Damian Walker

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Orders, Reports and Play-by-mail

Wednesday, 15th November 2017

There are two types of "turn-based" game mechanism that I know of. One allows each player in the course of their turn to move, build, attack or whatever else the game allows them to do, reporting the success of each action as it is taken. The other allows players to issue orders to move, build, attack without giving them immediate feedback, processing all the orders at once and telling each player what happened at the start of the next turn.

Star Governor is going to be of the latter type. Its restricted communication, where orders and reports take time to travel between the emperor and the unit concerned, give no real choice in the matter. When issuing a movement order to a fleet that's across the galaxy, it'll take many turns before you receive confirmation that it happend and what the result was.

The orders-processing-reports model of turn-based gaming carries with it another possibility: play-by-mail. Since nothing is processed while a player gives their orders, the computer that processes the orders need not be the one on which the player issues their orders and views their reports. Orders can be saved in a file to be sent to whoever is processing the turn, and the report file sent back again once processing is done.

Given that Star Governor will support up to seven players, play-by-mail would be a practical way to handle large games: who really wants to look away from the computer screen while six other players issue their secret orders? Older gamers may remember VGA Planets and Stars!, which worked very well in the PBM format. Even older gamers may remember the games where you sent your orders hand-written on paper and received printed reports!

The PBM format and my use of the Watcom compiler also allows an intriguing possibility: though I'm concentrating on DOS for the player interface, I could allow turns to be processed under Linux. In time, I could develop Linux and Windows player interfaces, and allow players using different operating systems to take part in the same game.