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News from 2002

         Sunday, December 29th, 2002         
      And A Little Bit More Progress: Three new areas were rendered this weekend, and the Am'Oebas "monsters" were added to the new mountain area on Chuckle's Planetoid. Two more puzzles for the ShiftZone in-game PPD were added as well, but that's about all the news there is to report. Some discussion about the to-do list was started in the Forum recently. Sorry for the lack of recent news.

         Sunday, December 8th, 2002         
      A Little More Progress: Some changes have been made to the stolen rig warrant (and the chances of going to jail as a result). This is one of the many things that arose during testing, and the changes are designed to help newbies avoid jail early in the game. A few other minor changes have been done. I have also began to expand the area near Chuckle's Pub to provide a level 1 quest that doesn't rely on leaving the planet (existing quests will be bumped up). I admit, I'm behind on development, and I seem to be falling back into that uncertain territory where setting a Beta Phase 2 date (let alone a release date) is hard to do.

         Wednesday, November 13th, 2002         
      A Little Progress: After taking a break for the past few days, I was able to get some work done on StarLock tonight. These things have been marked off the to-do list (done), although one is an internal feature dealing with warping that is really an admin-only thing right now:

      *Base slowest engine on 60 Parsecs, not 100.
      *Change Loaner Rig to Impulse speed, to give more incentive for rentals.
      *Have a way to view Merchant Hours at Marizen, even though booth isn't closed.
      *Fix so that when warping, craft follows player to the new location.
      *If never had any gems, the Aura Screen says "You Have" instead of You Have 0.
      *Figure out why Warp Screen "Cancel" isn't sliding, even in MSIE 5/6...

      I also worked on new graphics to expand Chuckle's Planetoid. In Beta 2, there will be an option to go East from the landing zone into the mountains (the "landing" and "leaving" graphics will be removed, which would otherwise have given the impression that there *aren't* any mountains to the East -- incidentally, doing that should also fix the "chat" bug where it says so-and-so entered/left/entered). I'm not sure if this new area will open up a new Level 1 quest, or if it will be something for later.

      The current To-Do List can be viewed here:

         Thursday, November 7th, 2002         
      Beta Phase 1 Ends: Phase 1 of the StarLock beta testing will come to an end tomorrow, when the game is taken offline pending more development and progress. Testing has gone extremely well. The testers went full-force into it, doing a consistently great job of reporting back problems and suggestions. Amazingly, nothing fatal turned up. In fact, many testers basically had to nit-pick the small things even to find problems to report. The engine passed with flying colors. StarLock is looking great!
      Because the combination of all these small things is overwhelming in itself, and because only the first few quests and story points have been coded at this time, StarLock will go offline tomorrow afternoon for further development. Although we currently plan to resume testing with Phase 2 in December, the tentative January 1st public launch date will almost definitely have to push back into February or March 2003 (at the earliest).
      Not only was I impressed with the interaction and thoroughness of the testers, but I'm happy to say that the kudos and compliments indicate this is going to be a popular game. StarLock is a huge leap forward from the browser-based games out there right now, and the testers really expressed this in their feedback.
      Aside from ferreting out the bugs, some questions have been raised about the basics of gameplay - nothing major, but points I will be considering as development continues, leading up to the next beta phase.

         Thursday, October 31st, 2002         
      Happy Halloween! Applicants who have been picked to assist in beta testing have been notified this evening. A follow-up email will be sent tomorrow (probably late), containing information about how to access the game and log in. All totalled, about 485 players were picked from the hundreds of applications received. If you didn't make it into the beta test, don't worry -- you only have to wait two more months before the game is due to be available for public play. Thanks for helping make this a very successful beta sign-up period. The number of applications received was very impressive, and I think we'll have more than enough players (even considering that many who applied and were picked may not actually follow through) to see this game from rough and unfinished to complete, bug-free, and fun. Beta testing officially starts tomorrow!

         Saturday, October 26th, 2002         
      Soon... soon... With beta testing less than a week away, quite a bit is still yet to be done (not the least of which is selecting beta testers from all the hundreds of applications received). A lot of clean-up, "tightening" things have been in the works, such as making sure database tables have appropriate indexes, polishing up some of the script text, and filling in other missing features. It's safe to say that the initial beta is going to be more of an alpha, but the current plan is to keep with the November 1st start date (probably Friday evening, as opposed to earlier that day). Attention is being given to the presentation (the login/signup pages were improved, the daily maintenance scripts are being updated/verified)... and this means no recent work has been done to add new quests, or finish adding any of the dozens and dozens of "areas" that are still missing.

         Thursday, October 17th, 2002         
      Closed Beta Fast Approaching: You still have time to submit the Beta Form to be considered for the StarLock closed testing due to begin in November. You can also participate in the forum while you wait, if you have questions, comments, and so on. If you haven't already posted your opinions to the two polls, feel free to cast your votes. I'll probably take them down and post results soon.

