requirements
- open-source server and development tools
- unix or windows (depending on where I can get hosting)
- java / JSP for the application code, perhaps with Hibernate as the data access layer and Eclipse as the development tool
- MySQL for the database
- some design portability, such that it could be played by web, Facebook, smartphone, etc.

And here are my high level game design specs:
- close-ended
- computer moderated, though I could be persuaded to open it up to human-moderated with computer assistance
- space empire building genre
- heavy control over economic, military, and scientific development
- different races for each player, with different strengths and weaknesses
- some level of automated non-player activity (perhaps an ancient berserk computer player, fully automated, to give everyone an early opponent)

Finally, here is a possible approach to developing it:
- lay out a SIMPLE rule set to start with
- develop the page layouts to support this
- build the database
- build the game logic (again, for a SIMPLE preliminary version)
- ALPHA TEST #1
- incorporate early feedback
- lay out an expanded rule set
- redevelop
- ALPHA TEST #2
- incorporate feedback
- lay out final rule set
- redevelop
- BETA TEST

I invite any and all readers to give me feedback on this idea. Is my process going to work? What suggestions do you have for the initial rule set? What types of features would you want in the user interface? How important are graphics/images to your user experience?

And, of course, would anyone like to pitch in and help build it? I would do the database and coding, most likely, but could use help in setting up server and hosting, getting a URL, and lots and lots of testing.

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  [PlayByMail.Net Interview] Sean Cleworth of Gad Games
Posted by: GrimFinger - 01-07-2011, 07:12 PM - Forum: Interviews - Replies (4)

Tell us the origin of Gad Games.

[Sean Cleworth] Gad Games, like most PBM companies, had a rather humble beginning. From the age of 14, I had always preferred to be the GameMaster, whenever our local role-playing group got together for a session of AD&D, RuneQuest, MERP, RM, etc.. However, the group started to dwindle, as I reached the age of 16/17. I think this would have been in the mid 80’s (1984/1985).

It was at this point that I stumbled upon Flagship (an early UK issue - #3 tends to stick in my mine – it was a full colour cover of a Super Hero). I bought it by mistake, actually, thinking it was to do with table-top RPG! Anyway, this is how I got into PBM, and I started playing a number of games such as Vulcan Wars, StarWeb, Midgard and a few others that I can’t remember. For some reason, I didn’t really grasp the whole PBM thing for a while, but eventually, I got it, and that was when I caught the PBM bug.

Although I played a varied number of games (computer, mixed and hand moderated), I initially related to the hand-moderated games, especially the fantasy games such as Saturnalia, Crasimoff’s World, AEs, etc..

At some point (I can’t quite remember when, but it must have been when I was about 16 or 17, as I was studying for A Levels), I decided to start up my own hand moderated game called ‘World of Chaos’. It was relatively successful, right from the outset. At the time, I was still living at home in a small village in the countryside in Cornwall. Our house was quite old and large. My bedroom was on the third floor (actually an attic room with its own stairwell, and it was actually quite a cool setting), and it was from here that Gad Games was born.

During my first year of A Levels, more and more of my time and thoughts were on World of Chaos and PBM in general, rather than my studies! Once I had devised and written the rules (I used my mom’s old typewriter), I then stuck together a ton of A4 hex paper, and stuck it onto my wall and drew the world map. For each major place of interest (such as towns, cities, ruins, dungeons, etc.), I drew a detailed street map. I also produced ‘tokens’ for various items, NPCs, herbs, creatures, etc.. These, I photo-copied, to be handed out upon encountering.

I then advertised the game through the various fanzines, and eventually, Flagship, to obtain players. It didn’t take long to get the game running, and before I knew it, I had 50 players actively involved and playing!! It pretty much took up all my spare time. I had to drop my morning paper-round job, to keep up with the demand. To begin with, I wrote the replies by hand, using carbon paper to file away copies for myself, and I used pins with player numbers on the map, to keep track of their location.

