VGA Planets Super Site

WINPLAN Version 3.5
Review of WinPlan (VGAP For Windows)

By: Sir Krilmar

Version Tested: WINPLAN 3.5 Beta 2ec
(earlier versions were also evaluated as they were released, 2e is the latest version reviewed)

Report Index


Ease of Use: C
Ease of Installation: A
Features:    B
Compatibility: S
Overall Impression: A

For two months I have been using WINPLAN 3.5, VGA Planets for Windows. Overall I find this to be a superior product and have already recommended that SPACENET switch to this platform for customers.

The interface is not well documented and takes some familiarity to use to its fullest extent. I hope this problem is corrected when it becomes the release version of VGAP as opposed to its current Beta status. We have seen many features appear in later releases of the Beta version and the final product should be exceptional. The product used a version of the standard Windows installation method, and I have had no problems installing the software on any computer (both laptops and full sized PCs). There are many features added to the application that practically make add-on programs obsolete. The only features missing, that are offered by external add-on programs, is history. The addition of this feature would eliminate the need for any add-on programs. I have used the product in the same game with non-WINPLAN users and at this time there are no detectable problems. The software is also compatible with Host Version 3.14, but works best with Host Version 3.2 or higher. These versions of Host recognize a turn from a WINPLAN user and send a more detailed results file to those users. Overall I find the WINPLAN interface so far superior to the DOS VGAP interface that I hope to never have to use the DOS version again.

WINPLAN installs like most Windows applications. On disk 1 (of a 3 disk set) is a setup utility that handles the rest of the process. Installation took about 10 minutes on my computer (486DX100) and about 15 on a Laptop (386SLC33). It takes about 7 MB of disk space (compared to 3 MB for the DOS version) but includes many bitmaps and WAV files. The WAV files are used by the enhanced VCR utility.

One of the big differences between WINPLAN and earlier versions of VGAP is a built in support for up to eight concurrent games, each with a separate working directory under the WINPLAN installation. Files can be accessed from a download directory (customizable for each game) and written to an upload directory (also customizable). You can also customize the name of each game in the game list so it makes sense to you. If you select a game with a new RST available you are given the option to unpack the RST.

It also gives you time and date information for the current data in the directory. The races to play can be selected at this menu (to allow or avoid unpacking different RSTs).

Race Selection Screen
The Race selection screen looks very familiar with a button by each of the 11 races to access that race. New features on this panel are a Game's List button to return to the previous window, an Exit button to quit WINPLAN, a Help Button to access the on-line documentation, and the Maketurn button. In these first two screens we have gone from using three different programs to play VGAP to a single program. I'd like to also see a Host Game button on this screen to make solo play even easier, but it is easy enough with this new interface.

Main Player Screen
Once you select a Race you are presented with the familiar options, Starships, Planets, Starbases, Star Charts, Write Messages, Read Messages, Scores, Help, Password and VCR. There is also a new Find Object Menu that has some powerful search capabilities. An Auto button allows access to automated planetary functions and automated ship movement. Many program options can be accessed through an Options screen.

Starship Screen
This familiar screen is easy to use. It has some new features that make it more useful. One useful feature available on many screens in WINPLAN is a scroll button. By clicking on the Up or Down arrows on the screen you can scroll through your ships.

Many options are represented on the screen by Icons instead of letters in WINPLAN. For example when a ship is in orbit around a planet, a small planet icon is displayed to let you switch to the planet screen.

Loading and unloading cargo is greatly enhanced, with increments up to a 1000 for all cargo items.

There are many navigation aides in WINPLAN as well. One button on the planet screen sets the ship's course to the last selected coordinates on the star chart, thus making it possible to set a course all the way across the galaxy. This is VERY useful for Hyper capable ships. There is also a built-in low feature hyper jump aid that will tell you if you can direct jump to any planet from your current position.

Ship way points can also be automated. You set several way points, and orders for what to do at each stop. When using the Auto features of WINPLAN the ship goes on to its next mission each turn, thus enabling setup of trade routes.