      Getting Ready for Testing: For development, I added a large mod that allows for rigs to have "cargo holds" (instead of picking up and dropping off trailers, as originally done). In the future, this mod will open up the possibility of things like smuggling, raiding cargo, swapping items into cargo for temporary storage, and more. I've also been trying to nail down exact GC$ amounts for in-game things (rig rentals, tugging job payments, elixers, maps, weapon prices, etc). I've also been re-rending older graphics as needed, although I think that's a task I'll still be working on during beta. There is still quite a bit more to be done, including quests and filling out many of the "placeholder" planets... and I'm quickly running out of time before testing starts! : /

         Saturday, October 5th, 2002         
      Massive Online Gaming Magazine: It's out! The first issue hasn't hit the newstands here in Wichita yet, but I've been looking closely at the places where Versus books are sold. What's so exciting about MOG Magazine? One, it's the first print mag of its kind... one that focuses solely on massively multiplayer online games. They're going to provide ongoing features on a variety of games, and they're keeping tabs on StarLock! Coverage in a major new magazine is a great thing. Click the MOG banner below to visit their site, where more details about the first issue are available, including a game list and a forum.

         Wednesday, October 2nd, 2002         
      WOW! Since yesterday, we've already received around 200 beta applications... and the month is far from over. It looks like we'll have plenty of players to consider. Keep those applications coming! :)

      Some of you are hearing about StarLock for the first time, so I also wanted to mention that this is a browser-based web game. From some of the comments on beta application forms, I think quite a few people have assumed that it's a 3D action game. It's a massively multiplayer online game, yes, but it's nothing like Everquest, Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, or any of the ones I see mentioned (although having play and/or testing experience on those certainly doesn't hurt). StarLock is played through your web browser, kind of like an illustrated MUD. Just wanted to make sure everybody knows. :) If anybody who submitted a beta application didn't realize this, doesn't like BBGs (browser-based games), and wants to withdraw, just email me and let me know. But, I think StarLock is really going to change the way you think of BBGs (in a good way).

         Tuesday, October 1st, 2002         
      Beta Application is Online! This month only, you have a chance to sign up for the StarLock closed beta test, which is expected to begin November 1st and last two months. Make sure you read the notice at the top of the form, which contains some important information about the beta phase. If you apply, please be sure to fill it out fully and accurately, as incomplete or fake applications will be ignored.

         Saturday, September 28th, 2002         
      Beta Signup Tuesday: The day is nearly here! In three days, the beta signup form will go up, and if you're interested in helping test StarLock (testing is expected to begin on November 1st), this is your chance to throw your name in. We haven't yet decided how many testers we'll need. Unlike open betas, we aren't looking for people who simply want to get in on an early version of the game, playing to win. We're looking for players who will report problems and work with us to make sure the game is ready for the January 1st public launch. This requires patience. This requires time. This requires the understanding that the game will be reset, probably repeatedly, and that problems will happen. Don't apply for the beta unless you understand this and truly plan to help. We'll release any "testers" who prove to have no interest in helping.  :)

      Screenshots will not be allowed during the beta test phase, and any information you obtain during the course of testing must be kept strictly confidential. Game site and magazine reviewers may be allowed temporary beta accounts, but you need to identify yourself and your site/magazine ahead of time.

      New Logo: The StarLock logo has been changed -- for about the 5th time since development started. The new logo lends itself to themes, since it overlays sections of game graphics while still maintaining the same font/style. At some point, I may post a page showing all the prior logos, and how things have changed.

      Screenshots Page Update: All 14 screenshots from the RPG Vault StarLock interview have now been added to the screenshots page. These will probably be the last of the pre-launch screenshots (when we open to the public, we'll probably post a new batch of "release version" shots). It was suggested to me that the screenshots should also work with arrows, so that one full-sized shot could jump to the previous or next screenshot in series. This is something I will try to do when time permits.

         Wednesday, September 24th, 2002         
      Poll Clarification: From the first few bits of feedback I've received in the current StarLock polls, I can tell that there is a little confusion about the second one. One response asked if $35 is a typo, and another suggested that $35 should pay for a year. The "Starter Kit" is for your browser client -- a CD containing graphics and music (for enhanced game play), a manual (probably with some tips and hints), and other extras. It's a product - a 1-time purchase. However, it does include a subscription or hourly time (6 months or 100 hours) to make it a better bargain. The Starter Kit is optional, and that's why the second poll question asks if you're interested in buying it. Sorry for the confusing question. I hope that explains it. :)

      I was also asked about the speed and reliability of the StarLock server. Those of you who've played Lunatix have seen the super-fast response times and reliability of that server. StarLock will be launched on a server with even more speed and power (dual 1.1Ghz, 1GB RAM, etc), and we're sticking with our current host in order to make use of their incredible network (great speed, reliable uptime, plenty of bandwidth). And, this game was built with the ability to make use of multiple servers. If performance drops due to high demands, we'll add another server that accesses the same game world, then another, and another, as needed to assure that this is the most reliable game on the web. The only bottleneck would be on the SQL machine itself, since all additional servers will be accessing it as one. That in itself doesn't worry me, since there is room to upgrade there as well.