It was exciting times. I finally got the thrill of being a GameMaster, again, and this time I had 50 players who were mostly passionate about the game and actively involved in asking me questions, contributing to newsletters, forming player alliances, and helping shape the history and enriching the experience for everyone. Players contacted me on the house phone so much that, eventually, my parents agreed to getting an extension for my bedroom, so I could respond and answer questions with the material (map + information) at hand.

It goes without saying that my studying took a bit of a back seater, but I still continued with them and passed. After A Levels, I really wanted to take a gap year, and finally got my parents to agree. I decided to run Gad Games full-time for a year, at least to see where it would take me. The company and World of Chaos game just grew and grew, and before I knew it, I had several hundred players, before my gap year was up. I never did end up going to University. Gad Games just kept on expanding and growing.


What made you decide to resurrect Gad Games, and why do you think that that is a good idea?

[Sean Cleworth] I really miss running PBM Games. I think it’s a great idea, as I’m hyper-excited about it, and looking forward to being creative and having fun, at the same time. Along the way, I hope players will also benefit from playing a PBM game that has the main elements of a PBM game, while harnessing the strengths of the Internet. I also think the time is right in my life, right now, to get back into PBM. I don’t have that much spare time (which is my biggest worry), but all other aspects of my life are stable, and I believe I’ve got the right mix of design experience and programming skills to do a really good job. I believe most PBM Companies alive, today, have not harnessed the true power of the Internet, and therefore, the conversion to online is both clunky and less than user-friendly. With the right mix of game design and technology, I think the modern PBM game could well appeal to both new and old players, alike.


What are you hoping to accomplish with your return to the helm of Gad Games? Are you in it for the money? For fame or for infamy? Are aliens using some form of mind control to compel you to do this, Sean?

[Sean Cleworth] LOL, no not quite. I’m fast approaching 42, and potentially, I am trying to regain a part of my youth that I really enjoyed. I know I miss running a PBM Company. I’m certainly not in it for the money. In fact, our new game is going to be free. We’re still toying with ideas on how to still make enough money to cover, at least, the hosting and admin expenses, but at worst case, we are prepared to absorb the costs, ourselves, as long as they are reasonable, and we get the thrill and enjoyment out of running it.


The Gad Games website advertises that you are working on a game called Ilkor: Dark Rising. Who - or what - is Ilkor, and what will distinguish this game from other games that came before it?

[Sean Cleworth] Ilkor: Dark Rising is the game we’re currently designing and coding. It is a computer-moderated game. I don’t think it will be too different to other such games, either out there now or in the past. It will be a single character RPG - The usual type of game where you create your own character, and roam about the world, going on quests, collecting items, fighting, etc.. There will be a number of unique features (we think), but we don’t want to reveal them quite, yet, nor do we feel they are big enough to distinguish it from other such games, without taking into consideration the user-interface, which I also can’t really go into detail about, either. I will, however, reveal more about the actual game mechanics (game rules, background, etc.) soon.

The strength of Ilkor will be in its simplicity, which will be achieved in both its game design and the technology it harnesses. There will be just one, single, persistent world where all characters will live. The turnaround will be fixed, maybe a weekly turnaround, maybe 2 turns a week. We haven’t decided, yet. This will come out of beta testing.

Players will access the game via their web browser. No downloads will be required. The website will store all of the player’s historical information (old turns, etc.).

I really can’t say too much more, right now. I don’t want to give away our plans, as the design has been a collection of thoughts gathered over the past few years.


Who designed the Gad Games logo, and what made you decide to go with that particular logo design for your company?

[Sean Cleworth] I actually designed the logo, myself, while at school, during a rather boring Geography lesson. I remember, quite clearly, doing this on a scrap piece of paper. At the time, my nickname was ‘Gads,’ and therefore, this is where the name of the company spawns from.


Not counting games that Gad Games has designed over time, what were some of your personal favorite old school Play-By-Mail games to play, and what made them your favorites?

[Sean Cleworth] I played a lot of games, especially at the beginning, but as Gad Games became more demanding, I had to reduce my list to about 5 or 6. Most of the games I played were based in the UK, simply due to the faster turnaround, cheaper postage, and interaction with players. Remember, in those early days, we didn’t have the Internet and e-mail, so communication came in the form of hand written notes passed through the game system, letters externally, or phone calls.

