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SubSpace evolved from a game originally called Sniper (1995), a project to test the effects and severity of lag in a massively multiplayer environment over dialup connections. After its creators realized its viability as an actual game, public beta testing began in February, 1996, and it became fully public later that year. The game was released commercially in December 1997 with a list price of $27.99 for unlimited play, requiring no monthly or hourly fees. The game was originally developed by Burst, led by Jeff Petersen (aka Jeff P.), Rod Humble and Juan Sanchez, for the US branch of the now-defunct Virgin Interactive.

While in the beginning the game only offered four playable ships, a couple of servers, and a limited number of maps, during a costly and extensive testing period the game developed depth and replay value seldom rivaled by games before or since. When the game was officially released, it was not a commercial success due to poor marketing and the relative newness of the MMO genre. In addition, after two years of playing for free, many players refused to pay for a game that they had beta tested for two years, and instead opted for a software crack written by CLASS. The crack's popularity was bolstered by widespread irritation with delays and focus-stealing caused by the check. Later, Alex Petroukine (aka Sage386), a Russian programmer and an ex-member of United Cracking Force warez group, who also released the cheat utility Twister, released the SubSpace v1.35 client to bypass the game's CD check.

The server software had been distributed with the commercial release. Once VIE went under in 1998, many of its remaining US assets were purchased by Electronic Arts, but the SubSpace license was not. This caused all of the commercially hosted servers, including the official VIE servers, to eventually go offline permanently, and independently run servers became the only choice for hosting zones, including the old VIE zones.

Within a short time, a number of cheats in addition to Twister appeared, and commercial game hacking programs took their toll on the game as well. In response, a banning utility and new client were developed, arresting the cheating epidemic. The new BanG utility extended the banning capabilities of the server while the new client, named Continuum, largely thwarted the efforts of hackers. Continuum is now the only client permitted to connect to servers on the SubSpace Central billing server, which stores user names and passwords. In addition to security improvements, Continuum added increased media and gameplay capabilities. Citing security concerns, the authors of Continuum have declined to release its source code.

Game files

SubSpace utilizes a client–server architecture. Initially, both the client and server were provided by VIE. The client executable was titled SubSpace while the server was called SubGame. A new client, titled Continuum, was created by players PriitK and Mr Ekted. The original server software, heavily modified, is still the most common, although an open source alternative, A Small Subspace Server, is now available.

Continuum client
The client interfacePriitK (Priit Kasesalu), who has also worked on the development of Kazaa, Skype, and most recently Joost, developed the back-end including gameplay and security, and Mr Ekted developed the front-end. Continuum was developed as a clone of the SubSpace client, but now contains new original features exclusive to the client over the original. Continuum is the official client of the SubSpace Central Billing Server. It was developed primarily because of the failures of SubSpace mainly in security. The SubSpace client had been heavily analyzed allowing cheat programs such as Twister to modify the in-memory player data. Continuum boasts a new encryption scheme along with a number of other security-related features. Although a few attempts to crack the Continuum encryption have been made, none have been very widespread as the cheats are easily flagged or extremely obvious and the banning system is quite comprehensive.

After several months of testing, the Continuum 0.40 client was officially made available on September 21, 2007. It has also been adopted by several zones, notably on the SSC server, as a requirement in order to play.

SubSpace players control one of eight ships which are equipped with weapons and a variety of special abilities. Players interact with each other in zones, which are typically split into multiple arenas. Players in each arena are then divided into teams; friendly ships appear as yellow, while enemy ships appear blue. The keyboard is used exclusively for control of the ship and use of in-game chat functions.

Although each zone can have its own unique style of gameplay, certain basic gameplay mechanics are ubiquitous throughout all zones.

Map elements
Each arena uses a 20x20 map as the field of play. Some arenas may use the entire size of the map, while others may enclose the players in a smaller space. A coordinate system (A-T horizontal, 1-20 vertical) allows players to easily identify and communicate where they are on the map.

