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Cornelia Yoder of Galaxies Ablaze
By: OMGN | Game Data | 4:38pm, January 12, 2005
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Following is an interview that was done with Cornelia Yoder of Galaxies Ablaze :

OMGN: Let's start with a self-introduction of yourself, the person behind the Game Master.

I'm Cornelia Yoder, 59 years old, female. I live in upstate New York, have a PhD in Computer Science and worked as a programmer and manager for IBM for 20+ years before retiring in 1999.

I'm a pilot and flight instructor in sailplanes, I've taught hundreds of people how to fly, and at one time held a world aviation record for flying a glider further than any woman had ever flown one before.

I like to do new things -- my philosophy of life is "Never stop learning, education always pays off", and because of that, I've learned to do a lot of very exciting and enjoyable things in my life.

OMGN: What was your experience as a gamer before Galaxies Ablaze?

I've played games all my life. When I was a child, Monopoly was how I learned to count. My family plays all kinds of games, cards, board games, word games, anything that we enjoy. I started playing Bridge when I was in high school and today I compete in Bridge tournaments at the Regional and National level.

I started playing Dungeons and Dragons about 20 years ago, invented my own world and still occasionally run adventures for friends. I'll be running one of them as an event at the Origins national gaming convention this summer.

I've tried collectible card games, sophisticated board and miniatures games, and computer games. In about 1998, I discovered massively multiplayer online games and started playing those. I think the interaction with real people makes them so much more interesting and fun than the solo computer games.

OMGN: Are you the creator of Galaxies Ablaze? If so, what was your inspiration/motivation for creating the game?

Yes, I designed all and wrote much of Galaxies Ablaze. It was inspired by several other similar games, but those others had too many flaws, either unnecessary complexity or bugs and exploits, that made them unplayable for a real gamer. So I decided that I could do better, and I started GA so I could have a game I really wanted to play.

Interns from my local university have helped every semester with the programming of Galaxies Ablaze and some of the other games.

I also have a wonderful partner living in New Zealand that I've never even met in real life, who has contributed a lot to the programming and design of all of the OLW games, as well as setting up our advertising and webpages. Without him, I'd probably have given up more than once.

OMGN: Is Galaxies Ablaze based/inspired on any BBS games? If so, which game(s)?

There are many other browser based text games of this genre, and I've checked out most of them, so I'd hate to try to list them all. The idea of GA was based on all of them in one way or another, and where I used ideas from other games, I tried to use the ones that I thought worked the best and made the game most enjoyable. So in a way, GA is inspired by the genre as a whole, and my attempt to make the best of the best.

OMGN: Why was Galaxies Ablaze created as a browser-based game instead of say, a downloadable program game?

Any game that has a download component can be hacked. It's a bit of trouble, but once someone does it, the hacking can spread and the game is ruined. That's one reason.

The other reason is that many people are afraid of viruses and the like, and any downloaded program will make people afraid to try the game.

I still remember finding my first multiplayer game on the internet, and one of the reasons I decided to try it was the fact that there was no download to worry about. By keeping the game totally browser-based, I avoid the dangers inherent in downloads and hopefully new people who discover it will not be afraid to try it out.

OMGN: Why was the decision made to create a space strategy game when there were already many games in that sub-genre?

Because I wanted a game like this to play, and none of the existing ones really satisfied me. The space aspect is just a scenario that draws people interested in space travel and science fiction, which includes me.

The same game engine can be converted to run in a fantasy scenario as we have done with Mage Realms, and in other scenarios such as medieval or post-apocalyptic if we decide to do that.

OMGN: In what ways has running a game enhanced your gaming enjoyment?

I hate to say this, but in a way it's hurt my enjoyment of this game. For one thing, my being behind the scenes with access to the database makes people worry about whether I might cheat. Secondly, it destroys the fantasy aspect when you no longer think about the game in terms of spaceships and planets, but instead see it as numbers in a database. Third, it has forced me to be the cheat-police to keep the game honest, and that makes relationships with other players a little more strained.

