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Interview

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Michael J. A. Clark of Solar Empire
By: Charles Rector | Game Data | 11:21am, August 21, 2007
AREA-51 m7700
 Following is an exclusive interview that was conducted via email with Michael J. A. Clark
of Solar Empire at Endless War:

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

 
I'm Michael Clark, an eighteen year old mathematics and physics student
from Surrey, England. At the moment my life is in flux as I just
finished my A-levels -- successfully with 4 A's and a distinction in AEA
mathematics -- and am heading off to university in the near future to
continue my studies at a higher level. I operate a few websites
concentrating on my interests and hobbies: my hompage (www.mjac.co.uk)
contains information, small creations and my journal (blog.mjac.co.uk);
strength training is assisted by my level calculator
(www.strengthlevel.com); Solar Empire encompasses a few domains and I
administrate the homepage (www.solarempire.com), main server
(www.solar-empire.net) and forum (forum.solar-empire.net).

OMGN:What was your experience as a gamer before discovering Solar Empire?

When I was younger, and had far too much free time, I played a lot of
first-person shooting games and space strategy games on the PC,
Playstation and PS2. My introduction to space-strategy came from Stars!,
an amazing strategy game created by Mare Crisium; it is a shame that the
subsequent sequel was cancelled in 2000 since the first Windows 3.1 game
was graphically basic but the best example of the 4X (eXplore, eXpand,
eXploit & eXterminate) genre I have ever played.


OMGN:How did you discover SE and what did you think of Solar Empire when you discovered it?
 
It all began a few years ago when some friends of mine introduced
on-line games into our winter lunchtime routine at school. Initially
everyone played Planetarion (www.planetarion.com) but moved onto other
games including Solar Empire. I joined the conflict when I saw that my
friends were really enjoying the arguing and strategy experienced in the
Solar Empire universe; at this point they were playing on Tradelair
(qse.tradelair.com), the Modern server (not defunct but was hosted at
modern.solarempire.com) and Endless War (www.solar-empire.net). I
enjoyed Solar Empire to begin with but then, like a stereotypical
testosterone-fuelled teenage male, I started being a pain and exploiting
flaws; this strangely, but cleverly if you think about it from the
server's perspective, resulted in my promotion to developer by Brandon
Penner who was the lead developer at that time. It was great fun playing
with friends at school because internet dilemmas would continue into the
classroom, providing a welcome distraction from monotonous lessons.


OMGN:What do you think of Bryan Livingston's handling of SE before he made it
 an Open Source game?

 
Bryan Livingston was long gone by the time I joined Solar Empire. From
the documentation that I have seen it appears he was very active
initially and enjoyed creating the game; it unfortunate he isn't
assisting with development now but I wish him all the best with his
current projects. In the beginning there was a lot of active
development: if only we could initiate something similar now, a really
great game could be completed.


OMGN:Why do you think that Bryan has been far more successful with Global
Combat than he ever was with SE?

 
Quite simply because the game is far less complicated and is based on
concrete concepts. I believe he designed it, created the initial version
and has steadily improved the game with only minor changes, if any,
which is totally different from Solar Empire's major capacity for
expansion and development. Unlike Global Combat, Solar Empire is still
not a finished product, it requires further development and this is
probably why Bryan moved onto other projects in my opinion.


OMGN:Why have you kept SE as a browser-based game instead of say, a
 downloadable program game?


The new version that I am developing, Solar Empire: System Wars, is
capable of generating XML which could be used by a executable on the
clients PC to provide higher-quality graphics and increased playing
speed. Most of the players come for the social interaction (conflicts
and alliances) at the moment, not the actual gameplay: at present the
player community is one of the best aspects of the Solar Empire experience.


OMGN:How would you characterize the work of the other SE developers?  Are
 there any that you would single out for blame or praise?


A major problem with Solar Empire development is the frequent
fragmentation of the main distribution into a variety of sub-projects.
Most people do not want to work in a team resulting in the same changes
being made again and again by different developers. I really need some
additional help to continue developing the new version because a large
amount of the core files have to be rewritten to make the game more
secure and extensible. If anyone is interested, contact me through my
website www.mjac.co.uk or e-mail me directly at mjac@mjac.co.uk.


OMGN:There are some former SE players, including this writer, who believe
 that SE has become way over complicated.  How do you respond?

 
I believe that is true but more-so that is has become incoherent without
specific goals or aims and is difficult for new players to understand.
Since I cannot claim complete responsibility for this, I can only state
that I will try my best to make the new versions simple to understand
and enjoyable to play.


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


Once you start developing games you lose some of the enjoyment of
playing them due to the over-critical nature of development and simply
the lack of time. Seeing players enjoy my creations makes it all
worthwhile and it is difficult to go back to playing games after you
have felt the satisfaction of developing them.


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

 
Some of the Solar Empire players contribute to game resources such as
graphics.


OMGN:How much influence has SE had on other games?

I was very surprised to learn just how many people had passed through
Solar Empire development on their journey to be more advanced game
developers. Developers like Pádraic Brady (aka Maugrim The Reaper) began
developing Solar Empire years ago but have moved onto other games using
concepts learned and advanced by contributing to the project. Many small
games like Astrum Futura, Quantum Star, Prometheus Wars, Star Trek:
Allegiance, Solar Wars, Imperial Empire SE, Solar Empire Infinium have
been based on code, gameplay concepts, or helped through the development
experience gained working on Solar Empire.
<http://sourceforge.net/projects/st-allegiance/>


OMGN:In what ways does your branch of the game at www.solar-empire.net differ from the other SE servers?

Solar Empire: Endless Wars, hosted at www.solar-empire.net, is the most
stable and consistent Solar Empire server. Before my changes were
overwritten by another developer, it included a plethora of bug fixes
and redesigned templates to conform better to web-standards. Soon it
will host the new Solar Empire version, providing a improved interface
to a redesigned, balanced game.


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


The whole process of Solar Empire development is innovation: instead of
copying ideas from other games, I create concepts by pondering the best
solutions to game-design problems. I view development as pure creativity.


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

Everyone needs something to do in their lunch-hour at work, university
and school; browser-based games provide an enjoyable distraction from
stress that bring people together through internet communities
irrespective of social class and location. Internet browsers are the
most widely available of computer programmes, found on almost every PC,
therefore browser-based games will have a large amount of possible
players for the foreseeable future. The graphical quality of
browser-based games will increase as new standards are adopted: I
believe the adoption of SVG (standard vector graphics) in the latest
browsers, served in conjunction with textual content, will play a large
part in improving the gameplay experience.


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

 
Attempt to get many more of the previous core developers interested and
involved before they disappeared to create their own projects. Usually
you will find single developers give up after understanding the sheer
amount of time required to overcome projects goals and it is definitely
preferable to work in a team.


OMGN:  Where do you see SE a year from now?


Solar Empire should increase in popularity as my branch System Wars
replaces the current code-base on www.solar-empire.net, bringing many
improvements and fixing some of the annoyances and problems contained in
the current version. I hope more developers will join who will
facilitate faster progress, increased publicity and a good future for
the project.
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