         Tuesday, September 17th, 2002         
      More about Massive Online Gaming Magazine: I found a link to IMGS's publisher, Versus Books. They've posted some information and a cover shot of the first issue of Massive Online Gaming (the new magazine I mentioned previously). It's priced the same as their ongoing line of game strategy guides, which I found a little surprising. Maybe it's going to be published quarterly or something, to explain the higher retail price. Don't know. Still, I'm going to be looking for it to hit the newsstands, since StarLock will be part of their ongoing coverage.

      Two New Polls: Two new Polls have been added. This time, we're curious about your current thoughts on supporting StarLock. Planning to play strictly for free? Are you open to the idea of upgrading either to hourly or to a subscription? Want to buy the Starter Kit (look for more info about it soon), or skip it and play without these extras? We're interested in your answers!

      Four More Screenshots: Once again, here are 4 more screenshots from the RPG Vault StarLock interview. These are scenes from four different places entirely (the Emmansa village at night, the ruins on Equadus, Charello Cafe, and the Ulonus dock). The final two screenshots from that interview will be posted soon, and all of them will be added to the screenshots page then.

      Graphic Re-Rendering: Some of the original scenes are being re-rendered, to provide more detail and a more consistent 1st person view. The early graphics in particular were in need of some re-working (after all, Bryce has been a learning experience). A 1st person view wasn't always the goal. Some of these early images were done at awkward or unrealistic camera angles (for example, from in the sky looking down). If used as-is, and especially since these are locations showing the game world as seen by the player, some of these earlier scenes would have the player standing 20 feet tall, or crawling, or free-floating, or in some way viewing the scene from a completely different perspective. To avoid this, some re-working is needed (but it's going well, and quickly).

         Sunday, September 15th, 2002         
      More RPG Vault Screen Shots: Here are 4 more of the 14 screens posted in the
RPG Vault StarLock interview, this time showing a little of Apeville (on Tonga, one of the three moons of Kuraqen).

      Recent Progress: I've been considering the best way to implement the PK/PvP system (player versus player fighting). Well, I know how it's going to work from the aspect of playing, it's just a matter of working out the player to player internal messaging system. I don't mean messaging as in "chat" (that has been in and working for a long time), but the method by which players can initiate requests of other players (challenging to duel, maybe eventually as a means of one on one trading, and probably more). I decided to shelf the idea at least for a few more days, to get caught up on some of the graphic design work that needs finished.

      I've also defined around half of the standard auras so far (auras for boosting attack or defense, draining enemy attack or defense, healing, and attack blasts). This is done for 13 of the 25 Fighting Levels so far. I had planned to finish them all this weekend, but didn't. I will still need to work on the additional, specialized auras (an aura to convert Vigor to Vitality, an aura to work as a "reveal" spell for finding hidden things, and more).

      Something else I've been giving some thought is the "woops you're done" problem. The game has limited turns - that's established. This includes Vitality, which allows a player to attempt tasks (climbing a wall, swimming across a lake, jumping over a gap, and so forth). It has also included simply walking around the game. I've started thinking about how this is going to restrict things a little too much. I'm not scrapping the idea by any means. I'm now planning to allow certain things (walking around most areas, for instance) to work without using Vitality. Players who want to spend time in the game would otherwise be stuck in one spot when their Vitality is exhausted. This way, a player may still be able to walk around, do certain "bonus" things (without gaining an advantage over players who are playing for free), and spend more time online to socialize. The idea is that everybody stays on equal footing where advancement is concerned. Buying additional hours (or a subscription) isn't needed in order to play -- just to become more active in the game world instead of just playing turns.

      Polls: I'm planning to add a couple new polls soon. The previous poll results can be seen here.

         Tuesday, September 10th, 2002         
      The RPG Vault Screen Shots: Below are 4 of the 14 screens posted in last week's
RPG Vault StarLock interview. More of them may be posted in the next news update, and eventually added to the Screenshots page. If you're in a reading mood too, check out another Interview, this time at massivemultiplayer.org.

      StarLock Starter Kit: It's decided. StarLock will definitely be available on CD. This will consist of game graphics and music, possibly some extras, with a launcher icon for opening your browser straight to the game. The CD will come with a printed manual (something small like a GameBoy manual), which will include instructions, tips and hints, the story, and more. We haven't decided what else will be packed with the CD (purchasing the Starter Kit, even beyond the kit itself, may unlock special in-game features for your character). The Starter Kit will NOT be required to play the game. It will be an option for players who want the higher-quality graphics (the online versions will be saved with compression to save on bandwidth), MP3's of the game music, and so forth. The price of the Starter Kit is planned at $35.00, but will come with your choice of a 6-month subscription or 100 hours of time (a $25 value, so it's not a bad deal at all). Check back in the weeks to come for more information about the StarLock Starter Kit. We'll probably begin accepting pre-orders in November or early December. Pre-ordering will put you first in line, where orders placed after the official game launch will be shipped after the pre-orders are out. Check back later for more info!

