PHost - First Time with PHost
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.
These are the major areas where PHost differs from the standard host:
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.
VPA will automatically call PVCR when needed, but Winplan will not. Do not use the "VCR" button in Winplan; that button might crash Winplan.
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.
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.
If you want PlayVCR for another operating system, get the source code and compile it yourself. Instructions are included.
All major client programs except DOS Planets support extended missions. The standard method is a file mission.ini which defines all these missions.
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.
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
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.
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.
In general, you have to place the utilx.dat and pconfig.src file in the game directory for the programs to find it.
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). 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).
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").
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.
PHost has some features that might be dangerous when you don't know about them.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
Last updated 31 May 2015.
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