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flagger

SubSpace (video game)

SubSpace is a two-dimensional space shooter computer game published in 1997 by Virgin Interactive Entertainment (VIE) which was a finalist for the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Online Game of the Year Award in 1998. This game, now freeware, incorporates quasi-realistic zero-friction physics into a massively multiplayer online game through the Continuum game client. It is no longer operated by VIE; rather, it subsists by support from fans and players of the game, who provide servers and technical updates. The action is viewed from above, which presents challenges very different from those of a three-dimensional game. The game has no built-in story or set of goals; players may enter a variety of servers, each of which have differing objectives, maps, sounds, and graphics.

Although falling short of modern standards, SubSpace is widely considered an early entry in the massively multiplayer online genre due to its unprecedented player counts.

History

SubSpace evolved from a game originally called Sniper (1995), a project to test the effects and severity of lag in a massively multiplayer environment over dialup connections. After its creators realized its viability as an actual game, public beta testing began in February, 1996, and it became fully public later that year. The game was released commercially in December 1997 with a list price of US$27.99 for unlimited play, requiring no monthly or hourly fees. The game was originally developed by Burst, led by Jeff Peterson (aka Jeff P.) and Rod Humble, for the US branch of the now-defunct Virgin Interactive. Later on, Jeff Petersen would use SubSpace as inspiration for Sony Online Entertainment's Infantry and Cosmic Rift.

While in the beginning the game only offered four playable ships, a couple of servers, and a limited number of maps, during a costly and extensive testing period the game developed depth and replay value seldom rivaled by games before or since. When the game was officially released, it was not a commercial success due to poor marketing and the relative newness of the MMO genre. In addition, after two years of playing for free, many players refused to pay for a game that they had beta tested for two years, and instead opted for a software crack written by CLASS. The crack's popularity was bolstered by widespread irritation with delays and focus-stealing caused by the check. Later, a Russian programmer who also released the cheat utility Twister, released the SubSpace v1.35 client to bypass the game's CD check.

The server software had been distributed with the commercial release. Once VIE went under in 1998, many of its remaining US assets were purchased by Electronic Arts, but the SubSpace license was not. This caused all of the commercially hosted servers, including the official VIE servers, to eventually go offline permanently, and independently run servers became the only choice for hosting zones, including the old VIE zones. The community lost many players but continued to survive.

Within a short time, a number of cheats in addition to Twister appeared, and commercial game hacking programs took their toll on the game as well. In response, a banning utility and new client were developed, arresting the cheating epidemic. The new BanG utility extended the banning capabilities of the server while the new client, named Continuum, largely thwarted the efforts of hackers. Continuum is now the only client permitted to connect to servers on the SubSpace Central billing server, which stores user names and passwords. In addition to security improvements, Continuum added increased media and gameplay capabilities. Citing security concerns, the authors of Continuum have declined to release its source code.

Game files

SubSpace utilizes a client-server architecture. Initially, both the client and server were provided by VIE. The client executable was titled SubSpace while the server was called SubGame. A new client, titled Continuum, was created by players PriitK and Mr Ekted. The original server software, heavily modified, is still the most common, although an open source alternative, A Small Subspace Server, is now available.

Continuum client

PriitK (Priit Kasesalu), who has also worked on the development of Kazaa, Skype, and most recently Joost, developed the back-end including gameplay and security, and Mr Ekted developed the front-end. Continuum was developed as a clone of the SubSpace client, but now contains new original features exclusive to the client over the original. Continuum is the official client of the SubSpace Central Billing Server. It was developed primarily because of the failures of SubSpace mainly in security. The SubSpace client had been heavily analyzed allowing cheat programs such as Twister to modify the in-memory player data. Continuum boasts a new encryption scheme along with a number of other security-related features. Although a few attempts to crack the Continuum encryption have been made, none have been very widespread as the cheats are easily flagged or extremely obvious and the banning system is quite comprehensive.

After several months of testing, the Continuum 0.40 client was officially made available on September 21, 2007. It has also been adopted by several zones, notably on the SSC server, as a requirement in order to play. This update was coordinated through PriitK and consists of correcting various Windows XP and Windows Vista compatibility issues, as well as including several new security/anti-hack initiatives designed to keep hacking to an absolute minimum.

