Friday, April 24, 2020

Planet's Edge: The Shape of the Universe

This session resulted in a full set of resources, and not much else.
As I reported a couple weeks ago, my Planet's Edge adventures were curtailed when my save game got corrupted, resulting in a freeze every time I tried to beam down to a planet. I tried various solutions and couldn't come up with anything that worked short of starting over. My most recent other save was from a few hours prior, and I had little confidence that it would not also ultimately corrupt. Thus, I started over. But I also hate doing things twice and found it difficult to motivate myself to continue. Along came commenter Klaus, who played up to the point where I left off, making this entry and the one that follows possible. He not only re-did everything, but he left the final save with the party in the courtyard of Alpha Centauri, with organized piles of personal weapons, ammunition, and already-used quest items. So I had really no excuse not to continue with the game. Thanks, Klaus!
Klaus sure knows how to keep things organized.
I then did something so useless and boring that it makes simply replaying a few episodes pale in comparison. It requires some explanation. The first thing you need to know is that I got way behind in grading papers. I gave my students a lot of short assignments this semester (three-to-five pages), and they piled up fast because I had to spend so much time converting my material to an online format. Around Wednesday last week, I did the math and realized I had about 170 papers awaiting my grade.

But few things are more mind-numbing than grading one paper after another, so I looked for something I could do in between papers. It had to be something that I could do in a small period of time, maybe 5-10 minutes. That ruled out most conventional RPG playing. In a game like Ultima VII, you want to immerse yourself, not explore Britain one conversation at a time in between comments about how to improve one's approach to APA referencing. I knew that if I tried to play a regular RPG in five-minute chunks, it would end up turning into hour-long sessions and I wouldn't get any grading done. 
The Sheroshu races through the universe between student papers.
This would have been the perfect time for an RPG in which I needed to grind. Grade a paper, fight a couple of combats, repeat. But I hadn't even fought my first initial combat in Ultima VII, and Planet's Edge doesn't have any leveling. Starting a new game hoping for a reason to grind seemed like a silly idea. However, I was in a curious position with Planet's Edge. My team had retrieved some ship and weapon plans from their initial expeditions. I was eager to take advantage of some ship upgrades, including the new Sheroshu hull, Mark 7 engines (or anything better than Mark 1), and better weapons. But I lacked the resources to build any of them. A trip to the warehouse informed me that to build the new hull alone, I would need 19 more heavy metals and 1 more soft metal. A Mark 7 engine would cost me a bunch of alien elements for which I hadn't even found any to identify the symbols.
The manual tells you what sectors have various elements, but not always what systems, let alone what planets. I started exploring each sector systematically, looking for each element I needed. If I ran into an "episode," I explored it if I could, but I otherwise spent my time on resource-acquisition. I soon ran into a few problems:
  • Approaching the "episodes" this way doesn't really work because they're complicated and doing something now is a good way to screw things up hours later when I engage the episode for "real." It's also very unsatisfying to blog about plots half-engaged and episodes half-glimpsed. I ended up throwing away a lot of material.
I don't remember where I am or what I'm doing.
  • The manual is wrong about some resources being available in some places. Specifically, there are no alien organics in the Ankaq Sector, no alien liquids in the Izar Sector, no rare elements in the Zaurak Sector, and no new elements in the Kornephoros Sector. In a few of these cases, those elements are found on planets in neutral space just outside the sector; other times, they're just completely wrong.
  • There are more resource locations than are listed in the manual. The manual just gives one of maybe two or three. This is important because you can't just keep depleting the same planet for resources. It takes time for them to replenish.
  • Some of the planets with resources are guarded with orbital platforms and attack ships. You can sometimes bribe these guys to stand down, and of course you can use the "Dump Cargo" trick that a couple of commenters mentioned, but that seems like cheating.
Now all of this conflated with my need to do something that only takes 5-10 minutes in between papers. I thus hit upon the decision to explore every system in Planet's Edge and record exactly which planets had resources and "episodes." Grade a paper, explore a system, log my findings into a spreadsheet, repeat. I can't begin to stress how boring this process was and how much more boring it would have been if I'd tried to do it as a continuous manner of "play." Planetary exploration isn't exciting in this game like in Starflight. I wasn't fighting any combats because I wanted to keep as much room available for cargo as possible. There wasn't anything interesting to do between planets. There wasn't anything interesting to do on planets except the "episodes," which I was skipping for now.
