VGA Planets Basics

VGA Planets is a play-by-email game by Tim Wisseman. This page is for new players and hosts, to give supplementary information on game setup that isn't in the documentation.

Note that all this applies to the DOS version of the game. I don't use WinPlan, so I don't know much about it.

What's what

To play VGA Planets, you'll need a host program and a client program. If you want computer players to take control of other races, you'll need to download them separately.

The standard shareware package (get these five files: vpa300d1.exe, vpa300d2.exe, vpa300d3.exe, vpa300d4.exe and install.exe) contains the default client (planets.exe) and an older version of host. You would be well advised also to download a more recent host (v3.22.017 being the latest at this writing) from Tim's site.

As for a computer player (cplayer), I recommend Cliff McKeithan's Dominate. It's freeware, it doesn't cheat, and it's very compatible with all known host versions. About half of the available cplayers are shareware, no others are cheat-free, and a few are well-known to cause problems with non-standard host configurations.

You may wish to download an alternative client program. VPA is very popular, and I favour it myself. The latest version at this writing is 3.51e.

Hosting a private game

You should certainly play for a while before hosting a public game. However, it's easiest to start by hosting a private game on your own system, before going out looking for public games to play in.

Don't ever set up a game in the main VGA Planets directory. It'll leave all sorts of junk data files lying around. Run each game in a subdirectory from the main directory.

Setting up a game

The checklist I use for setting up a new game is as follows. Ignore for the moment the items that aren't in boldface; you won't need them for your first games.

When you run HCONFIG, remember to load the defaults - otherwise you may be surprised when your planets don't generate any income...

So the actual sequence of commands, assuming you're calling the game GAME1, would be:

md game1
master game1
hconfig game1
host game1
When running master and hconfig, use the default options. It's worth putting all the races into the game, so that you get practice against them. For master, consider homeworld distance carefully - very long gives you plenty of time to build up an economy before meeting the enemy, and is probably best to start with, but long or less will give you earlier combats.

Playing the private game

You'll probably want to write a batch file for this. But beware... my batch file started off as a simple four-line sequence, and is now over 2,500 lines of Awk running as an autohost (see Ghost for more details).

What you need to do each turn is:

The only tricky bit in this is that the computer player needs to be told which races to play. Let's say you're playing the Feds (recommended for a new player) in the game1 that you set up above. Then your batch file would look like:

maketurn game1
dominate game1 /23456789ab+
host game1
unpack game1
planets game1
The "+" for Dominate is so that it doesn't build high-tech ships and parts - the same restriction you'll be under as a shareware player.

If you were using VPA, you'd replace the "planets" line with "VPA 1 game1".

Hosting unusual games


Ignore references to auxhost1.bat and auxhost2.bat. These days, you should use auxhost1.ini and auxhost2.ini.

auxhost1.ini gets run after turn files are unpacked and cheat checks are done, but before other orders are carried out. auxhost2.ini runs after other actions, before the RST files are generated.

If you use RCONFIG, put REF <gamename> into auxhost2.ini.

Custom starmaps and ship lists

The first thing to do is to copy your existing lists into a spare directory you won't be using for games; I use ./default . The files that should be saved are: planet.nm
hullspec.dat torpspec.dat
The ship definition files. Copy all of them together - there's a checksum calculated over the group.
truehull.dat The ship list file (who gets which hull). Normally associated with the *spec.dat files, but doesn't have to stay with them.
xyplan.dat The starmap.
Various name lists (planets, races and ion storms).
Once that's done, copy the new files you want to use into the game directory. Host.exe and Planets.exe (and Tim's other utilities) will generally only use the copies in the main directory, so you'll need to copy them from the game directory before running. VPA and most add-ons don't have this limitation.

Make sure that players have copies of the files!

More tips are welcome - please mail me with any you think would be useful.

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