      Audio Snags: In the months leading up to the development of Lunatix Online, way back in 1998, I had upgraded to what was then a pretty decent PC. This was a Pentium 233Mhz MMX machine (48MB RAM). It was a little outdated in 1999 when StarLock development began, but was plenty powerful enough for browser-based game development. This past weekend, I finally upgraded to a 1.2Ghz machine, 512MB RAM, and quite a few other cool goodies. It makes things so much faster and should really help speed up development time. The problem is, I've run into an unexpected wall regarding the game music -- in particular, the way that different sound cards play back MIDI with different results. Everything sound fine on my original computer. I had even tested it on a couple others with similar results. This new PC has a killer sound card -- the default instruments sound much more realistic -- but every one of the StarLock songs sounded horrible due to different MIDI interpretations. I spent a while to revise most of them, only to discover that now they sound bad on certain other PC's. ARGH! Very frustrating. The game music might sound perfect to one player, yet harsh and obnoxious to another, because of these variations in MIDI playback. We've purchased the tools needed to record MIDI (in a round-about way) as MP3's. This means the music would sound the way it's intended. The downside is, a 20k MIDI file becomes a 2MB MP3 file, in-browser MP3 requires a plug-in. It's possible that most players are going to turn the music off anyway, making it a lesser issue. We may just work the music in MIDI form as best as possible, and hope for a fairly consistent sound across the board. I'm undecided on which route to take -- or both, with the MP3 versions available only as part of the Starter Kit.

         Tuesday, September 3rd, 2002         
      More StarLock Articles: If you have the time, check these recent articles and interviews at several game sites on the web. They're all pretty long, but are some great sources of information about StarLock, some of which hasn't even been mentioned here before!

        Game Bunny - A great, but lengthy interview.
        AllRpg.com - StarLock information, and an interview.
        RPG Vault - Another really long one. Lots of info.
        Arcadian Del Sol - Not an interview, a "DevSpeak" article.

      Fourteen new screenshots were sent along with the RPG Vault interview, but didn't make it in time for posting. When they do show up, I'll post the link (and if they don't, I'll post them here instead).

      Development/Progress: Still coding away (writing those long-winded articles hasn't been the only thing keeping me busy). Development was slowed over the past couple of weeks due to the heavy demands of "back to school" season at my day job (programmer for a leading school food service software developer). The current focus in StarLock development is in fully implementing "Auras" (works like a kind of magic - I'll explain more later). The basics are done. Auras can be set, cast, and used. This leaves more work in defining the 175 different auras that can be obtained by players, deciding on how exactly to spawn/distribute the Aural Gems (gem collecting was added a while back), and in what ways the player will be able to obtain or learn new auras. Lots to do, and this takes time away from quest building (but, it's necessary).

         Saturday, August 10th, 2002         
      StarLock Forum Opened: The StarLock
message forum is now open. The first message is a reminder to stay on-topic. With the StarLock launch only months away, and beta testing even sooner, this is a good time to start sticking around. Also, check back for links to possible StarLock previews, news, and interviews popping up at other game news sites, like this one at rpgviewer.com.

         Tuesday, July 30th, 2002         
      Release Timeline: Although I would urge you not to forget that distractions can often interfere with even the best of plans (for instance, my right hand is currently in a splint - I broke a finger - and that alone makes work slow and painful), we're at least ready to offer a fairly realistic timeline for the launch of StarLock.

Tuesday, Oct. 1stBeta Signup/Announcement Made
Friday, Oct. 25thVery Limited Closed Testing Begins
Friday, Nov. 1stFirst Phase Closed Beta Testing Begins
Sunday, Dec. 1stClosed Beta Testing Enters Second Phase
Wednesday, Jan. 1st StarLock Goes Gold, Available to the Public

As you may have noticed, there is no scheduled "open beta," and here's why. We're serious about debugging, and have no desire to launch a ragged game as an excuse to gain more players. It has also been my experience and observation that "open beta" is often an excuse for people to treat a game as "finished," offering no assistance in testing, and worse, complaining about any and every glitch that does crop up. When beta sign-ups begin in October (please do not offer your assistance prior to the announcement - we are not yet ready to even consider you), we will pick appropriate numbers to help in the week-long preliminary tests, followed by two months of closed beta where we will admit more testers as various milestones are confirmed. Two months may or may not be sufficient. If not, the launch date (Jan 1st) will be pushed back to allow more beta time.

