PHost - First Time with PHost

PHost 4.1h



Traditionally, PHost has the myth of being much more complex, much harder to set up and to use than HOST, for both host and player side. This document tries to help those who use PHost for the first time, to see it's not actually that hard.

At some places, mainly combat, it is indeed a bit more complicated than the standard VGA Planets host. PHost replaces parts of the VGA Planets host side, so some changes must be done to the client side, too. But once you've set up everything -- which is easier than you might think -- it will work seamlessly.

This document partly assumes you have already played VGA Planets before. If you have not, we suggest that you start with the Rules document, which will give you an overview about what this game is all about.

What differs?

These are the major areas where PHost differs from the standard host:

  • Combat. PHost does combat different than the standard host. Due to the way combat works, you must watch PHost combat with a different program than "normal" combat.
  • Configuration. Instead of a hconfig.hst file and a menu-driven configuration editor, PHost uses the pconfig.src text file.
  • Extended Missions. PHost offers a few more ship missions. Players must be able to set those.
  • utilX.dat. In addition to the normal RST files, utilX.dat contains all the information players receive by message, plus some more information for use by client-side programs.
  • Additional features. PHost has some additional features you should be aware of. This is more a matter of knowledge than programs.
  • Differences. Some rules are handled differently than in HOST. Some subtle tricks don't work, some new subtleties were added. This is also more a matter of knowledge than code.

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For Players

Unlike in the early days of PHost, many current client programs explicitly support PHost, or can be configured to do so.


Essentially, PHost combat files (vcrX.dat) must be interpreted differently than standard combat files. The standard combat viewer for PHost is PVCR, a DOS program. This is an issue for client programs and combat simulators.

  • Winplan does not support PHost combat. You must not run Winplan's combat viewer (VCR) for PHost-generated battles. Winplan will either crash or display complete nonsense. You must either run PVCR manually, or try the PlayVCR[Remote] package. The same goes for VPUtil.
  • DOS Planets does not know how to play PHost combat, but we can replace its VCR player with PVCR.
  • VPA 3.51d and later know how to call PVCR when needed. In some versions after that, this ability was broken, but got back again in 3.60f.
  • PCC 0.99.9 and later, and all CCBSim versions based on it have a pirate copy :-) of PVCR built-in.
  • BSim has PVCR built in.
  • EchoView's simulator has PVCR built in, too.

Installing PVCR for Winplan and VPA

  • Get the resource.pln file from the DOS version of VGA Planets (shareware or registered), and copy it into your main Winplan/VPA directory. If you use VPA, you should already have that file.
  • Get the PVCR distribution from the PHost home page and unzip it into your Winplan/VPA directory, too.
  • To view a PHost-generated battle, open a DOS box and type
    pvcr -s -p3 vpwork5
    In this command, "3" is your player number and "vpwork5" is the game directory (here: Winplan game slot 5). You may want to create a shortcut or batch file for that command.
  • (v4.0f:) If you use Winplan, you can also simply invoke PVCR from your Winplan directory (using a shortcut icon maybe); PVCR has a simple built-in game selector.

VPA will automatically call PVCR when needed, but Winplan will not. Do not use the "VCR" button in Winplan; that button might crash Winplan.

Installing PVCR for DOS Planets

  • Get the PVCR distribution from the PHost home page and unzip it into your planets directory.
  • Copy vcr.exe to vcrold.exe using a command such as (surprise!)
    copy vcr.exe vcrold.exe
    ==> Only do this the first time you install PVCR.
  • Copy pvcr.exe to vcr.exe

When you hit the "VCR" button in planets.exe, you'll now get dropped into PVCR if the battles were generated by PHost, and into the normal VCR if the were generated by the Wisseman host.

Installing PlayVCR

PlayVCR is a VCR player which runs natively under Windows (and other operating systems). It is currently distributed together with the PCC2 client, but can be installed and used without it.

  • Get the PCC2 distribution[Remote]. Normally you want the version with installer (PCC2-Installer-nnnn.exe). Install it. The installation program will ask you for the directory you installed Winplan in. It will replace your winplan.exe with a small program that hooks PlayVCR into Winplan.
  • When you hit Winplan's "VCR" button, you'll get PlayVCR. Sit back and watch. PlayVCR also plays "standard" combat.

If you want PlayVCR for another operating system, get the source code and compile it yourself. Instructions are included.

Extended Missions

All major client programs except DOS Planets support extended missions. The standard method is a file mission.ini which defines all these missions.