Planets Screen
The Planets screen also is very familiar in appearance. The biggest change is the addition of the scroll buttons, and at long last a thermometer! All the other familiar data and options are also available.

The build menu is now accessed with an icon that looks like a factory. Mines, Factories, and Defense Posts may be built in increments of 1, 5 or 10. Supplies may be sold by 1, 10, or 100 quantities. The Auto features also allow for automatic sale of extra supplies, and automated construction. The build screen is also equipped with a scroll bar to move through the planets.

Starbases Screen
The starbase screen is also familiar, offering no great changes. Ship construction is more clearly prompted then under the DOS version.

Star Charts Screen
The Star Charts are DRAMATICALLY improved in WINPLAN. The chart is scaleable from 0.25 to 4 times the default size. At 0.25 scale the entire galaxy can be displayed on a 640x480 VGA screen. I prefer running at SVGA 800x600 which allows the entire map to be viewed.

A floating control panel allows you to turn on and off displayed objects. Ships, Explosions, Way points (expected course), Minefields, Grid Lines, and Hyper Jump ranges can be turned on and off. Scanned ships can be clicked on to get more information as to ownership and speed.

"Hey Krilmar, there are only a few Hyper Ships, why do you keep bringing that stuff up?" Well, besides being a Rebel at heart, I'll remind you that the scan range of ships and planets is 350 lyrs. It just so happens that a Hyper Jump Circle is also 350 lyrs. SO ... to see how far you can see, or be seen, click on your planet, then click on the HYP button to display a jump circle. There was one reported feature that I could not make work. Supposedly you can click on a point in space, then click on a letter "n" on the control panel. Click on another point in space, then click on an "m" on the control panel and find out how far apart the two points are in space. This was reported in an "info" note from The Tim Continuum BBS, but could not be used in the version tested. [NOTE: Goss found it! You actually use the keyboard. Click in space; press 'n'; click somewhere else; press 'm', and the distance in lyrs is displayed on the Star Chart Control Panel.

Write Messages Screen
I have been unable to find a way to send a Universal message in WINPLAN.

Read Messages Screen
Messages sent from Host 3.2 are sorted by WINPLAN into categories: Alien Races, Host Messages, Tim Continuum Messages, Distress Calls, Planetary Messages, Ship Messages and a few others. This makes it a lot easier to filter through 40 messages in one turn. You are also sent the game configuration messages every turn, so you can review them whenever you wish.

Find Objects Screen
The Find Objects screen allows you to search for Ships, Planets, Starbases, Mine Fields, Ion Storms (a host 3.2 feature), and Explosions. You can view a list showing all of the objects, or where applicable all of your or your enemies' stuff.

You can also do more specific searches of certain objects. For example you can search for all planets with Unhappy Natives, or that would be Detectable to Enemy Ships. There are lots of management features in WINPLAN that make the game easier to play.

Auto Screen
A whole new feature of WINPLAN is the Auto Screen. Ships can have Auto way points set. Planets can be set to Auto build, and Auto sell supplies. And with the click of one button, it all takes place. Another BIG feature is Auto setting of Ship and Planet Friendly codes. You can easily reset codes on all vessels and planets.

VCR Screen
A great feature of the enhanced Visual Combat Recorder is a built-in battle simulator. You can select any combat you wish, and watch it run over and over. The new simulator also takes advantage of sound and graphics using bitmaps that closely resemble the ships, and some really cool sound effects.

Options Screen
Within the Program Options Screen you can turn on and off usage of WAV files. Control built-in delays for graphics servers, and change the font size for many of the programs windows. Most windows are also resizeable, and scale when resized.

WINPLAN is a welcome enhancement to the classic VGA Planets game. I highly recommend the product and believe SPACENET should make WINPLAN the default interface for SN games. Word on the Tim Continuum BBS also has it that Dan & Dave will be producing a companion product for WINPLAN to handle the few features currently offered by third-party mapping programs. This combined product pair should completely change the face of VGA Planets.

File originally hosted at Spacenet, posted at Donovan's with permission.

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