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Full Version: How forgiving should an order processor be for a game?
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We're running a test run of Far Horizons. For the most part, everyone's orders have processed as intended. There were some surprises (looking at you, "TR1 Ted               100"), but mostly no harm done.

This round, though, a player type "END" instead of "ZZZ" to end a message. The result was that all the remaining commands were skipped. Fortunately, the GM caught that during a test run and the player was able to correct it. But the correction introduced another error - it left out the "END" for the section. If we were running this through the post, pretty much the whole turn would have been lost. In a competitive game, that could be the end for the player.

It seems like the order processor should make corrections where the intent is clear. For example, "RESEARCH 200 ML" and "RESEARCH ML 200" should both apply 200 points of research towards the military tech level. The manual says that the command format is

  | RESEARCH n tech ;; Spend "n" on research in technology "tech"

But the code accepts both.

The order processor can't fix the missing ZZZ because it can never be smart enough to tell whether a line is text or a command. Or, as mentioned in a comment:

  /* Skip MESSAGE text. It may contain a line that starts with "start". */

This comes up because I'm porting that code base to another programming language. I'm trying my darndest not to change the game, but I did add a check for a missing "END" statement. If it finds "START xxxx" and "xxxx" is a valid section name (JUMPS, STRIKES, etc), then it inserts an "END" and continues.

Is that common in other games? Do other games give players who submit their orders early a chance to fix them? I think that in an article in Suspense, one of the Buffalo guys said that part of the fun of PBM was the pressure of getting orders exactly right all the time.
The system in Far Horizons where the orders have such strict syntax is unusual.

There are games (Empyrean Challenge and SuperNova come to mind) that have multi-line orders that require a start/order/stop sequence. In EC it was for the components in a ship to be built. In SuperNova, you can set up convoy routes with a sequence of orders to be followed by a fleet assigned to it. In both cases, there is a "start" line, a sequence of lines, "end" line.

Pretty much every other game I've played have had single line orders that get executed either in the order on the order sheet, or in a specified order by type.
I am currently playing Heroic Fantasy with Flying Buffalo.  I have made a couple of errors on writing my turn that the moderator has corrected for me.  I was very grateful.  I would think it mainly has to do with the moderator's time restraints.  In the golden years, I imagine that it was more common to see unforgiving order formatting due to the sheer mass of turns coming in.

It's a nice service.  But I would understand if it were not there.  Doing the test run prior to the actual turn is above and beyond, on it's own.

The fully computer moderated PBM games are unforgiving.  In Dungeonworld, if you go in and mess with the format of the turn you are submitting in the online turn editor, its going to mess up the turn.  Putting Items in the wrong column, choosing the wrong ID# etc. also fail with no oversight or recourse.  It's part of the game.
In Galac-Tac we strictly adhere to the turn formatting. Of course, it's a computer-moderated game and needs to be "by the book". These days the user also enters the order directly into the system themselves so there's no GM intervention there at all. But in the old days it was GM-typed off a piece of paper, and that's what started the current format-specific phase.

Back then, there were first problems understanding what was written so we changed from mostly-text orders to mostly-numeric ones, which helped a lot. But it did make mistakes easier to overlook.

We tried correcting orders that looked wrong, but (a) we couldn't see most of the issues, and (b) we mis-corrected some things pretty badly (either changing orders that were actually intended or ones that were corrected incorrectly). After messing things up enough for players, we gave up and told them "what you said is what you get", so it's up to the player to get it right. As mentioned elsewhere, this isn't always a bad thing as it makes players pay attention to what they're doing. The biggest problem is generally with new players just learning the rules and formatting, and we've always been happy to help anyone who has questions or explain things that went wrong.

Now that we (as an industry) have mostly gotten off of paper turn submission we usually have new computerized possibilities to help with this situation. For Galac-Tac players using my GTac front-end program it contains both an order-entry assistant (prompting them with the appropriate formatting) and a "check turn for errors" command which catches most of of the kinds of things players are prone to. This really helps avoid problems a lot, and I really need to incorporate that into the direct web site entry page as well.

This, I think, is the best solution for games with relatively consistent turn formatting: have the game pre-check the orders for the players immediately when they're submitted and report back anything that looks suspicious. Then allow the player to correct orders that he decides are actually wrong.
I fully agree with this concept - a small front-end program that facilitates order entry is very nice to have.  The difficulty is writing a version that supports everything.  The GTAC front-end is awesome and adds functionality to the game a player not-using it would be hard pressed to duplicate. 

A simpler solution might be to build a data entry app for the web.  While I am a programmer, I am not conversant in every language out there and web / graphics are not my area of specialty.  I am currently experimenting with using WordPress with WP: ACF - Advanced Custom Fields Pro and WP: Advanced Forms Pro. This will collect input from players and store it.  Now Add Custom Post Types UI and Advanced Custom Fields: Custom Database Tables to eliminate junk posts and other garbage from the web.  All of these are WordPress plugins. 

At this point, you have user input in a custom table (or post) and you can export it anywhere you want. 

I added a custom plugin (that I wrote in PHP) to facilitate gathering data prior to input and allow the editing of orders previously entered.  The Forms Pro plugin has custom hooks to be able to add additional functionality.  Next up for me is to allow the validation of the orders while the player is inputting them.