  • Winplan supports extended missions via the mission.ini file. Actually, Winplan introduced this mechanism.
  • DOS Planets does not support extended missions.
  • VPA supports mission.ini
  • PCC comes with PHost mission definitions pre-configured, and also supports mission.ini

Installing mission.ini

The file mission.ini is part of the PHost distribution. You can probably also obtain it from your host. All you need to do is to copy it into your game directory. You can then select the extended missions from the mission menu.

The Extmission Command

When you can not use mission.ini, you can still set extended missions using the extmission command. To set an extended mission, write a message to yourself containing the line

extmission 123 32 4 9

Here, 123 is the ship Id, 32 is the mission number, and 4 and 9 are the parameters. This directs PHost to set the mission for you. Note that this will override the mission you set in the normal ship screen! As a reminder, set the mission on the ship screen to something you normally don't use, say, Explore. Since planets.exe won't let you edit messages afterwards, it makes sense to collect these commands on a sheet of paper and send them afterwards as a group.

Configuration and UTILx.DAT

utilx.dat contains all the information from your sub-space messages, and some more. If you have a program which supports utilx.dat files, it will benefit from the added information by providing you more reliable displays.

PHost can send you files through utilx.dat. One important file sent this way is the configuration file pconfig.src. When you request such a file using the send command, you need a program to extract it. If you cannot do that, obtain the files from your host manually.

  • Winplan and DOS Planets do not support util.dat nor pconfig.src.
  • VPA 3.51 reads file transfers, and a few other parts of utilx.dat; VPA 3.61 reads many more parts. It also reads pconfig.src.
  • PCC reads most parts of utilx.dat. File transfers are handled during unpacking. It also reads pconfig.src.
  • EchoView reads almost all utilx.dat parts. It also reads pconfig.src.

In general, you have to place the utilx.dat and pconfig.src file in the game directory for the programs to find it.

PHost Features

Most features of PHost are designed to work with all client versions.

More than 500 Minefields are, at the time of this writing, only supported by PCC and EchoView. For VPA users, there's a workaround (VPA10k[Remote]). I guess this feature is not widely used anyway.

Remote Control and PlayerRace games, as well as extensive Hull function editing, can cause client programs to guess wrong about whether you are allowed to do your special mission (mission 9) or to cloak (mission 10).

  • With all programs, you can use the replacement extended missions instead.
  • VPA supports PlayerRace, check the file races.ini for details. VPA 3.61a and later also supports remote control. If it still won't let you set the missions you need, enable the DullMissions option in vpa.ini, VPA will then let you set any mission. Very recent versions support most of PHost's current hull functions.
  • PCC supports remote control and PlayerRace. PlayerSpecialMission and the new hull function abilities are supported in recent versions. You can always enter any mission through the "Extended mission" window.

More than 50 Targets (scanned enemy ships) are more common with PHost than with (older) Wisseman hosts due to the alliance feature. Newer Wisseman hosts also have a comparable thing ("FF allies").

  • DOS Planets users can only see 50 ships, period. This is a limitation of the program which can't be removed. The same holds for shareware Winplan.
  • Winplan (registered) can display any number of targets. Reportedly, it has problems displaying the 50th target (or some-such), but all the others will be displayed just fine.
  • VPA, PCC and EchoView can display all targets.

Because of the DOS Planets limitation, PHost will send only 50 targets when you submit a TRN file that seems to be made by DOS Planets. The excess targets will be placed in util.dat. Most programs that can display them (e.g. VPA, PCC, EV) will find them there.

If you are using an old program such as VPUtil which does not find the targets in util.dat, you can request to be sent all targets using the bigtargets command resp. the AllowMoreThan50Targets configuration option. In this case, you must not unpack such results with DOS Unpack, use VPUnpack or the built-in unpacker of VPA or PCC instead.

More than 500 Ships are handled by PHost in the very same way as in Host999. Every client that handles Host999 should also be able to deal with PHost configured to more than 500 ships.

  • There is a version of DOS Planets with 999 ships support.
  • Recent Winplan versions support 999 ships.
  • VPA 3.58, PCC 1.0.11 and EchoView 1.2.14a (and later versions) support Host999.

PHost Features II

PHost has some features that might be dangerous when you don't know about them.