My favorite games of all time (from memory at least!) really must be:

Saturnalia (I played this almost from it’s launch. My main character was a thief called Morden. This was, without a doubt, my favorite game right through my PBM experience. I loved the simple game mechanics and great interaction with the players).

Aes (not sure about the spelling – its been a while, but I remember this being a great hand-moderated fantasy single-character RPG. To date, I’ve never seen this game mentioned on the web, but it was a very popular game in the UK, at one point).

Crasimoff`s World (Another popular game of mine. I really enjoyed playing this game, but I found it, at times, rather slow in both progression and turnaround)

Keys of Bled (I think this could have been one of my very first games I ever played, and I will always have fond memories of this).

Vulcan Wars (This was one of my first experiences of a pure computer-moderated game. I loved it, especially the clean up rules, turn cards, and printouts. It was extremely professionally put together)

Tribes of Crane (a huge game at one point, though plagued with issues that affected the turnaround greatly).


How would you describe the Play-By-Mail game industry, as you see it from your perspective? Describe its past, it present, and its future through your eyes.

[Sean Cleworth] I think the past was most certainly the golden era. I don’t think anyone who was around then would disagree. It was great to be part of that and have fond memories of that time that I’ll remember forever.

I’ve been out of the PBM scene, since then. I believe I left, just as the Internet was really starting to take off in a big way. Potentially, it was around that time the PBM hobby started to decline, to where it is, today? I’m not sure, as I’ve been pretty removed (though I have been subscribing to Flagship on and off over the past few years) from the hobby.

The hobby does feel close to dead! Am I the only one feeling like that? I am in the process of playing a few more games, so maybe things will change in the coming months. I think the Internet, especially, is a big contributing factor to the hobby’s decline. The actual name of the hobby (Play-By-Mail) doesn’t do it any justice, either. I’m not sure how many games are still run through the snail mail system, but I am guessing it is very low.

Currently, most games that are still alive, today, have a web presence, and to be honest, a lot of them have been badly thrown together. Coupled with a bad transfer to electric/on-line media, it feels like it is just a matter of time, before the PBM hobby really does go underground.

That is how I see the current state of PBM. Like I said, I feel like a bit of an outsider. Maybe I’ve read the signs wrong, but I am not negative of the future. I see small signs of some companies starting to move up to the next level, and really go truly online. I think that is where the future lies. I am not talking about hosting a poorly designed website, having the rules available online or to download in PDF, a signup form and then turn orders and results sent via email.

I think the next generation of PBM Gaming will need to drop ‘PBM,’ and call itself something more appropriate that describes the hobby in today’s terms. Maybe something like: Online Turn-based Gaming (OTB Gaming). I don’t know, but I hope you get my point. Then, the games need to be truly online, available via the web browser, iPhone apps, Facebook plugins, twitter feeds, wikis for GM and Player game material contributions, the use of HTML5 and CSS3 for rendering of graphics, map tiles, chat clients for clans and alliances to talk to one another, etc.. We need to harness the strengths of the Internet, and model it into the game design. Sure, it might mean changes to the way we traditionally play PBM games, today. For example, take a order form. That worked 20 years ago, when codes, etc. were required, so that GMs could capture your turn orders both quickly and at the same time reduce errors. But, today, people want to drag and drop, plot a course on a map for travelling, etc.. The game that is coming close to that is BTSE. I think they are on the right path.

So, in summary, I think the future is bright, though I believe PBM is going to have to move with the times to survive, and if they do, I think it could be bigger than ever.


What is your favorite genre of PBM game to design, and why? What is your least favorite, and why?

[Sean Cleworth] Fantasy, without a doubt. I am a RPGer, at heart. I especially like the hand-mod versions, but learned to equally enjoy the mixed and computer-moderated versions. My least favourite are crime games. I did play a number of them, but they didn’t really capture my imagination, for very long.



Have you ever attended any PBM conventions or other gaming conventions, either as an individual gamer or as a game company, and what were some of your most memorable moments attending those?

