Netrek – Ghostbusted?


Learning and Culture
Starting from the http://www.netrek.org site, I thought I should read-up on the basic gameplay and cultural issues for Internet Netrek games (watch out, there are some subtle things considered “bad form”). The game play is rather more complex than I had imagined, and the controls are understandably idosyncratic, but I guess I can learn it as I go along… There is a lot to read about the gameplay and team tactics before even starting, and a moderate amount of Netrek-specific “lingo” to learn – judging from the way the guides are written, clueless unacculturated newbies are not generally welcome.

Software Variations on a Theme
Hmmm… this Netrek lark isn’t quite as straightforward as I had anticipated, there are several modified game-server engines, and standard-protocol and protocol-enhanced clients…

Game/Server Types:

  • Bronco – standard Netrek game (original team gameplay and rules)
  • INL – stands for “International Netrek League”. It’s basically Bronco, but with team captains who can choose a scoring system and time limits. It’s used for clue games, team versus the world, and league games.
  • Base Practice – used to learn how to be a good starbase pilot. No rank is needed to get a base, and special robots mass-attack (“ogg”) the practice bases.
  • Sturgeon – explores several possible alterations to the game. Ships can use kills to purchase weapon upgrades. The powerful Galaxy Class (GA) ship is available.
  • Netrek Hockey – a cross between Netrek and, you guessed it, Ice Hockey. The planets are laid out to form a rectangular hockey-style rink, including goals. Ships use tractors and pressors to shove a puck around, fighting with phasers and torpedos as needed to get enemies out of the way.
  • Chaos – includes various modifications designed to make the game chaotic. Typically, this will include Galaxy Class ships (GA’s), a galaxy which wraps around, and 3 on 3 Team-Mode.
  • Paradise – involves extensions to the game system, so you need a Paradise client in order to play it; the usual clients won’t do. There is no Paradise client for Windows. Paradise has planets that move, suns, asteroid fields, eight additional ship types, missiles, and more.

Client Types:

There are also several different UNIX ports of the “standard” client software available: COW, BRM, BRMH, xNetrekM; and two variations on the “Paradise” extended-gameplay client software: TedTurner and Paradise 2000. Some of these vary in a few dimensions (stereo versus mono versus no sound, 256-color pixmap support, and so on and so on).

Fortunately, the situation isn’t anything like as bad as the multitude of completely incompatible (enhanced – NOT!) DOOM engines/clients. It looks like there are only two variations on the network protocol and client compatibility – “plain” and “Paradise”. So i’ll be going “plain”, of course – not going to mess with any new-fangled 15-year-old gameplay enhancement!

Download a Prebuilt Binary?

From the http://www.netrek.org nexus, there are links to the various client softwares for Windows 9x/2000/XP/Vista/etc, MacOS X, MacOS 9, Linux, OpenBSD (x86 and SPARC), FreeBSD, AIX, generic UNIX, and several others, both source and binaries. There is even a pre-built binary for SPARC/Solaris 2.6 – hey bingo, let’s give that a try!

Unfortunately, that prebuilt binary is for Solaris 2.6 with added self-compiled X.org software pre-installed (it is linked against libX11.so.6, not the stock Solaris 2.6 libX11.so.4). Thanks for nothing, chaps!

Why do that, when downloading the “COW” source tarball and running

./configure && make

builds a perfect fully working netrek client linked against stock Solaris 2.6 libs, with both the GNU C compiler or the Sun C Compiler? Sheesh…

Do it the Easy Way – Build From Source!

So I did the latter, and Hey Presto! a fully working netrek client executable for stock Solaris – it was the easiest install-from-source I have done in many a year (I could rant on and on about the SETI@home client’s totally farked autoconfiguration system, but… I suppose this is not the place…).

Where’s the Ejector Seat?

Unless otherwise directed, the netrek client inituially attaches to a couple of game meta-servers to discover which Internet games are currently active or waiting for players. So when I launched netrek the first time I was presented with a list of four (non-Paradise) games to join, and happily selected the one at the top… cut scene to the standard four-panel netrek screen and 20 seconds later the software reported that I had been ghostbusted

which means that the server has decided that you are gone, and frees up your player slot. If this happens, your client will try to recover; if it can’t, then the only thing to do is quit out and start up again. If you see a player get killed and not come back, but their slot is still up on the playerlist, they may be in the process of being ghostbusted.

However, I suspect that my 20 seconds of 99.9% inactivity had resulted in me being forcibly ejected from the game as a clueless newbie…

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