Maps may contain obstacles such as walls or asteroids which cannot be moved or destroyed. Maps often use gates, which open and close at random or regular intervals. If a player's ship gets caught in a gate when it closes, the ship is relocated ("warped") to a random location on the map.

Safe zones allow a players to evade enemies or simply take a break from the game. While in a safe zone, a ship cannot take damage but also cannot fire. Most safe zones have a time limit; if a player stays in a safe zone too long, he is kicked from the game and must rejoin the zone. This prevents players from camping out in a safe zone and leaving their computer idle for an extended period of time in order to maintain their state in the game.

A flag or ball may be present as well. Their importance and role in the game depend on the zone.

The most common map elements in SubSpace are prizes, or "greens" (for their green color). Prizes allow players to upgrade their ships and gain special weapons or abilities. While prizes are generally plentifully scattered throughout the map, the upgrades or abilities they award are randomly selected by the zone.

Rather than dealing with ammunition counts and hit points separately, SubSpace combines both of these elements into a single unit of measure: energy. Each ship is equipped with a certain amount of energy, from which it must draw its health as well as its weapons power. When a ship's energy is reduced from its capacity (whether from firing weapons or enduring enemy fire), the ship will automatically recharge back to its maximum capacity over a period of time; however, sustained weapons fire or enemy fire will inevitably cause the energy to drop lower.

Once the ship's energy drops below zero, the ship is destroyed and the player is respawned elsewhere in the area. Any upgrades, weapons, or special abilities are lost. The energy mechanic forces players to be cautious of their energy usage, as reckless weapons fire could result in a quick death.

It is usually not possible for players to commit suicide; if a player's own weapon causes more damage than that player has energy, his energy will simply be reduced to zero and begin recharging. However, suicide was possible in early beta versions of the game and the offline practice mode included with the original SubSpace client.

Ship Control
Thrust (Up for forward, Down for reverse) and rotation (Left for counter-clockwise, Right for clockwise) make up the basic movement of the ship. Ships maintain inertia once they are set in motion and cannot be brought to a complete stop except when in a safe zone. In addition, ships experience inelastic collisions with walls and asteroids but do not take damage from them. Ships do not collide with each other.

Players achieve their ship's top speed by maintaining thrust. Each ship is also equipped with afterburners (Shift+Up/Down) which allow the ship to exceed its typical top speed; however, this gradually drains the ship's energy. When afterburners are disengaged, the ship's inertia returns to its normal top speed, not its speed with afterburners.

Ships can instantly warp (Ins) to a random location on the map. This action requires the ship to be at full energy, and its energy is totally drained once the warp is complete, although the ship will begin recharging its energy immediately.

Ships may also attach to other friendly ships. In this scenario, the attaching ship loses thrust control and becomes a weapons turret on the back of another ship. This is technically achieved by performing a warp, thus requiring full energy to attach and draining energy in the process. A turret ship takes damage like a normal ship and may detach at any time. In addition, a ship carrying turrets may detach one or all of them at any time.

Players primarily increase their score by killing other players. Each ship has a bounty, which is increased by collecting prizes, killing enemies, or other in-game mechanics. When a ship is killed, its bounty is added to the killer's score.

Each zone implements its own scoring system and may award bonuses for certain achievements.

Buying Prizes
Rather than relying on luck while collecting prizes, certain upgrades or abilities may be "purchased" directly from the zone for a certain amount of points. The items available for purchase and their prices vary by zone. Purchases can only be made while in a safe zone.

Competitive Play
Many SubSpace players are organized into squads. These squadrons serve the same purpose as clans or teams do in other online games and allow players to cooperate and improve their skills, as well as to become more familiar with fellow players. In addition, many squads compete in competitive leagues hosted by various zones. These leagues are typically run like professional sport leagues, with a preseason, regular season, and playoffs for the highest-ranked squads. Dueling is another favorite pastime of many SubSpace players, and many zones have separate arenas for this purpose alone. Players in a squad have their own chat channel for communication.


