About the authorsDan Eastwood is a biostatistician at the Medical College of Wisconsin who has been playing netrek sporadically for about 3 years.
Zachary Uram studied physics at Carnegie Mellon University and now works in the IT field. He's been playing netrek near continuously (only a 1 year hiatus) since 1994. He has played in numerous clue games (bronco and hockey) and countless pickup games. Zach has played all the netrek variants: bronco (classic netrek), hockey, sturgeon, chaos and paradise. He knew Terrance Chang and played physically (on the console!) on the very first bronco server: bronco.ece.cmu.edu. CMU netrek teams routinely won world championship titles and had some of the greatest netrek players of all time such as Bert Enderton and Erik Lauer. Their starbasing skills and Erik's general cluefulness and skill in directing a netrek team are legendary.
IntroductionIn November, 2008, Dan wrote a review of Netrek, a simple online multiplayer game (and the first!) where the best dynamics of the game far exceed the apparent simplicity of the game itself. There is an important lesson Dan and Zach spent much of their Thanksgiving 2008 vacations thinking about it. This post is not to be a complete analysis by any means, but hopefully, it will serve to introduce a number of topics we hope to discuss in greater detail somewhere down the line. There are three basic aspects of Netrek that we want to describe: Player versus Player, Team versus Team, and Resource Allocation.
Player versus PlayerOne-on-one, ship-to-ship combat (dogfighting) is perhaps the most basic component of Netrek. Players combat each other with phasers (phased energy pulse beam - think lasers) and photon torpedoes, trying to inflict enough damage to destroy the other ship first. If a player and his opponent both kill each other in their dogfight they are said to have "mutualed" each other. There is an aspect of Point Objective Games here, with the added complexity that shields regenerate and ships repair. This complexity aside, it comes down to a contest of skill between players, rather like a Chess match. Chess has a ratings system, Elo Scoring, which is used to describe the past performance of a player, and (ideally) has some usefulness in predicting the winner of a match between two players who have never met before. Elo scoring uses a scale where a 200 point difference between player ratings is interpreted as a 75% chance that the player with the higher rating will win (assuming the ratings accurately represent player skill). Chess is considered to be a game, with a very great range or many levels of skill between the worst and best players, and this deepness can be measured (in part) by the range in scores. Beginning Chess players might have a rating of 800-1000 points, while the World Championship Chess players have ratings of 2500 or more (Go has even greater depth by this measure). Netrek also has considerable depth on player skill, and it would be interesting if this sort of ratings system could be implemented to measure it. The netrek server itself has a rating system it uses to track player rankings. In order to advance from a lower rank to a higher rank (the lowest rank in netrek is Ensign and the highest is Admiral) a player must meet certain conditions:
- Minimum Defense rating
- Minimum Hours played
- DI rating (Damage Inflicted) - a rough metric based on how much bombing a player has done, how many players carrying armies they killed (dooshed), time spent in a starbase, plus how many planets they took. It is interesting to note that this rating metric is time dependent. The faster you inflict damage on opposing teams the faster your DI advances. The underlying server code actually uses what amounts to a derivative to track this.
- [Overall] Rating = Offense + Bombing + Planets ratings combined.
- Mathematics based measurements of player skill in games is one of those topics we intend to discuss at greater length in future posts.