[Sean Cleworth] Yes, I’ve attended, as both. Originally, just as a player, and then, as a company. I can’t recall all of the details, now, as it was such a long time ago, but we pretty much attended all of the major (and even the minor) PBM conventions that were based in the UK. We even journeyed to Germany, for their main PBM/War Game convention, one year. The UK conventions were quite a trek for us, having to come up from the depths of Cornwall to places like Leeds, London, and Sheffield. Besides PBM Conventions, we attended the major War Gaming conventions, when our Game portfolio had such games that would potentially interest such attendees.

We were also quite big in the Football (Soccer) PBM scene, and attended a number of Soccer related conventions. I remember, we were invited up to Wembley to watch the Cup Final one year. We were given the full VIP treatment, pre match meal, drinks, entertainment and then we watched the game from a private box. That was certainly memorable. We were given this due to the large amount of advertising we gave Match magazine.


What is your view on the role that magazines have played in impacting the Play-by-Mail genre of gaming, and what do you wish that those magazines had done differently, if anything?

[Sean Cleworth] Magazines (including the various fanzines and semi-professional magazines, like PBM Scroll from Jon Woods) played an extremely important part in PBM in the golden era. Without them, it was extremely difficult to find avenues from where you could promote your games to new players. PBM has always struggled I think. It has never been easy, and considered an almost ‘unknown’ hobby. Flagship played a huge role in bringing the hobby together, and do a wonderful job, in my opinion. It was always put together very professionally, and is a fantastic read. I don’t know if the magazines could have done anything differently, really, that would have impacted the hobby in a positive manner. I found the magazines listened and reacted to the comments and suggestions made by both player and company. It felt like belonging to a special secret club!

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  [PlayByMail.Net Interview] Jay Colombo of Empyrean Cluster Wars
Posted by: GrimFinger - 01-07-2011, 06:37 PM - Forum: Interviews - Replies (1)

1. Tell us the origin of both Empyrean Cluster Wars and its PBM predecessor, Empyrean Challenge.

Much like Vern, I got into the play by mail games by starting off with Star Web.

It was a gift from a girlfriend, who saw it in a science-fiction magazine, and knowing that I was a science-fiction enthuasist, thought I might like it. She was ever so correct.

Later, I saw Empyrean Challenge advertised in an Isaac Asimov's science fiction magazine, and I thought I'd give that a try. I would say that seemed to take well, as I played in these games for about 20 years. First, in the EC-1 & EC-5 games that Vern Holferd had started, and later into several of John Ess’s games (Maxi challenge’s, I believe they were called). The Maxis differed from the EC games, in that in an Empyrean Challenge game, your position was akin to a single nation on earth (obviously among many nations), whereas in the Maxi games -- like Cluster Wars-- your position was akin to the sole ruler of an earthlike planet.

When John had had enough, (there were several aspects of running the game that were too taxing for him, and also, not profitable enough), I purchased it from John.

Around 2003, I contacted Vern, and negotiated with him for his help in an effort to relaunch the game. I had acquired the rights, but very little, if anything, in the way of programming code from John..


2. Who are Jay Colombo and Vern Holford, and what are your respective relationships to the game of
Empyrean Cluster Wars? Also, which one of you does the most work on Empyrean Cluster Wars?

Presently, Vern and I are running the relaunch, together.

Initially, I provided the financing, and hired Vern to do the programming. As time went by, we developed a close working relationship, and decided to somewhat throw our lots together. In our working partnership, Vern does virtually all of the programming ( I say virtually, because I occasionally hire some outside assistance, which, of course, Vern oversees). We both work diligently on the conceptual and design aspects of the game. Presently, I'm engaged in play testing a massively developed position, which is somewhat more complex than I would've imagined (and more rewarding), while Vern is kept busy fixing bugs in the code, and adding or making changes as suggested to us by our platoon of dedicated playtesters -- Mostly, former Empyrean Challenge players and affectionatos, of the game.