      More News from IMGS: Today, Incan Monkey God Studios sent the questions for StarLock's small spot in their upcoming premier issue of Massive Online Gaming (watch for their magazine to appear on newsracks in the next few weeks). Below, I've shared my answers. :)

Accepting Beta Testers?Not Yet
DeveloperProwler Productions
PublisherProwler Productions
PlatformWeb Browser (HTML, CGI). Broadband recommended
Official Websitehttp://www.prowler-pro.com/starlock/
Current Version1.0d Alpha
Scheduled Release DateJanuary 1st, 2003
Brief DescriptionEpic, expanding Sci-Fi RPG/Adventure (Space Opera). Illustrated MUD.
It's Different BecauseLargest BBG ever. Accessibility (school, work, home, etc). Add-on ability.
Latest Big ChangeNearing the end of alpha development phase. Release date set.
Upcoming NewsWill begin accepting beta applications soon. Game world will expand.
Pricing3 Tiers: Free (time limited daily), $0.25/hourly, or $5.00/monthly
Number of Active Servers Undecided. Will increase to meet demands.

I'm personally excited about Massive Online Gamer... not just because of the new exposure for StarLock, but because this may be the first magazine of its kind. There are mags with a focus on handheld gaming, consoles in general, specific consoles, PC games, and some cover the world of online games in part. MOG is all about Massively Multiplayer online games, and so far they seem to have no bias for or against any particular platform. After all, they're covering a massively multiplayer browser-based game, and that's strong reinforcement for the viability of the web as a worthwhile gaming platform.

      Three-Tier Specifics: After months of uncertainty, the pricing and time limits have been decided. If you've been wondering, read on! StarLock will have a tier perfect for everyone.

      Tier 1 (free) will start each player with 10 hours, followed by 20 minutes (cumulative up to three hours) each day. A free player can play every day (if you're quick -- the game is designed to provide a set number of daily turns), play for an hour every third day (as an example, since daily time accumulates if not used), or let the time accumulate to be used later, when time permits. This means everybody gets to play. This is especially good for quick players, for people who want to keep an account but don't play every day, and for anybody who doesn't want to spend money on a game they're not totally ready for. Twenty minutes doesn't sound like much, but just think about other games you've played. 20 minutes a day, or 40 minutes every other day, or an hour every 3rd day, or over two hours once a week is all most players will ever need.
      Tier 2 will allow players to purchase additional time, at $0.25 (25 cents) an hour. This may be a popular choice, for several reasons. One, free time isn't lost. A tier-2 player uses free time (which, like tier-1, can accumulate up to 3 hours) before dipping into paid time, and it's all automatic. As a basis for comparison, 20 hours would cost $5. If spread over a 30-day month, that's 40 minutes a day. With 20 additional minutes of daily free time, that's an hour a day all month long. An hour is more than most players should need for their turns. Also, paid time isn't lost. If you stop logging in, your time is still there waiting when you return. You don't lose anything when you aren't playing. This is a great thing for those of you who don't like the concept of "subscriptions," for that reason.
      Tier 3 is the traditional, well-known subscription. For $5 a month (or $25 for 6 months), you won't be limited at all. As demonstrated above, when paid hourly, $5 is worth about an hour of time a day (which includes free time). Players who want to socialize more, or "hang out," or play slowly, or simply like being in the StarLock world as much as possible, can do so for just $5 a month, without worrying at all about running out of paid time. Although free time doesn't really apply to a tier-3 account, it still accumulates, for immediate use when your subscription expires. In reality, a player could build up some free time and buy a few hours and get a subscription -- the free/paid time would sit waiting as a fallback when and if your subscription runs out!

      When designing StarLock, one of my chief concerns has been how most games expect to monopolize my free time. I, for one, can't spend 5 hours a day playing just one game, nor would I want to. I have a job... a wife... other games I play, and other hobbies (I try to read as much as I can, and movies are big with me). It's really disappointing to know that the kid who's home from school for the summer with nothing better to do than focus hours and hours a day on one game is going to have a huge advantage over me. So, StarLock isn't designed like that. If all the talk about "free minutes" and "paid hours" seems a little odd, that's why. You play the turns you're allowed each day (as quickly or as slowly as you are able), and anything beyond that is more for socializing, not stat-building. This keeps everybody on fairly equal footing, and affords a free player as much chance of success as a subscriber, without requiring a heavy commitment like so many other massively multiplayer games.

         Friday, July 19th, 2002         
      Poll Results: I've taken down the two StarLock polls, and posted the results below. Following the results, I've posted some of the comments/feedback from a few of the voters. I don't have much else to report at present -- with recent issues in
Lunatix Online to resolve, I haven't had time to work on this game in the past couple of weeks. From your comments, and from email I receive frequently, I can tell that I need to announce a release timeline soon. Things are going to be hectic with my "day job" over the next few weeks, and this may severely limit the free time I have, but look for some info regarding StarLock beta testing in the next few weeks.
      Something I noticed from the results, and from some of the other comments I received, is that people have assumed this is a Pay-to-Play Only game. It's actually a free game (yep, the largest, most involved browser-based RPG ever is going to be available to play for free), with options to pay or subscribe. Although this is explained in the FAQ a little better, I understand that some people just want to maintain a game account to play every once in a while. I know there are games I sometimes play a couple times a week for a few minutes, which certainly wouldn't justify the expense of a monthly subscription, and there are times when if I did have a subscription, I'd be worried about losing my character if I didn't continue to subscribe forever. With StarLock, that won't be a problem. It's a fairly unique approach to the membership problem, and one that may become more common if it proves viable. Because the free-level players won't be using nearly as many resources (being limited on time each day), we should be able to maintain the free membership level for as long as the game grows and stays profitable from those who do pay. Plus, with a design that is built to keep things fair whether you're a paying member or not, free players won't feel outclassed.
      But, we think that you're going to want more time in the game, to socialize, travel, and be a part of the game world (instead of just playing your turns). I'm confident that this is going to be a game everybody can enjoy.
      And without further ado, here are the results from the two recent polls:

