2. The System Interface

The first thing that has to be done in order to play on a Stellar Crisis server is to create a new empire with a password. Once this is done one can begin to use the resources on the server: edit one's profile, search for other empires, chat with fellow players, join games currently in progress and start new games.

2.1. The Login screen

This is the first screen that players see when they connect to an Stellar Crisis server. This screen allows players who have already created empires to access the server by simply typing in a valid empire's name and password. New empires can be created by typing in an otherwise unused empire name and a password to be used with it. If the empire name is not in use on the server, then the player will be directed to the New Empire screen.

It should be noted that empire names are case insensitive and all initial and trailing spaces in the names are stripped by the server. Therefore, the names "PlanetCrusher" and " pLaNeTcRuShEr " correspond to the same empire. In addition, empire names can only include alphanumeric caracters, spaces, dashes, underlines, commas and quotes (others are replaced by spaces). Some combinations of the latter characters are forbidden though, like """".

2.2. The New Empire screen

This screen is reached when a new empire is created. It requires the player who is creating the new empire to verify (retype) the password that he or she entered in the Login screen and enter basic information about the empire, such as its owner's real name, email address, homepage URL and comments. None of these fields are mandatory though.

You can change your icon from the default by clicking on it. For speed, you can also enter an URL where all "themed" pictures are kept, so that those pictures can be fetched locally or from a faster web site. For instance, it could be file:/home/agt/caro/hobbies/sc/cache on an UNIX system. You can also write a "Victory Sneer", which will be sent to your enemy at the moment of victory.

Now let's have a look at the various boolean options (though the defaults should be fine for the vast majority of new players):

Background Image 

Whether the background image is displayed. It can be disabled for bandwidth reasons.

Enhanced Ratios Line 

By default, the maintenance ratio, the fuel ratio, the tech level and the tech developpement are displayed at the top of most game screens. If this option is enabled, then available minerals, fuel, agriculture and agriculture ratio are displayed as well (see section XXX for an explanation of these terms).

Show Next BR 

This option triggers whether its predicted next BR is displayed for each ship on the Ships screen (see section XXX for an explanation of this). This is useful for instance if you want to be sure some of your existing ships are at full strength next turn without calculating things by hand for each ship you build.

Separate Data Color 

When this option is enabled, labels (like "Economic") and data (like "3") are displayed using a different color, which makes them a bit easier to read (IMHO).

WebTV Mode 

When this mode is selected, it is possible to limit the size of the map displayed on the Map screen. A field labelled "Map Size" appears to the right of the Exit button, into which a number may be typed. A value of zero indicates normal operation, but when a non-zero value is given, the concept of a Map Center is introduced. To begin with, the center is the homeworld. The map displayed shows only planets which are no further from the Map Center than the given Map Size, either orthogonally or diagonally. Therefore, for example, a Map Size of 3 gives a map of at most 7 by 7 planets. A menu of explored planets is provided at the bottom of the map which permits selection of a new Map Center, which takes effect when the Map button is clicked again. Selecting this option also alters the width of the Max Pop field on the Systems screen, which is otherwise rendered too narrow by WebTV.

The following options are only useful if Javascript is available and enabled in your browser. Otherwise, you should disable them as they use some bandwidth.

Auto Update 

This option is used to trigger the automatic refresh of the current game page after an update has occurred. Note though that this is done by the browser, not the server, therefore if the update occurs earlier than expected (for instance because everybody has pressed "End Turn" before the end of the turn), the refresh will be late.

Graphical Buttons 

This options allows to display some buttons (for instance the "Game List" menu bar) graphically. In one hand, they aren't very cute, in the other hand, you can always display your own buttons thanks to the "Theme URL" option described above.

Update Countdown 

If this option is enabled, each game screen shows a countdown field giving the amount of time remaining until the next update. Again, latency between the browser and the server can cause the countdown to be late by a few seconds, i.e. the server may perform the update before the countdown reaches zero.

Sensitive Map 

If this option is enabled, a small magnifying glass symbol appears at the south-west corner of each planet on the map. Wave your mouse cursor over this symbol, and a window appears with details of the system, including the ships present.

Anyway, after an empire has been successfully created (or the player has correctly logged in through the Login screen, see Section 2.1), the Active Game List screen (see Section 2.3) will appear, with the following menu:

Game List - Open Game List - New Game List - Edit Profile - Stat Viewer - History Viewer - Exit

2.3. The Active Game List

This screen provides a list of the games that the logged-in empire is currently playing. Clicking on the Login button will lead to the introductory screen for the selected game.

2.4. The Open Game List

This screen provides a list of the games that are currently being played on the server and that the logged-in empire has permission to view. Clicking on the Join button will allow the player to join the selected game, unless your Bridier status appears to be inadequate for that game (probably because the first player wouldn't get enough Bridier points for nuking you).

2.5. The New Game List

This screen provides a list of the games that are currently available on the server and that the logged-in empire has permission to view. Here is an example of a game you can start:

A game entry on the Game List screens

Now we explain the structure of the game entry shown above:

Series Name 

Name of the series, here "Shifting Sands".

