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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.