Book Review: The Strange Case of Hellish Nell by Nina Shandler

The Strange Case of Hellish Nell is a great book about the strange but true case of Helen Duncan who was the only person to be prosecuted during World War II under the Witchcraft Act of 1735. Duncan was a medium or spiritualist who had a tendency to reveal state secrets during seances that suggested that she was on the side of the Nazis and had somehow corrupted folk in the British government to give her information that was supposed to be kept secret. However, the British government was unable to discover just how she was getting her information and the only way that British law enforcement could come up with to silence her was to bring her up on charges of witchcraft.

What were these secrets that the British government wanted kept out of Duncan’s seances? Ship movements including those related to the forthcoming invasion of France.

What specific secret that Duncan leaked during a seance sparked the British government’s action against her? The battleship HMS Barham had been sunk in the Mediterranean Sea and the British government withheld this information from the public for fear that it would damage public morale. However, during a seance, Duncan revealed that the Barham had been sunk. To this day it is unknown how Duncan came by this information and it seems unlikely that her naming the Barham as being sunk so soon after it was sunk could have been a coincidence.

In any event, The Strange Case of Hellish Nell is a great book about a bizarre subject.

Is Space Merchant Realms on the Brink of Extinction?

Currently, Space Merchant Realms is offline. No hint of any offline activity was even so much as hinted at by the admins. However, this development does not come as a surprise to long time players who have seen how the admins/developers have taken a once popular game and have literally run it into the ground.

Originally an unauthorized ripoff of the defunct Space Merchant (SM), Space Merchant Realms (SMR) quickly gathered an impressive following during its beta period of Fall, 2001–Spring, 2002. At its height in 2004, it had nearly 3,000 players. It was more popular than any other game of its type other than TDZK. Its popularity led to SM creator Jonathan Manton giving SMR his blessings in 2004. Everything looked bright for SMR’s future.

However, there was a problem. There was an aggressively vocal faction in the playership that demanded radical changes be made to the game. It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with online gaming forums that this faction consisted of the most aggressively homicidal players in the game. They saw SMR as being purely a wargame and demanded changes to turn it into a wargame. They wanted to turn SMR into a glorified shooting gallery and make it easier to kill off the more peaceful players who consisted of the bulk of the playership.

You would think that the SMR admins would have the backbone to stand up to these webboard warriors. You would be wrong and the decline and fall of SMR began in the summer of 2004. By the summer of 2006, changes that, among other things, devalued planetary defenses, led to most of the players leaving the game and its playership plummeted to less than 1,000 players. At the start of 2008, the playership had declined further to 500 and now it its current round, there are fewer than 200 players, many of whom are not active.

What kind of changes led to so many players becoming alienated? In the original SM, you could only get Combat Drones at either a Combat Accessories (CA) shop (which were scarce in the game) or at the HQ sector of the Ik’Thorn Galaxy and even then you had to be either an Ik’Thorn player or a player whose race was not at war with the Ik’Thorns. Mines & Scout Drones were only accessible at CA’s. This helped to slow down the progress of players and groups of players interested only in killing other players. Planetary construction consisted of only Turrets, Shield Generators & Combat Drone Hangars and the price for construction in terms of credits, resources and time of construction were reasonable. Now, in the increasingly deserted SMR, you can gain access to Combat Drones, Mines & Scout Drones at every racial HQ. This only serves to enable pure player killers to engage in wholesale death and destruction. Add in the fact that planetary construction now requires huge sums of credits, resources and huge numbers of hours for construction, and you have a game where players who want to engage in peaceful trading have little chance for survival.

Given the fact that most players in space trading strategy games are of the peaceful trader sort, and you can easily see why the vast majority of the original SM/SMR playership were alienated by these changes. Just about all of the good non-hunter players such as Omega Prime and just about everyone from the generally peaceful trader player group Omega Factor have quit SMR. Back in early 2000, the original SM had over 11,000 players and now its successor game has fewer than 200 players most of whom are no more than semi-active. Given the refusal of the admins to reconsider their actions, it appears that it is only a matter of time before the admins pull the plug on the game.

For all of us at OMGN, this is an especially sad development given how OMGN has run 55 News Posts about SMR , possibly more news postings than about any other game. Hopefully, the story of SMR will serve as a warning for future game admins who come under the pressure of those whose forum conduct mirror their aggressive game play. Perhaps this will serve as a silver lining for the death of a once good, if not great, game.