3. What about Empyrean Cluster Wars distinguishes it from other space games?

While the game is turn based, as any play by mail was, the ability to use the Internet allows us to to both process turns simultaneously, and deliver them quickly and easily. The game combines not only war like strategy and tactics, but also, resource management and diplomacy in a way that encourages empire development and conflicts that, quite amazingly and consistently, parallels the development of civilizations or nations expanding and exploring here on earth .


4. For players, what is the primary focus of the game?

Initially, you must concentrate on taking the resources you have at hand, and growing your empire and production facilities in the fastest manner you can muster.

The ability to grow your production base depends not only on your resource management, but also, it hinges on the decisions you will make, based on your exploration of the known universe.

Much like on planet Earth, you start alone in the universe, and deplete the resources of the planet that you are on. Soon, you will need to gather resources from nearby planets, and later, nearby stars.

Eventually, this path of interstellar development leads to the meeting of other developing civilizations.

From the point of first contact, diplomacy, Machiavellian alliances, tactics, or simply pure, brute force will eventually yield a sole dominant power.


5. What were some of the similarities, as well as some of the differences, in the programming of
Empyrean Cluster Wars and Empyrean Challenge?

Empyrean Challenge did not require a user interface. Orders were written, then keyed in at our end.
The user interface in Empyrean Cluster Wars must present the data, and help the player edit their
orders. It also contains tools to help the players manage their vast empires.


6. What are you hoping to accomplish with Empyrean Cluster Wars?

We do actually hope to make this a viable entertainment business, or at least, bring back a game
many people enjoyed and make it much more playable in this format. Actually, Empyrean Cluster Wars is not play by mail, anymore. The client called "Central Command" presents the game data, and helps the player create an order set, which is them sent through the web site to our processing server. In the old game, we needed a much longer turn around.

We would like to get the full turn around down to around a week, with most of that taken up by the players writing their turns. That might be reduced still further, by things like our ship design tools and standing orders.


7. How much effort is required for an individual new to Empyrean Cluster Wars to get off to a
decent start in the game?

Unlike its play by mail predecessors, you are started off with your factories up and running, and the means of production set up and on a very reasonable path of development.

So, that means starting and learning game is really quite easy. Remember, though, the goal of the game is to achieve intergalactic dominance.

As supreme ruler, you will lead your home world, along with the population and production that you control, through a period of accelerating economic and industrial development & expansion. This era of growth and technological advances will quickly fuel the need for interstellar exploration and colonization.

Voyaging into deeper space, establishing your mining bases, and projecting a military presence, you will continue to expand into the neighboring star clusters, where you eventually will encounter other space faring civilizations.

Ultimately, it is in this intergalactic arena that you and the other emerging alien empires will struggle for economic control and military supremacy.

Strategy, military tactics, Machiavellian alliances (or perhaps just plain, brute force), will eventually yield a sole dominant power.


8. On average, how long does it take for a player to issue orders for their position in Empyrean Cluster Wars?

That simply depends a lot on how big the player's empire is. It could be a few hours on up.


9. How did you come up with the name Empyrean in the first place?

Empyrean is the name of the seventh heaven. Vern's wife thought of it, although when we go commercial, we may shorten it, for simplicity, to Cluster Wars¶


10. What is the maximum number of players that can play in Empyrean Cluster Wars?

There really is no set limit. The game can accommodate two players on up.

However, personal experience tells me that the most enjoyable configuration, for us armchair generals, is about eight players, and no more than about 20, with the universe containing about 25 star systems per player.

The current test game is 14 players and 465 systems.


11. During Empyrean Challenge's heyday, which other PBM games of the space genre from other PBM companies did you feel presented the greatest threat to Empyrean Challenge's player base?

I didn't really look at it that way. No one had exactly the same thing, so the main thing was our service and avoiding errors. If we had problems with those things, players would go elsewhere people seemed to like several types of games.


12. Are alien races a part of Empyrean Cluster Wars, and are players in the game each playing a race or a species that is alien to the positions of all other players in the game?

No. The populations in each empire have the same behavior patterns, and can do the same things, just like the populations of different nations on planet Earth do.


13. Does Empyrean Cluster Wars incorporate players on teams, or do all players in the game compete with one another on an individual basis?

