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Digitalis D'ydii Cluster was first implemented on an Apple IIe, fitting a 1.0e11 x 1.0e11 x 1.0e11 cube of “cubic parsecs” onto on floppy disk.

That cube of space is large enough that if receding galaxies had been implemented the galaxies at the edge would have been receding from the centre at speeds faster than that of light-in-a-vacuum. It thus constitutes in effect an entire “observable universe”.

Later it was ported to a Tandy 2000 PC using Turbo Pascal, and a second floppy disk was created providing an “Onplanet module” allowing 256 zones of each of 256 terrains per planet with each zone of each terrain having its own “encounter tables” and species/events populating those tables.

There was no combat, basically the game was about moving from planet to planet buying and selling cargo. Local currencies were provided for inhabited planets, but such currency was left behind on leaving the planet, only cargo was carried from planet to planet.

Although the galaxies viewer claimed there were many types of galaxies visible, the only ones the software provided closeups of and travel within were the spherical ones, for the simple reason that distributing stars in spherical clouds was simpler than distributing in formations corresponding to the other galaxy types would have required.

The planets were somewhat reminiscent of those generated by the “Traveller” roleplaying game's planet generation system, with values such as population, starport level, law level, technology level and government type. The main drawback of the system was the static nature of these planets; no mechanism was provided for changing these generated values. That is why when “Civilisation” type games started to come out they are watched with interest: their primary interesting feature was precisely the provision of rules by which planets could develop and evolve, technology levels could increase, populations increase, government type be changed and so forth. Although admittedly they did not really provide in game mechanisms for changing the type of the government, instead making that an arbitrary action of the player rather than a development within the society depicted.

The predictable pseudorandom numbers system of planet-generation used in the Cluster software could be extended to incorporate development of planets by plugging in Freeciv to manage planets, since Freeciv in fact has the ability to run through turns automatically using predictable random numbers. So a Cluster type generator could be used to generate initial conditions for Freeciv worlds which could then be run through as many years as desired on automatic. This has not yet actually been done however, partly because the original Cluster software is now so ancient. It was written back in a single-user paradigm, and never did get ported over to multi-user operating-systems such as Linux. The fundamental insights gained were valuable though, both in the implementation aspects and in observing the appeal that the game had to players even without the implementation of any form of combat. The main insight it provided about players was probably the pile of sand idea: give the players a sandpile and they will play happily making up their own reasons and objectives; it is not necessary to force any particular “goals” or “victory conditions” upon players if you give them a “sandpile world” to pla with. This has been seen over and over again since in many other games.


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