I even recorded coordinates, so I could map the galaxy in ArcGIS.
But I kept it up until the end--I had fewer systems to explore than papers to grade. At the end of the week, this is what I can report about the galaxy in Planet's Edge:
  • The galaxy occupies coordinates from -64 to 64 on two axes. If you fly to the edge, it doesn't wrap; you just stop moving. Earth is at 0,0. It takes almost 20 minutes to travel the galaxy from corner to corner at ship speed 1 (using the default emulator speed). It takes 3 minutes at ship speed 6.
  • The galaxy consists of eight sectors, but not every part of the galaxy is covered by a sector. Among those sectors are 112 star systems. The number of star systems per sector ranges from 7 (Algieba) to 14 (Zaurak); the average is 10.4. There are 29 planets in areas of space not covered by a sector.
  • Each solar system has between 1 and 10 planets; the average is 5.8. There are 645 total planets.
  • The first planet in order is usually the name of the star and then "Prime." The others follow with numbers two through ten. So "Subra Prime" is the first planet in the Subra system and "Aldebaran Six" is the sixth planet in that system. There are 20 exceptions to this. Nine of them are in the Sol system, where every planet has its proper name, although for some reason Saturn is fifth and Jupiter is sixth. The other 11 exceptions are scattered throughout the galaxy. For instance, what would be Ascella Two is "Secundus Base." Kornephoros Three is the "Impremi Homeworld" instead.
  • Thirty-seven (37) of the planets have "episodes," between 3 and 6 per sector. No system has more than one episode. Except for Sol, which lies at the conjunction of all sectors, no episode is found on a planet not specifically controlled by a sector.
One of many interesting scenarios I'm saving for later.
  • Thirty-six (36) of the planets have resources. Ten (10) of these have defense platforms and ships that you have to destroy or bribe. However--and this is key--every resource has at least one planet with no defense platform. Identifying these was probably the most valuable outcome of this exercise.
At some point, I'll have to figure out how to deal with these defenses.
  • Most resources are found on exactly two planets. Alien Gases are found on six (three with defensive capabilities, three without). Alien isotopes, alien metals, and soft metals are each found on three. "New elements" are found only on Nekkar Prime, one of the most remote planets in the galaxy, and they don't seem to regenerate the way the other elements do.
  • Aselius is the only system with more than one resource. There are only five systems with both an episode and a resource. Forty-five (45) systems, or 40% of the total, have neither an episode nor a resource and thus have no reason to ever visit them.
  • There is absolutely no correlation between a planet's icon and the type of terrain or surface. Sometimes what looks like gas giants are covered in grass; sometimes earthlike blue marbles have a molten surface.
Looks like a gas giant, has organic plants and trees.
  • There are 10 "generic" planet descriptions, each used between 42 and 101 times. Most common is the "unstable volcanic" description; least common the "jelly planet with crystals" description. 
Eat your heart out, Ahab.
  • Planets in the Sol system each have unique descriptions but they still use the generic images from other planets, which creates some confusion.
This is the image used for planets that have grass plains and rolling hills.
  • Thirty-three (33) of the 645 planets, or about 5 percent, are graphically depicted with a moon.
I did not record the percentage that had rings but let me know if you need that information.
It's possible I missed some things. There were times that I got to a system, counted the planets, explored them, and then noticed there were a couple that hadn't existed when I first arrived. (Sometimes the orbits of the eighth, ninth, and tenth planets take them temporarily off screen.) I checked the map a few times, but it's even possible I missed an entire star. There were some planets I couldn't scan (for the episode name) because of guardian ships. I assumed these planets had episodes if they didn't have resources, but I suppose it's possible I was wrong about that.
I began these explorations in my old Calypso ship. Eventually, I upgraded to the Sheroshu for greater cargo capacity when I found resources. Once I finally found "new elements," I built a Mark 7 engine for my Sheroshu because of the "alien problem" below, but it takes up a huge amount of space, so I was back down to a limited cargo capacity. I found out the hard way that more engines don't mean greater speed, nor do they even mean greater acceleration after a certain point. They do help with the tightness of your maneuvers.

