Participants: Fallen Angel, Grelminar
Description: Grelminar Interview
Created: October, 2003
FaLLeN AnGeL+: Grelminar, thank you for agreeing to interview with us. =)
FaLLeN AnGeL+: How did you first get involved with Subspace?
Grelminar: I dont remember exactly. I think I must have found a link from some game site to subspace.vie.com, and tried out the beta version.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: Which zones did you fly after beta?
Grelminar: Actually, when the game went retail, I stopped playing for a while because I didnt want to buy it. After a month or two I gave in and bought it from VIEs online store for $30. Its probably the best game purchase of my life.
I started in Alpha, and then Chaos, like everyone else around that time. Then I found Turf Classic, which was so much fun I played that almost exclusively until it died. Actually it wasnt the original Turf Classic, but the first and most successful revival. The games in there had such a large scale, and lots of team strategy that wasnt present in most of the other zones at that time. Since Turf died, Ive played in a bunch of zones, mostly warzone types. Currently I play most often in ASWZ, when I have time to play.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: Have you always had the name Grelminar?
Grelminar: No, I started with a few other names that I hardly remember. I picked this one several years ago, a little bit after VIE closed their servers. Ive been using it pretty much exclusively since then.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: What is a Grelminar? =)
Grelminar: I used to be kind of secretive about where I got it, but its now the top hit on google, so its not hard to figure out: I took the name from an old Apple II RPG called Dark Designs. Grelminar was your characters nemesis. I just thought the name sounded cool.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: I agree. It is a cool name so I wanted to ask. =)
Grelminar: Actually Im getting a little tired of it. I wouldnt mind changing it, but I think at this point Im stuck with it.
(An interesting tidbit about Dark Designs was that it was written by John Carmack and a few other people who went on to found id software a year or two later.)
FaLLeN AnGeL+: Do you staff any zones?
Grelminar: No, not officially. A few sysops have been nice enough to grant me smod powers in their zone for testing bots and things like that.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: What initially inspired you to start doing work for the community?
Grelminar: I started working on bots around the summer of 1999 just because I had heard of bots existing in Pro League (which Ive never played) and thought it would be cool to write my own. It was a lot of fun figuring out how the game protocol worked and adding features to my bot. A while later, I started working with some of the ASWZ staff on some bots to do stats tracking and other helpful things for ASWZ. None of them ever worked out though, since people started using other bot cores which were much easier to develop for than mine. But it turned out ok, because I got a lot of experience and information that Im using to build a server.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: What is the name of the server?
Grelminar: Asss, which stands for "a small subspace server." Although it isnt really small anymore. It was sort of a joke, named in the style of "A Small WarZone." Im pretty bad with naming things in general.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: What does asss do?
Grelminar: In short, it replaces subgame as the game server program. Ill describe some basic information first: asss was designed to be portable, so even though Im writing it on Linux, it will run on FreeBSD, Windows, Cygwin, and hopefully more systems. The design is much more flexible than subgame: everything is based on the idea of a module, which is just a small piece of code that handles some specific aspect of the game or server.
Only about 2500 lines of code of around 30000 are in the core binary, the rest are modules. A server admin will be able to pick and choose a set of modules to load, so they dont have to waste memory or CPU power with features that the zone is not going to use. Modules can also be used to customize functionality, like setting different rules for ship and freq changing. Also, zones can develop custom modules and load them without recompiling the server.
Modules are dynamically loadable and unloadable, so you can introduce a new game type while the server is running, or temporarily remove a module to fix a bug in it, then reload it, all without stopping the server.
As a few cool examples of stuff you can do by writing modules, Ive written auto turrets that just stand still and fire bombs, a game recorder and playback system, freq ownership, "public arenas" with different settings, player-to-player file transfers, and a command that writes messages in bricks.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: Sounds like very beneficial changes for zone and server ops.
Grelminar: Oh, but I didnt get to the staff structure yet: its no longer limited to the mod/smod/sysop hierarchy. Admins can define groups with arbitrary lists of commands and other capabilities, and assign staff members to groups.
The server also has an integrated database for keeping scores and other stats (including full historical data), and the database can also be used for other types of persistent information, which allows for all kinds of possibilities in games, like RPG-like inventories and character building. Nobody has built zones like that yet, but thats only because it hasnt really been possible before.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: I know Mr. Ekted mentioned that he is very happy with the scope that asss will bring to the subgame.
Grelminar: Sure. Ive been in contact with a bunch of players and sysops, including Mr. Etked, and I have received a lot of useful suggestions, as well as encouragement, from them. Of course, it will take a lot of work to build a fun zone with some of the new features, but we have time.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: I do not think anyone has even thought of those capabilities. That is outstanding.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: Have you had an opportunity to talk with PriitK?