Graphics and sound

The Continuum client allows a great extent of customization of graphics and sound. Every graphic, animation, and sound used can be replaced by another file. Graphics do not need to be the same size as the original, so replacement graphics may not resemble the original SubSpace look and feel at all. Every arena and zone can provide different graphics and sound through the use of .lvz files, which compress the media into one file and contains details of their usage including placement and animation characteristics.

Game dynamics

Gameplay

SubSpace is divided into different "zones", or servers, to which the player can connect. A zone usually has a public "arena", in which a certain game is played. However, sub-arenas exist in most zones. Many sub-arenas are used for hosting events where different maps and settings than those present in the main arena(s) are needed. There are frequently arenas for players to fight and practice without interference from other players. Many squads have their own private arenas as well.

Once in a zone, the player uses the keyboard for all gameplay controls. The player controls their ship's basic movement via thrust and yaw. Other controls allow the player to fire bullets, bombs, use items, and toggle abilities. In-game chat functions allow players to communicate within a zone, arena, squad, or billing server.

Game types

There are three basic types of games: flagging, kill, and soccer. With the advent of ASSS, game designers can create new types such as race or RPGs in addition to the original game types. These game types are also able to be designed using bots that manipulate the original server software, although ASSS makes it easier in some areas.

Flagging is divided into the following sub-categories: Capture the Flag (CTF), Turf, Basing and Running types. Kill is divided into the following sub-categories: Kill, King of the Hill and Speed types.

Bounty Rabbit

In Bounty Rabbit games, one player is the rabbit, and has the 'flag'. The rabbit's kills are worth 101 points while a regular players' kills are only worth 1 point. Kill the current rabbit to become the new rabbit. Person with most points at end of game wins. This game is usually run by bots in a main or sub-arenas.

Basing

It is very similar to Turf, except there is a base with one flag. The team that controls that flag controls the base, and thus the base is often completely populated by the controlling team.

Flagging

The objective of Flagging is to claim all flags for your team or frequency. Flags can be picked up by opponents only. Flags that are picked up are dropped after a set time. Flagging games usually involve bases to store flags and are heavily team-oriented. In SubSpace terminology, Flagging was originally referred to as a "War Zone".

Turf

Turf is a territorial flag game, in which flags are located at specific locations around the map. Ownership is claimed by simply passing over the flag by any player. Turf games can either be won or involve periodic point rewards.

Running

Flags in running zones do not have drop timers, and may only be claimed by killing an opponent carrying flags or picking up neutral flags. Variants include Rabbit Chase.

Kill

This basic SubSpace zone has no 'rounds' or 'games', rather the objective is to kill as many opponents as possible while keeping one's own deaths to a minimum. Kills are recorded into a Win/Loss record (accessible by the F2 button) and the bounty of the ships one has killed are collected into a total score. For each powerup or kill you make, your bounty increases.

(Example: Chaos Zone)

King of the Hill

In a game of King of the Hill, each player starts off with a crown, which may be lost if the set amount of time runs out. A player's timer, which is displayed at the top right of the screen, is reset every time they kill another player. However, if a player has already lost their crown, they may only regain it by either killing a flagger with a crown (sometimes marked by a red dot on the radar), or by destroying any two players. Generally though, flaggers with low bounty (see kill) do not give others their crown. The game is then won when there is only one crowned player left standing.

Speed

Each round of a Speed game has a time limit. The winner of a round is the player with the most kills for the round.

In Speed Zone, ships began with a higher "bounty" (and more weapons and other power ups) than in other zones. Speed Zone proved to be less popular than the Jackpot/Running, Chaos, or "flag" zone games and support was discontinued shortly after SubSpace went to retail.

Soccer

In soccer, also called powerball, the objective is to take a ball and shoot it into your opponent's goal. The winner is the frequency with the most amount of goals.