Currently, everyone is playing as an individual, but we do intend to add team aspects in the future.

Of course players do form alliances and thereby may act as a team, but this is quite different than being on a team as part of a formal basis.


14. Design-wise, what was the hardest thing about Empyrean Cluster Wars to get right?

Combat is the biggest item on the processing side. The Order Writer and ship/colony designer were the hardest on the client (Central Command) side. The order writer is still growing, and of course we are always adding the “bells and whistles” as I like to call them, and streamlining the game.


15. Not counting Empyrean Cluster Wars and Empyrean Challenge, what were some of your personal
favorite old school Play-By-Mail games to play, and what made them your favorites?

Star Web was a classic I also enjoyed Beyond the Stellar Empire,

Historical note the developers of Beyond the Stellar Empire were EC players.


16. How would you describe the Play-By-Mail game industry, as you see it from your perspective?
Describe its past, it present, and its future through your eyes.

Sadly, I believe it is part of the past, I think the play by mail is going the way of newspapers these days, it's an ever shrinking economy. On the bright side, however, the Internet is alive and well and I think that's the future.


17. Have you ever attended any PBM conventions or other gaming conventions, either as an individual gamer or as a game company, and what were some of your most memorable moments attending those?

I wish I had something to say on the topic, but alas, the answer is simply no.


18. What is your view on the role that magazines have played in impacting the Play-by-Mail genre of gaming, and what do you wish that those magazines had done differently, if anything?

Well, I'm pretty sure they were a, if not the, major source of subscribers for the play by mail industry. My only wish is that they (the magazines) had given bigger advertising breaks to their PBM advertisers.


19. When all is said and done, what do you think will be Empyrean Cluster Wars' legacy to the world of gaming?

Well, I imagine that through the use of the Internet we can combine the thrill of

sci-fi with the strategy and tactics that are par for the course of hard board war games and bring them to the various gamers and potential generals that I know are out there.


20. In issue # 33 of The Space Gamer magazine, Empyrean Challenge was described as a mountain of fun to play.
How - specifically - does Empyrean Cluster Wars intend to top that, and what kind of gamer do you believe would be attracted to playing Empyrean Cluster Wars?

Well EC certainly really was a mountain of fun to play. I certainly was quite addicted to it for decades.

But cluster wars will easily top it. There are, of course a number of reasons for this, I'll give you a few of the major ones. For instance, recordkeeping is now automatic, you don't have to go pouring through your old turns to find various bits of information like surveys, planetary configurations, alien ship numbers, messages that you have sent or received etc. through the use of central command and filing cabinets all your information is readily accessible, as you need it.

Another biggie is that central command properly writes your orders for you (whereas in the old games, you either had to write them out by hand or input them manually on a disk or an e-mail).

You still have to input your orders, but it's much more automatic, and the real result of this is that you make far less errors. They used to be an argument that these types of games were less about strategy and tactics, than who made the least amount of errors in putting their orders. Cluster wars is changing all of that.


21. Empyrean Challenge was operated out of Boise, Idaho, according to an old ad for that play by mail game.
Where is the real world headquarters for Empyrean Cluster Wars?

The computer side of it is run from Los Angeles, and the business side runs from New York City.

Good gaming

Jay Colombo

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  [PlayByMail.Net Interview] Vern Holdford of Empyrean Cluster Wars
Posted by: GrimFinger - 01-07-2011, 06:35 PM - Forum: Interviews - Replies (1)

Tell us the origin of both Empyrean Cluster Wars and its PBM predecessor, Empyrean Challenge.

[Vern Holford] I got into playing Star Web by Flying Buffalo, about 1977, I think. I also started playing Galaxy II by Brett Tondreau, about the same time. Empyrean Challenge was inspired, in part, by those two games and a board game, Stellar Conquest. I decided I could do as well, or better, and launched Superior Simulations, in 1979. After about 10 years of limited success, I sold it to John Ess, in 1988. John finally had to give it up, due to health issues, I believe. Jay would know more about that. I was not involved with the game, at that time. Around 2002 or 2003, Jay contacted me, to acquire my interest in the game, as he had been given the go ahead by John to have the game relaunch. Eventually, about 2004, I became involved in the relaunch, which became Empyrean Cluster Wars.