Within any given zone, a player can choose between up to eight different ships: Warbird, Javelin, Spider, Leviathan, Terrier, Weasel, Lancaster, and Shark.

A player can also choose to spectate the game (also known as spec mode) by either following a specific player or the ball (if one is in play), or they can choose to move around freely and observe any part of the map. These spectators have the ability to chat normally, allowing them to communicate with and provide direction to teams.

Standard VIE Settings
Standard VIE Settings, SVS for short, is a server configuration for the online action game SubSpace conforming to the physics and rules used in non-special game types hosted by Virgin Interactive Entertainment (VIE) before the company's dissolution. The term is sometimes used informally to describe servers which seek, through other means, to preserve the spirit of the game as it was originally played.

Not included under SVS are setting exceptions used in alternate zones, or on special servers set aside for new player training, formal matches, and special events. There are also no SVS rules for some weapons which varied between game types; and there is no SVS standard for the Shark, a ship added after the departure from VIE of SubSpace's development team, Burst. An otherwise pure server configuration is considered SVS so long as these weapon elements were at one time in use on a normal VIE server, and so long as the Shark's settings do not disproportionately subvert the role of other ship types or game elements.

The term SSS (Standard SubSpace Settings) has also been used to refer to the original VIE-style zones and settings.
Although some zones may use settings based on SVS, they can differ entirely from these descriptions: most other zones however, have unique settings for each of the ships customized to suit the gameplay objectives and styles of the zone. Following is a description of each ship and its role in Standard VIE Settings.


SubSpace is unique in that the gameplay can vary depending on the zone. Some zones are just free-for-all style gameplay, while others are capture the flag, or even powerball style. Zones typically have multiple public arenas, whose settings and maps are the same, which players are automatically distributed to upon joining the server. This serves to reduce crowding in highly populated arenas.

There are also numerous sub-arenas in SubSpace, and these sub-arenas can at times have greater populations than the "main/public" arenas. They differ from the main public arenas, in the sense that they may have their own settings, map, graphics, and bots (if required - or modules in ASSS zones). There are many different types of arenas, limited only by the imagination of the developers of these arena. For more advanced arenas, normally a bot is required to "host" the games. Some examples of bots are those that allow virtual racing games or football games to be played, or mimic popular movies. A player may visit any zone and press Esc + A, in order to see a list of all the arenas presently active in that zone.

Types of Zones
There are three basic types of games: kill, flagging, and ball. With the advent of ASSS, game designers can create new types such as race or RPGs in addition to the original game types. These game types are also able to be designed using bots that manipulate the original server software, although ASSS makes it easier in some areas.

Flag Games
War - Standard flag game whose name is derived from its original zone (War Zone). The objective is to claim all flags for one's own team. Flags can be picked up by opponents only. Flags that are picked up are dropped after a set time. Flagging games usually involve bases to store flags and are heavily team-oriented.
Bounty Rabbit - One player is the rabbit, and has the 'flag'. The rabbit's kills are worth 101 points while a regular players' kills are only worth 1 point. Kill the current rabbit to become the new rabbit. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins. This game is usually run by bots in a main arena or sub-arenas.
Turf - Territorial flag game in which flags are located at specific locations around the map. Ownership is claimed by simply passing over the flag by any player. Turf games can either be won or involve periodic point rewards.
Basing - Similar to Turf, except there is a base with one flag. The team that controls that flag controls the base, and thus the base is often completely populated by the controlling team. Trench Wars is an example of a popular basing game.
Running - Flags in running zones do not have drop timers, and may only be claimed by killing an opponent carrying flags or picking up neutral flags. Variants include Rabbit Chase.

Kill Games
"Kill" games have no 'rounds' or 'games'; the objective is simply to kill as many opponents as possible while keeping one's own deaths to a minimum. The original Alpha and Chaos zones followed this basic premise.