How long have you been waiting for the release of StarLock?
 Choice   Votes   Approximate %
 I didn't know about StarLock until now!  77  45% 
 Since it was first announced in early 1999  35  20% 
 More recently - I found this site in 2001  33  19% 
 I've been looking forward to it since 2000  21  12% 
 I first found out about StarLock later in 1999  6  3% 

What's the biggest reason you have for playing Browser-Based Games?
 Choice   Votes   Approximate %
 I only play free games, and most BBG's are free.  60  38% 
 I'm not sure, or none of the above. BBG's are just fun!  55  35% 
 I enjoy playing text games, and most BBG's are text-based.  18  11% 
 I like limited turn-based play - I'm a busy person.  14  9% 
 Only BBG's are accessible from my work or school.  11  7% 

Some comments/feedback from those who voted:
I love Lunatix-Online's innovation, as it has more than most games. If Starlock's half as good...=)
I know it's a big game, but hurry up and get it launched lol
Really looking forward to playing this one! Love Lunatix!
I love the new screenshots...
Looking good
looks great, cant wait to play!
Sounds excellent!!!!!!!!, I am just waiting :-D
I think StarLock will be awesome
when When WHEN :-P
Looks *extremely* promising!
Can't wait to play :)
Sounds great, hurry please! :)
Hurry StarLock up! I`m waiting!
StarLock rox! although its not out yet...
More fun polls plesase
This BBG looks interesting.
I love these kind of games
Hurry StarLock up! I`m still waiting!

      StarLock Press Coverage: Prowler Productions was recently contacted by reps from Incan Monkey God Studios, creators of strategy guides for popular Massively Multiplayer games like EverQuest, Asheron's Call, and Ultima Online (I believe they even started out as Origin's own documentation department, before branching out). IMGS is teaming up with Versus Books (the only publisher, I'm told, who currently produces high-quality color game strategy guides) for a new magazine called Massive Online Gamer. Their focus will be ongoing coverage of Massively Multiplayer games, providing tips, info on the ever-changing worlds, and more. I'm told that this won't be a "review you then forget you" magazine. They're going to cover these games on an ongoing basis, and have requested to include StarLock as part of this. Prowler Productions is excited by the idea - this is quite a milestone in the history of BBG's, as this seems to be the first professional magazine (even many websites ignore BBG's) to consider a large-scale BBG as a viable MMPOG. Look for Massive Online Gamer on newsracks in the next two or three months - and look for more info about it here, soon.

         Sunday, June 30th, 2002         
      Further Development: I'll keep this one short. This was a productive weekend for StarLock development. Quite a few of those "loose ends" are being tied up, including things like being able to use Blue Elixers to resurrect (instead of having to wait until the next day), quite a bit of improvement to the "Claim a Bounty" option (so that the game allows you to collect bounties on people at various locations, not just while in space), allowing certain items to launch scripts upon use (handy for things like newspapers, books and so forth), having rented or loaned rigs automatically returned if you get arrested, and more. The focus has been back on the game engine this weekend, tightening things up and checking to make sure things work correctly. Soon, I should be able to continue work on the story/quests, which still have a ways to go yet.

         Tuesday, June 25th, 2002         
      StarLock in the Forum: A bit of
discussion about StarLock was started in the Lunatix Forum recently. Some interesting info about how PK's will work in StarLock is there.

      Story-Based Games: The goal for StarLock has always been epic. It's meant to be a huge game. It's meant to have hundreds of places to visit, different planets, quests, and limitless adventures. But, it's also supposed to tell a story. The idea is for a game that's entertaining in the same way a good book might be (although I admit, as a writer, I'm very much an amateur). I want to use a text/browser interface as an asset, not a crutch. A good story can hold surprises and twists that even movies can't. A good book can describe an entire world in just a few pages. A game requires more.
      The problem - and it's probably pretty obvious - is that it's darned difficult to translate the same kind of feeling into a game -- especially a multiplayer game. In a book, one paragraph can give a world of great information about some alien planet the protagonist has visited. All the important details are there, in just a few sentences, before the action shifts elsewhere. In a game, it doesn't end there. That one paragraph has to be fleshed out as a world. It has to exist in the game world. It can't just be a paragraph in passing. Instead of taking 15 seconds to write "Fearful of the nightly cyberwolf attacks, Wyndo took special care in double-bolting the sturdy front door of his cabin" (as an author might), a game designer has to spend hours (or even days) describing the cabin, the door, the surroundings, providing the mechanism by which the player can secure the door and suffer the consequences if left unlocked. If not, all you have is a cut-scene, and it takes more than cut-scenes to make a game.
      So, when you plan something as large as we did with StarLock, it's easy to underestimate how long it's going to take to finish the whole thing.