I should mention that Empyrean Challenge had a version called Maxi Challenge, that involved fewer players than Empyrean Challenge. Empyrean Cluster Wars is basically an update of the Maxi Challenge variant of Empyrean Challenge.


Who are Jay Colombo and Vern Holford, and what are your respective relationships to the game of Empyrean Cluster Wars? Also, which one of you does the most work on Empyrean Cluster Wars?

[Vern Holford] At this point, Jay and I are running the relaunch as a partnership(correct me if I'm wrong, Jay). I do or oversee the programming, We both work on the design aspects. Jay is running a huge position in the test game. I'm not sure who does the most work. Also, I need to mention that the testers are, except for one player, all players from the old days. They are all helping, immensely, in finding bugs and critiquing the rules.


What about Empyrean Cluster Wars distinguishes it from other space games?

[Vern Holford] I think we have a unique combination of features. While the game is turn based, as any play by mail has to be, we process turns, simultaneously. We combine strategy and resource management in a way that allows for diplomacy, as will as combat. Most important is, we take advantage of the Internet for turn and orders transmission. This helps in keeping the costs down and turn around more rapid.

We are using computer software for turn presentation and interactive order editing, so that we have almost no costs for input or output, just development and processing. Traditional play by mail computer games require hiring people to manually input the orders, and then paper, printer, and postage costs. A game the size of Empyrean Challenge would cost as much as $50 a turn for a good size empire.

One unique feature still under development is a kind of team play, where the player in charge of a given game position can recruit subordinate players to help run his empire, while they learn the game, at the same time. Along with this, we are also planning in-game alliances, for the larger games.


For players, what is the primary focus of the game?

[Vern Holford] The focus starts on growing your empire, resource management, and exploration. Then goes to diplomacy and combat. Information gathering is always important. I would say the players must maintain multiple focus areas, in order to win.


What were some of the similarities, as well as some of the differences, in the programming of Empyrean Cluster Wars and Empyrean Challenge?

[Vern Holford] Empyrean Challenge did not require a user interface. Orders were written by the player, and then keyed in, at our end. The user interface in Empyrean Cluster Wars must present the data, and help the players edit their orders. It also contains tools to help the players manage their vast empires.


What are you hoping to accomplish with Empyrean Cluster Wars?

[Vern Holford] We do actually hope to make this a viable entertainment business, Or at least, bring back a game many people enjoyed, and make it much more playable, in this format. Actually, Empyrean Cluster Wars is not play by mail, anymore. The client called "Central Command" presents the game data, and helps the player create an order set, which is them sent through the web site to our processing server. In the old game, we needed a much longer turn around, for the United States Postal Service to handle all of that paper going and coming.

I would like to get the full turn around down to less than a week, with most of that taken up by the players writing their turns and doing between turn planning and diplomacy. That might be reduced, still further, by things like our ship design tools and standing orders.


How much effort is required for an individual new to Empyrean Cluster Wars to get off to a decent start in the game?

[Vern Holford] It takes a bit of study and planning. This is not a beer and pretzels game. Players have been known to claim that their hobby is running an interstellar empire. The satisfaction of building a respectable empire, though, is correspondingly large. This is a game you can sink your mental teeth into. We plan to allow a sort of sand box variant for players, that will allow them to try out the game system, without any nasty neighbors to contend with.


On average, how long does it take for a player to issue orders for their position in Empyrean Cluster Wars?

[Vern Holford] That depends, a lot, on how big the player's empire is. It could be a few hours on up. We are adding tools to cut down on this, as we continue in the development. Standing orders, alliance victory, and team play(subordinates), for instance.


How did you come up with the name Empyrean in the first place?

[Vern Holford] My wife, at the time, used a thesaurus. Empyrean is the name of the seventh heaven in Dante’s Inferno.


What is the maximum number of players that can play in Empyrean Cluster Wars?

