Long before the current crop of clients in SST, there was automation in one form or another. It was just kept secret from most of the players and used just by the elite to rule the game. Many of the features now available in the game were introduced by Ray to help balance the game, things like the macro, the auto-scoop and the scout launcher. And later on, spurred even further automation. As more graphical based games started flooding the internet, the client port was added and the graphic client was born and evolved into what some people know as the Kirellii client. And which is probably the source for most of the current clients and bots being used these days.
Long before the graphical client, there were already players like vic and “The wog” using some form of automation or another. Call them bots or clients, they all had the ability to repetitively do tasks in the game that were a pain to do. Vic’s client for example was written in C++, text based and could run multiple ships at once, allowing you to switch between them. I’ve only seen the source to a basic version of it, but I’m sure the version for his personal use was much more powerful. The WoggyBot for which I’ve only seen screen shots also has many features. Unfortunately the screen shots don’t appear to be available any longer on the internet. I also don’t know if what I saw was the ‘civilian grade’ or ‘military grade’ client. Another client used was done by Noel and hasn’t been updated since 2001 and which the code may still be available for download. This one is the XSST client, an x-windows client for linux written in ‘C’. These are just the ones I’ve heard about and managed to track down and all prior to when I started playing in 2002. There are probably also vast libraries of scripts and macros that I haven’t heard about, as most people are very secretive about what they do or use.
In the spring of 2002, I started to play SST and there were quite of few resources available to the new player to learn how to play the game, an active yahoo group not overrun with spam and Kat, better known as Katrina Kirellii actively working on a graphic client. The games were pretty lively, but there also appeared to be some people driving away many of the new players entering the game. Several of the people I had teamed up with just left after playing a few months. It’s at this time, that I got interested in the graphic client, but unable to compile it myself, decided to write my own client and grabbed just the network code out of the graphics client to use in mine. At first it was just to help trade, but the attacks continued and over time it evolved into something capable of hunting other ships, what some might call a ‘military grade’ client.
About the same time as I started work on my client, I decided it was time to move into the endless game (CoC – Continuum of Chaos back then). It was a 1M sector game in the fall of 2002 and around Jan 2003, I think someone found a flaw that allowed an unlimited number of figs to be built. Details of how the flaw was exploited are vague, but it involved bots or scripting and bumping the planet or port being used to build the figs. That was when I first heard about automation in SST and realized there were a lot of unknown things being done. It also resulted in a reset of game and the creation by Ray of a new 2M sector universe. Farming was still unknown to me at that time and the client was a pretty limited trading tool. It was geared towards trading the one-ways which are the most profitable for trading. Except for Kat’s graphic client, what everyone else was using or doing was still very secretive.
Let’s jump ahead a bit to 6 months into the 2M sector game from which the current TLF game has it’s start. By this time I was keeping track of scores in the game so I’ll provide the scores at the end of July 2003, for the first dozen or so ships.
QUAZI Race me? [ANS] 1 SFr 204981831 1400001s BATTLINGDIA_III Top Gun [TRU] 2 SDe 196655147 200001s ROBINSON +Overlord+ [WOC] 3 HFr 195404489 80001s FLY SWATER $ Raid $ [RIP] 4 HFr 190529498 1360001s ANTHRAX *cough [ANS] 5 HFr 188689062 1880001s GEORDIE MARAUDER +Overlord+ [WOC] 6 HFr 187750440 80001s BATTLINGDIA Simply the Best [TRU] 7 HFr 184277678 1160001s BATTLINGDIA_II Emperor+1 [TRU] 8 HFr 181520892 960001s AIDS No Defence [ANS] 9 HFr 180196884 1880001s BUBONIC PLAGUE Black Death [ANS] 10 HFr 176542696 1880001s VIKING SPIT $ XXX $ [MPR] 11 Lin 175678997 1680001s KAMIKAZE *OuT oF cOnTrOl* [RIP] 12 HFr 174927396 920001s E-BOLA VIRUS Deadly [ANS] 13 SFr 173249583 1880001s YELLOW FEVER Is it hot in here? [ANS] 14 HFr 173192534 1880001s CANCEROUS GROWTH A TERMINAL [ANS] 15 HFr 172397002 1880001s NX-74205 POTS Imperial Pride[MPE] 16 HLi 170341950 1040001s
My top ship was in 16th place. I was still trading one-ways with the help of my client, but as you can see, was losing ground fast, to the top ships. This is about the time I first heard rumors of bots and farming. By that time, it was already hard to find good ports and planets in the spirals since those were the easiest galaxies to search with scripts or bots. This is also when I first learned about bots and farming from Q. The bots being used then, were telnet based and this was when I introduced Q to the information available on the client port. I also found out how Q’s bot trawled for planets and ports. Under Q’s direction, started building a farm of my own and a bot that could trawl for planets and ports. I was still doing the building by hand, but with the client, had easy access to the port and planet data and was doing client assisted trading. At this time, I still think bots, scripts and macros were still being primarily used for trading. This was probably also the point in the game when the arms race began in the game and info was starting to get out to the various parties. It was also starting to get easier to program with languages like VB (Visual Basic) now being around for some time. Not happy with just building farms like everyone else, I developed my own farming techniques and worked out how to trawl the other galaxies.
With forces starting to build, more people farming and more conflicts, military applications were developed using the scripts and bots. New client builders also appeared such as Clinton on TCW and script writers like Tandu of TVG using telnet scripting tools like Tera Term Pro. I only know after the fact about a fig launching/hunter script called figaro, so don’t know exactly when it was introduced to the game. So it’s only speculation, but am guessing it would have happened about the same time as I developed my own scouting capabilities which was prior to the start of the current TLF game. Even at this time, most players were secretive about their capabilities and it was only during discussions of alliances between teams that anyone found out about other clients and bots being used or methods being used for farming. Deals were struck, tech was shared between allies and farm building bots were transfered between teams. It’s a little hard to believe that some of this transfered tech is not still being used in some form or other today.
The bots and scripts tend to be a lot more specialized than clients and are usually built for specific uses, like trading, farm building, hunting, bunkering fuel or grabbing scores. They aren’t usually interactive so you can detect their use by watching a ship log on, boost somewhere, log off and then the bot will log on, perform it’s actions and log off. They also have to be programmed to take into account any thing they may possibly encounter. Depending on the design, they may either pass out when they come across something unexpected or just end up logging out because of a loop limit exceeded because of the unexpected event. They will ignore you when you talk to them, since there is no way to interact with anyone once started. Clients on the other hand tend to allow interaction and the present batch tend to be designed to allow interruption of a task to allow such interaction.
There are many ways to play the game, some have just evolved a bit more than others. There are still those who use spreadsheets and cut and paste macros to trade their farms and others still who use the autoscoop and just prime the scooper before trading the farm to get a high average from trading. Some build highly productive farms that only require 100 pairs per ship, while others need 200+ pairs per ship. Some don’t invest too much in bases for their farms and produce lots of figs for attacking, while others invest primarily in larger bases to defend their farms. Like in the real world, you’ve got all types of personalities.