Grelminar: Yes, Ive been in contact with PriitK for some time, since I was added to the SSC email list a few years ago. Once he was convinced I was serious about writing a replacement for subgame, he started helping me with aspects of the server that have to talk to Continuum. Also, weve had discussions about possible new features and reducing bandwidth consumption and other things over email. I understand hes very busy with the rest of his life now, though, so very little of what we have discussed has been implemented.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: How long did it take you to write asss, or are you still compiling different possible aspects?
Grelminar: I started writing code on November 2, 2000, although I had been thinking about things for a little before then. so Ive been working on it for almost 3 years now. Not continually, of course, Ive taken breaks as long as several months.
Asss is pretty much feature-complete now, but Im still working on fixing bugs, simplifying things, and general improvements. I made the first public release on January 8, 2003, so its been available for a while now. That release includes almost all of the source code (two files are omitted for security reasons), precompiled binaries for linux, and a template of a zone directory.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: Where can people download asss and get more information?
Grelminar: Ive set up a small website at http://sscx.net/asss/. It has a link to the user guide, which is somewhat incomplete but still useful. Documentation is one of the areas that I want to improve on in the near future. There are also forums for asss discussion, not maintained by me, at Mine GO BOOMs server help site.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: Have you had good download statistics for asss?
Grelminar: I havent checked the download statistics recently. People have been contacting me about using asss in their zone, or developing modules for it, so I think there is a good level of interest.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: From what I hear there is a lot of excitement regarding the possibilities that asss will bring to the subgame.
Grelminar: I know of at least one group of people who are developing a zone using a lot of the new features, which is great, and I hope its successful. Several others are trying to move their existing zone to it. Im almost glad there isnt _too_ much excitement just yet, since I wouldnt have enough time to respond to everyone asking questions about it.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: What are your favorite aspects of asss that you have utilized?
Grelminar: I made a prototype of an RPG-like zone over the summer, to test out some new features. it used the persistent database module to store player information, which was great, because having that in place already made writing the prototype much easier.
Im also excited about the support for writing modules in Python, which is a simple scripting language. most modules do not need the speed of C, and using Python means they can be written faster, and they will be safer and have less bugs than ones in C. All of the custom modules for that prototype zone were written in Python.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: Sounds like it opens up even more possibilities.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: It is hard to imagine a RPG in SS. What was that like?
Grelminar: There was very little content. It was more of a proof of concept. Your location was saved across sessions, so when you started up the game, you would spawn right where you last quit, and in the same arena. The map was split over several arenas, and there were warp areas that would take you from one to another automatically. There was also a primitive inventory: you started on a planet as a person, and had to purchase a space ship before you could leave the surface and go into space. A feature I would like to add, although I havent had time recently, is for players to be able to upload maps, or pieces of maps, and then have the server integrate them into the world. So a squad could design its own headquarters, upload it as an lvl file, and then rent space for it in a city, or something. The server would then set up a warp point from some point in the city to that map, and back.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: That sounds incredible in connection with Continuum. But great!
Grelminar: I know it sounds crazy to try to build an RPG on top of the Subspace, but I think the game is flexible enough that it just might work. A project like this would take a massive amount of effort though, from a whole team. Maybe some time in the future I would consider organizing some people to work on something like this, but for now I think I should spend the time I have making asss more stable and reliable, so its a better base to build on.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: I was going to ask you how you envision Continuum in the future but I think you are answering that quite effectively. =)
Grelminar: Well, an RPG zone is one cool idea, one that will be pretty much implemented on the server. With the cooperation of Continuum, I can imagine a bunch more gameplay features. For example, I think server CPU power these days is enough that a reasonable server could spare enough cycles to control simple "fake" players, which might include stuff like auto-targetting turrets (stationary or not) or even more intelligent ai players.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: Well that would get a different spin on play definately.
Grelminar: Sure, and thats why Im not worried about Subspace/Continuum dying out any time soon: itll take a long time to exhaust all these new gameplay ideas, and by the time that happens, PriitK might have released a new version of Continuum, which will make even more options available.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: If someone wanted to help you work on asss or future updates can they contact you through your website? Or do you frequently visit Shankys forums?
Grelminar: They can send me email at firstname.lastname@example.org, although Ill probably respond to forum posts faster than to email (I check them every couple of days). People who want to work on it can grab the source from the site. There is no good developer documentation yet, but Im working on it.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: Are there any zones currently up that people can go and see some of these implementations?
Grelminar: Sure, Ive set up a zone called "asss test zone" that is running a recent version of the server. When Im online, Im usually idling on there.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: This is excellent work Grelminar. Thank you for taking the time to tell us about asss. I know it will do nothing but extend Continuum to great possibilities in the future. =)
Grelminar: I hope it does. Thanks for giving me a chance to talk about some of this stuff.
FaLLeN AnGeL+: Well I hope you will interview with us again in the future to update us on progress. =)