The alien ships in this game couldn't be more annoying. Every one of them wants a resource bribe before they'll even talk to you. Some of them demand it. Some of them just insult you, but then they don't go away, so you get the impression that they're waiting for a bribe.
Once you initiate communication with a hostile ship--or once it initiates with you--you're stuck. There's no way to just disengage and fly off. You have to pay or fight. If you don't have any cargo, you have to fight. Once in combat, if you can put enough space between you and the alien ship, you can "disengage," but that just puts you back out on the main screen with the alien ship right on top of you. If you're not faster than him, you can't get away. Most of the time, he just immediately threatens or extorts you again. Thus, a lot of encounters involve immediate reloading.
Ships pursue me across the star field for no reason.
When I was flying the Calypso with a Mark 2 engine, if an alien ship decided it wanted a piece of me there wasn't much else I could do. They were usually faster than me. Aliens don't follow you into solar systems, but they're waiting for you once you get out, so there's really no way to "lose" a faster ship.
Thus, I upgraded to a Mark 4 engine initially, which was about as fast as most of the enemy ships I was seeing. A curious thing happens if an alien ship wants to engage you but he can only move just as fast as you: he'll chase you from one end of the galaxy to another, back and forth, always waiting when you come back out of every star system, never abandoning the chase, for no other reason than to tell you that he doesn't like you. If you want to avoid such ships, you can't ever miss a star system on your first approach and have to double-back to it, because he'll catch you.
You had to chase me across the entire galaxy just to tell me that?!
The game's "auto-navigation" system is perhaps the least helpful of any interface shortcut ever created for an RPG. It only works for systems which you've already visited, which makes sense. But the journeys are so short that you can't really accomplish much while the game is piloting your ship. Worse, the navigation only gets you to the right system, not a specific planet. It shuts off once you enter the system, but it doesn't stop the ship. So if you're not paying attention--and the entire purpose of something called "auto-navigation" would be not to have to pay attention--the ship just coasts through the destination system and ends up back on the galaxy map, sailing infinitely in some direction until you return to the computer. Oh, it also sometimes accidentally runs into a random system on the way, at which point the auto-navigation assumes you're at your destination and shuts off.
Perusing the systems to which I can auto-navigate.
At some point during this session, I spent some time in the cloning chambers, "improving" my party. The "body" score for each character (hit points) is enormously variable, from the teens to the 50s, and my previous crew had been pretty weak. I also wanted higher "Astrogation" for my leader and better weapons skills for everyone. Interestingly, you can't just "re-roll" during the process; you have to actually create a new clone and then see what his statistics are. I have no idea what happens to the poor fellow if you then reject him for a different clone.
It became clear that the skills are not all independently rolled. Thus, you can't hold out for 100 in everything. For William, among "Astrogation" and the various ship's weapons, I always seemed to get one 100, one 85 or 80, one 95 or 90, and one low roll, like 65. Katya always gets something in the 80s, something in the 90s, and one 100 spread out between light, heavy, and hand weapons. Other skills come and go for her. Anyway, I rolled until I had what I liked.
Creating a better "William." Don't ask what happened to the old one.
When I was done with my galactic explorations, I had a decent collection of raw materials, plus all the information I needed about where I could go for more. But I soon ran into another limitation. I had done such a good job collecting materials that I had outpaced my ability to load the best equipment on my ship. The Sheroshu only has 90 tons of space, and a Mark 7 engine takes up 58 by itself. The best systems for each of the four weapon types take in the 20s. Even downgrading to a Mark 5 engine (with a couple of Mark 2 backups for turning) meant that I could only load two weapons systems. I went with a "quark beam" and a "rack gun," which lined up with my pilot's weapon skills.
Outfitting my new vessel. I need more space.
I then decided it was time for another chat with those blue aliens about who is and isn't allowed to visit the "life gallery" on Merak Prime. On the way, I handily trounced a few of those orc-like aliens who wouldn't stop hassling me for cargo, so I thought that was a good sign. Alas, the three ships guarding that planet destroyed me in about 10 seconds. I couldn't even destroy one of them. So I guess that's an adventure for the next class of ship.
A ship explodes from my cannons.
If anyone ever needs a comprehensive database on Planet Edge's planets and systems, I've got it covered. But now that grading is done (heavens, what a lie), I guess it's time to get back to the game's plot--after a visit to Britannia.
Time so far: 35 hours


  1. So glad to see a new entry and that you're well (aside from the mind-numbing tedium of grading papers).

  2. jaaay a new post

    Posted from the CRPG-Addict addicts

  3. Your capacity to stick at it through mind numbing tasks is truly admirable!

  4. Re-read all the older Ultima entries including the comments while waiting for a new entry.Thought I'd start with reading through all of the Wizardry entries... when... "oh,finally." (looks again) "Oh, that game" :)

  5. Great to see a new post, looking forward anxiously for the next U7 entry!

  6. That description of lawnmowing the game world sounds like pure agony.

    Thirty-odd episodes sounds a lot bigger than the game seemed at first, I wonder if some of them are optional?