On the other hand, creating and running a game you love can't be all bad. I love playing Galaxies Ablaze and I love the players. We have a great time, round after round, mixing up in different alliances, sometimes allies and sometimes opponents, but always friends.

OMGN: Running a game is often a labor of love as opposed to being a money maker. How active is Galaxies Ablaze's community in helping to promote the game, creating fansites and clansites for the game, making good suggestions for new features and ways to operate the game or other help with the game?

Certainly GA is not a money maker. We barely break even on the costs with advertising income and supporter premium accounts. But the players are WONDERFUL. We have people who buy premium accounts for their friends or systemmates in the game, and even some who deliberately pay more than necessary for their premium account each round, just to help out.

There are dozens of fan sites, including Alliance webpages (like clansites), calculators for figuring your attacks, your buildings, and the like, game news webpages where people keep history of the rounds, and very active forums for sharing game knowledge.

There is a public forum where players constantly post their ideas for new options, new military units, new buildings, and new strategies. Most of the enhancements to GA have come from this source.

I have constant volunteers who want to help out, and many of them do. Players have written most of the verbal descriptions of game elements such as planet types, personalities, buildings, military units, wonders, and the like.

Players act as forum moderators, the Galactic Court that judges and penalizes obscene language, and Gamemasters who help manage the cheating and individual player problems.

Players have created most of our banner ads for the games, and many of the graphics on our webpages.

Without all the help and support of our players, GA wouldn't have nearly as rich an environment or nearly as excellent management as it has.

OMGN: How much influence has Galaxies Ablaze had on other games?

That's hard for me to tell, except for one case. I know of one similar game that existed before GA, that was completely rewritten last year to copy just about everything that GA did. Their rewrite converted to our code language (php), our database language (MySQL), and added every function that GA had that they didn't. It was a clearcut case of "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", and although that game still has serious bugs, exploits, and cheating problems, they have improved tremendously by using our ideas. I don't complain too much because, as I said earlier, I also used ideas from other games for GA.

OMGN: What is Galaxies Ablaze eXtreme? How does it differ from the regular Galaxies Ablaze?

When GA was started, I wanted it to be a game of strategy and not just war. So I tried to put some controls in the game to make killing-for-fun harder. A subset of the GA players objected to the controls, and wanted more freedom to beat each other up, so my partner designed GA eXtreme to satisfy them. The play rules of GAeX are simple: no whining, no crying, no mercy. Newcomers should definitely play GA first.

The next round of GAeX is going to be a "last man standing" round, with 3 days of signups and then closed until it finishes 3 weeks later. This is something new we are going to try at the request of the players.

OMGN: What has the response to Galaxies Ablaze been like?

I was amazed at how well it was received. Many players come from other games, and most stay. Those who try to cheat (as they apparently have in other games) get caught and either leave or reform and play honestly.

The honest ones appreciate an honest game and like the upbeat atmosphere of GA. As a result, we have a very dedicated and loyal player base that has kept the game interesting and lively.

OMGN: Some say that Galaxies Ablaze is just another browser-based game. How do you respond?

Well, in one sense, GA IS just another browser-based game. Being browser-based is not a factor in making a game fun. What makes a game fun is (1) the quality of the game, and (2) the quality of the players.

GA has the highest quality of any browser-based game I know. Bug reports come in about once a week and 99% of them are not bugs, but minor misunderstanding by the player. The game is rich in detail and yet quite simple to understand and play.

GA also has some of the finest players I've played with in any internet game. They are excited about the game, constantly trying to improve their strategies, and always willing to help newcomers learn the game and develop their own ability to play well. Many friendships have been made in GA, and at least one marriage.

This combination of a high-quality game free of bugs, cheaters, and exploits, and a solid base of wonderful people playing is what makes GA special.