Series Icon 

This optional icon should (hopefully) give to players an idea of the series characteristics. For instance we could have a different icon for the different types of series (blitzes or dailies; 2-player games also called grudges, bloods, where empires can only be at war with each other, or alliance games), or an icon for the first version of Stellar Crisis allowing these particular series features (here, version 3.0).

Series Caption 

Series short textual description.

[Series Name] Detail 

Clicking on this button shows extra details about the series parameters summarized on the right of the button.

Series Parameters 

Lists the most important parameters of the series, like the update period, the maximum number of players, the number of systems per player, the diplomatic possibilities, and so on... For a complete specification of the series, click on the [Series Name] Detail button. See Section 2.5.1 for more details.

Challenge Level 

This selectbox is only available for Bridier ranking series. It allows players starting a game to set the minimum number of Bridier points they should earn by nuking their opponent. Setting it low is good to quickly find opponents whereas setting it high prevents you for playing people whose Bridier score wouldn't allow you to improve your score significally, in other words, (usually) unchallenging opponents.

Game Info 

This line displays the game number, the current number of players, the maximum number of players, the number of updates having already occurred, and the Start button to actually start the game (for the Login button, see Section 2.3, for the Join button, see Section 2.4). The text on the right shows additional information on the game, for instance when the next update occurs, and whether you're ready for it. If you're playing a Bridier ranking game, you can also see how many points to expect from this game (whether you win or lose it).

2.5.1. Main Series Parameters

First, let's describe the most important series parameters, i.e. those described directly on the Game List screen:

Bridier ranking 

The Bridier ranking system is a scoring system with good mathematical properties, successfully used to rate french play-by-mail chess players for years (see Section XXX). If this option appears, then playing a game of this series will affect your Bridier score.

Update period 

This is the interval between updates. It is not needed to log in more than once per turn (i.e. between two updates), but maybe to check diplomatic missives. This value has a great incidence on how long a game can last, so be careful ! For instance, a value of 3 minutes means a game will typically last one or two hours (blitzes), whereas a value of 24 hours (dailies) means a game will usually last for months ! "Always available" means that the series can be played any time during the day, and "no weekend updates" means the series doesn't update on week-ends (this usually only makes sense for dailies).

Number of players 

The maximum number of players that can join a game. After this number is reached or that the number of updates reaches a server-configurable limit, the game is closed (full), i.e. noone can join the game anymore. There is a little known exception to that rule though: if the game "fills" but someone gets nuked or surrenders before the fifth update, then another player can join... even the player that just left !

Number of systems 

The number of new systems that are added to the map whenever a new player joins the game. Sometimes it is a range, i.e. games of the same series can have a different number of systems per player, but note that within a game, it's the same number for each player. Usually, the less systems per player, the faster you'll meet your opponent(s).

Average Resources 

The average agriculture, mineral, and fuel ratings of randomized systems (this does not include the homeworld). Note that each chain of systems has the same sum of resources. And systems created with builder ships will not be random, but will exactly equal the averages. Games with high resources increase the value of colonization.

Max Ag Ratio 

An empire's Ag Ratio will be the lesser of its ratio of Agriculture to Population, or this maximum. Ag Ratio directly determines the growth of an empire's populations.

Tech advance 

The amount that a player's Tech Level increases on update, assuming the player does not consume any mineral and fuel resources.

Diplomatic choices 

Whether truce, trade and alliance are allowed in that particular game, and the maximum number of allies allowed to each player. Games labelled "Cutthroat" (usually) do not allow alliance. Games marked "Blood" or "Grudge" do not (usually) even allow truce or trade.

Map layout 

Random layout means that each chain of systems has different properties (layout, resources, position of homeworld). Exploring them is fun but sometimes they can be unfair. Mirrored layouts are only available for grudges, and it's the fairest game you can think of: the second player's chain is a mirror of the first player's chain, and one layer of buffer systems is inserted between the two. Multihome mirrored layouts means each player starts with several homeworlds. That means more resources at the beginning but if only one of them is nuked, you have lost. See Section XXX for more details on map generation.

Number of wins 

Some series forbid entry to players having too few and/or too many wins. So that some series are reserved for beginners, while some others are reserved for advanced players. It is well known that the number of wins is a poor measure of a player's ability, but at least this avoids total newbies joining advanced games (or regular players nuking away in beginner games).

2.5.2. Extra Series Parameters

If you're only playing beginner games, you probably don't want to read up on them right now. Otherwise, here they are:

Restricted Tech

The technologies whose selection is constrained, i.e. you need to be careful when you purchase one of them, because you might definitely give up on other restricted technologies in doing so.

Unrestricted Tech

The technologies that a player may freely purchase by spending tech selections.

Developed Tech

The technologies that are known by a player when first joining the game.

Allowed number of Restricted

The maximum number of restricted techs that a player may know at a time. An empire that already has the maximum number cannot purchase another.