However, some zones offer their own variants of this style of gameplay:

King of the Hill - Each player starts off with a crown, which may be lost if the set amount of time runs out. A player's timer, which is displayed at the top right of the screen, is reset every time they kill another player. However, if a player has already lost their crown, they may only regain it by either killing a flagger with a crown (sometimes marked by a red dot on the radar), or by destroying any two players. Generally though, flaggers with low bounty do not give others their crown. The game is then won when there is only one crowned player left standing.
Speed - Each round of a Speed game has a time limit. The winner of a round is the player with the most kills for the round. In Speed Zone, ships began with a higher "bounty" (and more weapons and other power ups) than in other zones. Speed Zone proved to be less popular than the Jackpot/Running, Chaos, or "flag" zone games and support was discontinued shortly after SubSpace went to retail.

Ball Games
Ball games involve taking control of a ball and scoring it in the opposing team's goal. Players cannot fire weapons or warp while carrying the ball, and can only carry the ball for a few seconds. Before the ball timer runs out, they must pass the ball to a teammate (using Ins, Tab, or Ctrl keys), or the ball will shoot out from their ship in a random direction. If a player dies while carrying the ball, the ball is dropped immediately and may be picked up by anyone. A team wins a game when they achieve a certain number of goals, or the game may be timed, with the highest-scoring team winning when time expires.

Due to the built-in mechanics of ball play, these games are heavily team-oriented. Throughout SubSpace's history there have been two prominent zones that heavily focused on ball play:

Powerball (Soccer) - Features two teams (Warbirds and Javelins) and goals at opposite ends of a symmetrical map. Powerball primarily uses SVS settings, except that the Warbird and Javelin have identical ship settings, creating two evenly-matched teams. Each ship starts with 100 bounty and comes "greened" with a number of basic upgrades and randomly-selected special abilities (e.g. burst, repel, etc.). It is not possible to choose any other type of ship. Although scoring goals is the primary objective of Powerball, shooting and killing other players is very much an important part of the game.
Hockey - Similar to Powerball, except that the playing field is much smaller and the "ball" is a hockey puck. Each ship's settings have been modified to fit that ship into a unique role on the team; for instance, Lancasters and Sharks are "goalie" ships. The rules of the game are based on real hockey rules.

A zone is a server to which players can connect using a client. Perhaps the most attractive feature of SubSpace is the extremely high degree of customization that zone sysops can implement. Almost every element of the game can be replaced, from the ship graphics to colors and sounds. Apart from a few basic settings, the game settings, such as ship speeds, energy levels, and such, can also be changed. This allows a vast variety of zones to exist. The Continuum client and server developments such as ASSS (A Small SubSpace Server) have made many new customizations possible.

The most prominent SubSpace server application is Subgame, which is derived from the original Virgin Interactive Entertainment server software and runs natively only on Microsoft Windows. However there is also ASSS (A Small SubSpace Server), which is an open source server that can potentially be run on any platform. It was designed for use on Linux and other Unix-like operating systems, but can be configured for use on Microsoft Windows. Both are downloadable from the SubSpace Central website.

The counterpart to the server application is the billing server. This server, which stores player data and scores and links zones together, is named for its originally intended function (in VIE's Subgame server) to store records of who had paid for the game and, therefore, was allowed to play it. Obviously, once VIE went out of business, this function was no longer necessary. Billing servers now serve many additional functions, such as providing a network-wide ban service superior to the one built into Subgame and allowing players in different arenas or zones to chat with each other over chat channels. There are several large biller networks for SubSpace. By far, the largest is SSC, which is the de facto official biller. It is owned by PriitK, the creator of the Continuum client. However, space on this network is limited, and many have criticized it for alleged favoritism and a lack of updates.

Subgame is also Microsoft Windows-only, but can also be run using a vanilla version of Wine. An Open Source alternative to Subgame, ASSS (A Small Subspace Server) has been developed and is designed for running on a Linux server but is compatible with all major operating systems. It is under active development.

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