      Progress and Initial Content: I have decided that the game can be opened, even if there are more features, adventures, and locations not yet added. I still don't know when this might be, but it's bound to be sooner than it would be otherwise. To this end, I'm already closing gaps. For instance, the Marizen Market consists of 9 merchant booths, only 4 of which are actually functional. At those locations, you can buy things. At the other 5, you'd see the face of the merchant, and an option to cancel. It makes more sense for those extra booths to simply be unoccupied, instead of presenting partially-done features. The same is true in many places, and I'm now attempting to nail down the economy as well (pricing the various items, etc).
      Working off a much smaller to-do list, which focuses just on the parts of the game that absolutely must be polished up and finished, I should be able to open the game in a way that allows continued growth. Basically, instead of "finishing" the game two years from now THEN opening it, I can open the game then finish it in two years (for example). Yeah, this is the same trap many other games fall into, but I'm making every effort to provide a complete game, even if it continues to grow after being opened.
      One result of this is that hundreds of the graphics/locations that are already designed may not be initially accessible. I'm sure I'll be asked what happened to the past 3 years of development, when most of the places I've already designed aren't even in the game yet. :)
      The downside is, this complicates the idea of opening one massive game that plays out with interrelated adventures that form a story... start to finish. This can still happen - and that's still the idea - but more in a way where the story is built upon as new things are added.

         Monday, June 17th, 2002         
      Lack of Progress: In almost three months, not much has been done toward finishing StarLock. I had to re-render the jumpgate graphics, and tonight I incorporate a temporary way to "warp" from place to place (for quicker testing of various interplanetary destinations). That's really all. Between getting married last month (then the honeymoon), catching up on some reading, and spending most of my energy at work, I've felt more than a little burnt out. But, I'm hoping to get back into StarLock development ASAP (maybe even now).

      I've never had a favorite author, until recently -- Jack Vance is the greatest. I was hooked after Tales of the Dying Earth (especially the two Cugel books), and the Demon Princes was wonderful as well. I've since read Planet of Adventure (another great series of 4 books in one volume), and I've been collecting Vance's work like mad - I have almost an entire shelf of almost everything he published, waiting to be read. This is actually very helpful, as Vance was a master of the Space Opera. I'm certain StarLock will benefit from this as inspiration and ideas take hold; particularly, the epic scale of the thing.

      I'm still frequently asked when StarLock will be done -- even in the comments posted to the polls below. Believe me, I want to finish it just as much as you all are wanting to jump in and start playing. I'm considering developing it while it's open, although I still have more to do before that could even be possible. Essentially, new areas and adventures would open up to tell more of the overall story (and side-stories) over time, but the game launch wouldn't have to wait until the entire thing was done. I've disliked this in some games I've seen, but I'm beginning to see the reason. Besides, the game could grow the way a book or TV series does, by introducing segments at a time to eventually make the whole.

      If I do take this approach, there are several things I need to finish before the game could be opened. The upside is that the game could be opened sooner, and continue to grow. The downside is that it may not seem as epic as it will become over time, merely because so many of the various planets and places aren't yet developed. If I don't take this route, it could be even longer before the game opens. It's something I have to consider, as I try to get my motivation back.

         Saturday, March 23rd, 2002         
      Thinking and Thinking: More thought is going into the story and quest development. In addition to the recent development of 8 colors of collectible "GEMS," some changes to the premise were decided today, not only to improve the story, but to (I believe) speed up development some. This includes some re-evaluation of the experience/level functions. Tomorrow, I'm planning to work on nailing down quite a few of the unknowns (exact experience/level values, detailed story points, and more). Also, to help keep things from getting too confusing, I'm working on a huge development poster of the StarLock galaxy (with the names and locations of all the planets, bases and such). This doesn't take the place of my design notebook, but it sure will be helpful to see the entire game at a glance while working on quests and story tie-ins.

         Thursday, March 7th, 2002         
      Three Years: It's here... the 3-year mark. StarLock development started three years ago. In fact, this site was launched on this very date in 1999! If you have the time, patience, and curiosity, you can read through all the old news (
2002, 2001, 2000, 1999). Right now, not much is new to report. A few planet graphics, a cool series of scenes for planet Whilawhire, a little more design work, and that's about it. I have been so busy with other things (day job, pending marriage, Lunatix improvements and fixes) that StarLock hasn't received as much attention over the past few days. But, don't worry -- it will be worth the wait!