OMGN: There are some who believe that innovation has disappeared from online gaming. In what ways does Galaxies Ablaze break the mold?

GA breaks the mold by breaking its own mold. Every round, the game changes slightly. It's the same game with new factors and new aspects added. The costs of research, buildings, exploration, shields, and wonders changes frequently, so each round, the players never know for sure just how well their strategy will work out.

We add new features periodically to keep the game interesting and fresh. After a couple of rounds, we added Wonders of the Galaxy, then later new research types, an in-game attack calculator, and new missiles. The current round has 3 new planet types, a new military unit, two new research topics, and a new building.

I believe that innovation is an important factor in keeping a game interesting, and at the same time, I try to keep the simplicity and ease of learning for new people who join.

OMGN: How many play the Galaxies Ablaze & Galaxies Ablaze eXtreme games? How many of these pay for the Premium package?

Right now we have about 600 playing GA, about 200 playing GAeX, about 600 playing Mage Realms, and about 100 playing Star Trades. About 15% are supporters paying for premium accounts and all those numbers are growing.

OMGN: What do you think that the future holds for browser-based games?

I think that browser-based games will be around for a long time.

A better question is about the future of text games -- the faster internet connections have made it easier for people to play graphics games and I think that has eaten into the player base of text games.

This is unfortunate in a way, because the text games are often richer in strategy and play options, whereas the graphics games are visually appealing but lack good play. Shooter games are an example. As popular as they are, it's still just point, shoot, move, and do it again.

Good text games like GA will have a place as long as there are people who actually want a good strategy game with social interaction and interesting game play options.

OMGN: What is Mage Realms?

Mage Realms is a game of magic and war. Each player chooses a Race, a Personality, and a School of Magic, which determine what spells, military units, and capabilities s/he has available to use, either against opponents or to help his allies. The Realm of each player is part of a Sphere, and Spheres can attack or cooperate with each other, in a sophisticated war system.

Mage Realms is a game that was developed directly from the GA game engine, converted to a fantasy theme. There are many similarities in play, but MR has evolved in its own direction now and has become a very different game.

We deliberately made a totally different scoring system for MR that encourages much more teamwork and social interaction between players, and added much more richness to the player options and abilities. The variety of strategies in MR exceeds that of GA, and while it is a little more complex to learn, it still has the simplicity that allows new players to jump in and begin playing immediately.

OMGN: What is OnlineWorlds.Org?

OnlineWorlds.Org is our parent company, comprising all the games we run -- Galaxies Ablaze, GA eXtreme, Mage Realms, Star Trades, and some business applications. OLW is currently working on two more new games, SolarBall and Arena, which should be open sometime in 2005. Information about the games and links to them can be found at that website.

OMGN: If you could go back in time and start all over, what would you do differently?

I've sat here and pondered this question for about 15 minutes, and the truth is, I can't think of a thing. We have had tons of fun making these games, running them, meeting the players, and just plain playing them. I love gaming, I love Galaxies Ablaze and the other games, and I love the people. I wouldn't have missed this experience for the world.

OMGN: Where do you see Galaxies Ablaze a year from now?

Quadrupled in size and even more fun to play!

I hope to incorporate some new ideas for interesting strategies, and there are several hundred players here who keep adding their ideas to the pile. I'm sure GA will just get better and better.

OMGN: Finally, would you like to add anything?

A game like GA is heavily influenced by the players themselves. A true game has rules of play, and some games of this genre are so filled with cheaters, bugs, exploits, hacking, sometimes hatred, and often just plain disruptions, that it is hard to call them games.

We decided early on that we would control cheating and exploiting, and work hard to keep our games honest, and I believe we have succeeded at that. But the players have done something special -- they have made GA FUN.

The atmosphere within GA is positive and cheerful. Players are optimistic and supportive of each other, constructively encouraging and teaching newcomers, and contributing to the game itself. It's the kind of game I dreamed of when I started, and I give most of the credit for that to our players.

Written by Charles Rector
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