  • When you enable an alliance to someone else, you should be fully aware of the implications of that alliance. One pitfall is the ship-level alliance: by default, all your ships are remote-controllable. When you offer ship level to someone, he will be able to take control over all your ships. The best counter-action for this is to forbid remote control for your ships at the beginning of the game; send a message to yourself containing the following:
    remote forbid default
    remote forbid 1
    remote forbid 12
    The first line disables remote control for all ships you will build in the future, the other two disable remote control for your first ships (change the Id numbers as appropriate). Shameless plug: when you have to do that for many more ships, PCC[Remote] can generate the "remote forbid" commands automatically for all ships.
  • Likewise, a planet-level alliance will allow the ally to freely beam up stuff from your planets. He can even clone his ships on your bases - you pay and he gets the ship. Beware.
  • When you use alternate combat, simulation results from HOST simulators will be worthless. In particular, do not use VPA's or Winplan's built-in simulator for alternate combat. For non-alternate combat, results will come close but not be exact either.
    • BSim 2.1 supports PHost 2. It will yield accurate results most of the time, but doesn't support all PHost 3 peculiarities.
    • CCBSim[Remote] supports PHost 3; since version 1.1.4 it also supports PHost 4. However, it has problems handling very long fights.
    • PlayVCR[Remote] since December 2006 contains a simulator with full PHost support.
  • When you're taking over for someone, and receive sub-space messages in a strange language you don't understand, you can usually change the language back to English (or whatever you prefer) by sending a command message
    language english

Random Notes

Traditionally, programs have been scanning subspace messages to figure out certain information. For example, to display minefields, programs read your subspace mail for messages from your ships saying "we have laid N mines at (X,Y)". This only works when you use English messages. When you set your messages to another languages, the programs will no longer understand them. This is also the reason why English messages read a bit strange sometimes: we will not change them to not break message scanners. If your program does not rely on message scanning, you can switch to your native tongue, or to "NewEnglish" (PHost 3.4c and later) using the language command.

Programs that need message scanning:

  • VPA before version 3.61
  • Informer
  • iron-age versions of PCC and EchoView

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For Hosts

Hosting with PHost is not much different than with the Wisseman hosts. Due to the greater configurability, you can easily over-do it, though, and you can easily get lost in all those switches. The main differences are:

  • Configuration is way different.
  • You have to send out utilx.dat files to your players.
  • Add-ons ("auxhost" programs) work slightly different.


PHost does not come with a menu-driven configuration program like the Wisseman host. PHost is configured via a text file, pconfig.src. (If someone told you you had to "compile" that file: this is no longer true in PHost 3 and later.)

You can edit this file with any text editor of your choice ("Edit" under DOS, "Notepad" under Windows).

You don't usually make a new pconfig.src file from scratch. Instead, take one of the files shipped with PHost and edit it to suit your needs (this is like hitting the D key ("defaults") in hconfig.exe and editing one or two parameters). If you want to do your players a favor, add some comments that describe what you changed.

Normally, you should leave the player-modifiable parameters (like Language, AllowMoreThan50Targets, ...) at their defaults and let the players edit them themselves using command messages.

Incompatible Configurations

Most things in PHost are designed in a way that makes it possible to play them with every client program. Playing a fully-fledged PHost game with planets.exe alone will be hard, but possible. However, some options require client support. The game will not be playable (i.e. players will not be able to submit valid turns) if their client does not support them.

Unless you are an experienced player and host, willing to support your players, we suggest you to avoid these settings.

Most of the incompatible options are protected by the AllowIncompatibleConfiguration meta-option. If that option is not set, PHost will refuse to accept these options. These options include BaseFighterCost, MaximumDefenseOnBase, MaximumFightersOnBase, StarbaseCost.

For historical reasons, the following options are not protected this way. They can make your game incompatible to some tools, but unlike the above, there are widely-known tools which support them:

utilx.dat files

You should send utilX.dat files to your players, along with their RST files. You'll probably have to modify your hosting scripts to allow that.

The best way probably is to pack each player's RST and utilX.dat into a zip file and send that. This will reduce the file sizes, and increase the probability that the file arrives undamaged.


Most add-ons written for the Wisseman host work with PHost, too. All PHost versions for DOS, and PHost 3.x and later on all platforms, use the same file formats as the original host.

  • PHost runs the auxhost1.ini, auxhost2.ini and auxbc.ini files in the same way HOST does. PHost does not run auxhostN.bat and auxhostN.exe, though.
  • PHost does not automatically run the auxbatt.ini file. When you need that, you can easily configure it: set the parameter
    Combat = Replace auxbatt.ini
    in the pcontrol section in pconfig.src.
  • PHost does not support TacCom. TacCom generates a different TRN file format.
  • Sphere is already built into PHost (AllowWraparoundMap). You should not use external Sphere-type programs with PHost.
  • PHost versions 3.x and before treat nextturn.hst differently from the original host. Programs which need this file may not work reliably.
  • Some add-ons need hconfig.hst, the HOST configuration file, to function. This applies to the Dan&Dave add-ons, for example. For those, you have to manually create that file using hconfig.exe.

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Last updated 31 May 2015.

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