Weapons

A player can fire a number of different weapons at enemy players. The basic weapons, bullets, bombs and mines, require energy to use. This energy is also used to power a ship's shields; if a player's energy drops below zero, he or she dies (and is usually immediately respawned). In most zones, a player's energy constantly recharges. This forces a player to carefully evaluate his or her ability to attack based upon how much damage the player's ship can absorb. The maximum energy levels of ships and other settings, such as maximum ship thrust and speed, can be upgraded with "prizes" or "greens", which are small green boxes that can upgrade (or sometimes downgrade) a ship that runs over them. Greens can also give the player special items such as "Thor's hammer" (a bomb that flies through walls and has a greater proximity sense for opponents than a regular bomb), "repel" (pushes nearby enemies, enemy mines & fire, etc. away from the player in two rapid-succession pulses), "rocket" (gives the player greater speed for a short time period) and others. Again, the available weapons vary greatly by zone.

Competitive play

Many SubSpace players are organized into squads. These squadrons serve the same purpose as clans or teams do in other online games and allow players to cooperate and improve their skills, as well as to become more familiar with fellow players. In addition, many squads compete in competitive leagues hosted by various zones. These leagues are typically run like professional sport leagues, with a preseason, regular season, and playoffs for the highest-ranked squads. Dueling is another favorite pastime of many SubSpace players, and many zones have separate arenas for this purpose alone. Players in a squad have their own chat channel for communication.

Ships

Within any given zone, a player can choose between up to eight different ships: Warbird, Javelin, Spider, Leviathan, Terrier, Weasel, Lancaster, and Shark.

A player can also choose to spectate the game (also known as spec mode) by either following a specific player or the ball (if one is in play), or they can choose to move around freely and observe any part of the map. These spectators have the ability to chat normally, allowing them to communicate with and provide direction to teams.

Standard VIE Settings

Standard VIE Settings, SVS for short, is a server configuration for the online action game SubSpace conforming to the physics and rules used in non-special game types hosted by Virgin Interactive Entertainment (VIE) before the company's dissolution. The term is sometimes used informally to describe servers which seek, through other means, to preserve the spirit of the game as it was originally played.

Not included under SVS are setting exceptions used in alternate zones, or on special servers set aside for new player training, formal matches, and special events. There are also no SVS rules for some weapons which varied between game types; and there is no SVS standard for the Shark, a ship added after the departure from VIE of SubSpace's development team, Burst. An otherwise pure server configuration is considered SVS so long as these weapon elements were at one time in use on a normal VIE server, and so long as the Shark's settings do not disproportionately subvert the role of other ship types or game elements.Notes

  • The term SSS (Standard SubSpace Settings) has also been used to refer to the original VIE-style zones and settings.

Although some zones may use settings based on SVS, they can differ entirely from these descriptions: most other zones however, have unique settings for each of the ships customized to suit the gameplay objectives and styles of the zone. Following is a description of each ship and its role in Standard VIE Settings.

Warbird

OConner Domanic HA-46 Warbird

The Warbird was often considered to be the bread-and-butter ship of SubSpace. It has an effective combination of speed, agility, energy recharge, and firepower that satisfies newbies and veterans alike. It is generally the ship of choice to drive a turret (series of ships attached to another teammate), because of its maneuverability. Beyond that, however, it possesses no special abilities.

Javelin

Crummand FC-12/O Javelin

Like the Warbird, the Javelin does not possess any special abilities. Still, it does differ from the Warbird slightly. The Javelin can attain a faster top speed and has a slightly higher recharge rate. However, it also achieves those at the cost of slower acceleration/deceleration and rotation speeds, thereby making it less maneuverable. Its speed makes it an adequate choice for turreting, although it is rarely used in that role.

Spider

Loakhaed RSC17 Spider

Slightly slower and less maneuverable than the Warbird, the Spider's primary purpose is covert operations. It was originally the only ship equipped with a cloaking device, making it invisible to any enemy not using XRadar.

While this proves advantageous in creating an element of surprise, it does not come without its tradeoffs. Enabling the cloak creates an energy drain, causing a slower recharge rate. To be rendered completely undetectable, both visually and on radar, a Spider pilot would also have to enable Stealth as well, further dropping the recharge rate. Plus, the ship cannot stay cloaked while firing its weapons. And, of course, Cloak and Stealth can both be foiled by a nearby ship using XRadar.