Number of trade-ins

The maximum number of restricted techs that an empire may "forget" during the course of the game. The term "trade-in" is a bit misleading, since an empire that forgets a tech this way does not get another tech in return. nstead, the player merely gets rid of a restricted tech that is counting against the maximum allowed. Assuming the player has at least one tech selection in reserve, he can then purchase a different restricted tech - one that otherwise would have been incompatible with his existing selections.

Player Visibility

Whether the list of empires being present in a game is public. This allows you to play people you like while at the same time reducing the surprise factor.

Cloakers built cloaked

If this option is enabled, you can build your cloakers right under the nose of your opponent and he will never know. Otherwise, cloakers are a bit less useful because you have to spend one turn cloaking them, and more important, your opponent can see you building cloakers unless you use builders she has not yet explored.

Build Visibility

If yes, that means your opponent can follow what you are building before the ships are actually built (i.e. when the update occurs). She can also watch your systems' population (which changes when you build colonies) and your systems' max population (same thing when you're starting a pop-trick, see Section XXX). This option is only present for backward (bug ?) compatibility, otherwise it should always be disabled, leading to fairer and faster games, since then being the last to press End Turn doesn't provide any advantage.

Stargate/Jumpgate Range Divisor

The range of a stargate or jumpgate is the "distance" that it can transport ships, based on its current BR modified by eventual battles. The relevant distance between two systems is not the actual linear distance but the greater of the two orthogonal distances (vertical and horizontal). For example, the distance between (0,0) and (3,4) is four.

	Max Distance = Current BR / Range Divisor (rounded down).
       
Max Num Ships

The maximum number of ships that a player may have in play. This figure includes ships under construction, as well as those ordered to dismantle.

Max Number of Allies

The maximum number of allies allowed to each player. Example: a group of four players all mutually allied with one another would have three allies per player. This would be legal in a game that allowed at least three allies.

Surrender/Draw Allowed

Whether surrender or draw are allowed. See Section XXX for more details.

Initial Tech.

The starting Tech Level for any player that enters the game before the first update. Players that join later will get the highest Tech Level of the existing players.

[Technology] Loss

The amount of permanent BR lost by certain ships as a result of special events and actions:

Carrier 

when it absorbs an otherwise lethal dose of DEST.

Engineer 

when it attempts to open or close a jump.

Jumpgate 

when it attempts to transport ships to another system.

Morpher 

when it attempts to change into another ship type.

A ship that does not have sufficient BR to pay for Loss is destroyed, and any order it was trying to execute will fail. An engineer, jumpgate, or morpher whose BR is at least equal to the amount of Loss incurred, but less than twice this figure, is consumed by the (successful) execution of its orders.

Special Build Cost

The amount of minerals required to build a ship of this technology, above and beyond the amount needed as a function of its BR. Therefore the total cost in minerals to build such a ship is:

	(BR + 4) + Special Build Cost
       
Special Maint Cost

The amount of minerals required to maintain a ship of this technology, above an beyond the amount needed as a function of its BR. Therefore the total cost in minerals to maintain such a ship is:

	2 × BR + Special Maint Cost
       
Planet Build Cost

This number is used to determine whether builder ships succeed in creating a new planet. The total BR of the ships giving the create order is multiplied by ten, then compared against the create cost. If the total BR is high enough, the creation order succeeds. If not, the order fails. Either way, the builder ships are consumed.

Average Resources

See Section 2.5.1.

Homeworld Resources

The agriculture, mineral, and fuel ratings of the home system. Games with high-resource homeworlds facilitate early building. Note that starting population will equal the homeworld's agriculture.

Minimum Pop to Build

Also called build threshold, this is amount of population required for a system to achieve "builder status" - that is, to gain the ability to build ships there.

Blind until Start

If set, the first empire in a game is prevented from viewing the Map and Systems screen until the second empire has joined. This is intended to counter the phenomenon of empires joining and quickly quitting games in search of what they consider to be a favorable starting position.

2.6. The Profile Editor

This screen allows players to customize their empires' profiles. It looks a lot like the New Empire screen (see Section 2.2 for more details), but the "Last Login" information, useful to check whether someone else has used your empire last time. Moreover, do not forget to press the Save Profile button after you have made your changes, otherwise they will be cancelled when you exit this screen.

2.7. The Stat Viewer

This screen allows you to view the statistics of other empires enrolled at the server. Firstly, you can view information on a particular empire, by filling the Name text box then by clicking on the Search button. Pike regular expressions can be used here, for instance ^[A-Z]igB returns all empires starting by an uppercase character followed by "igB", like ZigBang and BigB, but not Master of BigB or digB. To lookup all empires starting by a letter, you can also click on the corresponding button, with the risk of getting the message: Too many matching empires. Anyway, here are the different statistics:

Team 

Obsolete

Seeking Team 

Obsolete

Real Name 

See Section 2.2.

E-Mail 

See Section 2.2.

2.8. The History Viewer

XXX

2.9. Exit

This button will take players who press it back to the Login screen (see Section 2.1) and allow them to use different empires or create new ones.