    1. Gur Yvsr Tnyyrel ba Xbearcubebf seems to be the only optional mission.

    2. Season 1 of the original Star Trek had 29 episodes, so ~ 30 isn't out of line if they were viewing the game as one "season".

  7. Balancing schoolwork with rpg grinding sounds a little bit like a console-rpg I read about.

    1. One of the Persona series, I suspect.

    2. It also sound a bit like "The friends of Ringo Ishikawa" game.

    3. Or any of the Disgaea games. I keep trying to play Disgaea on the Switch (5th one, I think?), then get utterly mind-locked due to the quantity of numbers you need to keep track of.

    4. Yeah, I totaly forgot about Disgaea thanks for the reminder.

    5. Just started playing Persona on PS1. Haven't gotten far, but pretty freaky and cool. It's like the Silent Hill of JRPGs

  8. Shoot, I thought I was crazy for making a map for Isle of the Dead. I can't imagine doing something on that scale with the addendum of having to turn around if you miss something.
    You should see about uploading that database somewhere, doesn't make sense that you should suffer for only one person's enjoyment of the game, you should suffer for everyone's enjoyment of the game. ;) Although I don't think most websites take spreadsheets as extras/walkthroughs...

  9. Your solution to marking reminds of a time I kept switching between two beverages to get the taste of the previous one out of my mouth. I wasn't able to maintain that strategy for long, as you could probably surmise.

    Good work on getting through "all" your grading ;)

    1. Beer and vodka, and because I couldnt stand the taste of either. We were 17 year olds in a park late at night and those were the only drinks on hand.

    2. I can't believe that people drink beer intentionally. If you want booze that tastes good, buy a malt drink or make a cocktail. If you just want to get drunk, stop messing around and get a good whiskey. Either way love yourself and stop drinking what is essentially expired water.

      Vodka on the other hand, I've never tasted. It tends to make my mouth numb everywhere it touches, in a fun kind of way.

    3. I love the taste of beer. It's my favorite drink. My favorites are IPA, stout and weizen. Belgian trappist beers are also pretty great.

      Wine, on the other hand, I'm not a fan of.

    4. I haven't drank a lot of wine, but I like super-sweet red wines because I'm literally a child. White wine is okay I guess? I can't remember the last time I've had any. Anything carbonated or too "dry" will give me a massive headache and make my throat feel weird.

    5. Personally, I don't like the taste of alcohol, so my drink of choice tends to be stuff that is either low enough in alcohol content for me to not taste it, mixed drinks that hide the taste, or cinnamon whiskey because the cinnamon masks the alcohol pretty well. Also, IPAs are absolutely disgusting and I have no clue how people like them

    6. Well, I love the taste of alcohol and generally am a fan of strong flavors. IPAs have a very strong flavor, so I like them. I rarely go for mixed drinks (only classic cocktails) because I genuinely enjoy the taste of alcoholic beverages and don't see the point in masking it.

      Now, sour foods on the other hand... I don't like pickles amd other vinegary foods. I'll eat a pickle if it's served on my plate, but I don't enjoy it. Same with sauerkraut (and I'm German!)

      Different tastes for different folks and all that

    7. I like the taste, but I really like when it complements other flavors. If it's too sugary I won't be a fan, but something that's sweet or tangy before it bites is great. There's a pub here that makes a great Irish coffee--creamy and slightly sweet at first, but it burns going down and gets you buzzed in a hurry.

      I love sour, but I hate bitter--pickled foods are actually some of my favorites, funnily enough. Nothing like a hot dog, some pickled okra and a shot of Fireball on a rock.

    8. We grow here locally two supersweet red wine, one the grapes are harvested late autumn and one is harvested in February when the grapes are frozen throughly. The last one is really supersweet, mostly only drank after a dinner and not with it. It's very expensive though cause if the winter is too warm the whole yield is lost.

  10. One weird exploit for ship combat: You can fire weapons at opponents where the map wraps around. Your opponents won't; they'll actually turn around and start flying the other way towards you because they can't take advantage of the map wraparound.