         Thursday, February 21st, 2002         
      Development News: In addition to a few more planet graphics, I was actually able to finish the Apeville quest (reward at the end and all). I could finish the Marizen cemetary quest too (all is done but the reward), but haven't yet. I've also been making notes as inspiration comes, since so many quests will be needed. To the game engine itself, I made use of the previously worthless "QType" field in order to filter "completed" quests out of the quest log (called the "Personal Log" within StarLock).

      The important thing about the quests is that they fit together like a big puzzle. They're stories within the story, Sure, there may be some unrelated side quests -- and different paths to get from the beginning of the game to the end -- but it will all be part of the larger story.

         Sunday, February 17th, 2002         
      A Productive Weekend: This was one of the most productive weekends for StarLock development in weeks. In addition to wrapping up all but the closing to the "Apeville Quest," an NPC named Perren now waits outside Chuckle's Pub to offer help and even start the player on a quest (not yet done). Perren teaches how to use the "ASK" and "USE" features, and explains some about the skills. He's a hyperactive little fellow. Perren alone has page after page of possible dialogue. You'll meet him very early in the game.

      Reading helps for inspiration. No, not for duplicating someone else's work, but for true inspiration. A brief mention of a transit system in the 2nd of the Star Wars: Black Fleet Crisis books sparked my imagination to create a planet where the player travels through some creepy underground passenger car. Nothing is done on that yet (no graphics, no scripting, nothing), but many interesting places like this will populate StarLock.

      A few important (and major) features are still lacking in the engine. But, one of the biggest hurdles right now is in figuring out exactly how much experience will be earned from quests, to balance against experience from various random events. Everything has to progress at a comfortable pace. Levels can't be too top or bottom heavy. I have a working value system in place for this, which may be modified and adjusted as the "guts" of the game fill in. Under the present system, where Level 1 quests are worth 5 points, Level 2 are worth 10, Level 3 are worth 15, and so forth to Level 25, I would need 120 "quests" distributed over those levels to form a complete game. With two quests done at present, that's quite a task. However, I'm likely to adjust that. Some quests lead to other quests. Some quests are optional (side quests). Some experience can be picked up from random events.

      Stay tuned for more news. All signs point to beta testing in late spring! :)

         Wednesday, February 13th, 2002         
      Just Plugging Along: Since the last news update on the 3rd, I've composed another couple of tunes for the game, worked on several new planet and miscellaneous space graphics, and made a few small improvements to the game engine/code. Some work has been done to the scripts and quests, but not much new yet.

      I also created a way for items (especially items used for quests) to be more useful and less obvious. Previously, if you were to arrive at a gate (for example), the link to "unlock" it would appear under the room description only if the key was in your inventory. Now, as an alternative where needed, items can be "used" from within the inventory screen. Some items already had this kind of "use" option (for instance, using a potion to heal or using the "course calculator" item), but this will allow for more adventure-style areas. With this change, instead of arriving at a gate and seeing the option "unlock the gate" (since the key is in inventory), the game doesn't have to show the option - the player can figure out to "use" the key from inside the inventory screen. This is going to lead to more creative adventures, and more thinking on the player's part.

         Sunday, February 3rd, 2002         
      Planets Galore! One of the many fun aspects when dealing with game design is coming up with places and names. For StarLock, with over 4,000 unique locations in space, it's important to have plenty of planets and other points of interest. Over the past few days, I've been adding to the dozens of existing planets by working on new planet graphics - places like Wertra, Ellondor, Trutaan, Colforsa, Yonkra, Pendly Wocal, Golbie, and more.

Above is a collage of various, recent planet graphics. This is one of the fun parts of game design!

      A great thing about how StarLock is designed is that these planets can exist in the galaxy without providing any options. This allows room for future growth. Working on location graphics, text, and quests for the various planets can take quite a while. So much of that is still undone, which is why it's still hard to know when the game will be ready to play. Because it's not intended to be a mindless game, advancements are made primarily through the quests and adventures - so the game simply doesn't work unless there are quests and adventures to span from start to finish. Although the game engine lacks a few features and can be improved in other ways, most of the work to come is in story design and quest script development. Really, when that's done, the game is ready!

         Saturday, January 26th, 2002         
      Nothing New - Yet! No new news (sorry for that), due to some unexpected extra work I've been busy with, and some much-needed changes and additions to
Lunatix Online (read about it here). I know many people are looking forward to StarLock, and I'm doing my best to get it ready for play as soon as possible. Stay tuned!

         Wednesday, January 2nd, 2002         
      Happy New-Year! My second 4-day weekend turned out to be busy, but not with StarLock development. I finished some fixes to several existing IGM's (add-ons) for
Lunatix Online, and worked on the "Hammer's House" IGM which was started months ago but never finished. It isn't quite done yet, but I expect to be back to work on StarLock in the next day or two. By the way, have you taken our two current just-for-fun POLLS yet?

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