Leviathan

Ivangrad UT-59 Leviathan

Perhaps the least maneuverable ship in the game, the Leviathan also packs the heaviest punch. It is the only ship capable of firing Level 3 bombs and laying Level 3 mines (all other ships can only achieve, at most, Level 2). The Leviathan cannot outrun, and can only sometimes out-maneuver, any other type of ship. It also suffers from a relatively slow recharge rate, which is crucial since L3 bombs require more energy to fire. However, a skilled Leviathan pilot can be deadly.

Terrier

Blight Aerospace NU-34 Terrier

The Terrier is generally comparable to the Warbird in terms of speed and agility. However, it possesses a unique ability: it is the only ship equipped with double barrel guns, allowing it to fire two bullets at a time and four with Multifire (instead of one and three, respectively, with all other ships). Since the bullets are fired in a wider swath, the likelihood of hitting the target is increased.

Weasel

Yamakazi Sholi Znk/0-1 Weasel

The Weasel is one of the more interesting ships because it possesses two unique abilities. First, it is the only ship capable of firing electromagnetic pulse bombs and mines. Upon sustaining a hit from an EMP bomb, a ship will not only take damage, but its recharge rate will also be frozen at zero (or energy will be drained if the pilot is using devices) for a few seconds before returning to normal. EMP bombs and mines look different from normal bombs and mines, although they do not require extra energy to fire. They are also the only bombs which do not dispense shrapnel. The Weasel also has the innate ability to see mines on its radar screen. However, in terms of speed and maneuverability, only the Leviathan is slower.

Lancaster

Avro 4F/2 HMS Lancaster

Roughly comparable to the Spider's speed and agility, the Lancaster has one particularly strategic ability. Its bombs bounce off any surface, such as a wall or asteroid. A bomb fired by a Lancaster will bounce once before turning into a normal bomb (in contrast to bouncing bullets, which will bounce any number of times before hitting a target or disappearing). It will explode upon contact with an enemy ship, regardless of whether it has already bounced or not. The bouncing bombs open up plenty of possibilities for firing at something not directly in your line of fire.

Shark

Lezarwerks SY/9 Shark

The Shark is the newest ship, added to the game during the retail release of SubSpace (previously it had existed as the UFO, a special ship only a sysop could receive - this functionality remains). Essentially, it is a more maneuverable Spider. It has the ability to cloak, although the same energy constraints as the Spider apply. The Shark is also the only ship to have more than 1700 maximum energy. On some zones (particularly Chaos Zone) a different type of Shark is available. In terms of maneuverability, speed and acceleration it is nearly identical to Warbird, but is armed with a rapid-fire gun, making it a deadly close-combat vessel.

Zones

Subspace is unique in that the gamestyle can vary depending on the zone. Some zones are just free-for-all style gameplay, while others are capture the flag, or even powerball style. Zones typically have multiple public arenas, whose settings and maps are the same, which players are automatically distributed to upon joining the server. This serves to reduce crowding in highly populated arenas.

There are also numerous sub-arenas in SubSpace, and these sub-arenas can at times have greater populations than the "main/public" arenas. They differ from the main public arenas, in the sense that they may have their own settings, map, graphics, and bots (if required - or modules in ASSS zones). There are many different types of arenas, limited only by the imagination of the developers of these arena. For more advanced arenas, normally a bot is required to "host" the games. Some examples of bots are those that allow virtual racing games or football games to be played, or mimic popular movies. A player may visit any zone and press Esc + A, in order to see a list of all the arenas presently active in that zone. In ASSS zones, you can also type "?arena -a" for a list of all known sub-arenas, empty or active.

Customization

As mentioned above, a zone is a server to which players can connect using a client. Perhaps the most attractive feature of SubSpace is the extremely high degree of customization that zone sysops can implement. Almost every element of the game can be replaced, from the ship graphics to colors and sounds. Apart from a few basic settings, the game settings, such as ship speeds, energy levels, and such, can also be changed. This allows a vast variety of zones to exist. The Continuum client and server developments such as ASSS (A Small SubSpace Server) have made many new customizations possible.