[Vern Holford] I anticipate several sizes of maps. Each map is a 3 dimensional cube. The smallest is 10 light years on a side, for two player games, or even 1 player trial games, and 10 to 20 systems. 20 light years on a side, for 4 to 16 players, with 80 to 160 systems. 30 light years (that was the original Empyrean Challenge standard) on a side, for 14 to 54 players, with 270 to 540 systems. Possibly larger universes, depending on how we do reducing the player's time commitments. In fact, the largest one I can currently imagine is 50 light years on a side, for up to 250 players, and 2,500 systems. Players would have several sub ordinate players, and there would up to 25 players in each alliance. Testing will show if the larger numbers are feasible. The current test game is 30 light years on a side with 14 players and 465 systems. Its turned out to be too many systems for the number of players.


During Empyrean Challenge's heyday, which other PBM games of the space genre from other PBM companies did you feel presented the greatest threat to Empyrean Challenge's player base?

[Vern Holford] I didn't really look at it that way. No one had exactly the same thing, so the main thing was our service and avoiding errors. If we had problems with those things, players would go elsewhere. People seemed to like several types of games.


Are alien races a part of Empyrean Cluster Wars, and are players in the game each playing a race or a species that is alien to the positions of all other players in the game?

[Vern Holford] The populations in each empire have the same behavior patterns, even though we treat them as separate races. They do not have any distinguishing characteristics, except a number.


Does Empyrean Cluster Wars incorporate players on teams, or do all players in the game compete with one another on an individual basis?

Vern Holford] Currently, they are playing as individuals, but we do intend to add team aspects, as I mentioned above.


Design-wise, what was the hardest thing about Empyrean Cluster Wars to get right?

[Vern Holford] Combat is the biggest item on the processing side. The Order Writer and ship/colony designer were the hardest on the client(Central Command) side. The order writer is still growing.


Not counting Empyrean Cluster Wars and Empyrean Challenge, what were some of your personal favorite old school Play-By-Mail games to play, and what made them your favorites?

[Vern Holford] Star Web is a classic. I also enjoyed Beyond the Stellar Empire, for the open-ended-ness and epic feel. Historical note, the developers of Beyond the Stellar Empire were Empyrean Challenge players before they started Beyond the Stellar Empire.


How would you describe the Play-By-Mail game industry, as you see it from your perspective? Describe its past, it present, and its future through your eyes.

[Vern Holford] I haven't been following it much lately. I think its always going to be part of the gaming industry, in one form or another. Flying Buffalo is still out there, and from what I can tell, doing well. It’s always going to be at least a niche market.


Have you ever attended any PBM conventions or other gaming conventions, either as an individual gamer or as a game company, and what were some of your most memorable moments attending those?

[Vern Holford] Yes, at least, it was a general gaming convention in Los Angeles in 1989. I do not remember the name of it. Flying Buffalo was there, holding a seminar. I went with my oldest son to play games. I do remember that some of the local guys had an enhanced map for King Maker that include Scotland and Ireland. The Scots got control of Parliament.


What is your view on the role that magazines have played in impacting the Play-By-Mail genre of gaming, and what do you wish that those magazines had done differently, if anything?

[Vern Holford] I only wish they flourished. I do not know what they might have done better.


When all is said and done, what do you think will be Empyrean Cluster Wars' legacy to the world of gaming?

[Vern Holford] Well I hope that, by using the Internet, we can bring the fun of having your own interstellar empire to any one who wants it.


In issue # 33 of The Space Gamer magazine, Empyrean Challenge was described as a mountain of fun to play. How - specifically - does Empyrean Cluster Wars intend to top that, and what kind of gamer do you believe would be attracted to playing Empyrean Cluster Wars?

[Vern Holford] We can top that by making easier for the player to participate. Our players will be interested in the thinking and planning, rather than the flash bang, manual dexterity required by a lot of gaming.


Empyrean Challenge was operated out of Boise, Idaho, according to an old ad for that play by mail game. Where is the real world headquarters for Empyrean Cluster Wars?

[Vern Holford] Actually, it's in Los Angeles and New York. The computer we run it on is with me, in Los Angeles.

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