    As for the orbital bases, just gotta fly straight at them, open fire with quark beams, and take 'em out one at a time. (Turreted weapons can help you out here. Hit "T" while you're in the Shipyards to access turreted weapons. Sure, they have a 360 degree firing arc, but they take up four times as much cargo space as a regular weapon. Fortunately, the next ship available, the (ROT13)Xrebhnp, has plenty of room for quark beams and rack guns.)

    1. One could say Planet's Edge features Dirichlet enemies.

  11. "Klaus sure knows how to keep things organized."
    Ordnung muss sein.

    I can't say your blog post tempts me to try this game.

  12. Grading papers is one thing I don't miss about teaching.

    I was going to make a joke about how this reads like something Ahab would do, and then you make the joke yourself.

    1. This is totally a thing I would do. And part of my job involves waiting for a painfully slow JS transpilation process that brings my workstation to its knees, so...

    2. I was seriously wondering what on earth mapping Planet's Edge had to do with Moby Dick, until the non-captain posted.

    3. (P.S. I read Data Driven Gamer regularly, oddly enough -- just never noticed the author's handle until now.)

  13. When you noted that Saturn and Jupiter were backwards... all I could think of was Khan shouting "This is Ceti Alpha V!"

    Sounds like a fairly boring game...

  14. People who find the game unappealing after this post, remember: Chet did this specifically as a grindy thing to take a break between grading papers. Systematically going from solar system to solar system and noting down which resources are available on which planet, while avoiding planets that serve as quest locations.

    That's not how you'd usually play the game. Going from quest to quest and gathering resources as you find them is the more natural gameplay loop, and a lot more fun.

    1. It also should be pointed out that you can find all systems with resources, except the one with New Elements, I believe, simply by following trade convoys, or noticing where they originate. They start out empty on systems with quest planets, at which point you can trade resources for information, and return fully loaded, which tells you what resources you can pick up at their destination. Naturally, you can also go space pirating yourself.

    2. Yeah, you actually have to *find* New Elements. Otherwise, you follow the trade convoys.

      (As for the space pirates and ships crewed by aliens hostile to humanity, you don't find them. THEY find YOU.)

  15. Well, this still pales in comparison to mapping Fate: Gates of Dawn

    1. This is now given as the prime example of usage in Webster's dictionary under "tour de force."

  16. You're welcome, Chet!

    I noticed that your ship's top speed is only 4 on both screenshots, and you have a fourth engine on your ship, that seems to be a Mk1. Did you maybe leave that on by accident? Having engines of different ratings lowers your speed to the worst one, I believe. I wouldn't put more than two on that ship, and use the space for more guns.

    It also still sounds like you need to lower your cycles. As long as you just want to go from A to B it's actually beneficial that the space part is a bit zippy, but once you're trying to fight multiple enemies, it quickly becomes unmanageable at just slightly too fast game speed. Back before dosbox, I had to use different moslo settings depending on whether I was in space or on a planet.

  17. One more note: Sheroshu always sounded Japanese to me, but it turns out, it's actually Hebrew for Uprooting, Banishment. Neat.

  18. Finally a non-exponential chart. Refreshing

  19. Grading assignments? You have all my understanding. I remember the nights up, once a week, decoding handprinting and punishing students for being too long. And then complaining with the professor who gave such assignments.

    Years later, when I could both give and grade assignments and tests, my priority was to write them in a way that was easy for me to grade. This experience will come to you, too, and it will literally grant you a level-up ;-)

  20. I don't know which is funnier, the devs switching the position of our main gas giants around, or them using the icons for gas giants on normal planets and them being too lazy to create special background pics for gas giants. Even for soft SF, this is like Lazyness: The Game.

  21. Maybe the alien who followed you to the ends of the galaxy just to say he doesn't like you is Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged?

    1. That part reminded me of one of James Blish's Cities in Flight stories. As I wrote in a review: "it's downright comical how tenacious the Earth Police are. They will chase an Okie even to the next Galaxy over hundreds of years, for violating a Vacate order!"

  22. This very thorough playing makes me wonder if at some point, trying to play a game as thoroughly as this becomes more detrimental to the rating than the game deserves. Well, you have my sympathies.

    1. There's an old game designer saying that "given the opportunity, players will optimize the fun out of a game" which I think might be an example of...

  23. I really enjoyed this numerical excursion, way to max out the nerdiness addict!

  24. I like the lanky droid hanging out in the cloning chamber, reading a newspaper.


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