Zone administration

Zones are traditionally administered by a hierarchy of staff members. Typically, a server host pays for and maintains the zone server. In addition, there are several levels of access within zones:Sysop (System Operator) This is the highest level of access available. Sysops can modify all zone settings and access lists, as well as control players in the zone. System Operators have the highest level of power and can control/demote moderators below them.Smod (Super Moderator) Smods have a very high degree of access. They can modify most access lists and have access to user commands. However, they have little control over zone settings.Mod (Moderator) Mod is the lowest official level of access in zones. Mods can ban users, although they have limited control over access lists. They have some ability to discipline, control, and reward users in the zone.Other Many zones have other, non-official levels of access. For example, zones that host leagues often grant referees a limited degree of access to moderator commands and abilities.

Almost all zones also utilize bots to remove players with excessive lag and to perform mundane tasks such as storing prized items, giving game results, and maintaining equal teams. ASSS makes possible server-side modules which can accomplish much more than traditional bots.

Server

The most prominent SubSpace server application is Subgame, which is is derived from the original Virgin Interactive Entertainment server software and runs natively only on Microsoft Windows. However there is also ASSS (A Small SubSpace Server), which is an open source server that can potentially be run on any platform. It was designed for use on Linux and other Unix-like operating systems, but can be configured for use on Microsoft Windows.. Both are downloadable from the SubSpace Central website

The server takes its settings from numerous files; server.ini and server.cfg are the two most important. These configuration files store the start-up configurations and main arena settings for the zone, respectively. The main .lvl and .lvz files are important as well. Level files (.lvl) are basically "map" files usually created with an editor such as SubSpace Map Editor (SSME), or Drake Continuum Map Editor (DCME), whereas .lvz files are compressed files that may contain graphics, sounds, and configurations to replace or add to the game's default media.

Large servers may have dozens or even hundreds of these files, as many subarenas use settings and graphics different from those of the main arena(s), and so require different .lvl, .cfg, and .lvz files. The news.txt is another important file that contains news and information regarding the zone. There are other files useful for administration, such as sysop.txt, smod.txt, moderate.txt, and vip.txt, which store the lists of players with server access, obscene.txt, which stores a list of obscene words to be blocked by the game's chat filter, and restricted.txt, which keeps a list of player names not allowed in the zone.

Billing

The counterpart to the server application is the billing server. This server, which stores player data and scores and links zones together, is named for its originally intended function (in VIE's Subgame server) to store records of who had paid for the game and, therefore, was allowed to play it. Obviously, once VIE went out of business, this function was no longer necessary. Billing servers now serve many additional functions, such as providing a network-wide ban service superior to the one built into Subgame and allowing players in different arenas or zones to chat with each other over chat channels. There are several large biller networks for SubSpace. By far, the largest is SSC, which is the de facto official biller. It is owned by PriitK, the creator of the Continuum client. However, space on this network is limited, and many have criticized it for alleged favoritism and a lack of updates.

Directory servers

Directory servers comprise the final piece of the server "puzzle". These servers are much like Domain Name System servers; they maintain lists of zones and their IP addresses and port numbers, allowing clients to connect.

Software compatibility

Client

The Continuum client is a Microsoft Windows-only program, due to its heavy reliance on DirectDraw. However, Continuum is compatible with an unofficial patched version of Wine . A Linux version of the SubSpace client, called Snrrrubspace, created by user and notable programmer Snrrrub was under development, but has not been completed. Another client using the VIE protocol was successfully developed by Smong utilizing SDL, but it is not finished and remains unreleased. An open source, cross-platform, SDL-based client called Discretion has been started by Bak.

Server

Subgame is also Microsoft Windows-only, but can also be run using a vanilla version of Wine. An Open Source alternative to Subgame, ASSS (A Small Subspace Server) has been developed and is designed for running on a Linux server but is compatible with all major operating systems. It is under active development.

Chat Clients

In addition to the game clients, there are a number of chat-only clients. These chat clients are particularly useful for managing zones and for keeping in touch with friends and squadmates. Due to Continuum's security measures, most chat client users have to be placed on a zone's VIP list. As a consequence, chat clients are limited in their appeal. Despite the tight security, a recently-developed chat client, Starlight, connects to all zones without requiring any special access.

See also

References

External links

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